Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Kyle Cassidy on War Paint


Stories in Ink: Capturing the Art of Tattoos (Highlights) from Franklin & Marshall College on Vimeo.

I'm spending today packing and taking care of various promises made -- for an introduction, a paragraph, a list, an interview, and so on -- in preparation for Friday's jaunt to China.  So I wasn't going to blog today.  But then I came upon the above clip of Kyle Cassidy talking about photographing tattooed veterans for his book War Paint.  Which was so simple and clear that I felt I should share it.

There is something particularly profound about the images with which warriors decorate that skin that might be pierced by bullets, shrapnel, flechettes. 

War Paint is being published by Schiffer Books.  You can find Kyle's generous collection of images and information here.


Monday, March 26, 2012

Beijing Xi'an Guilin Shanghai.


When I began this blog, I promised only that, to the best of my abilities, I would post every Monday and Friday.  In the thousand-plus posts since, I have failed of that promise only (I think) twice.  Most weeks, I've posted five times.  Only rarely have I not posted on Wednesday.

That admirable record may well be about to fall.  But for good reasons.

On Friday, I fly to China.  I won't be seeing any of my friends there, which I greatly regret.  Nor will I be taking advantage of various professional contacts to see things not normally available to tourists.  I will (and I fear I will lose your respect for admitting this but I have good reasons) be taking a tour.

Why?  Because I'm researching a novel to be set in China.  For which I need to see exactly the sights which China's tourist board most devoutly wishes I would -- places of great antiquity and extreme beauty which any sensible human being has on his or her bucket list.  Two weeks is a pathetically short length of time for such an endeavor.  But it's better than nothing.  My visit to Chengdu, for which I will always be grateful to the good people at Science Fiction World, transformed my vision of China and only in ways that increased my already high admiration of it.  So too, I hope, will this fleeting visit.

While I'm away, I may not be able to post here.  The Great Firewall of China is not, alas, a myth.  In the airport in Beijing, I learned that it is not possible even to read my blog from China, much less update it.  I'll leave instructions with my son Sean and if I have easy Internet access in my tourist hotels, it may be possible for me to forward him entries to be posted here.

But if not, it's not because I've forgotten you.

And while I have your attention . . .

My pal, Eileen Gunn, wants to make sure that I sample the Three Treasures of Guilin while I'm there.  They are:  Guilin chili sauce, Guilin Sanhu liquor and Guilin pickled tofu.  I'll do my damnedest.

If you have any analogous advice, I'd love to hear it.  Keep in mind that I'm not likely to be able to wander away from the tour, that I don't speak Chinese (dammit!) and that the only places I'll be visiting, even fleetingly, are Beijing, Xi'an, Guilin, and Shanghai.  I'm looking for the thingsthat  you'd ask in retrospect:  "When you were in . . . did you . . . surely you must have . . . ?"

I have hopes of less superficial visits to China in the future.  But for now, your input would be greatly appreciated.  If you have opinionated friends, give them this URL.


Above:  Karst mountains within Guilin.  Yes, these things exist outside of Chinese art.  How cool is that? Yeah, you're right: the question answers itself.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Recreating "A Glass of Wine"


There can't be many science fiction writers who buy their writing materials at Ikea.  But that's what I did today.  Specifically, I bought a carafe, because . . .

Well, it takes a bit of explanation.  Back on July 2, 1991, I wrote a work of flash fiction called "A Glass of Wine" and scratched it onto a carafe I had lying around.  At that time, I forget which cheap wine came in carafes.  Whatever it was or is, Pennsylvania's state store system doesn't carry it anymore.  Or any other wines in carafes.  They've been replaced by boxes, I think.

The story-and-carafe were collectively a performance piece.  I went to a convention, bought a bottle of white wine to fill the carafe and requested a flock of clean wine glasses.  Then, when a friend came by, I'd say, "Read the story and I'll pour you a glass of wine."

So they'd read, I'd pour, they'd take a sip, and I'd say, "What do you say when somebody gives you something nice?"

And, suddenly realizing that after the story they'd read, there was only one possible answer, they'd smile and say it.

