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!
- 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.
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.
- I've been writing several mornings, every week since mid-December. Completely revised the opening scenes of The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella, completely re-envisioned how I'm handling POV (which means significantly rewriting every single other scene, too), wrote many more notes for future scenes, and cut thousands of words while writing thousands more... I've passed a total of 44k words, which means it's more than half-way done (based on a projected 70k)!
- Finished updating all three syllabi and Blackboard sites (that's the web interface for KU courses) for my spring semester classes. Sent all the students links to where their syllabi live online. HOORAY! Good lord, is it just me or does it take everyone most of a day to do this for each course?
- Worked a bunch on the hot-rod Newport, including rebuilding the broken valvetrain; finishing installing the new fuel-injection system; installing half the custom exhaust (with electric cut-outs for added raucousness on demand!); designing a crankcase-ventilation system that won't put so much smoke into the intake and getting started installing that; and finding a great deal on a new front-drive system that'll upgrade the alternator to handle fuel-injection duties, the A/C and power-steering pump to something that works, and convert it to a simpler serpentine-belt system that'll make it more reliable and more efficient - oh, and it's all polished aluminum, so it's much lighter and really pretty, too. ETA for street duty: a week or two! Assuming something else doesn't blow up....
- Did a bit of work on the Chevelle, but I want to get the Newport mobile, washed, waxed, and covered before really diving into this project; picked up some more parts I'll need, though. ETA for street duty: Late spring.
- Rewired a cool vintage ceramic lamp and installed it in the ceiling of my living room. MUCH nicer than the old (light-free) ceiling fan that used to clutter up the space:
- Did a bunch of updates on the Center for the Study of Science Fiction's website, and planned much more. Oh, and we're working with a major donor right now who's intending to support not only a full-ride scholarship for the summer Workshops, but also something even bigger for a student coming to study SF during the regular semester. Details to come....
- Started reading for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best SF novel. Loving everything so far, which is great, but could also be trouble come decision time....
- Got back into astronomy, with a new (to me) 100mm f/9 apochromatic refractor. WOWEE, does it provide gorgeous images! This is my first apochromat, a type of refractor that uses varying types of rare-earth glass to produce lovely, sharp, and color-free images. On a really nice German equatorial mount with dual-axis drives and a handy through-the-polar-axis North Star finder:
- Resumed a regular, hardcore workout schedule at the gym. Tried the beautiful-but-useless fancy fitness center here at KU (Ambler), because it was free to staff & faculty last week; we usually use beat-up, old, and dingy - but free - Robinson, because of its really useful and large free-weights room, and only visited crowded Ambler that once.
- Oh, and on a related note: Not to sound braggy or anything, but over Break the awesome clevermanka started giving me regular, multi-hour massages at least once a week, sometimes EVERY DAY. OMG, I am so lucky.
Other stuff, too, like watching the new BBC Sherlock series! (Which starts on PBS tonight.) LOVE IT SO MUCH.
What did you do over the past month, whether or not you got a break?
"Discovered on New Year's Eve by a telescope in Arizona, a small asteroid struck Earth somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean - apparently unnoticed - about 25 hours later."
Click the image to see the Sky & Telescope article.
How do we get hit by a frakkin' ASTEROID and not even notice? Makes you feel some hope for the future: Sure, we get whallopped all the time, but we'll make it because it's really unlikely to be an asteroid huge enough to crack the crust or accurate enough to annihilate a city.
Cool! The dinosaurs are still extinct, but we aren't.
Oh, hey, it's now New Year's Eve! How appropriate....
Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the Moon, entered lunar orbit on December 24, 1968 - Christmas Eve. That evening, Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders made this then-live television broadcast from lunar orbit, during which they showed pictures of the Earth and Moon as seen from Apollo 8. Later, they took the first Earthrise photo:
Click the image to see the excellent Wikipedia article (with lots of great photos).
( click for transcriptCollapse )
Go here to learn more about the Apollo missions.
I love how even the dog's all, "Screw that, I'm going inside." And the cat responds, "That's right, Fido. RUN AWAY YOU STINKY DOG OR I'LL MESS YOU UP."
On Saturday, December 14, 2013 - at 7:11 AM (Central - that's 1311 GMT or 9:12 PM Beijing time), China's Chang'e 3 lander and its Yutu Moon rover (aka "Jade Rabbit") touched down on our cratered companion world. We haven't seen another soft-landing on that cratered surface since 1976, with the last Russian Luna spacecraft (Luna 24):
Click the image to see the Wikipedia article on the history of lunar landings.
Jade Rabbit touched down in Sinus Iridum ("Bay of Rainbows"), the northern part of Mare Imbrium ("Sea of Showers") in the Moon's Northern Hemisphere. CHINA IS ON THE FRAKKIN' MOON, FOLKS.
Here's the Chang'e 3 lander saying goodbye to its Yutu rover:
Check out this great ITN (British news) video with footage of the whole historic mission:
Readers of this blog are probably wondering why I haven't written about this until now. Well, beyond the usual excuses (final papers are arriving fast and furious, plus other obligations), I was just plain astounded by the news: China - the last communist-dictatorship mega-nation - is the one that has returned to the Moon, and it's a part of their military (whereas NASA, though tied to the US military, is independent). This is huge in so many ways, folks: No one has explored the Moon (except by orbiting or crashing into it; the latest hard-landing was NASA's LCROSS in 2009) since the 1970s. No one has ever set foot on the Moon except for Americans, and that ended in 1972 with Apollo 17, the program that ignited passion and excitement for space like nothing before with photos like this one of John W. Young on the frakkin' Moon:
Click the image to see the excellent Wikipedia article on the Apollo program.
The US Apollo program (and the Soviets counterpart) was motivated less by passion for space exploration than a desire to prove our technological superiority to the world. When the Soviet program faltered - after soft-landing the first rover - the steam went out of US exploration, thus beginning the era of the space-truck Shuttle. Besides the early excitement and a couple of catastrophes, most people didn't even know when a Shuttle was launching. On the other hand, the Chinese have long-term goals at play. Are they as interested in exploration as they are in displaying their techno-feathers? Do they primarily aim to prove their capability to do things no one else has done for 40 years? Or are their intentions darker?
Jade Rabbit is only the latest step in China's methodical space program. They have enjoyed a series of triumphs in crewed space flight during the past decade, including launching humans into orbit and docking two ships in space. China lost its first (and only) Mars probe soon after launch in 2011 - it's important to note that this was due to a Russian booster failure, not a failure of Chinese equipment - but both of its Moon probes (the previous Chang'e 1 and 2, named for the luminescent goddess who lives on the Moon), like its manned space missions, were successful. They plan to send another rover just like this one soon, then a robotic mission to return lunar samples by 2018. Assuming these missions are successful, they plan to send taikonauts - Chinese astronauts - to walk on the Moon a few years later. After that, who knows? Moon bases? Taikonauts leaving footprints on Mars? Chinese flags flying over a multitude of Solar System objects?
Fan-art Photoshop of an Apollo photo.
It all began with a race, then Apollo's tone hit it just right, involving everyone in what NASA cleverly forged into a human - rather than American - endeavor, thus igniting a passion for space that spread across the whole world:
With images like the first Earthrise seen from lunar orbit, taken by astronaut Bill Anders through the porthole of a frakkin' spaceship:
Until that moment, humans traveling to other worlds was "science fiction." When that image made its way back to Earth, the world had forever changed. Putting humans into space made it real for us; rockets and satellites (starting with the Soviets' 1957 Sputnik) and rovers were damned impressive, and blew us away. But putting people into space transformed the endeavor into something real, something we might do or have done, if only our lives had gone a little differently. Rovers after that have improved so much, and NASA was so brilliant with its Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers, that we can identify a little with them. But if the Chinese put a person on the Moon, they'll once more re-ignite the human imagination. If they set foot on Mars? I can't even imagine how powerful that would be to the human psyche... and how terrifying to some: the Red Menace on the Red Planet.
