Wednesday, December 31, 2014

And Another Year Almost In The Can

2014 is almost over, and what did we see?

Here's some of the stuff that got me excited in 2014:

1. 3D printing in space. The Star Trek replicator came one step closer with the Made In Space device that is now being tested, successfully, on the ISS. 3D printers will reduce the cost of manned (and some unmanned) space exploration significantly.

2. Machine-mediated telepathy. Without surgery. Brain-computer interfaces have allowed people to think to each other across the internet. And we no longer need to implant electrodes to let people control machines with their mind - although the technology's not perfect yet, the trope of the VR "crown" is almost upon us.

3. Self driving cars are getting closer and closer to reality, with everything that means for accident levels (yes, as far as we can tell they're safer) and mobility for disabled people.

4. We confirmed the first Earth-sized planet that may be habitable (in the Goldilocks zone). We'll see what pans out from it, but the exoplanet search points more and more towards us not being alone. And what about those mysterious radio bursts? Nope, still not sure. Could they be the signs of another civilization? Or am I just being overly optimistic?

5. And good luck to the group of scientists at Imperial College London who are trying to work up a collider experiment to turn light into matter...they actually think it's possible.

What made you excited in 2014?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Be Careful Out There...

...and don't get the flu. It's a bad year for it.

The flu vaccine is based off an educated guess as to which strains will be dominant. This year they missed one, and it's an H3 strain - particularly dangerous to kids and the elderly.

There have been 15 deaths of children associated with the flu. And it's no better in Canada.

So, yeah. Wash your hands. Stay home if you're sick (please, please, and employers, stop firing people for staying home when they have a fever - somebody told me they had to go in or be fired even though they're obviously ill). Please, just be careful out there.

Please try not to get the flu. I'm considering going into hiding this year...

Monday, December 29, 2014

Venus Goes Steampunk

So, apparently NASA's think tank has come up with a way to colonize Venus. Called HAVOC, the initial plan is for two astronauts to visit the cloud-covered, lethal planet, but the design could scale up to a small outpost...and from there, who knows.

The best part - it uses airships. Yup. Airships. HAVOC stands for High Altitude Venus Operational Concept.

The surface of Venus has eaten the few probes we've got to it in a matter of hours. Earth's "sister" planet might better be called her evil twin. The atmosphere is not only toxic, it's corrosive, full of sulfuric acid and other nasties.

At thirty miles up, though, we find conditions more earth-like than anywhere else in the solar system. The pressure, gravity and radiation protection are all similar to the surface of the Earth.

Hence, airships. A lighter-than-air vessel is the best way to hold scientific equipment...and brave that thirty mile zone. The challenges include inflating the airship on arrival and protecting it from the atmosphere - not nearly as bad there as closer to the surface, but still dangerous.

But, intriguingly, this may be more immediately feasible than a manned mission to Mars. The much shorter distance reduces the challenges of spaceflight and the environment is more hospitable in the ways that really matter...

And the idea of an airship city on Venus is just too cool to pass up.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Friday Updates

Okay, so...I'll be gone all next week dealing with Christmas and family stuff.

Finished January Making Fate.

"Crone" is back from the editor, and I'm definitely looking at a mid-January release date. If you don't have your copy of "Mother" yet - go get it.

Strange Voyages is in layout, but that might not be done until after the holidays. We're just adding the backer content now.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Science Fiction Things Under Serious Discussion

Here we go again. This is why science fiction writers keep having to up their game. Here's a few things that are now seriously in discussion and development that, you know, belong to science fiction:

1. Power sats. Four countries - the US, China, India and, of course, Japan have projects in development. SpaceX's reusable rockets could be key to bringing the project into economic feasibility - the number of launches required could give the first one a price tag of $20 billion.

2. Self-guilding bullets. DARPA claims they've cracked this one. Of course, being DARPA, they won't go into details as to how, but with modern miniaturization the bottom size of a guided missile has to have dropped a lot.

3. Mind over machine. Mind-controlled robotic arms are close to being ready for primetime. And machine-mediated telepathy's on the way too.

What do we think will be 2015's breakthrough?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Fraudproof Credit Cards?

Personally, I don't think such a thing exists.

Dutch researchers are proposing using something they call quantum-secure authentication - a nanoparticle strip that has a unique pattern carved into it by a laser.

They claim it can't be hacked.

The hackers of the world slaver at such claims. I'm not sure even quantum physics can end the arms race between the white hats and black hats of the world. There's a good explanation of how the system would work here.

What do people think? Is this really "unhackable"?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Domestication Gene?

There isn't really a domestication gene. (There is something called domestication syndrome, which refers to the physical changes that are genetically linked to breeding for tameness - the "symptoms" include physical neoteny especially of the face, floppy ears, and patched or piebald coats).

Researchers studying the horse genome, though, have found 125 domestication genes. Or to be more precise, 125 genes involved in the physical and behavioral traits we favor. Stuff like, you know, not bucking people off, paying more attention to humans, having good withers to support a saddle and, most likely, size (wild horses are smaller than most domestic breeds).

I find this particular topic fascinating. One day I'll get a convention panel together on it.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Evolution does cool things

For one thing, we now know that only one mutation caused birds to lose the ability to produce teeth. (Beaks are an advantage in some situations, but a disadvantage in others).

Even more cool is a species of deep water worm. These worms eat bones - they eat the skeletons of whales and bony fish that fall to the bottom of the ocean. And in almost all of them the males have shrunk. Females keep harems and the males are permanently attached to them.

Almost all. They just found a new species in which the sexes are the same size - and they're saying it's an evolutionary reversal - a return to an older state. This doesn't happen very often because unused genes tend to slowly atrophy or disappear (just like the genes that would make teeth in birds). And these males are, of course, fully mobile.

Turning stuff back on? Evolution doesn't do that very often.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Friday Updates

No huge news this week - although I did get caught up on what I planned on doing writing-wise. Pretty quiet pre-Christmas lull here.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


...dinosaurs are extinct, right?

But the closest genetic relative to the dinosaur is an animal we've all seen (and almost all eaten), an animal so common we don't even think about it twice.

