Monday, March 31, 2014

Divergent - And Other YA

I haven't read Veronica Roth's Divergent trilogy yet. As sometimes happens it came on my radar when I saw a trailer for the movie - and I have a policy of avoiding the book until I've seen the movie if I find out about them at the same time. This is in part because of the general rule of "the book is better."

So, please bear with me. I'm going to say - overall, I liked this movie, even if it is part of the current rash of YA dystopia (They're also doing "The Giver"). After an unspecified war, Chicago is left high and dry, with Lake Michigan having receded (I suspect we're supposed to think Nuclear Winter here). Its surviving population, believing themselves to be the last of mankind, have set themselves up into a sort of bizarre twist Brave New World via aptitude testing. They're divided into five factions based off of human virtues: Amity (kindness) provides the food, Candor (truthfulness) runs the legal system, Dauntless (courage) defends the settlement from unspecified "monsters" and also acts as police, Erudite (intelligence) does R&D and Abnegation (selflessness) runs the welfare system...and the government. The main character, Beatrice, is the daughter of a leading politician and is now facing her coming of age - in which she will choose which faction she will be a member of as an adult.

Before the choosing, she's subjected to an aptitude test designed to determine which of the five virtues is ascendent in her personality and help her make the best choice...except it doesn't work on her. She's a Divergent - somebody who breaks the faction system (and is at least partially immune to brainwashing and mental control).

This was a very cool movie. The visuals of the half-destroyed Chicago, the insane electric fence surrounding the city, and the various sets were fantastic. Shailene Woodley does a great job as Tris and the chemistry between her and Four is better than I've seen lately. Oh, and Kate Winslet knocked her role out too.

Here's my question, though. If we can have Divergent, why can't we have Scott Westerfeld's Uglies? Better yet, why can't we have some of these people involved in making it? The visual feel was very similar to that series.

Answer: Scott Westerfeld is wholly underrated. Yes, I'm a fan of his, but I'd really like to see him get a true breakout.

Or an Uglies movie. How about it?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Friday Updates

The Strange Voyagers kickstarter is at 40%. If you haven't backed it and want to - go here:

And my new project is going to be ready to go on April 1 - watch this space!

Thursday, March 27, 2014


Just got my tentative schedule. I'm going to post it closer to the time (The con is still a month away) but there's some interesting panels - including, of course, the Bad Movie panel. I'm also particularly looking forward to the one on powered armor and how it may change the military (Yes, we are very, very close to having it. Probably already do, they just aren't talking about it yet).

I'm also going to be discussing 3D printing and Doctor Who (of course) as well as some stuff more for writers.

And don't forget, the Kickstarter for Strange Voyages is still going on here:

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"Mars Chamber"

Researchers in Spain have invented a chamber that stimulates conditions on the Martian surface.

The chamber duplicates the atmospheric pressure and composition, temperature and dust conditions on Mars. The goal is to test scientific equipment before deployment to the Martian surface. It might also be used to test Martian surface suits, even door seals for a colony.

This is vital. Dust is going to be the biggest problem faced by any settlement on Mars, and normal airlocks probably won't keep it out. It's high in silicate - so settlers exposed to it risk contracting silicosis - what used to be called "black lung." Testing dust containment and exclusion systems on Earth thus greatly increases the chance of the success of a colony.

(Why didn't somebody do this before?)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Strange Voyages Kickstarter

I thought I'd posted this earlier - apparently not (We all have those days!)

The Strange Voyages kickstarter is now live.

We have $711 pledged of an initial goal of $3,500 - and if we reach our goal by 12:30pm on Thursday there will be a special reward for everyone who backs at the $15 level or higher.

We've got some pretty good perks...and I'm pleased to see the support so far. Even if all you can afford is to toss us a dollar, it'll put us closer to our goal of A. Getting the book in print and B. Getting better art (our first stretch goal).

Monday, March 24, 2014

Learning In Prison

My beloved mother did many things of value during her life.

At one point she was teaching theology correspondence courses. And one of her students was in prison "At Her Majesty's Pleasure" - the British euphemism for a life sentence. I was never quite clear on what he did other than being involved with the mob, but I am fairly sure it did involve killing people. He'd actually rethought his life in prison and was learning theology.

Through this she became aware of a program to teach minor offenders to read. These were illiterate adults who were in prison on short sentences for such things as petty theft, marijuana possession, etc. By teaching them to read it was hoped they would have a better chance of finding honest work when they got out. She taught these men for several years, stopping only when a flurry of prison riots spread across the country. Her extreme claustrophobia was set off by the riot drills and she realized she would be a liability if something like that happened. But the program presumably continued.


