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[sticky post] Jul. 4th, 2032

Welcome to my blog. I've been doing this for a long time, so if you're new here, you might want to start with my bio and tags. I confess that these days, I spend most of my social-network time on Tumblr (because it's the most-positive place on the internets!) and Facebook (because that's where everyone is), so drop by one of those if you'd like to hang out.

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I hope you enjoy!
Chris
I would never have imagined that a 100mm refractor would be such great deep-sky telescope. I've always been a fan of reflectors, because they offer so much more light for the money than refractors do. This is my first refractor! In the past 30+ years, I've owned at least eight reflectors (including a few I made myself), and still own two big ones: a 12" Schmidt-Cassegrain design that uses a corrector plate across the front opening of the tube to correct the imperfect mirror, and a 17" Newtonian reflector on a simple Dobsonian mount (the cheapest way to get the most light - the 'scope in my userpic). For the price of that 100mm (about 4" diameter lens) - if I had bought it new (I got it nearly new from eBay for a steal) - I could have bought a reflector with many times the light-gathering power. Here's what it looks like:

So why buy such a thing? For one, I already have two wonderful reflectors. But they're both pretty large to lug around (90 and 150+ pounds). I also knew (academically) that, compared to a good refractor, the quality of the image in a reflector suffers because the secondary mirror (and holder) get in the way of the incoming light, and at high powers produce issues at the edge of the field (except in very expensive, multi-optic hybrid designs). On the other hand, a cheap refractor's image only suffers when it disperses the light passing through its lens into various color components, because those different wavelengths of light usually separate, like this:

It turns out that the refractor I bought is pretty kick-ass. The optical design of my 'scope is an "apochromatic ED." Unlike an low-cost but decent "achromatic" refractor, an apo converges all the frequencies of light at the same focal point (or close enough for the human eye). Less expensive "achromatic" telescopes do not use the best glass, failing to converge blue-through-violet light very well, so that range of light appears as a fuzzy halo around the object you are viewing (and usually suffering in sharpness, as well). This is less of an issue with dim objects like globular clusters, nebulae, or galaxies, but it becomes a nuisance with brighter objects like the Moon, stars, and planets. Also, the colors dispersed are lost information, subtracted from the resolution of the object, thus reducing the image quality, thus defeating the entire point of a refractor over a reflector.

To combat these issues, an apochromatic objective uses multiple glass lenses mated together to converge the various frequencies of light, thus managing the refractive dispersion through the elements. Sometimes apos use rare materials (like fluorite or other low-dispersion glass) in the lens composition. As you might imagine, these are expensive propositions - simply adding a second or third lens doubles or triples the cost, and if the glass used costs, say, 10x as much... well, you get the idea. The very best, observatory-quality refractors use a combination of both strategies, and the price for such an instrument is astronomical (ba-da-boom, tsch!).

Mine achieves apochromatic quality by using two lenses, one of which is made of extra-low dispersion (hence the "ED") FPL-53 glass (made only in Japan) to provide super-sharp images with no false color. Mine isn't the top of the line, but it's pretty close. Sure, if it used fluorite instead of FPL-53, it might be slightly better. Or if both lenses were that kind of glass, or if it were a triplet (three lenses). But telescopes like that are MUCH more expensive, costing around $3000 - I got mine, complete with a dual-drive equatorial mount, for about $600. But why? Objects in my 'scope are free of false color (chromatic aberration), sharp, and don't lose any light to dispersion, either.

I've used this 'scope for a couple of years now, mostly because it's so convenient to drag in and out of the house, but never knew all it was capable of. It required a team effort. The real eye-opener for me was how much difference a great eyepiece makes. I've always used decent eyepieces, but these new Explore Scientific eyepieces are frakking amazing! Here's my new case for my 2" eyepieces (the new ones are those with yellow-green spots on the side):

HOLY WOW! The widest field-of-view eyepiece I've ever owned is my William Optics Swan 33mm (it's the one in the photo with the orange bottom cap). It offers 72° apparent field of view (how wide an angle the view in the eyepiece looks to you, the observer), which I thought was pretty amazing. It's still my lowest-power eyepiece (magnification comes from dividing telescope focal length by eyepiece focal length - my 100mm has a focal ratio of f/9, meaning 900mm focal length), offering up a magnification of 27x in this 'scope, with a true field of 2.7° of the sky (about 5 times as wide as the full Moon). Pretty nice, I thought! Sure, the quality of the image at the edge is imperfect, and the sharpness could be better, but it was as nice as I ever used.

Enter the 30mm Explore Scientific 82° wide-field eyepiece of joy.

I started last night's observing session with the Great Orion Nebula, directly overhead in Kansas at around 11pm. The first eyepiece I dropped into the focuser was the most massive once I've ever used, a 30mm with 82° (apparent) field of view. The huge swath of sky it provided was simply astounding - especially when it caught a meteor streaking across the belt of Orion! I didn't bring any astrophotography gear (I was just in my front yard, after all), but here's a nice drawing of about how it looks to the naked eye in a telescope of about this light-gathering power:

This puppy is about the size of my fist and weighs 2.2 pounds (!). Its field of view is so ultra-wide that I had to move my head around to get the full view, making the experience feel like I was looking out through a spaceship's porthole rather than through a telescope eyepiece. Even though the magnification is greater (30x), its true field was wider than with the 33mm! It also has a very large 6.7mm exit-pupil(how wide the cone of light coming through is), which is even larger than some eyes can dilate. It's difficult to explain just how amazingly immersive such a view is until you try it.

Other cool features of this eyepiece: It's O-ring sealing and argon-purged. This makes it completely waterproof, prevents internal fogging, keeps the interior dust- and fungus-free, and makes it easier to clean (no risk of cleaning solution getting trapped inside). It'll stay clear for a lifetime - guaranteed. Its 21mm of eye relief provides unvignetted (no darkening around the edge) views a full inch beyond the lens closest to your eye - this is not only great in general, but makes it easier for eyeglass wearers to observe without removing their glasses. Of course, doing so would mean missing out on a lot of the potential field of view. Its six-element optical design uses low dispersion and high-refractive-index lenses (same benefits as in a telescope's objective) in four groups. All the lens surfaces are fully multi-coated as well, and the lens edges are blackened to improve contrast. All of this adds up to the highest contrast, highest resolution, sharpest resolution, and flattest ultra-wide field of view I've ever seen.

LOVE

Then I moved to the next-smaller Explore Scientific eyepiece, a 24mm (also 82° FOV), which provided 38x and a true field of view of 2.2°, so wide that even the hugely wide Orion Nebula only took up the center of the image. AMAZING! I spent some time with this eyepiece before moving to the next-higher-magnification unit....

Enter the Explore Scientific 14mm 100° apparent-FOV eyepiece. This puppy is just about as large as the longer-focal-length unit (almost 2 pounds), though with a narrower and longer barrel to accommodate nine optical elements of rare-earth glass. Though 100 doesn't seem that much larger than 82, those extra 18° provide nearly 50&percent; wider FOV. So the 64x magnification this one provides still offered up nearly 1.6° of true field - that's three times as wide as the full Moon! This is truly astounding to someone whose prior experience is mostly having used what I thought was a nice Plossl 24mm with 52° FOV - that's less true FOV at much lower power.

So, I asked myself, what will the highest-magnification Explore Scientific unit offer? It has 9mm of focal length, providing 100x... but because of the huge field of view, this high power was still a full degree - twice as wide as the full Moon! I had no idea that a high-power eyepiece could be so comfortable to use, or provide such a "spacewalk" sensation, or offer up such crisp, high-resolution to-the-edge views. Man, now I wish I'd ordered the mega-power 5.5mm that was also on mega-sale! It would have provided 164x while still offering a FOV slightly wider than the full Moon! *boggles mind*

At the end of the night (pretty late by now - after 1am, I'm afraid), I noticed that Jupiter was just starting to peek out from the trees, so I thought why not? Sure, I would be looking a lot of humid atmosphere, over the neighbor's house, and through branches, but it's my fave planet. My apo plus 9mm SOOPER EYEPIECE did not let me down. Four Galilean moons and stormy Jupiter all served up as nice as through a cheap eyepiece looking directly overhead. Just wow.

Oh, and surprise! All these eyepieces turn out to be parfocal, meaning you don't need to do significant re-focusing when shifting from one to the next. That's a major bonus when swapping eyepieces, especially when moving to high magnifications (which also magnify your bumping the 'scope whenever you touch it), where you can lose an object and have to start over finding it at a lower power.