Yup - the humble chicken is the most dinosaur-like of all birds, genetically. (The second most is, of course, the turkey).

Also, birds evolve more slowly than mammals, possibly explaining why none of the flightless birds have invented livebearing yet. (And the slowest evolution? Crocodilians).

(My dear darling husband will insert a Doom Chicken joke here. It's a bad movie reference).

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Good Luck, Space X

Commercial space flight has seen a couple of setbacks lately.

So, here's hoping that the December 16 attempt to land a reusable first stage rocket safely goes well. SpaceX will be trying to bring down the Falcon 9 first stage onto a floating platform (based off of oil rig designs).

They're estimating a 50/50 chance of actually pulling this off (it won't be a disaster if they don't - they'll probably just miss the platform) on the first attempt.

So...yeah. Good luck with it. It would be a welcome boost if they manage it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

So, how wet was Mars?

Wet enough to create layers of sedimentary rock. Gale Crater, for example, appears to have contained a lake that, over time, varied in size.

And apparently for it to exist, there had to have been seas. It's now looking as if Mars was once quite habitable by our kind of life.

The problem?

We can't work out how. None of the models we have allow Mars, with its small size, to have a thick enough atmosphere to be warm enough for what the rocks are telling us happened.

Unless, of course, the NASA researchers are wrong. We'll see what ends up happening, but there's still a lot to learn.

And a lot, apparently, that we don't quite understand about the Red Planet.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Mockingjay (Spoilerish)

Anyone who knows me knows I like The Hunger Games. (They also probably know my rather controversial opinion that the entire thing is mis-marketed and should not be considered Young Adult).

I was very worried, though, about Mockingjay on film. First of all, the splitting into two movies which has become a trend sadly exemplified by Jackson's Hobbit, which has definitely consumed too many second breakfasts. Second of all - both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire really read as books written to be filmed.

Mockingjay doesn't. The book is about what war does to people, to individuals. It's deeply psychological and shows a disturbing understanding of PTSD, losing one's humanity, and other forms of insanity - and there's no way you can film that. Books and movies are different media.

The movie worked because it didn't try. Understanding that the task was impossible, writers Peter Craig and Danny Strong (with an adaptation credit given to Collins herself) and director Francis Lawrence chose to tell a different side of the story.

The book is about what war does to individuals.

The movie is about what war, especially civil war, does to nations.

And as that, it works. Destruction, rubble, fields of skeletons - these things film well in a way the inner workings of the mind don't.

My criticisms are minor and in at least one case personal.

1. I didn't like how they did District 13. I'd always envisioned command bunker combined with nuclear fallout bunker. The filmmakers apparently envisioned giant missile silo. (Ironically, some of the visuals were nearly identical to the space station/bunker in Interstellar, albeit bigger). I also had an argument with Greg - I thought the movie District 13 was more sinister than the books. He disagreed. Ah well.

2. The split was done at a good spot, but. They had a very strong end point, and then carried on for five minutes after it. I think it would have been a much stronger movie if they'd ended after the fight between Peeta and Katniss.

3. Peeta's falling apart was too subtle. You need to overplay things like that, and we shouldn't be needing the rest of the cast to tell us he's messed up while he sits there looking perfectly fine.

High points:

1. Natalie Dormer as Cressida. She was unrecognizable (I had to look her up to realize who she was) because of what they did to her hair, but she was clearly channeling a nice mix of the directors she's known.

2. R.I.P. Philip Seymour Hoffman. You were a great Plutarch Heavensbee. Nobody could do it better.

3. Effie's complaining about her missing wigs and acting as if she was still in the Capitol. Awesome. And yes, people do go into that sort of denial.

4. Pollux using actual ASL in the drop ship. Apparently he said "Isn't she hot?" (I don't speak ASL, so...)

Friday, December 5, 2014

Friday Updates

Two good, solid reviews of The Silent Years. One isn't up on the blogger's actual site yet but can be seen on Amazon and Goodreads.

The other, from Long And Short Reviews can be found here.

If you haven't got your copy yet, what are you waiting for?

Apparently, "Anyone who likes apocalyptic fiction should check this out."

Book two is still at the editor. Working on it!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Elizabeth Moon Does It Again

I finally finished her Paladin's Legacy series - a sequel to The Deed of Paksenarrion.

Except for one niggling continuity error (Mages in The Deed become Wizards in Legacy so she can use the term mage to talk about what I would be more inclined to call a sorcery) it's a worthy continuation. It's been quite a few years and Moon's writing has matured.

I'm not going to do a full review here - but I do recommend it. When you finish a series and your only complaint is that you've finished - you know it's pretty good.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Review: Variable Star by Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson

This is actually a several year old book, but I've confirmed it's in print status.

Robert A. Heinlein was a prolific writer...and like most writers left unfinished work. We don't know why he never finished this novel, but his outline and notes were found in his desk. In 2003 long term Heinlein fan Spider Robinson (best known for Callahan's Cross Time Saloon was hired to finish it).

Posthumous collaborations don't often work very well. This one does - the choice of Robinson to do the job was excellent, given some strong similarities in voice between the two writers. The book is set not in Heinlein's fairly well known "Lazarus" universe but in the world of Revolt in 2100 (which is one of the scariest future timelines ever written, especially when I look at some of the religious crazies who have way too much power these days). The protagonist is a young man - a little older than the norm for Heinlein's classic juveniles, but still falling into the category of protagonist Heinlein wrote the best.

And Robinson does a really brilliant job. The protagonist, after discovering that his girlfriend lied to him and is now expecting him to do stud duty and learn to be a high powered manager (he's a musician and composer) decides to storm out of the entire solar system and sign up to be a colonist. The book is...well...had Heinlein written it on his own, it would have been hard science fiction. But this is Robinson, and there are some things he can't resist. Starflight by meditation? That's classic Robinson. But the actual technology is classic Heinlein.

Here's the flaw.

Heinlein has two flaws in his writing. One is a tendency to stop the story to explain either his science of his sociology. The other is his...well known peccadillos about human sexuality and the way people fall in love.

