Tuesday, February 28, 2006
infinity plus Robersonfest
First up are two bits of free story:
- "Red Hands, Black Hands", which originally appeared in the pages of Asimov's, was shortlisted for the 2004 Sidewise Award for Best Short-Form Alternate History. About the story, Nick Gevers in the pages of Locus said "The atmosphere is sumptuous, the invention lavish; the experience of reading the story is mind-expanding." The story, available in its entirety, is part of my Celestial Empire sequence, and is part of the forthcoming novel Fire Star: A Novel of the Celestial Empire.
- An excerpt from the pages of Here, There & Everywhere, Chapter 13: Her Majesty presents an episode from later in the life of Roxanne Bonaventure, illustrating the adage, "an observer affects the thing observed."
- First, an Interview with me, conducted by Michael Colbert, in which I ramble on about the kinds of things I normally ramble about, including a bit of discussion about process.
- Finally, there are two reviews, both by Keith Brooke, of Here, There & Everywhere and Adventure: Volume One.
Monday, February 27, 2006
Space Opera viewing
A common complaint about mainstream writers who go "slumming" in genre fiction is that, unfamiliar with the conventions and traditions of the genre in question, they turn out novels that at best, end up reinventing the wheel and, at worst, are cliche-ridden nonsense that would have been dated if published decades before. Much the same danger, though, is present when genre writers dip into subgenres in which they're not well-versed.
Now, while I've been familiar with space opera since I was just a knee-high geek, my reading in the subgenre has been pretty sporadic. I've read examples as far afield as EE "Doc" Smith's Lensman series and Iain M. Banks's Culture novels, but I've never been what I would consider a student of the field. When I first had the notion to do a space opera project, just a bit over two years ago, I realized I had a fair bit of education to get through, if I wanted to avoid coming off like a complete rube.
Of course, at the time, I was already occupied in researching Fire Star, and knew I wouldn't be able to start a concentrated program of reading for a good long while. In addition to reading prose space opera, though, I wanted to familiarize myself with how the tropes of the subgenre had been played out in other media. Surprisingly, there's been very little in the way of space opera in comics, and relatively little in film, but in television? That's a different story. At the beginning of 2004, then, whenever I had a bit of free time that I couldn't spend writing or reading, I watched television space opera. My poor, long-suffering wife watched quite a bit of this stuff with me, but there will some things even she won't abide, and those I had to suffer through on my own.
I'm now about halfway through my space opera reading list, and I'll probably post the list here when I finish it, in April or thereabouts. I think I've come to the end of my space opera viewing, though. Since I'm convinced that the world is desperate to know everything that passes through my fevered brain, here is my viewing list, warts and all.
Of course, I was hardly unfamiliar with television space opera, geek that I am. I watched loads of the stuff as a kid, but here are the examples I've watched as an adult.
Star Trek: The Original Series -- Seasons 1-3
Star Trek: The Next Generation -- Seasons 1-7
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine -- Seasons 1-7
Star Trek: Voyager -- Seasons 1-2
Farscape -- Seasons 1-4
Battlestar Galactica -- 2003 miniseries
Firefly -- Season 1
Cowboy Beebop -- Season 1
Viewed since January 2004
Some of this I was rewatching (like DS9), but most I was seeing for the first time. Some of it was much better than I'd expected it to be. The last two seasons of Enterprise, for example, are equal in quality to some of the best seasons of TNG and DS9, and I was amazed to see how not-horrible Robert Hewitt Wolfe had managed to make the first season and a half of Andromeda, though unsurprisingly it plummeted in quality immediately after his sudden departure). And, of course, a great deal of it was truly horrible (I only managed the first fifteen minutes of Star Hunter, and that's with gratuitous female nudity).
Battlestar Galactica: The Original Series
Battlestar Galactica (2004) -- Seasons 1-2
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine -- Seasons 1-7 (rewatched)
Star Trek: Enterprise -- Seasons 1-4
Babylon 5 -- Seasons 1-5
Babylon 5: The Legend of the Rangers
Crusade -- Season 1
Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars
Andromeda -- Seasons 1-2
Blake's 7 -- Season 1
Red Dwarf - -- Seasons 1-7
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century -- pilot episode
Space: 1999 -- pilot episode
Star Hunter -- pilot episode
Space Rangers -- pilot episode
Space: Above and Beyond -- pilot episode
Lexx -- pilot episode
Star Blazers -- pilot episode
I don't think there's any major examples of television space opera I'm missing (my anime viewing is pretty sparse, intentionally so, but I plan to sample a few episodes of Gundam in the next few weeks), but if anyone knows of anything I'm missing, that's also available on DVD, rerun, or torrent, please do let me know.
