Friday, August 18, 2017

Out Of Here

Yes, because I'm an idiot and missed the memo on the eclipse - I'm going to be in Europe visiting family and vacat...ahem, doing research for the next two weeks. I won't be posting on this blog (the other blog has posts queued).

When I get back I'll be going right into edits on Rising Dawn (Lost Guardians #3).

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Next Frontier

NASA has selected six missions for further study as part of the Explorers Program.

The three full Explorers missions are:

1. Arcus - an X-ray spectroscopy mission to study the gas around stars, galaxies and galaxy clusters.

2. FINESSE - an infrared spectroscopy mission to study planet formation.

3. SPHEREx - a near-infrared imaging program that should tell us more about the beginning of the universe and evolution of galaxies.

Three more missions, called "missions of opportunity" are also being studied.

1. COSI-X - a gamma-ray telescope mounted in a balloon to study antimatter and radioactive elements.

2. ISS-TAO - an X-ray detector that will be put on the ISS to look for supernova shocks, neutron star bursts and neutron star mergers.

3. CASE - fine guidance detectors for the ESA"s exoplanet survey.

I think I'm most interested in SPHEREx and of course the exoplanet survey is important. Most likely - they're out there...

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

One step closer...

...to being able to 3D print replacement organs (I think we can all agree that not having to rely on donors is a good thing).

Researchers at Oxford and Bristol universities have come up with a high resolution scaffold that puts individual cells right where they need to be. The organs could be made using the recipient's own stem cells (or a donor's if there's some genetic reason not to use the patient's - but the patient's are better because it eliminates rejection).

Wouldn't it be great if everyone who needed a new liver or kidney could get one?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Acknowledge Them

The death of stuntwoman SJ Harris while filming Deadpool 2 is a highly tragic accident.

Harris was a professional stunt rider and road racer - something went wrong and it is likely her death was simply that. An accident.

This one was high profile, but in early July John Bernecker fell from a balcony while doing a stunt for the TV show "Walking Dead" - he also died.

Stuntmen (and women) have been risking their lives for our entertainment since the start of visual entertainment. Olivia Jackson lost her arm while doubling for Milla Jovovich in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (this was also a motorcycling accident). Harry O'Connor was killed in a parasailing accident while doubling for Vin Diesel in XXX. And, surprise surprise, a stuntman, Art Scholl, was killed filming the flight sequences for Top Gun.

Actors have also been injured doing their own stunts, but when a stuntman is injured or killed, much of the time no mention is ever made of it. We don't even know their names. (Whilst a lot of us remember Brandon Lee's death - he was shot with a blank, which is why they're very careful how they use blanks now).

So, I'd like to dedicate to SJ Harris a mention to all stuntmen and the dangerous work they do so we can escape reality for 90 minutes or 2 hours.

Monday, August 14, 2017

I...

...really hope that the celebrity deaths in threes isn't going to become awfully specific.

Victor Pemberton both acted in Doctor Who (in the 1967 episode Moonbase) and wrote precisely one Doctor Who arc.

So, why is he important?

Because in that sadly mostly-lost story, Fury From The Deep, he introduced something that is now one of the symbols of the show: The Sonic Screwdriver. (He also wrote one audio adventure and wrote the novelization of Fury from the Deep himself). He had a lot of experience in radio as well as TV. Oh, and he created the Lighthouse Keeper in Fraggle Rock, which Americans probably won't understand the importance of.

Pemberton died today at the age of 85.

Friday, August 11, 2017

British Fruitcake

....has to be one of the most inedible creations ever made by man. It's even worse than American fruitcake.

So when somebody said they found 100-year-old fruitcake in Antarctica that was "almost edible" I knew it had to be British fruitcake. (It was, it was dropped by Scott's expedition). Because fruitcake is only almost edible anyway.

(Why yes, I am ribbing on my own country. You're allowed to join in. Ugh, fruitcake).

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Shooting Stars

If you're planning on observing the Perseids this year, the fireworks show will peak on August 12 at...1pm. In other words, you want to be out the night before or the night after. The recommended time is before dawn on August 12.