Robinson has two flaws in his writing. One is his obsession with learning telepathy via zen meditation. The other is his obsession with music, which is only two steps below that of my late (and much missed) mother.

Guess what.


The book has all four. Now, to be fair, Robinson tones down the creepy sexuality and at least there's no dubious consent incest presented as a good thing. He also tries, tries, tries to leave what I assume is his own religion/philosophy out of it. But there's still the edges of both in there, and a lot of stopping the story to talk about music along with some stopping the story to talk about science. I have to admit it had me laughing at times. Also, if you haven't read Revolt in 2100 (which is somewhat obscure) you might want to get or borrow it and read it before this book, because a couple of references to events in it aren't really explained that well.

Despite the fact that it collects the flaws of both writers, it also collects their good points. I've decided not to do star ratings, but I'd recommend this to fans of either writer...and to people who like their space opera, which it really slides over the edge into in terms of its level of "hardness."

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Let's Talk Star Wars. And things I don't want to associate with Star Wars

So, this was supposed to be yesterday's post.

Abrams and Disney chose this weekend to release the first "teaser" preview of the new Star Wars.

I know a lot of people are less than happy with J.J. Abrams right now. And yes, there are many, many issues with his Trek. (I don't necessarily blame him for casting a famous white guy to play Khan, but I do blame him for everything being 20 minutes from everything else).

Here's the thing. The very things that make his Star Trek less than perfect are the same things that should make his Star Wars...pretty damn good.

But then here's the "problem".

The trailer starts with John Boyega in a Stormtrooper uniform on what looks to be Tatooine. And hoo boy is this causing a furore.

Apparently, there are quite a few fans who have a problem with this. Some are making the argument that as Stormtroopers are clones they have to be white. (Except Jango Fett isn't white and by 30 years after Endor, I doubt the Stormtroopers are still clones).

Most are just being, well.


The Youtube comments give a good picture.

Commenters saying things like "If they need to put in a black guy" (And insisting Jango Fett, played by an actor of Maori descent, was Caucasian/white).  According to these people the black Stormtrooper is stupid, "they have sinned". Apparently there was some real racist filth in the comments that has fortunately been deleted.

The point being, people are mad.

A bit of history. Lucas did not originally intend Lando Calrissian. He was put in because people bitched that everyone in the universe appeared to be white.

Now we have people bitching that what is presumably a very significant character (the first we see) is black. I'm just going to say: Get over it. Whether he's an actual Stormtrooper (perhaps in the process of defecting) or somebody in Stormtrooper armor, there is no legitimate justification for complaining about his color. None. It's not like this is a character canonically established as white. They are not wrecking canon.

Jango Fett was not white. Not all Stormtroopers are clones. We have never seen a Stormtrooper without his helmet before, so for all we know they're all black.

Complaining about this is racism. Sorry, but it is.

Now, rant over, the rest of the teaser. We see a young woman who matches well with Carrie Fisher on a new kind of landspeeder - my guess is she is Han and Leia's daughter. We see a Sith with a red lightsaber who's apparently worried about losing his hand, based off of the guards. There are a lot of fan complaints about this, but there is rather a precedent (from 1-3) of Sith using cool looking but not entirely practical lightsabers.

And we see an X-Wing pilot - another important character, I suspect. Plus the Falcon versus TIE fighters.

And that's about it. It's a teaser, so they aren't handing us very much to go on. Except a fan controversy that shouldn't be.

Monday, December 1, 2014


I was planning on writing a nice cheery blog post about Star Wars today. Or a review of a book I read recently.

Those are being put off. Very quietly, with pretty much no mention in the media, the EU has been implementing plans to really mess up the lives and livelihoods of a large number of people.

The tagline is "VATMOSS." It's planned to prevent Amazon and Google from sitting in Luxembourg with its 3% VAT rate and selling to the rest of Europe.

In fact, it's pretty much entirely aimed at Amazon.

It classes certain things as digital services. On those products, the VAT threshold is suddenly zero if you're selling to an EU country you are not resident in. (Norway and Switzerland have also bought into this).

It applies to digital products sold to customers in the EU. This means ebooks, software, logo templates, anything that a customer buys that is pre-made. Physical products aren't affected, only electronic ones.

It also applies to browser games with subscription options or freemium.

So, what's the big deal?

In order to comply with the legislation, all businesses, regardless of their size or profit level, that sell digital products to a country in the EU other than the one they are in must:

1. Collect VAT and remit it to the country their customer is resident in.
2. Store at least two "non-contradictory" proofs of which country that customer is in for ten years, and abide by privacy rules (there's some indication this means the data has to be stored in the EU, but that's only from one source).
3. File a VAT return and/or prove they have no customers in the EU.

They are providing a system that allows companies to file only one VAT return for the entire EU. (This is the MOSS part).

So, here's the problem:

1. US companies are now required to collect and store information US payment processors are legally forbidden to provide them. It is nearly impossible to comply with the reporting aspect of the law if you are not in the EU.
2. In order to be sure they can cover the VAT for any possible EU customer, companies will have to raise prices by somewhere between 20 and 30 percent for all customers. So, people who are not in the EU, have never been to the EU, and are buying from a company not in the EU will have to pay more to cover VAT rates. The alternative is to use a full e-commerce suite - prohibitively expensive for most very small businesses.

The only way to avoid the law is to 100% guarantee nobody in the EU can buy from your site. This is, by the way, impossible. If one customer gets through an IP block or geolocation system, then no matter what you did, or what lies they told, they can come after you with "potentially unlimited" fines. (Although realistically, it appears the only thing they can actually do to a US company is prevent them from selling to the EU).

And you're supposed to be able to prove nobody in the EU has bought from you that year if they decide to come after you.

So, this mess is impossible to fully comply with without ceasing direct sales of digital products. For some people - writers, musicians for example - that means going through a marketplace that handles all of this for them. That means, you know, Amazon, Google, Apple...the very companies this is actually supposed to be hitting. Amazon is going to make bank off of this.

For others, it means going out of business - or attempting to comply and hoping they don't get caught.

