Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah!

My, oh my! What a wonderful day! IRS refund came in today! Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, Zip-a-dee-ay!

Not a huge refund, of course. We're not moving up to the next tax bracket any time soon. But it wasn't chicken feed, either. Enough to pay off the PT Cruiser, and that's one less monthly bill to worry about. yay!

Now Playing: The Kinks Low Budget

Where's that do-not-call list when you need it?

I'm starting to hate politics even more than usual. For the past several nights, campaign auto-dialers have been calling my home during dinner, interrupting my meal in order to play pre-recorded campaign tripe urging me to vote for so-and-so in the upcoming primary. I'm keeping a running tally: Any politico who phones me at home is earning his opponent an automatic vote from me.

So David Dewhurst, listen up. I gave you a shot. For a while you seemed like the only one operating in Austin with a lick of sense. But then you got on board with Tom Craddick's latest scheme, and that soured me on you pretty much. Your phone call last night clinched the deal.

Now Playing: Foreigner Records

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Awful, wretched news

Of all the lousy news to have pop up on my computer... Octavia Butler has died. According to Steven Barnes, she suffered a stroke and was discovered by neighbors outside of her home. She was a singular talent, and I'm sad to say I only met her very briefly, at Aggiecon 20, before I'd ever read any of her stuff and learned what a great writer she was. I'd always wanted to interview her, but now I'll never get the chance. Damn.

Now Playing: Nothing

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Nebula shortlist

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America have released the final ballot for the 2005 Nebula Awards. I'm ashamed to admit I haven't read a single one of the nominees yet, although I have seen the nominated dramatic pieces. Should be an interesting year:
SFWA releases 2005 Nebula Awards final ballot

The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, Inc., has announced the Final Ballot for the Nebula Awards for 2005.

The Nebula Awards are voted on, and presented by, active members of SFWA. The awards will be announced at the Nebula Awards Banquet to be held at the Tempe Mission Palms Hotel in Tempe, Arizona on Saturday, May 6, 2006.

2005 Final Nebula Ballot
    Novels

      Air - Geoff Ryman (St. Martin's Press, Sept. 2004)
      Camouflage - Joe Haldeman (Analog, March-May 2004, also Ace book Aug. 2004)
      Going Postal - Terry Pratchett (HarperCollins, Oct. 2004)
      Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell - Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury, Sept. 2004)
      Polaris - Jack McDevitt (Ace, Nov. 2004)
      Orphans of Chaos - John C. Wright (Tor, Nov. 2005)


    Novellas

      "Clay's Pride" - Bud Sparhawk (Analog, July/Aug. 04)
      "Identity Theft" - Robert J. Sawyer (Down These Dark Spaceways, Science Fiction Book Club, May 05)
      "Left of the Dial" - Paul Witcover (SCI FICTION, Sept. 2004)
      "Magic for Beginners" - Kelly Link (Magic for Beginners, Small Beer Press, July 2005)
      "The Tribes of Bela" - Albert Cowdrey (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Aug. 2004)


    Novelettes

      "The Faery Handbag" - Kelly Link (The Faery Reel: Tales From the Twilight Realm, Viking Press, Aug. 2004)
      "Flat Diane" - Daniel Abraham (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Oct./Nov. 2004)
      "Men are Trouble" - James Patrick Kelly (Asimov's, June 2004)
      "Nirvana High" - Eileen Gunn and Leslie What (Stable Strategies and Others, Tachyon Press, Sept. 2004)
      "The People of Sand and Slag" - Paolo Bacigalupi (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Feb. 2004)


    Short Stories
      "Born-Again" - K.D. Wentworth (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, May 2005)
      "The End of the World as We Know It" - Dale Bailey (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Oct./Nov. 2004)
      "I Live With You" - Carol Emshwiller (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March 2005)
      "My Mother, Dancing" - Nancy Kress (Asimov's, Jun 2004)
      "Singing My Sister Down" - Margo Lanagan, (Black Juice, Eos, March 2005)
      "Still Life With Boobs - Anne Harris (Talebones, Summer 2005)
      "There's a Hole in the City - Richard Bowes (SCI FICTION, June 2005)


    Scripts
      Act of Contrition/You Can't Go Home Again - Carla Robinson; Bradley Thompson; and David Weddle. (Battlestar Galactica; Jan. 28, 2005/Feb. 4, 2005 [two part episode])
      Serenity - Joss Whedon (Universal Pictures, Sept. 2005)


    Andre Norton Award
      The Amethyst Road - Louise Spiegler, (Clarion Books, Sept. 2005)
      Siberia - Ann Halam (Wendy Lamb Books, June 2005)
      Stormwitch - Susan Vaught (Bloomsbury, Jan. 2005)
      Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie - Holly Black (Simon & Schuster, June 2005)

Best of luck to all the nominees!

Now Playing: Christopher Franke Babylon 5

Friday, February 24, 2006

Where I'm not

Today is the start of ConDFW up in Richardson (that's essentially Dallas, if you're curious). Everyone I know is going, while I stay home to do the whole birthing thing, assuming, of course, the li'l tyke ever decides to make his grand entrance.

Try and have fun without me, guys. Like that's even possible...

Now Playing: Beethoven Symphony no. 9 in D minor

Eye eye eye...

