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?


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


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.


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 - 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. 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' 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., 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 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 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...