Unfortunately, the moon will be full, which won't help for meteor viewing - you need to get out of the city to get a good view.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Largest Land Animal...

...is some kind of brontosaurus, right?

Actually, it's now Patagotitan mayorum - weighing in at 152,000 pounds. That's ten times the weight of the largest elephants.

Scientists believe this is close to the maximum size for an animal in our gravity. (And likely land animals could not get this big right now due to the lower oxygen compared to the Cretaceous).

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Godzilla!

The signature Japanese monster was introduced in 1954 as a cautionary tale about nuclear weapons.

And he rapidly became an international phenomenon. In fact, Godzilla movies are still being made today - there's one scheduled for release in 2019. Kaiju - the Japanese word for monster - has developed a specific meaning in English and we talk about kaiju movies.

In 1954 there was no CGI and not really any animatronics. So, how did they do the monster?

The answer: A stuntman in a suit. And the man they hired was Haruo Nakajima - who had four credits as a stuntman in Samurai movies at the time. He was given no briefing on how to play the monster - so he spent hours at the zoo, looking at elephants, bears and other creatures to create the distinctive gait (and, of course, the distinctive victory dance).

Most people who aren't serious monster movie fans don't even know Nakajima's name (a common fate for stuntmen) - even though he played Godzilla 12 times and also took a turn as King Kong, Baragon, Matango, Rodan...basically, he played monsters (and on occasion swordsmen). He retired from acting in 1973, no doubt exhausted from all of those rubber suits. His last outing as Godzilla was in Godzilla vs. Gigan.

Nakajima died this week at the age of 88 after a struggle with pneumonia. I'm going to go attempt that dance now. Doesn't work as well without the rubber suit.

Monday, August 7, 2017

And a followup...

...on the eclipse glasses thing. Here's another great way to safely get an interesting look at our sun during the eclipse.

It's called a pinhole viewer and you can make it out of an old cereal box.

Please don't ever stare directly at the sun with your unprotected eyes. Please.

Friday, August 4, 2017

If...

...you are not, like me, the idiot who planned a trip ages ago and didn't hear about the eclipse until you'd already planned on being in the other hemisphere...

Then be very careful about viewing the eclipsed sun. Apparently, some companies are selling eclipse glasses that don't meet proper safety standards.

The correct standard is ISO 12312-2 - it'll be printed on the glasses. This is for US - other countries will have their own standards. Also, don't look at the sun for too long anyway.

Let's not have anyone go blind, okay?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

All Creatures...

...Great And Small.

Those who know me know I keep my funny bone in an odd place. The majority of comedies do nothing for me...or, worse, are just plain annoying. The rare exceptions tend to be British.

British sit coms just aren't like anything made anywhere else. And British sitcoms that come with cute animals, well...

All Creatures Great And Small ran from 1978 to 1990 and starred Christopher Timothy, Peter Davison (Yes that Peter Davison) and Robert Hardy.

The last is probably better known to readers of this blog as Cornelius Fudge. Hardy was also well known for playing Winston Churchill (in Churchill: 100 Days That Saved Britain, Agatha Christie's Marple (The Sittaford Mystery), the mini-series War and Remembrance and another mini-series Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years. Talk about being typecast. For sci-fi fans, he also showed up in The Lost World TV movie, a Gulliver's Travels mini-series, a Frankenstein movie (Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in 1994) and an episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

He was active for over 70 years.

Robert Hardy died today at the age of 91.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

One step closer...

...to the first genetically modified humans. Scientists at Oregon Health & Science University were able to edit out a disease causing gene from viable human embryos.

The technique is not yet ready to try on embryos intended for implantation (the success rate was only about fifty percent, although none of the successfully edited embryos showed other changes) - but the ethical issues are already being raised. Is it okay, for example, to change somebody's genome without their consent? (I would argue that yes, if it's done to save their life or prevent them from developing an unpleasant disease. Maybe my friend with cystic fibrosis can weigh in on this).