How the heck does someone manage to scratch their eye while sleeping? Somehow I managed it. It's driving me to distraction. My eye's blinking so that if anyone knows morse code, there's no telling what messages I'm sending out. Is it possible to overdose on Visine? Sheesh.

Now Playing: Don Henley California Desperados

Thursday, February 23, 2006

That darn butterfly

Yes, I'm a slow writer where fiction is concerned. I admit it. Between waiting on the baby to be born, the siren song of the Olympics (boy, have those Austrian ski jumpers coated their skis with some sort of anti-gravity material or what?) and other unavoidable distractions, writing has progressed very slowly on Europa--even more slowly than usual. Fortunately, it is progressing, so I take some solace in that.

A while back, I mentioned how this rewrite is of an order of magnitude more involved than previous rewrites I've undertaken. I had no idea. Tiny, seemingly insignificant changes made early on in the story to address structural problems have, well, reverberated through the rest of the story, for lack of a better word. Almost everything I'm writing now is new. Yet I'm writing existing scenes. See, the context, motivations and character have changed so much that I can't simply play Tetris with existing scenes by plugging them into their new slots. It's almost akin to what Card did with Ender's Shadow, which was essentially a rewrite of Ender's Game from a different viewpoint. The frustrating part is that I'm not certain the new version is an improvement on the original. I think it is, but as the writer I have that whole forest+trees thing going. Anyway, here's a taste of the new stuff from last night:
"Wait a sec... What is that?"

"What's what?" Sabine asked.

"There. Didn't you see it?"

Something with a hard and flashy sonar profile glinted at me from the seabed. I dropped the probe, curious in spite of myself. There it was again, buried amid the rippled beds of Epsom salts and sulfur... Ice. I'd found subsurface ice. The smooth, irregular dome hid centimeters below the powdery surface.

I lowered the manipulator arm, pressing its tip through the salts to take an analytical taste of my discovery. I could parse a simple compositional breakdown without the Kargel's assistance, after all. A tiny stream of bubbles wobbled up.

Methane. My heart fluttered. Methane!

And while we're on the subject of Europa, yesterday I stumbled across Europa: The Ocean Moon. Sure could've used that a couple of years back, when I was scrounging through old back issues of Icarus to dig up as much actual factuals on Europa as I could. I still want it, but $89.95 is a tad steep. Even for an impulsive type such as me.

Now Playing: Stevie Ray Vaughan The Real Deal: Greatest Hits vol. 2

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Pleasant surprise

So I was doing one of those narcissistic Google searches on myself that all authors secretly do but never admit to, when I came across this unexpected review at Rambles.net:
The first thing you should know about Jayme Lynn Blaschke is that, despite his name, he is a guy. The next thing you should know is that he is a talented writer and interviewer. Voices of Vision is a collection of Blaschke's interviews done between 1997 and 2002. Some of these interviews have been previously published, while some are seeing the light of day for the first time.

...

A good interviewer has to be able to think quickly on his or her feet to sometimes follow the good stuff that deviates from any planned questions or to rein in an interviewee who heads off into Outer Mongolia. Blaschke proves that he is well able to do both.

Wow. Another very positive review. I'll have to send Laurie Thayer a thank-you note. And as if that wasn't enough, I've just learned that Voices of Vision has been recommended by Emerald City for the "Best Related Book" Hugo Award. I am, as they say, quite humbled by this. The positive reception my little niche book has received is nothing short of overwhelming.




And yes, the fact that you're reading a blog entry from me is a pretty clear indicator that we're still waiting on the kid to make up his mind when he wants to be born. Remember that stuff I posted yesterday about Lisa getting over her discomfort? Forget it.

Now Playing: Wyndnwyre About Tyme

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Panspermia day at the blog!

Can I mention again that working at Texas State University is one of the coolest jobs there is? Outside of working in the media relations department at NASA, that is, but Texas State's standards are higher. In any event, my latest cool project has been the release, below, discussing some very cool panspermia research conducted by Bob McLean:
Texas State research sheds light on panspermia

When the space shuttle Columbia broke apart during reentry Feb. 1, 2003, more than 80 on-board science experiments were lost in the fiery descent.

Texas State University-San Marcos biologist Robert McLean, however, has salvaged some unexpected science from the wreckage. A strain of slow-growing bacteria survived the crash, a discovery which may have significant implications for the concept of panspermia. The findings will be published in the May 2006 issue of Icarus, the international journal of solar system studies.

Panspermia is the idea that life--hitchhiking on rocks ejected from meteorite impacts on one world--could travel through space and seed other worlds with life under favorable conditions. Because the conditions under which panspermia could function are so harsh, however, there's been little direct testing of the hypothesis.

"That might have been in the back of my mind when we recovered our payload," McLean said. McLean, along with a team of Texas State researchers, had placed an experiment package aboard the Columbia to investigate the interactions of three different bacterial species in microgravity. When the shuttle broke up over Texas, they assumed the experiment lost--until it turned up, relatively intact, in the parking lot of a Nacogdoches convenience store. "My first thinking when we found our payload was, 'Let's look for survivors.'"

And survivors he found--a bacteria called Microbispora. Ironically, Microbispora wasn't one of the three species McLean expected to find. The slow-growing organism is normally found in the soil, and McLean determined that it had contaminated the experiment prior to launch. With the Icarus publication, McLean anticipates request for samples of this rugged strain to come in from researchers around the world.

