Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Early Senility

Okay, I'm losing my mind. I know that in the last few days I read an article about a pair of researchers who had worked out a way to identify the position of a subatomic particle without direct interaction, thereby side-stepping Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. But now, when I try to locate the article, online or in print, I'm drawing a complete blank. Google, Technorati and Icerocket searches pull up nothing, nor does a full search of my IE history and cache. And I can't find it in any of the print magazines I've read recently. Did I dream it? Does anyone have any idea what I'm talking about?

Monday, January 30, 2006


Metric Engineering and the Good Ship Further

The Good Ship Further, the starship in the Big Time Space Opera I'm researching, will have FTL and artificial gravity. A few months ago I complained about the difficulties I was having coming to terms with the level of handwaving necessary to get artificial gravity on an interstellar spaceship without having to work out the mathematical complexities of a rotating crew section acclerating at high speeds. This was something that honestly kept me up nights, and seemed to be a brick wall I kept bashing my head against.

And then, this last weekend, I ran headlong into a paradigm shift. I was researching the Zero-Point Field, which I'd already decided would be the basis for power generation on the Further. I'd recently decided, too, that instead of some sort of magic "underspace impellers" the starship would be propelled by something like a bias drive or pitch drive, both proposed by Marc Millis of the late, lamented Breakthrough Physics Propulsion Program. I'd read up a bit on Alcubierre's "warp drive," but couldn't work out how to integrate it.

Then I found the website of the Institute for Advance Studies in Austin. And, more specifically, their report Engineering the Zero-Point Field and Polarizable Vacuum for Interstellar Flight, originally presented in 2001 at the University of Sussex. This one document, probably the best single primer on the relationship between ZPF and gravity that I've found, really opened my eyes, and helped to cast a lot of the material I'd already gathered in a new light. I don't think I've come across this "polarizable vacuum" representation of general relativity before, but it's fascinating. The part which really rings my bell was first proposed by a Russian physicist, Andrei Sakharov, in the late sixties. He proposed that "gravitation is not a fundamental interaction at all, but rather an induced effect brought about by changes in the quantum-fluctuation energy of the vacuum when matter is present."

Cool, huh? Well, I had to read that through a few times before it made it past my forehead. This idea is dependent on a completely different conception of space than that I've been taught. Put as simply as possible (and lensed through my own meager layman's understanding) it states that spacetime isn't curved, as has been the consensus since Einstein, but flat. And that the characteristics of flat space are modulated and modified by the presence of matter.
"In brief, Maxwell's equations in curved space are treated in the isomorphism of a polarizable medium of variable refractive index in flat space; the bending of a light ray near a massive body is modeled as due to an induced spatial variation in the refractive index of the vacuum near the body; the reduction in the velocity of light in a gravitational potential is represented by an effective increase in the refractive index of the vacuum, and so forth. "
So this isn't just a question of gravity, but everything. The speed of light, "effective" mass, clock speeds, energy states, and "rulers"--all are no longer fundamental qualities, but secondary characteristics of the quantum vacuum. And if you were able to jigger the "variable vacuum dielectric constant" (how's that for a mouthful?), you could actually change those metrics. Reduce that constant, and you increase the local speed of light, decrease effective mass, speed clocks and expand rulers. How is that useful? Well, if you increase the speed of light, you get accelerate to arbitrarily fast speeds without violating the restrictions against acclerating past the speed of light. (Which, in retrospect, is the solution devised by the creators of Futurama!)

If you factor in something like Alcubierre's warp drive, which avoids relativistic effects by keeping the real acceleration of the contents of the warp "bubble" zero, then this gets really interesting. The creation of an Alcubierre warp bubble requires massive amounts of negative energy, but given that one of the characteristics of the Zero Point Field is negative energy, it seems like some sort of love connnection should be possible here.

While the paper proposes metric engineering to decouple gravity and inertia, it doesn't talk about generating gravity, but it seems to me if you can do the one, the other shouldn't be out of bounds. Which means that this gives me both FTL drive as well as artificial gravity, all from the same source, with a minimum of handwaving.

Now, I'm considering all of the wacky thing you could do with the ability to generate gravity. A rational basis for a "tractor beam"?

Sunday, January 29, 2006


Science Fiction Writers Target Global Warming

Agony Column's Rick Kleffel delivers an interesting report on sf and politics for NPR's All Things Considered, Science Fiction Writers Target Global Warming, with commentary from Kim Stanley Robinson (and some canned audio from Michael Crichton). Worth checking out.

Saturday, January 28, 2006


Grandfather Campbell, Revisited

Well, this is just the week for good news, isn't it? It looked last year as though changes in the eligibility rules for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writers meant that a good many of us (including 2005 nominees KJ Bishop, David Moles and me) lost a year of eligibility. (I won't go into all the details, but I outlined them previously here.) I quizzed the 2005 Hugo Award administrators about the issue (though the Campbell isn't a Hugo, it's administered by the same folks), and they indicated that the question would ultimately fall to the 2006 administrators. Since all of us in this boat had been listed as in our "second year of eligibility" on all the awards information, though, it seemed a good bet that this train had sailed.

And then I found the new, albeit unofficial John W. Campbell Award Eligible Authors site, which lists all of us as eligible. I thought this was a mistake or oversight, until I followed the link to the eligibility FAQ.

"The 2006 Hugo Award administrator, John Lorentz, will err on the side of preserving eligibility. You are eligible as long as you qualify under either the old or new rules."
Well, how do you like that? There is a grandfather clause, after all.

So to everone in a position to nominate Hugo Awards this year (which group includes all attendees of last year's WorldCon, and everyone who's already registered for this year's), David Moles, KJ Bishop, and I are all eligible to be nominated again. The nomination forms are here, and are due by March 10th.

Personally, I think that the odds-on favorite for this year's Campbell Award is John Scalzi, who's written a corker of a first novel, has a sequel already about to hit the shelves, and who has a substantial online following. But it's an honor just to be nominated, and I'm not about to refuse the nomination if my name ends up on the list!


