Friday, January 31, 2014

Friday Updates!

Third Flatiron has bought my story "The Shamrock Award" for their "Astronomical Odds" anthology, with a release date of March 15, 2014.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Anonymity, Whistle Blowing, Etc

I don't use a pen name. Everything I say goes out under my real name. I figure some people won't buy my books because of my views - and others will look for them because of them. It should even out.

Other people use pen names. Sometimes a writer will use a pen name to "brand" something in a different genre. Men who write romance often use female names because, well, "men don't write romance" (Nicholas Sparks is making a pretty good career, but he's really the exception that proves the rule). Some women speculative fiction writers still use gender neutral names. Another reason might be that the writer's own name is hard to pronounce or spell.

Some, though, use pen names because their families wouldn't approve of what they write, or their employers. (Very, very few erotica writers use their real names for this reason). Which brings me to: Anonymity.

The strongest argument against anonymity is that people will be more honest if they have to apply their real name to what they say.

Thing is? That's also one of the strongest arguments for anonymity.

There are people online who would be fired if their employers knew their real political views, their real sexuality, etc - and in some states, yes, employers can get away with this. Or, of course, there might be something going on in a company that needs to be revealed, but the employee revealing it is afraid of retaliation. Whistleblower protection only goes so far - especially if the person has children or other dependents.

Then there are still countries where people can be arrested or even executed for their views.

Also, there are teenagers who are seeking support for and help with problems, who can't go to their parents for whatever reason. Boys who know their father would get out his belt if he knew they were gay. Girls who might be pregnant, and who might face being disowned for it (or worse, in some more extreme Muslim communities. Honor killings are still a thing on this planet).

There's two sides to it. Being anonymous might make somebody who's inclined to be a troll or a bully more likely to be a troll or a bully.

But there's also a huge swathe of people for whom being anonymous is the only way they can actually be honest.

It's easy to say people should be able to speak out under their real names - and in an ideal world, they would.

We don't live in an ideal world.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Cool Tech Stuff

Whoever first tamed fire, he or she (possibly more likely she) lived over 300,000 years ago. Archaeologists in Israel found a campfire hearth, clearly used repeatedly and probably a focal point, that they dated to 300,000 years old. And that's mature use of fire. Just how old is human consciousness? We seem to keep pushing it back into time.

Rubber covered with bacteria (a harmless bacterium generally found in soil) can be used to generate electricity. They think they can scale this up to useful levels. It makes use of the fact that this bacterium responds to changes in humidity by shriveling or plumping up.

And in an amusing footnote, a scientist named Rhawn Joseph is so convinced a weird rock seen on Mars is actually a fungus that he's sueing NASA for refusing to investigate it properly. Seriously...

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Gift To My Readers

Last year at Balticon, I got involved in the "Never Have I Ever" panel (which was hilarious - if they do it again, you should go).

I swear. I was sober. Specifically, I was sober when I somehow managed to challenge myself to write an out of order story with the segments unclear in chronological order, but which still made sense.

Could I do it? Not really. Maybe if I do it again I'll have to try it not sober. The challenge said I had to either submit the story for publication or post it in a public forum before Balticon 2014.

This is the closest I was able to come - so I'm going to hand it out as a gift to my readers. And if anyone thinks I have to try again, let me know.

The Lost Things Of Her Life

"Janet? Janet?" It was Toby's voice. Her son, yes, she recognized his voice. She opened her eyes. The light was bright.

Hospital bright. She was in a hospital, that much she knew. The bright light. The faint smell of disinfectant not quite masking the smell of sickness.

Closed them again, opened them, and why was Toby's hair grey? "How long...have I been sick?"

"You passed out, that's all."

"What...what day is it?"

A frown of concern, crossing her son's familiar and not features. Familiar and not, he should not be this old. "Tuesday, December 10."

"...what year?"

That he did not answer.

Janet stood at the edge of the park, watching Toby play with the other boys. Her head ached slightly. She'd been warned about that, that her head might hurt on and off for as long as a month. It was the implant, the memory implant. The one that was supposed to give total recall.