And the best part? We live in an age when you can get incredible eyepieces like this during online, pre-xmas sales for just a little more than the price of a so-so eyepiece (I bought all four for about the retail price of just the 14mm.

HOORAY SCIENCE

Chris
Illustrator and author Ron Miller specializes in, among other things, incredible visualizations of other worlds. He has rendered the surface of Titan, peered into black holes for Discover magazine, and designed a Pluto stamp that is currently hurtling toward the far reaches of our solar system aboard the New Horizons spacecraft. Now, Miller brings his visualizations back to Earth for a series exploring what our skies would look like with Saturn's majestic rings. Miller strived to make the images scientifically accurate, adding nice touches like orange-pink shadows resulting from sunlight passing through the Earth's atmosphere. He also shows the rings from a variety of latitudes and landscapes, from the U.S. Capitol building to Mayan ruins in Guatemala.

We'll start with Washington, D.C. and work south.

Rings over Washington D.C.
Ron Miller

Rings over Washington D.C.


From Washington, D.C., the rings only fill a portion of the sky, but appear striking nonetheless. Here, we see them at sunrise.

Rings from Guatemala
Ron Miller

Rings from Guatemala


From Guatemala, only 14 degrees above the equator, the rings begin to stretch across the horizon. Their reflected light makes the moon much brighter.

Saturn"s rings from Earth"s equator
Ron Miller

Saturn's rings from Earth's equator


From Earth's equator, Saturn's rings are visible edge-on, appearing as a thin, bright line bisecting the sky.

Equinox at the equator
Ron Miller

Equinox at the equator


At the March and September equinoxes, the Sun is positioned directly over the rings, casting a dramatic shadow at the equator.

Tropic of Capricorn, midnight
Ron Miller

Tropic of Capricorn, midnight


At midnight at the Tropic of Capricorn, which sits at 23 degrees south latitude, the Earth casts a shadow over the middle of the rings, while the outer portions remain lit.

Gallery assembled by Jason Davis for the Planetary Society.

My tweets

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Mission Tomorrow ebook giveaway contest!

EBOOK GIVEAWAY CONTEST!

In the new original anthology Mission Tomorrow, science fiction writers imagine the future of space exploration with NASA no longer dominant. Will private companies rule the stars or will new governments take up the call? From Brazilians to Russians to Chinese, the characters in these stories deal with everything from strange encounters, to troubled satellites and space ships, to competition for funding and getting there first. Nineteen stories of what-if spanning the gamut from Mercury to Pluto and beyond. Edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt.

Stories by:

Robin Wayne Bailey
Ben Bova
Michael Capobianco
Curtis C. Chen
Jaleta Clegg
Brenda Cooper
Michael F. Flynn
James Gunn
Sarah A. Hoyt
David D. Levine
Jack McDevitt
Angus McIntyre
Chris McKitterick (yrs truly!)
Mike Resnick
Lezli Robyn
Alex Shvartsman
Robert Silverberg
Jack Skillingstead
Jay Werkheiser

At the publisher's request, the ebook is sold without DRM. (The paperback edition comes out on November 3.) And because Baen Books is cool in a lot of other ways, too, they're letting the contributing authors give away copies of the ebook. So...

Because my story takes place near Jupiter, I'm making my contest simple.So, want to win a free copy of the Mission Tomorrow ebook? Here's how:

  1. Share your favorite image, video, story, or other cool thing about the planet Jupiter. Can be science-ey, science-fictional, or whatever most toots your horn. I embrace multitudes.

  2. Post on a social network we both use. I'm on Dreamwidth, Facebook, Goodreads, Google+, LiveJournal, Tumblr, and Twitter.

  3. Mention the new anthology of space-exploration stories, Mission Tomorrow.

  4. Tag me in your post so I get a notification (and can therefore see your post!). My day-job combined with a writing career and running the Gunn Center makes me perilously busy, so unless I'm tagged I miss tons of great stuff.

This is an ongoing contest! I'll be giving away a copy to my faves through the week of the release event (at Jayhawk Ink Bookstore at the University of Kansas), November 16.

How do you know if you've won? I'll tag winners here or on whichever social-network we share! Then just drop me an email and I'll send you your free copy.

So, let's see some awesome Jupiter stuff! I wanna give away some FREE EBOOKS!

Sep. 15th, 2015

Spreading the word! I've been mostly away from LJ, enjoying the simplicity and post-richness of Tumblr, but LJ is my first social-networking love. So:

Wuxi, pool party
Picture by Wuxi on Flickr
Feeling like you're drifting all alone in the once-fun-but-now-too-quiet pool of LiveJournal? Not to worry! silviarambles is running a friending meme!

Friending Meme for LJ Survivors - 2015 Re-edition

Please remember that friending frenzies work only if you spread the word, so - even if you're not looking for more friends - would you mind doing me a big favor and pimping the meme on your own journals?

Thanks!

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A few words on the results of this year's Hugo Awards, and how it was a win for science fiction.

It's science-fiction's job to point out the problems of the world. When we see the dominant paradigm as harmful, we seek change. We're subversive and transgressive.

Hierarchical, conservative, or privileged people and organizations don't like to hear what's wrong with them or the status quo. People who don't like having problems with the world pointed out don't respect science fiction. Academia can be one of the most like this, which is why for so long the study of SF – and still, in most places, the graduate study of SF – has been discouraged, blocked, or disrespected. Organizations that fear and loathe change really don't like having colleagues whose job it is to study and point out what's wrong with the status quo, and elaborate on how to fix it. Especially if the fix means they'll lose power.

On the other hand, this aspect of SF is a big part of why disempowered, disrespected, and disenfranchised people have always been attracted to SF. For them, life is always difficult. The world is not kind to the disempowered. SF offers critiques of the world-that-was and visions of the world-that-can-be.

We need to attract more people of color, women, disabled, and so forth into the SF community. We need to support and welcome those who are disadvantaged or oppressed by society at large. Their perspectives are vital to the SF conversation. Fresh new voices offer novel critiques of the world (and our community) and new visions of ourselves and the future, and if that isn't what SF is all about, nothing is.

Your motivations need not be altruistic. Excluding those best at keeping SF vital would mean missing out on a huge audience for our work. People rejected by SF will go elsewhere, seeking writers and publishers who listen to what they want.

This is why I'm so pleased to see how the Hugo Awards turned out. Though it's painful to see so many worthy people and works fall below the Puppy Hate-Slate, the voting proved that the SF community won't be bullied. It proved that we reject rejecting change. It proved that we want to be inclusive, that we still want to boldly explore the unknown, that we still critique the status quo – even our own.

But the war is not won. Those for whom the status quo provides privilege fear change, because saying things could be different suggests they're no longer entitled to continue running the world as it has always been just because that's the way things are. Change threatens the eternal, unchanging perpetuation of their power structures. If you're incapable of change yourself, change is scary. People who can't get past their fears come to hate what they fear. Change is dangerous and threatening.

But not all futures are dystopias.

SF's enemy is not just the entrenched elite and powerful, not just the Establishment. These last few years have revealed a sickness within the SF community. People like the Gamergaters and Rabid Puppies. Misogynists and racists and other types of bigots seem to be suddenly appearing all over SF's domicile. But they've always been there, festering in the back rooms. We turned on a light in a store-room and discovered cockroaches scurrying about. Many of us just weren't aware of them, oblivious and happily chatting with others like us on SF's light-filled patio. The patriarchy might not be alive and well in SF, but that roach-farm has certainly been energetic. Fear-mongers – all people who don't question their privilege and prejudices – will continue to fight change unless they can open their minds and embrace SF's core values: Question, Critique, Change.

Whenever we see it, we must immediately combat the attempts at exclusionism of such people. Keep shining lights into the dark spaces. Keep stomping out those cockroaches when they try to infest the kitchen.

This is not a war we can win through combat. We need to swiftly support the disadvantaged and make them feel welcome into the SF community. Because if we don't, we lose out on gaining valuable new members of our community. Fresh new voices with fresh visions. Losing them would mean weakening the heart of science fiction, while – to stretch the metaphor a bit – bringing in new blood only strengthens us.

Congratulations to those who managed to win a Hugo this year. Kudos to the brave, principled people who withdrew their names when it appeared the Puppies were your allies. I applaud you! And condolences to the worthy people who were disenfranchised by the Puppies’ nominations slate. I can’t imagine how much it must suck to know this could have been your Hugo, this year. They gamed the system in an attempt to force SF backwards in time. They threw their bodies at the windows as hard as they could, but they weren’t numerous enough to block the light. I love alternate history as much as anyone else, but we’re already familiar with the tired old genre-narrative they want to tell. It’s been done. They lost this game, but they’ll be back. Infestations are notoriously difficult to eradicate.