This is particularly bad for games companies that do in-browser "freemium" games outside of Facebook (another company the EU doesn't like). I'm also told it's going to stifle the sales of digital knitting patterns. And it's also going to hit the maker community hard (3D printing stuff will be hurt by this).

There are small business people all through Europe planning on shutting up shop on January 1, because that's their only option. These people are generally not eligible for welfare (at least not in the UK). People aren't just going to be inconvenienced by this. People are going to be really hurt.

A law designed to make sure huge corporations pay their fair share of sales tax is going to have the unintended consequence of destroying small businesses and possibly even wrecking the economic recovery.

And they kept this so quiet that nobody knew about it until the comments and complaint period was not weeks, not months, but years in the past.

It cannot possibly be right or ethical for a country, any country, to ask foreign citizens to act as tax collectors.

How this affects me is that I will now be unable, ever, to sell ebooks direct through my website until and unless this is fixed to allow reasonable compliance. I wasn't planning on doing it any time soon.

But it's not about how it affects me. It's about how it affects others. This is a blunder of epic proportions and no matter how desperate countries are for tax revenue, 20% of zero is still zero...and can any country afford to suddenly lose several hundred thousand jobs? That's the scale we're looking at. HMRC has predicted 30,000 businesses will need to register for MOSS. The real number is closer to half a million. Many of those will evade by switching to selling through a marketplace...if they can afford to do so. For those for whom that is not currently an option, shuttering may be the only way...and then what do they do? There aren't exactly an amazing number of jobs out there right now.

Friday, November 28, 2014

And It's Here!

The Silent Years: Mother is now on sale at Amazon, Smashwords and Barnes & Noble. (Smashwords link includes all electronic formats).

Barnes & Noble:

Or join me for a Facebook party and try to win a free copy!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Replicator Is Active

Yes, 3D printers do work in micro gravity. At least if they're designed to do so. The 3D printer from Made In Space was sent up to the ISS to be tested.

And it's made it's first object - a part for, well, itself. The faceplate with the Made In Space and NASA logos will help hold wiring in place on the printhead.

Now, astronauts will be able to use the printer to manufacture small parts and tools. This is absolutely key. Instead of having to send up every part the ISS might need, all Earth has to send now is the design (which is digital) and a suitable amount of raw materials.

The next part of the test will be to print an object and see how it compares to an identical one made on Earth, to see just how well the extruder is actually working compared to one running in normal gravity.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Violence And Consent

Our language talks a lot about consenting to sex. We have words for sex without consent - rape being the most obvious and the nastiest.

It's generally felt that you can consent to sex, and that sex without consent is "wrong" - although there's a lot of discussion about what constitutes consent and whether certain forms of sex without consent aren't as "bad" as others.

What we don't talk about as much is that in our society we also have situations in which we consent to violence.


Yesterday, 12 NFL games were played in America. On November 29, American television will show five "sets" (Sorry, I don't know the correct term) of boxing matches.

There are three laser tag, 6 paintball and 1 airsoft arena listed in the immediate Google search for my area.

And I would bet that quite a few of the people who read this blog post will, at some point over the Thanksgiving weekend, sit down and play a violent video game. Some of them at least will be playing against other players.

When we play a contact sport, enter into a wargame arena or "live fire" LARP or even play a violent video game, we are consenting to violence. If we watch a contact sport, we are acquiescing to the fact that the competitors in football, rugby, hockey, polo, martial arts tournaments, fencing tournaments, etc are consenting to violence.

This consensual violence is, of course, under strict rules. NFL players wear armor. Paintball and airsoft players wear eye protection. We take steps to limit injury. But it is still violence. It is violence that is okay - because the participants have agreed to be involved in it and agreed to accept the risks of being a victim of controlled violence.

But as a society we don't talk about consensual violence. We don't talk about the fact that we pay boxers to beat each other up for our entertainment. I suspect that even the people going to one of those paintball arenas this weekend wouldn't say they "consented to violence" even though they've consented to have people shoot non-lethal guns at them and are calling it fun. (I've never done paintball, but I've done laser tag and airsoft stuff).

We don't talk about it being a thing, even though it is. It's okay in our society to try your best to beat somebody up if they agreed to it and you both think it's fun - and it should be.

But now, let's get back to that sexual non-consent thing. Violence without consent is assault. Sex without consent is rape. Rape is seen as a kind of assault.

Rape, though, isn't seen as quite the same kind of assault as, say, punching somebody. And I don't mean at the level of it being a worse violation. Society excuses rape. She was "asking for it." Her skirt was too short, or she drank too much alcohol, or he's in prison for something.

There's that tragic feeling, sadly common, that you can consent to sex without actually specifically consenting to sex.

And I think there's a parallel here. When somebody gets raped, people look for a way to excuse the perpetrator.

This happens with violence too. Now, to be fair, sometimes the victim of violence really is asking for it. If you point a real, realistic or realistic non-lethal gun at somebody and they shoot you, that's not the same thing.

But if somebody is a victim of violence and the excuses come out - sadly almost always when the perpetrator is white and the victim is black - some of them become very close to the excuses for rape. "He should have pulled up his pants/not worn that hoodie/stayed sober/not walked in the road."

Consenting without consenting. "Asking for it."

We need to have this conversation as a society. We need to turn around and say nobody is ever asking for it. People can consent to violence. People can also do things that remove their right not to consent to violence - usually by attacking or threatening first.

But nobody "asks for it." There are only two justifications to use violence against another person - either it's consensual violence with rules and everyone agreed to it or they are a genuine threat to yourself or somebody else.

Wearing gang colors does not make somebody a threat. Pointing does not make somebody a threat. Not pulling your pants up is unsightly (but I'm sure some people would say the same thing about the eyebleeding purple shirt I'm wearing right now) but doesn't make you a threat.

Let's bring the conversation about consent out of the sex arena and apply it to everything. Let's understand that violence is something that can be consensual and then look at the ways people use another person's behavior as an excuse to commit violence on them...and let's say that hitting somebody for their clothes or because they used a word you didn't like is no different from trying to rape a woman because her skirt is too short. No different and no better.

Monday, November 24, 2014

SpaceX and Reusable Rockets

One of the problems with landing a reusable rocket stage is...what if it goes wrong?