The one her employer had insisted she get if she wanted to keep her job, because it would make sure that she never forgot anything she was supposed to do. Everyone was getting them.

Read a book once, remember it forever. Oddly, it meant people bought more books, now you couldn't let the memory of an old favorite fade just so much and then read it again.

Read a book once, never forget somebody's phone number, it felt as if there were so many facts in her head. Toby was about to start high school, she felt old at the thought, old and regretful, wishing he was not the only child she managed to bear.

A bright day, a sunlit day, perfect for the occasion, until it set and the moon drew a path across the lake, a path she wanted to follow to escape and yet she could not escape this, her own choice, her own decisions. The dang implant was making her head hurt, the one she hadn't got yet.

"We had to take the implant out," Toby was saying, and it was a voiceover on the day, the white dress, the photos, and what year was it? She didn't know, but she thought it was 2050 and Toby was graduating from college.

Had to take the implant out and was that why she didn't know when she was, and she was kissing Marcus behind the cottonwood tree, kissing and kissing and wrapping her arms around him and doing those things nice girls don't know and wrapping her arms around Joseph, the two of them one, husband and lover, and no certainty as to which was which and when was when.

Toby's voice, "It was causing a blood clot, they said. They'll restore the drive to another one and replace it."

"What year is it?" she asked again. "Tell me. What year is it? How old am I?"

Joseph, pushing the veil back, his eyes meeting hers and then his lips which were Marcus' lips which were her father's lips, him kissing her when she was a child, purely innocent kisses, father to daughter, no sex in them at all, but he was also Joseph, and the innocence of white and Toby in her arms, pointing at something in the grocery store.

She was in the grocery store, and he was getting heavy, so she put him down. "Big boys can walk themselves," she told him.

He pointed at the cookies again, making her want them as much as he did but no, Joseph had forbidden them in the house, buying into some conspiracy theory about addictive flavor additives.

Maybe he was right, her father, but she wanted them so much, staring at the box on the shelf, reaching for it then dropping her hand. Not under his roof, and somebody else had forbidden them too, and she wasn't sure.

She wasn't sure any more, but she had to do what her father said or he'd never let her go to the playground. He'd never let her, and then she wouldn't be able to meet Toby behind the bike sheds.

No, it wasn't Toby, it was.

It was Toby and he was a man and he was stepping back from her, alarmed, "Mother?"

But she wasn't his mother, she was a little girl, she was nothing more than that. Nothing more than a little girl who would walk through the forest, clinging to her father's hand, never her mother's, the mother who stayed by the car and then who wasn't there at all.

She was in her mother's arms, her father talking in low voices, the word cancer in her mind.

No, it was a blood clot, and it was cancer, and there was nothing.

Janet walked through the meadows, looking around for all of the lost things of her life.

Monday, January 27, 2014

What Hawking Is Saying Now.

Stephen Hawking is probably the greatest living expert on black holes.

Except, according to him, they don't actually exist.


We know black holes exist. One of them sits in the middle of our galaxy, acting as a gravitational anchor to hold the entire thing together. Without them everything, quite literally, falls apart.

The problem is that black holes mess up our view of the universe. The issue is the "event horizon" - the point in a black hole's gravity well from which even light can't escape. General relativity insists that passing the event horizon itself wouldn't do anything to you.

Unfortunately, quantum mechanics says that there must be a raging inferno just inside the event horizon, the "firewall," which is what creates Hawking radiation - the stuff that makes black holes not quite black.

General relativity says the firewall can't exist. Quantum mechanics says it has to exist.

Hawking's new theory?

There's no such thing as an event horizon. And if there's no event horizon, there's no black hole. Instead, he's talking about an "apparent horizon," within which information becomes completely then escape as that Hawking radiation.

This one's bound to ignite an inferno of its own. And frankly, most of us can't understand it, but it might be one step closer to the unified theory scientists are seeking.

Or one step closer to proving that the unified theory doesn't exist any more than black holes do.

Grey holes, maybe?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Friday Updates

Strange Voyages really is progressing. It's taken longer than anticipated to get all of the editing done, but layout is close to finished.

