Monday, June 26, 2017

How many planets?

Eight? Nine? Ten? Eleven?

Arguments about the status of Pluto aside (and some people are obviously arguing that if Pluto counts so does Eris, even Ceres), new research indicates there may not only be one planet-sized object in the outer system.

The "presence" of the new planet may be revealed by alterations in the orbital plane of Kuiper Belt objects. If it exists, it's about the same size as Mars.


Friday, June 23, 2017

The Lights of Sand Island

Yes, two in one week.

I'm taking players to Duluth, Minnesota, for The Lights of Sand Island, a one-off adventure for the vs. Ghosts line (vs. M engine). It's designed to be easy for convention play and similar.

It's also based off of a real life shipwreck - highlighting how dangerous Lake Superior can be even today, and much more so before ships routinely carried radar...

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Space Junk

It's a huge problem - in 2013, NASA was tracking 500,000 pieces of debris. The big fear is what's known as "Kessler syndrome" - a chain reaction of satellite destruction that could interdict us from large parts of Earth's orbit.

A smaller issue is that people have, yes, been hit by space debris. Lottie Williams, for example, was hit by part of a propellant tank in 1997 (she was uninjured).

Part of the solution is that we now care a lot more about what happens to obsolete and defunct satellites. GEO satellites, for example, are obliged to carry enough fuel to move them to an out of the way "graveyard" orbit. Other satellites are designed to de-orbit - to burn up intentionally in the atmosphere.

But in the long term, we need to do something about the hazards to navigation. The most common concept is a "space janitor" - a robot satellite that is designed to collect pieces of space junk.

Emilien Fabicher has an interesting - and exciting - proposal. His robot would use a strong magnetic beam to chase down defunct satellites and alter their orbit, either sending them into the atmosphere or into a better parking orbit.

The magnetic beam would grab satellites at a range of 10 to 15 meters and then shift their orbit.

We science fiction fans have a word for this.

It's called a tractor beam.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Fallen Dark Cover Reveal!

And...here it is!


Woot!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

New Release!

Well, technically it was posted on Saturday, but I didn't want to do this over crappy hotel wi-fi (I managed to draw a room that appeared to have no decent LOS with the receiver).

The release is the first of the Dark Hold Goblin Adventures, designed to be used with the main setting book (You might be able to use it without, but I'd recommend getting both). It's a classic dungeon crawl that should take most groups 1-2 sessions to complete.

The PDF is available through RPGNow.

The print book can be purchased from Rebel Minis own site here.

And for a little optional extra, the titular Cerebeast can be found in miniature form. (Yes, the mini came first).

Monday, June 19, 2017

Back!

Safely back to Virginia. Very, very tired, so no real post tonight - just letting everyone know I'm home.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

...and Batman

Batman is often seen as the darkest of DCs heroes (By people who don't know about the Punisher).

But there was an antidote. From 1966-1968, Adam West starred as Batman in a TV show that was lighthearted, fun, and embraced its comics-driven goofiness. With Burt Ward as Robin, the show went as far as to add visual sound effects. It also gave us Eartha Kitt as Catwoman (Julie Newmar did more episodes, but Kitt is the one people tend to remember).

The show was flamboyant and very much part of the sixties - although I'd argue that the current Flash TV show catches much of its spirit. Oh, and of all the actors that have played Batman, only West is the correct height per the "vital statistics" DC provides for the character - 6'2.

West and Ward returned in The New Adventures of Batman for a single season in 1977, but the magic was apparently gone - times had changed. But he didn't entirely give up on being Batman - he reprised the role in Legends of the Superheroes (1979) and as a voice actor in Superfriends: The Legendary Super Powers Show (1984), The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians (1985), Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016) and the Robot Chicken DC Comics Special 3: Magical Friendship. And he played the Mayor in The Batman, voiced the Grey Ghost in Batman: The Animated Series and voiced both Thomas Wayne and Proto-Bot in Batman: The Brave and the Bold. His last "appearance" as Batman? It will be released later this year, an animated direct to video Batman vs. Two-Face movie, perhaps closing the circle. (Burt Ward also returns as Robin, Julie Newmar as Catwoman, and William Shatner will be voicing Harvey Dent).

And he also appeared in some other superhero shows - Powerless, Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero, The Super Hero Squad Show, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, the 1990s Flash series, and the short lived vigilante show Black Scorpion, in which he played a villain. One starts to get the feeling he liked being in superhero shows - but his extensive filmography also includes Family Guy, FanAddicts!, The Fairly OddParents, The Secret Files of the SpyDogs, Danger Theatre, The Last Precinct, The Detectives and a wide variety of random appearances in all kinds of things.

In other words, he was a versatile actor, but he was always Batman - to the point where he became a character himself - he played himself in Space Ghost Coast To Coast, Hope & Gloria, Murphy Brown, The King of Queens, etc. People tend not to think of Adam West as a real person.

Which might explain why even some non-fan blogs I follow have stopped to mourn.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Wonder Woman

I've been boycotting DC movies since the utter fiasco that was Man of Steel, which led me to the conclusion that Zack Snyder should not be allowed anywhere near Superman.

Watching Wonder Woman allowed me to come to an analysis as to why: Snyder thinks Superman is a warrior. Superman is not. That reluctance to fight, that struggle with responsibility and power is not there in Snyder's Superman.

Snyder did not direct Wonder Woman - but was involved in the script. And Wonder Woman shows a different side of the hero's conflict - the knowledge that in order for there to be peace some have to fight.

The movie was a period piece and an origin story - and a war movie. And to helm it the studio made a risky choice.

Patty Jenkins. She hadn't directed a movie since Monster in 2003, only a handful of TV episodes and TV movies. She's won awards, and Charlize Theron won an Oscar for her performance in Monster, but looking at her filmography makes one go "Why her?" A serial killer movie, an episode of Arrested Development, two episodes of Entourage (a series about Hollywood), two episodes of The Killing (crime/cop show), one episode of Betrayal (drama), a TV movie about a journalist.

There's been a criticism circling that has merit: Jenkins is not an action director.

And it made a huge difference. Because Jenkins is not an "action director" she was not caught up in the ways people film action. Her fight sequences were refreshingly clean, making it easy to keep track of what was going on (although there was some bullet time we could have done without). Her choices of camera angle were different and in this case different is good. Maybe we need a few less "action directors."

Moving on to the movie itself. The choice to cast primarily athletes as the non-speaking Amazon warriors was brilliant. They looked like fighting women, not supermodels. I also had no idea Chris Pine looked like Steve Trevor. Must have been the hair.

The language off between Diana and Sammy/Sameer was...well, I have never seen a language off before, and it was brilliant. Sameer, ably played by Moroccan Said Taghmaoui, was a well-designed character and used as an opportunity "I'm the wrong color" to subtly point out the racism of the time without hitting us over the head with it. Plus, more brown people in my superhero movies, please.

The Chief - omg, the Chief. The decision to include a version of Apache Chief in the movie could have been terrible. Given Hollywood's record, I would have expected it to be terrible, with some white guy cast and lots of hand signals.

Instead, they dropped the Apache and cast a Canadian Blackfoot, Eugene Brave Rock in the part. They let him use his own language, and although the smoke signals part was a little bit eye-rolly, they turned the character into a comment on colonialism, not the disgusting stereotype I was afraid we would be getting. (And spoiler: Ares is a suave Englishman. Because of course he is).

Lucy Davis was an awesome Etta Candy.

The bait and switch with the sword was also awesome. Loved 8 year old Diana - so cute.

And spoiler: Thanks for actually having Trevor die not be miraculously rescued, because this is a WAR MOVIE.

So, on to the bad parts...because although I thoroughly enjoyed this movie there were a couple of things that got in the way.

1. It would have made a much stronger comment on gender roles, patriarchy and, you know, all the things Wonder Woman is supposed to mean if they had stuck with the original and had the Amazons created by Hera. Instead, they were made by Zeus. Seriously? Why? What was the point of this change?

2. The opening. Sorry, writers, but ex-PO-sition. Stop it! The movie would have gone from good to great if it had started with Diana leaping off the cliff to rescue Steve Trevor (yes, we'd have lost baby Diana, but as awesome as she was, we did not need Hippolyte's dark idea of a bedtime story), and if the key information had been given to Steve, who would not be expected to know it, in dialogue. The weakness of the scriptwriters was soliloquys and speeches, so we needed fewer of them. They committed the Sin of Prologue (Prologues are not always bad, mind).

Friday, June 9, 2017

Friday Update

Okay!

So - most of this week has been working on the next adventure for my campaign and whipping Fallen Dark into shape for publication.

And...it's "finished." (Air quotes because I know well that when I get the print proof I will spot more typos. Just the way the world works). Cover art has been ordered. I'm now aiming to release on July 7, assuming my cover artist doesn't get sick and Createspace doesn't lose my proof again. (Which shouldn't happen - we do seem to have finally expunged all instances of my old address from their database, but...)

