?

Log in

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

Here's what I did with winter break!

Notice I don't call it "vacation," and here's why. On the other hand, it sure was a nice break to not have to be "on" for classes all week!
  • 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?

Best,
Chris

Astro-Porn of the Day: Asteroid strike!

We got hit by an asteroid earlier this week:

"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.

Chris

Tags:

Fall 2013 semester is OUTTA HERE!

...and just like that, with the stroke of midnight, the trillionth mouse-click, and the saving of the final grades for the last class, my Fall 2013 semester is complete! Time for a happy dance:


Oh, hey, it's now New Year's Eve! How appropriate....



Chris

Tags:

Merry Christmas from the Moon (and 1968)



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.

Merry Christmas!
Why she thought it was a good idea to kick snow in a cat's face, I do not know:



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."
HUGE space news:

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 )
Chris

It's COLD outside

I've been a big baby about the temperatures lately, so haven't yet tried to start the Hot-Rod Newport since rebuilding the valvetrain. With temps in the teens and single digits, MY digits simply don't want to hold metal tools and parts outside... where the car rests beneath its carport. Last week, though, I made some progress: Finished pulling apart the valvetrain, replaced a total of three pushrods, replaced one pair of roller lifters, ground smooth two banged-up rocker arms, adjusted every single lifter-pushrod-rocker team to 1/4-turn of preload (the best I could identify for how my Comp Cams roller lifters should be adjusted), reinstalled a new valley-pan and intake manifold and associated hoses and wires, and replaced the valve covers. ALMOST READY TO START. Here's some of the carnage (those pushrods should be straight, and the loose bits should be attached):



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 [personal profile] 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.

Chris
SFWA announces the honor here: 2013 Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award: Samuel R. Delany. I didn't realize he wasn't already a Grand Master, what with being so important and influential to the genre (and one of our only well-known writers of color for so long): Think of books like Dhalgren, Stars in My Pockets Like Grains of Sand, and Starboard Wine.

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!

Chris
RIP Comet ISON. Did you get a chance to see it? Did you take any photos you'd like to share? If so, I'd love to see 'em!

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.


Chris

Tags:

Social-networks crossposting question

Does anyone know how to crosspost to (or from) Tumblr, Facebook, LiveJournal, Twitter, and Dreamwidth to (or from) the others? It's tedious and time-consuming to manually do so, and I usually forget to include one or many when posting about something that might be relevant across platforms. Also, the LJ world has gotten very thin, so it would be great to make sure more than a handful of people see things.

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?

Thanks!
Chris
I went to see the movie a few days ago, and loved it. Like many people, I, too, harbored qualms about supporting a project that might profit a hate-mongering, sexist homophobe, but I loved the story (and book), and the previews looked good. So I went, and was really pleased I did. Though I admit to having used a free pass to the theater that I'd been saving, on ethical grounds, I'd not feel bad if I had paid actual cash money.

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.
With the coming of spring in the Saturn system, the skies are clearing over the moon Titan, giving NASA's Cassini spacecraft a great view of the hydrocarbon seas and vast salt flats normally hidden in organic-molecule smog:


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:



Chris

Tags:

Senator Michael Bennet (on today's Morning Edition NPR show), about the House Shutdown of the government: "People should be upset. The government is closed. It's an outrage. It's ridiculous. It's an embarrassment. There's a reason we have a [5%] approval rate.

"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 reading at KU today!

James Gunn will read from and sign his new novel Transcendental this afternoon (Wednesday, Oct. 9), in the Jayhawk Ink Bookstore from 4:00pm-5:30pm. Transcendental is an alien Canterbury Tales-Origin of Species-New Space Opera mashup, full of ideas and wonder.


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!"

James Gunn's newest novel, out now
from Tor Books. Click for full-size slipcover art (.pdf).


James Gunn, photographed in 2013 by Jason Dailey.

Hot-Rod Newport not so hot...

Unfortunate news for getting the Newport ready by Saturday's "Rev It Up" car show: This morning I tore into the valvetrain on the affected side (where I had discovered the bent pushrod), and got some news:
  • 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.
I sincerely doubt I could have destroyed a lifter with a couple of backfires while trying to start the car in my driveway. The (new!) lifter must have been collapsed all along. That would explain why:
  1. The rocker-arm could be so badly chewed up.
  2. Early tests with a temperature-gun showed #7 to be running cool: Non-firing cylinders don't get hot.
  3. The engine always ran a little ragged - I had assumed it was just the semi-radical cam.
  4. 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 -
Chris
Man, now I want to see this movie again. Here's some of the special-effects wizardry:



Loved it. Must own the blu-ray... which, it appears, comes on on October 15. I know what I'm ordering that morning.