Alas, many long years ago, a decade at least, I dropped and broke the carafe.  But I saved the pieces thinking that maybe someday I'd replicate it.  It took me forever to get around to that particular chore because it's always easier to create something new than something old.  But today I happened to be in Ikea, saw a carafe, and decided it was time.

So I have my project for the weekend.

Those are the two carafes, the old and the new, up above.  It's going to be a pain copying the story from the shards to the new carafe because all other copies of the story were lost long ago.  But it'll be nice to have the old thing back.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Woman Who Shook the World-Tree


I'm in e-print again!  My story "The Woman Who Shook the World-Tree" is up at Tor.com.  You can read it there for free.

This is the fourth of five stories in David G. Hartwell's "Palencar Project."  David sent copies of John Jude Palencar's evocative painting above to a number of science fiction writers and challenged us to write stories for it.

It is not ego that makes me feel that my story is the best but, rather, a perfectly natural tendency to write the sort of fiction that one likes most.  I'm sure the other writers feel the same way about their own stories.  Nevertheless, there's a lot of fun to be had, reading all the stories and deciding which you prefer and under which conditions.

For me, the chief appeal of this story is Mariella Coudy, its protatonist.  She was an admirable character and one whom I enjoyed spending time with.

You can read the story here.

And you can find Palencar's website here.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

You Live, You Learn

Every day, I learn something new about writing.  On the 300-plus mile trip home today, Marianne and I were listening to books on disc, one of which was the collection of time travel stories I mentioned the other day.  So I got to listen to my own story read aloud by somebody else.  Which is something I've never done before.

Something every writer learns early on is that reading your story aloud is a great way to review it just before final draft.  The mistakes pop out at you.  

But hearing your story read aloud by someone else is an entirely different game.  It left me wishing I  could rewrite the story from top to bottom to make it more subtle.  There were no mistakes in it -- I'm a good enough writer yo avoid that.  But hearing it in someone else's voice made me want to rewrite the thing from top to bottom to correct nuances of tone.

That's today's lesson, and it's a variation on something I learned long, long ago:  No matter how good a story is, it can always be better.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Further Adventures of Misha Cyberpunk


It's always a happy event to be in print again.  And in Russia too!

I just received my contributor's copy of Esli (which is Russian for "If"), which contains a translation of "For I Have Lain Me Down on the Stone of Loneliness and I'll Not Be Back Again."

So how did they translate that?  As камень одиночества.  Which is to say, "The Stone of Loneliness."

You'll note that my name in Russian could at a glance be mistaken (by someone who isn't familiar with the Russian alphabet) for  Misha Cyberpunk.  A name which sounds extremely cool when you realize that in Russia cyberpunk is pronounced as if it begins with a K.  I first noticed this back in the 1980s and for a while I toyed with writing a story about Misha.  I remember plotting it out:  He was an emigre in New Jersey and a hacker -- a good one, too.  Misha Cyberpunk was his handle, rather than his real name.  I seem to recall that he was supposed to be a sleeper agent but that he'd gone native.  And that's all I remember except for the title: "Red Star."

I probably would've written the story, but it required a lot of research into computer hacking and there were a lot of people who knew much, much more than me writing hacker sf.   So I put it off, and now I can't even remember the plot.

Vaya con Dios, Misha.  Wherever you are today, I hope you're happy.

And also in yesterday's mail . . .

But wait!  There's more!  I also received a copy of The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Six edited by Jonathan Strahan.  Which includes my short story "The Dala Horse" along with some twenty-nine others..

I've only started reading the volume but so far every story I've read in it -- which is to say the first one, "The Case of Death and Honey" by Neil Gaiman -- is excellent.

As stories in a best-of-the-year volume ought to be.

And as always . . .

I'm on the road again.  But to  help shorten the way, I have a brand new set of audio disks, Timeless Time Travel Stories edited by Allan Kaster.  It is against the code to brag about my own story, "Scherzo With Tyrannosaur."  So I will merely mention that it won the Hugo Award when it first came out.

There are seven other time travel stories by writers whom every literate SF reader knows.  But I will admit that I'm particularly looking forward to Tom Purdom's "The Mists of Time," in which (as it says on the package) "historieans from the future are set on a high seas adventure to document a 19th century British Admiralty anti-slavery patrol."  Which inexplicably, since I'm a big fan of Tom's work, I managed to miss when it first appeared in print.  I must have been distracted that month.