"This organism appears to have survived an atmospheric passage, with the heat and the force of impact," he said. "That's only about a fifth of the speed that something on a real meteorite would have to survive, but it is at least five or six times faster than what's been tested before.

"This is important for panspermia, because if something survives space travel, it eventually has to get down to the Earth and survive passage through the atmosphere and impact. This doesn't prove anything--it just contributes evidence to the plausibility of panspermia. Realistically, that's all it can do," McLean said. "Out of respect for the seven people who gave their lives for this research, I feel it's very important these results don't get lost."


Dr. Robert McLean opens the experiment package recovered from the wreck of the space shuttle Columbia.

I'm also happy to report that I've been designated my office's official panspermia expert, no doubt because I've been boring my co-workers with talk of how discovery of life on Europa would be much more significant a find than similar discoveries on either Mars or Venus...

Now Playing: Joanne Shenandoah and Lawrence Laughing Orenda

Waiting

No baby yet. Lisa hasn't had a bout of regular contractions since Saturday, but they're still coming here and there. The pressing discomforts she was experiencing have mostly subsided, but now she's just pretty much tired of being pregnant.

And, lest anyone worry too much, the due date's still a little bit away. But Keela came somewhat early and fast, so we're still primed to expect a similar delivery this time around. This one's at least as big, if not bigger, than Keela was, and if he hangs around until the due date he'll probably come out at around 8 pounds, which is bigger than even Calista. The good news is that his head is down and he's dropped into pretty much perfect postion for delivery. The bad news is that he's not pleased with his cramped quarters, and keeps kicking Lisa's liver up into her throat...

Now Playing: Ry Cooder & Ali Farka Toure Talking Timbuktu

Monday, February 20, 2006

Is that a Nebula in your pocket?

The Nebula Awards--the next best thing to winning one is having the awards ceremony held in your back yard:
Austin tabbed for SFWA's 2008 Nebula Awards Weekend®

Austin, Texas, has been named the host city for the 2008 Nebula Awards Weekend® by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

The Nebula Awards Weekend® will be held April 24-27. The event will take place at the historic Driskill Hotel at Sixth and Brazos. The Driskill boasts a reputation of being “the most haunted hotel in Texas,” with no fewer than five ghosts popularly held to inhabit the hotel, including that of cigar-smoking Colonel Jesse Lincoln Driskill, a wealthy cattle baron who opened the luxurious grand hotel in 1886 at a cost of $400,000.

The event will be hosted by the Austin Literary Arts Maintenance Organization (ALAMO), with the assistance of SFWA members Elizabeth Moon, John Moore and Lee Martindale.

“I'm looking forward to a terrific Nebula Awards Weekend in one the southwest's most beautiful cities,” said SFWA President Robin Bailey. “My thanks to Karen Meschke and the ALAMO crew, as well as central-south regional director, Alexis Glenn Latner, for volunteering to host one of science fiction's premiere events.”

The Nebula Awards® are voted on, and presented by, active members of SFWA. Lloyd Biggle, Jr., the first SFWA secretary-treasurer, originally proposed in 1965 that the organization publish an annual anthology of the best stories of the year. This notion, according to Damon Knight in his introduction to Nebula Award Stories: 1965 (Doubleday, 1966) “rapidly grew into an annual ballot of SFWA’s members to choose the best stories, and an annual awards banquet.”

Since 1965, the Nebula Awards have been given each year for the best novel, novella, novelette, and short story eligible for that year’s award. An anthology including the winning pieces of short fiction and several runners-up is also published every year. The Nebula Awards® banquet, which takes place each spring, is attended by many writers and editors and is preceded by meetings and panel discussions.

Now Playing: The Who Greatest Hits

Hurry up and wait

No baby yet, for those of you keeping score at home. Lisa's ob/gyn says it could come any time within the next week, which is pretty much what we've figured out on our own. Lisa's none too comfortable, I can assure you.

In happier news, I just got in my copy of Brutarian no. 46, which contains my interview with author Jacqueline Carey:



As you can tell from the cover art, it's also got a big feature on Elvira this issue as well. I once tried to bring in Elvira as a guest when I was running Aggiecon, a mistake I shall never make again. To say her agent was "agressive" is an understatement akin to opining that the south pole has "a little ice." Fortunately, no agents appear anywhere in this issue.

Now Playing: Talking Heads Naked

Friday, February 17, 2006

Interesting times, redux

By 4 p.m. yesterday, Lisa was having regular contractions 15 minutes apart. At 8 p.m., they were 10 minutes apart, and we decided it'd be best to go to the hospital and get checked out. By the time we checked in, contractions were coming 7 minutes apart. As soon as they get Lisa hooked up to a monitor, the contractions slow down to 20 minute intervals.

So we walk around some and do some more checking. Still 20 minute intervals. And the intensity of the contractions is declining. Around midnight they let us go home. All together, Lisa had about 10 hours of regular contractions. We're both somewhat tired, to say the least. The endgame to this pregnancy isn't playing out like the previous two, at all.

Now Playing: Sting Mercury Falling

70s Wayback Machine

I once wrote an article for a fanzine to be produced by the students of the Texas State SF club. That was almost two years ago now. Suffice to say, the 'zine never coalesced. But fret not, because after a slight tweaking for the target audience, it's now up at RevSF as Four Groovy Flicks from the '70s Wayback Machine:
Believe it or not, science fiction did exist in theaters before Star Wars. And while many of those films were as mind-numbingly dumb as modern films such as The Core, a surprising number of films could actually be described as "good" were produced in the 1970s before wookiees and droids turned the genre into adventure-laden special effects showpieces.