Of course, some people think it should be made illegal because, well, it's apparently worth having dead kids to prevent designer babies. (I think you can tell where I stand).

I firmly believe that yes, we should pursue this, but with appropriate care and consideration for, above all else, the health and welfare of any children that result.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Houston, We Have A...

...kickstarter?

The historic Mission Control room from which the Apollo missions were monitored is in an abysmal state. It's been left to decay (and looted by souvenir seekers).

So, NASA has responded with, no joke, a kickstarter.

They've already met their goal of $250,000 - but I'm sure they could use a little bit more cash.

(And you can get the t-shirt).

Everyone's crowdfunding these days...

Monday, July 31, 2017

Feminism in Unexpected Places

I don't talk about being a feminist much - mostly because, unfortunately, some people have taken it away from my own definition of feminism (for example, I honestly despise some aspects of "radical feminism"). But the truth is, I am one. And I've been thinking this weekend about finding feminist messages in strange and unexpected places in media.

The Deadpool movie is a recent example - complete with non-sexualized teenagers (and female villains) and a guy in the exploitative "bearskin rug" pose.

But right now I'm thinking of a much older work that has a feminist message most people miss:

Cats.

Yes, I do mean the musical based off of a silly poetry book about a bunch of cats. Which I finally got to see on Broadway (the current revival closes December 30, so if you happen to be in New York...it's an excellent performance). I already knew the plot, I knew and had sung most of the songs, but nothing compares to seeing it on the stage.

Yes, that musical. That's basically a series of song and dance numbers with a thin plot as a framing mechanism.

Most, but not all, of the songs are taken from T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. The musical's signature song, Memory (covered over 150 times) is not, however. And the character who sings it, Grizabella, was cut from the original book for being too sad, with only a fragment of her poem surviving. The message behind her, thus, is entirely the work of Andrew Lloyd Webber and the director, Trevor Nunn, who wrote the extra lyrics.

The framing device used for the songs is that the leader of the Jellicle Cats, Old Deuteronomy, is selecting one cat to go to the Heaviside Layer (i.e. Heaven) and be reborn. At the Jellicle Ball, the case is made for various felines.

One of them is Gus the Theater Cat. Gus is the old, washed up actor, who mostly has only stories of his glory days but is, nonetheless, respected and adored as he talks at the stage door.

And the other, of course, is Grizabella the Glamor Cat. Who is shunned and despised by all of the cats. Why?

Because she's not beautiful any more.

Even as a child I sensed the unfairness, but I had to get into my twenties to understand what the unfairness was.

Gus is the old actor, respected even though he can't really do it any more.

Grizabella is...the former leading lady. Cats was first staged in 1981 - 36 years ago. And yet, we still see it going on. Harrison Ford looks fantastic, Carrie Fisher looked old and tired and sad. Women in Hollywood simply aren't allowed to age...once they do, they're put on the shelf and forgotten.

And yes, sometimes despised and hissed at.

Webber was, of course, a theater person. He had been writing musicals since 1965, although his first effort wasn't published until 2005. But he saw success in 1968 with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. He must have known theater.

And he must have seen women pushed aside because they were too old. He must have seen the focus on looks.

So in Cats he takes Grizabella from a fragment of a poem, puts her center stage, shows us how she is treated and then literally sends her to heaven to be reborn.

But people still think it's a silly musical about cats.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Heading Out

Heading out of town for a small trip to New York to celebrate my 20th anniversary (and probably, because it's me, get in some research).

A couple of updates before I leave:

1. I've been confirmed as a guest for Farpoint Convention next February. The writer Guest of Honor will be, once more, Timothy Zahn - who's well worth seeing and hearing from.

2. The Equal Opportunity Madness anthology conceived a couple of years ago at Balticon is finally available as an ebook. Print books should be available soon. It contains my story "Golem." If you are coming to Farpoint and let me know well ahead of time I will take pre-orders. (I'm trying to save most of my luggage space for Lost Guardians books).