Monday, March 19, 2012

The Wolfe Fete


To do this past weekend justice would require that I put in several days writing an essay.  Suffice it to say that when people imagine writers leading glamorous lives, what they conjure up is a pale shadow of what An Evening in Honor of Gene Wolfe was like.

As witness the above video which Bill Shunn posted on YouTube, showing Gene Wolfe, Neil Gaiman, Peter Sagal, Jill Thompson, Patrick O'Leary, David Hartwell, and yours truly, among others, riding the fabulous vintage carousel.  This was after the private tour, the ceremony, the speeches, Neil's reading of "A Solar Labyrinth," the staged reading of another of Gene's stories by Terra Mysterium (very well done), an organ concert, the presentation of the Fuller Award, dinner, and many, many toasts.

After which, we got to ride the carousel.

I also got to spend time with Michael Dirda, Gary Wolfe, Peter Straub, and many other people whom I like very much.  It was as pleasant a crowd as I have been in.  Its composition was, I think, as sincere an honor as any Gene has ever received.

And because my photography has never been brilliant . . .

Most of my pix came out dreadful.  But I'll share three of them with you.  Not for the craft, mind you, but for the subjects.

Above:  Critic and International Man of Mystery Michael Dirda on a white horse.

Above:  David G. Hartwell in the basement of the Sanfilippo Estate, with a sea of gramophones and steam engines behind him.  Just being there made you more steampunk that 99% of all steampunks combined.

And the third snap deserves a category heading all its own because . . .

Saturday morning, I went to the house of Fred Pohl and Betty Hull to help Fred and David G. Hartwell go through a box of J.K. Klein's photographs of science fiction writers from conventions long past.  Shown above is the very kitchen table where Fred and David and I pored through a couple thousand photos.

One of my favorites was James Blish in a costume of Arab robes and appropriate facial hair.  He entered the costume event as "L. Sprague de Blish."

Above:  I hope you noticed the casual way I dropped the word "Fred."  Frederik Pohl and I are on a first-name basis.  Did I mention that?  No?  Well, that's just how cool I am.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Comet in the Sun


This has nothing to do with me, other than the fact that I think it's nifty, so I'm posting it on Saturday.  NASA footage of a comet hitting the sun.



Friday, March 16, 2012

Honoring Gene Wolfe


I'm on the road again.  This time I'm on my way to Chicago for An Evening To Honor Gene Wolfe at the Sanfilippo Estate in Barrington Hills this Saturday.  The Chicago Literary Hall of Fame is honoring Gene with the first "Fuller Award," acknowledging his outstanding lifetime contribution to literature.

There will be a whole host of celebrities, and my part in the festivities will take up only a minute or two. So I'm spending an entire weekend and umpety-ump dollars in travel expenses on an event that will benefit my career very little.  And why?

Because Gene Wolfe deserves it.  He has done more to make written fiction a better place to invest your time than anybody else alive today.

This is also why Gary K. Wolfe,  Neil Gaiman, Terra Mysterium, Jennifer Stevenson, Peter Sagal, Michael Dirda, Peter Straub,  Jody Lynn Nye, Patrick O’Leary, David G. Hartwell, Audrey Niffenegger, Bill Fawcett, Kyle Cassidy, and Sam Weller (among others) will be there as well.

You can read about the event here.  I'll write a few words about the experience when it's over.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Remembering Octavia Butler Again


The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has just announced that this year's Aurora Awards, given to people "who have consistently had a positive, transformative influence on the genre of science fiction and fantasy," are going to John Clute and Octavia Butler.   I'm happy for John, who richly deserves the honor.  But my feelings are bittersweet when it comes to Octavia, because she's receiving the award posthumously.

You can read the announcement here.

And here's what I wrote back when . . .

The SFWA announcement quotes a short memorial I wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer when Octavia died.  So I thought I'd post it here for those who didn't read it back when.

Farewell to a Beloved Science-Fiction Writer
             Octavia Butler died suddenly last Friday at the all-too-young age of 58.  The news comes as a blow to the heart.  
Octavia was the first black woman to become internationally famous as a science-fiction writer.  In 1995, she was the first science-fiction writer ever to receive a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant.”  She won two Hugo and two Nebula awards, the highest honors science fiction has to offer.  But none of this is enough to explain why she was so beloved.