The results of the 2015 Hugo Awards proves that the SF community is far larger and more vital than those who operate out of hate and fear can imagine. Science fiction is the literature of the human species encountering change. We explore possibilities and push boundaries. We ask the next question, and then the one after that.

So congratulations, Science Fiction! You were the big winner at this year's Hugo Awards.

ConQuesT 46 - The Adventure Begins HERE!

This weekend is Kansas City's annual SF convention, ConQuesT 46! I'm doing several panels, a writing workshop, and a reading, and I'll be at many of the night-time room parties and the Sunday-afternoon Charity Auction. My schedule is now on Sched, like all the other presenters', but here's the short version:

Friday 3:00pm: World Building - Creating Alien Languages.
Friday 4:00pm: ConQuesT Writers' Workshop.
Friday 7:00pm: Opening Ceremonies.
Friday night: Find me on the Party Floor!
Saturday 1:00pm: Writing For Younger Audiences.
Saturday 4:00pm: Reading - Ad Astra Road Trip (Book 1 of the Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella).
Sunday 10:00am: True Heroines and Diversity in Speculative Fiction, hosted by Hadley Rille Books.
Saturday night: Find me on the Party Floor!
Sunday 1:00pm: AboutSF.
Sunday 2:00pm: Charity Auction.

Hope to see you there!
Today is the 25th anniversary of Hubble Space Telescope’s launch! NASA is celebrating with a special Hubble 25th website: x. Hover over the photos below for info.

This one's the hero of our story:

</div>
Westerlund 2 in Carina: star-forming region of 3000 stars
Tadpole Galaxy
Carina Nebula panorama
Baby planets in the Orion Nebula!
Two colliding spiral galaxies called &quot;The Antennae.&quot;
Hubble revisits one of its most famous subjects, aka &quot;The Pillars of Creation.&quot;
All those little dark bumps are going to be baby stars one day.
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Want to see all the best photos? Check out the Hubble Heritage Site for billions more: x

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Did you know that lots of asteroids have moons? Check it out:

Scientists working with NASA's 230-foot-wide (70-meter) Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California, have released the first radar images of asteroid 2004 BL86. (These are also the folks responsible for the New Horizons mission to Pluto, which arrives soon!)

The resolution on the radar images is 13 feet (4 meters) per pixel. It made its closest approach yesterday (January 26, 2015, 10:19 am Central time) just 745,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) from us, about 3.1 times the distance as far away as the Moon.

Best part? The images reveal that asteroid 2004 BL86 has its own small moon.

The asteroid is approximately 1,100 feet (325 meters) across and has a small moon approximately 230 feet (70 meters) across. In the near-Earth-object (NEO) population, about 16 percent of asteroids larger than 650 feet (200 meters) or larger have one - or even two! - small moons orbiting them.

The trajectory of the asteroid is well understood. Monday's flyby was the closest approach the asteroid will make to Earth for at least the next two centuries. It is also the closest a known asteroid this size will come to Earth until asteroid 1999 AN10 flies past our planet in 2027.</p>

Asteroid 2004 BL86 was discovered on Jan. 30, 2004, by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) survey in White Sands, New Mexico.

NASA places a high priority on tracking asteroids and protecting our home planet from them, the most robust and productive survey and detection program for discovering NEOs in the world. NASA partners with government agencies, university-based astronomers, space science institutes across the country, and amateur astronomers, plus international space agencies and institutions working to track and better understand these objects. (I helped with the NEO search, too, back in the mid-1990s, as part of the Hobbs Observatory mission. That was frakkin' cool, except the part where I had to use an Apple II to run the telescope.)

Snips from a couple of amateur vids:

This tiny little world has a moon of its own! Space exploration is awesome.
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Speaking of, The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella progress:












Have you ever seen anything more astounding or beautiful than Saturn's hexagonal storm system in its north pole?

The eye of this storm is about 50 times larger than the average hurricane eye on Earth. Winds are measured by following small clouds over a five-hour period. The winds at the inner ring are moving the fastest, at speeds of about 340 mph (550 kph) relative to the nominal rate for the planet established by NASA's Voyager spacecraft in 1980. These winds are four times the speed of the Earth's jet streams and more than four times the definition of a hurricane force wind on Earth. (Hurricane force winds blow at 74 mph, or 119 kph.)

The clouds at the very center are spinning rapidly - almost twice as fast as the planet itself, with a period just over six hours. The direction of rotation is counterclockwise, like a northern hemisphere hurricane on Earth, except there is no ocean underneath. A similar feature exists at Saturn’s southern pole, and it spins in the same direction as that of a southern hemisphere hurricane on Earth. However, the hurricanes on Earth begin in the tropics and drift around. The polar hurricanes on Saturn are locked to their poles.

The bright clouds form a tightly wrapped spiral that traces a path toward the center as one follows it in a counterclockwise direction. This spiral could be a wave or actual particle motion toward the center from a disturbance further out. Or it could be the remnants of a compact cloud that got sheared apart by the higher angular velocity closer to the center. Choosing among these possibilities is the subject of ongoing research.

NASA also has a great little video of this massive, freakishly shaped hurricane here.

Source: NASA's Cassini mission.

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2015: Welcome to the FUTURE

Happy New Year! It's long past time for an update here, methinks! So, let's start with fun stuff:

Public appearances

On October 25, I gave a short reading with two awesome spec-fic writers, Don Allmon and Benjamin D. Cartwright, from our novels-in-progress. At The Raven Book Store in Lawrence.
I've been on the "Central Standard" on NPR's Kansas City station: KCUR, 89.3 FM show a couple of times in the past month or so:

Writing

Reached 115,270 words as of this morning on Ad Astra Road Trip (book 1 of 3 in The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella). Since completing final grades for Fall semester last week, I've nearly finished the draft of the novel. But being so close to the end reveals many things that require going back through and consistifying, enhancing, filling out, and so forth. I've revised the persistent metaphors and imagery for Stella and Jack, rewritten dialogue, cut extraneous language, etc etc. To paraphrase James Gunn, writing is all about revision: You don't know really what you're doing until you've finished the draft - that's when the real writing begins. SO CLOSE to the end. How much is left? Let's call it less than 10k more. My goal is to wrap up the first complete draft before the start of Spring semester... that's less than two weeks from now, and I have a lot of Work-work to do in that time, as well. Eeek. Wish me luck. (PS: Considering I'd initially targeted 70k words, that means I'm almost done with Book Two? Right? Um, yeah, I don't think it works that way.)

Published a couple nonfiction pieces: "Frederik Pohl: Mr Science Fiction (A Love Story)" for Foundation, and a memorial piece about Fred for Elizabeth Anne Hull's Fredzine: The Frederik Pohl Memorial 'Zine, shared with attendees of the Frederik Pohl Memorial Celebration on August 2.

Wrote another half-dozen fragmentary bits for my memoir, Stories from a Perilous Youth. Really looking forward to diving in to that after sending J&S off for agential attentions.

Sold "Orpheus' Engines" (short story) to the original anthology, Mission Tomorrow: A New Century Of Exploration, due out from Baen next fall.

Also got my largest royalty check to date for Transcendence, which feels pretty awesome, considering that the book came out four years ago! (Four years. Gods.)

Personal

I don't know if I've said here, but my mom died on October 4. It's been really on my mind a lot, especially lately.
*

Once again, you're a lot more likely to see things from me over on my Tumblr (mckitterick), but I still drop in here from time to time. It's my homeland!

Best,
Chris
First off, apologies for posting here so seldom. Most of my blogs appear first on Tumblr (mckitterick.tumblr.com), because it's so much faster to post stuff there, and it so easily cross-blogs to my Facebook and my Twitter accounts. LJ and DW are just SO SLOW to use.... If you're on Tumblr and/or Twitter, please follow me there and I'll do the same, so we can stay in better contact!

Anyhow. On with the AWESOME.

Welcome to a comet

These are the FIRST PHOTOS FROM THE SURFACE OF A COMET.

First touchdown

Comet from 40 metres

And if you want to see the first DRAMATIC AS HELL images of the comet from space, check out yesterday's post here.

Rosetta's little Philae probe lands safely on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko!

The top photo shows one of the lander's feet in the foreground, safely on the ground. The second and third shots show where Philae hoped to land, but bounced: I love this description:

"Soon after the lander touched down yesterday, scientists realized they had a problem. A pair of harpoons designed to tether the probe to the surface of the comet never fired. The probe weighed more than 200 pounds when it was on Earth, but on the comet, it weighs about as much as a sheet of paper. So with nothing to hold it down, it bounced. Data now shows the first bounce took more than two hours. A second bounce lasted just a few minutes. The first photo from the surface showed the lander's leg next to a rugged-looking outcropping of rock or ice. It is humanity's first view from the surface of a comet."

