Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

To everyone. In every timezone. Just pretend you're reading this at the right time.

Or I'll just borrow the TARDIS. Not like the Doctor can fly it right now, or at least he claims he can't.

Seriously...to a 2014 that was better than 2013, whether 2013 was terrible or fabulous for you. And if you're going out for some drunken revelry, be careful.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Doctor Who Christmas Special (SPOILERS)

Well, I only cursed Moffatt out...two or three times. That's a relatively low number. I know quite a few people don't like him, but I'm not in that group.

The episode's one real flaw is that it was a little busy - a bit too much crammed into it. That aside, it definitely had some classic Who moments.

And how did aged Matt Smith look like Hartnell? That was brilliant...and makes me wonder if it wasn't part of the plan when he was cast. With modern computer simulation...

And yes, the events in Name of the Doctor were time broken. I have a theory on that, which I'll list with my "theories" below. The Doctor was "supposed" to die at Trenzalore. In some ways he did.

One fan theory was disproven - River did not give the Doctor her remaining regenerations. I sort of liked that, but it wasn't a big deal. I know a few fans were annoyed that the "partial" regeneration counted, but hey...I think a full new set of 12 will last us a good while. (Rumors aside, I just don't see Capaldi only staying in the TARDIS for one year...and I think once he's stopped playing the main guy he'll stay involved with the show - he's a major fan and a highly talented director. I'd love to see him try things out on the other side of the camera).

Oh, and he had me at kidneys.


Two theories I'm going to put out there in writing:

1. Trenzalore. Broken timelines. Technically, Trenzalore was a fixed point thanks to the Doctor visiting his own tomb - so, how did they change it? My explanation: Clara. When the Supreme Intelligence jumped into the Doctor's timeline he was able to start unraveling it. Clara dived in after him, and because of that she (and only she) was able to change the Doctor's revealed future. Thus, when Clara asked the Time Lords for help, she was simply "running to save the Doctor" one more time.

2. Tasha Lem. Here's where I'm sticking my neck out.

This is the first time we've seen "Mother Superior" Tasha Lem, but the Doctor clearly knows her...and, of course, there's precedent for that. There's flirting and some sexual chemistry going on between them.

Her altar is a bed. Or her bed is an altar. And she clearly wants the Doctor in that bed, and one doesn't get the impression he's arguing that much. Which, as we all know...isn't exactly common for the Doctor.

It's the Church of the Papal Mainframe.

When she's fighting the Dalek takeover, the Doctor tells her she can do it because "you've been fighting the psychopath within you all this time."


My wild, out there theory.

Tasha Lem is, in fact:

River Song.

(Thoughts? Flames?)

Friday, December 27, 2013

I'm back...

...safe and sound from Christmas "adventures." Okay, nothing much happened, but sometimes you kind of need to do not very much for a few days.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Friday Updates

My story "Tapestry" was, in fact, accepted for the "Ways Of Magic" anthology from Deepwood Publishing. (The late announcement is because the internet gremlins ate some of my email, it seems).

Everything else is proceeding well, including "Maximus Orbital" (I can't wait to see the art!)

This will be my last post until a week on Monday - so please enjoy the holidays, however you choose to celebrate them.

Happy Holidays

Merry Christmas

Happy Kwanzaa

Blessed Yule.

(And to anyone I missed).

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Interesting Tech News.

Okay, things just got weird. And boozy.

Chemical signaling for text messaging? Using...evaporated vodka?

If I'd included this in a story I'm not sure anyone would buy it, although I do wonder how much information is really being passed around a beehive.

Either way, it's an intriguing experiment: http://www.rdmag.com/news/2013/12/researchers-send-world%E2%80%99s-first-text-message-using-vodka

In other news: Sequencing of the Neanderthal genome provides more evidence of crossbreeding between them and modern humans, but also evidence that they inbred. A lot. Perhaps their groups were smaller than humans - but the woman sequenced was probably the child of siblings. Or maybe they practiced brother-sister marriage in some situations? Who knows...I suspect if we could make a time machine, we'd discover Neanderthal society and customs to be just as wonderfully complex as our own.

Oh, and dogs can recognize their owner's face when projected on a television screen. So much for my dad telling me over and over that the dog couldn't really see the television and it was just coincidence that our border collie liked to watch "One Man And His Dog."

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas planning

Is all of yours done? Mine is. Presents all bought (some of them months ago - I hate Christmas shopping and try to avoid actually going to the mall in December if I can), travel plans made.

Pretty soon, 2013 will be in the can, about which I have mixed feelings. I'm feeling a little, shall we say, old today. Sorry.

Ah well. Life goes on...and at least I got some interesting work done this year. Hoping to get even more sales and have even more fun in 2014.

For right now, though, do you have all of your Christmas presents or are you going to end up doing the Christmas Eve Scramble?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What Came First...

...the hand or the brain?

Our hands are unique. Apes, monkeys, even raccoons have hands, but they don't have hands like we do. We have the best hands - in fact, hands are part of what makes us human. There are structures in our hands that don't exist in, say, a chimp's hands.

Our hands are perfectly adapted for tool use. And we just pushed the modern hand back to 1.42 million years ago.

There's a theory that the hand may have come before the brain - that we actually evolved our complex brains and, ultimately, our intelligence, in order to better manage our clever hands.



Monday, December 16, 2013

Interesting Article.

Very interesting, and easy to understand, article from Space Daily about what alien life might really look like.

Science fiction writers tend to be conservative - because our aliens need to be something people can identify with or, in the case of some forms of horror, fear. So, even in written work, we tend to create recognizable aliens - often bipedal humanoids.

Not necessarily the case.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Friday Updates

Nothing new this week, so just a reminder that my short story War Crimes is free on Musa Publishing through December 31. You have to get it from their site (and yes, you do have to make a purchaser account if you don't already have one - but you'll get a $5.99 gift certificate for your pains).