Part of the reason was her life story.  Octavia’s father was a shoeshine man who died when she was a child.  Her mother, also named Octavia, was a maid.  Determined to get her daughter the education she herself was denied, she asked all her employers for any reading material they no longer wanted.  Octavia once told me she grew up with what she called “the world’s largest collection of coverless and scribbled-in books.”  She went on to get a degree and become a distinguished writer.  When she won the MacArthur, she used the money to buy a house for herself, her mother, and two aunts, so that they need never fear being homeless.

Mostly Octavia was loved for her writing.  Her fiction tackled tough subjects like racism, poverty, gender, and religious extremism head-on.  In her novel Kindred, a contemporary African American woman travels back in time to save the life of a white, slave-owning ancestor.  In Parable of the Sower, Lauren Olamina, a girl who has grown up in a gated community, loses her family and is thrown into a near-future America that has fallen into anarchy and violence. Her response is to create a new religious philosophy based on the ideas that “God is Change” and that humanity’s future lies in the stars.  In Parable of the Talents, Lauren’s utopian community is destroyed by religious zealots and her own beliefs alienate the daughter she loves.

Octavia never settled for easy answers.  Before her health failed, she took long walks every day in whatever city she was in.  In her notebook, she jotted down all the problems she saw – the things that didn’t work, the places where people rubbed up against each other wrong.  She was looking for solutions that would work in the real world.

Because we lived on opposite coasts, Octavia and I were only occasional friends.  Last year I saw her twice.  Once in Seattle, where she was excited about a story one of her students had written because it posed difficult moral questions.  And, most recently, at an appearance at Robin’s Bookstore here in Philadelphia.  Octavia once said that she had three readerships which, taken all together, were just large enough to keep her afloat – feminists, people of color, and science fiction fans.  All three groups turned out to hear her at Robin’s.  They filled every available chair.  They choked the aisles.  They let her know how much she was loved.

When Octavia won the MacArthur she told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, “People may call these ‘genius grants,’ but nobody made me take an IQ test before I got mine.  I know I’m no genius.”  That’s true.  She was something better.  She was a woman who looked for the most difficult and important task she could possibly do, and then did it.  One result of having such high aspirations was frequent writer’s block.  Her last book, Fledgling, a vampire novel, was written as a kind of end run around her difficulty figuring out how to write the concluding volume of her “Earthseed” trilogy, The Parable of the Trickster.  But nobody who knew her doubted that eventually she would finish the series.  Octavia was determined.  Octavia was unstoppable.

Yet now she’s gone.  I’ll miss that deep, beautiful woodwind-like voice of hers.  I’ll miss her tall, imposing presence.  I’ll miss her sense of humor, her kindness, her courage, her strength.

Most of all, I’ll miss the books she never got the time to write.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Writing In My Sleep


Today was such a perfect day that I did no useful work at all.  Mostly I wandered about outside, enjoying the spring weather.  But I also took in John Carter, the movie that Disney in its wisdom decided shouldn't have the words of Mars appended to its title.  Synoptic review:  If you  liked the books when you were young, you'll enjoy it greatly.  But if this isn't your sort of thing, then I don't expect you'll give it a try.

And I was writing in my sleep again . . .

I've written in my sleep before, but this time was different.  This time, and for the first time ever, I wrote poetry.  Well, doggerel.  I make no claim as to its merit, other than the inherent interest of a piece written without the intervention of consciousness.  The title, however, is a retrofit because my sleeping self did not bother to provide one.

Joyce Kilmer Updated
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree
A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed
Against the earth's sweet-flowing breasts
With limbs lopped off by power lines
And stapled posters threatening fines
For wanderers who trespass here
And at its feet crushed cans of beer
Poems are made by fools like me
But modern life defiles a tree


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Looking Back At The Future


This was my childhood.  My father subscribed to both Popular Science and Mechanix Illustrated, and I used to go through his stacks of back issues looking for the "future in space" articles.  This one issue, from January 1956, had two articles by Willey Ley, another two by G. Harry Stine, and others by writers less well remembered.  How I loved this stuff!  And the future it promised too.