3. Lost Guardians #3 is progressing well. I don't have a launch date yet but am trying to get it done and available for, you guessed it, Farpoint.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Alternate History and This Thing With The Bad Guys Winning

Alternate timelines in which the bad guys win are starting to turn into the new vampires - the trend we've all seen enough of but which people are jumping on the coattails of nonetheless.

Unless you hide under a rock and avoid social media you'll have heard about the controversy of the new TV show Confederate, set in a world in which, ding, the South won the Civil War. And the explosion about it indicates just how done people are with it. (It doesn't help that the show is going to be run by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, who's handling of GoT has not exactly been the best in terms of gender or race).

But it's not just that "Two white guys are making a show about slavery" - it's a symptom of the fact that people, right now, simply don't want stories in which the bad guys won. Even if it's alternate history. Agents of SHIELD experienced a 15% drop in audience three episodes in to their Agents of HYDRA arc, where the bad guys won...in virtual reality.

And again, you'd have to be living under a rock not to hear just how done a large proportion of the Marvel fanbase are with Secret Empire...and were before it even started.

It doesn't help that the bad guys that keep winning are white supremacists, when a lot of people are starting to fear that they may be winning in real life too.

And maybe, just maybe, people are a little tired of dystopias in general? I don't know. But I do think that if you're considering writing a story in which the bad guys won (most especially an alternate history in which the South won the Civil War or Hitler won World War II) you might want to put it on the shelf right next to the novel I started about the Second Great Depression...right as the Great Recession started. Oops.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Is European Fantasy "Done"?

...well, in some ways it's more popular than ever, given the Game of Thrones TV show. But a lot of readers complain that all fantasy is set in Europe.

Truth is, what they actually mean is it's all influenced by Tolkein. And there's nothing wrong with that - the work of Elizabeth Moon, for example, shows that northern European fantasy can still be good. It can, however, be a little bit boring.

Lately, the push has been to go outside Europe for inspiration, but that then runs up against (in my mind stupid) arguments about cultural appropriation and stereotyping.

Well, back in 1992, Lois McMaster Bujold (better known for the Vorkosigan Saga) wrote a book which shows there's still plenty of space in Europe.

The Spirit Ring is a true historical fantasy - it's history written as if magic was real. And it's set in...Renaissance Italy.

This is a brilliant choice. Southern Europe seldom shows up in either historical or secondary world fantasy. Take note, kids - and consider Spain, Italy or even Greece as setting or inspiration.

On top of that, Bujold's female lead, Fiametta, is...

...black.

She's black Italian. Her mother came from Africa - but was never a slave, and Fiametta is treated no differently from other women of her class. She's also a nice, strong female character who never, at any point, comes off as a "guy with breasts."

I got my copy second hand at a convention, but I've checked, the book IS available, although the hardcovers available are mostly in only decent condition, so I was glad to get mine.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Deborah Watling

I'm not happy to be talking about Doctor Who again - not happy at all.

One of the things I've missed about the new series is the avoidance of multiple Companions. When we did get them, we had lovers (Amy and Rory) or characters who barely seemed to know each other (Bill and Nardole).

The first Doctor had no less than three Companions (the word assistant was also used, but fandom dropped it a lot more quickly than many people think).

The second also had more than one, and, for 40 episodes in 1967 and 68 (remember, 25 minute episodes), he had two - Jamie and Victoria.

Deborah Watling played Victoria Waterford, the girl of the pairing (she was only 19 at the time, and the character was 14-15 years old). She was "rescued" by the Doctor after her father was killed by Daleks. The dynamic between the three was very close to a family. She returned to 1960s Earth to live a normal life - leaving Jamie bereft of his "kid sister."

Oh, and she was from the 19th century (another artificial limitation of NuWho is the lack of companions from the past, unless you count Me). Like a lot of early Companions she had a bad habit of screaming a lot (a tradition I'm glad NuWho has dropped).

She was the Companion hardest hit by the BBCs policy of not keeping episodes - only just over half of her episodes have been found so far.

In addition to Doctor Who Watling (who was the British equivalent of a high school dropout) also played Alice - as a nod to that Who established that Vicki was, at one point, photographed by Charles Dodson) and was prominent in The Newcomers in 1969. She was originally a child actor, making her first TV appearance at the age of 9...and her last in the Five(ish) Doctors in 2013.