I'll keep everyone updated. Now's a good time to snag Fallen Dusk if you don't already have it.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

NASA's Lastest Invention...

...is crumb-free bread. Yup.

It might sound weird, but breadcrumbs are dangerous in microgravity. Bread has, in fact, been banned in space since some Gemini astronauts contaminated the circuitry with a corned beef sandwich. Instead, astronauts eat wraps made with tortilla, which doesn't make crumbs.

Various dough mixes and oven types will be tested soon. (Although personally, I'd be just as happy with the tortillas).

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

How many human species again?

Neanderthals. Denisovans. And, of course "modern" humans.

The assumption that modern humans appeared in east Africa as a new species has been challenged - by remains found in Morocco and all over the continent that push our existence back 100,000 years, but also imply that...well, what?

What if we didn't appear in one place and spread? What if modern humans, even before spreading out and mingling with Neanderthals and Denisovans, were already a blend, descended from a variety of species.

Which all reminds us that "human" means "genus homo." And challenges, as is happening so often these days, the very definition of a species.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Huh...inspiration?

Apparently, Elon Musk was inspired to start his career in space by...

Hitchhikers' Guide To The Galaxy.

I'd have thought it would be some nice Heinlein, myself ;).

Monday, June 5, 2017

Is it a planet...

...or a star?

Well, obviously KELT-9B is a planet - it orbits a star, it's only twice the size of Jupiter, it's 7,800 degrees Fahrenheit...

...wait, what? That might seem like nothing, but the sun is only 2,000 degrees hotter, and the sun isn't the coldest star out there, nope.

Oh, and just to add to the fun, it's in a polar orbit around its star. And tight in. It's probably boiling off into space, but planets aren't supposed to be hotter than stars.

The universe continues to surprise us with its strangeness.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Friday Updates

I'm going to start trying to do this again, particularly now I've got most of the Projects I Can't Talk About (hopefully there will be more) out of the way.

First, if you haven't backed the Equal Opportunity Madness kickstarter and are at all interested in stories written to make H.P. Lovecraft spin in his grave whilst simultaneously honoring his legacy - do. Yes, we're fully funded BUT if we can make it to our $3,000 stretch goal we'll be able to do the anthology as an audiobook. As this anthology was conceived at Balticon, it really needs to be available in audio, right? 16 days left to back.

What I'm working on:

Three short stories, two of which are finished, but I don't have anywhere to send them right now. The third is for a call.

Final edits of Fallen Dark, Lost Guardians #2. As I'm juggling this with reading the Hugo packet it may take me a bit - I'll keep everyone posted. Also, I learned a lesson last time - that I want to read the print proof BEFORE making the ebook available for pre-order. Last time I found a bunch of typos after the point where Amazon lets you change the file without banning you from doing pre-orders for like a year. So, that's a pro tip. Because trust me, when you have your book as a physical paperback in your hands - it's almost as good as reading it out loud.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Fun On The Sun

Well, not quite, but the Parker Solar Probe will approach within 6km of the sun's atmosphere - closer than any spaceship yet. Assuming we don't mess up and drop it right into the star, the probe will sample and measure the sun's magnetic fields and take other readings designed to improve our ability to forecast space weather and reduce the damage it can cause.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Tabby's Star and PDS 110

First of all, Tabby's Star is dimming again.

And we've found another dimming star, although this one likely has a far more prosaic explanation - a 30% drop in the light from PDS 110 for 2 to 3 weeks every 808 days.

The explanation: A large planet with rings. They think it might have very big rings. As PDS 110 is a young star, there likely aren't any habitable planets around it yet. The next "eclipse" will take place in September 2017 and they're hoping to confirm what's going on. Large rings? Moons in formation? We'll see!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Balticon Roundup

What an amazing con!

Things went far smoother than last year (those of you who didn't come because of last year's issues with the hotel and programming - both were mostly resolved).

The split dealer room was a little strange, but it did allow the con suite to be on the main floor, which was nice. I am absolutely sure most of the vendors will ask to be in the other room next year ;).

Highlights? Probably the Heinlein Juveniles panel (later that night me and Don Sakers "diagnosed" Heinlein with frustrated polyamory). Queering the Hero's Journey was awesome - if you didn't make it to the con, the link goes to a recording of the entire panel made by the wonderful Scott Roche. Support his Patreon. (And mine, too, you get stories. Ahem).

Discovered a great crab house in Fell's Point (it's a bit of a trek, but worth it if you have the time). Oh, and the Irish pub across the road does a good Shepherd's Pie.

Pro tip: Bursting mylar balloons in hotel stairwells will get the hotel put on lockdown and armed cops swarming around. You know who you are.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Off to Balticon

Leaving tomorrow morning. I'll be there for bastard night and through to some time on Monday - check my schedule or track me down in the bar or wherever ;).

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Live and Let...

The classic Bond actor Roger Moore has died at the age of 89.

Moore starred in seven Bond movies (more than any other actor). In his home country, he was almost as well known for his role as Simon Templar in The Saint - it was undoubtedly this role that brought him to the attention of the Bond franchise in the first place.

Moore had semi-retired from acting, with only a few, mostly voice, appearances in the last decade. He spent the latter part of his career hosting documentaries and doing work for UNICEF.

Connery made the best Bond movies, but I have to admit that if you say "James Bond" to me it's probably always going to be Roger Moore's face that pops into view.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Nebula Winners

Here are the Nebula winners.

https://www.theverge.com/2017/5/20/15653006/nebula-awards-2016-winners-science-fiction-fantasy-charlie-jane-anders

Going to say - I wouldn't have picked All The Birds In The Sky, but I just, plain, don't like that book.

Haven't read any of the shorter works, although some are on the pile.

Getting more and more annoyed about not having had time to catch Arrival in theaters.


Friday, May 19, 2017

Updates...

I don't have a huge amount in the way of updates, but I'm trying to get in the habit of giving them.

Right now, I'm doing the preliminary work for a short story to be included in a new anthology from Battlefield Press. There will be a Kickstarter later in the year - I'll keep people posted. It's military science fiction and should be a lot of fun.

I've also started some research for Lost Guardians #3.

Got a couple of other projects that I can't talk about just yet. Oh, and the Hugo package dropped a ton of reading on my desk.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Changing Our Environment

We hear a lot about how humans keep changing the environment in bad ways - but it turns out we may have accidentally done something quite useful.

VLF radio communications are used to keep touch with submarines underwater. Not something most of us think about in our day to day lives.

The reason this form of radio is used to talk to subs is that it's very powerful - and thus can punch through layers of insulating seawater. The side effect is that it also goes a good way out into the atmosphere.

And NASA has now discovered that this is creating a VLF "bubble" around the planet, pushing the Van Allen belts higher. If you don't know, the Van Allen radiation belt protects Earth's atmosphere from cosmic ways and such. The bubble is preventing the charged particles of the Van Allen belt from dipping lower.

So, how is this useful?

It could also keep other charged particles from reaching the planet's surface. Like those from solar flares. In other words, we could have, completely by accident, stumbled on a way to make sure a major solar flare does not take out power for millions for possibly months.

And here's another intriguing thought.

One of the big issues with a space elevator is the damage to passengers that might be caused by an extended traverse through the Van Allen belts.

But if VLF keeps out those kinds of charged particles, a sheath around the tether or a bubble around the climber could be used to protect passengers and fragile cargo...solving one of the major engineering problems of the endeavor.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

3-D printed...

...ovaries?

The idea is an artificial scaffold that supports the development of ovarian follicles, and it's worked in mice.

In human women, the idea would be to remove ovarian cells before, for example, cancer treatment, and then implant the "bioprosthetic" ovaries afterwards. The advantage over freezing eggs - it's possible for normal conception to occur.

In the long term, the ovarian cells could be developed from the person's own stem cells - allowing for normal pregnancy and childbirth in women born without ovaries, possibly including some intersex individuals (AIS comes to mind)...and trans women. (Combine this with a uterine transplant, if we could work out how to create ovarian cells from somatic stem cells, then...)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Is Proxima B habitable?

It's in the habitable zone - and simulations indicate it could have liquid water on the surface. However, it's a guess - we don't know for sure. We need to improve imaging greatly.

Or, you know, send an interstellar probe, but that won't call back for years if not decades.

Even if we could walk the surface of Proxima B, it would be a highly alien landscape. Because it receives less light in our visual range and more in the near-infrared - and almost none in the UV - plants would have to be very different. They would have to draw energy from the red light more and the UV less. And with less light energy in general, it is entirely possible that the plants on Proxima B would have to be black or perhaps dark gray - can anyone give me a better guess?

Oh, and it's tidally locked...