Ultimately, if you're like me, you hope that the Chinese determination spurs a more enduring human emigration beyond this tiny world's fragile surface. I'll leave you with this quote from James Gunn, perhaps the foremost Asimov scholar:
"In 1973 [Asimov] pointed out that we were living in a science fiction world, a world of spaceships, atomic energy, and computers, a world very much like the world that he and other science fiction writers had been describing a quarter-century before. It was a world typified by the first Moon landing, four years before. 'Science fiction writers and readers didn't put a man on the moon all by themselves,' he told me, 'but they created a climate of opinion in which the goal of putting a man on the Moon became acceptable.'"
Hear, hear. As much as I feel conflicted saying this, Thank you, China. Let's hope the rest of the world feels the spurs to reach up and explore beyond our little neighborhood once again.
( and now a couple of big imagesCollapse )
Aaargh, it's painful being so close, yet.... Oh, and I bought a really nice-looking, waterproof, fleece-lined, 7-layer car cover to protect the machine until spring... assuming I can get the thing started, drive it to the car-wash, wax the hell out of it, then drive it home (I really don't want to turn my driveway into an ice-rink). Soon, soon.
Now to put "cold" into perspective: Check out the coldest place on Earth, a ridge high atop Antarctica's East Plateau, where temperatures can dip below -133° F (-92° C) on a clear winter night. Yes, that's NEGATIVE ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY-THREE DEGREES, aka NEARLY ONE HUNDRED DEGREES BELOW FREEZING in either temp scale:
Of course, that's a balmy-sounding 181° Kelvin. Which would make me sweat just thinking about it. IF MY FINGERTIPS WEREN'T FREEZING OFF.
Maybe this place is what Dante was thinking about when he planted ol' Lucifer in ice he couldn't escape.
Scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center made the discovery while analyzing the most-detailed global surface temperature maps to date, gathered using remote-sensing satellites like NASA's Aqua satellite and Landsat 8.
They need to use this level of sensor equipment because thermometers won't even work at such temperatures.
Neither do human beings. Heck, I bet even ice falls apart at temps like that.
Speaking of cold humans, a plug for clevermanka's Etsy shop:
Are you or those you love suffering from chilly legs during this cold snap? Looking for the perfect Xmas gift for your skirt- (or kilt!) wearing friends? Then check out the Bloomershop Etsy shop, which is having a 20% off sale right now! Use the code "TOASTIES" to get the special discount. Lydia makes custom bloomers, too, if you prefer different fabric or trim, or need a special size. Support independent makers for your gifting needs! Plus they're just plain fun.
PS: My favorite weather-watching site, by a former student: The Fucking Weather.
THE PRESS RELEASE
SFWA has named Samuel R. Delany, Jr. (1942– ) as the 2013 DAMON KNIGHT MEMORIAL GRAND MASTER for his contributions to the literature of Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Samuel R. Delany is the author of numerous books of science fiction, including Nova, Dhalgren, Stars in My Pockets Like Grains of Sand, and most recently Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders. Two of his classic works of science fiction criticism, The Jewel-Hinged Jaw and Starboard Wine, have just been brought back into print by Wesleyan University Press, who will reissue a third, The American Shore, in the summer of 2014.
After winning four Nebula awards and two Hugo awards over the course of his career, Delany was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in 2002. Since 2001 he has been a professor of English and Creative Writing at Temple University in Philadelphia, where for three years he was Director of the Graduate Creative Writing Program. In 2010 he won the third J. Lloyd Eaton Lifetime Achievement Award in Science Fiction from the academic Eaton Science Fiction Conference at UCR Libraries. He is also a recipient of the William Whitehead Memorial Award for a lifetime’s contribution to lesbian and gay literature.
SFWA PRESIDENT, STEVEN GOULD
One of the perks of being SFWA president is the option of selecting the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's next Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master. One of the tragedies is we only get to select one a year. That said, from the grains of sand in my pocket, I am delighted to pull this star.
Samuel R. Delany is one of science fiction’s most influential authors, critics, and teachers and it is my great honor to announce his selection. When discussing him as this year's choice with the board, past-presidents, and members, the most frequent response I received was, "He’s not already?"
Well he is now.
IN HIS OWN WORDS
This award astonishes me, humbles me, and I am honored by it. It recalls to me – with the awareness of mortality age ushers up – the extraordinary writers who did not live to receive it: Roger Zelazny, Joanna Russ, Thomas M. Disch, Octavia E. Butler–as well, from the generation before me, Katherine MacLean, very much alive. I accept the award for them, too: They are the stellar practitioners without whom my own work, dim enough, would have been still dimmer.
- Samuel R. Delany
The DAMON KNIGHT MEMORIAL GRAND MASTER is given by SFWA for "lifetime achievement in science fiction and/or fantasy." Delany joins the Grand Master ranks alongside such legends as Isaac Asimov, Alfred Bester, Harlan Ellison, Ursula K. Le Guin, Connie Willis, and Gene Wolfe. The award will be presented at the 49th Annual Nebula Awards Weekend in San Jose, CA, May 16-18, 2014.
More information on the award’s history and the Nebula Award Weekend can be found here.
It's about time! Congratulations to Mr. Delaney!
Here's a fantastic obituary of the comet's dramatic life:
Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON)
Born 4.5 Billion BCE, Fragmented Nov 28, 2013 (age 4.5-billion yrs old)
Click the image to see Karl Battams' story. Click here to see the full-size image.
Born in a dusty and turbulent environment, comet ISON spent its early years being jostled and struck by siblings both large and small. Surviving a particularly violent first few million years, ISON retreated to the Oort Cloud, where it maintained a largely reclusive existence for nearly four billion years. But around 3-million BCE, a chance encounter with a passing star coerced ISON into undertaking a pioneering career as a sungrazer. On September 21, 2012, ISON made itself known to us, and allowed us to catalog the most extraordinary part of its spectacular vocational calling.
Never one to follow convention, ISON lived a dynamic and unpredictable life, alternating between periods of quiet reflection and violent outburst. However, its toughened exterior belied a complex and delicate inner working that only now we are just beginning to understand. In late 2013, Comet ISON demonstrated not only its true beauty but a surprising turn of speed as it reached its career defining moment in the inner solar system. Tragically, on November 28, 2013, ISON's tenacious ambition outweighed its ability, and our shining green candle in the solar wind began to burn out.
Survived by approximately several trillion siblings, Comet ISON leaves behind an unprecedented legacy for astronomers, and the eternal gratitude of an enthralled global audience. In ISON's memory, donations are encouraged to your local astronomy club, observatory or charity that supports STEM and science outreach programs for children.
I also want to be in control of what gets crossposted and what doesn't.
I _do_ know how to crosspost between LiveJournal and Dreamwidth, but the others are a cypher. Ideas?
Ender's Game (book or movie) is not Orson Scott Card; in many ways, it feels strange thinking that such a foul person could have written such a beautiful and painful story (which was brilliantly acted by young people in the movie). But he wrote it some two decades ago, when he was (presumably) not such an ass-hat as he comes across lately.
Do you have a problem with the movie? Consider Sturgeon's Law: "90% of everything is crud." I know a lot of people who would say the same thing about other human beings, that 90% of them aren't people you'd want to befriend. But if you deny yourself enjoying the 10% of stuff that's worthy of your attention because 90% of that was written by someone you find despicable (what's that leave, 1% or something?), you're in for a desolate life.