Elon Musk's answer to it is to land the rocket stages at sea...but we're not talking ditching. Instead, the rocket will be landed on an autonomous drone, based off of some aspects of an oil rig. That doesn't, of course, give much space for the rocket to land on, but the SpaceX team seem convinced they can pull this off, partly with the help of grid fins that deploy during the descent.

What do you thing - is this getting into overcomplicated territory or is it going to be just plain awesome? (Well, it's awesome. If it works).

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Updates


Strange Voyagers backers - we are very close, believe me, but our artist gave us some extra art. Now we have to get that into the layout...

I'm not going to make any promises, but I can assure you I've seen all the completed art and it won't be long now.

I will be doing a Facebook party next Friday (Yes, I know, black Friday and people may not be able to come) for the launch of "Mother." Show up for a chance to win a free copy.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Oh dear...

Tagging fish is a normal part of studying them. The tags generally used are small acoustic tags, that emit a distinct sound (sound is the easiest thing to transmit underwater). Fish can't hear the tags, so it doesn't affect...

...oh dear...


It turns out that while fish can't hear the sound, seals can. And not being stupid, the seals have worked out that that little beep beep beep means "dinner." And if seals can hear them then whales and dolphins probably can too.

We might need to come up with another way to tag fish.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


We've gotten very used to having GPS technology available. In fact, some people are dependent on it (to a worrying degree - I don't like talking to 30 year olds who can't read a map).

GPS glitches for all sorts of reasons. Losing line of sight on the satellites at a key moment, really bad weather, dark matter...


Yes. It seems dark matter actually alters GPS signals and sends them very minutely out of sync. Something which might help us in our quest to understand a substance that might make up more of the universe than hydrogen.

(Although likely the gravity detecting clock will be more useful).

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Silent Years: Mother Available For Pre-Order!

Dorothy Mayling thought her worst problem was the long-standing family feud over her sister's choice of husband. Or her son's grades. Then the rumors started - bird flu in Seattle, SARS in Washington State? The truth is a hideous, terrible disease, one that slowly steals away the ability to speak and reason, turning people into nothing more than zombies. Worst of all, it was meant to be a weapon. Can Dorothy hold her family together as the world ends around them and people fall, one by one, to the silent plague?

Release date: November 18.

Pre order your copy now!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Movie Review: Interstellar (Some Spoilers)

Hey, Christopher Nolan? I'm calling you out.

Interstellar was not a terrible movie. It was a good attempt at being thoughtful science fiction rarely seen on the big screen.

The plot itself was not bad. Four astronauts - the white guy hero, the woman, the black guy, and the Guy Who Dies First go off in Earth's last spaceship to fly through a wormhole created by mysterious fifth dimensional beings to catch up with the scouts sent through ten years ago to look for habitable worlds. See, Earth's dying because a blight is killing all of our food crops (and possibly other plants as well - there's certainly no wildlife or livestock around, not even dogs). So, we need a new home.

(And yes, I did call one of the characters The Guy Who Dies First - he's so boring the rest of the crew forget he existed only a few minutes after he dies).

Here's the problem. The slow pacing (in a few places too slow for me) would be off putting to action viewers who can tolerate bad science.

And...the science...the science. This was a movie clearly targeted towards intelligent people and readers of Analog, yet it failed utterly. I'm going to highlight three areas:

1. Biochemistry. The blight (unclear if it was one rapidly mutating organism or a group of them or what) "thrives on nitrogen" and, because of that, the oxygen content of Earth's atmosphere would drop and everyone would suffocate.

Nope. Nothing thrives on nitrogen. Did they mean that it was somehow turning more of the free oxygen into nitrogen oxides? Can't be, those aren't stable at room temperature.

Now, if a blight was killing most of the plant life on Earth then it's entirely possible that carbon dioxide levels would go up and oxygen levels go down...possibly even to the point of killing off large animals. Which is a perfectly decent apocalypse. (Heck, you had a perfectly decent apocalypse with all the food crops dying - although it was done first and better by John Christopher in The Death of Grass - a classic which seems to be unavailable on Amazon, sadly).

2. Starship design. First of all, Nolan, sensibly, realizes that on a long trip people will need gravity. So he designs his ship as a centrifuge. That's fine. That's a standard thing. Except, he has the bridge spin as well (causing a character to reach for the dramamine). And has the bridge also at 1G. Nope. The gravity would be much lower at the center axle and in any sane design the center axle would remain stable so you could dock and undock.

Oh, and the same character complains that only a "few inches of aluminum" protect him from empty space. On an interplanetary ship. Maybe this explains why an airlock explosively decompressing after a failed docking destroys part of the outer ring (to which you wouldn't be docking anyway). But I'd want more than that between me and cell destroying radiation - like, say, a couple of feet of titanium and maybe the water tank. Which brings me to...

3. Radiation. And black holes. The black hole is rather central to the plot, but... First of all, they're investigating planets orbiting the black hole as "promising" to be habitable.

Quick physics.

The only thing that gets out of a black hole as far as we know is Hawking radiation. Hawking radiation is thermal radiation. Heat. This might keep a planet warm enough for liquid water and some kind of life, especially combined with tidal heating, but where is the light?

One of the planets they visit is covered in water. It's so close to the black hole that relativity affects time such that one hour there is seven years on Earth. And they're considering this as the new home for mankind? If there was that much gravity, then you wouldn't be able to get out in a ship. The planet itself supposedly has a gravity of about 1.3G - punishing. And...that world would get pulled into the black hole, sooner or later. There's no way it would be stable. Or have an atmosphere. Or, after any significant amount of time, an ocean. And I don't buy that steep a time gradient either.

I'm not Dr. Stanley Schmidt, but I wouldn't buy this story.

P.S. I'm not perfect, but found some math. The 7 year to an hour time dilation thing is possible, the orbit may be stable, but the standing wave that nearly drowned them all is not I suspected but wasn't sure on enough to give them, the planet would probably be tidally locked or, at the very least, there would be a much more gentle bulge flowing around it.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Check This Out!