You can find it here: http://musapublishing.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=17&products_id=707

And, a very personal update - my cousin, Kevin Torrington, just told me that his wife, Kim, is expecting their first child - the due date is in late June.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

One Step Closer: C/Fe Society

I'm not exaggerating...much.

Meet Valkyrie. It (she?) stands 6'2 and looks more than anything else like an Iron Man suit. It's designed that way so humans who work with it will be comfortable with the robot's presence. In fact, they are even giving it clothing.

More details will be announced on the 18th, but Valkyrie is, if it works as advertised, the first truly human-sized, humanoid robot capable of human-like tasks. It moves like a human and, rumor has it, can even drive vehicles. It's designed for search and rescue...but also to go to Mars ahead of human colonists so that when the squishy biologicals arrive they'll already have somewhere to live.

Valkyrie looks...I'm trying not to get too excited here...much like how the not fully humanoid robots in Asimov's work would appear. It's not going to be nearly that intelligent and will work in conjunction with human handlers...but it may also work alongside humans in dangerous environments. Troopers in Iraq are already mourning the destruction of bomb-sniffing robots. Valkyrie's almost human appearance might lead to an even greater emotional attachment.

Like, I don't know, a partner.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Because, Cute.

Because we all need cute every now and then - http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/rescue-centre-overrun-by-adorable-seal-pups-in-wake-of-record-flood-surge-8995541.html

And if you're in any position to help, please do. They're overwhelmed with adorable little babies...most of which aren't weaned. Seal milk is unusual in its composition and hard to make replacement for, so this is expensive.

And they're adorable. I don't normally do things like this, but really, baby seals...

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Rush Limbaugh has been claiming the Pope has gone Marxist and "somebody has gotten to him."

I like the zinging response of a Huffington Post blogger who speculated that somebody has - Jesus.

Seriously. I'm not Catholic. I'm not even Christian. But it does seem our current Pope is determined to give his church and his entire religion a good name.

Lots of snow today.


Without sarcasm, there's a little bit of snow. Of course, DC is shut down, because three flakes is a blizzard around here. It almost reached "Christmas Card" before starting to melt. Ah well.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Ice storm...

...well, sort of. It was definitely unpleasant yesterday and distinctly slippery this morning, but I've seen worse. Of course, this being fairly far south, many people think two inches of snow constitutes a blizzard.

Weather's very much a relative thing. If you aren't used to heat, 80 becomes a heat wave in which people collapse. If you aren't used to cold...

It's all in what you're used to - and that goes for society as a whole. We notice most of all things that are outside the norm, and don't notice the (sometimes crazy) rituals of our culture and subculture.

At least the ice is melting now...but it might re-freeze again overnight. Ugh.

Friday, December 6, 2013

South Africa

I well remember what first drew my attention to South Africa's existence - and its problems.

Her name was Zola Budd. She was one of the fastest female runners of all time, and notorious for training and racing barefoot.

She was a white South African who became a British citizen in order to compete in the Olympics. (Highly controversial at the time, these days athletes often country hop).

She could not compete as a South African because of the sanctions. Eventually she did, but she had lost her edge by that point.

I remember her because she made me realize South Africa existed. And she made me learn the word "Apartheid." I remember my father explaining it to me.

I remember the horror. Of my father's two closest friends at the time one, Ray Marx, was my de facto godfather (my official godfather moved away and lost touch). Ray Marx was one of the few true gentlemen I have ever known, by every definition of the world. I loved him almost as much as my real family. Ray Marx was a black man. Racism did not exist in my family - Ray was not the only black man to cross our threshold and be welcomed. My father had other prejudices; skin color was never one of them.

The idea of treating black people any differently was alien to me. And horrific.

It was only much later that the name "Mandela" truly entered into my consciousness - this was in the days before we all had the internet. Then he entered my awareness as a South African activist who got locked up for making too much trouble. Only on his release did I really grasp that this guy was more than just some random activist.

He walked out of prison and all but straight into negotiations with then president de Klerk. And he won. Plain and simple, he won. Only four years after his release, in 1994, he was the first black President of South Africa. He retired after a single five year term.

Not that he stopped - he spent the rest of his active life devoted to charitable causes.

His own people called him "Tata". Father. Now the world mourns him as the father of modern South Africa - a country which still has a long way to go, but which has moved past its institutionalized racism into the modern world.

For me? I simply respect the fact that after 27 years in prison, much of it spent in solitary confinement and working hard labor, and five years as President of his country, he made it to 95 and died of natural causes.

That's one tough man.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Man Of Steel Sequel...

...is going to have another hero. Wonder Woman. She's going to be played by Gal Gadot.

I don't have any experience with this actor, but I'm willing to give her a shot...although I'm not sure about the sequel itself. I liked Man of Steel, but my husband thought it was two hours of his life he'll never get back.

She's got the coloring except for having dark eyes - which I'm more than willing to forgive. She's got a distinctly Greek feel to her.

The one thing she doesn't have: Size. And that's causing a bit of a controversy.

On the one hand are the fans who are saying Gadot is simply too skinny to play the part. Or that she isn't, uh, well enough endowed.

On the other is the riposte from those who say this is body shaming.

What? Have we got so politically correct that saying we think somebody doesn't have the right build to fit our visualization of a fictional character is body shaming now?

I'm as against body shaming as anyone else, but the truth is - Wonder Woman is muscular, curvaceous, and tall. Gadot doesn't have the curves, although I'm sure she'll be spending some time in the weight room before filming starts (Actors do things like that for parts all the time). Doesn't mean she won't be able to pull off the role, but Lynda Carter she is not.

That's not body shaming. Nobody is saying anything is wrong with Gadot. They're just saying she doesn't, to them, look like Wonder Woman. I agree, but I'm flexible on the issue. Oliver Queen in Arrow doesn't look like Ollie was drawn pre Nu52 (Ollie has now been redrawn to look like the actor). And Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, anyone? She doesn't have to look like the comics character to "work."