The British prison system has banned prisoners from receiving books from their families. Including juveniles. Prison libraries are often good, but also often the first victims of cuts when money is tight.

Without books, the next John won't pick up a Bible and realize it's a better weapon than a pistol or knife (I'm not Christian, but if religion helps you get your head straight it doesn't, to me, matter WHICH religion).

Without books, teaching prisoners to read is a waste of time. And some of these are juveniles. Messed up kids. Who are in their cells for 16-20 hours a day. We should be sending truckloads of books into these prisons - books to help them learn, to help them see other paths than the ones they have. In the United States we have programs to send prisoners books. In the United Kingdom, any such programs would have been shut down under these rules unless, I suppose, through the auspices of the prison library.

If we have to put people in prison...especially kids, especially people serving sentences for crimes they clearly committed out of poverty and desperation...don't we have a responsibility to help them become better people? And isn't it cheaper to make sure they leave with some chance of a job than watch them come right back through the revolving door? But, according to these people, it's more important to be "tough on crime."

Yeah, kind of disgusted with my birth country right now.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Occult Moon Press Release!

Beyond the horizon. Past the edge of the map. Beneath the world you know. There lie the lands of legend, home to every wonder that walks your dreams and every monster that stalks your nightmares. At the height of the Age of Exploration, gather your crew and set sail for glory, gold, and adventure!
Where will you go on your Strange Voyages?

Face off against pirates, mythological creatures, and the tyrannical kings of Atlantis in Strange Voyages! Strange Voyages is a supplement to the Fate Core system, and a complete campaign setting. Inside, you will find rules on creating your own sailing ship, how to easily adapt one of 12 templates to represent any creature from myth and legend, and a variety of exciting, easy-to-use magical powers to outfit your crew and their foes. You will need a copy of Fate Core, available as a pay-what-you-like pdf from, in order to play Strange Voyages.

Our Kickstarter is coming imminently, where you can become part of the adventure!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Chicken From Hell

I'm weird. I think the new dinosaur scientists are calling the "Chicken from Hell" is actually kinda cute - check it out here:

It has a beak, feathers, hollow bones and a cassowary-like crest. Which makes me wonder - why would a flightless dinosaur have hollow bones? Did they really evolve for a reason other than flight or did this thing try flying and give it up?

Either way - it's a good candidate for Stupidest Looking Monster and/or "So ugly it's cute."

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Submission Fees

There's something called Yog's Law.

"Money flows towards the writer."

Yog Sysop created this as a simple meme to help people avoid crooked agents and sleazy vanity publishers. Now, there's nothing wrong with paying money up front for specific services for true self publishing - providing you have it and aren't, you know, selling your inheritance or mortgaging your house to get it. I've bought cover art before. A lot of us pay for editing. It's when a publisher promises you the moon for X dollars.

There's a much smaller scale version of this - and that is reading fees. Just today I was directed towards a literary journal that promised to pay $10-15 for each piece of fiction and $8-12 for poetry or artwork. (They didn't specify what would get the higher end of the range). Except that they charge $4 for each submission. Instead of charging readers, they're charging writers. Nice little racket if you can get it. If you charge readers or rely on advertising, your offering has to actually be appealing. Oh, and their maximum word count is 5,000 - meaning quite a few of their writers will be being paid token rates.

Far more common is the convenience fee or "administrative" fee for electronic submissions, normally $3-4, and charged by some quite reputable academic journals. They claim this isn't a reading fee because they don't charge for postal subs and it "costs about the same."

It's still a reading fee, whether they like it or not.

I don't pay reading fees. (I would consider entering a contest with a large prize that had reasonable entry fees - some wholly legitimate contests charge entry fees to cover the prize amount, but the ratio is always reasonable). I'm certainly not going to pay $4 for a chance of getting $15. That makes the lottery look like a better use of the money.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

FDA and 3-D Printing

So, apparently, the FDA has not approved any 3-D printed "devices" for use in humans. (Presumably, this excludes tooth implants).

Come on, people. Two toddlers have been saved by 3-D printed splints to open their airways. The splints were designed to be biodegradable (so needed no second surgery) - a technique which might be useful for adults as well.

The FDA serves a very useful purpose - it stops quackery. But sometimes it can be frustratingly slow and sometimes people die when there's a perfectly good treatment that just "isn't approved" yet.

I'd put to the FDA that if you're dying you may not want to worry about side effects. If your child is dying...

Eh. Just my thought on the matter.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Some Cool Stuff

Mercury is shrinking.