For more fantastic discussion about this, check out Tessa Gratton's powerfully personal post about this here. Also Bart Calendar's commentary on the issue of artist vs. art here.
Click the image to see NASA's page with lots of photos and info.
One of the biggest seas is called Kraken Mare, I kid you not:
Click the image to see more about Titan's salt flats.
As cool as that is, though, you have to check out what spring lighting has uncovered about Saturn's amazing, hexagon-shaped polar hurricane:
"I used to spend a lot of time wondering why anyone would want to work in a place with a [5%] approval rate... if your ideology is about dismantling the federal government, having a [5%] approval rate suits you just find, because you get to go home and say, 'See how horrible these people are?'
"The more degraded they can make the government seem, the more it suits their ideological purposes."
Hear, freakin' hear. It's all so clear to me now.
He also points out that "The divide between Democrats and Republicans is less than the divide that exists in the Republican Party."
James Gunn will read from and sign his new novel Transcendental this afternoon (Wednesday, Oct. 9), in the Jayhawk Ink Bookstore from
Come get a copy of his wonderful new novel that Frederik Pohl called, "his best yet, and in it he demonstrates his possession of one of the most finely developed skills at world-building (and at aliens-creating to populate those worlds) in science fiction today. Read it!"
- Turns out not one but two pushrods were bent (both on the affected cylinder) - not surprising, what with nowhere for the expanding gases to go when the exhaust valve wasn't opening. (This would explain why I was getting low temperature readings on that part of the exhaust header, as well... more on that in a moment.) But it is surprising when assuming the bending happened while trying to get the new digital MSD setup to fire. My oh my am I glad that I purchased a full set of new pushrods instead of just one. The intake pushrod on the #7 cylinder was bent into such a curve that I had to use a Vice Grip to straighten it enough to remove. Yowza. And as soon as I pulled it out, the ball-end that sits in the lifter just dropped out onto the floor. Thank the Gods of Internal Combustion that it didn't fall off inside the engine when it was running, or this would be a tragic post.
- I removed the full rocker-arm assembly, so I could check the other cylinders' valvetrain, as well. Thanks again that they're all fine.
- The little balls on the ends of the roller-rocker arms (where the cup-ends of the pushrods fit) were pretty galled up, so I had to grind them smooth. The underside of the aluminum rocker for the exhaust valve was really marred, too, but the bearings appear unharmed. Clearly, now, evidence pointed to the engine having run with bent pushrods for a good long time. Eep. (On the plus side, I can't wait to see what kind of power it puts down with 8/8 of the engine running instead of 7/8.)
- I put everything back together, properly assembly-lubed and anti-seize-lubed as appropriate, then torqued as appropriate. Then I went through each rocker-arm assembly and individually set the lash at "pushrod just barely spins when tightened down," as directed for a hydraulic lifter setup.
- With everything buttoned up, I manually rotated the engine through a full 360°, so I could double-check the valve lash before sealing up that valve cover - never assume everything is correctly adjusted after just one set of tests.
- Surprise! The exhaust pushrod on our friendly #7 cylinder? It was sitting loose in the head. How could this be, as I had carefully adjusted it? Well, I loosened the lock-nut, then turned the ball-stud bolt where the pushrod rests on the rocker-arm... and discovered that it wanted another half-inch of adjustment. Now, I may not be perfect at adjusting everything the first time, but a half-inch off? It had just the right amount of rotation when I locked down the nut just a few minutes prior. So I checked the pushrod length, and it's not a half-inch shorter than the others.
- What does that leave? Collapsed lifter is what.
- The rocker-arm could be so badly chewed up.
- Early tests with a temperature-gun showed #7 to be running cool: Non-firing cylinders don't get hot.
- The engine always ran a little ragged - I had assumed it was just the semi-radical cam.
- The timing was so hard to get right.
The first sign something was wrong....
So the car will not be ready for Saturday's car show. Sadness. On the plus side, the broken lifter won't cost much to replace, just a huge amount of time: This task requires pulling off the AC unit, the intake manifold, the valley pan, plus all associated hoses, wires, throttle cables, and so forth. Not a one-day job. On the other plus side, forecasters tell of guaranteed rain on Saturday, so the show might be a bust, anyhow.
Now, off to class. More later -
Loved it. Must own the blu-ray... which, it appears, comes on on October 15. I know what I'm ordering that morning.
That was an easy choice.
So I worked on developing all the muscles across my back and shoulders necessary to keeping everything aligned and healthy, which in time resulted in the pleasant side-effect of getting stronger and more fit overall. So I've continued working out ever since, including CrossFit training at the Lawrence box plus setting up my home for daily workouts: heavy bag, pull-up bar, TRX device, free weights, weight vest, and so on. Except for when I'm buried in the CSSF Science Fiction Summer or otherwise on deadline, I've maintained a regular workout schedule, at least doing what I call "maintenance workouts" several times per week (single sets, basically).
( fitness-tracking photoCollapse )
But I find I lack motivation to go beyond maintenance! I want to continue to develop my body, continue to grow stronger and more muscular, and for me to achieve that requires that I set goals.
But what goals?
Aiming for a certain weight or reps does nothing for me, and I'm not shooting for any record. I can already lift anything I need to, such as heavy car parts. I can already do more push-ups or pull-ups or so forth than most of my buddies (those are always fun challenges). I'm not going to go back to martial-arts tournaments, because the really good participants are often much more ego-invested than is healthy (for their opponents). I've done a good job keeping off excess fat, and eating well is reward in itself. I like that the older I get, the fitter I get.
Suggestions? What motivates you that I might try to keep improving my body?
Crossed the 36,000-word mark! Woohoo! That's up more than 3000 new ones since leaving for WorldCon!
Also good news: I've been working on all-new scenes now that I'm happy with the early material. Wrote a ton of notes en route to San Antonio, plus a bunch there, too, while listening to intelligent and insightful speakers. Also got a lot of inspiration from being around so many pros. This is why we go to cons.
Okay, now off to office hours and then today's science fiction class: The Time Machine and Childhood's End.
I've missed seeing Fred at the annual Campbell Conference for a few years now, but knowing I'll never see him again is hard.
He was a truly great man, and kind, and thoughtful, and patient, and good. His endless promotion of science was inspiring, and his gentle criticism of the foolish ways of humans made me a better person. I'll miss him a great deal. We all will. The loss of Frederik Pohl makes the world a little less bright.
Hug someone you love today.
As if I needed any more reasons to see this movie, this'll do it: Riddick saves a space-puppy!
Click the image to see the short clip.
I love Vin Diesel for many reasons, but here's another:
Click the image to see the Penny Arcade page.
In other news, I'm heading to LoneStarCon3 on Friday morning (meaning I miss the James Gunn Guest-of-Honor reception on Thursday evening, which I helped organize... stupid first day of only-once-a-week class). Here's my WorldCon schedule (with a couple items I helped organize but can't attend):
6:00pm - 8:00pm: Reception for students and close associates of Guest of Honor James Gunn
If you want to be part of this but haven't yet gotten an invite, let me know ASAP and I'll try to get you on the invite list! I'm sad that I can't attend, but I get to see Jim every week. Still, what's up with WorldCon starting on the Thursday of the first week of classes? ARGH.
5:00pm: "When is Hard SF Too Hard"
008A (Convention Center)
Nancy Kress, Michael J. Martinez, Christopher McKitterick, Jack Skillingstead.
Our panelists discuss the delicate balance between punching a button to go into hyperspace, and reaching for your calculator to figure out if you really could.
4:00pm: "Cartography of Genre: Roman Epic Space Opera and the Academic Legacy of Jim Gunn"
008A (Convention Center)
Christopher McKitterick (Mod), Donald M. Hassler, Bob Cape
This includes a couple of papers: "Space Opera and the Greco-Roman Epic" Bob Cape, Austin College; "A Key Cartographer of the Genre: Jim Gunn" Donald M. "Mack" Hassler, Kent State University.