The Deepwood Publishing "Ways of Magic"anthology is also progressing well, but I don't have a formal release date yet.

That's really all I can come up with for right now.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Unlikely But True

So, the Herschel telescope has been busily scanning the skies. And scientists turned it to look at Ceres.

Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt and is classed as a dwarf planet. It's still not that big - a bit under a third of the size of the Moon. Science fiction writers have often cited Ceres as a good place to put a base for exploration and mining of the asteroid belt.

It may be a better piece of real estate than we thought. Ceres has been assumed to be a rockball, like the moon, but Herschel has shown otherwise. The telescope has detected plumes spewing from Ceres.

Plumes of water vapor.

Not only do scientists think there is water on Ceres...they think there is a lot of water on Ceres. Possibly more than the amount of fresh water on Earth. It's mostly in the form of ice, of course.

The Dawn probe will arrive at Ceres in March or April of 2015 and then we'll find out a lot more about this intriguing little world, but if it really has a lot of water...asteroid mining in this system just became a lot more feasible.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Tearing My Hair Out

I decided to go to the 2014 World Fantasy Con. It might be the only time in my life I can walk to a WorldCon. (Seriously).

Which means I just got my World Fantasy Awards nomination ballot, and all it made me realize was just how little new fantasy I read in 2013. Argh! I spent most of 2013 reading small press stuff, re-reading stuff, and I did read some new science fiction, but the only novel I can find with a 2013 release date is the most recent Temeraire.

Which all means: I am woefully behind and out of touch on my reading. I need to fix that, don't I.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Mystery Rock?

Apparently, Opportunity has been flipping rocks over on Mars. At least, that's the likely explanation for the donut shaped stone that suddenly appeared in front of the rover.

But, there's something odd - it has too much sulfur, magnesium and manganese - the composition is very wrong for a bit of Mars. I wonder if it isn't (i.e., is this a bit of an ancient meteor?).

Or maybe we just don't know as much about Mars as we thought.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Friday Updates

Pretty much a "Watch This Space" this week - sorry, guys. (But there might be cool stuff coming. We'll have to see).

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Feed The World

This is quite fascinating - and it also shows how messed up we still are:

Good Enough To Eat

Oxfam has ranked the countries of the world by how well they feed their people. The criteria?

1. Do people have enough to eat?
2. Can people afford to eat?
3. Is food of good quality?
4. What is the extent of unhealthy outcomes of people's diet?

Best place to eat according to them? The Netherlands.
Worst? Chad (Anyone else not surprised it would be somewhere in sub Saharan Africa?)

More than 840 million people go hungry every day. And we could feed all of them.

And while the USA tied with the Netherlands for food affordability, it didn't do nearly as well on the other measures.

However, we aren't the worst for unhealthy eating, despite the image of the overweight American inhaling burgers. That honor goes to Saudi Arabia, where a third of the population is obese and 18% have diabetes...although people in Kuwait are even fatter.

Guess who ties with Saudi Arabia for second place on obesity alone, though.

Oh, and if you want the best quality food? Iceland, believe it or not. Probably because of all that amazing fish.


Yeah. I thought this was interesting - it also says something that people are going hungry in some places while food is being thrown away in others. How do we fix this?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Stepping Away From Politics.

I know, I don't really write about politics here. But one of the things I've felt more and more as I get older is that political ideologies...just get in the way.

Whether it's the pettiness of refusing to do something because a political opponent thought of it, or the branding of ideas as "liberal," "conservative," "communist," etc, and following only those ones that agree, it all gets in the way of one thing.

True independent thought.

If we're going to build a better future for this planet and everyone on it, then we need to start setting aside these labels and think, instead, about whether an idea or policy actually works. I've talked to dozens of people on both sides, and they have become more and more entrenched. This means good ideas are falling by the wayside.

We need to address the job to population deficit.

We need to address public health and this country's soaring healthcare costs.

We need to start looking at post-capitalist systems - and above all, that's where we have to step away from politics.

There's a reason politics and religion get linked together so much. People are equally dogmatic about both. So, think about it.