Locus Magazine's Recommended Reading: 2005

Locus Magazine has posted their 2005 Recommended Reading list, and I was delighted to see "Gold Mountain" included in the novelette category. John Meaney's "Lost Time" and Kage Baker's "The Unfortunate Gytt", both from Adventure, Vol. 1, made the list as well.

Friday, January 27, 2006


Year's Best Science Fiction

Today's mail brought good news: a contract for the inclusion of "Gold Mountain" in Gardner Dozois's The Year's Best Science Fiction, 23rd Annual Collection. That is awesome. I've been using Dozois's collections as a Baedecker to the best stuff in science fiction since, well, forever. I was in middle school when the first volume came out, for Christ's sake. To have a story of mine included in that legacy is, well, just fucking kick ass. There's no better way to say it.


The life expectancies of books

Teresa Nielsen Hayden has some interesting observations about copyright terms and The life expectancies of books, all of which are well worth reading. I think there's more wrinkles to the POD question than she considers at the end, primarily because having a book printed offset or POD is a meaningless distinction if the book isn't shelved in stores; long-tail is driven by online sales, and method of production is immaterial. If the complete works of a mid-20C writer are kept continually in print by an established publisher, but B&N and Borders don't stock those titles, the end result is no different than she ascribes to POD titles here. (Note that I long ago gave up the belief that "POD will save us"; I just think the situtation is more nuanced than a clean offset vs. POD distinction might suggest.) But that quibble aside, everything else she says is right on the money.


Good News, Everybody!

Apparently it's official. Four feature-length direct-to-DVD Futurama movies are in the works. Sweet Zombie Christ!

Thursday, January 26, 2006


A Postive Sign for Disney's Future?

(via The Beat) Only days after the Disney buyout of Pixar, new Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter, and new head of Disney Feature Animation Ed Catmull, have killed Toy Story 3, which Disney had planned to make without the approval or involvement of Pixar, under the terms of the original Pixar-Disney agreement. This is an extremely promising sign, and suggests that all of the folks in Disney animation who are looking at Lassseter and Catmull as their saviors might well be right.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006



Almost ten years ago, scientists discovered the first extrasolar planet. I ran around the office in whic I worked (a property management company in San Francisco), waving the paper in my hands, going from room to room and telling everyone the big news. My coworkers, sadly, weren't impressed, and more than a few of them were surprised that we hadn't already discovered any planets outside our own solar system. I doubt anything other than aliens arriving on the White House lawn would have come as any kind of surprise to them, and even then they'd have been comparing the real extraterrestrials with all of the aliens they'd seen in movies, and would have been disappointed if the reality had been any less dramatic than fiction.

In the decade since then, astronomers just keep discovering new planets all the time, and the majority of the populace cares even less than they did about the first. And even if they've all been massive monsters in tight, if sometimes eccentric, orbits around their suns, with no hope for life as we know it, it's still continuing evidence that planets are as common as dirt. But most Americans, raised on science fiction and stories of alien abduction, have never realized there was any question about that, one way or the other. So I doubt that there will be celebratiosn in the streets in response to the news that scientists have been successful in identifying a nearly Earth-like planet using gravitational microlensing, but I think it's pretty damned keen.


Fantastic Victoriana review

Steven Silver has posted his review of Jess Nevins The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana, published in November by MonkeyBrain Books. "Whether you are dipping into it at random or looking for specific information about Victorian literature, The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana is a worthwhile addition to any library." Sounds about right to me.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny

The jury is still out, of course, since history has yet to run its full course, but the Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny may well be the greatest thing in the history of ever. Or the worst. I can't quite decide.

angels sang out in immaculate chorus
down from the heavens descended Chuck Norris
who deliver a kick which could shatter bones
into the crotch of Indiana Jones
who fell over on the ground, writhing in pain
as Batman changed back into Bruce Wayne
but Chuck saw through his clever disguise
and he crushed Batman's head in between his thighs

(Thanks, Grayson! I think...)


Straw Men, and the pummelling of

Orson Scott Card goes toe-to-toe with a few poorly-defended straw-men and comes out a winner. Hurray! How about for a rematch we lock him in a room with Richard Dawkins and see if he fares as well.

Monday, January 23, 2006


Best Fantasy & Science Fiction of 2005

Myths for the Modern Age, edited by Win Scott Eckert and published by MonkeyBrain Books, has made Claude Lalumière's list of The Best Fantasy & Science Fiction of 2005 on Locus Online, earning the distinction for "Best Nonfiction." Right on!


It's all in the delivery

This is awesome (slow loading Quicktime, but worth the wait). I kinda want to watch this version of Sleepless in Seattle, now.


Self-healing Space Vehicles

This article from New Scientist describes an innovation that seems, in retrospect, so intuitively obvious I'm surprised no one has thought of it before. (Has someone, actually? I don't think I've seen it in a sf story before, but then again I've hardly read everything.)

The researchers have taken inspiration from human skin, which heals a cut by exposing blood to air, which congeals to forms a protective scab. "The analogy is the vascular system of the human body," Bond told New Scientist. "The system needs to be completely autonomous."

The researchers came up with a similar idea for protecting spacecraft. They fabricated a composite laminate material containing hundreds of hollow glass filaments 60 microns (thousandths of a millimetre) wide, each with an inner chamber of 30 microns in diameter. Half of the filaments are filled with an epoxy polymer or resin and the other half filled with a chemical agent that reacts with the polymer to form a very strong and hard substance.


FutureShocks Review

Over on Strange Horizons Mahesh Raj Mohan has reviewed FutureShocks. He's very positive about the anthology in general, and has some kind words about my contribution, as well, which is always nice.

Sunday, January 22, 2006


Muppet Wiki

My daughter Georgia has reached the point where the only thing she wants to watch on television is The Muppet Show (she'll stand in the middle of the room, screaming "Nuppet Show!" at the top of her lungs; that's the subtle clue that she wants to watch an episode). We've almost worn out our DVDs of the first season, and I was lucky enough to come across some later episodes recently that should tide us over until the season two box set comes out later this year.

What's struck me the last few days, watching episode after episode from Season Three, is how much better the show got after the already splendid first season. We're endlessly grateful that Georgia has picked something so entertaining and well-done as her driving obsession.