Relax, the solar system isn't going to drop to 8 planets any time soon. But Mercury is definitely getting smaller over time - it's shrunk about 8.6 miles over the last 4 billion years.

NASA is, as usual, being quite ridiculous. Turns out that Russian cosmonauts have been growing their own vegetables for quite a while...but, of course, NASA claims this isn't safe and they have to do a bunch of experiments first. Pencils, anyone?

Oh, and Happy St. Patrick's Day. Don't drink too much green beer.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Friday Updates!

The Skeptic and Other Glimpses will be live tomorrow - I can't be sure on an exact time because Amazon can sometimes be quirky, so watch my social media accounts.

Also live tomorrow, "The Future Embodied" anthology.

We just finished final edits on my story for "The Death God's Chosen" (Deepwood Publishing), so that one should be floating around soon too.

Also, I have a new blog - I got talked into it. will cover questions and answers about horses. It's meant for writers and gamers who want or need to include equines...and want to get those little details right. Or maybe it's just self defense.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Few Notes

So, which animal do you think is best at detecting and identifying threats?

Elephants. Elephants can tell men from women and men of different ethnic groups apart by their voices. Even if you try to alter the voice to fool them. Not only that? They will all but ignore Kumba (who don't hunt elephants). They will go on alert if they hear the voices of male Masai (who do), but won't actually clear out if the men are talking - they know men who are talking aren't hunting! And it seems they probably tell the difference by actually distinguishing between the languages.

In Britain, they're still trying to decide where to put Richard III. The monarch's bones were found under a council car park. There's an argument whether he should be buried at Leicester (the closest cathedral to where he was found) or York Minister (the wish of some of his surviving relatives). I'd go with the relatives, personally. Which now means his relatives are suing the University of Leicester over the matter. Seriously, though, I think if his family has an opinion, shouldn't that count? Ah well.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Reusable Rockets

Watch out on March 16 - because we may have a first.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 is going up from Cape Canaveral with 8,000 pounds of supplies to the ISS.

No big news. The ISS is currently being supplied by commercial rockets with both SpaceX and Virginia-based Orbital Mechanics having contracts.

Except that the Falcon 9 will be attempting something never done before with a rocket. The first stage is designed to be reusable. This time, they are not going to attempt to land it back on the pad, but ditch it in the ocean - for safety reasons - but they will be testing the descent equipment and hoping to retrieve the first stage...not for reuse this time, but to be studied and examined.

Their current timeframe is 6 to 8 months before we will get to see a first stage rocket land gently on the pad to be refueled.

Space X's plan? To eventually reuse the entire rocket. Their calculations say this will drop prices from $38,000 a pound to...$10 a pound.

And that means everyone else has to get on the bandwagon or be priced out of the market. Although I'm a big fan of non-rocket solutions (and space elevators), this is at least a better way of doing rockets...

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

We Writers..

...can sometimes come over as very much not compassionate people. Let's take this Malaysian Air plane that disappeared.

There's a part of my brain that's expressing sympathy for the passengers and their families. But it's the smaller part compared to all of the speculation and thoughts.

1. The plane vanished without a trace despite being under the eyes of modern military grade radar. It was turning, but the pilots communicated no course change. If only time displaced ships, planes, submarines, etc...weren't so horribly overdone.

2. Maybe it got blown up? But nobody's claimed responsibility (and no terrorist organization would do something like this and not crow it to the skies). It would have to have been a catastrophic explosion to cause this, and a bomb wouldn't explain that course change. (Maybe an intelligence service did it? Conspiracy theorist's wet dream there). An accidental explosion like TWA800 would have the same objections. Radar's gotten better since 1996.

3. Oh, maybe they got smited - some Islamic groups would love to blame the crash on the fact that they didn't pray before takeoff, served alcohol, and weren't properly veiling the stewardesses. And the gays caused Hurricane Katrina.

And then there's the wonderful side issue of our friend Mr. Ali and the two people on fake passports. Which were based on passports stolen a year and two years ago. Why was that not checked? But the first thing dear Mr. Ali did on hearing about the crash was contact "an intelligence service" and get them to tell Interpol these were people he'd put on the plane. Was he running drugs? Nope. He was running people. Asylum seekers (although slaves would make for a better story at some levels). It's easier to get an exit visa from Iran to go to Asia than to Europe...and I am definitely going to steal the concept of going halfway around the planet to get away from an evil regime. "We need to get off Earth. Mars is much better. But the only exit visa we can get is to Ceres..."


We have this sociopathic streak that turns everything into a potential seed for a story.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Things We Don't Think...

...still happen.

