Friday, September 29, 2017

Help Do Science

NASA is looking for some help again. If you have a bit of time and don't mind spending it on a slightly tedious task - NASA needs help labeling and tagging thousands of images from the ISS so they can be made searchable. And no, they can't just have an AI do it.

If you'd like to help head over to CosmoQuest and launch the Image Detective. And you get to look at pretty pictures...

Thursday, September 28, 2017

RIP Hugh Hefner

You've probably already heard that Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy, died today at the age of 91.

You're probably also wondering why the heck I, a science fiction writer, care.

Well, I care because...

...Playboy published science fiction. Yup, in amongst the girlie pics, and also in a number of tie-in anthologies.

And it was a surprisingly good fit - because neither science fiction nor pornography were considered real literature.

Except, of course, a lot of men (and probably quite a few women too) read Playboy - 7 million subscribers by the 1970s - and that meant a larger audience for science fiction than...well, almost any other outlet, at the time, before, or since.

Hefner hired a series of fiction editors - Ray Russell, A.C. Spectorsky, Robie MacAuley, Arthur Ketchmer and Alice K. Turner all played a role. (Why yes, yes, a woman). And Playboy ran stories by Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Arthur C. Clarke...and by some authors you definitely wouldn't expect. Ursula K. LeGuin? Margaret Atwood of Handmaid's Tale fame? Doris Lessing? (Feminists writing for a girlie mag?) Playboy stopped producing a lot of science fiction after Turner retired in 2000, but who knows - maybe they'll get back to it.

And then there was a little story called "The Crooked Man" published in 1955. Hefner got hate mail for this story. It was a science fiction story where most people were gay and heterosexuality was punished - I believe the original of the classic reversal trope to heighten awareness of persecution.

See, Hugh Hefner was an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights and same sex marriage. Oh, and racial equality. Oh yes, and he called himself a feminist, although some people question that. In fact, on that front his legacy is distinctly controversial. He challenged prudish norms and fought for sexual liberation, but he's still seen as a pornographer. And he did have a harem.

I'm not going to hold him up as a feminist, because I don't know that he was one.

But he was in favor of gay rights.

And he published some dang good science fiction.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

LIGO is doing science..with a bit of help.

The first detection of gravity waves made by LIGO and Virgo combined has been recorded. The addition of the third (Virgo) detector means that scientists can now determine where in the sky the gravity waves are coming from.

The event observed was a collision between two huge black holes (31 times the mass of the sun and 25 times respectively). Being able to identify the source of the waves puts us a step closer to actually understanding gravity.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Get your shots!

Just a reminder - now is the perfect time to get your annual flu vaccination - if you can be vaccinated, get vaccinated. Especially if you plan on going to some of those wonderful fall conventions...

(We'll see how good a job they do at guessing strains this year...)

Monday, September 25, 2017

Orphan Black and Exercises In Genre

Orphan Black was the best show nobody watched - although it sustained enough of an audience to last four seasons, its appeal has always been niche. One of the reasons is the uncertainty about the show's genre. It's undeniably science fiction - the storyline is dependent on human cloning, and as far as we know there aren't any clones wandering around. Of course, you don't talk about Clone Club. But what kind of science fiction?

Wikipedia calls it a "Science fiction thriller" - which might work. Techno-thriller might be closer - except that they don't excessively explore the technical details. So, it's not a techno-thriller, even if it does focus on near-future technology.

But that opens the question of whether Orphan Black is a thriller. There's certainly plenty of suspense, there's a lot of crime (a fair amount of it inexpertly executed by Alison Hendrix. But is it a thriller? In a thriller, the entire point is the hero fighting for their life against insurmountable odds. The question of a thriller is "Do they live?" (The answer is almost always yes, but the thriller viewer does not care).

Is the central question of Orphan Black "Do they live?" It's certainly a question, but it's not the question. The question is "Who controls the future of humanity?" but with the distinctly feminist twist, in part, of "Who controls our children? Who controls our wombs?" That's a deeply science fictional question and it's too deep for a typical thriller.