She was only 69 years old.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

If you...

...have more time than I do, NASA just did one of their infamous mass uploads. This time, it's hundreds of historical aerospace videos. 500 videos of experimental flight including early space shuttle type. I think I'm going to have to walk away now.

The videos are coming from the Armstrong Flight Research Center. And they include blowing up a Boeing 720.

Kaboom!


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Wow...

A Republican Congressman asked NASA if it was true there was a civilization on Mars thousands of years ago.

I realize he's a Republican but really, Dana Rohrabacher, do your basic research before asking scientists stupid questions in public. ;) (Okay, at some levels, there's no such thing as a truly stupid question, but...)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Because I did promise.

So, I saw it this weekend. And it wasn't the best superhero movie I've ever seen.

What it was, was the best young adult superhero movie I've ever seen.

And that matters, because the superhero universe, on the whole, caters poorly to the middle grade and young adult audience. Kids grow out of all ages comics and seldom have anything to grow into. Ms Marvel is without a doubt the best YA comic right now, but it has very little competition.

Homecoming was a true YA movie. I've complained in the past about "YA creep" - the tendency to classify anything with a protagonist so much as a day under 18 as YA whether it is or not. Hunger Games being a classic example.

Peter is fifteen - and looks and acts fifteen. He has to deal with teenaged problems - being teased and bullied, sneaking out of the house, finding a date to Homecoming. Being neither a child nor an adult. Not being taken seriously.

He's also fighting bad guys. But the superheroics is spliced in neatly with what closely resembles a classic 80s high school comedy. (Watch for the mascot). It's a fun movie. You get to see Spidey learning to be a hero and learning to improve his classic banter. And getting things dropped on him, of course.

I have to give this movie kudos for knowing what it needed to be.

I also have to give them some major diversity points - and not just for casting Zendaya to play MJ (she actually looked great except for not being ginger).

No, this movie did background diversity right in a world where so many movies are doing it wrong. The kids in the school looked like I would expect kids at a magnet school in New York to look - a great mix of white, black, Asian, etc. It felt right and looked realistic rather than the checklisting that's becoming sadly prominent (claims of "forced diversity" are 99% BS, but some people really do make their diversity look forced). And, of course, we didn't have the "There's one black kid in Smallville and it's Pete Ross" phenomenon.

Oh, and it's full of easter eggs - the black guy on the bad guys' team is Miles Morales' uncle (which I missed because I've never tracked Morales that much). Two Deadpool jokes - one in dialog and one in the end credits. And if that white haired girl seen a couple of the times in the background isn't Felicia Hardy they're wasting the actor.

So, yes. A lot of fun.

Watch for the mascot.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Lady Versions - Gender, Doctor Who, Thirteen and Role Models

So - I was going to write a review of Spider-Man: Homecoming today. You'll get that tomorrow because the BBC decided to rather abruptly distract me.

This is the face of Thirteen:


This is Jodie Whittaker - from Huddersfield, Yorkshire, and previously known for Attack The Block and Broadchurch. I've never actually seen either of those. So, I can't judge her as an actor, not fairly. I've been looking at Youtube clips of some of her past roles - the BBC has a little compilation here.

The thing that strikes me about the clips I've seen is her control over her body language, probably because she's done a lot of theater work. For a physically demanding role, that's important. She moves differently when she's acting than when she's herself in a very obvious way.

But, of course, the reactions have been many, varied, and not all of them positive. I don't think there's been more hate over the casting than there was over Matt Smith (Too young!) or Peter Capaldi (Too old!) - but it has been more intense hate. The Doctor Who groups on Facebook have been full of some pretty nasty comments. Memes with Capaldi's face and "The Last Doctor." "The only reason for a female doctor is feminism". Comments about the Doctor was designed as a role model for boys. Jokes about not being able to park the TARDIS (Which are hilarious because the Doctor has NEVER been able to park the TARDIS correctly). Nurse Who jokes. "It makes it less science fiction" was probably the one which offended me the most.