Are your politics getting in the way of leading a healthier, happier, and more prosperous life? And, worse, are they getting in the way of allowing other people to do so?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Space Travel, Safety, Risk Avoidance

NASA's in talks with four different companies to make a "space taxi" that will take crews to the International Space Station (and potentially to any future government or commercial stations).

This quote from Jonathan McDowell, though, is telling: "Before NASA can sign the contract, companies have to test the emergency abort system because you need something which can step in if the launch rocket goes bad and avoid the danger of killing the astronauts."

You will never be able to "avoid the danger of killing the astronauts." Reduce it, yes, and I'm all for safety measures, but space travel is not safe. Astronauts know it. The Mars One volunteers, who don't intend to return, embrace it.

For all we've done on the matter, commercial air travel is not 100% safe. It is safer than driving, but accidents still happen - take the Southwest plane that only yesterday landed at the wrong airport and came very close to tumbling down an embankment onto a busy highway. In 2013, there were ten crashes involving commercial cargo or passenger planes that resulted in fatalities. Yes, flying is very safe, but it is clearly not 100% safe.

There's a bad culture in NASA that says their astronauts need to be 100% safe. It's about publicity. It's about the fact that space travel is not quite routine yet...and even if it was, a space accident is still news just as a plane crash is still news.

So, "reduce" not "avoid." Don't try for 100% safe, because you'll never reach it. Our society keeps trying for it and I fear we lose something important in the attempt.

Monday, January 13, 2014


...spring is back. I am really quite tired of the roller coaster weather.

Other than that, things are going pretty well. Meeting some cool people - looking forward to meeting more at RavenCon and Balticon this year. (I'll also probably be showing my face at a few other local conventions. We'll see what happens).

I've been thinking a lot today about my career plans for 2014 - but much is up in the air at this point. I don't like talking about stuff that might or might not happen, after all. I'm definitely looking forward to my second Analog appearance and two more anthologies from Deepwood Publishing. And hoping for even more success.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Friday Updates

I can now confirm that I will be a guest at Balticon 2014 - Memorial Day Weekend at the Hunt Valley Inn in Hunt Valley, right outside Baltimore. Hoping to see you there.

Invasion! is also in production - I've seen some of the art (super sekrit for right now) so I know it's actually happening. Check out Emerald Star for more information about everything they have coming up.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Colder Than Mars

You might have heard that joke during the recent cold snap - where record breaking lows were recorded over most of the United States (except west of the Rockies).

You probably didn't believe it, but it's actually true. Curiosity has been reporting temperatures between -24 and -13. Winnipeg, Minnesota, hit lows of -37.9. In fact, the highest temperature ever recorded on the surface of Mars? 95. I didn't believe it either.

So, yes, a few places were colder than Mars. Make you feel glad it's over?

The wide temperature swings are because Mars is a desert planet - if you've ever been to a hot desert, you'll know how rapidly the temperature can drop when the sun goes down. Moisture in the atmosphere evens out temperatures - and Mars has almost none.



Colder than Mars.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

One Step Closer: Nanomedicine

Nanomedicine is a science fiction staple. Nanites in your blood keeping you healthy. Implants that detect illness and release the appropriate chemicals.

We're one step closer with something called Trail. It was developed at Cornell.

Nanoparticles are introduced into the patient's blood, where they hunt down stray cancer cells - to prevent cancer from spreading through the body. They do it by latching on to white blood cells, which can often spot the tumor cells...but not do anything about them.

They've already been used in some pilot trials...and certainly seem to be less unpleasant than chemotherapy.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


Cold enough for you?

Okay, it's not that bad here. It's only 8 degrees with windchill taking it down to 7. Compared to some places in the country right now, it's positively balmy. But it's still cold enough that I'm not sure I'm going outside, even to go to the other building to work out. Which probably makes me a wuss, but I don't really care.

So I'm going to stay inside and write.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Cats are crazy

Including, or perhaps especially, barn cats.

One of the instructors brought a couple of rugs from her garage in the hope they might fit a couple of the horses.