Chris

Fitness update: Need goals

I started seriously working out a few years ago, after the motorcycle accident that detached my acromioclavicular joint: The choice was hardcore physical therapy that transitions into a lifetime of keeping my shoulders and back strong, or surgery with a 33% chance of resulting in reduced mobility after three months of immobilization.

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?

Thanks,
Chris

Tags:

Jack & Stella update

I've been writing a ton lately, so time for a little update:

The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella progress:


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.

Chris

In Memoriam: Frederik Pohl 1919 - 2013.

I put together a short memorial for Fred at the Center's website, here, including a few people's memories (and my own of how Fred changed my writing life).

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.

Best,
Chris

The new Riddick: Rule the Dark! (exclamation mark added for emphasis; why doesn't it come with an exclamation mark? All Riddick movies should come with exclamation marks) comes on in just over a week!

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:



Yes:


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):

Thursday
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.

Friday
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.

Saturday
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.

Sunday
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*

Monday
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!

Best,
Chris

Useful writing advice for everyone.

I spent the day so far prepping for the start of the semester tomorrow, and about to get off-line to resume writing, but really needed to share this back-of-the-envelope advice from a cynic:



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.

Chris
...assembled into a riff on Van Gogh's "Starry Night":


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!

Chris
...and here's the result:


You're welcome.

Don't forget the Perseids tonight!

Chris
The Perseids are coming! The famous Perseid meteor shower is underway already, though at a slow rate. Things get hot on Sunday and Monday nights. If you can get to truly dark skies, expect to see about 100 meteors per hour during the peak (cut that in half if you're watching near a city). Looks not-so-hot for Kansans (it seems to be fall weather here), but if the skies clear, don't forget to look up! A chaise lounge and mosquito repellant are your friends. Human friends are good, too, as is a nice bottle of wine.


Click the image to see photographer Oshin D. Zakarian's page.


More details on the Sky & Telescope blog, here.

Chris

Tags:

Astro-Porn of the Day: New Supernova!

News from the galaxy M74, the faintest of the Messier objects (but still observable in a smallish telescope):



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.

Chris

Tags:

House troubles.

I have good news and bad news about my house.

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.

Tags:

Take, for instance, the Killer Bunny that showed up throughout illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages.

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!

Best,
Chris
Over the past few days, I've spent a bit more time trying to start the newly fuel-injected, digitally programmed, updated Newport than I'd care to admit. No luck. Got a few nice misfires, but nothing remotely resembling "running." Yesterday, my buddy MadMattMax came over to help get it fired up, as I thought I'd reached the point where it'll happen. I'd set all the initial parameters in the MSD computer, I'd customized the ignition-timing curve, and the distributor was clocked correctly with the camshaft. When cranked, however, the engine disagreed. Turns out that the instructions in the MSD manual are wrong... well, wrong if you don't follow their suggestion to not use MSD computer control of ignition timing until you get the engine running. Well, my distributor was locked out, so I have to do it that way. So I was initially off on the timing by at least 20 degrees. That might not seem like a lot, if you consider a 4-stroke engine has a total of 720 degrees of rotation per cylinder's power-stroke; actually, though, it's more than enough to prevent the car from starting. I spent some time on the online forums and found my answer, we pulled the distributor and re-clocked it against the cam gear, and all seemed right in the world.

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*)

Best,
Chris
You might already knew about this, but Neil deGrasse Tyson is reprising Carl Sagan's most-awesome-ever program, Cosmos! It'll show on both the FOX network and National Geographic TV starting next spring.

More details:

"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).

Best,
Chris

Month in review!

I realize that, like many, I've grown lazy about posting cool stuff I find on the internets, using the quick-and-easy Facebook method of sharing instead of posting a proper entry here. So here are a few recent links:

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!

Best,
Chris

Hot-Rod Newport Progress

Okay, so it's 88 degrees Fahrenheit up here in my writing office, so I decided to go work on the Newport a bit. I mean, if you're already boiling to death and can't think straight to write, you might as well go outside where it's even hotter and do some manual labor, right? I think my reasoning went something like that.

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!

Chris

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!

Best,
Chris

Click the image to see Keith Stokes' photo-essay of the event.
*An extra Campbell Conference treat at the Spencer Research Library this Friday*

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! 

Best,
Chris

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-conference.htm

And please help spread the word!

Best,
Chris

Three-plus things make a post!

Not much serious here, just some stuff to enhance your day!

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?


(Okay, I'd go watch this. Wearing eye protection. And a helmet. And body armor.)

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....

Best,
Chris
The Horsehead Nebula is an icon in astronomy, yet even icons can be re-imagined with modern digital processing and infrared photography. Check out this beautiful new photo, just released today:


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.

Best,
Chris

Tags:

Learn how to write SF that sells. Using the short-story form, we help writers master the elements that create great stories. Since 1985.