The winner, of course, is "Nobody wants a TARDIS full of bras." Which Don Sakers pointed out rhythms perfectly with "Yellow submarine." As in "We all live in a TARDIS full of bras." Because I've been suffering with that since yesterday, so you have to too.

But.

Is there a legitimate complaint about a female Doctor?

There's one - it takes away a male role model who is not traditionally or toxically masculine. The Doctor has always subverted masculinity. Always. His weapon is a screwdriver - what are screwdrivers used to do? Make things. Build things. He defeats his enemies with words combined with sheer grit and determination. He eschews guns and swords. And...they have a point. They have a very good point. We do need those kinds of role models - but it highlights something else.

I was a little girl. And as a little girl I sought role models on screen. You know what?

Most of them were male.

The first female character I actually wanted to be was Emma Peel. I don't remember many others. The women in the shows I watched were often sidekicks. They were Companions, they were the Amazing Friends not the Spider-Man. So, who did I look up to? I looked up to Spider-Man, my first superhero "love." The boys of International Rescue, because who actually wanted to be Lady Penelope. Superman. Luke Skywalker - oh, I loved Leia, but I could tell she wasn't the lead. Spock - more than Kirk - because as cool as Uhura was, as a little girl I didn't understand how important her role as xenolinguist was.

And, of course, the Doctor.

Little girls have historically had to look up to male role models (even worse for little girls who aren't white).

Little boys have the luxury of not having to do that.

And little boys who never look up to women, respect them, and learn from them turn into men who don't respect women either.

So, yes, it's a good point, but: Little boys need to learn to look up to Thirteen.

And how do they learn?

The key to doing this right is going to be...the Companion. We don't know who will be chosen yet. But...and I know some feminists will howl at me for this because some already are howling about how the departure of Pearl Mackie is because "we can't have two female leads"...it needs to be a boy.

It needs to be a boy who learns to look up to the Doctor, to respect her, and shows little boys that looking up to a woman does not emasculate you.

(And for ratings' sake should be reasonably attractive so the young heterosexual women have somebody to drool over, which was one of the issues with Capaldi).

But I hope Chibnall is thinking about this - and I hope that whoever the Companion is they keep the balance.

Oh, and if the negative comments above depress you, here are some points to cheer you up.
1. Alex Kingston wants to come back to hit on her as River Song *ducks*
2. Colin Baker is over the moon because he thinks his daughters will love this.
3. Little girls squeeing in happiness.
4. LOTS of little girls squeeing in happiness.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Okay, People

Quantum teleportation is not:

1. The physical movement of any matter.
2. A precursor to matter transmitters.
3. Anything that can remotely lead, dear BBC-who-knows-better to teleporting people.

Quantum teleportation is:

1. A remarkably secure way to move information.

Also. Sunday Sunday Sunday...

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Guess Who...

So, I went over my picks for the next Doctor back in February. We still don't know who it is.

Neither, mysteriously, does Rachel Talalay, who directed the Christmas Special - which should, per tradition, end with a regeneration scene. So, where is Thirteen?

And who is Thirteen?

A lot of people want it to be Phoebe Waller-Bridges, but unless she's secretly a superfan I can't see her giving her up her own show that she writes to be the Doctor.

But by using that little titbit of Thirteen not being present on set, I applied a bit of logic and came up with a reasonable guess as to who it is.

My educated guess, which is logical and thus probably wrong is:

Richard Ayoade.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Tips To Avoid Scammy Publishers

A follow-up to yesterday - here are a few things to watch for when submitting to small presses:

1. Publishers do not exist to help aspiring writers. They may have that as part of their goal, but publishers exist to help readers. If the website focuses on "helping writers" then that means writers, not readers, are their customers. This is a classic sign of the stealth vanity press - the publisher that only attaches a dollar amount to the contract when they send it to you.

2. As I said yesterday, look at the publishers' product. I recommend buying two books - one in your electronic format of choice and one in print (if they do print). Is the quality acceptable? How many typos - a couple are acceptable, a lot are not? What does the layout look like?