But saying she doesn't look like the comics character is not "shaming" her. It's disagreeing with the casting staff. Big difference.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Hunger Games: Catching Fire

I'm not sure this was better than the first installment, as many people were saying - but it was certainly as good, and equally as disturbing.

My question now is how they will handle the third book. It's apparently being split into two films, in a recent (and, in my opinion, annoying) trend that seems to me to be primarily about selling movie tickets rather than art. (Then again, would I turn down a deal like that? Not sure...)

Mockingjay is much less visual and more psychological than the other two...there are some spectacular scenes, but it doesn't seem to be quite as "written for the screen." I also worry that people who haven't read the books will be horrified by just how dark this is - I've previously expressed my opinion that Hunger Games is not YA, and it becomes less and less YA as things go on.

On the topic of YA dystopias, Veronica Roth's Divergent is apparently going to be a movie. I haven't read this one yet, but may have to fix that. It looks intriguing.

Why yes, I'm an adult who reads YA. Nothing wrong with that.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Radiation Eating Fungi

Sometimes you miss something. This is from 2007 and somehow I missed it.

There's fungus growing in the Chernobyl reactor that's black...and fuels itself off of gamma radiation the way green plants fuel themselves off of sunlight.

It's apparently possible to use melanin to process gamma radiation. If an earth fungus can evolve to do this in a very short period of time (well within a human life time), then what might exotic life forms on other worlds do.

You could even have an entire ecosystem fueled off of radiation rather than light. Where there are plants there can be animals, after all. Such an ecosystem could exist deep underground in a "hollow earth" type scenario or in radiation-heavy parts of deep space. This kind of life form might grow on comets - most comets have plenty of water, which would still be necessary.

With proper genetic engineering, this fungus also has other possibilities. Could a variant be bred that will actually eat nuclear waste? Another suggestion would be to breed an edible form - which might be handy as a food source on deep space missions or in the initial stages of colonization.

And if one wanted to go really out there, could it be possible to engineer animals to pull the same trick? Maybe even...people?

Monday, December 2, 2013

News, News, News.

Yes, a special update post.

First a reminder that Transpecial is currently 50% off via www.musapublishing.com. If you already have it, check out some of Musa's other offerings. There's some really amazing romance over there, if that's what rocks your boat. Also, there are three free short reads - and there will be more to come over the next two weeks. Christmas Crossroad by Viki Lyn, The Silence of Reza by IJ Sarfeh, and The Break In by Carrie Russell are free today!



I've mentioned I had something in the works, and here it is. Production has started on Invasion! a new print, full color monthly comic from small press Emerald Star Comics.

It's an anthology book, with each issue containing three old fashioned sci-fi stories - the first lineup contains "Man Out Of Time," "Incursion" and "Maximus Orbital."

And guess who's writing Maximus Orbital. The release date is to be announced - we're still in production right now.

Oh, and Emerald Star will also be offering five other print monthlies - three "in house" (Lady Satan, The Eight Day (space marines for the win) and Nowati (Time traveler in the old west). The other two are creator-owned. Zombie Ever After - virus-based zombie apocalypse and Starburn, which has the only thing more cool than space marines. Space pirates!

I'm really excited about my involvement with this company and am hoping to see even more and better things in the future.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Friday Updates!

Got a few for you.

First of all, Musa Publishing is doing a one day only sale on December 2 (Cyber Monday). ALL books published through their website (www.musapublishing.com) will be half price. Go check it out - and while you're there look for bunnies.

Second, Ruined Cities is now live. It's available as an ebook (only) through most major publishers - and it already has a good review on Amazon. it contains my story "The City Over Hell." It's post apocalyptic science fiction that focuses on dying cities. Mine is a little, shall we say, different.

And look out for bunnies.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Day of the Doctor

Dang it, Moffatt.

The 50th anniversary special managed to be both lighter and darker than the average Who episode. The incredible bouncing Fez, an appearance by Tom Baker's scarf...

High notes were the beautiful chemistry between David Tennant and Matt Smith. Not only did they utterly convince the audience of being the same person, to the point where on occasion I almost lost track of which was which (especially given their similar build). Billie Piper's performance was incredible - and no, she wasn't playing Rose Tyler. Oh, and you won't believe Who shows up at the end. Maybe.

On the dark side, the story addresses the Time War, the Doctor's crimes and, shall we say, the fluid nature of time. The book the Doctor is reading at the start is a perfect Chekhov's gun.

On the vague off chance there was somebody under a rock all weekend who still has it sitting on their DVR unwatched, I'm not going to say any more. I will mention that it will be going into the Guinness Book of Records - as the non-sporting television event shown simultaneously in the most countries. 94.

94. We may get fifty more years of this show. I certainly hope so.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thankful For...

Thanksgiving is in two days. I'm thankful for:

My husband, Greg, a great source of support.
My friends.
My publisher, Musa Publishing.
Having (mostly) good health.
Not being broke. Having the heat on and not having to worry about paying for it - which in the cold this week... Not having to wonder where next month's rent is coming from.
Being able to go riding.

Yeah. Time to be thankful for what you have and not envious of what you don't.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Tech From Life

Biomimicry is an important component of today's technology. A lot of our designs are taken from nature.

For example, engineers are studying whether they can apply the silent flight capability of barn owls (highly disconcerting if you've ever encountered one) to helicopter blades and airplane wings. Oh, and submarine propellers. The point? Reducing noise pollution and, in the case of underwater vehicles, not giving dolphins and whales as many headaches.

As somebody who lives right under the flight path of National Airport and one of the common routes for helicopters heading to and from the Pentagon, I say bring it. I doubt I'm alone on that front.

Of course, nothing based off of an owl is going to be nearly as cute as the real thing...

Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday Updates!

Been buried in short stories all week, but I do have an announcement.