Monday, May 15, 2017

Thoughts on GotG Vol. 2

Avoided the opening weekend rush only to go see it on Mother's Day. (Because I'm that busy ;)).

Both the people who said it was worse than the original and the people who said it was better? Wrong.

I'd put it at about the same level. No danceoffs, but Pac-Man made up for it. (I will say no more). Mantis was adorable, although not nearly as adorable as Baby Groot.

(I am Groot).

And I actually think the animation on Rocket was even better than in the first movie. Probably practice.

As usual with this kind of movie, don't expect any real science. But quite a few laughs and plenty of explosions. Mostly of things the team were standing on at the time.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Good News, Bad News...oh George

The good news: George R.R. Martin is working on an adaptation of one of his older books, a horror named Nightflayers, for SyFy.

The bad news: George R.R. Martin...

Love you, George, but I swear you have worse project ADD than I do.

(Btw, I am working on cool stuff. I am working on quite a bit of cool stuff. I can't talk about any of it except Lost Guardians 2 - scheduled to talk to my editor next week about that one, so it should be soon. Everything else has to stay under wraps).

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Bat-Rover

And, no, I don't mean Ace. (If anyone here is geeky enough to even get that reference).

I mean this beast.

It's a concept Mars Rover, and boy does it really look like something Batman will drive. And although this rover will never be sent to Mars, it will be going on tour. It's been built for educational purposes by the Kennedy Space Center. It will be traveling as part of NASA's "Summer of Mars" event - dates and locations TBD.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

SpaceX plans two Red Dragons for 2020

SpaceX has admitted that the first Red Dragon - an unmanned mission to Mars - will not be ready in time for the 2018 launch window. Instead, they plan on sending two of the craft in the 2020 window (already rather crowded). It's most efficient to send missions to Mars during the regular "window," which happens every 26 months, when the two planets are closest together.

This isn't officially announced yet, but it's looking very likely. In the same window, NASA will be launching a new lander.

I'm honestly looking more at the SpaceX missions, though, because Red Dragon is designed to easily scale up to a manned mission and to test human-rated descent and landing technology (which is why it's being delayed - they want to get it right. When you can only test something every 26 months...)

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Think about those romance plots

In the panel on asexual representation at RavenCon I reiterated the issue that I honestly think writers are trained to make sure they include a romance. (I was outright told every book "has" to have a consummated romance involving the protagonist - which is BS if you look at science fiction classics such as 2001, A Canticle for Leibowitz, I could go on all day).

I just borrowed a couple of police procedurals from a friend. They're independently published and not bad at all - the books are Cliff Diver and Hat Dance by Carmen Amato. I actually recommend them if you like police procedurals in a slightly different setting (contemporary Mexico).

The problem is, that at some point I think Amato internalized that advice. There is, indeed, a consummated romance involving the protagonist - and it's useful to the plot precisely once. It's a completely separate and unnecessary sub plot and it feels as if it was tagged on because A Book Without Romance Won't Sell.

There's nothing wrong with a good romance plot - I mean, I've written my share.

But when the romance is put in just to "sell the book" - think twice. Readers will notice if any facet of the book is tagged on, and you run the risk of a Flying Bus Story - a story with genre elements added just to sell it or to suit it to a particular market.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Check out...

...this fascinating article on novel ecosystems, terraforming and saving indigenous plants.

There's so much in there I really can't add to it - except that we need to think forward, not backwards, when it comes to conservation. There's a tendency to think we should be trying to restore environments to their "pristine" state...except there's no such thing. This applies to all kinds of arguments - about heather moorland in Scotland, about suburban environments, about "rewilding" as a concept. I love it.

Friday, May 5, 2017

So...

...I'm betting that every single one of us, when we can't shift or move something, swear.

Turns out - swearing literally makes you stronger. To make it even more fun, the researchers were unable to determine why it works.

Just that it does. So, assuming there aren't little children or parrots around, go ahead and swear at that jar of pickles. You might just get it open faster.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Space...

...exists on a scale it's hard to comprehend. For example, in the Perseus galaxy cluster there's a wave the size of...no larger than...our galaxy.

It's made of gas so hot it burns in X-rays.

And yes, it's a wave. I don't fancy getting in the way of that...do you?

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Preliminary Balticon Schedule

There's one item that will probably be added, but this is my official schedule as of right now:

Friday 4pm - How To Be A Good Moderator
Friday 5pm - Reading
Friday 7pm - Cutthroat Flashfic (I was hoping they'd let me moderate, but apparently suggesting the idea makes you Victim Prime).

Saturday 10am - Family In Science Fiction
Saturday Noon - Queering The Hero's Journey
Saturday 1pm - Astronomy & Hard SF (We're going to be talking exoplanets).
Saturday 6pm - Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading

Sunday 11am - What Diversity Is Good For
Sunday 1:30pm - Signing
Sunday 5pm - Do Heinlein's Juveniles Stand Up?

I'll probably spend the rest of the time either in science panels (because I didn't get to any at RavenCon and won't be able to park myself in the science track at AwesomeCon this year) or, you know, the bar.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

RavenCon Roundup

An amazing convention!

Special shoutouts go to:

Michael Winslow for the school program, the geek debates, and helping straighten out some schedule issues.

Everyone else on the committee for, you know, just being amazing.

Red Fish Rue Fish for the commission - if you're at a con she's at, check out her amazing work.

Chris Shrewsbury for losing with style.

Best panel - I can't decide. I was on a lot of programming and it was all great, but if absolutely pushed - probably the Harry Potter panel, with Asexuality a close second.

Best costume - for sheer artistry, Beauty and the Beast. For terrible puns, the Raven Cons (two adorable little girls in convict outfits with raven headdresses).

Everything went amazingly smoothly.

Monday, May 1, 2017

I'm Back!

Proper report tomorrow - but thanks to everyone involved in an amazing convention!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Off to RavenCon

Blog dark until Tuesday.

I will have copies of all three full length books with me and will be selling them at my signing. (I don't know any of the dealers so may not be able to consign this time - you'll have to find me).

Wish me luck on Amtrak...

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Artificial womb?

It's a long way from the "womb tanks" of science fiction - but scientists in, of course, Scotland managed to keep eight extremely premature lambs alive for four weeks in an artificial womb - which is basically a plastic bag.

A very sophisticated plastic bag. The lambs are developing normally. The bag is filled with synthetic amniotic fluid and provides the lambs with oxygen and nourishment.

They're hoping to be able to use "womb bags" for extremely premature babies within a few years.

And it is the first step towards ectogenesis.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Are our flying cars here?

Maybe.

Actually, the Kitty Hawk Flyer is more like a flying motorbike - it seats one person and doesn't seem to have much in the way of luggage space. It's essentially a VTOL ultralight - and legally doesn't require a pilots' license.

And it's all electric and is supposed to fly "like playing a video game." Which means I'd crash in about five minutes.

But it is rather a step towards the "flying car." Is it a good idea, though? Or will it just move congestion vertically and result in deaths (you wreck a motorcycle and you'll walk away. Wreck one of these things...)


Monday, April 24, 2017

What do beeswax and plastic have in common?

Quite a lot, actually - in fact, beeswax can be used for food grade materials as long as you don't put anything hot in it (it tends to melt).

And a moth called Galeria mellonella is quite fond of both - or rather, its caterpillars are. Turns out they can digest polyethylene - the plastic used to make single use grocery bags.

Not that we're going to farm caterpillars (maybe not, anyway), but the digestive habits of Galeria mellonella might lead to a way to biodegrade one of the most commonly used (and thrown away) plastics.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Stepping Out Of The Science Fiction Ghetto

Hands up who has read something that isn't science fiction recently?

How about actually talking to writers in other genres?

We tend to kind of...hang out off to our side. Part of it is because most of us have had some experience reminding us that "mainstream" and, worse, "literary" writers don't want to take science fiction and fantasy seriously unless it's written by a guy named Tolkein.

(I still have unfond memories of my high school English teacher telling my parents to throw out "all that crappy science fiction" because "She's too smart to read that").

Of course, things have definitely improved. Science fiction and fantasy are now taught at the college level in some places. But we still tend to live in our little ghetto and interact with other writers mostly at conventions, where we can be absolutely sure not to run into somebody who writes memoirs or contemporary romance.

And I think that's kind of sad at some levels - because we have a lot to learn from other writers and a fair amount to teach.

Which is part of why I spent a good chunk of today at a "Writing Salon" at the National Gallery of Art - where I suspect I was the only speculative fiction writer. (I certainly didn't see anyone there I knew). There will be more in the fall - and I actually recommend the program for writers of all levels...and all genres. In this case, the topic was setting.

It's worth reminding ourselves that good characters, beautiful settings and well-crafted plots are not genre-specific.

(And that the setting of your work is a character in its own right).

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Electric...trucks?