Unpopular opinion: It's not a thriller.

It's also not a superhero story - although there are some superpowers in the story, they're minor. It could be the prologue to one, though.

And it's set in a completely unaltered real world in which the changes are secret. That would make it urban fantasy except, of course, it's about science. Maybe it's science realism? (A real world story with subtle changes to science that flavor the story).

Hrm, how about another approach? What science fiction show is Orphan Black most like? And the answer is "The X-Files." (Disclaimer: Although I loved the original, I've been too scared to watch the revival - it's one of those things I'm afraid re-visting would ruin). But what? Isn't that about...aliens?

Yes, but it's also about the real world going on with its life while the protagonists face their struggle essentially alone. Orphan Black is better as science fiction.

Wiki, though, doesn't help us with this, calling The X-Files a "science fiction drama" which...isn't a sub genre. It does bring in a possibility: Is Orphan Black "science fiction horror"? I'd say no, it's a bit lighter than that. And Wiki also takes us back to the thriller question.

So, what is Orphan Black? I think it makes its own sub-genre. Or, perhaps, it inhabits a sub-genre "The X-Files" created and which is also occupied by Sense8, Torchwood and even, to a degree Warehouse 13. That sub-genre is supernatural fantasy with the magic taken out and replaced by science. It has the same secrecy, the same idea that things "man was not meant to know" are right there, just hidden by the wits of the few privileged ones who know the truth.

But what do we call it? Contemporary science fiction just means anything set in the real world that focuses on scientific development.

I'm stumped - anyone got any thoughts?

Friday, September 22, 2017

Friday Updates

Posting early because I'm off to a National Gallery of Art writing salon.

I just discovered - because I'm busy and not as anal about checking as I might be - that my vs. Ghosts Adventure "The Lights of Sand Island" got a five star review. The one criticism was that no maps were provided (given it's a real life location, I don't personally feel they're needed).

Rising Dawn is still in edits. I've made the decision that if I do a trilogy or short series again I'm getting them all ready so I can release on some kind of schedule ;). I haven't started book four yet because I'm working on some gaming stuff.

Hoping for more actual news next week - I have a lot in the pipeline.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Herbivorous Dinosaurs Liked Their Seafood

In one of those discoveries that's surprising until you think more about it, the fossilized dung of herbivorous dinosaurs was found to contain quite a lot of...shellfish.

Why would plant eaters eat shellfish? While it's possible that they ingested the molluscs by accident, it's actually pretty likely they did it on purpose... help make egg shells. Herbivorous birds do the same thing today to supplement calcium before laying.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

I Have A Confession...

...I'm rather fond of calamari. Also octopus. Yes, including the tentacles.

Unfortunately, well. I've had to give it up.

The squid-based aliens in Arrival (likely from a gas giant, although it's never stated) and their completely alien intelligence and language...

...may not be so different from cephalopods on Earth.

Captive octopi have been known to turn off lights from a distance with a well-aimed water jet, raid nearby tanks for food and deliberately cause their tanks to overflow. One individual (I honestly can't remember species), after feeding time, escaped from its tank, slithered to the researcher's office and threw a bad shrimp at him. Like dogs and horses, they've been demonstrated as capable of telling humans apart.

The guess researchers make is that they're about as smart as dogs, but there's more to it than that. They are literally alien. They have multiple brains, in their arms. They can rewrite their own genetics in real time.

Maybe they are only about as intelligent as a pig, and I am not giving up bacon, but there's something about the fact that we don't understand their intelligence that is giving me pause. And their behavior seems more like that of ravens...or of chimpanzees. And I'm not eating a chimpanzee either. (I suppose we all have to draw our own lines, right?).

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Nerf Gun Safety

If you use airsoft, you know to use eye protection - but apparently people are getting eye injuries from nerf guns too.