This is how the future looked to be, from Ley's article Here's When We'll Do It:

1957:  First unmanned artificial satellite.

1958:  First permanent unmanned artificial satellite.

1959/60:  Several additional artificial satellites for specialized purposes, including the first animals in space.

1965:  Permanent television relay satellites in space.  First manned rocket orbits Earth a dozen times.

1967/68:  Construction of several manned rockets.

1969/70:  Piloted rocket ships carry components into Earth orbit and build space station.

1970/72:  Drone rockets orbit the Moon and Venus.  No probe is necessary for Mars, because an Earth-orbital telescope has already snooped out its secrets.

1973:  First trip around the Moon without landing.

1975:  First expedition to the Moon, involving at least three ships.

1977:  First expedition to another world, probably the asteroid Eros.

1980/85:  Manned expeditions to Mars and Venus.

This is how the future was to be, with the caveat that if an effective nuclear rocket engine were successfully designed and built, everything after the space station would happen a whole lot faster.  And my Dad was one of the engineers who were making it happen.  I'm still proud of that.

Ley was spot-on about the date of the first artificial satellite, incidentally.  He just didn't think that it would be the Russians who launched it.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Keep Watching The Stars!


Jean Giraud, the artist best known as Moebius, died the other day.  He was 73.

I only met Giraud once, at a gallery opening for a show of his art, but he impressed me greatly.  We had a brief chat about spirituality and how much easier it is to write a story with a positive message than one with a negative one.  He was serious, open, without affectation.

At the same opening, I was present when Gardner Dozois, then editor of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, told Giraud he'd love to commission some magazine covers from him.  "Unfortunately, we pay in peanut shells and stale popcorn," he said.  But Giraud assured Gardner that he'd be willing to work below his usual pay level because he wanted to break into the book cover market.

Alas, though he tried mightily, Gardner couldn't get the art department to go along.  The art was too colorful, too inventive, too distinctive.  It didn't look like everything else.  I had a novel serialization coming up in Asimov's at that time, so there's a slight chance that in an alternate universe I have a Moebius cover in my past.  And an even greater one that Gardner that used the cover as a lure to get something spectacular from Gene Wolfe or Ursula K. Le Guin.  The man is cunning.

Now Moebius has left the building.  Travel well, Monsieur Giraud.  May the world you find yourself in be as bright and inventive and involving as the ones you invented for us.

And on a lighter note . . .

I come up with easy money-making ideas all the time.  Unfortunately, I'm not a money-maker.  So I might as well pass this one on to you:

You know those ugly jackets that emergency response personnel wear a crime scenes with POLICE or FBI or MORGUE or whatever in block letters on the back?  I bet one of those labeled PERP would sell really well.

Better than the one labeled VIC, anyway.

Above:  Star Watcher.  Note the book titled Tshai by "J.V."  Also the little man by her foot.  I have a serigraph of this hanging in my living room.  It doesn't grow old.


Friday, March 9, 2012

Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Writers


One of the candidates for vice president of SFWA has a proposal that a new category of member be created -- the Master or Professional category, for those who make a living from my own particular swindle of choice.  I won't go into the subtleties of his arguments or the complexity of his proposal.  But I will note that his definition of a Master Writer is one who earns at least five thousand dollars a year.

Give thousand dollars.  A year.

An attorney who made five thousand dollars a year wouldn't be called a Master Lawyer.  A CPO earning that little wouldn't be a Master Accountant.  A doctor earning that little would be an abject failure.  But if you're a writer, the bar for dazzling success is that low.

It's enough to make my inner catcher in the rye want to stand by the hideous cliff of Publication and shout, "Kids!  Turn back!  Become carpenters or truck drivers or nurses!  Even pizza delivery guys do better than this!"

But of course no writer is ever sensible enough to heed such advice.  As one of our number once observed: We're all mad here.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Bottom's Dream

I was watching what I persist in thinking of as Kevin Kline's A Midsummer Night's Dream last night, though of course more properly the movie belongs to director Michael Hoffman, and when I came to the Pyramis and Thisbe play-within-a-play could not help but think of Hamlet. There are an infinite number of Hamlets and while many of them are bad, none of them are boring.  Hamlet is always worth watching.