Tesla has promised to unveil an all-electric semi in September. This is probably a first step to electric, autonomous trucks...and another disruption in the economy. (Lower prices, but what about the drivers?)

Actually getting electric semis on the road is going to be a challenge, though - the same charging infrastructure being built for cars is probably not going to work for the big rigs.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

1,000 Statues at least...

...and no curses yet. But the tomb of a judge in Luxor has revealed statues of, well, pretty much every king of Egypt up to that date. Well, of the judge and others - given he wasn't that important, they re-used his tomb a few centuries later.

They expect to find more.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Latest...

...distraction for space lovers. NASA has released a database of all of the space agency's images and videos. I'm avoiding it, but for those with a bit more free time it's here.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Preliminary Thoughts on Bill Potts and Class

So - finally, Dr Who is back. And Class is finally in the US (BBC, I understand why you did it the way you did, but I'm still annoyed).

Bill Potts - I like her already. The dudebros will no doubt argue that the opening episode focused too much on her sexuality - but I'd point out the storyline would have worked just as well with any gender combination. The episode itself, "The Pilot," was Dr Who in its best place - the intersection of science fiction and horror, with the horror elements creepy rather than intense. It wasn't "Blink." I'm wondering if the very brief Dalek cameo was satisfying the Nation contract and we won't see much more of the Daleks. On the other hand, we last left Missy... Distracted! Back to Bill Potts. Pearl Mackie is an able actress, the character has a sassy edge to her that was very much lacking in Clara or Amy. As an Ace fan they missed an easter egg opportunity - the Doctor actually is a Professor in this episode. Guys, guys...missed opportunity.

Class

Very mixed reviews of the show in general, both viewer and critical. I liked it. Rumors that it has already been axed are false - likely no decision will be made until they know how it is received in the US (bear in mind that the BBC gets more money from America than Britain these days). The first episode focuses on prom, which is not a thing in the UK except in a few schools.

The first episode was rough in a way very typical for ensemble casts - I'm told they hit their stride in episode three. The actors were fumbling a little when it came to working out all the relationships. This is normal - honestly, the only recent show that didn't have this problem was Leverage, and creator John Rogers is a gamer and I suspect he had them around a table ;).

Some of the bad reviews were reviews of the content. The five-member ensemble cast contains not one straight white male - and of course that is annoying people (I read one review which accused the show of checklisting, which I don't think was the case this time).

American viewers note: Charlie's hairstyle is specifically coded for "Rich and preppy."

I think the show has strong promise. It's very Doctor Who flavored sci-fi Buffy (Buffy people, if you haven't seen it yet, listen carefully while the Doctor is explaining what's going on...) But, to be fair, I felt like it had a target audience of, well, me.

Friday, April 14, 2017

RavenCon 2017 Schedule

As usual, I'm going to be busy - in the best possible way. Yes, it's heavy on the fantasy - with Mercedes Lackey as GoH we're leaning that way this year.

Friday 8:25pm - Reading
Friday 10pm - Mythology As The Basis For Speculative Fiction (And I plan on not JUST talking about fantasy if possible).
Friday 11pm - Harry Potter: The Next Generation - moderator
Saturday 10am - Daily Life In Fantasy Settings
Saturday 2pm - Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading
Saturday 4pm - Signing (I will have books for sale)
Saturday 6pm - Fantasy In The Modern City
Saturday 8pm - Changing The Medium - moderator
Saturday 11pm - Authors Reading Their Favorite Authors (I haven't decided who to read yet).
Sunday 10am - Asexual Viewing: Beyond the Binary Gaze - moderator
Sunday 11am - Supergirl
Sunday 1pm - Navigating The World of Short Story Submissions

Given this schedule you'll probably find me in the bar when I'm not working ;).

Also - awesome review of Dark Hold: Goblin Adventures.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Imaging Dark Matter

By definition - we can't see dark matter. It doesn't properly interact with light - only with gravity.

Hudson and Epps have managed to create composite images that show dark matter filaments connecting the largest and brightest galaxies.

This might help us gain a much better understanding of certain basic forces - most especially gravity, which we really don't understand that well at all.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

"Adopt a piece of Earth"

NASA is doing an interesting little publicity thing for Earth Day - letting people adopt one of 64,000 spots on the planet.

No, you don't actually get anything - just a postcard with coordinates and science data, but I'm betting some of you have kids who would love it. Or are kids at heart and love it anyway...

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Dark Hold Review and other updates

Got a pretty decent review of Dark Hold: Goblin Adventures. He liked the writing, which is what I care about the most.

The FLASH! anthology is fully funded. The plan is to release some time in July - but I for one won't be too mad if it's late with 100 authors to wrangle ;).

Monday, April 10, 2017

Intelligence, Adaptation, and RNA

Why is intelligence an advantage? It costs us a lot in energy to maintain our large brains.

The reason intelligence is an advantage is it allows you to adapt faster than evolution. Sort of.

To be precise, technology allows you to adapt faster than evolution, allowing an entity to adapt to multiple environments within one lifespan. Many creatures have technology - crows do, for example - but humans have it off to a fine art. When it gets cold, we put on clothes. When it gets hot, we turn on the air conditioning. We use technology to have fresh fruit in winter (when our ancestors got "winter sickness").

Technology even lets us start to adapt to the most hostile environment to life we yet know: Space.

So, technology is great. But what if you live in an environment that doesn't allow for technology. Say, the atmosphere of a gas giant - which has great conditions for life, but not great conditions for building things.

One group of earth creatures may have the answer: Cephalopods.

Octopi are proving to be remarkably intelligent creatures. They also have manipulative appendages, which are required to use tools. Some octopi build themselves little shelters out of coconut shells they carry around - not unlike a backpack tent. In captivity, octopi have been known to disassemble their tank. Or leave, throw the one bad shrimp from their lunch at the human who fed them, then crawl back in.

But, octopi are at a disadvantage when it comes to using technology to substitute for evolution. True, the coconut shell carriers are using technology so they don't have to evolve a shell. But they haven't built actual houses yet. Why? When you live underwater, you can't come up with some very key developments, like fire. (I'm leaving out the fact that most species of octopus die after breeding, so they have no culture for now).

The same thing might be true in other alien environments.

But octopi have come up with a different way to adapt faster than evolution allows: Editing their own RNA. Instead of following the instructions in their DNA to the letter, they alter them. And in squids and octopi, RNA editing affects the development of the nervous system. Which makes them smarter in the first place - but that's a side effect of increasing the variety of proteins they produce, allowing individuals to handle rapid changes in temperature. Without needing technology.

The downside is that their mutation rate is slower than those of other animals. They've sacrificed something of the ability to evolve - which is probably why they're still in the ocean. Which is also why most animals don't do that.

Humans do do some RNA editing, mind, mostly in primate-specific sequences. It's A-to-I editing in our case. And, RNA editing appears to play a role in psychiatric disorders - so do we also owe some of our intelligence to RNA editing? Maybe - unfortunately, everything I can find on human RNA editing is in thickly-written abstracts I don't have the time to decode right now.

But, how about some takeaways from this:

1. RNA editing may allow rapid adaptation at the price of slower evolution. It may be linked to intelligence.
2. Sentient species that live in environments where technology is difficult may be more likely to have a physiology that relies on it. Easy development of technology, though, allows for the same advantages without the slow mutation disadvantage.
3. What about cases where the mutation rate is extremely slow - could something like RNA editing actually be a primary evolutionary process on a world that isn't very well radiated. Extreme levels of RNA editing could allow for animals that can literally change form through their life (we aren't talking werewolf type shapeshifting here) but in-generation adaptations to, for example, extreme seasons.
4. Could we engineer our own descendants to use RNA editing to adapt - rather like the protagonist of the last third of Neal Stephenson's Seveneves.
5. Is this part of how Time Lords regenerate? (Because I can't resist).

Friday, April 7, 2017

Thoughts on 2017 Hugos

Best Novel - Nothing I nominated got in and nothing I read was nominated. Probably because I didn't read enough books published last year.

Best Novella - Tor.com dominates the category - again I haven't read any of these.

Best Novelette - Once more somebody, likely the infamous Vox Day, managed to get porn in as a troll nomination. Ignoring that, it's an all-female category (I still haven't read them. Too much time writing).

Best Short Story - Pleased that Carrie Vaughn got a nod. Less pleased about John C. Wright - he's not a bad writer, but he does need to try a little bit less to be C.S. Lewis. Tor.com still dominating - do we have an organized Tor fan club?

Best Related Work - This is literally the best this category has been since I started voting. I would place bets on Carrie Fisher's memoir The Princess Diarist because I don't know if the Geek community can resist giving her one final award, but Gaiman's in there, Le Guin...people seem to be finally caring about Best Related Work.