If you use a nerf gun as a cosplay prop, then PLEASE don't point it at somebody's face or eyes. If you use them for simulated fire, then I really think you should wear goggles. Just in case.

The problems are worse with guns modified to fire harder or with off-label bullets or darts.

Stay safe, esp. with Halloween and the fall con season.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Emmys

...and as usual, nothing I watch won anything. I feel quite sorry for the connections of both West World and Stranger Things with 22 and 18 nominations respectively and not a single win.

Most of the awards went to mainstream shows, but The Handmaid's Tale took three - I want to watch that but not enough to pay for a Hulu subscription...

Friday, September 15, 2017

Friday Updates


I'm confirmed for RavenCon in 2018 - looking forward to going back to Williamsburg.

What I'm working on:

Unannounced projects for Avalon Game Company and Grey Matter Games.

Also hired for a project (also unannounced, I'm afraid) with Rite Publishing.

And some short fiction work you'll hopefully see eventually.

I'll be attending SPX this weekend if anyone wants to track me down ;).

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Elon Musk Blooper Reel... here, as a reminder that you can't make real progress, especially in rocket science, without sometimes having to blow some things up.

...with circus music as a bonus *laugh*.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Oh great...

There are now headlines saying getting the flu vaccine can cause a miscarriage.

No, there's a study that indicates women who get vaccinated for the flu regularly are more likely to have miscarriages. It's more likely showing that women with high risk pregnancies are more likely to get vaccinated.

Please, please get your shots *grumbles about how the anti-vaxx crowd don't need any more ammunition*

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

It makes a better mirror than a...

...window. Researchers at Imperial College London have created something which can change between a window and a mirror at the touch of a button - simply by applying voltage. And it's reusable as many times as required.

Makes one a little more wary of bathroom mirrors - but could also be very handy for the home of the future. They're working on dimmable windows, too.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Cassini's End

On Friday, after almost 20 years of amazing pictures and great science, the Cassini spacecraft will be intentionally crashed into Saturn. The probe, which is almost out of fuel, is being intentionally destroyed to ensure that it does not cause biological contamination of Titan or Enceladus.

Thanks to Cassini, we know a lot more about the Saturn "sub system" than we did when it was launched back in 1997....which makes me feel old. But all good things must come to an end and spaceships can only carry so much fuel. (Of course, some future probes may fly out using a solar sail...much more efficient!).

Friday, September 8, 2017

To Those... risk from Hurricane Irma. Stay safe, stock up, know whether to leave or stay. It's going to be a nasty one.

It already is - the storm has flattened most of the buildings on the island of Barbuda and done a lot of damage to St. Martin island. And some parts of Puerto Rico may be without power for six months.

I suppose we were due after the last two very light seasons :/. But please, everyone, stay safe.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

"Class" canceled

In a move that surprised nobody, the Doctor Who spin off "Class" has been officially canceled. It had some very good moments (and some great characters), but was apparently plagued by poor show times and arguments between the show runner (who quit some time ago) and the network.

I'm mostly disappointed because the ending of the last episode was worse than the ending of Angel. Worse, because in addition to being a cliffhanger it actually...kind of annoyed me. There were some utterly unnecessary deaths.

It's a shame - it had a lot of potential. Now I'm hoping extra for a Desi companion on Dr Who. Chibnall, you listening?

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Ill Winds...

When I came back into the US there were a bunch of signs about zika - the mosquito-borne virus that has been much in the news of late.

Zika is in the news because it can cause severe birth defects. Congenital Zika Syndrome includes microcephaly (in some cases including partial skull collapse), decreased brain tissue, eye damage, limited joint motion and excessive muscle development prior to birth. Pretty nasty - microcephaly can lead to seizures, vision and hearing problems (vision problems are particularly common here because there may also be damage to the eyes) and developmental disabilities. And the rate is high, at least 10 percent.

So, evil horrible virus, let's wipe it out like we did smallpox.

Brakes on.