The last image was taken by Philae's down-looking descent ROLIS imager when it was about 40 meters above the surface. The photos reveal a surface covered by dust and debris ranging from millimeter to meter sizes. The large block in the top-right corner is 5 meters across.

We'll get full-panorama shots FROM THE SURFACE OF A COMET later today. The aim of the ROLIS (Rosetta Lander Imaging System) experiment is to study the texture and microstructure of the comet's surface. Photo source.

PS: Bonus photo... someone giffed the Rosetta and Philae landing images from xkcd:

Amazing astro-porn thanks to NASA - no Photoshop here.

Hubble captures a comet in the same frame as Mars:


Sunspot group on the Sun that's bigger than Jupiter:


The Sun in hydrogen-alpha, from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory:


For reference about that sunspot group:


Science is awesome.

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This is a term I want to use a LOT. What is a SOLAR TORNADO, you ask? It begins with a SOLAR STORMFRONT:



This storm on the Sun is many times the size of Earth. It's spinning at about 12 miles per second, and rising at 90 miles per second:


And here's an animated gif of a SOLAR TORNADO, five times the size of planet Earth:



I frakkin' love science.

PS: I'm doing a reading tomorrow with two other awesome spec-fic writers at The Raven Book Store in Lawrence, KS:



Chris
I've been sharing thoughts about my mother's death online (apologies to those not on Facebook - if you want to see my previous posts, here's the first, and here's the second; perhaps I should post them here, too, but I've been distracted). People have written some of the kindest things I've ever had said to me. Last night, all the students from one of my classes got together on a sympathy card, and one of them made me a batch of delicious gluten-free chocolate-oatmeal balls. I appreciate these things more than I can express. Tomorrow is the funeral, in Omaha.

It seems that only when people are kind like that I actually cry, when I feel the pain wash through me, heavy and drowning, dragging me out to sea like an undertow I wasn't aware existed just beyond this calm beach. This crush happens not when I'm alone and thinking about Mom's death, or writing about my feelings, or playing through sad or difficult or happy memories (yes, we had those, too), but when people are kind to me about it. We really lost Mom years ago, during the ungentle decline and destruction of her self that we call, in clean clinical terminology, Alzheimer's, but which in reality is the most brutally destructive event I can imagine, the utter desolation of a person while they're still alive, a meat-grinder of the mind, unemotional gears inexorably crushing all that is a person between the flat surfaces of the machinery, irrevocably tearing through memories and thoughts and the very framework of who we are between sharp steel teeth, hungry, mindless entropy, plaques and proteins and poisons dissolving our past and the people we love from the unique universe of mind that is all we know, that universe shrinking in vast swaths as the information is forever lost, not just like into a black hole, because there the energy still exists, it's contained and stored and available to anyone with sufficiently advanced technology willing to venture beyond the blue event horizon. But no, this is destruction, worse than entropy, utter anarchy and loss and murder, is worse than that, this enfeeblement, it's a disk-grinder polishing minds to a dull featureless gloss, and the machine's operator has no brain, it's a robot - not malevolent like SkyNet or even Saberhagen's Berserkers, but like the physics of half-life decay, the biology of cell putrefaction, apoptosis, erosion, matter-antimatter annihilation, brown-dwarf stars cooling for a billion years alone in the vastness of space, soil blowing in the wind, dry air gradually leaching away its essence and nutrients and moisture and transforming it into toxic shards that suck life when it lands instead of feeding plants as when it took flight.

The machinations of the conscious or subconscious mind are endlessly confusing and fascinating. I've always had faith in the basic laws of physics, that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, and yet, and yet – look at our minds, look at the mental cosmos we construct throughout our lives, the sense we make of others' worlds, and how all that in time is lost into the emptiness, forever, unrecoverable. The human mind is a wonder, capable not only of transforming vast quantities of sensory input into models of the physical world, but then even more incredibly capable of communicating with others. New universes are born with each new mind, simple at first, but they quickly expand and grow more complex and begin almost immediately to blend with others tangential to the borders of our own.

Alzheimer's, malevolent force, destroyer of worlds, eater of universes, accelerates the entropy of the mind leading to utter desolation, first extracting all other people's universes from reality, then you from your own world, then you from everyone else's. Veni, vidi, vici. Entire universes, people, stories of who we are and were, destroyed and never to be recovered again, all traces impossibly erased from reality. How can that be? How can a disease consume all that information? But it does, and everything is lost in the belly of the universe-eater, never to be shat out. The only evidence of the crime is a pile of broken connections to the outside, all the rest of us reeling in frayed ends in an effort to remember who they once touched, where they were once moored to another's world before that person was pulled beneath the waves.

Every person we know will be destroyed in time – time, this feeble attempt to construct a sensible explanation for loss. They will be gone, there is no hope for them to be recovered. The same is true for our own bubble. This is the reality of the universe, and something we cannot answer, only seek to come to terms with.

Trying to understand what it means is a hopeless effort, yet it's all that matters. Asking questions, seeking answers, striving to explore within and then beyond the confines of our bubble-universes: This is all that really matters. This is why I got into writing in the first place, and why I am driven to continue doing so. To understand the glories of matter coming to understand itself, of the universe waking up, opening a billion tiny eyes if only for a brief moment to see other eyes also looking around, and sharing what we have learned, and asking what the others have learned, and then building a greater understanding of it all, flawed and limited as it may be, often incompatible with what the others report. Because everything else is only the void.
If ever I figure out human nature, I can write my last words, but I don't fear that'll ever happen.



Thank you to everyone who has said kind and thoughtful things; I really do appreciate it, and if it brought on the tears, then it served a useful purpose, too. To everyone suffering your own tragedies and losses, my heart goes out to you, and I understand, and I hope my sharing here is more helpful than hurtful. We are all fighting our own hard battles, and though we might succeed for a time, loss will ultimately consume us all. So be kind, and understanding, and try to build the most glorious temple to life that you can in the moments your universe intersects with those constructed by others.

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I got a good question, and because I'm a big fan of space travel and questions astronomical, I did some research and came up with some fun answers. Hope you enjoy!

Q: How long in Earth-time would it take a rocket (average sort of rocket speed assumed) to reach the Moon? Same question for Mars, Jupiter, and the Sun?



The Moon is about 240,000 miles away. To get into Earth orbit, you need to zip along at 17,500 mph. To reach escape velocity from Earth, you must up that to about 23,000 mph. If you traveled at the speed of the Apollo astronauts - who roared atop Saturn V rockets to the Moon in the late 60s through early 70s at 23,000 to 24,000 miles per hour - it would take a little over 3 days (Apollo 11 did it in 3 days, 3 hours, 49 minutes).



But wait - 240/24 = 10 hours, right? What's up with these numbers? Why doesn't a trip to the Moon take just 10 hours? The answer lies in physics.

If you don't care about slowing down to land safely, no biggie. Go ahead and crater into the surface of the Moon 10 hours after launch - it'd be exciting for those of us here on Earth to watch! If you miss, though, you'll keep zooming along past the Moon. If you swing by closely enough, you'll even get a little added gravitational boost to scoot you fast enough to reach the outer Solar System.

This is because escape velocity from the Moon is only about 5,300 mph. Faster than that, you'll just fly by (unless you hit, of course). So, because you need to slow down for insertion into lunar orbit, you lose a lot of time. Then you need to orbit a bit to prep for landing, find a good spot, and so forth.

Now, if you poodle along at highway speeds (just play along - you're using a dark-matter drive so you can ignore escape velocities and such, okay?), it would take about 145 days. Get a co-driver, unless you plan to sleep, in which case add a few months. On the other hand, Apollo 10 holds the record for the the fastest any human has ever traveled: 24,791 mph.

To reach Mars is another matter. At its closest, Mars is 34 million miles away; at its farthest, 249 million miles. Its escape velocity is only 11,000 mph, so you'll want to decelerate a bunch once you get there. But at, say, an average velocity of 25,000 mph, you'll reach Mars in 9960 hours, or 13.6 months.



Flying to the Sun - 93,000,000 miles away (about 400 times farther away than the Moon) - wouldn't take you 400 times as long, because you wouldn't need to slow down at all. That's because the Sun's escape velocity is 1,380,000 mph. That's MILLION miles per hour. Heck, you'll even speed up as you approach this flaming mass of incandescent gas, eliminating even more travel time. Let's say it'll take about 3000 hours (a little over 4 months).