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.

Thanks!
Chris

Tags:

Urban wildlife update

Just dropping in to share a charming urban-wildlife discovery: A few days ago, a robin made a nest in the ladder under the eaves of my garage. Well, it seems she's laid her eggs and is now incubating them. She saw me photographing her, so started eying me:



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!

Best,
Chris

For immediate release
Also available in .doc or .pdf version

Earlier this year, 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:

One of the highlights of my life was being handed my Sturgeon Award trophy by Frederik Pohl, at the 2002 ceremony, as he's been one of my heroes since I was a kid. His stories, novels, and nonfiction, and the magazines and anthologies he has edited, have not only shaped the field of science fiction for me and everyone else, but have shaped my conception of what it means to be a professional writer. On the Sturgeon jury, in particular, his firsthand knowledge of the science-fiction short story is simply irreplaceable; the jury will have a Fred-shaped hole in it forever.


Pohl presents the Sturgeon Award to Duncan.

Chris McKitterick recalls how Pohl changed his life:

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:


Pohl at the 2002 Campbell Conference.



Fred told me once, "Conventions never end; they just adjourn to another venue." That’s the way it was for Fred and me. We met at a convention, the World Science Fiction Convention of 1952, held in the old Morrison Hotel in Chicago. It was my first convention, my first meeting with SF writers and editors, and even readers, of any kind, and it was a wonderful beginning.

I’d been writing science fiction since the spring of 1948 and having my stories published since the fall of 1949. During those two years I kept writing, among other things a novella, "Breaking Point," that I adapted from a three-act play I wrote as an Investigation and Conference project. I sent it to Horace Gold, editor of Galaxy, and one day I got a telephone call from this clipped New York voice saying he liked "Breaking Point," but it was too long and would I let Ted Sturgeon cut it down.

Horace also suggested my name to Fred Pohl, who was running a literary agency called Dirk Wylie and, I later discovered, was close to Horace, and Fred became my agent. He was a good agent, and he sold a lot of stories for me—some to Horace (though not "Breaking Point," which he sold to Lester del Rey at the new Space Science Fiction), some to John Campbell, some to lesser markets, and one wondrous sale to Argosy—and a couple of novels.

When Orson Scott Card got too busy to organize the Sturgeon Award decision process, I asked Fred if we could do it. Together we recruited Judy Merril and later, after her resignation the year before her death, we got Kij Johnson, a previous winner, as a replacement. I haven’t even mentioned Fred’s distinguished service as president of the Science Fiction Writers of America (or the irony of his having criticized its value in earlier days), or as president of World SF, or his many invitations to speak as a futurist, or his lecturing on science fiction in Europe for the US Information Agency (he paved the way for my three later trips), or his Grand Master Award from SFWA, or his awards from other groups such as the Science Fiction Research Association, or the trends his stories and novels have anticipated. You can look it up.

We’ve all grown old together, Fred and me and science fiction, too. Conventions are not what they used to be (neither is the future). I wasn’t there at the beginning of the conventions, as Fred was, or of the Futurians, who were banned from the first World Convention but got their revenge by taking over a good part of science fiction in their day. But we’ve seen a lot of it—Fred for more than seventy years, me for only sixty. Maybe the next convention will convene in an alternate universe.

We will truly miss Fred's contributions to the Center and the Award.

For immediate release
Also available in .doc or .pdf version

Elizabeth Bear and Andy Duncan have accepted appointment to the jury for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for the best short SF of the year. They replace Frederik Pohl, who retired from the jury after having served for many years, almost since the Award's inception.


Elizabeth Bear
photo by Kyle Cassidy

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.


Andy Duncan
photo by Al Bogdan



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.

Best,
Chris

Been buried; sorry for absence; have some amazing astro-porn!


Click the image to see the Spaceweather website.

Just WOW. The comet is still visible as it moves farther from the Sun, though it's growing dimmer, too. But WOW.

Back to work,
Chris

Tags:

ALIF THE UNSEEN book review

(Contains only mild spoilers you'd probably get the from the inside-flap material.)
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.
That's it, I'm done with our government. It's one thing to make power-grabs, gradually erode our freedoms, and serve only their richy-rich masters, but to eliminate NASA's public outreach and educational programs? The budget they're proposing for Fiscal Year 2013 forces NASA to walk away from planned missions to Mars and Europa's oceans, delay for decades any missions to the outer planets, and radically slow the pace of scientific discovery, including the search for life on other worlds. For example, Mars exploration would totally be put on hold, taking a 38.5% cut.

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.

NO MORE.

Chris

Latest Month

May 2017
S M T W T F S
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031   

Page Summary

Syndicate

RSS Atom
Powered by LiveJournal.com