Speaking of driving obsession, I was googling Judy Collins today, after watching her second season appearance (did you know that she was a regular on Sesame Street for several years in the late seventies? I must have seen her every appearance as a kid, but I'd never made the connection) and stumbled across the Muppet Wiki. It just launched in December, and I'm already in love. A great site, getting better by the day.


Disney Buys Pixar

My love for Pixar is well-documented. I also have a 2 year old daughter in the house, and have to be careful to watch my language around her. So when I read this, my immediate reaction was to shout "F*CK!" Allison scolds me from across the room, reminding me that little pitchers have big ears, but when I read the headline outloud she answered with "SH*T!"

The analysis on Cartoon Brew is probably the most promising I've seen so far, since it at least allows the possibility that Pixar could infect Disney, and not the other way around. I'm not holding out hope. I think that, thirty years from now, we'll look back at the brief golden age that was the initial run of Pixar films, all commercial and critical darlings, before things went really, really bad.

Saturday, January 21, 2006


Space Opera

Doing my daily google for the space opera project, trying to flesh out my reading list (Last read: Heinlein's Space Cadet and Starship Troopers; Current read: Mike Resnick's Starship: Mutiny; next up: Norman Spinrad's The Void-Captain's Tale) I came upon this interesting essay by David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, that appeared a couple of years back on SFRevu.

"Many readers and writers and nearly all media fans who entered sf after 1975 have never understood the origin of space opera as a pejorative and some may be surprised to learn of it. Thus the term space opera reentered the serious discourse on contemporary SF in the 1980s with a completely altered meaning: henceforth, space opera meant, and still generally means, colorful, dramatic, large scale science fiction adventure, competently and sometimes beautifully written, usually focussed on a sympathetic, heroic central character, and plot action [this bit is what separates it from other literary postmodernisms] and usually set in the relatively distant future and in space or on other worlds, characteristically optimistic in tone. What is centrally important is that this permits a writer to embark on a science fiction project that is ambitious in both commercial and literary terms."

Worth checking out.

Friday, January 20, 2006


Truth, Justin and the American Way

Just a few weeks after the first comic to have its own theme song comes Truth, Justin and the American Way, the forthcoming series cocreated by PVP's Scott Kurtz. This one goes Nextwave one step better; it isn't just a theme song, but a complete set of opening credits, just like the cheesy 80s sitcoms which inspired the comic. Righteous.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


Paragaea Site launches

There'll be some tweaking going forward, naturally, but by and large the site is complete. The address is www.paragaea.com, or you can head directly to www.chrisroberson.net/paragaea/ if that doesn't work for whatever reason. I've set up an RSS feed for the site updates, but I'm still working out the kinks. The bulk of the work went into setting up the Creative Commons release of Set the Seas on Fire for download, but I think it's all working without any major bugs.

Go ahead, kick the tires, and let me know if anything needs fixing.


"Zero Jeden"

I've just received my contributor copies of the issue of Nowa Fantastyka in which another translation of "O One" appears ("Numer 9" if you're keeping track at home). My Polish is as rusty as my Russian, I'm afraid, but as near as I can tell I share a ToC with Lavie Tidhar (who I met at WorldCon in Glasgow) and a host of Polish writers with whom I'm not familiar.

Like the translations in Esli and Robot, this one is accompanied by illustrations. It's interesting to see how the same story is interpreted through so many different cultural lenses. Lots of similarities, but lots of noticeable differences, too.

The translator appears to have missed a pun, though, reading the title as "0 [Zero] One," and not just the letter "O." But I suppose the play on "O" as a greeting of respect as well as a stand-in for zero might only work in English (though the Russian translation seems to have approximated it well enough).

In addition to the fiction and a short comic in the middle, there's an article on television SF (or "seriali sf"), and I can't help but think that some of these shows sound quite a bit more exotic in Polish than they do in English. "Z Archiwum X" instead of "X Files"? "Planeta Malp" for "Planet of the Apes"? But I'm not sure if the Warrior Princess is helped or hindered to be known in Poland as "Xena - Wojownicza Ksiezniczka."


Japan Invaded by Giant Jellyfish!

Am I the only one disappointed to discover that an article with a headline like "Japan grapples with invasion of giant jellyfish" is all about representatives of fishing communities bitching about their nets, and doesn't contain a single photo of an enormous jellyfish towering over Tokyo?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


Living on Mars

Finally had a chance to watch the second episode of Life on Mars last night, and the show continues to prove very excellent. I think I've worked out just what the story is really about, and where's it's all heading (show wacky imagery once, it's just wacky imagery; show it twice, and you're hanging a gun on the wall that's going to be fired sooner or later...). But really, they had me at hello. Even without the "is-it-or-isn't-it-time-travel" maguffin, which is pretty well put to bed in this second installment, the show is a must see for the collision between Modern Cop and Vintage Issue. The best illustration of what the show's all about is an interrogation sequence. Modern Cop sits down first, and starts arranging his pens, pencils, and steno pad on the table in front of him, all neat and orderly, to set the mood for the interrogation. Vintage Issue then slams down one disposable cigarette lighter, another disposable cigarette lighter, and a pack of cigarettes, and is ready to get down to business. I think you have to be a smoker, or a former smoker at least, to get the beauty of that bit. You see, you need two lighters just in case the first one stops working, because there's nothing worse than a cigarette you can't light. And, of course, in Vintage Land, everybody smokes. All unspoken, all understated, all brilliant.

Well worth watching, if you're in the UK, or have an eye to internet piracy in the rest of the world.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Reputation Economies

I've been thinking quite a bit about reputation economies lately. I think I first came across the idea in Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, where the coin of the realm is "whuffie," the measure of how highly (or lowly) others rate one. eBay and Slashdot are existing examples of these kinds of systems. In Magic Kingdom Doctorow presents a pretty convincing portrait of a reputation economy as a viable structure for a post-scarcity society. If technology has progressed to the point where everyone is effectively immortal, and nanotechnology or the like is capable of producing any and all material goods one might want, what else is going to motivate people to provide goods and services?