Same deal for travel to Jupiter, which has an escape velocity of 133,300 mph. Basically, just drop as deeply as you can into every planet's gravity well along the way to help get you going as fast as you can, because you'll have trouble attaining speeds higher than its escape velocity without bringing along lots of additional propellant for your fusion drive or whatever. It lies about 391,000,000 miles away at its closest, 577,000,000 miles at its farthest. So, traveling along at 30,000 mph, you'll reach Jupiter in 13,000 to 19,000 hours. Just call it at least two years.



I hope you enjoyed!

India Orbits Mars!

The Indian Space Research Organization's Mars Orbiter Spacecraft successfully entered the orbit of Mars this morning - on their first try!



Go India!



Hello, Mars!



Indian Space Research Organization's press release here.

Emma Watson is a badass.

UN Women's Global Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson just gave a talk to the UN at a special event for the HeForShe campaign at the United Nations' Headquarters in New York on September 20, 2014. This is a brilliant speech. Here it is:



Some important callouts:

"Men: Gender equality is your issue, too."

"For the record, feminism by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes."

"It's about freedom. I want men to take up this mantle so their daughters, sisters, and mothers can be free from prejudice. But also so their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human, too, and in doing so, be a more true and complete version of themselves."

"How can we affect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?"

"Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong. It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals."

"If we stop defining each other by what we are not, and start defining ourselves by who we are, we can all be freer."

"In my nervousness for this speech and in my moments of doubt, I told myself firmly: If not me, who? If not now, when? If you have doubts when the opportunity is presented to you, I hope those words will be helpful."

"I invite you to step forward, to be seen. And ask yourself: If not me, who? If not now, when?"

GO EMMA WATSON. Full transcript here.

Alzheimer's is Hell

Not really up to writing a lot about it right now, but just got back from an impromptu trip to Omaha to see my mom. We're down to her last days.

My friends, Alzheimer's is a damned horrific nightmare. If I ever start looking down the barrels of that living hell, well... I wish we lived in a country where one could choose not to endure years of ever-increasing loss of self, health, and free will, knowing we cannot get better, certain that we will get worse, until one day we cannot remember our loved ones or even who we are. That, my friends, is the worst hell I can imagine. The only words Mom has formed in the past few weeks, and those were barely audible: "Have a headache."

Oof.

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How amazing is this? Russian cosmonauts have discovered living organisms clinging to the windows of the International Space Station:


Click the image to see the News.mic article.

Of course, one other little fella has also been proven to survive the harsh conditions of space: the heroic Tardigrade!



Want more evidence that creatures can survive in less-than-Earthly conditions? How about the recent discovery of a complex microbial ecosystem far beneath the Antarctic ice?

So: Creatures can live deep below the ice in the coldest place on Earth. They can live in the violent conditions of space. What else is thriving in the distant reaches of the Solar System? Let's find out!

Speaking of space aliens, I turned in my new story, "Orpheus' Engines," to the editor of Mission Tomorrow: A New Century Of Exploration, which comes out in the fall of 2015 from Baen Books. This story is the second in a series set in the "Jupiter Whispers" universe, but with some major updates to the characters and environment. Ultimately, this'll become a novel, after another story or two.

Chris
Two of the mightiest gods in our sky will rise from the same starry bed tomorrow morning, so close their beaming faces will shine almost as one! Check it out - here's a great Sky & Telescope description of where to find them:


Click the image to see the story at Sky & Telescope online.

Planets pair up every so often, but rarely is their dance so intimate. During Venus and Jupiter's embrace shortly before dawn tomorrow (Monday, August 18), they'll be separated by only 1/3° or less - that's thinner than your pinky at full-arm extension. It's the very best planet hookup of the year, and the closest pairing these two have had this century. Here's what they'll look like in binoculars or through a telescope using a low-power eyepiece:




Their tight dance will be brief. Each morning, Jupiter rises a little higher from his eastern bed and Venus lingers a little longer near ol' Sol. The bed they share tomorrow morning is M44, the Beehive Cluster, which will reward augmented viewing:



If you're up before dawn, don't forget to look east toward sunrise and watch two of the brightest planetary bodies embrace!
*

Writing update: Finished my second story in the "Jupiter Whispers" series (which will one day join to form a novel). This one's called "Orpheus' Engines," at least for now, and tallies up to almost exactly 7000 words. Turned out way more econo-political than I'd expected! Chock-full of alien and human communication issues, with lots of Jupiter imagery to set the mood.

Finally, while we're on the topic of Jupiter, how about some bonus photos! First a gorgeous animated gif of the planet rotating:


Click the image to see the Astronominsk page full of more great shots like this.

Finally, check out this amazing 3D animated gif! Put on those old blue-red 3D glasses if you have 'em to enjoy the full effect:



Enjoy!

Chris
(Or, well, do battle. But whatta show!) As always, click the images to find the source stories.



First up, the Perseid meteor shower is already underway (see the "Perseid Activity" chart, below, to get an idea of the number of meteors per hour). The Perseid meteor shower is one of the best such displays each year. Peak nights for watching the Perseids are this coming Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday after sunset (that is, the evenings of August 11, 12, and 13). More info on that here.





Next, on August 10 (when the Perseids are ramping up the action) is the next "supermoon" - the third this summer! A supermoon happens when the Moon is full at the same time it reaches perigee (closest approach to Earth). Because the Moon's orbit is not circular, Some months' perigees are closer than others - this month's is the closest of 2014, making this month's full Moon a super-duper supermoon. More info on that here.



Overall, it makes for a pair of really cool astronomical delights! io9 has a good story about the dual astro-events here.

Get outside and enjoy!

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Update!

Dropping in to let all four of you still here know what I've been up to! First, writing:

I'm now up to 4890 words on my story for Mission Tomorrow: A New Century Of Exploration, a Baen anthology due out in 2015. Max of 7000 words, so I'll have to cut a bunch of what I have right now, because a lot more words are a-comin'! This is the follow-up to my story, "Jupiter Whispers," from the anthology Visual Journeys: A Tribute to Space Art; it'll eventually accrue into a novel when I'm done with all the tales, in good ol' Gunn's Law ("sell it twice!") fashion. Might take a few more years, but I'll get there. The story is due by next Friday, but I'm hoping to complete the first draft over the weekend. Wish me luck!

I've reached nearly 100k words (99,280 to be exact) on Ad Astra Road Trip: The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella (this is book 1 of 3). SO CLOSE to both that magic odometer reading AND the end. How much is left? Let's call it less than 10k more. My goal is to wrap up the first-ish draft before the start of the semester... less than three weeks. Much more luck needed for that one.

Class-related progress:
Finished grading the summer SF Institute final projects, which were interesting as usual and, in a couple of cases, outstanding.

I've read, watched, and listened to a metric crap-ton (that's the technical term) of media-related SF while researching for my upcoming (new) "Science Fiction and the Popular Media" course. I've just about completed the syllabus, and have put together most of the web pages for the site: Each week has its own page hosting not only links but also displaying graphics and other embedded media. Looking forward to this, but it's been a hella lotta work.

Oh, and I finally managed to host another Game Day (see pic to the right). Plus all the usual work-stuff (about to dive back into that right now).

Later!
Chris
Just wow:









We live in an age when one can make animated gifs of the daily sky ON MARS.

EDIT: Here's a lovely video of the Martian sunrise:

Chris

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Astro-Porn of the Day: Lagoon Nebula


Click the image to see the story and bigger images.

I vividly remember the first time I saw the Lagoon Nebula in my Crown 6" Newtonian reflector (on a heavy German-equatorial mount). I was about 14 years old, and I'd dragged the telescope out on a late-summer midnight. I lived a couple of miles outside of a small western-Minnesota town, and our neighborhood only had one streetlight to pollute the night. Carrying my equipment a few hundred yards beyond led to almost entirely dark skies, so the Milky Way and its core glowed like a million tiny sparks arcing across the sky, mottled with fuzzy bright spots. Toward the galaxy's core lay several dramatic nebulae, including this one, spanning huge across the eyepiece, not far from the Trifid Nebula and a whole bunch of other objects. Even using a small instrument, all you have to do is slowly sweep your telescope or binocular across this rich field to see endless star-birthing regions and star-clusters. Gorgeous.

"VLT Survey Telescope (VST) at ESO's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. Together these are providing a vast legacy of publicly available data for the global astronomical community."

Another shot:

Click the image to see source page.