In which context, I couldn't help thinking that Pyramis and Thisbe is Shakespeare's demonstration that while theater  can be very, very (and sometimes very, very, very) bad, it is inherently gripping.  When Thisbe, falsetto voice and inability to act convincingl, and all, comes upon the dead body of her lover, the audience falls silent. It's bad. The script is ludicrous.  The actors suck. And yet.

And yet.

Theater is good.  Even bad theater is better than no theater at all.

This is Bottom's dream: That inadequate as he is, he might (possibly with the help of un- sub- or supernatural forces) be a part of something true, something enduring.

Which is my dream as well.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Literary Oddity: The Corrector of Destinies


I have been reading The Corrector of Destinies by Melville Davisson Post.  It is an odd book indeed, a collection of stories written perhaps a hundred years ago that are very like detective stories but are not detective stories, and even more like mysteries, but only because they're not much like anything else.

Luckily, the stories have a formula, so they're easy to describe.  The narrator is Courtland Parks, secretary to the brilliant but frigidly emotionless lawyer Randolph Mason.  Clients driven to impoverishment and desperation by the machinations of some unscrupulous fraud or criminal, seek out Mason, hoping against hope that he can restore their fortunes.  After (rather perfunctorily) determining that their cause is just, Mason haughtily issues instructions that seem to achieve the exact opposite of what is desired.  When he is obeyed, however, he reveals that through a technicality of the law, the deed signed is not valid, the check will not be honored, the will must be overturned.  Then, after the grateful client goes away rejoicing, the legal citations are given so that the curious (and judicially literate) may verify the legitimacy of the ploy.

Such legal loopholes, a reader cannot help but think, could equally easily (and far more profitably) be abused.  And, indeed, my research determined that the first two volumes of Randolph Mason stories had him advising criminals on how to break the law with impunity.  Apparently Post's editor had a  few words of good advice to share between volumes two and three.

One of the charms of a mystery story is trying to figure out whodunnit or whydunnit or whatever the mystification is that the writer sets before you.  Followed by the satisfaction of admiring his or her cleverness.  But unless you are, as Post was, a lawyer, you have absolutely no chance of guessing the solution before it's presented to you.

And yet the stories have a certain charm.  I confess to liking them a lot and for much the same reasons one likes a well-crafted mystery story.

Even though, as I said, I don't think they're really mysteries.

An engaging essay by Joseph Bottum on Mason, with emphasis on his Uncle Abner stories, can be found here.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012



I posted about this once before, I think.  But what the heck.  The topic never grows old.

For years, Gardner Dozois and I suffered for being honest men.  Periodically, we'd get to reminiscing about the pop culture of our youths and inevitably we'd both enthuse about the artistic genius of the Banana Man.  Nobody believed us.

"This is like Hoppity Hooper, isn't it?" Marianne would say.  "You guys just made it up."

"No!  Really!  And Hoppity Hooper is real too!" I'd respond.  And wind up looking a lot like Jimmy Stewart in Harvey, another honest man who suffered for the clarity of his vision.

Thank God for the Internet!  It took years for the clips to be uploaded, but when they were, they vindicated my youth.

The Internet also proved that the Banana Man I knew was not the original Banana Man.  A. Robin (performing above), who created the act, died in 1950.  The man who appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and yearly on Captain Kangaroo was Sam Levine, who bought the act from Robins and did very well by it.

Here's his version:

I'm amazed there aren't Marxist schools of Bananamanology, obsessively analyzing every least nuance of the act.  Because it's clearly a leftist critique of Capitalism, magically producing endless amounts of consumer goods and then throwing them all away.

Oh, yeah, and Hoppity Hooper?  Also real.  As witness:

You can see why nobody believed me.


Monday, March 5, 2012

We're Going To Need A Bigger Telescope

This is just cool.  Scientists have proved the existence of life on Earth by analyzing Earthshine reflected from the Moon.  What, you may well ask, is the big deal -- anecdotal evidence ought to be sufficient, right?  True enough, for this one planet. But the same techniques, applied to extrasolar planets, may someday prove the existence of life Elsewhere.