5:00pm: James Gunn Tribute
103B (Convention Center)
Michael Page, Gary K. Wolfe, Kij Johnson, Christopher McKitterick, John Kessel, and hopefully others!
A tribute by our panelists to LoneStarCon 3 Guest of Honor, James Gunn.
5:30pm - 6:00pm: Reading: Christopher McKitterick
This one is uncertain, as at first I had thought I wasn't going to still be at the con on Sunday evening, so maybe and maybe not. *sigh*
Do you know a teacher, parent, librarian or anyone else interested in getting SF into the hands of young folks? The Center's two new AboutSF Volunteer Coordinator student-employees will present a "Teaching Science Fiction: A Workshop for Teachers, Librarians, and Parents" for much of the day on Monday. In their trial-run at ConQuest this year, they gave a fantastic presentation, and have been working hard at this longer version. I can't participate, as I'm on the plane during this time, but they'll do a great job, I'm sure. Check 'em out!
Okay, back to 1) writing and 2) work!
Yep, that's about right. I share a lot of successful authors' advice during my Speculative Fiction Writing Workshop, but this boils it down pretty well. From Buzzfeed's Copyranter.
Speaking of writing, here's what's kept me out of trouble since the end of the CSSF Summer program:
The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella progress:
...and with that, I'm back to it! Have a great evening.
Click the image to see the WIRED article and more photos. Click here to see a much-larger version of the image. Click here to see some amazing close-ups and samples of Hubble's best photos.
Astrophysics post-doc Alex Harrison Parker made this mash-up.
Science and art, unite!
Don't forget the Perseids tonight!
Click the image to see photographer Oshin D. Zakarian's page.
More details on the Sky & Telescope blog, here.
A new supernova has burst to life (the bright star in the cross-hairs, below):
If you want to see it in a telescope, here's where to look:
We see supernovae when super-massive stars explode, often outshining the galaxies where they erupt. This supernova is magnitude 12.5 and has stopped brightening; the entire M74 galaxy shines at only magnitude 10.0, so it's almost as bright as the other 100 billion stars shining as normal. Whoah.
Here's what a supernova looks like after it's exploded, shed much of its mass (the glowing "planetary nebula"), and shrunken to the white-hot dot of its core neutron star. In fact, some supernovae are so massive before the explosion that they end up as black holes. Here's the Crab Nebula, recorded by Japanese and Chinese astronomers (and Native Americans, among others) in 1054, still glowing bright nearly a thousand years later:
The Sun will never explode like that; however, it will expand to red-giant phase over the next few billion years, engulfing first Mercury, then Venus, and even the Earth: Yes, the Sun's diameter will swell to larger than the Earth's orbit.
Astronomy is full of AWESOME. And I mean that in a very literal way.
The good news: You know those carbon-monoxide alarms you can get combined with your fire alarm? Well, mine work, as they went off last night (both of them). I changed the batteries before going to bed, thinking that was the problem - and also opened the doors to let in the sauna-air, just in case.
The bad news: This morning, on a hunch, I looked into the utility closet and discovered that the vent atop the gas-fired water heater had slipped off. Odd; has the house settled that much? Then I noticed water around the bottom of the water heater... seems it's about to blow, not only leaking a bit but also settling in a discomforting way.
Great month for this discovery: This is the month I don't get paid, and also the month I pay for my vehicle tabs, taxes, and insurance. *sigh*
Fate, you are mean-hearted.
This is too much fun not to share: A joust between a dog and a bunny, one riding a snail (with a human head) and the dog riding a bunny who just now seems to realize what's up. I kid you not:
Perhaps you remember the Rabbit of Caerbannog from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:
Turns out they weren't the first to fear killer bunnies! Run away, run away!
For more on the Killer Bunny, see The Sexy Codicology Blog.
Now let's go back another thousand years to the "Siberian Princess," whose tattoos have recently been revealed in their full glory:
Those are the reconstructions, but you can see the originals and more drawings in the full article. Wow, who knew people got such amazing skin-art 2500 years ago?
Lunch break's over - back to grading final projects!
Oh, and even here I had to do custom work, like everything else on the Newport, this time a special, custom-ground distributor cap. Yep, to make the new MSD digital distributor's cap fit (and so I can rotate it as needed for tuning), I've had to grind it a bit:
It's a tricky balancing act, because I don't want to remove too much material to make it weak, but it won't fit right or work correctly if I don't remove just enough....
Anyhow, back in it went with the new timing adjustment, but of course by then we had cranked the engine a lot of times, and the fuel injection dutifully kept squirting in more gasoline the whole time. So we flooded it. The spark plugs were pretty much dripping gasoline. Time to let it sit and dry out.
This morning I went to the parts store and picked up a new set of spark plugs, because the soaked one also looked fairly filthy from previously running on a carburetor and poor ignition timing. I put the plug back in, then continued along to piston number 1 (the magical cylinder where one sets one's timing). Just to be safe, I decided to pull the valve-cover to make sure I had inserted the new distributor at TDC (top-dead-center, when the piston rests at the top of the cylinder, half-way between the up-stroke and down-stroke), which is when the spark should fire and create the power-stroke, rather than at the anti-TDC (same as normal TDC, only when the valves are open to let the exhaust out and the fresh charge is starting to pour in). I got a little surprise when I pulled the cover.
I guess this explains at least part of the difficulty I'm having in starting the car:
See that curved gray tube near the right-center of the photo, just below the cork gasket on the right side of the head? That's the end of a pushrod (minus its little cup-end, which had fallen off entirely - but thankfully didn't drop into the bottom of the engine). It should look like its sibling, the straight rod just to its left, resting against a ball on the bottom of an adjustable black nut on top of the valve's rocker arm.
Time to order a new pushrod. I guess I had better check the other side, too, just in case. Engines don't run well when they can't open valves.
In writing news, I'm coming along on The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella - just had a few breakthroughs in understanding Jack and Stella and their personal character arcs. Hooray! Also making more progress on a new SF story.
In teaching news, just started diving in to the final projects for my summer Intensive Science Fiction Institute course. Had to deal with a really annoying and slow new version of Blackboard to do so, bless the little hearts of the Blackboard programmers; can't wait to figure out how to turn off all the new crap that gets in the way of doing my job.
That's all for now. If you live around these parts, I hope you're enjoying our new Fall-Like Summer in Kansas! (Seriously, weather? Temps in the 60s and all-day thunderstorms? *sigh*)
"More than three decades after the debut of Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, Carl Sagan's stunning and iconic exploration of the universe as revealed by science, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey sets off on a new voyage for the stars. Seth MacFarlane and Sagan's original creative collaborators - writer/executive producer Ann Druyan and astronomer Steven Soter - have teamed to conceive a 13-part docu-series that will serve as a successor to the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning original series."
Here's the original-series trailer:
"Hosted by renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the series explores how we discovered the laws of nature and found our coordinates in space and time. It brings to life never-before-told stories of the heroic quest for knowledge and transport viewers to new worlds and across the universe for a vision of the cosmos on the grandest scale. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey invents new modes of scientific storytelling to reveal the grandeur of the universe and re-invent celebrated elements of the legendary original series, including the Cosmic Calendar and the Ship of the Imagination. The most profound scientific concepts are presented with stunning clarity, uniting skepticism and wonder, and weaving rigorous science with the emotional and spiritual into a transcendent experience."
And here's the brand-spankin'-new trailer for the new series, just released for DragonCon:
"Carl Sagan's original series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage was first broadcast in 1980, and has been enjoyed by more than 750 million people worldwide." Including me, a few times now. I can hardly wait for this new one!