More cool facts about this extremely rich section of the sky: "Sagittarius contains 15 Messier objects: Messier 8 (M8, NGC 6523, Lagoon Nebula), Messier 17 (M17, NGC 6618 Omega, Swan, Horseshoe or Lobster Nebula), Messier 18 (M18, NGC 6613), Messier 20 (M20, NGC 6514, Trifid Nebula), Messier 21 (M21, NGC 6531), Messier 22 (M22, NGC 6656, Sagittarius Cluster), Messier 23 (M23, NGC 6494), Messier 24 (M24, NGC 6603, Sagittarius Star Cloud), Messier 25 (M25, IC 4725), Messier 28 (M28, NGC 6626), Messier 54 (M54, NGC 6715), Messier 55 (M55, NGC 6809), Messier 69 (M69, NGC 6637), Messier 70 (M70, NGC 6681) and Messier 75 (M75, NGC 6864). The constellation also has 22 stars with confirmed planets."

Chris

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Updatery!

Forgive me, religious-patriarchal figure, it's been more than a month since my last update. What have I been up to since my last confession?
  • Spent the first two weeks of June teaching the Speculative Fiction Writing Workshop at KU's Center for the Study of SF, a residential program that consumes pretty much every waking hour.

  • Did my thing at the Campbell Conference, which this year honored Frederik Pohl and discussed "Science fiction in the real world." We also presented the Campbell (best SF novel) and Sturgeon (best SF story) Memorial Awards.

  • Taught the Intensive SF Institute during the second two weeks of June, also residential (except for a few locals). Final projects should be piling in today. To all of you wonderful scholars and workshoppers who spent your June with us and are home now: I miss everyone so much!

  • Wrote another few thousand words on The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella:

    It's ALMOST DONE - and Book 2 has reached 4000 words.

  • My essay on "Frederik Pohl: Mr Science Fiction (A Love Story)" just came out in the current issue of Foundation - The International Review of Science Fiction.

  • I'm hard at work on a new Jupiter story (the follow-up to "Jupiter Whispers") for an upcoming anthology edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt. Including this one, I plan to finish (or revise) at least three stories this month and send them out for consideration.

  • I'll be quoted in the next issue of Popular Mechanics magazine (!) about the top SF novels.

  • Oh, and I gave a bunch of talks and interviews for NPR's Up to Date show, the Lawrence Free State Festival, KU Endowment, the Lawrence Journal-World, SciFi4Me (part of their livestream of the Campbell Conference), and one (plus the usual stuff) at the Campbell Conference.

So I've been way out of touch with the world. Took most of last week as a sort of stay-cation. MUCH NEEDED.

How's your summer going?

Chris

ConQuesT 2014 schedule!

Hey, folks -

This weekend is ConQuesT, Kansas City's science-fiction convention, and I'll be there! Here's my schedule:

Friday 1500 Best new SF&F authors of the 21st century
Friday 1700 Novels from last year you should read
Saturday 1100 Teaching SF
Saturday 1300 Writing for younger audiences.
Saturday 1500 Where has all the Hard SF gone?
Saturday 1600 Hadley Rille Books: Small Press, Big Plans
Saturday 1700 Reading
Sunday 1400 Charity Auction


Here's with more details and other panelists:
_____________________
Friday
Best new SF&F authors of the 21st century
Friday 3:00pm
Bradley Denton
Chris McKitterick
Who are the best authors to have joined the genre since 2000?

Novels from last year you should read
Friday 5:00pm
Chris McKitterick (M)
Julia S. Mandala
Robin Wayne Bailey
Panelists will share the favorite novels from the past year.

Saturday
Teaching SF
Saturday 11:00am
Chris McKitterick
Deb Geisler
Gera L. Dean
Kij Johnson
Discussion on science fiction in the classroom from middle school through college.

Writing for younger audiences
Saturday 1:00pm
Bryan Thomas Schmidt (M)
Chris McKitterick
Deanna Sjolander
K.D. McEntire
Writing for adults and writing for YA, MG and Children differ. Authors and Editors discuss the differences, the approaches, and fine examples.

Where has all the Hard SF gone?
Saturday 3:00pm
Carol Doms (M)
Chris McKitterick
Rich Horton
Rob Chilson
The shelves are full of fantasy, zombies, vampires, etc. Is anyone writing Hard SF anymore?

Hadley Rille Books: Small Press, Big Plans
Saturday 4:00pm
Karin Gastreich (M)
Chris Gerrib
Christopher McKitterick
M.C. Chambers
Founded in 2005 by Eric T. Reynolds, Hadley Rille Books is Kansas City’s own small press specializing in science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction. Meet our authors and learn about the trials and triumphs of small press publishing. Snacks will be provided, and attendees can participate in a book giveaway. For more information about Hadley Rille Books, including a complete listing of our titles, visit hrbpress.com.

Fiction Reading
Saturday 5:00pm
Excerpt from the (almost complete!) Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella.

Sunday
Charity Auction
I'll be at the Charity Auction from 2pm - onward. Proceeds benefit AboutSF, the Gunn Center's educational-outreach program, AboutSF.

Hope to see some of you there!

Chris
The finalists for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction novel of 2013 have been announced. Congratulations to everyone on the list! A great set of books, any one of which could be your favorite of the year.



News item here.

Award details and former winners here.

Finalist list for this year and many prior years here.

Photos of the trophies here.
LAWRENCE, KS - May 5, 2014 for immediate release
Also available in .doc
or .pdf version


This year's finalists for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for best short science fiction have been selected, announced Christopher McKitterick, Director of the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction. The awards will be presented during the Campbell Conference on Friday, June 13, as part of the Campbell Conference held annually at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

The Gunn Center is pleased to announce the finalists for the 2014 Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for the best short SF of the year:


"Bloom," Gregory Norman Bossert. Asimov's, Dec 2013.
"The Weight of the Sunrise," Vylar Kaftan. Asimov's, Feb 2013.
"They Shall Salt the Earth with Seeds of Glass," Alaya Dawn Johnson. Asimov's, Jan 2013.
"Over There," Will McIntosh. Asimov's, Jan 2013.
"The Wildfires of Antarctica," Alan DeNiro. Tyrannia and Other Renditions, Small Beer Press (originally appeared in Oct/Nov Asimov's).
"The Irish Astronaut," Val Nolan. Electric Velocipede, May 2013.
"In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind," Sarah Pinsker. Strange Horizons, July 2013.
"Mystic Falls," Robert Reed. Clarkesworld, Nov 2013.
"Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer," Kenneth Schneyer. Clockwork Phoenix 4, Mythic Delirium Books.
"The Urashima Effect," E. Lily Yu. Clarkesworld, June 2013.


The Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award recognizes the best science fiction short story each year. It was established in 1987 by James Gunn, Founding Director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at KU; and the heirs of Theodore Sturgeon, including his partner Jayne Engelhart Tannehill and Sturgeon's children; as an appropriate memorial to one of the great short-story writers in a field distinguished by its short fiction. The current jury consists of Elizabeth Bear, Andy Duncan, James Gunn, Kij Johnson, and Noël Sturgeon, Trustee of the Theodore Sturgeon Literary Estate.

Sturgeon, born in 1918, was closely identified with the Golden Age of science fiction, 1939-1950, and is often mentioned as one of the four writers who helped establish that age. The others were Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and A. E. van Vogt; all four had their first SF stories published in 1939. In addition to fiction (his best-known novel is the classic, More Than Human), Sturgeon also wrote book reviews, poetry, screenplays, radio plays, and television plays, including two classic teleplays for the original Star Trek. He was a popular lecturer and teacher, and was a regular visiting writer at the Intensive Institute on the Teaching of Science Fiction. Sturgeon died in 1985. His books, manuscripts, and papers are deposited at the University of Kansas.

The Award will be presented Friday, June 13, at the Campbell Conference, held at the University of Kansas Student Union in Lawrence, Kansas, June 13-15. The Campbell Conference has been held each year since 1978 at the University of Kansas. It includes a Friday-evening banquet where the annual Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award are given; a Saturday-morning roundtable discussion with scholars, scientists, and writers of science fiction; an afternoon discussion about interdisciplinary science-fiction studies, and other events. This year's topic is "Science Fiction in the Real World," with a special focus on the work and life of Frederik Pohl, a long-time friend of the Center.

Writing Advice: On "Write What You Know."

Bad books on writing tell you to "WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW," a solemn and totally false adage that is the reason there exist so many mediocre novels about English professors contemplating adultery.
     - Joe Haldeman)


Bravo, Mr. Haldeman. I've actually heard writing professors telling their students this, sometimes going so far as to suggest "What's wrong with science fiction is that it's not writing about what you know." How boring would literature be if all we did was literally only write about our personal experiences and expertise? We literally could not have a fiction of the imagination or the future or the Other if we constrained ourselves to only what we know. This is why not every single person writes a memoir: The only way to make an average life interesting is through brilliant insights and mastering the tools of humor or conveying emotion or so forth. When that happens, great! But there's a lot more to literature than memoir.