On Cyber Monday (which is December 2 this year) ALL Musa books will be 50% off through their site. You will have to go to www.musapublishing.com (not a third party retailer). So if you're looking to pick up a few Christmas reads, now's your chance.

On top of that, Musa will also be starting a Thirteen Days of Christmas promotion - this will consist of free short stories from Musa authors. It will include "War Crimes," a prequel story to Transpecial set during the Martian War of Independence - which will be released on December 8. So if you aren't sure about whether you'd like the book - check out the free teaser. And, of course, the various other free shorts that will be on offer.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

New Land

Japan has one more island than they did yesterday. Maybe.

An undersea volcano has pushed up a circle island with a diameter of 660 feet. It's the first new island since the 1970s.

It's fairly likely that the small island will sink back under the waves - and because of that, Japanese authorities haven't named it. If it does stick around it will add a little bit to the land area of Japan, a country shaped and threatened by high levels of volcanic activity.

For once, geological activity might have done a good thing. Or at least a very, very cool one.

Video of the eruption can be found here.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Viruses and DNA transfer

Here's an intriguing thought. About 8% of our DNA is made up of ERVs. What's that?

ERV stands for "endogenous retroviruses." ERVs pass on with the rest of our DNA, but they initially came from...viruses. Some of them were even shared with other human species. Even more intriguingly, the HML2 family of viruses, which appear to be shared with Neanderthals and Denisovans, may be linked to cancer and the severity of AIDS.

So, do old viruses play a role in modern disease? More interesting still is the prospect that that viral DNA may actually do something- and that it may be possible to "catch" inherited traits the same way as one catches a cold. Could we find something in these viruses that could be used in gene therapy...and do we want to, given germ line gene therapy (passed on to offspring) is an ethical and even spiritual can of worms?

At the very least we may be able to come up with some more accurate predictors of cancer risk.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

MAVEN is on its way

The MAVEN orbiter was successfully launched yesterday afternoon. If all goes well, it will reach Mars in ten months.

The purpose? To work out what happened to Mars' atmosphere. This is important data - it will help us understand climate and planet formation better. The lead theory is that Mars, lacking a magnetic field, was exposed to the solar wind, which slowly blew the atmosphere away. If true, it might mean that a significant magnetic field is an essential element of a habitable planet. Maven might tell us the answer.

Once its mission is over, MAVEN will be parked in orbit to act as a communications relay for present and future surface rovers.

A few days after arrival, it will be joined by India's Mangalyaan mission, which launched sooner but is on a different flight path.

So. To Mars!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Where's My Winter?

It's in the mid sixties.


Chicago's apparently too warm too. Not sure whether to blame global warming or the solar maximum, but I sort of want some winter, you know. It never feels right when the weather is doing weird things like this.

(Oh, and there were no updates last week. Yet. Sorry, guys).

Friday, November 15, 2013

Assumptions and Stereotypes

The latest restaurant kerfuffle - and it seems there's one of these a month - broke last night. For once, the person writing nasty stuff on the receipt is the customer, not the waiter.

Apparently, these customers refused to tip because they didn't want to support the waiter's "lifestyle." The waiter was a female marine with short hair.

As it happened, she was gay, but really? All of the ex mil people I know keep their hair short. It becomes, I suppose, a habit. A straight female marine might just as easily have had that hair style. So, are these people really assuming every woman they see with short hair is gay? The world doesn't need that kind of stereotyping, people.

(And, for that matter, you don't want to assume every woman with long hair is straight...)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sadie Hawkins and gender

The Sadie Hawkins dance is a particularly American tradition. A dance where the women ask the men might seem to be...a good idea.

It's sad, though, that we feel we need such a thing. In a better world, men would ask women if they wanted to and women would ask men, and both genders would feel very free to say no. And in an ideal world we wouldn't have an event inspired by a comic strip that was actually about a woman being desperate for a man - and worthless without one. Or maybe it's all just good fun. As somebody who didn't grow up with the tradition (or even proms - we don't have those in Britain) it's somewhat hard to understand how people really feel about it.

Thoughts, my American friends?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"Adult" Warnings

In some cases it's obvious that an anthology or magazine isn't particularly suitable for children. From my own shelves I would mention Extreme Zombies, Future Lovecraft and Zombiality. And, of course, many readers out there have "adult" anthologies on their shelves (or, more likely these days, their e-readers).

In other cases it may not be as obvious. Or it might be that some stories in a volume are suitable and others are not. Editors might, in this case, choose to attach a warning to a particular story.

Here's the problem. These warnings can be subjective. The problem is in the definition of adult material itself. Some things, like those anthologies, are obvious. Somebody being tortured to death in splatterpunk? "Adult." Lovingly described sexual intercourse? "Adult." But what about promotion of drug use? I'm reading a book right now with a heck of a lot of drug use in it (Will be reviewed next week). It doesn't carry a warning specifically, but the blurbs definitely hint at the content.

And here's the real rub. Adult warnings are often put on stories that contain "sweet" same sex material. Of course, it can be hard to tell - the specific story I'm thinking about also had drug use, so was that what they meant? However, it's often the case that "adult material" for male/female starts at "full description of intercourse" but for male/male it starts at "their lips touch." (Female/female tends to fall somewhere between the two). It's an area where we still aren't "there" yet. A long way from "there," in fact.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

One Step Closer: Nanobots

So far, nanotechnology has been limited to material science. The dream of self assembling, communicating, tiny robots that can do all sorts of things (and might turn the world into grey goo) has remained strictly science fiction.

Until now. Scientists at Oxford and Warwick have developed the world's smallest...trains. These tiny robots can build their own tracks, move cargo, and dismantle track that's no longer needed.

The secret? DNA. Nature's programming language is, it turns out, perfectly suited to controlling nanobots. (Which, of course, brings a different apocalypse to mind - the "maker plague" which Alastair Reynolds uses to such effect in Chasm City).