Go. Read. Enjoy.

Now Playing: Bebel Gilberto Tanto Tempo

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Interesting times

For about two hours yesterday evening, Lisa had a series of contractions. Not quite predictable enough to be called regular, but not irregular enough to dismiss. Coupled with the fact that she has dropped, along with some other physical labor precursor signs, we were on alert. Then the contractions just stopped.

This is not unlike what we experienced with Keela: an advance bout of contractions followed by a lull then the rapid onset of labor. So if I abruptly vanish, stop answering emails and such, odds are that I'm busy cutting an umbilical cord somewhere.

Now Playing: Christopher Franke Babylon 5 vol. 2: Messages from Earth

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Singing the Dogstar Blues

My review of Alison Goodman's young adult novel, Singing the Dogstar Blues, is now live over at Green Man Review.

Now Playing: The Eurythmics Greatest Hits

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Valentine's Day

Out of the blue, a neighbor offered to watch the girls so Lisa and I could have a dinner alone before the baby comes. Of course we took her up on it. Unfortunately, I got tied up waiting on some one at work and Lisa and I didn't get away from the house until after 6 p.m. Lisa wanted Applebee's, but the wait there was already 45 minutes long. Chili's across the highway said the wait was only 10 minutes, but there were a dozen people waiting in the parking lot. Yeah, right. We ended up eating at Fire Mountain, which was crowded and not exactly what we wanted, but was good enough.

She gave me Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit DVD and I gave her the special edition DVD package of Titanic. I admit it--we're two DVD junkies.

Now, after doing some more writing on Europa, I'm calling it a night. Very busy day, and I'm sleepy.

Now Playing: Christopher Franke Babylon 5

Monday, February 13, 2006

Dear Diary...

It's amazing how some memories, long forgotten in the fog of time, suddenly reappear unexpectedly, for no apparent reason at all. When I was in elementary school, probably around fifth grade (which would've been 1980-81ish) I was in that voracious reader phase. I read everything I could get my hands on, and read it quickly. In class, we'd have a reading assignment where each classmember took turns reading a particular short story aloud from our book. This, obviously, plodded along at a snail's pace. So I'd read the assigned story, then skip ahead to read the next one, and the next...

One day, I read a piece titled "From the Diary of Yeddo Ski-Kredo." A Google search tells me it was written by Caroline D. Henry, who's only other genre claim to fame I can discern was a poem titled "Moon of Legend" published in the winter 1983-84 edition of Space and Time.

"From the Diary of Yeddo Ski-Kredo" was written from the perspective of a young girl's diary entries. From the title, I took it as being set in the future. In the diary entries, Yeddo talks about vaguely familiar kid concerns, while also mentioning a growing number of UFO sightings being reported in the media. By the end of the story, aliens land and come out to greet the incredulous natives. But wait! Yeddo describes them as only having hair on the tops of their heads, and only two legs and two arms! Whoa! These aliens are humans! Which means Yeddo, the viewpoint character, was actually alien all along.

Looking back now, I can see that this is a variation of the "Jar of Tang" story type from the Turkey City Lexicon. The entire purpose of the story is to mislead the reader and shout "Fooled you!" at the end, making the reader look back and view those odd names and quirky word choices in a whole new light. It manages to get away with this sleight-of-hand, however, simply because it's targetted to a young audience that hasn't encountered such a trick before. It becomes more of a teaching tool than a story. For me, however, it was an eye-opening experience, because it showed me that fiction could be more than linear narrative--it could engage in mis-direction depending on which information was provided or withheld from the reader. I won't say this otherwise forgettable story was hugely influential, but it did have an obvious impact in light of the fact I remember it 26 years later.

There is a postscript to this ramble: For the next several days, I waited eagerly for the class to reach that story, so they could experience that same mind-blowing revelation at the end I had. In truth, I probably just wanted to impress the teacher by having all the answers to her questions at the end, to show her I "understood" the story whereas the other students were befuddled ignoramuses. So imagine my horror that as we opened our books to the story, the teacher, Mrs. Loessin, tells the class, "Now, when you read this, you have to remember that it's not a human being writing the diary entries. It's an alien on a different planet. And the UFOs she talks about are really spaceships from Earth. And the aliens she sees are really people. You need to know that before you read this story." For an otherwise effective and "with it" teacher, she really, really missed the boat on how best to teach "Yeddo." I think my foul and evil mood lasted a week or more after that one.

Now Playing: L'orchestre national de France Holst: The Planets

Friday, February 10, 2006

Deutsch is a big moron...

...how big of a moron is he? Over at Bad Astronomy there's a veritable turkey shoot going on. Apparently, the Houston Chronicle article barely scratched the surface. Ol' George done found hisself a radio station from which to broadcast his ign'rance hither and yon. It'd be funny, if it weren't so pathetic.