Like planes just vanishing off of radar. We think that doesn't happen these days - but it happened to MH370. (Most likely the plane simply went down, but these kinds of disappearances have all but ended now we have better tracking). It send no distress signal. The pilots didn't say anything - but the plane did start to turn off of its flight path. I have to wonder if something in the flight electronics crashed.

We think we have removed a lot of the mystery from the world - and we have - but things like this can still happen. Can and do. Not that it makes me afraid to fly - planes don't go down very often, after all. But it does remind me that we can't know everything. Even on Earth.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Friday Updates!

First of all, here is the cover for the micro-collection that will be released on March 15. I think Matt Davis did a great job with it. (The files are all done and hopefully ready for upload...hopefully).

Second, the Strange Voyagers kickstarter will be launched by Occult Moon on March 21. We're planning on a 45 day run - I don't have the numbers yet, but rest assured there will be some interesting perks and stretch goals. Trust me.

Third of all, my short story "No Magic," was purchased by Untied Shoelaces of the Mind e-zine.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Cool Stuff In Space

How about an enormous black hole that's spinning at half the speed of light? (That's pretty dang if some civilization could somehow tap into that energy. Eye of Harmony, anyone?)

NASA's planning a probe to Europa - to be launched in the mid-2020s. (Anyone think NASA is going to get overtaken). Would be nice to find out more about that particular iceball. "All these worlds are yours except Europa. Attempt no landing there."

And in a completely non space related note, the mystery of why the heck the builders of Stonehenge moved those bluestones from Wales may have been solved. Apparently, if you hit them with a hammer, they make quite a pleasant sound. So...were they chosen to make sounds during ceremonies?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Real History And Modern Sensibilities

Historical fiction and historical fantasy are quite popular in some circles. (This includes fantasies based off of "historical" myths such as Robin Hood, King Arthur, etc).

Also, a lot of second world fantasy has a Medieval or "past" feel to it, including Tolkein itself. People read historical fiction or fantasy for all kinds of reasons - escapism, to learn more about the past in a fun way, a fascination with other cultures.

Which leads to modern sensibilities. In Game of Thrones, Daenerys is married at 13 (and in the books the sex is quite explicit - to the point where they had to make her older in the TV show). In Mercedes Lackey's Arrows of the Queen, Talia runs away to avoid marriage at the same age. At the same time I've been told when writing online that people were iffy with a character running away to avoid marriage at 16.

And here's the rub of it. For most of human history, marriageable age was "as soon as you're physically ready to bear children." Extended adolescence is a modern ideal - and while I don't believe writers should be going around promoting teen pregnancy or statutory rape, if we are writing in and about a society where such things happen, we shouldn't be afraid to have them happen. (Visual depictions are obviously a different thing, given the very strict laws on the matter).

At the same time, we shouldn't be afraid to write about non-consensual situations if they properly further the plot - and bear in mind that in these kinds of societies, arranged marriages were very common.

We can't apply the rules of our society to other societies - and speculative fiction writers should think very carefully before trying.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


I love airships. I have to admit that's why I have a fondness for steampunk. (Air pirates, anyone).

In the real world, though, airships have gotten a bum rap. Ever since the Hindenburg disaster (which we now know would have happened even if the airship had used helium not hydrogen) attempts to design commercial airships have, well, failed. A company tried to set up passenger airship service between Manchester and the Isle of Man, but they went bankrupt before starting operations.

Airships do have advantages. They're slower than jets, but they use a lot less fuel and for many freight operations, where speed is unnecessary, airships or "hybrids"such as the 300 ft ship being constructed by HAV - which can reach 100 mph, airships might be a more economical choice. Smaller airships might be a better option than planes or helicopters for air safaris (they're a lot quieter).

So, what's the obstacle?

Helium. If they used hydrogen, nobody would fly on the things, but we have a shortage of helium, especially in the United States. Although helium is very common in the universe, it's so light it bleeds off into space and the only way to get it is to find helium that's been trapped in the Earth's crust. So, helium has to be mined. And is a limited resource.

Which makes airships suddenly much less attractive than they were. But, ah well, a girl can dream.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Snowed In

Well, by southern standards. I'm not that much of a snow wuss myself - but, once more, everything's closed and the ground's covered in white stuff.

Part of me's appreciating how pretty it is. Another part is ready for the next season already. (And a third part is reminding myself that I'll be wishing for something cold come summer).

We've had quite the winter this year - don't know whether it's climate change or just chance, but a lot of the time our weather has come straight down off of the Canadian shield.

Brrr.'s still pretty. (Why couldn't we have had it for Christmas?)