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.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Back To The Future?

I'm seeing this on multiple sources, so it doesn't seem to be fake. Greg and Jill Henderson have built...

...a hoverboard.

It's actually more like the hoverboards in Scott Westerfeld's Uglies than anything from Back To The Future - like them, it only works if there's enough metal below you.

And, right now, it only hovers about an inch off the ground. There's actually nothing that innovative about it - it works on similar lines to a maglev train.

The creators plan on building a special skate park where people can play with their boards.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Hello, SeaQuest.

Check this thing out. The SeaOrbiter is French (harking back to 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea) and has twelve decks, six of which will be below sea level. The 22 person ocean laboratory will go out on three to six month voyages during which it will conduct oceanographic experiments and also psychological and physiological experiments set up by NASA.

A fleet of five is planned. We know little more about the oceans of our own world than we know about space, so I'm actually quite psyched about this.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires...

...which is the problem.

The forests in the eastern US are changing, and it's not climate change. And it's not a change for the better.

The forests are growing thicker and denser, which is damaging the understory - the plants that live on the forest floor. Which in turn messes up the entire ecosystem.

And yup.

It's because we prevent forest fires. In the west, fire prevention causes a build up of stuff that's supposed to burn off that can lead to far more dangerous firestorms.

Is it time to completely rethink how we manage forest fires? Is it time to accept them as inevitable, take precautions to protect (moat, local clearing, etc) our property - and possibly even to start fires in a controlled manner to prevent larger ones?

I've been thinking so for a while, but this new study is more evidence that we are doing it all wrong.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

So, how did kangaroos get to their "hop"?

...through walking. The sthenurines, the ancestor of the kangaroo, were bipedal walkers - similar to many dinosaurs.

Maybe. It's still controversial, but scientists are pretty sure that they didn't hop. Which makes sense. Hopping, after all, is a strange way of getting around, and isn't something that a quadruped would ever invent. A biped, however...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Utah State, Threats, And Gun Control

Anyone who knows me knows I'm not a gun control fanatic. I don't have anything against responsible firearm ownership.

Tonight, feminist speaker Anita Sarkeesian was supposed to speak at Utah State - except that she received death threats. Now, it's not unlikely at all that the threats were all bark and no bite. Sarkeesian has been threatened before. The threat was reported to the university.

They decided it was safe to go ahead - but when asked, were told concealed weapons would be allowed in the auditorium.



It's now pretty much viral on the internet that Utah State doesn't care about the safety of Sarkeesian (who canceled) or the people who planned on attending her presentation.

Here's the thing, though.

Utah has some of the most permissive firearms laws in the country. And according to one regulation, the Uniform Firearms Law, certain entities are not allowed to have rules and policies against carrying firearms beyond the state restrictions (which only require a permit for concealed weapons). State public universities are one of them.

So, it's not that Utah State doesn't care about the safety of their students, it's that the law won't allow them to care. Again. Not a gun control fanatic here, but a university not being allowed to ask people not to bring their guns to an event after threats were received?

There's one amendment that should trump the second - and that's the first. Utah's gun laws have interfered with Sarkessian's right to speak, something government is forbidden to do.

This needs to change. I appreciate that Utah is a wilderness state and a place where carrying a firearm is often a good idea. But...

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

NASA's Jack O'Lantern

Check it out.

NASA has released a sunspot image from October 8 that looks like a Jack O'Lantern. To be fair, they cheated slightly - it's false color and they normally use yellow for it, but changed it to orange because somebody couldn't resist the seasonal connotation.

Other scientists decided it would be fun to name a newly identified snail species Aegista diversifamilia - in honor of same sex marriage. (Snails, as I hope most of you know, are all hermaphroditic).

Monday, October 13, 2014

Capclave Recap

Overall - very good. Saturday did demonstrate the downside of a con not large enough to take over the hotel, with an extremely noisy Bat Mizvah going on on the other side of an air wall from one of the panel rooms. This rendered the room at times almost unusable.

An excellent program, with not too much of the usual problems (panelists trying to turn it into a personal presentation, audience members trying to be on the panel). My only personal complaint was putting Doctor Who across from Alternative Sexualities. That elicited a loud groan when I saw the grid.

One point of organization. Please, Capclave, make sure your moderators know they're moderating before they get to the panel room. One person might have just been disorganized. Several indicate a communication problem.

However, I was very impressed.

Unfortunately, I also have to add a warning to con goers, especially female ones: Be wary of people who are wandering around the actual con area without a badge. I was harassed by an individual who had apparently removed his badge and proceeded to attempt to get me to leave the building with him. The con people handled the situation very well, but were unable to do anything about the man concerned - apparently he was so shocked to find a woman willing to make a scene rather than go along with him that he left and never came back. (To be fair, this could have been just typical con overfriendliness - some people think it's perfectly reasonable to touch and hug total strangers, but he did not give me good vibes).

Friday, October 10, 2014

World Fantasy Con

World Fantasy Con is about a month away and I know I've mentioned to some people that I will be attending the convention. (Because it's really convenient and thus isn't going to cost a fortune).

I am pleased to announce that I have been given the privilege of being on a panel. The panel is entitled "The Great Game in History and Fiction" - we'll be talking about the conflict between Britain and Russia in Central Asia during the 19th century and how its influenced fantasy - and might influence future work.