3. Look at their existing authors. How many do they have? If it's only two and three and more than one have the same last name - I suggest waiting rather than risking on what's obviously a self publisher moving into publishing other people. Some people have made that leap successfully. Most fail.

4. Do not sign over rights the publisher will not be exercising. I.e., do not sign over the audiobook rights unless the publisher does audiobooks and has a strong history of doing them right. Try to keep as many of your rights as you can. Never sign over the copyright.

5. Make sure the contract has some kind of sunset/reversion clause. A good publisher will have periodic opportunities to renegotiate the contract. Look also for a way to get your rights back if the book isn't selling. What if the company goes out of business.

6. Do not sign a non-compete unless it is very limited. It is good manners not to release your self-published book the same month as the one your publisher is doing, but saying you won't release anything for a couple of years? That's too much. If the publisher wants first refusal on your next book, make sure that is time limited - give them X days (90 is standard, but 60 is better) to consider it rather than letting them sit on it.

(Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and cannot give actual legal advice. This is based on the experiences of myself and others).

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Recent Reads

So, I won a book raffle at Balticon and have finally got through my, uh, winnings.

First up, Bud Sparhawk's collection "Non-Parallel Universes." I admit to bias here. Bud is not just a fantastic writer of short stories but fun to hang out with in convention bars. I already owned some of the stories in this collection, due to his regular contributions to Analog, but some were new to me. All excellent, as always.

Second - The Biggest Bounty by Brian Koscienski and Chris Pisano. I was quite skeptical about this book - it's not exactly serious and I keep my funny bone in a very odd place. So I was delighted and surprised to find I loved it. It's basically the same tone and feel as Guardians of the Galaxy - so I highly recommend it to GotG fans.  It's about two less than competent bounty hunters bumbling their way towards...well, yeah. The biggest bounty ever.

Third - Three short novels by Diana Bastine. I did these, I swear, in the order I read them. I liked the look of these - Source, Shapeshifter, and Selkie. They focus on fairies, which I am inordinately fond of.

I was...profoundly disappointed.

First of all, the print layout of these books was literally the worst I'd ever seen. I know mine's not great (Uh, yeah, I do know there should be headers) but I don't double space. Or leave Word artifacts in the book. To be fair, it was remarkably clean and typo-free, but the layout was terrible. Brief research indicated that it was even worse than I thought. Bastine's publisher, Helm Publishing, appears to be a vanity press. Assuming I have the right Helm Publishing, and I think I do, the publisher has two thumbs down from Writer Beware. Now, Bastine has got her rights back and the books will be re-released. I don't know what happened, of course. I do know that the layout is too shoddy for any publisher to put their name to. But I'm inclined to see Bastine as a victim of the desire to be published.

Second, unfortunately, I found Bastine's knowledge of fairies to be insufficient (Most especially, she doesn't seem to know the difference between Tuatha de Danaan and Cait Sidhe). If you aren't bothered by that the way I am, the books are fun, and hopefully the new versions (apparently e-only) won't have the layout issues these do. And she does get diversity points for having same sex couples and treating them as pretty much normal (except for the homophobic bad guy, of course :P). But I found it very hard to get past the layout issues.

Tip #1: Never pay to be published.
Tip #2: If you are signing with a publisher, get your hands on their finished print books so you know they make a quality product.

At the same time, I acquired "If We Had Known" - a science fiction anthology of "cautionary tales" by e-Spec books. To end on a good note, this book was also excellent and enjoyable and I highly recommend it. (I figured it would be from the names in the TOC, but...)

Monday, July 10, 2017

Fingers Crossed

Virgin Galactic is about to resume powered testing after the 2014 crash that killed one test pilot and injured another. They say they will be on track to test the VSS Unity this fall.

Fingers crossed for no more problems and a safe return to flight!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Toxic Planet

Turns out the surface of Mars is even more hazardous than we thought.