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Saturday, February 25, 2006
Tom Baker Says...
Friday, February 24, 2006
Thursday, February 23, 2006
Invaders from Other Space
And this idea, called the "many worlds" interpretation, raises other problems. Some theorists say it suggests that physicists doing a quantum experiment would find themselves in a random world, such that they would have an equal chance of seeing the bell ring or not ring. But this does not match the well-tested Born rule, which may predict that the bell should ring 70% of the time, for example.
Physicists have attacked this problem in a number of ways. Now Hanson, an economist who also studies physics, is taking a new approach. He argues that these multiple universes are not actually independent, as was thought, but interacting and sometimes destructive.
Quantum theory states that all universes are not created equal - each "parent" universe is much larger according to a particular quantum measure than its later descendants.
Quantum interactions between the universes were thought to be too small to really affect them, but Hanson says the interactions can be significant between universes of vastly different size.
I'm not sure what to make of this, but it's certainly interesting grist for fictional mills. (The original conceit behind AEGIS was actually that the univesre is a phase boundary in four-dimensional space, but the idea evolved along different lines as it progressed, moving into something similar to Hanson's claims in the above article.)
"Well that's the problem with living in the clouds, Commander..." says Brand to new head of SHIELD, onboard the Helicarrier, the agency's flying headquarters. "You can't see the big picture from this far down." Whereat Brand jumps into her rocket, and heads back to the Peak, SWORD's orbital headquarters.
If you're waiting for the trades on this one, you're missing out.
Self-Publishing, Yet Another Data Point
It's an interesting development. I'm curious to see how it plays out. (via Boing Boing)
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Quantum computer works best switched off
With the right set-up, the theory suggested, the computer would sometimes get an answer out of the computer even though the program did not run. And now researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have improved on the original design and built a non-running quantum computer that really works. They send a photon into a system of mirrors and other optical devices, which included a set of components that run a simple database search by changing the properties of the photon.
The new design includes a quantum trick called the Zeno effect. Repeated measurements stop the photon from entering the actual program, but allow its quantum nature to flirt with the program's components - so it can become gradually altered even though it never actually passes through.
"It is very bizarre that you know your computer has not run but you also know what the answer is," says team member Onur Hosten.
Am I the only one, in reading this, who is reminded of Charles L. Harness's "The New Reality," in which scientists, in sending a single photon through an array of prisms and mirrors, accidentally end up destroying all of reality? Not that I suspect it could happen in reality, but you never know...
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Damn Dirty Apes!
(At least two people will find it ironically amusing that I found this via Sawyer's blog.)
Sunday, February 19, 2006
Fantastic Victoriana reviewed in San Francisco Chronicle
You can't ask for fairer than that.
Apocalyptic scenarios aren't exclusively the product of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Jess Nevins unearths a few as he traces the roots of modern science fiction and fantasy in The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana (Monkeybrain Books; 1,010 pages; $50).
A reference librarian at Sam Houston State University, Nevins gained attention by offering online annotations to Alan Moore's intricate comic-book series, "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen." There he managed to both explain the copious in-jokes of Moore's scripts and preserve the project's subversive sense of fun.
His new encyclopedia is several orders of magnitude more substantial but equally perceptive and valuable. Most of the enduring characters of 19th century popular fiction get an entry, from Kipling's Kim to Verne's Captain Nemo, Stevenson's David Balfour to Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. Also accounted for are a great number of intriguing obscurities, from Ahez the Pale to Prince Zaleski.
The only major drawback to this exhaustive reference work is that one wishes there were more thematic entries that explore the connections between assorted authors and their often outrageous characters.
"The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana" probably isn't a volume to be read from cover to cover, but there's plenty there to reward the diligent browser and the serious scholar.
Friday, February 17, 2006
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Which Crew are You?
I rarely do these memes, but I've been watching a lot of television space opera lately, as research, and when I saw this "Which sci-fi crew would you best fit in?" thing, I was intrigued. I'm fascinated by the result. One hundred percent Farscape? One hundred percent? The more I think about it, though, the more that sounds about right. I do have a thing for Muppets, after all... (And Farscape is, inarguably, kick ass.)
You scored as Moya (Farscape). You are surrounded by muppets. But that is okay because they are your friends and have shown many times that they can be trusted. Now if only you could stop being bothered about wormholes.