Now Playing: Various Artists 25 Classical Masterpieces

Cry me a river

It seems to me that when you've gotten yourself in a deep hole, it's generally best to stop digging. This bit of wisdom seems to not have sunk in to our old buddy George Deutsch (who--I'm grateful to announce--did not graduate from Texas A&M with a journalism degree. He dropped out instead. My diploma no longer feels debased). Instead of laying low after making himself an international laughingstock, this snot-nosed wingnut punk with an over-inflated sense of self-importance is trying to portray himself as a victim of those mean and nasty scientists and their vast, left-wing conspiracy:
The young public affairs officer who resigned from NASA this week amidst controversy over his handling of communications on global warming charged on Thursday he's the victim of a politically motivated smear campaign.

George Deutsch, 24, a former Texas A&M University student who left the school to work on President Bush's 2004 re-election campaign, lashed back at those who accused him of scientific censorship.

The facts that he was utterly unqualified for his position and lied on his resume weren't a factor in his dismissal. At all. Nosirre Bob. You'd think that he'd have learned his lesson after overstepping his bounds and attracting unwanted media attention, but no. He seems desperate for more rope to hang himself with:
"What is going on at NASA and throughout the federal government is a culture war," Deutsch said in a statement from his Washington-area home. "I quickly learned one thing: Dr. Hansen and his supporters have a very partisan agenda and ties reaching to the top of the Democratic Party."

That's right, George. All of that cosmic microwave background radiation left over from the Big Bang is all a hoax perpetrated by the Democratic party to undermine the Bible. And all that NASA bunk about the Earth orbiting around the sun is a Democratic hoax as well. To quote Bill Cosby, Riiiight!

Fortunately, individuals at NASA have come to Deutsch's defense with statements that exposes Hansen for the godless, liberal, pinko, commie, athiest that he is:
On Thursday, both Hansen, who directs climate research from the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, and NASA challenged the allegations by Deutsch.

"I have no idea where he got that idea. It would be the opposite of our credo about presenting all sides of a problem," Hansen wrote in an e-mail in response to the charge he tried to suppress opposing views.

Hansen also characterized himself as a moderately conservative independent who favors the positions of U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on campaign finance reform and climate change.

Hansen's views on global warming were not favored over others, said Dean Acosta, chief spokesman for NASA administrator Michael Griffin. "I can tell you categorically that is not happening," said Acosta.

The more I hear from Deutsch, the more familiar he becomes. He's cut from the same mold as every other far-right columnist that ever befouled the basement offices of the Battalion--if caught with your pants down, or called on bogus claims, attack, attack, attack! The sad thing is that somewhere there's an unaccredited university or neo-fascist magazine that thinks Deutsch's words couldn't be any closer to the Gospel truth than if God himself spoke them, and will fall over themselves to give him a cush job to land on and spout out his nonsensical ravings.

Has Deutsch learned anything from this sorry affair? Yeah, but I fear the lessons are all the wrong ones.

Now Playing: Various Artists 25 Classical Masterpieces

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Asimov's review!

Gosh, that Paul Di Filippo must habor a huge man-crush on me. How else to describe the glowing review he bestowed upon Voices of Vision in the March issue of Asimov's?
All in all, an expert savvy interviewer is a rare beast.
Jayme Lynn Blaschke is just such a paragon, as illustrated by his excellent collection of interviews titled Voices of Vision.

And, later on...
Whether discussing twenty years of editing with Gardner Dozois, the history of Green Arrow with Brad Meltzer, or Babylon 5 with Harlan Ellison, Blaschke displays reverence, passion and curiosity. He manages to elicit quotable moments from everyone, and dredges up insightful arercus from such interesting folks as Gene Wolfe, Jack Williamson, Samuel Delany and Charles de Lint.

I am, obviously enough, extremely flattered. The book's been out a while now, and I expect the Asimov's review to be pretty much the last new one to come down the pike. But wow! Talk about saving the best for last...

Now Playing: The Police Message in a Box

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Stars, planets and Brownies

Last night my daughter's Brownie troop had a "try it" event for astronomy (a "try it" being something akin to a junior-grade merit badge). Being the resident astronomy expert **cough cough** it fell to me to orchestrate a good deal of the actual astronomical content of the evening. While Lisa was inside the Girl Scout house discussing constellations and the like, I was busy outside setting up Calista's telescope.



Here, I'm spotting Saturn, which was relatively low in the sky this particular evening, and at one point was occulted by power lines.



Here, we're preparing for some serious viewing of the waxing gibbous moon.



This time, Calista's taking a peek at the moon through a higher magnification eyepiece. She took particular delight in warning the other kids "Don't touch the telescope or you'll knock the moon out of view!"



And here, we can see me start to realize that the heavens weren't exactly as I'd assumed they were. Two particularly bright stars appeared around sunset, roughly in line with the Moon. One was distinctly red. Since I knew Mars and Saturn were the two planets visible this time of year, I assumed that's what they were--they were more or less where they belonged, I thought. Wrong. As it got darker and more stars came out, I realized that "Mars" was actually Betelgeuse, and that "Saturn" was Sirius. What I'd assumed were east and west obviously weren't. Once I got re-oriented, it was easier to spot the "correct" planets!

The moon, happily, was almost in perfect phase for good observations--the sun's angle was such that shadows cast offered excellent depth and contrast. And there was enough light to get good detail even at higher magnifications. Saturn offered a good show and duly impressed the kids and their parents, but man was it a pain to get spotted in the scope! For a 2.4" refractor, it gives a good image, but it doesn't have a counter-balance mount. Which means it's held steady by tighteners on either side. This does not make for smooth tracking adjustments, particularly at high magnification. And the focal tube itself is fairly loose (it was an inexpensive scope, after all, even if it was Meade) which added another degree of instability. Fortunately, nobody else suffered my frustration, and they all went away happy and duly impressed.