And now it's back to working on tonight's talk on "Science Fiction: Mythologies for a Changing Age." (scheduled to begin at 7:30pm in Lawrence's Free State Brewery; I'm arriving for dinner at 6:15pm).
First up: Next Tuesday at 7:30pm in Lawrence's Free State Brewery, I'll be leading a conversation on "Science Fiction: Mythologies for a Changing Age." If you'd like to attend AND eat dinner, I encourage you to get there a bunch early, because the place usually fills up for these events, leaving standing-room only for those who arrive on time. If you just want to hang out and drink one of Free State's fantastic beers, well, come on down when we get started. Details here.
Today, between 4:27 and 4:42, the Cassini spacecraft out at Saturn will take the second-ever photo of Earth from beyond the Earth-Moon system. (The first was the famous "Pale, Blue Dot" shot that Voyager snapped.) The Americas, mid-Atlantic Ocean, and parts of Western Africa will be in the shot. Sure, it'll only be about a pixel wide, so your pretty face will be, um, rather tiny, but this is HISTORY! Get outside and wave at Cassini and Saturn today!
Gunn's upcoming (August 2013) novel Transcendental just got a starred review from Kirkus Reviews that calls it "Gunn's best in years - quite possibly his best ever." What a nice birthday present, wouldn't you say? Beyond being Author Guest of Honor at this year's WorldCon, he just had a collection of essays published, was Guest of Honor at the 2013 SFRA/Eaton Conference, and will see at least two more books published before his next birthday. If only the rest of us could be so awesome at any age.
Earlier this week, I submitted the fourth essay due to various people this summer. This frees me up to write, y'know, MY OWN stuff! Of course, mostly I've been recuperating from the month-long Science Fiction Summer program here at KU - which, don't get me wrong, I love, but being a residential thang where a guy needs to be "on" about 18 hours a day, sucks up a ton of creative juices. Even so, The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella - still planning to get it and my previous novel out to the agent later this month.
In related news, I've nearly finished updating my Hot-Rod Newport to using a complete MSD electronics package, including Atomic fuel-injection system, digital distributor, and capacitive-discharge ignition. I'm setting it up to be able to digitally control not only the fuel and spark, but also the timing. This afternoon, I hope to give it a try... *fingers crossed*
This makes me SO HAPPY: Pizza in Space video. Ad astra, little pizza slice!
Today's moment of nostalgia: Pac-Man as existential horror story, by the online comic, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.
And I leave you with this, me wearing my new scooter helmet (full description of safety mods to come):
Have a great weekend!
I have a wonderful air-conditioner-slash-dehumifier in the garage, and it displays a temperature readout. Normally - that is, in temps below 100 - it does a great job cooling the garage, and even allows me to cool my back with the door open. But not today. Here's what it looked like just a few minutes after opening the garage door:
It's so hot outside right now that I watched a grackle hide in the shade of a lawn chair, mouth gaping, as it occasionally took a dip in the birdbath. In case you're wondering, I've given up on working outside. Thus this post instead of actually making more progress.
Here's what I finished installing - the new EFI fuel pump with pre- and post-filters, high-pressure fuel line, and wiring to fill the new MSD Atomic EFI system:
Yes, it's still in my driveway. Foolish me, I pulled the carburetor, old distributor, and associated parts a while back, WHILE IT WAS STILL OUTSIDE. In the lovely spring weather, that seemed like a good idea. And I thought I'd have the EFI system installed before the start of the Science Fiction Summer program. Ha. I should always remember the formula for how long something takes to do compared to the estimated time: "Double it and add 30." Now I'm dehydrated, dying of heat, covered in mosquito bites, and bruised from lying on pebbled in the driveway. Someone please remind me that I like to do this stuff.
Other under-car hijinks included installing this collector-reducer onto the header. Note the newly installed oxygen sensor that tells the EFI system how much oxygen and unburned gasoline is in the exhaust:
Here's the injector setup mostly installed on the engine; the sensor array and computer reside beneath the finned cover that says MSD. You can also see the primary computer installed on the far side of the engine compartment, the red box near the top of the photo. The new digitally controlled distributor is the red part on the right with red spark-plug wires coming out of it:
From the driver's side; nice-looking machine, isn't it? The red cylinder in front of it is the high-energy coil, and you can see the newly installed distributor behind it. The distributor is necessary because the old one kept losing timing, even with the old optical sensor; on top of that, it'll also be awesome because now I'll be able to plot a digital ignition curve via the MSD computer interface: No more crappy idling, pinging, or sluggishness!
Why EFI? Because a carburetor is nothing but irritation is why. If you haven't had to deal with one, congratulations! After - what, two years? - of poor starts, regular adjustments, and other tinkering, I got fed up with the carb. EFI provides better fuel mileage, easy starting, better throttle response, precision tuning, usually more horsepower and torque, and many more benefits. I hope to let you know how it runs in a week or two!
|The Campbell Conference is a wrap - what a great time! Despite a million challenges, everyone able to attend seemed to enjoy the event, many were inspired by the various talks, the receptions were a blast, and awards were dispensed. Who won what? Check out the press release on the CSSF News page! Congratulations to all the winners - this was an incredibly good year. Depending on your reading tastes, your favorite book or short story for 2012 might turn out to be any of the finalists, so the jurors recommend that you read all the works on both the Sturgeon short-list and the Campbell short-list.|
How about a quick bit of Astro-Porn? Check it out: Great shot of the International Space Station skittering across the surface of the Moon (I lie... nice shot of the ISS and the Moon, though):
Click the image to see the Spaceweather page. Thanks to Jeremy Tolbert for the tip!
Okay, now I'm off to the Intensive Institute on Science Fiction. Good day!
Click the image to see Keith Stokes' photo-essay of the event.
A special selection of materials from the Spencer science fiction collection will be on display in their Johnson room from 9:00am - 4:45pm this Friday, June 14. Anyone who is interested is welcome to stop by and see these rare items.
And, if you ask about the SF display at the front desk when you enter the building, Special Collections Librarian Elspeth Healey will come out and personally tour you around the items, so don't miss this great opportunity!
The Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction's summer program is in its second week of workshops (both long and short-form), and this Friday through Sunday we host our annual Campbell Conference. A quick overview of events:
- Best-selling SF author Kevin J. Anderson kicks off the Conference on Friday afternoon with a talk about dreaming big and making unrealistic expectations pay off.
- On Friday evening, the Awards Ceremony and Banquet honors the winners of the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and brand-new "Lifeboat to the Stars" Award, followed by a reception.
- Saturday morning's round-table discussion theme is "To the Stars," where we will explore SF's long relationship with off-planet travel, its promises, and the future of the human race as a galactic species. We will also discuss the important steps along the path to the stars.
- During lunch break on Saturday, get your books signed by this year's guest authors and editors at a mass autographing session. The bookstore has volumes for everyone on hand.
- On Saturday afternoon, hear readings from Kevin J. Anderson, Andy Duncan, and James Gunn.
- Saturday evening sees a special screening of the new Kevin Willmott film, Destination: Planet Negro!, followed by a Q&A with the director and cinematographer Matthew Jacobson. Afterward is another reception.
- Sunday morning is an informal "meet the authors and editors" session, followed by an informal reception off-campus sponsored by Kansas City in 2016, a bid for the 74th Worldcon.
Due to a family emergency, Robert J. Sawyer is unable to attend this year's Campbell Conference.
To learn more about our events and guests, visit the Conference page: http://www.sfcenter.ku.edu/campbell-conf
And please help spread the word!
