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 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 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.