Your Ultimate Sci-Fi Profile II: which sci-fi crew would you best fit in? (pics)
created with QuizFarm.com
Iron Jaw and Hummingbird
"IRON JAW AND HUMMINGBIRD by Chris Roberson portrays two youths caught up in the revolution against a despotic Martian government controlled by the Dragon Throne of Imperial China, North American rights to Sharyn November of Firebird Books, a division of Penguin Group USA."
A YA science fiction novel, Iron Jaw and Hummingbird is set in my "Celestial Empire" universe (which includes the stories "O One," "Red Hands, Black Hands," "Gold Mountain," and the forthcoming The Voyage of Night Shining White), though it's completely stand-alone. Essentially an opera on a terraformed Mars, it's got bandit chiefs, revolutionaries, religious fanatics, corrupt generals, wastrel second sons, and thieves.... the same old, same old.
I'm incredibly jazzed to have the opportunity to work with Sharyn, who's one of my favorite people in publishing. The book is due out in hardcover in 2008, as I understand it, so mark your calendars now. If you can find a calendar that lists 2008, that is.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
"My Speech to the Martians"
I think I just hurt myself; I honestly haven't laughed that hard in a long, long time.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Monday, February 13, 2006
Well, I've just added another to the list. I picked up Cordwainer Smith's The Rediscovery of Man and Norstrilia last month, additions to my space opera reading list. On Friday, having just finished Richard K. Morgan's Altered Carbon (which I thought was a gas), and with a little time to kill, I picked up the former of the two books and started to read.
The top of my head blew off, and has been buffeted on a pillar of astonished steam ever since.
Christ, how long has this been going on?! I've known Cordwainer Smith's name since I was a teenager, at least, though I probably associated it primarily with Harlan Ellison's "Cordwainer Bird" pseudonym (Harlan's own personal "Alan Smithee"). And until Friday, I'd never read a word of his fiction. But a few weeks back, a friend recommended I might check him out, after hearing me describe the future world of my space opera project. I looked Smith up on Wikipedia, and was surprised to discover that Smith's "Instrumentality of Mankind" and the world of the "Human Entelechy," the setting for the far future portion of my space opera, shared more than a little in common. I located copies of the NESFA editions of both books, which between then contain all of Smith's science fiction short stories and his one sf novel. And now I can't do anything else with my time until I finish reading this stuff. I'm halfway through the short story collection, and eagerly anticipating getting to dip into Norstrilia, Smith's only full length novel.
(As an illustration of how much this stuff is messing me up, the Olympics are always a really big deal around our household. I'm not much for sport, but the kind of faster-farther-higher tests of pure ability and skill that make up much of the Olympic competitions really ring my bell. So it's been with a heavy heart that I've bowed out of all but a few hours of Winter Olympic viewing the last few days, disappearing into my office after Georgia toddles off to bed, to read for a few hours until I can't keep my eyes open any longer.)
I'm continually staggered by the level of invention in Smith's future world. The stories themselves often lack strong endings, but the ideas scattered along the way are decades ahead of their time. Consider this, a bit of text from the opening sections of "The Burning of the Brain," published in 1955.
The Stop-captain waited for him. Outside on the world of Sherman the scented breezes of that pleasant planet blew in through the open windows of the ship.
Wu-Feinstein, finest ship of its class, had no need for metal walls. It was built to resemble an ancient, prehistoric estate named Mount Vernon, and when it sailed between the stars it was encased in its own rigid and self-renewing field of force.
The passengers went through a few pleasant hours of strolling on the grass, enjoying the spacious rooms, chatting beneath a marvelous simulacrum of an atmosphere-filled sky.
Only in the planoforming room did the Go-captain know what happened. The Go-captain, his pinlighters sitting beside him, took the ship from one compression to another, leaping hotly and frantically through space, sometimes one light-year, sometimes a hundred light-years, jump, jump, jump, jump until the ship, the light touches of the captains mind guiding it, passed the perils of millions upon millions of worlds, came out at its appointed destination and settled as lightly as one feather resting upon others, settled into an embroidered and decorated countryside where the passengers could move as easily away from their journey as if they had done nothing more than to pass an afternoon in a pleasant old house by the side of a river.
(Text ganked from here, as I'm too lazy to retype it) There's a level of invention in Smith's stories that's not matched even by a lot of today's SF, much less Smith's contemporaries in the fifties and early sixties. And as his future world uses terminology and fabricated science of Smith's own invention, it hasn't dated considerably, either.