First up, "El Martillo de Thor se queda Pendejo." While taking a little break from grading final projects, I stumbled across this insane video about a cultural phenomenon I was not aware of, but now must learn EVERYTHING about. Whoah. You gotta respect Mjölnir, else it tries to launch you into space. Seriously, though, what kind of festivals do they celebrate south of the border?
Next, OMG am I charmed half-to-death by "Star Trek: The Middle School Musical":
Finally, if you're local, here are a few upcoming area SF events you don't want to miss:
Spectrum Fantastic Art Live, the most amazing SF art show anywhere, THIS weekend. In its second year.
ConQuesT, the Kansas City SF convention, on Memorial Day weekend.
And of course in a month is the Campbell Conference. Newly confirmed guest authors include Kevin J. Anderson and Robert J. Sawyer, plus we'll host a screening of Destination Planet Negro, among other things:
This year's theme is "To the Stars," an SFnal play on the Kansas state motto. June 13-16.
Okay, I'm either diving back into grading or else going out to the garage to install the fuel pump for the Hot Rod Newport's new fuel-injection rig... decisions, decisions....
Click the image to see the Hubble Heritage page where amateur astronomers and photo-processing experts the world over created new Horsehead Nebula images.
In this new photo, it's less clear why it's called the Horsehead Nebula (see the black-and-white one below for a more-iconic shot). Images of this shadowy nebula have graced astronomy publications forever. This new Hubble-and-VISTA photo uses infrared wavelengths to showcase the horse's head and neck in ghostly beauty. Radiation pressure from nearby stars shapes the silhouette of gas and dust, carving it into the shape you see here. The horse's head spans about a parsec (three light-years), while the overall sea of star-forming gas and dust stretches across hundreds of light-years of space (click for a broad-vista photo) in the constellation Orion, and includes the Great Orion Nebula.
To give you an idea of what people have been used to seeing in telescopes without infrared resolution, here's another lovely photo taken by astronomer Terry Hancock over a six-hour exposure using a Hydrogen-Alpha filter with his 12" telescope:
Click the image to see Hancock's Flickr page.
Still gorgeous, and of a quality only major observatories could have produced just a decade or two ago.
Less than three weeks left to apply to be part of this year's Speculative Fiction Writing Workshop at the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction...
Science Fiction Grand Master James Gunn - who founded the Center for the Study of SF at the University of Kansas and taught the workshop from 1985 to 2010 - joins this summer's SF Writing Workshop for Week One of the Workshop.
More good news: Andy Duncan once again serves as guest author for Week Two of the Speculative Fiction Writing Workshop. Welcome back, Jim and Andy! Author and CSSF Director Christopher McKitterick, who served as guest author from 1996 to 2010, has led the Workshop since 2011.
For 2013, the Workshop meets from June 2 - 14, followed by the Campbell Awards and Conference, from June 13 - 16, which in turn is followed by the two-week Intensive Institute on the Teaching of Science Fiction (short stories this summer).
Gunn joins us for the first week of the Workshop, for lunches throughout, and for the Conference; Andy joins us for the second week plus the Conference; and our Campbell Award- and Sturgeon Award-winning authors are usually on hand for the last day or two of the Workshop to share their expertise. During the last day or two of the second week, we also expect to have both our Campbell Award and Sturgeon Award-winning authors plus Kij Johnson and other Campbell Conference-attending authors and editors on hand talking about the business of writing.
Bonus: Attendees receive free admission to the Campbell Conference!
The Workshop is a fantastic experience, intended especially for writers who have just begun to publish or who need that final bit of insight or skill to become a published author. We work with all brands of speculative fiction, including horror, fantasy, magical realism, slipstream, speculative philosophy, all genres of science fiction, and so on, and it's a wonderful way to bond with fellow writers in a friendly and dedicated atmosphere. Plus we go out to dinner every night at a different restaurant in downtown Lawrence, watch lots of (both admirable and awful) SF film, and write our brains out.
Since 2011, it's also available for KU graduate credit as ENGL757. If you're a grad student who needs summer credit to accelerate that graduation date, perfect! Most attendees, however, simply enroll as a professional workshop rather than for credit.
Interested? This is a great opportunity to gain insights from some of the most-respected authors in the field. We are still open for applications through May 20, but sooner is better as we usually fill early. See the website for details, and drop me a note right away so I can reserve you a spot.
Know a writer who might be interested? Please pass this on. And teachers, please spread the word to interested students.
She wasn't fond of my mowing yesterday. Yes, the ground finally dried enough here in Lawrence, KS, to crop the jungle that had sprung up in the last few days of warmth. We went directly from winter (snow a week or two ago, freezing nights just a few days ago) to summer, and the grass has been exploding upward, unevenly, such that the yard looked like abandoned property. No more!
In other urban-wildlife news, my buddy Spot the Squirrel has taught two of his buddies (first-year squirrels) his little trick for getting food whenever he's hungry: First, he draws attention by standing on the fence outside the kitchen window, looking cute while trying to catch your eye:
Next, he jumps on top of the grill, right outside the back door, peering around the corner into the kitchen. If that doesn't work, he climbs onto the sliding-screen door and peeks inside, as demonstrated here:
If no one's in the kitchen when he does that, he starts leaping onto the screen - a rather noisy event that even gets my attention while working upstairs in my office. Well, now a young male and a pregnant young female have learned how to get more food, faster. I would like to think that these intelligent little critters have learned from one another a rich survival technique that their behavior earns reward, but I suspect it's more along the lines of they have trained the humans how to respond.
Apologies for the rare and intermittent posts; this semester has been killing me. So much work, so much unnecessary work-stress, so much prepping for Science Fiction Summer... yowza, it's almost May!
Hope you're doing well!
|Frederik Pohl announced his intentions to step down from his long-time service to the Award.
New Sturgeon Award juror Andy Duncan talks about being honored with the Award by Pohl:
I first came to the University of Kansas to take James Gunn's SF Writing Workshop in the summer of 1992, and was both astounded and incredibly pleased to discover that we had the opportunity to work with not only Gunn but another master of the art - completely to ourselves! - Frederik Pohl. I first read his work in the form of Gateway, which still holds a central place in my heart and deeply influenced how I write. That workshop truly changed my life. I felt that I must do my absolute best to become a real SF writer so I could retroactively deserve such access and professional attention. Fred returned to the Workshop and Campbell Conference just about every year for the following two decades, sharing his time, intelligence, and gentle wisdom with other summer-program attendees. Fred is one of the reasons I fell in love with the Center. No one can be Fred, but he inspires us to be our absolute best.
James Gunn shares an excerpt of his essay, "Fred and Me," from the Gateways collection:
| ||Elizabeth Bear was born on the same day as Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, but in a different year. She is the John W. Campbell New Writer, Hugo, Locus, and Spectrum Award-winning author of more than a dozen novels and nearly a hundred short stories, including her 2008 Sturgeon Award-winning story, "Tideline." Her work has been nominated numerous times for these and other awards. Bear's hobbies include rock climbing and cooking. Bear lives in Massachusetts, but may frequently be found in Wisconsin, the home of her partner, fantasist Scott Lynch. |
Andy Duncan won the Sturgeon Award for his 2001 Asimov's novella "The Chief Designer." His first collection, Beluthahatchie and Other Stories, won a World Fantasy Award, as did his SciFi.com story, "The Pottawatomie Giant." Duncan has been nominated six times for the Nebula Award, twice for the Stoker, three times for the World Fantasy Award, twice for the Shirley Jackson Award, and twice for the Hugo Award. Duncan has been a juror for the Philip K. Dick, Shirley Jackson, and Bram Stoker awards, and has taught at Clarion, Clarion West, and the SF Writing Workshop at the University of Kansas. Recent books include The Pottawatomie Giant & Other Stories, his second short-fiction collection; Crossroads: Tales of the Southern Literary Fantastic, an anthology co-edited with F. Brett Cox; The Night Cache, a stand-alone novella; and Alabama Curiosities, an offbeat travel guide. A tenure-track faculty member in the English department at Frostburg State University in Maryland, Duncan also teaches a weekly seminar on 21st-century science fiction and fantasy in the Honors College of the University of Alabama.