John C. Wright does something similar to this in his Golden Age trilogy. There's still an overarching capitalist society, but on an individual level all of one's immediate needs are provided by technology, and artists and craftspeople seem to be more motivated by the prestige than by any monetary gain (the coin here being computer processing time). But it's really in the negative formulation that Wright gets closest to a reputation economy, since the most severe punishment that the civil authorities can mete out is a kind of "internal exile," cut off from all contact with other people.

I've always wondered whether the world of Star Trek worked something like a reputation economy. Since the Original Series it's been explicitly stated that the Federation doesn't use money. Star Fleet officers aren't paid for their services, and everything that an individual needs is provided to them free of charge. Clearly, though, there's some sort of economy at work, else why would the Picard family continue to labor in the fields to make their wines, or Joseph Sisko work all day in the kitchen of his New Orleans restaurant. Outside the Federation, and among Federation citizens who deal with outsiders, there's still a cash economy (usually gold, or "latinum" pressed between wafers of gold), which must account for the ability of the roguish elements of the Federation to put together the scratch needed to purchase their own warp-capable ships. But within the Federation, and certainly on Earth, there's no cash and no currency. The only conceivable answer is that the patrons of Sisko's restaurant, and the folks that buy Picard wines, exchange some sort of reputation or prestige with the craftsmen involved. This isn't ever mentioned in the canon, so far as I know, and so the idea, much less the unit of exchange, is completely hypothetical, but it seems to me the only answer that makes any sense.

Now, the thing is, so far as I know the cash-less economy of the Star Trek future predates the notion of a reputation economy by a wide margin, years if not decades. So what exactly did the show's creators originally have in mind when they stated categorically that the Federation had eliminated the need for money?

Monday, January 16, 2006


Cedar Fever

Brain not working, wishing for rain, suffering through the worst of the Austin-area seaonal allergies. Feel like I've got a wicked flu, but without the fever and the comfort of knowing I could get better. I've got to wait until the male cedar pollen is out of the air, or a big enough rain washes it away, but considering it hasn't rained an appreciable amount in weeks, if not months, the odds are long.

I'll likely not be coherent for a while longer yet. My apologies in advance.

Sunday, January 15, 2006


Book Sites

I'm starting to piece together a website to promote Paragaea: A Planetary Romance, and spending a lot of time looking at other book sites. Not so much publishers' sites, but rather the ones that writers build to promote their own books. Like the sites for Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom or Charles Stross's Accelerando. Two recent additions that are particularly sexy and muscular are sites for Tobias Buckell's Crystal Rain and for David Louis Edelman's Infoquake (the latter of which I had the chance to read in manuscript; it's a corker!). There's a lot that I like about both of them, not least of which the sheer amount of information on them. Charlie's and Cory's sites have the advantage of having the full text of their novels available for download (while David and Tobias have sample chapters of theirs online), and while I won't be doing that with Paragaea, I will be releasing the full text of my novel Set the Seas on Fire under a Creative Commons license, since it features the introduction of Hieronymus Bonaventure, one of the protagonists of Paragaea (it isn't at all necessary to have read the former to appreciate Paragaea, but I figured I'd make the novel available, just to play fair).

(As an illustration of my early senility that is already setting in, a brief anecdote. Last summer, I thought it might be a good idea to register www.paragaea.com, thinking I might use it to promote the book. I was bummed to discover, through Network Solutions, that it wasn't available. Then I thought, well, who the hell would have registered my made-up name? Is someone screwing with me? So I did a Whois search on the domain, and was surprised to see that I owned it. I'd registered the domain myself the year before, thinking I might use it to promote the book, and promptly forgot all about it. I shudder to think what will happen when the years really start to pile on...)

The site should probably go live in the next month or so, assuming that I can get all the bits and pieces together. I'll be doing it myself, so I doubt very seriously that it'll be anywhere near as sexy or muscular as the above examples (my web fu is weak), but hopefully it'll be utilitarian enough to get the job done.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


Life on Mars

This will be a rather pointless post, but how many of mine aren't, really? If you're living in the UK, you've likely already heard of this show, and probably seen it and/or formed your own opinion. If you're living outside the UK, like me, you'll likely not be able to see it, unless you resort to some sort of P2P hinkiness (I admit nothing). But the world is dying to know my opinion on everything that passes in front of my eyes (Right? Right?), so here it is.

Allison and I watched the premier episode of the 8-part BBC drama Life on Mars last night. From the makers of the very excellent Spooks (released in the States under the title MI5), Life on Mars is the story of a police detective in 2006 Manchester who, after being hit by a car, wakes up in 1973. (The title is drawn from the David Bowie song that's playing on his iPod in 2006, and playing on his car's eight-track player in 1973.) In the past, he's a police detective with a past, a flat, and a badge (though a lower rank), recently transferred to a new station. The character makes the natural assumption that he's in some sort of coma-induced hallucination, but his circumstances give just enough evidence to suspect that he might actually be in the past.

But the time travel (or not) aspect of the story is really just an excuse to present a compelling collision between contemporary CSI-style police procedural with a more muscular, skinned-knuckles, damn-the-regs police work of an earlier era. There's some implicit commentary about sexism and the like, naturally, but it's not over-played. The performances are top-notch, and the writing is spotless.

With any luck, it'll be available on DVD in the States before too long. I suppose it could be picked up by an American network, but the odds aren't good. Am I the only one who'd pay real money to get the full BBC channels on satellite or cable in the States, and not just the weak-tea that is BBC America (which seems to be just a dumping ground for home improvement and gardening shows, spiced conservatively with the occasional mystery program or aged sitcom)?

Friday, January 13, 2006


The Justice Society of Justice

(Via Warren Ellis) This is just awesome. Somewhat unsettling, in that "They are joking, aren't they?" kind of way, but awesome, nonetheless.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


Doctor Who on SCI-FI!

We greeted the news that the DVD box set of Doctor Who Seaon One had been delayed with trepidation (more info here), but it looks like it was in service of a greater good. The SCI FI Channel, who earlier had passed on picking up the new series, have announced that they will begin airing Season One in March, Friday nights at 9pm. This is the spot Battlestar Galactica currently occupies, and SCI FI is wise to try to keep that audience by scheduling this for immediatley following the BSG season finale.