The experience did reenforce my desire to get my 6" reflector repaired and back up to working condition. It's a much, much, much more stable platform, with smooth movement and larger, sharper optics. It's also at least 30 years old, so amateur telescope technology has since run laps around it, but it was my first real telescope, and it'll be a serviceable scope again someday.

Now Playing: The Rolling Stones Rewind

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Would you buy a slightly used moon from this man?

The student newspaper here at Texas State University has devoted a fairly extensive feature article to me. I am, of course, flattered, and feeling somewhat undeserving of the attention. I threw a whole lot of information at the reporter--far more than he needed, as I tend to go off on tangents more often than not--so there are patches where facts get jumbled a bit, and the words on the page don't quite succeed at conveying my intended meaning. But hey, I mangled more than my share of stories when I was in college--that's what student newspapers are for. All in all, it's a positive piece and I'm happy with the overall package:
It’s a fact: Science fiction literature growing in popularity
By Stephen Lloyd
The University Star


Jayme Lynn Blaschke attempts to look dramatic.Don’t call it sci-fi. Sci-fi refers to special effects laden Hollywood blockbusters. The literature is science fiction.

“It makes you think, explore new possibilities, social issues, political issues, science. It’s almost a laboratory of the mind,” said Jayme Blaschke, newly appointed media relations director for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers for America.

Blaschke is also a public information specialist for the Media Relations and Publications Department of Texas State and the fiction editor of RevolutionSF.com.

Blaschke has been reading science fiction since he was in fourth or fifth grade.
“I got interested through science,” he said. “I was fascinated by space. In college, I started writing and published a few short stories. I have a background in journalism, and I worked in newspapers for a decade.”

But the 1997 World Science Fiction Convention, held in San Antonio, was the turning point. Interzone Magazine published interviews he conducted with authors at the convention.

“It snowballed from there,” Blaschke said.

There's more--a lot more--to the article over at the paper's website. Head on over there and check it out.

Now Playing: Berlin Best of Berlin 1979-1988

Come and see the show!

It's amazing that the novelty hasn't worn off yet. To wit: I'm not spending every waking hour trying to find reasons to avoid writing. I'm actually looking forward to my writing time at night, and annoyed when something intrudes that prevents me from doing so. That's such a cool sensation--and one absent from my experience for far too long--that I get positively giddy thinking about it. So, to celebrate the astounding amount of progress I've made on "Europa, Deep and Cold," I share the following efforts from last night with you:
"Ah," I said for lack of anything better. I reclined, looking up through the transparent dome of the bell. Deep whorls and rills decorated the underside of the berg. Smooth scalloped depressions and undulating channels crossed the terrain, as gentle and inviting as the top of the berg was harsh and forbidding.

"It is... magnificent," I said, grudgingly.

Sabine gave my hand a triumphant squeeze. "So you tell me, was it worth it?"

Sabine had ordered us off of our plotted tour three days earlier, chasing an irregular pulse of oxygen that kept popping up where it shouldn't be. Chasing it deep. Europa's antijovian hemisphere harbored hydrogen segregated by Jupiter-induced electrical currents through the ocean. Any free oxygen belonged in the subjovian hemisphere, so something strange was going on. With another crew, the phantom spikes would likely have remained just that, but Theda was good. She's the one who first parsed the minuscule oxygen spikes amidst the flood of background data, and she's the one who bull's-eyed phantom spikes of hydrogen peroxide and methanol as we closed on our quarry.

But Sabine's the one who scrapped our mission plan to chase the ghost, risking her career on a hunch.

I'd argued for sticking to the tour. And she wasn't about to let me forget it.

"Yes, yes, yes already! But what is it? How can it be so dense?"

And there's genuine, hard science in there! Didja notice? Huh? Didja didja?

One problem that I do see looming ahead with this "Extreme Makeover: Fiction Edition" approach is that with the new story structure I've adopted, there doesn't appear to be room anywhere for one particularly relevant scene. The scene isn't plot-critical, otherwise the new structure wouldn't stand on its own without it. But it is critical in regards to the character and motivation of two major characters. And there's a good chunk of world-building slipped in there as well, but that's a secondary issue. I'm left with the quandry of how to integrate those crucial character bits into the new narrative flow without committing the sin of infodump or bloating the latter half of the story and derailing forward momentum.

But then again, problems like this are why they pay me the big bucks.

Now Playing: The B-52s Time Capsule: Songs for a Future Generation

Monday, February 06, 2006

New York Times on Deutsch

The New York Times has a pretty effective summation of all the hankey-pankey going on in the public affairs offices of NASA. I seem to remember the Soviet Union being held in contempt for its heavy reliance on "political officers." President Bush's close relationship with Russia's ex-KGB head honcho, Vladimir Putin, is starting to make more sense.
Mr. Deutsch did not respond to e-mail or phone messages. On Friday evening, repeated queries were made to the White House about how a young presidential appointee with no science background came to be supervising Web presentations on cosmology and interview requests to senior NASA scientists.

The only response came from Donald Tighe of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. "Science is respected and protected and highly valued by the administration," he said.

The next thing you know, U.S. school children will be learning Lamarkian biology rather than those pesky, flawed "Mendel squares."