Best Graphic Story - How am I supposed to choose between Ms. Marvel and Saga? Black Panther probably has a decent chance too - the character was made much more popular by Chadwick Boseman's great performance. I've also heard great things about Paper Girls.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form - Minor controversy in this category: Hidden Figures. Which is not really science fiction. Making me even more sad I missed Arrival. Utterly surprised to see Deadpool on the list - I nominated it, but I didn't expect many people to, given it's an R-rated comedy. I suspect the nod will be between Hidden Figures and Rogue One, though.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form - Not the Doctor Who episode I would have picked. Glad to see The Expanse in there.

Best Editor, Short Form - Not sure I can vote this category with the amount I hung out with Neil Clarke at various cons last year ;). Just joking, Neil. It's looking really solid.

Best Editor, Long Form - Vox Day's blog followers nominated him again. This is always a wonky category anyway, because so few people nominate and you have to be an industry insider to have a clue how to vote.

Best Professional Artist - No dog in the fight.

Best Semiprozine - This gets interesting. I didn't have a story in Cirsova this year, but did last - but given P Alexander's relationship with Castalia House, it's a Day nomination. Thing is? It's actually a good magazine of its type. I like it. And I refuse to let politics (as long as they fall short of outright fascism) interfere with my enjoyment.. I submit to it because it's one of the few outlets for pulp style stuff that I occasionally like to dabble in, and for older style heroic fantasy (BCS is awesome, but buys a different type of story) it's...well...it fills a niche. If I had a story IN it this year I would not vote this category, because, yeah, conflict of interest. As it is, I suspect it will end up being between BCS, Strange Horizons and Uncanny. Slightly disappointed Daily Science Fiction didn't get a nod this year.

Best Fanzine - Vox Day's blog followers nominated him again. I'm not actually complaining. Except for the troll nomination, I don't mind him getting things in in a few places as long as he's not dominating a category. Nobody should be dominating a category. Tor.com, I'm looking at you. Not familiar enough with the other blogs to make a good judgment.

Best Fancast - Here is where I squeeeeeeee. Mur Lafferty! Well deserved after many years of work. Of course, she's also a friend, so I'm going to have to close my eyes and try to vote on merit. Going to be tough.

Best Fan Writer - Chuck Tingle again. Amused. Jeffro Johnson again. Mike Glyer again. Usual suspects.

Best Fan Artist - No dog in the fight.

Best Series - Dang it, people! How am I supposed to choose between The Vorkosigan Saga and Temeraire. I have only read one book of The Expanse and none of the others, so it's going to be between those two. Fardle it...

Overall, I think this is a much better year. Every group is getting a nod somewhere, and although I'm a little concerned about the Tor nomination, at least we seem to have a good spread in both types of stories and political leanings for the personal awards. The Hugos are always going to be a bit of a popularity contest - but the more people we have nominating and voting the more tastes will be represented and the higher the chance of the true cream rising to the top.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Zombies need lots of brains...

...because apparently? Humans aren't good eating. No, really, we aren't. Compared to 1,800 calories a pound for, say, wild boar, human will only give you 650.

No wonder lions don't hunt people very often.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Electric Jets?

Will we soon be flying in electric jets? Zunum, a small startup thinks so. Their new plane will be a hybrid, although they believe full electric should be possible. It will be a small regional jet holding up to 50 passengers, possibly helping keep service to small local airports alive.

In fact, it could even land at many GA airports, and with a cost per seat lower than jumbos...

Assuming it works - but given Boeing and JetBlue have both sent them money, they seem to think it's got a future. I admit I like the idea...especially as I've lived under flight paths most of my life and am very fond of quiet aircraft!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Medieval Vampires!

A dig in Sussex found some corpses that were not buried in holy ground...and mutilated after death, presumably to keep them from getting up and walking.

There were about ten individuals, all locals. Were they suicides, I wonder? Either way...at the crossroads with a stake isn't quite it, but close.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Electricity to kill cancer?

How about wearing a cap that kills newly divided cells to kill brain cancer?

It actually seems to...well...it doesn't cure cancer, but has been shown to increase survival time in patients with aggressive brain cancer. Of course, it's hideously expensive - but then, it's also brand new.

Fewer side effects than chemo, too. And even if it only gives somebody six more months, it's worth it.

Of course, we really need to prevent the cancer in the first place...

Friday, March 31, 2017

SpaceX Pulls It Off

The first launch (to orbit - Blue Origin has already done suborbital launches) of a "second hand" rocket yesterday was textbook for SpaceX and communications company SES.

Oh, and it launched from the same pad as the Apollo missions.

The booster was safely landed and retrieved, and will be put on permanent display at Cape Kennedy.

On top of that, quietly, SpaceX managed their first retrieval of the second stage of the rocket - something that also marks a milestone for the quest towards cheaper rocket launches.

(Although we should definitely be looking into other ways to getting into space, cheap rockets may remain the best way to launch communications satellites and similar that need to be inserted into precise orbits).


Thursday, March 30, 2017

FLASH! Fiction Anthology Kickstarter

Slightly late because I didn't get the email.

FLASH! Fiction Anthology

100 very short stories by 100 different authors. If you back you can get the electronic or print version considerably cheaper than waiting for it to come out.

The anthology will contain my horror/dark fantasy short "The Jester's Runes."

It's a multi-genre anthology, so should have something for everyone, and you can get the ebook copy by pledging only $5.

Great bite-sized reads for your commute, too.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Spells For The Common Man

And...I got so distracted I forgot to announce this one.

Broken Zenith has released "101 Spells For The Common Man" - a book of, mostly, utility spells for Pathfinder. And extra NPCs and such. Most of the spells are for practical uses, but if you're creative...

Find it on RPG now here.

Eyes On The Sky...

...SpaceX will be attempting to reuse a Falcon 9 for the first time tomorrow. The planned launch time is 6pm EST, and it will be live streamed on their Youtube page.

The payload will be a communications satellite for SES.

Here's wishing them luck - if this goes well it could be a date to put next to the launch of Sputnik - the first commercial launch using a used rocket.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Uh, tigers?

Tasmanian, that is - apparently there have been a couple of very clear sightings. Enough that a new search for the supposedly extinct animal has been started.

I have to hope they find something - on the other hand, seeing a Tasmanian tiger is about as common as mountain lions in DC...

Monday, March 27, 2017

Logan, Unforgiven, and Genre (Spoilerish)

So, I went to see "Logan" this weekend. If you haven't seen it yet - be aware. It seriously earns that R rating for violence, there are large needles involved, and Professor X swears. A lot.

Less than serious note aside - Logan was a very interesting movie. It did not feel in any way, shape, or form like a superhero movie. Of course, this could readily be put down to the lack of spandex (but the other Wolverine movies tended to be spandex-lite too) or the Reservoir Dogs level of graphic violence. Not that the violence was gratuitous - it was definitely an example of what Nobilis Reed likes to call "aretica" - the violence served the plot and developed the characters.

But there was a bit more to it than that. I came out of the movie thinking that it was completely unlike any other superhero movie I'd seen...

...and incredibly like the Clint Eastwood western Unforgiven.

Wait, a western?

Yes, a western. Now, I'm not saying Logan was a western, although we did briefly see some horses.

I'm saying that Logan partook of certain tonal and feel elements, including in cinematography, that made it feel like a western.

This was likely deliberate. The movie explicitly referenced a 1953 western named Shane. I have not seen this movie, but it's considered a classic of the genre. In fact, we even see footage from the movie, and it is directly quoted.

And when I look up Shane, well, let's see. The themes are similar - the drifter who takes in the kid (in this case, the kid is Logan's - Laura/X-23 is his clone in the comics but his daughter here, illicitly created from stolen DNA).

In other words, Logan is a homage to Shane - and the fact that it reminded me of Unforgiven says they got it right.

So, what does this say about genre? It says something quite interesting. I've always argued there are genres of setting (e.g. science fiction) and genres of mood (e.g. horror).

But aren't superheroes and westerns both genres of setting? I came to the realization that both are in fact hybrid genres, because they are both. We have certain expectations of tone and feel in a superhero movie or show, epitomized most recently by The Flash on CW. We expect spandex. We expect killing to be relatively rare, and agonized over when it must happen.

And we have expectations of tone and feel in a western. We expect high levels of violence, we expect lone gunslingers, we expect outlaws and loners.

Logan took the setting of a superhero movie and blended it, expertly, with the mood of a western. This is not the same as, say, Caves of Steel - because we have no expectations of tone and feel in science fiction, so putting a police procedural in a science fiction setting is layering a genre of mood over a genre of setting.

Logan takes two hybrid genres - two genres where we expect both setting and mood - and blends them. And I think this is something to think about if you want to break new ground.

Friday, March 24, 2017

So, dinosaurs...

...come in two "flavors," right? Bird-hipped and lizard-hipped.