The DVD box set has been pushed back to July, understandably, to give the US channel a chance to air the episodes before the discs are available on the market. If you haven't seen the series yet, you're in for a treat. It's the best treatment the Doctor has ever gotten, bar none.

More details at Outpost Gallifrey.


Eko and the Smoke

If you don't watch Lost, ignore this. If you watch Lost but haven't watched last night's episode, don't hit the link yet. But if you watch Lost and you've already seen last night's episode, check out these screencaps of Mister Eko's face-off with the black smoke. I knew something screwy was happening during those few seconds, but I didn't glimpse even a fraction of this. Suggestive of what the smoke actually is, isn't it? Hmmm...


Doomsday Vault, Well Guarded

(Via Elizabeth Bear) The Norwegian government, in associating with something called the Global Crop Diversity Trust, is planning to create an underground vault, inside a sandstone mountain lined with permafrost on the Arctic island of Spitsbergen, with meter-thick walls of reinforced concrete, airlocks, and blast-proof doors. The contents? A seed bank representing the products of 10,000 years of plant breeding, that could be used to restart cultivation in the event that some global catastrophe wiped out all agriculture.

This all sounds well and good, and I applaud the thinking. But I can't help but suspect that they're taking the piss. Why? Well, I don't know. How about this? (The gentlemen quoted is Cary Fowler, the director of the aforementioned Global Crop Diversity Trust.)
"[The vault] will not be permanently manned, but 'the mountains are patrolled by polar bears', says Fowler."
That's right. Patrolled by polar bears.

Somewhere, Norwegians are gathered around their monitors, laughing into their cable-knit sweaters that this press release has been picked up by the media. Or else they're huddled behind locked doors, worried that the polar bears are going to get them. It's one or the other, really.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


New Worlds Atlas

I'm in the midst of researching the Space Opera, which is slowly taking shape in my head (I just worked out on Monday what kind of FTL drive the good ship Further will have, which also helped resolve that pesky gravity problem; thanks Breakthrough Physics Propulsion Program!). Said research is a strange mix of physics texts, technology nonfiction titles, and other people's space opera novels. I've also done an inordinate amount of googling, which is always turning up interesting stuff, lots of which is thanks to NASA (cf. the above referenced BPPP). Most recent discovery? The New Worlds Atlas. It requires Shockwave to run, but it's worth downloading the plug-in if you don't already have it. It's a navigable map of the near galaxy, highlighting all stars with known planets, complete with not-to-scale planetary diagrams and all sorts of nifty astronomical information. This is proving endlessly helpful in working out the mission parameters of R.J. Stone's Wayfarer One (and, by extension, the destination for the starwisp Sojourner A97). The current front-runner is Gliese-876, which has three known planets in some pretty eccentric orbits and configurations.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Warren Ellis's Fell

The first issue of Warren Ellis's new Image Comics series, Fell, is now available in full on Newsarama. With art by Ben Templesmith, Fell is an interesting formalist experiment. A genre story about a cop transferred to the not-quite-normal district of Snowtown, each issue of the comic is just 16 pages long (with a price tag of $1.99), a completely self-contained story told primarily in pages of nine-panel grids. Lacking the languid pacing of some of Ellis's other work, these issues make for incredibly dense, bite-sized portions of story. But hey, don't take my word for it. Check it out. It's free!


Night Shade

The new issue of the Internet Review of Science Fiction is online, and features and interview Mahesh Raj Mohan has done with Jeremy Lassen and Jason Williams of Night Shade Books (requires registration). I've had many long conversations with these two jokers over beer and cigarettes, many late nights at conventions, and while I don't always agree with everything they have to say, I'm always interested to hear their insights on publishing in general and the life of an independent press in particular.

Monday, January 09, 2006


Concatenation's Top SF Books of 2005

Well, how about that? The good folks at Concatenation.org, a UK-based website of science fiction and science fact, have included Here, There & Everywhere on their list of the Top SF Books of 2005. Also included on the list are Dan Simmons, Alastair Reynolds, Robert Charles Wilson, Richard Morgan, and Ken MacLeod. That's a staggering list of talent in which to be included, and I'm immensely flattered. Really. I'm gobsmacked.

About the novel, they had these kind things to say:

"A delightful waltz around time that brings together many interpretations of SF's time travel trope. Though intelligently written it is an easy adventure read for teenagers and with many nods to SF, history and, of course, Beatles music, to add depth for older readers."


Ron Moore's Five Best

Over on Opinion Journal, which appears to be drawn from the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, Battlestar Galactica creator Ron Moore lists what are, in his opinion, the Five Best science fiction novels (well, four novels and a short story collection). All admirable choices which, if they aren't perhaps in my personal top five, would certainly rank somewhere in my top fifty.

Ron Moore is something of an oddity in media science fiction. Unlike many other examples (Brannon Braga, Rick Berman, Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich, et cetera, et al) Moore is extremely conversant in and respectful of the traditions of print science fiction. His contributions to the Star Trek franchise (most notably all the Klingon stuff in Next Generation, and virtually everything that was good about Deep Space Nine) make this abundently clear, and if there were any lingering doubts, Battlestar Galactica should put them to rest.

Moore's position paper for BSG, presumably written during the show's development, introduces his concept of "Naturalistic Science Fiction" which, while nothing new in print SF, is pretty revolutionary for media SF. Joss Whedon's Firefly was made in this mode previously, certainly, but I'm hard pressed to remember another example on television, American, British, or otherwise. In film there have been more examples that adhere to the majority of these precepts, but invariably they'll break one or two along the way (hell, Dark Star hits almost all of the marks, but the introduction of the beach-ball alien means it falls at the final hurdle).

Allison and I tuned into the season premier of BSG last week (or the first episode after the hiatus, or whatever this technically was), and I was reminded again of one of the things I love most about the show: I have no idea what's going to happen next. When I watch an episode of Star Trek (any incarnation) and aliens are threatening to destroy the Earth through one diabolical mechanism or another, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that in the end the heroes of Star Fleet will save the day. Earth won't be destroyed. The absolute worst that could possibly happen would be that the heroes' ship is destroyed, but there'll be another one waiting for them, with the same name and another letter appended to the registry number. On Battlestar Galactica, I have no idea whether some or even all of the characters in any given circumstance might end up dead before the next episode rolls around. It means that the show is able to generate actual suspense, and get some real mileage out of threatening their characters with dire fates.