The Sturgeon Award for the best short science fiction of the year is one of the major annual awards for science fiction. 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 widow Jayne Sturgeon and Sturgeon's children, as an appropriate memorial to one of the great short-story writers in a field distinguished by its short fiction.
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 have been deposited at the University of Kansas, as he wished. See this page for news and information about the 2011 acquisition, valued at over $600,000.
For its first eight years (1987-1994), the Sturgeon Award was selected by a committee of short-fiction experts headed by Orson Scott Card. Beginning in 1995, the Sturgeon Award became a juried award, with winners selected by a committee composed of James Gunn, Frederik Pohl, and Judith Merril. After the 1996 Award, Judith Merril resigned and was replaced by Kij Johnson, the 1994 Sturgeon winner; in 2005, George Zebrowski joined the jury. Since 1999, one of Sturgeon's children has also participated in this process, usually Nöel Sturgeon.
The current jury consists of Elizabeth Bear, Andy Duncan, James Gunn, Kij Johnson, George Zebrowski, and Nöel Sturgeon, Trustee of the Theodore Sturgeon Literary Estate.
Eligible stories are those published in English during the previous calendar year. Nominations come from a wide variety of science-fiction reviewers and serious readers as well as from the editors who publish short fiction. Nominations are collected during the winter by Chris McKitterick, who produces a list of finalists based on nominators' rankings. The jury then reads all of the finalists and debates their merits during the spring until they arrive at a consensus decision in May. The winning author is usually contacted in May and invited to attend the Campbell Conference; the winner often attends the last day or two of the SF Writers Workshop, as well.
The Sturgeon Award is presented during the Campbell Conference Awards Banquet at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, as the focal point of a weekend of discussions about the writing, illustration, publishing, teaching, and criticism of science fiction.
Press release also available on the CSSF News page here.
Speculative fiction has been undergoing significant changes lately, as significant and revolutionary in the genre as the New Wave or Cyberpunk. The genre has not remained stagnant since the 80s, but has matured and grown in subtle ways that have been difficult to track as they took place.
I refer to those two movements in SF because Alif the Unseen is very much a combination of them both.
Like the New Wave authors, Wilson's writing demonstrates a mastery of and love for language, human character, and other formerly "literary-only" concerns. Like Cyberpunk, Alif is about the changes wrought by technology and how the little people can use it more successfully against the establishment than huge monoliths, because it's so difficult to overcome the massive inertia of a large organization like a corporation, religion, or government. The people in the story are the "unseen" as much as are the jinn and other unseen beings, as is their habitat, their activities, and so forth. The people in Alif's world are as unseen and insignificant to the establishments around him as are the jinn... but when a police state or other authoritarian force reaches for total control and mistreats the unseen, the unseen can now fight back in non-violent ways using the digital infrastructure that now links our world. The book is multi-layered, which in meta-literary and metaphorical senses is brilliant in both concept (paralleling the book with the Alf Layla, Koran, and computer coding) and execution. I can see why it was marketed toward the literary crowd.
Like the Cyberpunks, Wilson sympathizes with underdogs and outcasts, criminals and others operating outside the law. The protagonist (Alif) is a programmer and website host for dissidents no matter what they espouse. Wilson's world is gritty, real, and thoroughly modern - despite being set in a poor, Middle-Eastern city. Alif's greatest ally is someone referred to as "Vikram the Vampire," an underworld character who has proven to be violent. When we soon learn he's a jinn, an ancient species documented in the Koran, the alien-ness in the book really takes off. There's even a moment when we witness the birth of an AI, though it doesn't survive long. If Cyberpunk is indeed "high tech and low life" as many describe it, combining science and technology with rebellion against the system, Alif very much fits into the genre while serving to point the direction for where it might go next. Like the Cyberpunk authors, Wilson paints a world in shades of gray rather than black-and-white, blurs the border between natural and unseen forces of old as well as the cybernetic powers of today, between the organic and machine, the real and virtual or dreamlike or otherwise unseen. Even if she didn't set out to write a post-Cyberpunk cyberpunk novel, that's exactly what she did... and I suspect this was her goal, as the marketing material cites Stephenson.
Finally, this novel demonstrates what we've been seeing more of over the last several years: Mainstream authors working with SFnal themes and modalities, or SF authors like Doctorow working in the here-and-now-plus-a-day. Works like this (I especially point to Mieville and Chabon) are growing the new movement in SF, helping mature the genre in a way that neither rejects its forebears nor the mainstream. SF has simply become the relevant literature of our time. Not just "the only realistic literature" per Clarke, but now the only relevant literature for people living in an ever-changing world. Most any story set in today or tomorrow that does not take into account the massive and ever-increasing rate of change in our daily lives feels instantly dated, like historic fiction. Sure, much SF that's set far into the future or on other worlds still feels like our familiar SF, and I hope we never lose that core of the genre. However, the literature that affects a wider diversity of people, more deeply, is that to which we can most closely relate, and that's more difficult the farther in time or space or alien-ness we venture.
Alif the Unseen is a work set in our world (though far from Western society, daily news images have made that part of the world familiar), in our time, among people who are far less alien to us than they were before the internet. Without the protagonist's programming and Web skills, the story would fall. I feel all this places it firmly in the SF camp. Most important, perhaps, is that this is as relevant a story for our changing times as we'll encounter: Based on publication date, Wilson must have been writing this in her Cairo home during the Arab Spring, the most-significant change to sweep across that part of the world since the Crusades and ensuing colonialism. Hackers, the internet, and individuals using the Web to share information, achieve freedom, and bring down the corrupt establishment have changed everything, and with the Arab Spring we're seeing Cyberpunk realized.
Now a few words about cultural appropriation, as I'm sure some people will be concerned in regards to this work.
G. Willow Wilson is American-born, writing about Middle Eastern and Islamic topics. Alif is a book that provides the deepest insights into those cultures that I've read to date, and I think I understand why: It all comes down to fear of the Other. All animals have this fear, humans particularly - and it's particularly egregious in sentient beings, especially those who read purportedly enlightened work like SF. Even so, for a long time, female SF authors had to write under pseudonyms to be taken seriously, and even female protagonists were a hard sell. Same for black, gay, and non-Western-culture authors and characters: Mainstream audiences have always been a little leery of the Other, uncertain, unable to connect to their stories. This is why various minorities or people not from the dominant culture are so under-represented. We usually only hear their ideas, but substantially different ideas without a narrative are difficult to understand or accept.
When Western (or non-black, or non-female, or non-whatever) authors write stories set in the culture of the Other, they usually get it wrong. They "Orientalize" or otherwise imbue the work with wonder and strangeness... because it's all about entering the culture from outside. Interesting, but not representing the culture or characters where the work is set. However, every once in a while, someone who started off in our culture (whatever that may be for the POV of the audience) immerses him- or herself sufficiently into the Other culture to be able to serve as a bridge between the two.
This is what Wilson did: Though she grew up in the US, she converted to Islam in college and moved to Egypt. She doesn't get it wrong, because she works hard to understand the culture she writes about, with occasional nods to acknowledge her ultimate Otherness to those cultures. However, her stories tell the tales that are important to Middle-Easterners, especially Egyptians, not just what an outsider would find interesting or exotic.