At the same time, these nanobots bring with them great promise. Right now, they don't have as much practical use as one might hope - although some fish use a similar system to change color. But who knows? We might be one step closer to the true replicator. Assembler bots might also be key to constructing a space elevator, which would reduce the cost of getting payload to orbit by orders of magnitude. Or they might be programmed to dismantle tumors better than any surgeon.

Who knows?

Monday, November 11, 2013

I'm back...

Everything's taken care of, as much as it can be. I'm back and hoping to get back to normal this week (just sent off three submissions with four more to hopefully get done).

England in November is dreary. Trust me, it is.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Heading Out...

Got a flight to catch - so no posts for the rest of this week. Hoping for news when I get back - if anything important does happen I'll post it on Monday.

If not...well, I'll probably still post it next Monday. See you all then.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Friday Updates

I will be out of the country and not posting all next week. Updates:

Officially signed the contract with ANALOG for "A Star To Steer By." The exact issue hasn't been determined.

In negotiations with Emerald Star Comics for some possible work - details to come later.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Amazing Reindeer

Reindeer have turned out to have an unexpected ability.

Like many animals (but no primates) Reindeer have a tapetum lucidum - a reflective layer in the back of the eyeball that helps them see better in dim light. This is why animal eyes reflect green when photographed with a flash.

Reindeer, though, take this one step further. They live so far north that some of them have to endure 24 hours of light in the summer and 24 hours of darkness in the winter. How do they deal with this?

They change the color of the tapetum lucidum. In the summer, reindeer eyes glimmer gold - a color which reflects most of the light back out through the eye, protecting them from continuous daylight and snow blindness. In winter? The eyes turn light blue, which captures more light and allows them to handle near darkness.

Now the scientists plan on studying the eyes of other arctic animals to see if any of them do the same thing.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Why no reviews?

Why haven't I reviewed anything lately?

That would be because I've been, uh, reading from a massive box of ancient paperbacks somebody gave me. I'm actually on the last one now, and have a few things on my to be read pile that might be reviewed.

(No, I'm not requesting books to review right now *looks at to be read pile*. Nope.)

Just wanted people to know I'm still reading stuff. It's just all old and out of print - and some of it's really amazing. 1950s sci-fi can stand up remarkably well.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

New Species in Australia

And just when...

...we think we've found everything.

Check out the bizarrely cute leaf-tailed gecko, the adorable froggie, and a pretty gold skink - all new species found in Australia.

I really like the gecko myself.

(And what? I find reptiles and amphibians cute. I know that makes me weird. I find fuzzy things cute too...)

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Hard Personal Post

This is a difficult post to write - but I felt my readers need to know why I may be spotty in terms of posting for the next little while.

On Friday night, my beloved mother, Valerie Anne Povey, passed away after a lengthy illness. Her condition had deteriorated over the last few months to the point where she was unable to work and was alternating between the hospital and the nursing home - so this is both grief and relief.

I've said my goodbyes and am as okay with this as I can be, but there will definitely be days when I won't be posting (because I have to go back to Europe to deal with the funeral and, well...other stuff).

Friday, October 25, 2013

Friday Updates

The audio version of "That Blasted Horse" is now available. Listen to it here - a great read by the editor, Geoffrey C. Porter. He even pronounced my name right without any help.

Also, if you want a very, very quick read - go to Planetary Stories and read my story "Ashes."

Thursday, October 24, 2013

SETI, Radio Communications, Wastes of Time

One of the standbys of SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) has been listening for radio waves from outer space.

We've never heard any alien communications. Or anything resembling alien communications. Of course, radio's important. We use it...

...brakes on.

We use radio communication, sure. For cell phones. How close do you have to be to a cell tower to get a signal?

In perfect conditions: 45 miles. And we all know conditions are never perfect. Dropped calls, texts that don't get sent, randomly losing data in the middle of checking your email - such are the banes of the cell phone user. Technology has improved bandwidth, but it's still limited.

And that...is the only thing we really use radio for. Oh, true, there are still radio stations broadcasting. When was the last time you listened to one? Why - when most of us have several day libraries of MP3s on our computers or enjoy the customization of services such as Pandora, Spotify, or the new iTunes Radio? Who's going to let a DJ pick when they can set a seed algorithm, let it run, and enjoy?

Broadcast radio's not extinct yet, but it's close. (Amateur radio is still strong, but a lot of that has also moved to the internet in the form of podcasts and, of course, we still have no good substitute for the faithful CB or short range walkie talkie).


Do you know anyone who still watches television through rabbit ears? Do you? I doubt it - either cable or satellite is the order of the day. Now, satellite television is still radio. I'll give you that. And signals from the broadcast center are broadcast into space. In theory our extra-terrestrial "friends" could pick up those signals...if they could work out how to decode them. These signals are highly compressed, encoded, and then encrypted. They are also beamed - as anyone who's ever had a satellite dish knows, you need to point your dish right at the satellite and if that's not possible on your property, you're out of luck. If there's a tree in the way, you may be out of luck. Weather can also interfere with the signal. All kinds of things can mess it up. So, in order for an alien to pick up our satellite broadcasts, they would have to have a receiver pointed in the right direction...and nothing in the way. What are the chances of that? As for terrestrial broadcasts - those too can easily be blocked by objects.

The rest of us get our television piped through cables (although if watching a live sporting event the signal probably went through a satellite at some point). The technology is currently moving from electronic transmission to "fiber optic to end user" (which allows much more bandwidth).

So. For an alien to pick up one of our broadcasts would be surprisingly hard - yet we think we're going to pick up theirs?

Ah, but what about signals sent to and from spaceships? We use radio for that, right?

Not so fast. First of all, again, any radio we use is tight beam, so the aliens would have to happen to be in the line of it. And, again, there's the same problem with obstacles in the way.