Good science fiction not only poses questions, explores ideas, speculation and extrapolates about possible futures, and offers other mind-expanding goodness, but the best SF also provides deep insight into what it means to be human living in an age of ever-accelerating change.

Science fiction writers have a special obligation to research broadly so that when they write about such technological game-changers as the Singularity or transhumanism or astrophysics, or alternate histories where small but important changes affect our present, or political shifts that change everything about human society, or so forth, the reader can willingly suspend their disbelief.

So in that respect, sure, SF writers inject what we know about the universe around us and people and tech and change and so forth, but if all we do is "write what we know," we wouldn't write much anything at all that has the impact of good SF.

So if you're a new writer, ignore the hell out of that ancient adage... while doing your damnedest to learn everything you can about the alien things you want to speculate about. I suggest these alternatives:

"Use what you know," or "Know what you write [that is, learn it]."


Speaking of writing, here's where I'm at with The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella:


While doing a physics experiment at the University of Kansas, Stella found someone to crush on. Of course, the wonderfulness of her day is about to be crushed....

Chris

Writing, blogging, life - also JETBIKE!

I've been mostly neglecting LJ of late. Are you on Tumblr? I am! In fact, these days I mostly post there, which I often auto-cross-post to my Twitter account and my Facebook account. If Tumblr x-posted to LJ, you'd see me here a LOT more. It's all about convenience, I'm ashamed to admit, because my jobs SUCK SO MUCH TIME. Not that that's bad, mind you - I LOVE teaching, and my teaching JOB itself has been getting steadily better; I LOVE directing the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction, and we have a bunch of REALLY BIG and EXCITING things about to happen (and, of course, it's always exciting); and I LOVE my writing career, which I'm finally, at long frakkin' last, TREATING like a CAREER... to the point that if my employer were to try to take that away from me, or if my day-job evolved to the point of no-time-for-writing, I would either fight to fix the problem or no longer work there. THAT's how much I've decided to dedicate myself to my writing.

Speaking of which:
  • Coming out soon is "Frederik Pohl: Mr Science Fiction (A Love Story)." Scheduled to appear in the Spring/Summer edition of Foundation: The International Review Of Science Fiction.

  • My Speculative Fiction Writing Workshop is getting close to full with a nice variety of writers. Really looking forward to this, as always! June 1 - 15.

  • As soon as I reach 1st Draft Complete on Jack & Stella, I'll dive back into short fiction. I have about three stories ready for quick revisions (HA!), ten more that need a bit more work but are worth it, and who-knows-how-many (six? ten?) in progress that I really want to get back to. Short stories are great in that they take a LOT less time per word than novels, and they'll help keep my name out there in the zeitgeist while the novels are making their way to shelves, but novels are ALL-CONSUMING. Every idea I come up with ends up in whatever book I'm currently working on. As it should be, I guess, but that means BLACK HOLE of IDEAS, and no new stories.

  • Wait, that's not true: I'm planning to develop several things that are back-story for Jack & Stella into stories of their own. Speaking of novels...

  • Just about ready to submit Empire Ship. It's done (and has been for a while), but I wasn't happy with some things - worked it out! I figured I'd just hold off until I had a draft of Jack & Stella, and fixed Empire Ship to my satisfaction, then submit them both together... speaking of which:

  • And I've reached another milestone on The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella: Just crested 80,000 words! That's up nearly 6000 in the past ten days, and all that word-count is brand-new in the past year... in fact, pretty much all of it is new in 2014, as I started over at the beginning at about 30,000 words when I realized it just wasn't working. Ah, the joys of novel-writing.



And now, because this is both inspiring and INSANE, I share OMG DANGEROUS JETBIKE MANIAC:


(Yes, I want to do this. Only I'll wear a helmet, thank you, and do a MUCH better job of engineering a proper bike platform. Are you hearing this, MadMatMax? Nevertheless, I'M IN LOVE. And now a subscriber of his.)

More like this:



Aw, yeah.

Chris
Here's a milestone worth sharing:

Today, I wrote another 1000 words on my new YA-SF novel, The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella, bringing the total word-count up to 74,000. More importantly, I've outlined the rest of the book. Did I make that clear? Here, let me say it through cupped hands:

*

I OUTLINED AND ROUGHED-IN ALL THE REMAINING SCENES FOR THE REST OF THE NOVEL.
*


This means I can now confidently say I'm only 20 scenes from the end, and some of those scenes are already fully fleshed-out. Let's call it one month from putting a wrap around the first draft. Oh, and I also did a bunch more outlining of Book 2 (I foresee this being a trilogy).



EXCITED. It might end up a little longer than 90k, but I'm cool with that. (Just trying to avoid writing another work as long as Transcendence). Can I get a "woohoo"?

Chris

Apologetic Updataliciousness

Oh my gosh, I had no idea that I hadn't posted here for, what... three weeks now? MANY APOLOGIES!

My absence is largely due to ten million little tasks all piling down like a deluge of weasels, weasels driven like furry rain across the Great Plains, lashed on and on by all this stuff. Let's start with the fun and move into the rest:

  • I've made many thousands of words progress on The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella. Current word-count:

    LOOK AT HOW CLOSE I AM TO DONE!

  • EDIT to add: Also been making lots of progress on my memoir, Stories from a Perilous Youth. It's all in bits and pieces, but totals somewhere around 30,000 words!

  • I've been doing this "300 Swings a Day Challenge," an idea promoted by the Breaking Muscle folks (who are awesome) and presented to me by clevermanka. Except for one day when I literally didn't have a minute to spare (but spared enough to do something like 100 anyhow, because FUCK ALL THAT I'M PRACTICING TO BE A BADASS), I've made my 300 swings EVERY DAY THIS MONTH. I started with my 55-pound kettlebell, but couldn't do more than about 40 with that, so switched to the 35-pounder. But for the past couple of weeks, I've been doing them ALL with the bigger weight, and in much shorter time (completed 250 swings last night between 7:30pm and 8:00pm, aw yeah), and with ever-improving form, AND starting to see some real changes in the musculature of my legs and ass and, honestly, all over. (I promise to post before-and-after shots at the start of April. Let's hope there's something to see!) I've tried to keep up with my other movements (pull-ups, push-ups, etc.), but the last two weeks have been... well, what got me started with this post.

  • My novel, Transcendence, was February's book selection for the PBR Book Club, which meets at the 8th St. Taproom (yes, friends, book fiends gathering at A BAR). Booze, books, and intelligent conversation - great tastes that taste great together. They had really insightful observations and questions. So much fun!

  • Saw the AMAZING Latenight Callers in concert at The Replay. If you haven't yet heard this band, DO IT NOW. I think of them as "Electro-Noir," and they're unlike anything you've heard for a long time, or maybe ever. They're seriously one of my favorite bands, and they operate out of the Kansas City metro area, and they formed in the cultural center that is Lawrence, KS. And I Knew Them When.

  • Went to Planet ComiCon in Kansas City's Bartle Hall Convention Center. Got to hang with LeVar Burton, Jonathan Frakes, Darryl "DMC" McDaniels (who's now working on a hip-hop comic!), Gates McFadden, Brent Spiner, Jewel Staite (Kaylee), Wil Wheaton, the Xenomorph from Alien (and his Predator buds), plus about a zillion local fans - many of them in costume. Wow. This was my first media-con since the 1990s (hello, weaselmom!). I had no idea a local comicon could be so HUGE. The lines to get in wrapped around TWO city blocks. Once I adjusted to the crowds and lines, I realized that everyone was there among their tribe - polite, friendly, and HAPPY. A lot more fun than I'd expected. I'll do one of these again.

  • Finally, FINALLY, got the CSSF Lending Library fully alphabetized, including organizing our magazine holdings by publication and year. Just an off-hand guess, but I'd say we hold about 30,000 volumes. That was a monumental task, I TELL YOU WHAT, but my office (aka The Center's Space) is now the coolest room on campus. Before-and-after photos coming soon.

  • Designing my first Freshman-Sophomore SF course, which I'll offer this coming fall: Science Fiction and the Popular Media, where we'll study science fiction across a range of media forms including film, television, literature, fanfic, comics, gaming, and more. Hook 'em young, as they say. I made a request for suggestions on Facebook (which, sadly, is where I've been posting lately, also on my Tumblr blog, because if I'm only dropping something quick, that's where I go. Sorry for contributing to LJ's Long Decline.) This class should be a BLAST!