Barn cat Maisie decided one of them was her New Favorite Cat Bed. No matter where we put that rug, within five seconds, there was a cat on it. I hope she doesn't do that when it's on a horse! (The horse might not appreciate it. Or they might. Depends on the horse).

In other news, we're bracing for some nasty-for-Virginia overnight lows here, but at least it's not going to be twenty below. We're still going to be under a wind chill advisory tomorrow. Maybe I can simply not go outside...

Friday, January 3, 2014

Friday Updates

Remember Invulnerable, the RPG by Joshua Kubli of Imperfekt Press? It's in final layout and proofing now. I still don't have a release date, but it's proceeding well.

That's all for this week.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Clothing and Social Control

The other day somebody posted to my social media complaining that his boss had changed the office dress code...and now he had nothing to wear.

Dress codes and school uniforms, not to mention the overall expectations of how people should dress in a "business" situation...we're used to them and we probably think of them as customs.

The truth is that clothing has been used to both indicate status and control people for a very long time.

Clothing as social control used to be more obvious in the form of "sumptuary" laws. These laws restricted who could wear what, often in great details.

For example, per the Elizabethan sumptuary laws: Only the royal family could wear purple silk or "cloth of gold tissued" - unless you were a duke, marquis or earl, in which case you could wear it in certain clothing items. Lower class women could only wear brown, beige, yellow, orange, russet, green, grey or blue (woad blue, that is, not indigo).

The ostensible reason for the sumptuary laws in this era was to reduce the importation of foreign dyes and fabrics - but the real reason was so you could identify somebody's status quickly. Sumptuary laws were also used to enforce gender rules - although women who cross dressed weren't punished too heavily. (Many women would dress in male garb when traveling alone in order to avoid, shall we say, unwanted attention).

These days, we don't have laws about what people can and can't wear - but we still have customs. Clothing is used to show status - and we make immediate assumptions about people based off of what they wear. If I talk about a young black man in a hoodie...assumptions there, right away. Too many of them, because plenty of people wear hoodies who aren't in gangs and living in the hood.

In the horse show ring, there are also rules about clothing - and growing up showing in England I had to change between classes. Americans tend to be far more lax about this - but it's expected in English rail classes for all of the riders to dress as close to identical as possible, with the ostensible reason being that it helped the judge focus on the horse. But there's a status tradition in there too. Depending on where you are, there are strong limitations on who can wear "pink" - a red coat. In America, the privilege is reserved for hunt staff, but in Britain it is the traditional privilege of gentlemen. Ladies would wear black coats. (Female Masters of Foxhounds are, however, always permitted to wear pink). The reason is that the red coat started out as a military thing. That's only for formal meets, though. For informal ones, you wear "ratcatcher" - tweed (Youth always wear ratcatcher). So, again, the clothing is a form of social control and status - and also a way to belong. (And truthfully, a formal hunt field looks pretty spectacular). But because of that I (being youth at the time) had to wear ratcatcher for hunter classes and black or blue for jumper classes. Had to. Or the judge would mark me down...or even excuse me from the ring.

Do we really ever wear what we choose? Even when I'm sitting here in jeans, T-shirt and sweater, in some way I'm wearing a uniform...the "geek" one. Clothing is much more about communicating our status than it is about expressing individuality.

Ah, but what about high fashion? That's control too...especially if you're female. Try buying any female clothing that's "out of fashion" and you'll see what I mean. The worst...and funniest...incident of that was the time I wanted to buy a nice sundress to wear at a destination wedding.

The fashionable color for sundresses that year was...white. It took me literally hours to find something that wasn't white. Because, of course, white at weddings is reserved for the bride - to show her special status.

Really, can you think of any item of clothing or way of dressing that doesn't immediately reveal some aspects of the social status of the wearer? And do we not still penalize people who dress out of their station?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


...if you pick up a couch from the curb, do look under the cushions first. You never know what might be in there...somebody's cat, a body, a four foot snake...

Amazingly, the Michigan woman who saw the snake crawl out of her second hand sofa had the presence of mind to take it to a vet. Unfortunately, it didn't survive.

So, yeah.

Check furniture for critters before taking it home...