Furthermore, I and many other science fiction writers have held to the idea that radio is an inefficient way to communicate with ships and any higher civilization would long since have stopped using it. This has always been a theory.

Until now. LADEE, NASA's latest moon probe, doesn't use radio. She uses laser communication - the first use of it in space. Laser communication would have a far greater range than radio and can transmit, just like those fiber optic cables, far more data.

And, of course, it's still tight beamed.

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Not a Leak


This is not a leak of the new title sequence for Capaldi's Doctor.

It really isn't.

It just should be.

Also, thank you Mr. Hanshaw. Now I want Capaldi's signature costume item to be a pocket watch.

What about it, Mr. Capaldi?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Is the Yeti a bear?

According to a British researcher - yes. The Abominable Snowman appears to be, based off of DNA testing of a number of samples, a species of bear - possibly a grizzy bear/polar bear hybrid.

On the face of it - this makes sense. A lot of sense. Many of the traits ascribed to both the Yeti and its New World cousin the Sasquatch fit "bear." Peaceful unless disturbed, able to walk on two legs like a man, lots of shaggy fur. However, other scientists have questioned his methods; samples sent through the regular mail, etc. Also, the number of samples with intact DNA was relatively low - only 27.

I personally buy it because it makes sense...but it seems that the quest to identify the Yeti may not be over yet.

Or perhaps it is. What do people think? IS the Yeti simply a species of Ice Age bear, surviving as a relic population in the high mountains?

It works for me...

Monday, October 21, 2013

What I'm Working On

Working on a few things right now. The Strange Voyages kickstarter is still being worked on. I'm also hoping to finish and submit two short stories this week, then start working on a short comic script for anthology submission (wish me luck there - comics anthologies are either A. tough or B. never happen).

Slowly working through the to-do list, which keeps getting longer thanks to my chronic Too Many Ideas Syndrome. Yeah, I know. All writers have it...

Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday Updates

Nothing specific to report right now. Still working on a few ideas that might turn into something exciting.

You'll be amongst the first to know.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

One Step Closer: The Fearless Soldier

I'm adding a new feature on Thursdays where I'll take something predicted in science fiction and explain how a recent discovery brought us one step closer to it.

In some cases these may be good things. In others, not so much...

Today, medical researchers claim to have discovered a vaccine for PTSD. That is to say, they have a way to reduce the risk of soldiers getting PTSD through an annual shot.

The basic idea is to control the levels of ghrelin, a hormone associated with appetite...but also with fear. (Possibly because you need to replace energy after running or fighting). They've discovered that increasing ghrelin levels makes you more afraid (Maybe we need to check the ghrelin levels of paranoia sufferers? Could it actually be an excess of this one hormone?). Reducing ghrelin levels makes you less afraid.

The idea of a shot to make soldiers fearless in battle has been used a few times in military science fiction. Maybe it really will just make them less susceptible to PTSD - but I hope they will check it first and make sure it doesn't make them less susceptible to fear. A fearless soldier might seem like a great military sci-fi trope - but in the real world, such a man is far more likely to make mistakes or do something heroically stupid.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Nobel Prize

As usual, given I seldom read or write outside genre, I'm not overly familiar with this year's winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

This year's prize was granted to Canadian short story writer Alice Munro. What makes this special is that it's very unusual for those who predominantly write in the short form to be recognized outside of specific prizes for short fiction. As somebody who's written a lot of short fiction, I'm glad to see this happen.

For those who want to know more about Munro - she's a small town Canadian girl who sets her stories in southern Ontario and British Columbia. She's now retired from writing, but one can expect everything she's written that isn't in print currently to be in print soon. There are certainly plenty of choices on her Amazon page. (Munro does not appear to have a web site).

Congratulations to Alice Munro (and, of course, to all of the other Nobel prize winners for 2013).

Monday, October 14, 2013

Day's Challenge

I was at Capclave this weekend, where I got to (briefly) hang out with the wonderful Day Al-Mohamad. (If you ever get the chance to go to a panel she's on, at any con, on any subject, take it. I also highly recommend Sherin Nicole).

Day Al-Mohamad has made it a bit of a personal quest to increase the diversity of characters in speculative fiction - and on one of her panels she challenged all the writers present to write at least one story with a main character who is non-white, GLBT, or disabled.

I've written quite a few stories with GLBT main characters (and a lot with straight MCs too - I don't set out to write GLBT stories, I consider it nothing more than another aspect of the character). Transpecial has a fairly prominent black character and an autistic main character. So in some ways I think I'm doing fine, but part of me wants to take up her challenge to do something I haven't done.

I have not written a story in which the main character was physically disabled. Which got me to thinking about physical disabilities and science fiction.

Here's the problem. Unless you are writing contemporary or very near future science fiction (Transpecial is fairly near future, but it doesn't count as "contemporary") then there is a real problem with physically disabled characters.

They may not exist.

Our medical technology is advancing in leaps and bounds. Visual prosthetics are coming along well; the technology of replacement limbs is approaching maturity even as new techniques involving bone printers and stem cells promise that in the future we may be able to regrow a missing arm or leg. Similar techniques are already being used to replace some parts of the body - including teeth, ears, and windpipes.

I personally find it hard to believe that there will still be physically disabled people (long term, that is) fifty years from now. Severed spinal cord? Here's your stem cell injection. Your kid's blind - let's discuss treatment options.

At the same time, Day's right. The physically disabled need their role models too. They need characters who show that being blind, or deaf, or in a wheelchair doesn't prevent you from being somebody. Even from being the hero.

How do you address this dichotomy? I'm still thinking on it - maybe I will have to make a character from a poor background, who can't afford the medical treatment needed to correct her problems (but how do I do that without preaching about healthcare?).

So, opening this up to thoughts. I'm specifically thinking of science fiction here - fantasy is a lot easier. (In fact, the portrayal of Jaime Lannister learning to deal with being disabled and compensate for it in ASOIAF is amazing). Science fiction - that's tough.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Friday Update!