We knew perchlorates in Martian soil were deadly. It turns out they're even more deadly when combined with straight up UV light...likely rendering the Martian surface completely uninhabitable. This doesn't mean there's no life, though.

It's just likely to be life IN Mars, not life ON Mars.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Check out...

NASA's amazing images of Jupiter's Great Red Spot. Which we're studying before it, well, ends. The storm is shrinking rapidly - and while it has been around since at least 1830, it's still a hurricane. No storm lasts forever.

Juno will pass over the storm at 7:06pm PDT on July 10 - giving us the closest look at the storm yet.

Find some of the images here: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/jpl/earth-based-views-of-jupiter-to-enhance-juno-flyby/

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Snorting...

...chocolate? Seriously? What's the point of that?

Oh man, it's even worse. It has all those "energy" herbs. Don't do it, people. Here, have a Hershey's bar.

In more serious news - the FLASH! anthology is currently on schedule for a late July or early August launch - thank you to everyone who backed the kickstarter.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Secrets of Rome

I have to admit - I have something of a fascination with ancient Rome. At this point we've regained most of their technology and, of course, gone past it in many areas.

But there's one thing Rome was still better at: Sea walls.

And with climate change, we need good sea walls. The secret? The Romans worked out to make concrete that chemically reacts with seawater - in a way which makes the concrete stronger.

Of course, it'll probably take years to work out the full formula, but if we can - well, Roman concrete didn't need to be reinforced (and it's the metal reinforcements that fail, in most cases), didn't erode over time...

How?

It just so happened that the minerals they need were plentiful in volcanic soil...

Monday, July 3, 2017

Heroes Wear Masks

I've been doing a fair bit of work for this line, including this:

Heroes Wear Masks 5th Edition

And, as a companion:

HWM Powers 5E Version

These books are intended for diehard D&D fans that want to do a superhero game using a familiar system. I do recommend getting the Powers book as well as it allows much more flexibility.

Friday, June 30, 2017

No child sex ring on Mars?

Not a plot for a pulp story and probably not usable now - but the bizarre claim was made by Robert David Steele on the Alex Jones show. Apparently there's a colony on Mars, and NASA shipped off a bunch of kids there 20 years ago who are now child slaves on Mars (Unless NASA has invented cryogenic suspension or a stasis field and not told us...) Oh, and slaves to whom? That part isn't clear either.

The worst part is that NASA actually had to spend time refuting this nonsense.

Mr. Steele, just write the book, don't try to get us to believe it's real...

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Fallen Dark!

It's here!


The sequel to Falling Dusk pits Anna and Victor against a dangerously insane young woman and a slew of demons.

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B073FTFMVX
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/733025
CreateSpace paperback: https://www.createspace.com/7241788

I will post again when the paperback is on Amazon and again as things percolate to other retailers (iBooks can take a couple of weeks, unfortunately).

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

If You're Not British...

...then you might not understand Paddington Bear. (Maybe. He's a popular souvenir).

Paddington Bear was a fictional character - a bear in a hat, duffle coat and welly boots who appeared in more than 20 books, several television series and a movie (with another being made). And pretty much every kid had one - starting way back in 1958.

It all started when a BBC cameraman was doing his Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve - and spotted a lonely stuffed bear on a shelf near Paddington station.

"Paddington" was well received, but inspired the man to create the fictional character of a homeless stowaway bear from "Darkest Peru" - a character who often appeared with a luggage tag around his neck in memory of the wartime evacuee children.

That cameraman was named Michael Bond, and he also wrote the Detective Pamplemousse novels for adults.

Michael Bond died Tuesday,a at the age of 91 - but Paddington Bear lives on.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The fate of stars

How about this one? WD1202-04 is a white dwarf, what's left of a dead star. It has a brown dwarf orbiting so close together that eventually they will hit each other and explode.

To make things even more interesting, when the white dwarf was a red giant, the brown dwarf was inside it. Which should have torn it apart, but nope. It survived, likely barely (unlike any planets in the system).

Weird, eh? We keep finding all kinds of different stars and planets out there, and few of them seem to follow what we thought were the rules...

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).