If you haven't read any of Cordwainer Smith's stories yourself, I highly recommend him. I can't imagine what sf readers of the fifties thought he was up to, but I think modern readers will find a lot to admire in his work.
Sunday, February 12, 2006
The field equation of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity has never before been solved to calculate the gravitational field of a mass moving close to the speed of light. Felber's research shows that any mass moving faster than 57.7 percent of the speed of light will gravitationally repel other masses lying within a narrow 'antigravity beam' in front of it. The closer a mass gets to the speed of light, the stronger its 'antigravity beam' becomes.
Felber's calculations show how to use the repulsion of a body speeding through space to provide the enormous energy needed to accelerate massive payloads quickly with negligible stress. The new solution of Einstein's field equation shows that the payload would 'fall weightlessly' in an antigravity beam even as it was accelerated close to the speed of light.
A paper published last summer by Felber appears to contain the math behind this, but I'm afraid it's all over my head. A peer-rewier of the work, though, Dr. Eric Davis of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Austin, is reportedly sold on the idea, though, so it might be worth looking into.
Saturday, February 11, 2006
"Companion to Owls"
I've started making preliminary notes for a novel set in the world of this story, which would be my first attempt at a full-blown, secondary world fantasy, for what it's worth.
Friday, February 10, 2006
Multi-Touch Interaction Research
Thursday, February 09, 2006
Pawning NASA's Crown Jewels
"So in trekking through Washington's lunar-cold budgetary landscape, NASA obviously had to make some hard decisions. We will go on with manned missions, our goal to return to the moon and then on to Mars. This is good, very good. But first there is that little hurtle: we have got finish up the shuttle program, which, apart from fixing Hubble, serves no greater purpose except to service and complete the ISS as it circles above, on its way to where it was 90 minutes ago, waiting to be completed so it can be decommissioned."
The March article, for what it's worth, was a pretty devastating overview by Eugene N. Parker about the prospects for shielding manned missions against cosmic rays. The chances don't look good.
At the moment, I'm preferring to live in the future I'm slowly constructing in my notes, rather than the one that's unfolding in front of us.
Paragaea, from a distance
Admittedly, it's been a busy, stressful seven months, but still and all! Perhaps it's that early senility I've been dreading, or I suppose it could be attributable to sharing a house, a most of my day, with a 2 year old. But I think this was all to the good.
Enough distance, and one don't measure the actuality of the book with the pristine conception they had in mind when starting the project (and the actuality is never as good as the first lofty ambitions for it, I've found), but can instead approach the thing on its own terms. And, for my part, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Paragaea is an enjoyable read. How about that? (Now I just have to worry about readers enjoying it, too. So far, I don't think anyone beyond my editor, my copy-editor, and the map-maker have read the thing.)
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
Gary Troup's Bad Twin
"Bad Twin is the highly-anticipated new novel by acclaimed mystery writer Gary Troup. Bad Twin was delivered to Hyperion just days before Troup boarded Oceanic Flight 815, which was lost in flight from Sydney, Australia to Los Angeles in September 2004. He remains missing and is presumed dead. "
And you can preorder it from Amazon.com.
How's that for tie-in?
Space Colony Artwork 1970
I must have burned holes in my retinas as a kid, poring over these illustrations in books on space that I found in the library. I hadn't remembered them until the very instant I clicked on this, at which point I felt like I'd been there before.
Last month I freaked out a bit when I picked up a copy of Frederick I. Ordway III's Visions of Spaceflight, and saw all those great images that Chesley Bonestell and Fred Freeman had done for the Collier's articles Wernher von Braun wrote in the early 50's; but those were things I only wished I'd seen as a kid. This stuff is part of my childhood.
The Middle Man
The Middle Man, as we used to say, rocks a phat jam. Created by Javier Grillo-Marxuach, a writer and Supervising Producer on ABC's Lost, with art by the simply amazing Les McClaine, the comic is... Well, I'll let them tell it in their own words:
"Your reality is a sham. Your way of life is constantly under attack by monsters, aliens and talking primates - and the reason you and the rest of the pink-skinned normal world don’t know it? THE MIDDLEMAN. Working in absurd secrecy, aided by talented amateur Wendy Watson, the Middleman stares down threats extra- infra- and juxta-terrestrial with a big gun and a have-a-nice-day grin. The Middleman: he fights evil, so you don't have to!"