Now Playing: R.E.M. Green

Psst! Wanna hear an Aggie joke?

George Deutsch is a 2003 journalism graduate from Texas A&M. During my time there, I saw a numer of his ilk pass through the Battalion newsroom, wholly contemptuous of such trivialities as libel or journalistic ethics (yeah, I'm looking at you, Ty Clevenger), intent only on championing right-wing, conservative interests--truth be damned. In all honesty, these folks were, by and large, business and political science majors merely slumming with us journalistic dregs of society because it'd look good on their resume. They certainly never actually considered earning a journalism degree, and even if they did debase themselves so, they never found their way into anything resembling a position of power. Until now, that is:
In October 2005, Mr. Deutsch sent an e-mail message to Flint Wild, a NASA contractor working on a set of Web presentations about Einstein for middle-school students. The message said the word "theory" needed to be added after every mention of the Big Bang.

The Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion," Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator."

It continued: "This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA. That would mean we had failed to properly educate the very people who rely on us for factual information the most."

The whole sad, sorry affair is laid out over at Bad Astronomy. With all the fundamentalist assaults on evolution and biology in recent years, my only surprise is that attacks on physics, astronomy and cosmology took as long to come to light as they did. Personally, I'd like for A&M to revoke Deutsch's degree, but as I understand it, he earned it through a quota program: Somebody has to validate all those Aggie jokes.

Speaking as a A&M journalism graduate, if Deutsch is the type of graduate they were turning out, then the disbanding of the journalism program wasn't merely justified--it was long overdue.

Now Playing: R.E.M. Document

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Expedition to an Alien Planet

Wow! It's been waiting backstage for a couple of months now, but double-shot review of Wayne Douglas Barlowe's Expedition and the computer-animated Discovery Channel adaptation of it, Alien Planet is now live at RevolutionSF.



Barlowe's Expedition made a huge impact on me when it first came out, something I've blogged about some time ago. The book is a visual tour-de-force, and the computer-animated film is a visual feast as well. Unfortunately, the filmmakers seem more enamoured with their additions to the story, as well as a ham-fisted "plot." The film is still amazing, but not nearly as intelligent as it could've been. Read the whole review at the other end of the link to see me reel off all my criticisms.

Now Playing: The Pretenders The Singles

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Ice station Europa

More writing has been committed by yours truly. I have yet to start any new stories, but instead am going back into those works which are fully written, yet unfinished. One of those is a piece I workshopped at Turkey City a year or so back, which got very positive responses from a number of folks (in the interest of full disclosure, it also earned fairly negative responses from a number of other folks, but hey, them's the breaks). These same folks also thought that I'd mangled the structure, wasting half of the manuscript's lenght before the story actually began. And they universally hated my title, which was "20,000 Leagues Under Europa."

The great thing about Turkey City (apart from the bloody carnage, that is) is that it's pretty easy to tell right away who "gets" your story and who doesn't. And the ones who understood what I was attempting with Europa, well, their comments were spot-on.

I've now renamed the piece "Europa, Deep and Cold," a title that strikes me as both literal and poetic. Considering the "20,000 Leagues" title was originally a placeholder that had way more baggage than I was willing to deal with, this particular revision was simple.

Everything else, however, is a royal pain. My story does start in the middle. Unfortunately, I sprinkled pertinent and critical facts and events throughout the first half of the manuscript, so simply chopping off the first 15 pages or so and saying "It's done!" isn't an option. I'm having to integrate a tremendous amount of material into the latter half of the story, and doing so without bloating the page count and grinding the narrative to a halt with infodumps is proving to be the opposite of easy. Which is exactly the reason why I left it alone for so long--I knew the revisions and rewriting would be just as involved, if not moreso, than writing it in the first place. And in the first place, "Europa" is probably the most difficult story I've ever written. So yeah, I've been hiding from it. It's not going to be finished anytime soon, but at least I'm working on it again.

There is new incentive to finish "Europa," however. A new tale of wondrous adventure has suggested itself to me. Years ago, when I attended Writers of the Future, I wrote a story in Dave Wolverton's writers workshop. The story sucked, but the character and setting were cool and entertaining. A couple of years later, I took that character and started writing a new story with him. That particular story died before I finished it, because I belatedly realized I'd essentially rewritten the Will Smith Wild, Wild West movie. Sure, mine was better, but there's that whole lipstick on the pig concept to deal with.

Now, however, a new an interesting idea is brewing somewhere within my brain. And the interesting part is that it takes the opening of that second, aborted story, and launches from there in an entirely different direction. The new idea is much smaller in scope, more intimate. What's more, it feels right for this character. The big set-pieces are pretty well defined in my mind, and even if I don't quite know how they fit together, I do believe they'll make for a tighter, leaner and overall better story than either of my first two attempts.

But I'm making myself finish "Europa" first.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Atom Heart Mother

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Not your father's Ivory-Billed Woodpecker

This is either brilliant satire or fundamentalists gone hilariously wrong. Either way, it's a hoot and a half:
The goal of Project Pterosaur is to mount an expedition to locate and bring back to the United States living specimens of pterosaurs or their fertile eggs, which will be displayed in a Pterosaur Rookery that will be the center piece of the planned Fellowship Creation Science Museum and Research Institute (FCSMRI). Furthermore, the rookery facility will establish a breeding colony of pterosaurs in order to produce specimens that could then be put on display by other regional institutions or church groups.