All through Alif we see these stories, and through this book I've gotten a handle on those cultures, and why our two cultures face such challenges in trying to understand one another. Wilson serves as our bridge, opening our Western minds to this particular Other, which hopefully opens the path to more indigenous authors writing on these topics in their own ways. But at least now Western editors might start considering such works, because the audience will start considering them, because here we have a novel written from the Other POV but using sensibilities we can grasp.
Every single paragraph in this novel contains some note of brilliance. The story parallels the insights we see, as the main character grows in understanding as well - even the writing itself blossoming as the story progresses, so the entire work is not just what it appears to be but a metaphor as well, and sometimes several layers deep. In many ways it is the magical book it describes, and it displays masterful writing not just line-by-line but in scene construction and overall story and imagery and character development and setting and intellectual stimulation and so forth.
This is my favorite novel of the year so far, and possibly for several years. If you love reading, you'll love this book.
THEM'S FIGHTIN' WORDS.
Click the image to see the io9 article.
Bill Nye and other Planetary Society folks posted a great piece on this, too. Did you know that NASA's total budget is far less than 1% of the federal budget? Chopping NASA's budget for exploration like this only saves 0.01% of the federal budget. That's one ten-thousandth, a hundredth of a penny for each tax dollar.
THROW THE BASTARDS OUT. Is the representative from your district someone who screwed around during the budget debates or actively worked against creating a reasonable budget? Was your rep one of the bastards who let the "sequester" happen? Then write them! Tell them what you think of chopping off the good parts of our nation in order to feed the greed of those who support their elections.
Heck, let's just fire them all, do a 100% recall election, then make them beg for the jobs from us (the voters) for once - and prevent them from getting re-election financing from anyone more than, say, $20/person. That'll change things. Because when basic research dollars get yanked (not just at NASA but all over the place, in every university), and public education programs get canceled, we might as well throw in the towel as a nation.
The Department of Homeland Security Theater has defined a 100-mile "border" around the nation. Within that "border" they can - and do - search and seize Americans (and everyone else) WITHOUT REASONABLE CAUSE. If you resist, YOU TOO can be seized. Click the map below to find out.
Click the image to see if you live in a 4th-Amendment-free zone.
Here's the original WIRED story that broke the news... which I'll bet you haven't heard about.
How is this not huge news all across the nation? Why aren't people protesting in the streets? Between 2008 and 2010, 6,500 people have had their electronic devices searched along the US border, according to DHS data. What happens to those who refuse? Have you heard what happens to those who refuse DHS? NOT GOOD THINGS. In fact, refusing DHS orders by definition makes you a terrorist suspect, which then give them cause to detain you indefinitely until they are assured you pose no threat.
WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?
Here's the petition you need to sign to stop this Constitutionally illegal DHS behavior. Go there now. If you're a US citizen, it's your duty.
I was about to type, "I can't believe this has been going on in our country," but I can, actually. Why? here's a litany of what's become of the USA since the Neocons transformed this nation from one that represents the people to one that represents the 1% of the filthy-rich who possess 99% of the wealth:
Wiretaps, search and seizure, indefinite detention, citizen surveillance, thought police, assassinations, invasions of sovereign nations, on and on... this is no longer a nation of law, but a place that's being transformed into a tyrannical empire ruled by royalty who don't attain their power over us all (and their special segregation from rule of law) through birth but through financial privilege... which their power ever-increases, which in turn provides them more power, and so on, an eternal spiral sucking freedom and wealth from the rest of us and funneling it into their vaults. The ultra-rich are a power-singularity, around which orbit the politicians they own, and into which all we have will ultimately spiral, erasing the US Middle Class as surely as a black hole erases all traces of matter that passes within its event horizon.
If you doubt that the richest 1% utterly control all power in the US, check out this video infographic:
All of this is an outrage. An outrage against us as citizens, against the Constitution which defines this nation, against this nation as a whole, and because of our position in the world and how we project power, an outrage against everyone on Earth. Why aren't we all outraged?
This cannot go on forever - at least not without destroying every remaining aspect of America-as-the-dream-that-was. Will Americans once again just lie back and allow this new assault on our rights and freedoms? Will we let the dream fade forever into history?
Or will we sign that petition, organize protests and marches, offer sane political candidates, and put our nation back on course toward freedom? Will this finally give the Occupy movement (or something like it) a core around which to rally?
I can hope.
And they've also posted Episode 2:
For some reason, this reminds me of the movie "Heathers," which chernobylred and I just watched for the first time last night. HOW DID I MISS THIS ONE? Check out this freaky trailer:
Last night, I kept asking aloud how I've never seen Heathers before. Here's what I came up with, which is both telling and ironic, considering what the movie is about:
I think it's because it came out in 1988, when I was in college and not dating anyone, and boys then saw it as a "girl's movie." That's right: Boys didn't allow themselves to see "girl's movies," and might still keep themselves from enjoying such. Not that Heathers is either a boy's or girl's movie, but it was perceived as such, partly because the lead is a girl (Winona Ryder). I never had that issue, but I've also never liked going to movies alone, so I missed out. BECAUSE OF THE DAMNED PATRIARCHY. I stopped myself from enjoying a film that would have blown me away at the time, because of cultural normativism. I'm a white guy in the US, yet I've been harmed by the retro-patriarchy. Just goes to show that we're ALL harmed by outmoded cultural norms.
This is fascinating. I've been wondering for a while now why Jabulani Leffall has not been the voice of KCUR's "Central Standard," the show he took over a couple years ago when its long-time host Walt Bodine lost his ability to think clearly (a useful trait for a talk-show host). But the show has been hosted by others lately, none of them stating, "Filling in for Jabulani Leffall." Surely people don't take two-month vacations, so what's up? So I asked The Google about the guy.
Turns out that his last show was on January 16, when he resigned in the last 30 seconds or so. The Pitch has a very interesting article about his resignation and the interviews they did with him: "Leffall steered the conversation into strange territory, referencing race, eavesdropping, space aliens and God's existence." Whoah, cool. Wish he'd talked more about his visions and paranoia than the just chatting through the tedious shows he usually hosted. Got me wondering if maybe this particular show makes people lose their minds.
The Kansas City Star's story has a flattering interview with him, including these insights:
"The objectivity we learn as bright-eyed, bushy-tailed journalism students, after a while you discover it's illusive. It's a lie. Journalism is changing. Questions need to be approved before asked; advertisers need to be placated. It's about ratings and Internet hits and business relationships ... Who wants to be a journalist in this environment? ... This is not what I signed up for, and it's certainly not what I should still be paying student loans for."
He's planning to pursue his creative interests, including music and writing. At the end of the Star's story, he sums up his feelings: "Your job is not your life, and what you do is not as important as who you are."
Click the image to see the Star article (this shot is from Lefall's spoken-word album).
Maybe the guy is crazy, maybe not. Then again, I've been toying with a hypothesis that we're all crazy: That is, every one of us has some issue that prevents us from being happy or being accepted by others or fitting in or whatever - something that makes us different, that others fear or loathe or can't understand. If everyone is crazy, then no one's crazy, right? I mean, if there's no standard for sane, the words become meaningless.
Quitting a job that makes you unhappy, that makes you feel like you're just a tool of a machine, seems the sane thing to do.
Interesting how it took his resigning in this way to get me to admire the man.
Tomorrow is Spring, right?
(Just having a little fun while testing out some video-making software. My first time using titles and sound!)
EDIT And why not: More fun stuffs:
Only 58%? Let's be optimistic here and assume that the majority of the other 42% sit in the "Meh, whatever," camp rather than the "OPPRESS EVERYONE WHO ISN'T EXACTLY LIKE ME!" camp.
And finally, one more thing before I go back to work: The book I'm currently reading is Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson, and OMG IT IS FANTASTIC YOU GUYS. Go find it and read it now!