Isn't this a sweet cover? And it will be available very soon. Here's the blurb:

Dorothy Mayling thought her worst problem was the long-standing family feud over her sister's choice of husband. Or her son's grades. Then the rumors started - bird flu in Seattle, SARS in Washington State? The truth is a hideous, terrible disease, one that slowly steals away the ability to speak and reason. Worst of all, it was meant to be a weapon. Can Dorothy hold her family together as the world ends around them and people fall, one by one, to the silent plague?

This is the first of a series of three apocalyptic science fiction novellas, inspired by zombie fiction (but no, these are not classic zombies, not remotely). I'll announce the release date as soon as it's determined.

(Because people asked and out of fairness - cover art is by Starla Huchton).

Thursday, November 13, 2014


No, not my updates. Updates on a couple of things that have been on my blog.

1. The Virgin Galactic crash.

The surviving pilot has been talked to and he said the co pilot did not announce that he was going to unlock the feathering system. Call and confirm is standard practice for even some very routine practices when flying an airplane. Had Alsbury "called" then Siebold would have been able to tell him he was early. (There is, of course, the possibility that Siebold did not hear him for some reason).

This makes it more likely that Alsbury unlocked the system by accident - which may necessitate a cockpit redesign.

2. Rosetta.

Oops. Well. We knew landing on a comet was going to be tricky. Philae landed, but the harpoons designed to secure her to the comet did not deploy. She bounced back off and landed again, at an angle and in a crater. The robot is sending good data, but is not in a good position. The real problem is that she's in shadow and won't be able to get enough light to her solar panels to recharge her batteries, which only have a 60 hour initial life. If the team can't work out a way to move Philae to a better position, then she's going to go dark.

What she's sent back include these startling images of what comets look like close up. Whichever part of the comet she's on (which they aren't sure), we have good pictures of it.

Hopefully they'll be able to work something out, which might include using the harpoons or Philae's sampling drill to push her off the surface again in the hope that she hits in a better position. We probably aren't going to get all of the data we wanted - including the ice samples. Still, some science is being done.

And for such a tricky mission and a first attempt, I still think they did very well.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Comet Landings

So, Philae made it. For the first time, humans have landed a spaceship on a comet. It did not go entirely smoothly - the lander is in good shape but the harpoons designed to keep it in place have not fired properly. They're hopefully fixing that right now.

Why go to comets?

Comets are an interesting phenomenon. Most of them spend their existence in the Oort Cloud, the furthest extremes of the solar system. Only a few get nudged out of it to dive towards the sun and become the tailed beasts we are familiar with. (I use the word beast with thought - Medieval people thought comets were living things, possibly dragons). In the past, comets were considered bad omens. Now, we consider them to be fun natural light shows.

They're more than that. Comets are giant "dirty snowballs". They contain water and other volatiles such as methane and carbon dioxide. Capturing comets may prove to be a way to provide these substances to space missions (it's expensive to lift anything out of a gravity well and water is heavy).

Comets also contain organic chemicals - and our own oort cloud extends far enough out to overlap with that of Alpha Centauri, possibly meaning comets are traded between solar systems, at least when they're close together. A close study of comets may provide evidence for or against seeding theory - not the intelligent alien version (which I do not believe in) but the theory that the basic stuff of life may have come here from somewhere else. Or, more likely, is constantly being moved around. The composition of comets might also tell us something about other forms life might take and how common it might be in the universe.

And comets, unlike asteroids, don't survive if they hit the Earth - at one point, some scientists believed that the Tunguska event was caused by a comet, but it's now been pretty much proven it was a rocky asteroid, probably blowing up in the upper atmosphere.

Plenty of reasons to do this and I applaud the ESA team on their efforts and success.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


The theme of this year's World Fantasy Con was the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I.

For this reason, somebody had the bright idea of giving everyone poppies attached to their badges.

I'm British, so the poppy as a symbol is very important. Wearing a red poppy started out as honoring World War I veterans.

The poppy represents the poppies that grew profusely across No Man's Land and the trenches after the war was over - their red color resembling freshly spilled blood.

I clearly remember everyone wearing poppies on Remembrance Sunday - the closest Sunday to November 11. Some people would wear white poppies for pacifism, but I've always felt that supporting veterans is far, far from the same thing as being in favor of any war that happens.

So, let's honor all veterans today - not just those of World War I on the centennial, but all of them.

And most especially living veterans, many of whom are let down by our society.

Monday, November 10, 2014

World Fantasy Con

Quite the experience. Some awesome panels.

I'd like to give a particular shout out to Griffin Barber and Alastair Kimble for sharing their experiences as real, working cops.

Also of note:

Naomi Novik's awesome pseudo dragonskin coat.

Mary Robinette Kowal as MC - she is awesome and turned things which could be boring into a lot of fun.

Oh, and finally meeting Trevor Quachri was worth the price of admission in and of itself.

Amusement: Sharing the hotel with Rolling Thunder. I have to say that of all the people I've had to share a hotel with during conventions they were the nicest. (Bikers tend, all reputation to the contrary, to be nice people).

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

World Fantasy Con

...starts tomorrow. I'm pretty much ready (helped by not having to pack or travel - it's great when a con is local).

I'm very much looking forward to meeting some people I haven't managed to corner at conventions yet (Especially Trevor Quachri, if I can track him down).

And if anyone's trying to track me down - I'm usually pretty easy to find, and will also be on the panel on "The Great Game" at 3pm on Saturday.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


On a lighter note than previous posts, residents of some place in Australia called Wonthaggi were treated to the sight of a "fallstreak hole" or "hole punch" cloud.

Which had a rainbow in the middle. Just in the hole.

Check out the explanation - and the picture - here. (They're often triggered by passing airliners).

Monday, November 3, 2014

More On The Virgin Crash

The big thing is - It was not the fuel. (Mr. Branson is apparently quite annoyed that everyone was blaming the fuel).

In fact, the engine and fuel tanks were found intact at the crash site. It's not the way anyone would have wanted it to happen, but I think this has proved that the hybrid fuel being used is indeed stable until properly mixed and ignited - and as an important part of the program is developing fuels for use in intercontinental ballistic transports that will land and take off from regular airports, I think this is a very good thing.