Apparently, zika is more like one of those toxic plants - it can poison you or, in the right dose, used the right way, save your life.

The reason zika causes all of those defects is because it attacks stem cells in the brain. Pretty bad if you're an infant.

If you're an adult, though, then you shouldn't have many stem cells in your brain. If you do, then that's bad - because it means you have aggressive brain cancer.

So, apparently, we may be able to infect somebody's brain with zika to kill the stem cells that create tumors, probably when we do surgery to remove the big ones.

(It's worth noting that one of the most potentially useful viruses to insert genes into human cells for gene therapy is...HIV).

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Spirit of Shakespeare

The original globe was built in 1599 and burned down in 1613 after a cannon malfunctioned.

In 1997 - the year I graduated from college - Sam Wanamaker built a replica. I've been wanting to see a play there ever since.

And I finally did it. The performance was King Lear (not my favorite of Shakespeare's plays) - with Lear played by Kevin McNally (Gibbs from Pirates of the Caribbean) and an excellent cast.

It some ways it was the second best Shakespeare I've ever seen. In others? It was the best.

See, what I was expecting was that the performance would match the theater - that it would be Elizabethan-styled.

That isn't what I got.

The actors wore costumes that looked like they went thrifting. The stage swords were sticks with painted-on hilts. On a number of occasions, actors were pushed onto and off the stage in a cage cart. Special effects combined the theater's electric lights...with drums being played by the cast.

And the casting - the casting was what happens when the director stops caring about anything but who is right for the part. Gloucester, Cornwall and Cordelia were black. France was south Asian. Everyone else was white, regardless of how much sense it made. Kent was a woman - because. Just, as far as I can tell, because the director wanted Saskia Reeves. In the grand tradition of principal boys, the Fool was played by a woman but still called a boy. (And I'd give something to see Anjana Vasan, their Cordelia, do Juliet while she's still young enough to pull it off).

My verdict was not "This is the best Shakespeare I've ever seen" so much as "This is the most authentic Shakespeare I've ever seen."

Because, see, people take two approaches to Shakespeare. Either they try to do it the way they envision the Elizabethan theatre - 'the way Shakespeare did it' - and put everyone in fancy Elizabethan outfits, use the best props that look Elizabethan, etc. Or they put it in a different era.

This is the only time I have ever seen a Shakespeare company do it the way Shakespeare would do it now. The hotch potch casting was not only interestingly diverse and genuinely using talent, but also recalled a small traveling company who had to cast the people they have (and don't you dare tell me there was never a black man or boy on Shakespeare's stage - maybe there wasn't, but there were certainly black people around in Elizabethan London, and some of them could have been actors). The only reason Shakespeare didn't use women on his stage was because it was not done - but the gender flipping, including the female Kent disguising herself as a man is exactly the kind of thing he would have done.

And it wasn't done as high art. That's the thing.

It was done as popular entertainment. It was people standing around the stage and actors running off stage right through the crowd, actors calling out into the audience (sadly, too many people were wearing their best theater manners). The audience was a little bit too sober, but this is what the Elizabethan theater was. It was popular entertainment, performed by players who often struggled, who cast the talent they had and developed that talent until it shone. Nancy Meckler, with the ability to pull talent (many top actors want to do Lear) for this performance chose to cast in a way that honored that.

And it was brilliant.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Back - and Updates!

Okay, so I'm back - and have news.

My short story "Salvage" was accepted for the Pirates & Ghosts anthology, to be produced by well-regarded British publisher Flame Tree Press.

I am absolutely thrilled to be part of this project - here's the official announcement.

(This puts me at three pro sales but, due to my short story sweet spot being a little, well, short, I still have to sell 2,800 words worth to be eligible for active SFWA membership, but that particular little career goal is getting closer).

If you're waiting for Sisterhood of the Blade - release has been slightly delayed because two authors were forced to drop out for personal reasons. This means we had to find two more writers who are now, well, writing away ;). I'm impatient too.