I also like that the president still keeps an updated tally of the number of survivors on a dry erase board behind her desk. Has anyone noticed in recent episodes if that number bounced up when they encountered the Pegasus? (It may be a moot point, after the events of the last episode; looks like that number's about to drop down pretty quickly again.)

(Also, am I the only one a little disappointed that Kane turned out to be evil psycho, after all? I harbored hopes that what was really going on was her second-in-command angling for a power play, dropping hints with Tigh while his confederates--such as the new chief petty officer on the fight deck--spread rumors among the crew to corroborate his story. Then he could maneuver Adama and his crew into taking Kane out, leaving him in a perfect position to take over Pegasus with his own supporters. So Kane would have been a bitch, but not an evil one, and Adama and his crew would have become unwilling dupes in setting up the really evil dude in power. Oh, well...)

Sunday, January 08, 2006


"Uno Zero"

Coming close on the heels of my first appearance in Russian (more here), yesterday's mail brought my contributor copy of issue 47 of the Italian SF magazine Robot, from Delos Books. It didn't arrive in packaging half as cool as my copy of Esli last month, but Robot edges out the Russian mag as the more enjoyable experience as I got the chance to meet the Robot folks at WorldCon in Glasgow last fall, and the translator peppered me with a question or two by email,

I share a ToC with Greg Egan and a few Italian SF writers whose names I hadn't previously encountered. There's also an interview with Tim Burton that makes me wish I read Italian, and articles about WorldCon, SF movies and remakes, and reviews of DVDs and books. It's an interesting package, about the size and production quality of F&SF, but equally devoted to media SF as to fiction.

One of the most intriguing aspects of selling stories into foreign markets is these little glimpses of other genre scenes. Similar, but distinct. In the immortal words of Vincent Vega, "It's the little differences. I mean they got the same shit over there that they got here, but it's just - it's just there it's a little different." I couldn't have said it better.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


Amazon Connect

I figured I'd jump on the bandwagon and set up one of these Amazon Connect thingees. I think I've got it set up correctly, but I can't be sure.

I also see from the listings of Here, There & Everywhere that it's back on the "Early Adopter in Science Fiction & Fantasy" list, at least for a while, this time at number twenty. I think it's been on there before, but I may be misremembering. Even so, it's nice to know that folks are still picking up the book and enjoying it, almost a year after its release.

Friday, January 06, 2006


Is Texas Heading for the Middle Ages?

(Via Jayme Lynn Blaschke) One step forward, one step back. A judge in Pennsylvania rejections Intelligent Design as inappropriate to add to a science curriculum, while Kansas slips into benighted medieval bullshit teaching millennia old mythology as "science." So which way will Texas go? Our Governor, Rick Perry, apparently wants to head the way of the middle ages. There are some sane voices in the chorus here, fortunately, including Tincy Miller of Dallas, chairwoman of the State Board of Education. But for every one of her, there's a Rashad Jafer, a Democratic gubernatorial hopeful from Houston, who thinks his belief in a creator means that he should check rationality at the door.

Gubernatorial hopeful, musician, and mystery novelist Kinky Friedman had this to say of teaching intelligent design in science: "I'm agin it; there's nothing intelligent about it." Right on, Kinky.


The Return of Buckaroo Banzai

I dig movies, I love comics, but comics based on movie franchises have never really rung my bell. That said, the news that Earl Mac Rauch is going to be writing a new Buckaroo Banzai miniseries for Moonstone Comics has definitely piqued my interest.

Mac Rauch was the creator of Buckaroo Banzai, and the sequence of events leading to the production of the film is a pretty strange one. Some of the details are here, but as I remember the story Mac Rauch was a novelist who'd come up with this crazy idea for a pulp adventure character, and had mapped out a whole supporting cast, wide-ranging setting, and history of past adventures long before the project was ever picked up for development. He even wrote several of the character's pulp adventures as a novel, complete with footnotes referencing previous (unpublished, of course) installments, one of which was later published as the film's novelization (recently rereleased with a truly horrible cover by Pocket Books). The character and his work are a note-perfect reincarnation of pulp adventure in a post-modern gonzo style, something that functions both as a commentary on and parody of adventure stories while at the same time functioning as a rollicking adventure story in its own right.

There have been hints and rumors about new Banzai projects for years, including of course the sequel, Buckaroo Banzai Versus the World Crime League. This comic series will be the first such to materialize, and the fact that it'll be written by Mac Rauch means that it'll be canon, not just a franchise spin-off. I'll be picking it up, how about you?

"Nothing is ever what it seems but everything is exactly what it is." - B. Banzai


Subterranean Magazine Cliche Issue

John Scalzi has posted the lineup to the forthcoming Subterranean Magazine Cliche Issue he's editing. I was really impressed by the second issue of Subterranean, given out at World Fantasy Convention (and really impressed by Caitlin R. Kiernan's "Bradbury Weather" novella, which I thought was just staggeringly good), and I'm pleased to be part of such a strong lineup of talent. All sorts of folks that I know and like (and combinations of the two). Of course, having said that, I find that the longer I'm part of the larger genre community, the more people I know and like; every time I go to WorldCon or WFC I walk away with another half-dozen friends I didn't have before, and how great is that?

I'm almost completely unable to predict just what SF cliches the individual stories play with, just from reading the titles. I was a bit coy when titling my own, "Last," though the first paragraph of the story gives away the game; I wanted to set up a little double entendre with the closing sentence, though, which I think worked pretty well. I'm really looking forward to reading the rest of the issue, and seeing what everyone else came up with.

Thursday, January 05, 2006



Tobias calls, I answer. Seems the latest meme to work its way around the writing blogosphere is for writers to post images of their workspaces. It beats actually working, so I figured what the hell?

My office:

My desk (complete with the ever-present glass of iced tea, and my current reading):

My working shelves (includes all the To Read, Just Read, and Should Read titles):

My comics files (most of them, at least; the rest are upstairs):

And, finally, my reading chair:

And that's it. The dark little hole where I spend most of my waking hours (at least those not spent in the living room with my daughter). Okay, back to work!