Well, now paleontologists aren't sure that's the most important division any more, and are paying more attention to other aspects. Oh, and the first dinosaurs were bipedal - the quadrupeds actually went back to being quadrupedal (Of course, all surviving "dinosaurs" are bipedal, so...)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

No, Scientists...

...it's definitely a supervillain's evil plan.

Synlight, that is, a light system built in Germany that can focus the equivalent of 10,000 times sunlight onto a single spot.

It has its uses - creating hydrogen fuel. Although right now it uses far more energy than you get out of it, so I'm sticking with "Evil Mad Scientists' Weapon."

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Let's Go To Mars

Unfortunately, it's on Vimeo and Blogger will only properly embed videos from Youtube, but check out this "travelogue" put together by Finnish filmographer Jan Frojdman from MRO pictures.

https://vimeo.com/207076450

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Global Warming and Diabetes

Apparently, one of the problems caused by climate change is...an increase in Type 2 Diabetes.

A Dutch team discovered - even if they adjusted the results by obesity - that a higher outdoor temperature equates to higher incidence. The theory is that exposure to cold improves certain parts of fat metabolism.

Which made me wonder. We can't go by current ethnic distributions of diabetes in the US, where black people are at higher average risk because of race and poverty issues (obesity has become a disease of poverty in this country). But the "faulty" gene that causes Type 2 diabetes is surprisingly common. It might be that it isn't selected against because even if somebody gets the disease, they've usually already successfully reproduced. And, of course, not everyone with the gene gets the disease, and the better their diet the later they get it (kids getting Type 2 is a very bad sign...it means we aren't feeding our kids right at all).

But what if the "genetic susceptibility" to Type 2 diabetes is actually factors that give a survival advantage in cold conditions? (There's no specific Type 2 gene, and obesity, etc, are a much higher risk than temperature). This would have developed in the last Ice Age. It's a thought, albeit a weird one.

When something is common, it usually means it conferred an advantage at some point in the past or under specific circumstances (e.g. sickle cell anemia).

Monday, March 20, 2017

Cheerios - And An Ill-Thought Out Plan To Save Bees

Cheerios has decided to save the bees by distributing millions of seed packets of wildflowers across Canada.

The problem is, as it turns out, they're sending the same packets to every household.

In other words, they're encouraging people to plant "wildflowers" that are not native to the area. Please, if you want to help bees, find out what already grows locally. Or just leave a corner of your yard to the "weeds."

Friday, March 17, 2017

Ridiculous Space...

...shooting stars to order. For a lot of money, of course. The project involves launching a satellite that will then release pellets designed to burn up in the atmosphere above the site.

Kind of very expensive fireworks. I dunno. I suppose if you have that much money to literally burn...

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Democracy in South America.

No, this isn't a politics post.

Apparently, indigenous South American societies were quite a bit more democratic than we thought. Albeit in their own way.

Candidates for senator in Tlexcallan, for example, had to stand firm while their constitutions hurled insults and objects at them, presumably to test their ability to handle being mocked during a debate, drilled on the law for two years and put through various ordeals before they could take their seat. I can't see the average American senator tolerating even a bit of those. Well, except the insult-hurling, which has apparently always been a part of politics.

And the study has helped archaeologists learn patterns - for example, cities dominated by plazas rather than palaces - that show when a society may be more "democratic" in some sense.

Worth remembering for world building. (Also, can we have more fantasy democracies? Please?)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Small Updates

The first of several feat books I put together for Avalon Game Company's Heroes Wear Masks setting is now available:

Heroes Wear Masks Feat Books: Acrobat Feats

Some of these may also be suitable for swashbuckling type characters, or give ideas for abilities for superheroes in other systems!

I'm also currently available for work - looking for proofreading, guest blog posts, RPG work, etc.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Stellar Vampires

How about this one - a stable binary pair consisting of a black hole and a white dwarf. The black hole is feeding from the white dwarf, but it could still last billions of years.

It's a great opportunity to study black holes and how they work. And the artists' impression is spectacular. I want to park a starship there and take pictures.


Monday, March 13, 2017

This Bud's For...

...astronauts.

Budweiser has announced an initiative to try and solve the problem of the fact that if you take beer (or any other carbonated beverage) into space, it goes flat and becomes, well, miserably undrinkable. The problem is that without gravity, the bubbles don't float to the top (and no head), and with the pressure difference...well, let's say experiments with soda got messy.

Mars might be a little better, as it does have gravity. But...

Why would Budweiser do this? Probably because of what we can potentially learn to improve brewing beer right here on Earth. But those Martians...let's just say human colonies that don't have alcohol in some form are...well. Not going to exist. And beer is what turned us into farmers in the first place.

They aren't going to be shipping a Clydesdale to the ISS any time soon, though.

Friday, March 10, 2017

20 Years...

..of Buffy.

True, I haven't liked everything Joss has done since. But...there's still a special place for this show in my heart.

I can't believe it's been that long. I feel rather old right now, but I'm also glad that technology is such that people can still enjoy it.

Thank you - everyone involved. (Also, the best RPG campaign I was ever in and may well ever be in was a Buffy campaign that developed into Callahan's-style telepathy by the end.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Liar, Liar...

...I can't help but laugh. I shouldn't, but I can't help it.

During closing arguments in an arson case, a lawyer's pants caught on fire. Yes, literally on fire. Apparently, his e-cigarette was to blame, but...

...seriously? I think the defendant should get a retrial with a fresh jury, because the original jurors probably haven't stopped laughing yet.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Mind Controlled Robots?

MIT has built some. I mean, they can't do that much yet - the actual experiment was monitoring and correcting a small industrial robot as it sorted things into two boxes.

The technology might be useful for advanced prosthetics, helper robots for the disabled (and the lazy), and may solve one of the biggest issues with self-driving cars - the issue of the car making moral decisions. (You don't have to be a qualified driver to think "Swerve").

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Living On Mars

So, one of the big obstacles towards living on Mars is the planet's lack of a magnetosphere.

Mars had one, once, but it's "cooled off." There are a few places on the surface where there are localized magnetic fields - and colonies could theoretically be positioned within them. Other than that, anyone living on Mars would be completely exposed to the radiation of the solar wind. (Other solutions would be protective domes with magnetic fields in them, living underground, etc).

So, how about giving Mars its own magnetic field, artificially? Dr. Jim Green suggests this might be possible. You'd need to place a spaceship at a L1 point that created a magnetic "tail" surrounding the planet. A big spaceship.

The neat part? JUST giving Mars a magnetosphere would warm the planet, thicken the atmosphere and potentially render the planet habitable.

In the nearer term, artificial magnetospheres could be used to shield space stations and craft from radiation...or make those magnetic domes I was talking about earlier.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Thoughts on Campaign Styles

I thought about this after two things. One of them was somebody saying they hated the term "Game Master" because it has "Master" in it. The other was comparing some of the campaigns I've been in.

Pretty much all of the campaigns I've done have fit into the following four categories:

1. Traditional. The Game Master determines the storyline. The dice are never fudged for drama, stats are more important than backgrounds. Dungeon crawls and the like are important and the GM often uses modules. Character death is considered a reasonable outcome, without the need for any "story" reason for it. Ultimately, the dice rule. Plot is paramount and character is often minimal.

2. Storyteller. The Game Master determines the storyline, but may over-rule the dice. There is almost always an overall plot or arc that the players are expected to follow. Character death is less common and the GM may fudge the dice to avoid it if it does not fit the plot. (Although some GMs believe the dice should never be fudged regardless of the style). The focus is on telling a good story, but the outline of the story is often already written. Plot comes before character, but character has an importance.

3. Troupe. The Game Master is a facilitator, but the overall storyline is determined by the players and their interactions. The players have real choices, and the GM is ready to rewrite the entire campaign (or send everyone to Riverworld, ahem) if needed. Character comes before plot, but the overall plot remains important.

4. Sandbox. The Game Master is purely a facilitator who sets the rules of the world. There is a setting, but often no overall plot. The characters are free to make their own choices within the world as defined, regardless of consequences. Character is paramount and plot is almost unimportant.

One interesting thought on this is that Traditional pretty much always takes place face to face, while Sandbox is very common online (the typical MUD, for example, is a Sandbox).

Thoughts? Am I missing anything?

Friday, March 3, 2017

Letting Go released!

Centropic Oracle podcast has released my flash fiction Letting Go. You can hear it read by the able CB Droege here.


Thursday, March 2, 2017

So...

...there's an awful lot of talk about what the seven planets in the Trappist system should be called.

I have a suggestion...and no this is not a joke.

Obviously? They have to be named after types of beer.

You laugh, but it's now looking more and more likely that the entire reason humans invented agriculture in the first place was to make beer. I don't even like the stuff, but I still acknowledge that it's important.