We're going to need bigger telescopes than what we've got, though.  I'm rooting for an Insanely Large Array on the dark side of the Moon.  Or maybe coordinated satellites in distant solar orbit.

You can read the io9 article here.

Meanwhile, of the five hundred some extrasolar planets discovered to date, ten appear not to be linked to any identifiable stars.  Which means that nomadic planets may outnumber committed planets in our galaxy two to one.  These free agents roam the interstellar darkness, bleak and alone . . . and some of them, conceivably, may harbor life.

The published speculation is that a free agent with a large enough atmosphere could trap sufficient heat from radioactive decay or tectonic activity to provide a friendly environment for microorganisms.  Then, when one of these planets blundered into a stellar system, collisions with local bodies could spread life in the most destructive and terrifying manner imaginable.

But that's timid stuff.  I like to think there are planets wandering the Great Dark with liquid oceans beneath tremendously thick shells of ice.  And in those oceans . . . civilizations.  Submarine cities with delicate coral spires and towers, filled with philosophers and minstrels, lovers, fools, librarians, and artists.  Wise and peaceful races which not only are unaware of the existence of life elsewhere in the universe but don't even suspect the rest of the universe exists.

I wish them well.

You can read the Spaceref article here.

And because I'm blogging it old-school today . . .

Remember when blogs were just lists of links?  I was feeling nostalgic today.  Which is why there isn't a picture or a video up top of this post.  So, to make it up to you, here's a classic clip of what happens when you add an Alka Seltzer tablet to a sphere of water in zero gravity.



Friday, March 2, 2012

Unifit For Eden


Two packages from Great Britain arrived in the mail yesterday. So I have a new story and a book intro fresh out in print.  There they are, up above, photographed on my office rug.

The foreword was written for Strange Divisions & Alien Territories: The Sub-Genres of Science Fiction, edited by Keith Brooke.  It begins:

Exactly what is a sub-genre?  The answer seems so obvious when one poses the question.  But a moment's thought undoes all such certainty.
This is, pretty obviously, an anthology of non-fiction essays by various writers on the sub-genres of hard science fiction, space opera, fiction about aliens, planetary adventure, time travel, alternate history, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, religious SF, topian fictions, cyberpunk, superhuman powers, and posthumanity, written by Gary Gibson, Alastair Reynolds, Justina Robson, Catherine Asaro & Kate Dolan, John Grant, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, James Lovegrove, Adam Roberts, Keith Brooke, James Patrick Kelly, Paul Di Filippo, and Tony Ballantyne, with an afterword by Keith Brooke.   Which is to say, people who know what they're talking about.

Jim Kelly's contribution is titled "Who Owns Cyberpunk?"  Which I would hold up for your admiration as being a very good title.  My own answer would be "Bruce Sterling, but only because William Gibson doesn't want it."  But Jim gives the question a far more thoughtful and incisive examination.

Unfit for Eden is issue 26/27 of Postscripts, the hardcover anthology edited by Peter Crowther and Nick Gevers.  I haven't read any of the other stories yet, but they include offerings by Michael Bishop, Eric Brown Matthew Hughes, Kit Reed, Mike Resnick, Darrell Schweitzer, and Neal Barrett, Jr., among others, so it's a pretty safe bet. 

My own contribution is "Pushkin the American," which begins:

The American, whose name has since been forgotten, came to Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains in the year 1817.  He was a young man and whatever disgrace had driven him so far from home had been left behind in his native Philadelphia.  Somehow he had found work as the secretary of an American industrialist who, along with his wife, was making a tour of Russia with a particular eye to the natural riches of the Urals.

The story answers the question of how a young American with no knowledge of the Russian language could go on to become one of Russia's greatest writers.

After I wrote "Libertarian Russia," every Russian or Russian-American writer I encountered for the next year demanded to know what I meant by it.  I can't imagine what they'll say about this one.

And because you're wondering about this blog's title . . .

The spine of the Postscripts hardcover has a typo.  In enormous letters, it reads:  UNIFIT FOR EDEN.  I'm sure they've already heard from a lot of people about this.  But it's nowhere near the typo that L. Sprague de Camp's Rogue Queen suffered when it was reprinted by Bluejay Books as ROUGE QUEEN

That was one for the ages.