Sony Reader

I've long believed that e-books would never take off until there was some sort of standardized handheld reader, affordable and easily portable. Oh, and readable, too. A few years ago there were a few that hit the market (the Rocket Book is the one that springs to mind), but none seemed able to survive in the marketplace. File formats were proprietary, screens could only be seen in dim-light and from certain angles, et cetera, et al. Until a handheld device is able to replicate the experience of holding a book in one's hands, it's always going to be easier to just hold a book.

Well, Sony has announced a new product that might just be that hypothetical handheld, the Sony Reader. Full specs and features are here, but the site doesn't seem to list any pricing information, so the Reader may fall at the final hurdle. I'm impressed with the size and weight, though, and I'd love to see their "electronic paper" up close and in person. It looks like they'll be using some sort of proprietary e-book format, but it'll also be able to handle PDFs, JPGs, and RSS feeds (as well as "personal documents," which one would hope should include Microsoft Word, or at least RTF files), so pretty much anything should work.

I'm interested to see how this plays out. I'm rarely an early adopter, so this would have to make some significant headway in the market before I'd be in a position to pick one up, but having a hand-held electronic reader as robust as this looks like it might be would be one step closer to living in the future of Star Trek (can I call mine a PADD? Please?), which I'm all for.


RevolutionSF - What is Best in Life?

Peggy Hailey is one of our favorite people. The book buyer at Austin's own Book People, she's an ardent supporter of good sf/f, and of local talent in particular. And she's just damned good people, to boot. Over at RevolutionSF she weighs in on their annual "What is Best in Life?" feature, and singles out Jess Nevins's The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana, Adventure Vol. 1, and John Picacio's World Fantasy Award win as among the highlights of the year (rounding out her list with Lost, Kong, Polyphony 3 & 5, Jeff Ford's The Girl in the Glass and Jeff VanderMeer's Year-of-Mainstream-Domination). Thanks, Peggy!

Update: Oh, and it looks like Mark Finn has singled out Nevins's Fantastic Victoriana as the "Best Nonfiction Book for Geeks" on his list, too.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


Movie-going (or the lack thereof)

The other day, Allison and I were trying to remember what movies we'd seen in the theater in 2005. We'd knew we'd been once or twice, but couldn't for the life of us remember what we'd seen (except for Bewitched, which is a stain we'll never be able to wash out).

Today it occurred to me that, since we purchase all of our movie tickets on Fandago, our account history might keep a record of what we'd purchased recently. Lo and behold, it keeps a total record going back to the account being set-up back in May of 2002. What a treasure trove of potentially crappy memories!

Here is a complete list of everything I've seen in a theater in almost four years. When Allison and I were first dating, we used to go to the theater at least once a week, sometimes more. After a while, we soured a bit on the whole theater-going experience, and cut back to venturing out only things that we thought would benefit from being seen on the big screen, as opposed to waiting for the DVD. Then, in February 0f 2004, we had a baby, and a movie had to be really special to get us to find a babysitter and get out of the house.

This is probably of little interest to anyone (hell, it's not even that interesting to me), but the numbers break down like this:

Total movies seen in
2002: 10 (partial year, probably a higher number)
2003: 9
2004: 3
2005: 4

A couple of caveats. Some of these movies I saw alone (such as Fantastic Four, which I watched only because I was scheduled for a panel at WorldCon about superhero movies, and figured I'd want to be able to complain about it. I did.), but for most of them it was me and Allison together. And since we have a small social circle and no life, we saw them without company, by and large. Finally, I plead guilty for choosing Bewitched, which the trailer had convinced me might be a bit of metafictional brilliance and, well, wasn't, but I stand by Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. I'm not a McG fan, and I thought the sequel not as good as the original, but the original was a lot of fun, and I'll arm-wrestle anyone who says different (I may lose, but I'll still be willing to arm-wrestle to prove the point).

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones
Minority Report
The Bourne Identity
Men In Black II
Austin Powers in Goldmember
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Die Another Day
Star Trek: Nemesis

X2: X-Men United
The Matrix Reloaded
Finding Nemo
The Hulk
Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle
The Matrix Revolutions
Master and Commander
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Team America: World Police
The Incredibles

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
Batman Begins
Fantastic Four

So, what have I learned? First, becoming a parent seriously impacts your ability to go to the theater. Second, NetFlix is a powerful temptation, when faced with the prospect of over-priced tickets and a theater full of chattering morons. And finally, I'm a sucker for anything Pixar, sfnal or superhero-y, apparently (though Post-Georgia even something like Serenity or MirrorMask wasn't enough to get me to the theater, with me opting just to buy the DVDs of each, sight-unseen) which means that The Incredibles was a movie-going perfect storm for me.

I'm half-tempted now to go back and look at my NetFlix rental history, to see how it changed in the same period. Hmmm...

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Accelerando Spoiler

If you haven't yet read Charles Stross's Accelerando, don't follow this link (of course, if you haven't read Accelerando yet, what the heck are you waiting for?!), but if you have, check it out. Stross is making with the spoilerage, and revealing some secret bits about what's really going on in the novel. I read the book in the original short story installments in Asimov's (and didn't pick up on the secret Stross reveals here), and have been looking for an excuse to sit down and reread it straight-through in fix-up form; I don't think I'm likely to come across a better reason than this.

If Accelerando doesn't win the 2006 Hugo for Best Novel, there's simply no justice in the world (or in awards, at the very least). It's a staggering, paradigm-shifting book, with a greater information-density than any work this entertaining has any right to be, and everyone involved in science fiction, professional, fan, or just reader, owes it to themselves to check it out.



For no reason other than my generous nature, I'd like to share with you the splendor that is Bee-Man. You have to give it up for the dude behind Dial B for Blog. He reads a lot of really horrible comics, so the rest of us don't have to.

I'm intrigued by Bee-Man's origin. A petty criminal, who becomes a supervillain, before finally shrugging and deciding to become a superhero instead... and all in two issues!