Trappist Ale is considered one of the best kinds of beer on the planet. (I tried it. I still didn't like it).

Besides, it'll be fun to speculate about who's living on Guinness.

What about it?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

We really...

...need to stop envisioning dinosaurs as, well... -saurs. Because saur means lizard and it's more and more obvious that dinosaurs simply never were, well.

Lizards.

Check out this article for a great view on what they might actually have looked like.


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Thoughts on "The Great Wall"

I haven't gone to see a shameless monster flick in a while - and this looked like it would be a fun one.

It was - with even a little more depth of characterization than I was expecting. For those who haven't seen it, be warned: The Chinese dialogue is subtitled not dubbed. I know some people have issues with that. I personally prefer it. There was one oops where a bit of the English dialogue was subtitled, so I suspect they were also saving money by doing only one soundtrack for the domestic Chinese release and the international release.

(The movie was a partnership between a Chinese director and some people from Hollywood).

Issues:

One very bad bit of horse action at the start. I talked about that on my horse blog.

Boobplates. Please, stop with the boobplates. And these didn't even look like they were actually where boobs are supposed to be, ya know.

I wasn't sure about the actual monster design from a feasibility/evolutionary standpoint.

Doors in the bottom of the Great Wall that open by moving blocks. No. Sorry, but no.

Good bits:

Tian Jing. I want to see so much more of her! Brilliantly talented, attractive...and I just IMDB'd her.

Seems I will be seeing more of her - she's in Pacific Rim: Uprising! Woot! I don't think it's a huge part, but...this lady deserves all the work she can get.

Lu Han - what a talented actor. Hard to believe he's actually a singer.

Amazing visuals and aesthetics.

Oh, and for those of you wondering how they got a fantasy movie past the Chinese censors and their current kick of "not promoting superstition." They didn't.

Believe it or not, "The Great Wall" is actually...science fiction.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Vanishment

So, it took 8 decades for scientists to finally make metallic hydrogen...

...and the only sample has now mysterious vanished.

They don't know whether it was misplaced from its safe, ultra cold storage, whether it spontaneously degraded, or whether it was stolen by a supervillain.

(I'm inventing the last, but I suppose theft is one explanation...)

Most likely, it wasn't long term stable and turned back into gas...

Friday, February 24, 2017

Redcaps are real?

Well, the Brazilian version anyway, which is not nearly as creepy as the bloodthirsty European gnomes who dye their caps in the blood of their enemies. This one only uses its cap to disappear.

They're called saci and they're now "real" - because some scientist has named a small, rather elusive opossom with a red head after them.

Check out the cute.


And read more here.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Seven earths?

(As opposed to Neal Stephenson's Seveneves which, sorry Neal, I didn't like that much). The Trappist system is now up to seven "earth-like" planets - by which we mean rockballs about the same size as Earth, not necessarily habitable. Although several are in the habitable zone.

One has to wonder how different the development of a species would be if there were other habitable planets in the same system. Or better yet, inhabited...

How would we react to Mars if the canals had been real?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Upcoming Release

"Letting Go" will be released in audio form by Centropic Oracle on March 3 - they said they're very pleased with the recording. I can't wait to hear it!


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Farpoint Roundup

Awesome convention! (Except for the hot water issues, which the hotel was scrambling to fix, so I can forgive. Oh, and the fire alarm. What is it with me and fire alarms at conventions? At least it wasn't single digits when I had to go outside in a not-particularly-warm costume).

Highlights, let's see.

Kathleen David was in a rather, shall we say, difficult situation on the Doctor Who panel - I'd like to give her a shout out for being a good sport about it.

I only made it to one science panel, but it was a good one about microscopy and astrobiology.

Enver Gjokaj, you are absolutely hilarious and awesome.

Thanks to everyone who swung by my signing table and said hi, even if you didn't buy anything (At one point I was buried behind Keith DeCandido's bears...).

Oh, and some truly awesome costumes too.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Off To Farpoint

Leaving a bit later today - if anyone's there a day early, you'll probably be able to find me in the bar (where else) this evening.

I'll be back some time on Monday.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Does God...

...play dice with the universe? You decide. Some people think this asteroid looks like a D20. I'm not so sure...

http://www.themarshalltown.com/nasa-captures-images-of-asteroid-that-resembles-dungeons-and-dragons-dice/21438

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Citizen Science Alert

The Carnegie Institute just released a database of 61,000 doppler measurements of 1,600 nearby stars. And there's an app to let you take a look at them - and possibly find your very own exoplanet.

If that sounds like fun go here to check it out.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Aggressive AIs?

So, today's breaking news - neural net AIs become more aggressive and start fighting each other if resources are too slim.

So, in other words, they act like, well, any other animal. And don't worry, if you tell them they have to cooperate to win the game they will.

Just like, well. Kids.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Cosplaying Skiers?

Olympic athletes often rely on sponsors - and some deals put the entire of a team in, say, a particular brand of running shoes.

Spyder will be providing ski suits to the US team for the Winter Olympics. Nothing weird about that - they're a high performance brand.

Well, except that they're apparently dressing the US men as Captain America and the women as Captain Marvel...

This has to be the ultimate Jock/Nerd crossover.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Pad 39A is active

The pad that sent us to the moon is now being readied for a SpaceX rocket test, which could be as soon as today. This will be a static fire test prior to a Feb 18 launch - the payload is supplies for the ISS.

(Please don't blow up...)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

RIP Richard Hatch

Confession: I liked both Battlestar Galacticas - the corny original and the much deeper and more philosophical remake. They were very different shows (The remake might have been better had it been an original show not a remake).

So, apparently, did Richard Hatch. The actor, who starred as Apollo alongside Dirk Benedict's Starbuck in the original came back for the 2003 remake as a very different character, Tom Zarek, a populist leader who was a constant thorn in the side of the government.

Hatch died yesterday at the age of 71 - he was also involved in the "fan made" Trek movie Axanar (which might not go forward after Paramount basically told them to file off the serial numbers - this is another blow to the project).

He will be missed.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Amazon Earthworks

In more evidence that the Amazon rainforest is not, in fact, pristine wilderness, archaeologists have mapped over 450 ancient earthworks. These earthworks, which resemble ones found in Europe, appear to have been ritual sites - although as we all should know by now "ritual purposes" is often archaeology for "We have no clue." Most of these sites are under "mature" rainforest.

(Not saying we aren't screwing up the rainforest, but we're screwing up something delicately managed by indigenous people for centuries).

Monday, February 6, 2017

Two Billion Year Eruptions?

A meteorite from Mars indicates that it's possible a volcano on Mars - most likely Olympus Mons - erupted constantly for two billion years.

This apparently ridiculous fact is possible because Mars has little to no tectonic activity, meaning hotspots under the crust don't move. (Which is also why Olympus Mons is ridiculously huge but not very steep).

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Handmaid's Tale Series

It's going to be a Hulu original, but I'm hoping to get my hands on it at some point so I can compare it with both the book and the 1990 movie. The latter ruined the ending pretty badly - I'm hoping Hulu does a better job.

It's a hugely dystopian story...I'd call it a classic feminist dystopia (It's honestly the only Atwood book I've been able to read - her style is very literary and, as fair warning, if you get the book, it's told out of sequence/order).

The bad news about the new show: Somebody who worked on the movie is involved. Which does not give me much hope, sadly. The good news is that Atwood is consulting - and the book's complexity lends itself better to a series (10 episodes) than a movie.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Want to do...

...some archaeology?

The initial launch of GlobalXplorer covers Peru and allows citizen scientists to study random tiles of satellite photos (with no location information so it can't be used by treasure hunters) to find archaeological sites or spot looting. The reward is access to archaeological information about Peru. (They're going to expand to other areas as time goes on).

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Tentative Farpoint Schedule

As always with convention schedules, this is open to change

Friday 3pm - Chesapeake 1 - How Much Science Should A Science Fiction Author Know?
Friday 4pm - Atrium - Signing
Friday 7pm - Chesapeake 1 - Myths and Legends in Fantasy
Friday 10pm - Dulaney 1-2 - Farpoint Book Fair
Saturday Noon - Chesapeake 2 - Coming Into Our Own (Female leads in science fiction/fantasy media)
Saturday 1pm - Chesapeake 3-6 - Reading
Saturday 2pm - Chesapeake 2 - Bigger On The Inside (Doctor Who)
Saturday 4pm - Atrium - Signing
Saturday 9pm - Chesapeake 1 - It IS You: Beating Back Imposter Syndrome

I will have limited print copies of Transpecial, The Silent Years and Falling Dusk for sale during the book fair and signing sessions. I will be at the con on Sunday, it just so happens they didn't schedule me for anything that day.

Again, as always, schedule is subject to change.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Doctor Who?