  • Hosted the English graduate-student recruitment party at our place, and met with one of the (hopefully) incoming creative writers.

  • Reading (and doing all the other logistics and setup) for this summer's Speculative Fiction Writing Workshop (June 1 - 15). We'll again have BOTH science-fiction Grand Master James Gunn and the inimitable Andy Duncan as this year's guest authors! Yours truly leads the Workshop. Are you thinking about applying, or know someone who would love to participate in an intensive but only two-week-long workshop? Now's the time!

  • Doing the thousand-and-one things necessary to host an international scholar here at KU. This year, the Center is host for a professor from Turkey! She'll be here until the end of May. (The last two were from China. We get around.)

  • Did a ton of thesis-project reading and critiquing and meetings, especially with one of my grad students who's working on an SF novel.

  • Teaching: Nothing unusual this semester, but teaching three full, writing-intensive courses always starts to crush me as we approach the middle of the semester. I was hoping to get caught up this week (Spring "Break"), but I have so many other things to do, including...

  • Journal-article writing: I'm finishing a research-intensive article about one of my greatest science-fiction heroes, a man with whom I had the great privilege and honor to spend anywhere from a few days to a week each summer: Frederik Pohl. Wonderful to go back and read so much by him again, but not so great to have to do this on top of things like...

  • Gary K. Wolfe's "Bold Aspirations" visit and talk for KU. SO MUCH planning. SO MUCH spreading the word, and setting up contacts, and writing press releases, and organizing gatherings, and ferrying him here from the airport, and so forth. Which was all great, mind you, but in the end a massive disappointment due to things I cannot discuss publicly. Friends, my fondness for academia is on the wane.

  • Building and organizing a group of Center for the Study of Science Fiction Faculty Affiliates. This has been really cool, setting up interdisciplinary relationships with faculty from all across the University of Kansas, but also a huge investment of time and energy. Expect Big Things out of this! More to come.

  • Similarly, I've been working with another brilliant group of interdisciplinary faculty and KU administrators in a think-tank named "Tech 2070," whose goal is to prepare the University for the kinds of changes we'll see over the next 50 years. FANTASTIC stuff, these bi-weekly meetings, but they also require hours of homework (seriously, but it's all stuff I'd read anyway given the time), including preparing to give presentations now that we've started to gel in our purpose.

And because it's not a post unless I share a photo of our Outdoor Pets, I hereby present "Squirrels Combating the Blizzard By Eating Tons of Birdseed" from the storm that whacked us recently (just days before the temps climbed back up to their present 60s and 70s!):


Click the chilly squirrels to see my Facebook photo albums.

Speaking of cute animals, want to see tons more photos of space-stuff and baaaby animals (among other things)? Then check out my Tumblr blog:


Click the fierce baby elephant to see my Tumblr blog.

...aaand now I've just spent an hour writing this post. So that's what's kept me away for so long. What have you been up to?

Chris
Tonight at 8:00pm at The 8th Street Taproom in Lawrence, KS, the PBR Book Club discusses my novel, Transcendence! Can't wait to hear what people think.

Organizer Nathan Hutchcraft sez anyone who's read the book is welcome to attend (you don't need to be a member), so I hope to see some of y'all there, too!

Chris
Ever wondered what a moonrise looks like from space? Aboard the ISS, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata just captured and shared this otherworldly photo of the crescent Moon rising from Earth's atmosphere:


Click the image to see the NASA page.

This is not a false-color image: The gas and dust in each layer of the atmosphere act as prisms, filtering out certain wavelengths of light. You can't really get a view like this from Earth (well, for a lot of reasons, but that's one.) Here's another shot of a moonrise from space, taken by astronaut Ron Garan in 2011:


Click the image to see Ron Garan's Twitpics page.

Happy moonrise Friday!

Chris

Snow Day Part 2: The Writering.

Another Snow Day! This means KU is closed for business... which means more writing! The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella is now up to 49,775 words - that's almost 1200 freakin' more since yesterday! I've almost reached the psychologically important 50k threshold. More importantly, the revision has progressed another 12 pages. I'm only 9 pages away from writing all-new scenes - an even-grander psychological threshold! It's thrilling to be only a day away from jumping into uncharted waters.


Snow Day also means I had to shovel a crap-ton (that's a technical term) of snow from the sidewalks this morning. In many places, the snow was deep enough to spill into the tops of my foot-high snow-boots, soaking the feet. And the wind was so bitterly cold that my molars were frozen beneath my windburned cheeks. Right now, it's only 10°F in Lawrence, Kansas, with a windchill in the negatives... so I was sort of an idiot to try to dig out this morning. At least it's beautiful to look at, and sunny.



This photo shows the back yard, post-shoveling, during Snowpocalypse 2014: Day 2. Unfortunately, as you can see, the ice from last week's storm remains, meaning at least the urban wildlife can come find seeds here as usual... where are you, little squirrels and birds? Come eat!

Chris

Blizzard Means Writing.

KU officials closed campus last night, fearing Snowpocalypse. Waking up today to see only a light dusting provoked taunting words from me, but then the Fauxpocalypse showed its true nature: We've already gotten several inches of snow. What does this mean?
  • School is closed.

  • My once-a-week science-fiction class meets online in two hours.

  • I spent this morning with my Write Group of Prolificness, upping the word-count of Jack & Stella by another 580. More importantly, I revised another 12 pages. That's significant because the revision includes shifting POV - the most important decision a writer makes, affecting everything else - and changing all the opening scenes.

What does this mean? That I'm only a couple of days from finishing the revision and surging into unexplored territory.

The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella progress:


TRIUMPH AWAITS JUST AROUND THE CORNER.

PS: Have some squirrel archaeologists digging for sunflower seeds to fill their tummies in preparation for Snowpocalypse 2014, just beginning when I took this. They haven't returned to the dig since six more inches of snow have fallen....



I've been doing my best to fatten them up for winter; hope it helps.

Chris
Astrophysicists have announced an exciting, new view of the early Solar System.


Click the image to see the Discovery.com story on one asteroid's water plume.
In the solar system's infancy, after the planets, asteroids and smaller bodies had formed, we didn't see gentle, circular(-ish) orbits as we do today for most major bodies. Since the 1980s, astronomers thought the Asteroid Belt formed where it lives today, a loose formation between Mars and Jupiter, a loose scattering of rock and dust that simply failed to form into a planet. However, astronomers have been studied a lot of asteroids since that time, some close-up using robotic missions like NEAR-Shoemaker. We have now learned that things weren't always as they are now, and that violence and randomness ruled the early Solar System.



"What we're leaning toward now is that asteroids, rather than forming in the asteroid belt, formed throughout the entire solar system... as close to the Sun as Mercury and as far away as Neptune, and then, through the planetary migration, you scatter them all over the place. What's left is what you see in the asteroid belt today," says astrophysicist Francesca DeMeo. The new theory is that the asteroids now residing in their Mars-to-Jupiter prison had once flown free throughout the Solar System, free to pummel planets, hurtle to a fiery death in the Sun, careen off into deep space on their own. Wildly orbiting planets launched these smaller bodies hither and yon. How crazy were these early planetary dances? It now appears that Mars might have visited Earth's realm - which also explains why we regularly find Mars meteorites on Earth - and mighty Jupiter's orbit once dipped as close as Mars' current locale. All this random chaos meant that little guys like comets and asteroids had no say in where they lived, and the Big Guys like Jupiter really were the gods who controlled the lives of billions of little guys populating the Solar System. The Old Gods might even be responsible for life on Earth, seeding our planet with water by hurtling comets and other icy bodies at us, plus carbon compounds from carbonaceous asteroids. I can see the headline: "Science Proves Life Came from the Gods!"

Click this thumbnail to see the full-size asteroid infographic.


Sure, now Lord Jupiter is happy to maintain a stately, near-circular orbit, maintaining a gravitational fence around the wild ones penned in the Asteroid Belt (Lord Mars keeps the other gate shut), but in their youth they were unpredictable gods, much like their namesakes.

Had to share this little bit of Astro-Awesomeness. I'll leave you with this lovely image of dwarf-planet Ceres (formerly known as "asteroid Ceres," but now a peer of Lord Pluto):


Click the image to see the Wikipedia article on Ceres.

PS: It now appears that Ceres - which makes up about 1/3 of all the asteroid-ish mass in the Solar System - is habitable; that is, is giving off a plume of water vapor. This place has a water-rich atmosphere!

These discoveries... I tell you what: We live in amazing times.

Chris

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