Monday, January 02, 2006


Wil McCarthy's Hacking Matter

Wil McCarthy is one sharp cookie (even if he does have a soft spot for Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, which is almost unforgiveable), and hell of a science fiction writer, but he's also written some science fact well worth seeking out. Via BoingBoing and Charlie Stross comes news that his Hacking Matter, a work of popular science about programmable matter and quantum dots and such like, is now available as a PDF download (Charlie has been kind enough to mirror the download, since Wil's site is taking a pounding since the BoingBoing article went up yesterday.

From Wil's site (presumably the back cover copy):

Programmable matter is probably not the next technological revolution, nor even perhaps the one after that. But it's coming, and when it does, it will change our lives as much as any invention ever has. Imagine being able to program matter itself--to change it, with the click of a cursor, from hard to soft, from paper to stone, from fluorescent to super-reflective to invisible. Supported by companies ranging from Levi Strauss to IBM and the Defense Department, solid-state physicists in laboratories at MIT, Harvard, Sun Microsystems, and elsewhere are currently creating arrays of microscopic devices called "quantum dots" that are capable of acting like programmable atoms. They can be configured electronically to replicate the properties of any known atom and then can be changed, as fast as an electrical signal can travel, to have the properties of a different atom. Soon it will be possible not only to engineer into solid matter such unnatural properties as variable magnetism, programmable flavors, or exotic chemical bonds, but also to change these properties at will.

I've been meaning to read the full text of the book for the last couple of years, having read only excerpts and articles here and there, and it was on my list of research topics for my current novel project, so this is a nice bit of serendipity. I highly recommend checking it out, as everything I've read from the book has been pretty damned mind expanding.

Sunday, January 01, 2006



I don't think I've made a proper new year's resolution in years. And I can't seem to remember what I resolved to do, not do, change or not change the last time I did make a resolution. It may be that I've had a bit of obsession with self-examination for years, and so I tend not to wait for an arbitrary calendar date to make changes to my habits. I'm forever trying out different "life hacks" to find new ways to increase my productivity, or to do my various chores more efficiently, or to feel better or sleep sounder or what-have-you. It's something approaching a mania with me, and I think if people knew half of the deliberations that I go through on a regular basis, I'd be dismissed quickly as an obsessive compulsive nutbar. (Just to give one minor example: After months of experimentation, I've determined that the quickest procedure for dressing after a shower is Deodorant, Shirt, Boxers, Pants--putting on socks and shoes in the bathroom, in cold months--with the caveat that I have to finish towelling off standing on the bathmat, since I've discovered that if I walk around the room with the towel that I waste unnecessary time wandering back and forth. See? Crazy, right?)

Some of my mid-year "resolutions" are lunacy like Deodorant-Shirt-Boxers-Pants, but some have been a bit more significant. Almost nine years ago I was working the tech support phone lines at Dell, and reached the point where I was approaching reading as a way of killing time (which is something you need working the night shift on a phone queue). I drifted quickly from reading science fiction and fantasy novels to reading the franchise novels foisted on me by my coworkers, and found that sinking into familiar genre worlds (Star Trek, Star Wars, what-have-you) was an activity that required very little frontal lobe activity, was mildly enjoyable, and burned up free hours at an appreciable rate. At that point in my life, I'd written a handful of crap novels and a stack of fair-to-middling short stories, but after filling a desk drawer with rejection letters from agents, magazines, and publishers, without making any headway, I'd lost my drive. Aside from the occasional comic series pitch (none of which even merited a rejection letter, as I recall), the only writing I did were vague formless notes towards unrealized projects. I probably went more than a year without finishing a single project. I was also playing a lot of PC games at the time, mostly first-person shooters, and was a full-time smoker (not a "convention smoker," like I am now), and would stay up half the night, long after Allison went to bed, chainsmoking and playing Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight or some such.

One night, long after Allison had gone to sleep, I had something of an epiphany. Feeling like I'd smoked a hole right through my throat, my eyes dry and scratchy, neck, arms, and wrists screwed up from several hours making like a mouse at a feeder bar playing some PC game or other, I looked around my cramped office at the piles of franchise novels crowding my bookshelves and the crummy superhero comics stacked on the floor, and I realized I was wasting my life. Seriously, in that one moment, I realized that the ache that had lingered for months in the pit of my stomach was the unconcious realization that nothing I did with my time mattered in the least. I made money so I could spend it, I read just to pass the time, I played games and smoked and drank and ate junk, and at the end of every day I'd progressed towards my dimly defined "life goals" exactly not-at-all.

So I made a resolution. I've probably got the hard-copy somewhere in my files, and I'm sure that the original soft-copy is still in my archives, but the upshot of it was that I was done wasting my time. I resolved to stop reading junk, to stop wasting my time with games, and to stop talking about being a writer and just fucking write. I typed up all of the things I needed to accomplish, and all of the things I wanted out of life. I printed out a hard copy, signed and dated it, and tacked it up on the wall where I'd see it everytime I went in and out of office. Then I had another cigarette, mulling it over, and finally went to bed.

The next day, I picked up the novel I'd been fiddling with, on and off, for the better part of seven years, and started working. (It was Voices of Thunder, the first I did under the aegis of Clockwork Storybook.) I didn't take the resolution down from the wall until the novel was done, almost a year later, but by then the work habits I'd forced myself to follow had become, well, habitual. So that as soon as I finished work on that novel, I started working on the next, and then the one after that, and on, and on.

I've made one or two resolutions since then (to stop smoking--except at conventions, naturally!--and to cut out carbohydrates), but none of them on New Years. I've managed to keep them all, though, for what it's worth. This New Years, I think the closest I'll come to making a resolution is this: Be open to making new resolutions, as circumstances demand. There's always room for improvement, after all.

Well, that was a longer and much more self-important post than I'd intended. Still, the name of the blog is "Interminable Ramble," isn't it? On a lighter note, via Jonathan Strahan, is this little gem. From the keyboards of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett comes a rare return of the heroes of their Good Omens (which served as my introduction to Pratchett on its release; I was a comics reader who came for the Gaiman, but I stayed for the Pratchett), as they present the New Years resolutions of Crowley and Aziraphale.

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