It's not been a good week for Doctor Who fans. John Hurt, the War Doctor (Also known to a lot of you as Mr. Ollivander) died over the weekend after a long battle with cancer.

And today, Peter Capaldi announced that the 2017 Christmas Special will be his last outing as the Doctor.

So...Who will be next?

Some thoughts I like:

Ben Whishaw definitely has the right kind of personality and talent. However, he's Q, and doesn't think he should do both, so would likely turn the role down.

Sacha Dhawan has come up - I don't know much about him, but from what little I've seen, he has a certain intensity that would be appropriate. He is also Desi, and anyone who knows me knows I've been quietly campaigning for a Desi companion. A Desi Doctor would be even better.

Emma Watson - I hadn't thought of her, but when it was mentioned, I looked again. She has the Doctor's eyes. She definitely has that...which was the thing which made me overlook Matt Smith being "too young." I think it's particularly important that the first female Doctor, when we get one, has that look of "the old soul" behind her eyes.

The bookies also like Richard Ayoade, a comic actor (which is a good qualification). I haven't seen him act, though. Eyes are good, though, and he would be the first black actor to play the role.

(I'm not diversity hounding here, there's another black name in the mix that I don't like at all).

The Doctor has to have something that convinces that somewhere under the regenerations and the physical changes the same soul looks out from those eyes.

Monday, January 30, 2017

And sometimes...

...you see a piece of science news so farfetched you just have to check it. And this time it's not cold fusion.

The phrase is "time crystals."

Which sounds like something the Doctor uses to control his TARDIS.

But time crystals - crystals who's lattices repeat in time rather than space - have now been made in three different labs, which is way ahead of cold fusion. They're similar to how qubits work in quantum computers. They can be made in different ways - meaning they're being classed as a new phase of matter.

And they break the laws of physics as we know them, because they break "time symmetry." This is matter that is not in equilibrium - that is to say it moves without energy. Whoah.

In fact, time crystals can't be time crystals without moving.

Practical use? Absolutely none...yet. (There's some possibility time crystals may be the RAM for a quantum computer).

But...well...breaking the laws of physics is something every scientist wants to do.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Happy New Year...

...Chinese New Year, that is. Welcome to the year of the rooster - now I'm hungry for chicken wings. Oops.

In any case, time to let off some fireworks.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Teth Star?

Saturn's moon Tethys looks even more like the infamous space station than we thought.


See? Where's Luke Skywalker when we need him. (The moon is, of course, just a ball of ice).

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

So...

...apparently most of the meteors hitting Earth right now come from a collision in the asteroid belt 466 million years ago.

Yup. It's 466 million year old shrapnel. And thus doesn't tell us as much about the composition of the solar system as we thought.

Ah well. That's science.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Synthetic DNA

Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute have created a bacterium with two extra synthetic base pairs, and it's "holding on" to them as it divides.

The implications of this are quite fascinating. There's no applications for this at all - but it's helped us learn something of how DNA works.

It's also proved in concept that DNA does not have to use the four base pairs our kind of life has settled on.

And it's proved in concept that DNA using multiple different kinds of base pairs could be combined to create a stable organism.

This means:

1. Life does not have to be based off of our base pairs.
2. Bacterium from an ecosystem based off of one set of base pairs could "take in" DNA from another. This means that cross-planetary disease/plague is possible. Viruses could even potentially do the same trick. Uh oh.
3. Hello, Mr. Spock. As in, it might be possible for a highly advanced civilization to genetically engineer stable, viable, healthy offspring from two (or more) sentient beings from different planets even if their DNA does not use the same base pairs...

In other words, fun for science fiction writers.

Monday, January 23, 2017

For my husband...

...new species of GIANT otter ;).

https://phys.org/news/2017-01-ancient-otter-species-largest.html

Sorry, he has a bit of a thing so I'm going to embarrass him about it in public again ;). (Otters are, of course, cute).

Friday, January 20, 2017

DC, What Are You Thinking?

No offense to The Rock, but who at DC is thinking a standalone Black Adam movie starring him is a good idea?

I mean, yes, Suicide Squad probably made them think villain-focused movies will sell, but really? Black Adam?

Meh.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Farewell, Gene Cernan

The last man to walk on the moon - so far - died this week at the age of 82. The era of Apollo is fading out, marked most noticeably by John Glenn's passing last year.

Is it time to go back to the moon? I'd argue - yes. The moon is far more interesting than just a giant rockball and there might well be real advantages to using it for science...and even tourism.

One reason: Helium 3. Apparently whatever happened to create the moon made it. Or it got most of earth's share. If we get fusion reactors, they'll need helium 3...

So...

Let's work towards making Gene Cernan no longer the last man to walk on the moon.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

NASA TV Show In The Works

CBS has ordered the pilot for a show called "Mission Control," a drama set at...yes, Houston. The pilot episode was written by Andy Weir. This is not connected to a different canceled show called "Mission Control" - this one is apparently not a comedy, although if it's written by Weir I wouldn't expect it to be too serious.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Oops...

So, an Australian aquarium decided they already had enough zebra sharks and separated their female from her mate.

Four years later she decided that was long enough without babies...and made her own. Without stored sperm.

Parthenogenesis had not previously been observed in sharks...

Monday, January 16, 2017

SpaceX Back In The Game

The return to flight of the Falcon went textbook, with a perfect launch, correct insertion of the payload (two mobile relay satellites) and correct landing of the first stage.

I'm wondering what else the engineers tweaked while waiting to find out what the heck went wrong last year.


Friday, January 13, 2017

Tabby's Star Mystery Solved?

The latest theory for the peculiar dimming of Tabby's Star is quite plausible - but sadly doesn't involve aliens.

The brightness changes might indicate that a large planet fell into the star recently - probably a gas giant and its associated moons.

Which is not nearly as much fun as a Dyson's Sphere, but interesting to study.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Plan(et) 9 From Outer Space?

Scientists have done the math - and there's an intriguing possibility. The theorized (based off of disturbed objects) large planet in the far outreaches of the solar system may be a rogue planet.

The orbits allow for it - but don't require it. Common sense suggests that it would be strange for a planet to drift that far out during system formation or for such a large object to have the more elliptical object theorized.

First we have to find the thing, though...and prove that this time (unlike every other time it's been theorized) it really exists...

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Star Wars gibbons?

Scientists have identified a new species of gibbon - and are naming it the Skywalker gibbon after Luke.

Personally, I think they should have named it after Leia under the circumstances, but Hamill is still rather chuffed.

Or maybe they should be named after ewoks...

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Space X Return To Flight Delayed...

...because it's raining in California. Which is a good thing - they need the rain - but not so good for rocket launches.

This launch needs to go well for SpaceX after the fuel tank explosion that occurred during their last attempt, destroying valuable payload and damaging the company's reputation.

The launch has now been scheduled for 9:54am PST on January 14.

Monday, January 9, 2017

"New" Star in 2022?

If scientists are correct two binary stars will collide in 2022 - producing a new star bright enough to be seen with the naked eye.

If right, it will be the first time we've been able to predict such an event - and quite fun for stargazers.

Friday, January 6, 2017

August 21, 2017...

...there will be a total solar eclipse across a band of the United States.

This site gives the path, details for specific areas, and should help you find the best place for viewing.

Personally, I hope it's a good omen for a better year. But it's at least a chance to see something cool.

For those of you who did not plan to be in Europe that day. (I think I may be eclipse-jinxed).

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Space X Explosion Mystery Solved

...and it turned out to be a rather complex thing.

Liquid oxygen somehow got into the wrapping of the helium tank. Snap. Boom.

They are planning return to flight soon, so presumably they've patched the leak.

Side note: 4 star review on Call To Arms: Horses and Mules

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Sisterhood Of The Blade - Funded!

So, the kickstarter for Sisterhood of the Blade hit its goal this morning! (You can still pledge, we have a few limited hardcovers left, and our first stretch goal is at $5,500 for a story by Andrew Lucas)

This means the anthology, edited by Hal Greenburg and Jonathan M. Thompson will be going ahead. We're anticipating a publication date of next October (so be patient, although I believe add-ons will be going out right away).

It's going to be an amazing anthology with some kick ass writers. Now to start working on my story.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Call To Arms: Horses And Mules


Aww. Look at those horse faces.

This is a little project I've been working on for Fat Goblin Games for some time now. It's for the Pathfinder system and contains:

Improved rules for overland travel by horse.
Roleplaying tips for playing horses, mules and other equines as characters rather than just transport.
New horse-like monsters (and existing ones collected in one place).
New feats for horses and mounts.
The Hussar Cavalier variant class.
New horse and mule types.

It's intended for campaigns that have a lot of overland travel, players who enjoy the Cavalier, Paladin and mount-oriented classes, and for simulationist GMs. (Might also be handy as a basic guide for writers).

You can get your copy from RPGNow for the introductory price of $5.95.