How can you go wrong with that? The art is gorgeous, the script is tight and funny, and the stories rock along at just the right lunatic pace. Issue 2.1 opens with a jewel heist, and by the end of the issue has devolved into a mashup of Hong Kong kung fu flicks and Mexican luchadore wrestlers, complete with masks. In Volume 1, a key player is a chimpanzee mafioso. Look, if you can resist something like that, you're a better person than I am.
The original four issue miniseries was released today in trade paperback, timed to coincide with the release of the first issue of volume 2. You're not going to find a better time than this to jump on board. So hie yourself to your local comic shop and pick up a copy. For more info, check out the official site.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Pure Genius, the Garfield variety
United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs
In the space opera I'm outlining, R.J. Stone is the mission commander of UNSA's Wayfarer One, the first manned interstellar mission. As of this moment, in the late 22nd century UNSA--the United Nations Space Agency--is headquartered in Vienna, within sight of the original offices of the UNOOSA.
Firefly Class, technical specs
Check this out. It's diagrams and technical specs for the Firefly class interplanetary ship, "Serenity," by a visual effect supervisor from Zoic Studios, the effects house who worked on the series and film.
Monday, February 06, 2006
I'm always game for this sort of thing, so here's mine. These are selections from the Terms section of the style sheet for Paragaea: A Planetary Romance (provided by Deanna herself, who edited the thing). This is A through D, inclusive:
Air Defense Forces
Battle of Calabria
Battle of Stalingrad
Black Sun Genesis
bleary-eyed (after n)
Cosmonaut Corps, the
I am curious, having done this exercise, just what sort of mental image these words conjure on their own, shorn of their context. Hmmm...
"This is not science fiction"
Reuters is carrying a story today about a scientific illustrator named Lynette Cook. She's recently provided the illustrations for Dava Sobel's The Planets, and a glance at her website indicates she is not without talent (though from what I've seen, her work wouldn't be out of place among that of the better "amateur" artists in a WorldCon art show). But then she goes and says something like this, and immediately she's earned my antipathy.
"This is not science fiction," she said. "These planets are so far away we cannot look at them with a camera close up, so we can't have the assurance at this point of time that it's 100 percent accurate. And that's fun for me because I can use some imagination as long as it is scientifically plausible. It can't be too far-out or I can't do it."
So let me get this straight. This isn't science fiction. This is scientifically plausible, imaginative extrapolation. And science fiction is what, again?
Christ. If people who pursue science for a living can't get behind the idea of rational, plausible science fiction, what hope do we have of ever converting the countless Americans who believe that the world was created in seven days, six thousand years ago?
The full text of the article is here.
Sunday, February 05, 2006
Kevin Huizenga's "Time Travelling"
Saturday, February 04, 2006
It's nice work if you can get it
Friday, February 03, 2006
If you're unfamiliar with the premise, Creature Comforts is a series of short programs in which the voices of a wide variety of British citizens, opining on any subject imaginable, are animated with stop-motion animation animals of various types. Nick Park and Aardman had originally done a short film with this approach, and the same title, in 1990, which went on to win an Oscar. In any event, in watching the series, I remember thinking that it could never fly on American television (though apparently they are being rebroadcast on BBC America); as genius as I find a hamster complaining about his family, or a seeing-eye dog explaining her philosophy of life, it just doesn't seem like the kind of thing the majority of Americans could get behind. There's no plot, and the humor can be extremely subtle, two characteristics which haven't necessarily been hallmarks of American television.
Imagine my surprise, this morning, to read that CBS has contracted Aardman to make seven half-hour episodes of Creature Comforts (presumably with the voices of Americans). How about that? It remains to be seen if this is something that will translate successfully into an American idiom, much less be embraced by American audiences, but I remain cautiously optimistic.
Thursday, February 02, 2006
The Smell of Moondust
Schmitt says, "All of the Apollo astronauts were used to handling guns." So when they said 'moondust smells like burnt gunpowder,' they knew what they were talking about.
This is news to me, but don't think for a second that it won't turn up in a story of mine, sooner or later.
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
The Dark Crystal revisited
I was obsessed with the world of the original film for years, studying the novelization for bits that were in the original script but not in the finished film (like the cool naming conventiosn of the Skeksis and the urRu), and I've always believed that, since nothing "real" is seen on screen throughout, the world of The Dark Crystal is arguably the most fully realized bit of world-building ever done on film. Everything is fabricated, including the actors! But when plans for a sequel were first announced last year, I'll admit that I was more than a bit skeptical. That someone of Tartakovsky's talent and track record is in the driver's seat, though, means that this is an intriguing development, and one I'll be watching with interest.