I am pleased to announce that my short story "A Star To Steer By" has been purchased by Trevor Quachri for Analog magazine.

I feel...and I know writers are terrible judges of their own work...that this is one of the best pieces I've produced so far.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Iceland Day 6 - Mount Esja

Our plan was to go to Mount Esja pretty much for the day - but this was stymied because the tourist information office refused to sell us bus tickets and the bus ticketing office doesn't open until noon on Saturdays - hint, unless you want to have to get exact change, buy tickets the day before for travel plans on weekends.

We did make it there, but found ourselves without quite enough time to get to the top and back down before the bus back to Reykjavik (had we missed it there wasn't another one for two hours!)

The hike was still worth it. As a warning, there's a point where the trail splits. All the Icelanders (who insist their grandmother can do this hike) will go straight on.

Straight on is shorter. Straight on is also much, much more strenuous. I'm usually in better shape, but for various reasons I wasn't really quite up to it and was getting my butt kicked...by Icelandic three-year-olds. Sigh. I feel old.

Still, it was worth it for views like this:

And this:

The colors in the Arctic just aren't quite the same as in more temperate climes.

(Another warning. The only rest rooms at Esja are in the cafe at the bottom, and if you try to use them you will get a growled "Customers only").

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The new show is a spin-off of the popular Avengers movies, produced by Joss Whedon and starring Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson (the show has yet to explain how Coulson survived what happened in the movie, with some fans speculating he may actually be a LMD).

Pulling off the popularity of the movies and drawing in fans with writing assistance from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the show's pilot episode broke records, but a third of the audience vanished after episode one - leading some to speculate that Whedon has failed yet again (He has not managed a truly successful show since Buffy).

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is not Whedon's best work - it's not as good as the doomed shows Firefly and Dollhouse, which were amazing - just not popular enough to survive. Agents is getting better ratings, but how long that will last is unclear.

Whedon did manage to escape his tough female fetish...for about one episode. It's clear that his favorite character by far is Skye (Chloe Bennett). (The other "strong female character," Melinda May, is too much of a Black Widow ripoff to blame Whedon for). As usual, Whedon's female characters are better than his men. The dialogue has the classic Whedon snap (with, no doubt, some influence from Kirby and Lee). However, the show is not as good as Leverage - a more reasonable comparison than any previous comic book shows. Like Leverage, it harks back to the classic 1970s television shows, albeit with more character development and arc between episodes. The team hasn't quite gelled yet, although I don't expect the exceptional chemistry between the cast that so far I've only seen Leverage and the original Star Trek series reach. That's rare and I don't think you can create it, only find it.

The show's good. It's just not great. It's not Dollhouse, which disappoints me (I loved and adored that show). Is it worth watching? Yes. Will it last more than one season? Doubtful.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Musa Anniversary Promotion

My wonderful publishers, Musa, are doing all kinds of promotions for their anniversary this month.

Right now, if you go order Transpecial direct through the Musa site (This offer is ONLY available through the Musa site, not through third party retailers - please follow the link above) you will be able to add Cooking With Musa to your purchase completely free. That's 80 recipes put together by Musa authors who are better cooks than I am. And with Thanksgiving coming up...

(Yes. Gratuitous plug, but who doesn't want free recipes?)

Monday, October 7, 2013


I don't normally blog about the weather, but it is pouring it down out there. Does anyone have a set of waders I could borrow?

Or maybe a boat?

Oh well. As long as I don't lose power I am in the delightful situation of not having to go out in the lashing winds and violent rains. Well, I don't have to go out if I do lose power, but I have quite a bit of work to do, so let's hope it stays. I'd be struggling to see in here without the lights on!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Friday Updates

No real news to report this week - more work on the Strange Voyages kickstarter, which we'll be launching once we have everything together.

Trust me, it's going to be awesome.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Iceland Day 6: Maritime Museum and Sundry

With two days of the trip left, we'd planned on doing more stuff in and around Reykjavik. Our list ended up way too long, but we did manage to get in a couple of the things we'd planned.

The Reykjavik Maritime Museum is a little different from other maritime museums I've visited. It's the only one I know of that's almost entirely dedicated to fishing. The main exhibit focuses on the development of fishing boats from tiny rowboats all the way to modern mechanized trawlers.

The museum also owns the Odinn, a coastal patrol ship that was operated by the Icelandic Coast Guard from 1960 until 2006 - and I highly recommend taking a tour. We were surprised to walk into her engine room and smell relatively fresh oil. "Museum ship" my...

(The engines, it turns out, are the only ones of their type still in serviceable condition and may be being mainted because of their value, but I'm betting that in a true emergency situation where they needed anything seaworthy they'd take her out).

Also on the docket was some exploring of Reykjavik. We also discovered Culture House, the administrative building of the Reykjavik National Museum. Like the Smithsonian Castle, it has some exhibitions in it - including a sample of Medieval books from the largest collection of Medieval Icelandic literature. Worth checking out if old books make you go "Oooh."

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Review: World Soul

I have extremely mixed feelings about this book.

It's well written with interesting characters and a good plot. It did deserve to be published, don't get me wrong. It's also well edited, clean, has a great cover.

It should be a good book. The problem is that I could not get past Ms. Williams' abuse of mythology. She seems to have a great understanding of ceremonial magic...but...

She casually uses the word "ka" (which is part of somebody's soul and stays linked to their body) to remove something completely differently. She refers to the Norse god Loki, who is technically a Jotun, as "the disir" - a word which is feminine and plural - and worse, she later translates the same term as "Ladies." I know Loki has been known to shapeshift, but... She's also using an existing mythology term to refer to something completely different.

If you don't know or don't care, you'll probably thoroughly enjoy this book- nice pacing and some intriguing ideas. If you do know and do care, then it's a stumbling block - and this is from somebody who's a Marvel fan. I don't mind a bit of myth abuse. I'm not that finicky, but for some reason, this book just hit me in several wrong places.