[snip]

Evolutionists have engaged in a propaganda campaign to trick the public into falsely believing that the Earth is billions of years old and that many animals which lived side-by-side with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden actually died millions of years before humans were created (or "evolved" in their twisted view.) By finding and displaying living examples of what the Evolutionists claim is impossible, we will sow the seeds of Evolutionism doubt, thereby making the public receptive to the truth of the Bible.

I'm not entirely sure, but I suspect that the pterosaur's preferred habitat is atop the twin peaks of Mt. Kilimanjaro.




UPDATE: I've just been informed that it is indeed a parody site, which goes through great pains to create a veneer of authenticity by linking to actual fundamentalist sites as well as condemning the Landover Baptist Church. Amazing work, guys!

Now Playing: Stu Phillips Battlestar Galactica Original Soundtrack 25th Anniversary Edition

12th Man alternatives

Aggies, being the kind and helpful sort they are, don't want to leave the Seattle Seahawks without some clever and original catch phrase for the Super Bowl. I mean, come on. That just wouldn't be sporting. So while they're forbidden to use "12th Man" because of A&M's temporary injunction, a number of helpful Aggies have proposed a number of fully original and unique slogans that are wholly underivative of any other sporting or commercial institution. And the Seahawks are welcome to use any and all, free of charge. Here's a sampling:
HOOK 'EM HAWKS

Rock Chalk Seahawk!

That Good Old Seahawk Line

Boomer Seahawk, Boomer Seahawk.

Cheer! Cheer! For old Seahawk dame.

He's a shamblin Hawk from Seatle Wash and a heck of a football fan.

On, you Seahawks! On, you Seahawks! Fight right down that line!

Seahawks: Dangerously cheesy.

The incredible edible Seahawk.

I can't believe its not Seahawk!

Seahwks tested, mother approved.

Choosy mothers choose Seahawks.

Shaves as close as a Seahawk, or your money back.

Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese and a pickle on a sesame seed Seahawk.

Aaaaand, the winner is...
Diet Seahawk tastes more like regular Seahawk!

Now Playing: John Williams & the London Symphony Orchestra Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

12th Man hullabaloo

Excuse me, but I can't stop laughing. The Seattle Seahawks should be focusing in on their first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history this week, but instead the entire Pacific Northwest is in a tizzy over the use of the phrase "12th Man." The Seahawks seem to think anyone can use it and that its public domain. A&M originated the concept--literally--in 1922 and trademarked the term years ago. And any of you who are familiar with trademark law will know that if you don't defend it, you lose it. It's pretty cut and dried:
A local district judge on Monday signed a temporary restraining order against the Seattle Seahawks, directing them to stop using the 12th Man slogan until a ruling is made on whether it is a licensed trademark belonging to Texas A&M University.

The restraining order, filed by A&M and signed by District Judge J.D. Langley, sets a 1:30 p.m. Thursday hearing in the 85th District Court at the Brazos County Courthouse.

Seattle, which will play Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XL on Sunday in Detroit, has received national attention in recent weeks for its devoted fans, whom it calls the 12th Man.

Predictably, this has not gone down well in Seattle. Witness Steve Kelley's clever rejoinder:
Yo, A&M! The way your football team has been losing the past few years — 16-19 the past three seasons — you might try your luck with a 12th and a 13th Man.

And while you're at it, why not patent some cheers like "Hold that line," or "Block that kick." Or "Hit 'em again. Hit 'em again. Harder. Harder." And sue any cheerleading team that dares to use them.

For the record, A&M does not have cheerleaders, nor does it use such clich├ęd motivators such as "Hit 'em again" or "Block that kick." Nor has Kyle Field ever been profaned by Aggies uttering the immortal "Two bits..." cheer, preferring to leave that to the high school ranks, but hey, if the Seahawks take a liking to it, I'm sure the folks in College Station won't mind. But then again, it's always easier to shoot your mouth off when your brains aren't loaded, and making up cheap insults always garners more respect than doing actual research.

Fact is, over the past decade, both the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills included "12th Man" in their marketing campaigns in some fashion, but quickly abandoned the phrasing when contacted by A&M. Also, Miller Brewing Company dropped an advertising campaign referencing the 12th Man as well because of A&M. And I've already talked about the ESPN 12th Man contest that had to be licensed from A&M. That's called precedence. If these institutions--including the Seahawks' peers in the NFL--acquiesced to the validity of A&M's trademark claim, then how can the Seahawks reasonably claim they are exempt from the trademark restrictions?

Ultimately, though, it's Kevin Blackistone at the Dallas Morning News who hits the nail on the head:
There is not an Aggie joke here. This may not be serious business, but it is business nonetheless.

For what A&M has just done is interject its name at no cost to itself into the biggest sports event of the year, where seconds of advertisement are sold for millions of dollars. It's the kind of move the inventors of Guinness brew would term "brilliant!"

Hard to argue with that logic. In a week where the media is dominated by Super Bowl hype, A&M is front and center in sports sections from coast to coast, with attention everywhere from Sports Illustrated to The Detroit Free Press to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. All those Big, Bad Aggies picking on poor, helpless Seattle. Personally, I'm loving it. This is the funniest thing I've seen since the last inane, silly story the media glommed onto before last year's Super Bowl...

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