So. What happened?

We actually know what happened - but we're a long way from knowing why.

The co-pilot, either because he accidentally knocked it or because he somehow got confused on his checklist (this was an experienced test pilot and I'm inclined to give him some benefit) switched the interlock handle on the re-entry "feathering" system to unlocked.

Two seconds later, the feathering system did an uncommanded deploy.

Obviously, this should not have happened. The system has a two-stage deploy system to prevent exactly this - the feathering system activating during the burn, an event the vehicle had no chance of surviving.

In general, with modern airplanes, an uncommanded deploy - a system activating when the pilot did not touch the controls - is actually a software problem. However, it's far too early to know exactly what happened and it's not even official that the deploy caused the crash - but the chances of a spaceplane surviving its re-entry braking system activating with the engine on seem pretty slim.

Still thinking of the families of the pilots and everyone at Virgin Galactic.

Friday, October 31, 2014


I was hoping to be devoting this post to wishing everyone a happy Halloween.

I can't.

During a powered test flight Virgin Galactic lost SpaceShipTwo.

The full details aren't out yet, but the California Highway Patrol has reported that one of the pilots was killed and the other has "major injuries." (Please note that this is still at the "unconfirmed" level). The cause of the accident is unknown, but I'd bet a drink on it being related to this being the first live flight test of a new fuel mix and related engine design. Fortunately, the carrier plane, Virgin MotherShip Eve aka White Knight Two landed safely and appears to be undamaged.

Test pilots know the risks. But my thoughts still go out to the family and friends of the two pilots involved in the accident.

This one is hitting me. My brother-in-law, Andrew Pearson, works for the Virgin Galactic/Scaled Composites partnership in vehicle assembly - but he also has accident investigator experience and may be pulled in to work on this. He may have known the pilots and he certainly knew the ship, which now lies in pieces in the Mojave desert.

But at the same time I know we can't let this accident keep us from pushing the boundaries - of space and in other directions. As important as safety is, we have to let brave men and women take risks. We have to let test pilots do their job. We have to let astronauts go into space, knowing death is only the other side of a surprisingly thin shell or even a pressure suit. Ultimately, we have to accept that some of us will...and must...take the risk of leaving this world to travel to the Moon or to Mars, even if the trip is known to be one way.

We can't let fear bind our feet to the earth of this planet.

More than that, we can't let our fear clip anyone else's wings. We can't let our grief and sorrow turn into "Well, we can't let this happen again, so we have to stop."

We can't stop. We have to keep reaching out because that is our nature as somewhat crazy, entirely-too-curious apes.

Some people would like to say that if we were meant to fly we would have been given wings.

I say we were meant to fly. We were meant to climb to the top of the highest mountain and then look around and go "Wait. This isn't high enough. There's higher yet and higher beyond that."

And beyond all of that is the stars, and if human seed is ever to reach those stars...

...then we're going to have to keep blowing up prototypes.

Test pilots will have to keep risking their lives.

So this one is for the crew of Apollo 1, the crew of the Challenger, the crew of the Columbia, the crew of SpaceShipTwo and for every other person who has given their life in pursuit of the goal of the human expansion into space.

And it is for all astronauts, cosmonauts and test pilots who, every time they step into a vehicle, know it could be the last time, and because of who and what they are, they do it anyway.

Every one of you proves that we were meant to fly.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Review: Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi

Take Firefly. Cyberpunk it up a little...or maybe a lot. Then strand in something scarily close to Peter F. Hamilton's particular brand of weird and you have Ascension.

Jacqueline Koyanagi's debut novel is published by Masque Books, the digital imprint of Prime Books - a high quality small press. (Despite that, I do have a print copy, so they're presumably available).

Alana Quick is a down on her luck freelance starship engineer, who works on whatever ships need repairs while they're in port while struggling with a chronic condition. Until the Tangled Axon comes into port and she's talked into stowing away on a ship which is searching for her sister, the "spirit guide" Nova.

Ascension is not hard science fiction. There's too much in the way of psionics and just plain strangeness involved, making it closer to space opera. And it reads very much as if Ms. Koyanagi was mad that Firefly was canceled and, being a writer, decided to do something about it.

Something very, very good (if not good enough to make up for Firefly being canceled. Sorry, Jacqueline, not sure anyone can do that).

Ascension has some great ingredients - a spunky MC, a romantic I plot that's solid enough for romance readers and low key enough for speculative fiction fans. And when I compare it to Peter F. Hamilton? This book isn't as good as most of his work.

It's better.

Assuming this isn't a one shot wonder, I may have a new author to watch. It's not flawless - few books are. The combination of psionics and quantum theory may not appeal to everyone, and gets a bit new agey in places (spirit guide as a term is just a little bit new age for me). And in some places the narrative gets just slightly confusing - at one point I kind of got lost about a couple of things. But it's an excellent effort and for a debut? It's exceptional.

So, why is it being produced by a small press, even a high quality one? I hate to say it, but I fear it may be because the MC is a disabled black lesbian and the romance is polyamorous...and many people aren't quite ready for that.

Bring on the next book, Jacqueline. I'm going to have to find space on my shelf for it.

Disclaimer: I got the copy free as part of the Capclave membership package. If you weren't lucky enough to be there, you can get your copy here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

It Really Is Rocket Science

Anyone paying any attention will know by now that an Antares rocket carrying a Cygnus supply ship exploded seconds after liftoff at the Wallop facility.

The Cygnus craft contained supplies for the ISS and a number of scientific experiments - including a tech demo for the crowd funded telescope ARKYD (NOT, as I initially thought, the telescope itself, although the accident will no doubt delay the launch) and over a dozen experiments designed by student scientists. My thoughts go out to every scientist who lost an experiment, to the launch staff at Orbital Sciences and everyone else involved.

Nobody was injured in the accident - everyone was where they were supposed to be, and well clear of the pad.

What we know now?

Something went wrong at about T+6. One eye witness stated he saw a trailing smoke and fire plume from the rocket. At T+16, after the rocket had cleared the water tower, range safety hit the self destruct to prevent a worse accident. The result was a spectacular fireball and explosion, and a second fireball as what was left landed back on the pad (no doubt the safety officer's intent). Blazing debris was spread across the nearby beach. The pad itself is seriously damaged.