Disappointing. I blame the author entirely - she apparently runs a magic shop in England, so it's entirely reasonable that her editor assumed she knows what she's talking about. Maybe she does and the changes were poetic license that didn't quite work? I don't know, but I do know it made the book hard to read for me. Again, others may not be bothered by it at all.

Two and a half stars.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Been thinking...

The other day somebody stumbled across a contract dating website...and I had to explain what it was.

I've often found myself in the position of having to explain some variety of human sexuality to those who haven't yet stumbled across it. This includes, for example, informing people that no real animals are involved in pony play (or puppy or kitten play).

Human sexuality is very powerful and it comes in all sorts of varieties. "Contract dating," for example, is a term currently used for what used to be called sugar daddy/sugar baby relationships. An older, wealthy man (who may or may not be currently married) enters into a relationship with a young, attractive woman, in which he gets the pleasure of her company and she gets to share in his lifestyle. (In some cases these relationships may lead to legal marriage. In most cases, however, the younger woman is a mistress).

The thing about every variety of human sexuality is that it offends somebody. Those who believe marriage should be life and people should be 100% loyal will be offended by contract dating, as will those who are against any form of prostitution (technically, there's no difference between contract dating and hiring an escort long term).

But, I know plenty of feminists who are upset by the "traditional" male breadwinner/female homemaker marriage.

So, who are any of us to judge other people's arrangements? Ours probably upset somebody, somewhere on the planet.

Monday, September 30, 2013

A Political Rant

Can we please, please stop fighting over partisan agendas and actually run the country?

I'm at the point of wanting to vote every one of the rascals out. Seriously. We've hit gridlock worse than I-66 at rush hour and something really needs to give here. There's no civility at either the Congress level or the grass roots level.

I don't often talk about politics here, but I'm just fed up with it. Completely.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday Updates

Sold "Safety Nets" to Ether World.

Still working on the kickstarter for Strange Voyages, which is also being edited. This is going to be a great book for all of you gamers.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Iceland Day 5: The Golden Circle

If you only have one day in Iceland, the Golden Circle is what you're supposed to do.

(Yes, I did things backwards, but the riding tour we wanted was only available on the Monday and I wanted to do the whale watching early so we could reschedule in the event of a weather cancellation).

Ideally, you should do this on the first day of your trip. And with a small operator. There are operators that take 60 person buses...and then there are ones that take 12 person minibuses. Guess which is better? Now, we did have one person on our tour who apparently believed anything anyone told her and asked some interesting questions, among them "Is it true that the ancient vikings didn't eat fish?"

That aside, despite a miserable day, we did enjoy the tour. The Golden Circle consists of three destinations. All of them are, to some degree, tourist traps - but sometimes tourist traps can be fun.

Stop 1: The Golden Falls

The Golden Falls are the largest waterfall in Iceland and one of the most spectacular in the world. They aren't that high, but they're wide and run at an odd angle through the gorge.

You can see why rain jackets are recommended for this trip even if it's a nice day...look at that spray! Oh, and if possible, eat at the cafe here. Get the traditional Icelandic lamb stew, which is absolutely delicious and rich with bone marrow and rutabagas.

Stop 2: Geysir

The original geysir after which all the others are named is all but dormant now. It does go off every few weeks, but you have to be insanely lucky. Fortunately, a nearby one, Strokkur, is still reliable - every two minutes or so.

The site also has multi-colored hot springs. In all kinds of hues. Don't cross the fences - they're scalding hot. And be aware that if it's a wet day, the soil around here is clay. I still haven't quite got the shoes I was wearing clean.

Stop 3: Thingvellir

Here's an interesting thing about Iceland: It's the only European country never to have had its own king. (External conquerors who never lived there don't count). Instead, Iceland was governed by the Althingr - Europe's first parliament. (The Isle of Man argues that theirs is older, but the linguistic proof is that the Tynwald was named after Thingvellir - however, they do win the prize for the longest-running, as the Tynwald still meets at the same site, albeit no longer outside).

The Althingr met at Thingvellir because it was at the point where all the pack roads crossing Iceland met - the ultimate crossroads. Or, as I put it, "equally inconvenient for everyone." Nowadays the Althingr meets in Reykjavik, but occasionally ceremonies are held at Thingvellir and the President's Summer House is used for diplomatic functions. It's Iceland's original capital...

...and yeah. That's the President's Summer House. That and the church? The only things here. (There's also a visitor's center). Thingvellir is also a rift valley, falling where the Mid-Atlantic ridge passes through the island. There's even a point here that's the, shall we say "official" meeting of the two continental plates with a sign to be photographed by. If you go for that sort of thing. It's an arbitrary point, anyway - the entire valley is where the plates meet and grind against each other.

As you can see, it really was a horrible day weather-wise. Ah well.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Review: Moon's Prophecy

I'm very picky about talking animal stories. That doesn't mean I don't like them - I grew up on Narnia and still adore Watership Down.

Just...picky. And The Moon's Prophecy by Jonathan Sparrow is a talking animal story. It's book one of a series (or at least a trilogy) and is focused on the adventures of a group of small creatures (mice, shrews and hedgehogs) fighting to defend their home from evil marauding boars - apparently the sows stay at home. The issue I have is that they aren't animals at all. They're humans in animal form - which quite surprises me as it comes from a naturalist. The anthropomorphism is the standard kind to make the characters easier to relate to. In fact, the authors' note all but admits that the talking animals are really just mountain folk.

If you love talking animal stories, you'll enjoy it. At the very least, it's a light read - and well-suited to younger teens and tweens. Some kids at least will love it. If you're looking for something to fill a bit of time and relax with, it's not a bad book at all. If you want more depth to your book, then don't bother. And if you appreciate mountain stories - it will probably work very well indeed.

Three stars.