Also, attending members will be receiving a copy of Unconventional Fantasy: A Celebration of Forty Years of the World Fantasy Convention. This is so big it's going to be on a USB drive - lots of stories and some wonderful artwork.

I have been given the singular honor of having a work included in this collection. The selected story is "Water Demons," which first appeared in the Dagan Books FISH anthology - the few people who showed up to my readings at RavenCon and Balticon have heard excerpts from this story, which I consider to be my best fantasy story ever and also better than most of my science fiction. (Do I love this story too much? Possibly).

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Cross-Species Language?

Apparently, if you put orcas in a tank with dolphins...the orcas will learn to speak dolphin. This is the first proof of one species actually learning the language of another. Or is it? I suspect a lot of parrot owners will disagree.

(I know everyone says they don't understand what they're saying, but my limited interactions have rather convinced me otherwise...)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Some Of Our Predictions...

...are things we don't want to actually come true. In Mindkiller, Spider Robinson talks about "wireheading" as the new drug - using electrodes to directly stimulate the brain to induce pleasure.

Wireheading requires brain implants - and somehow every time anyone comes up with a way to do it without, they show up dead.

Except now a company called Thync is claiming that they're working on "a wearable device designed to directly perk up or calm down the brain" (Xconomy).

There's no proof the device exists or works, but with recent developments in machine-mediated telepathy, it might. And it wouldn't require implants.

Fortunately or unfortunately, it already seems to have been decided that the FDA has some jurisdiction...

(Edit: My husband also pointed out that we just saw this kind of technology used to mess people an old episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

So, Anti-Matter Blows Everything Up?

Actually, nope. Not always.

Enter the Majorana fermion, which has a neutral charge. It's matter. And its antimatter. In 1930s Ettore Majorana suggested it was possible.

Now they seem to have found it. Or more accurately made it. It requires superconductors and magnetism and...well, I'll let you read it here.


Here's the important thing about the Majorana fermion now we've found it. It's actually...quite, quite stable. Which means that it might be useful for quantum computing (because it's already both a 0 and a 1, as it were. Or maybe a -1 and a 1). It also doesn't interact much...dark matter, anyone?

But one intriguing bluesky possibility.

If Majorana fermions are stable, then they can be stored.

If they can then later be destabilized then we have a way to store antimatter. And that could be really useful (and scary).

We'll see. They haven't managed to interact with them yet beyond observation and maybe we can't. But think about it...

Monday, October 6, 2014

What Is A Selenelion?

There will be a particularly spectacular lunar eclipse on Wednesday morning. East coast people will catch a glimpse.

What's so special?

A total lunar eclipse happens when the earth sits right between the sun and the moon, preventing sunlight from hitting the moon and then bouncing back. The moon appears red during eclipses because red light is refracted by the Earth's atmosphere and thus some of it still hits. (This was considered a bad omen in many cultures until the phenomenon was understood.

The selenelion occurs when the total eclipse and the rising sun are both visible. This can only happen because guessed it...atmospheric refraction. Refraction shows us the sun slightly before it rises and the moon slightly after it sets. So if you get up before dawn, if the weather cooperates, you may have a 2 to 9 minute "window" in which both are visible. And you might need field glasses to see the moon (obviously don't point them at the sun).

I don't think I'm going to haul myself out of bed that early - there are too many buildings around here anyway. But good luck if you try it.

(A selenelion to me sounds like a lunar werecat).

Friday, October 3, 2014

Friday Updates

...late because I've had one of those days (no a/c, too hot for no a/c, had to have the exterminator in because somebody saw a cockroach the size of his thumb this morning).

So, let's see. Setting aside the stuff I can't talk about, I finished some flash fiction this week, have submitted a bunch of stuff and am working on another project I just don't want to hype quite yet.

Thursday, October 2, 2014


...apparently it's not as settled as they thought.

Some scientists are insisting that Pluto should be counted as planet - and their grounds are that Pluto being a planet is common usage. The official definition might say one thing, but the argument being made is that planet is "a culturally defined word that changes over time."

Which really means "Pluto is a planet if you want it to be."

I'm not so sure, but the debate is never, ever going to end, is it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Ah, Yes, Clothes...

I just had to replace my rain jacket. It's leaking. This jacket has done very good service so, of course, I wanted to replace it with the same brand.

Which is no longer carried by any outfitter in the DC area (the closest is Hanover). Why? Because "people have lost interest in ultralight jackets."

In the south. This jacket is (just about) wearable in DC summer. Anything even slightly heavier would result in heat exhaustion.

So, I resort to ordering it online and discover that while the exact jacket I had was discontinued, the replacement is readily available.

Men can get it in black, sage, navy, or nautical blue.

Women can get it in black, white, or various shades of eyebleeder.

Isn't this pointless gendering? (I ordered a men's jacket, because that has more space under it for layers anyway). If a man wants a fire engine red jacket, he can't get one, because it's only available in women's cuts, which don't fit men very well. If a woman wants navy, she has to get it in a men's size.

This sort of thing is so common. It's pointless gendering, and I don't get it. I don't get it at all.