Fortunately, the mission was insured (small comfort for the student scientists). However, Mike Suffredini, the program manager, has promised that all of the young people will be given space on an upcoming mission.

The worst part for Orbital Sciences is the damage to their pad (the only one they have), which may take weeks or even months to repair. In the mean time, the ISS astronauts still have plenty of supplies.

Pure personal speculation. Whatever the anomaly was, in order for the range safety officer to hit self destruct right above the facility, there must have been some concern that the bird was going to fly west instead of east, as it would have caused less damage to the facility and the pad (less replaceable than an unmanned rocket) to destruct the rocket over the water. Or, it was already descending  and he was trying to mitigate the damage. I can't do more than speculate at this point. Accident investigators are likely to be working on this one for a while.

Rockets are tricky beasts and there is no routine rocket launch. Is this a reminder that we need to work harder towards developing alternative earth to orbit technologies? A space elevator has become far more feasible of late. Mass drivers or railguns are unlikely to be feasible on Earth but could be very handy on the moon. And, of course, it's definitely time to look further into solving the spaceplane problem.

Not to knock the great work being done in conventional rocketry by Space X and, of course, Orbital Sciences (despite this setback) - let's start thinking outside the box.

Instead of doing more rocket science, let's do some real innovation.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Most Ridiculous Launch Scrub Ever

So, Orbital Sciences was supposed to be launching an Antares from Wallop yesterday.

Why not?

Because some schmuck was down range in a sailboat. Said schmuck was not responding to hails.

Wallops enforces, with the support of the U.S. Coast Guard and Virginia Marine Police, a no-sail zone downrange of the launch site - for the safety of boaters in case something goes wrong. It's quite likely the wayward boater will be fined.

I personally hope his name doesn't come out, or his social media accounts are likely to receive a deluge of nastygrams...

(And really, who ignores stuff like that?)

Monday, October 27, 2014

It's Stormy Out There...

...or specifically on the sun. There's a really big sunspot spewing out big flares right now - and it's already affected some communications on Earth.

Fortunately, this particular storm is not associated with a CME (Coronal Mass Ejection), which could cause much bigger problems (and spectacular auroras).

But yeah. Definitely very stormy on the sun again.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday Updates

I just signed a contract with Cohesion Press to include my story, tentatively titled "Jester," in their next SNAFU anthology "Wolves At The Door."

Military fiction.

With werewolves.

Honestly, doesn't that combination just sing?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

I Love It...

...this dinosaur, that is. It's a living, breathing bad movie monster. I mean, the thing has huge hands, a sail back, a head like a mule with no ears...

I adore it.

Also, albeit according to a less than reliable source, it actually took 5,000 years for the lactose tolerance mutation to spread through the European population after the invention of dairy farming. Seems about right to me...

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Reading Fees

I occasionally, as the muse moves me, write non-genre fiction. This means I have to find places to send it.

The largest market is literary journals operated by university English departments. I can't swear to how they work, but I tend to assume (are there any students who can confirm or deny?) that their slush is read by students for credit. These magazines usually pay and some can pay quite well.

However, there is a disturbing and growing trend: Reading fees.

It's actually becoming standard for university-run magazines to charge a $3 reading fee (it's almost always $3) for electronic submissions. In some cases, they don't charge for postal subs. In some cases, they only take electronic subs. The claim is always that this is somehow what it "costs" them to read a story. I've also read "it doesn't cost any more than a postal sub" (not true if you have a higher volume printer, which all writers should consider investing in - I like my Brother HL-2140 a lot and it doesn't take up much more space than a desktop inkjet). This includes, more and more, journals that don't even pay the writers.

But pretty soon they will be able to claim it's "standard industry practice."

Reading fees have never been "standard industry practice." In many areas, reading fees are a red flag that an organization is a scam.

Here's an explanation from one of them, which boils down to: Because you cheapskate writers refuse to subscribe to our magazines, we have to charge you fees, because we have to get money out of you somehow. Oh, and he claims it results in more submissions. Which bothers me more than anything else I've heard. "Writers have no problem paying money to submit."

Why, other than thinking we have no choice? (Which in the literary journal world is likely to become the case - very, very soon - at which point I will cease to submit non-genre fiction and quite probably cease to write it). Most of the time, a writer is paying $3 or even more (some magazines charge as much as $20) for a rejection letter that will probably be a form.

And while $3 doesn't sound like much, it can easily mount up into the hundreds a year (one writer calculated that at his normal submission rate he'd pay about $1,000 just in submissions at that rate). It's very common to submit a story 20 or 30 times before it's accepted.

Ah, but, we should support the journals we submit to?

Of course we should, when we can afford it. But we should not be required to do so as a "cost of doing business." I contrast Apex, which has given me back issues just for entering their contests. Or Dark Discoveries, which gave me a free one year subscription as an apology for a submission that got lost.

And if you pay a reading fee to be published for free, there's a rather nasty word for that: Vanity publishing.

Unfortunately, this will remain a problem as long as writers are willing to pay the fees: And apparently quite a few of us are.

As a note: I have no problem with magazines that have an optional submission fee, ask for donations on their website, etc. That's fine. I don't mind being asked for money. Or even begged for money. I mind being treated as a buyer instead of a seller.

In no other industry are people charged fees just to apply for a job. And in this case, the job might pay $100, $50 or...nothing at all.

So, I'm challenging the writers out there: If you pay these fees, consider why. And consider the fact that by supporting this business model you're part of why it's becoming more common.

And to editors: Consider alternatives such as crowdfunding, asking for donations - I realize universities are letting their literary journals down right now - offering discount subscriptions to writers, charging fees that include a free electronic back issue so the writer is guaranteed something for it (and it also makes them read your magazine). This isn't about us not having money, although most writers would rather spend $1,000 a year on something with a guaranteed return. Nor is it about "writers aren't business people." Some writer's aren't, but many are.

And that's why I for one want to be treated as a vendor, not a buyer.