Friday, April 30, 2004

You're a loonie, aren't you?

This morning Lisa pointed out a story to me in the San Antonio Express-News regarding a fellow named Dennis Hope who's been selling land on the moon for $19.99 an acre. The scary thing is, people are lining up to buy from hope and his so-called Lunar Embassy. The San Antonio paper doesn't seem to have that story online, but a quick google search turns up a very similar story from the Houston Chronicle:
"I don't consider myself to be a scam artist," Hope says. "I don't consider myself to be anything other than a businessperson that has found an opportunity."

He sits in the office of Lunar Embassy, where T-shirts, plaques and maps herald his company's right to homestead outer space -- and where all of the above are available for purchase.

Not a scam artist. Riiight. He's just a boy who read way too much Heinlein growing up. But not so fast, Dennis. It looks like you're selling something that belongs to someone else, namely the town of Geneva, Ohio, which laid claim to the moon back in 1966 and has the documentation to back it up. And unlike Hope, they actually made the effort to survey the property in person:
Miles says Spencer also organized a militia of bearded men to protect the city’s claim to the moon. And Whaley says he recalls the Centennial Committee building a rocket to the moon where the convenience store stands on South Broadway. He witnessed the liftoff.

“The smoke poured out of it like it was going to the moon,” Whaley says. “Everybody gathered around to watch it, but it just sat there and looked silly.”

Personally, I'm laying claim to the L5 lagrange point while all these nincompoops argue over barren rock. I figure I'll slip in under the radar, so to speak. After all, who's going to challenge my ownership over something that physically isn't there?

Now Playing: Jill Sobule Jill Sobule

Gosh, Mr. Peabody, I didn't know the 70s were so happenin'!

Had a good night of writing last night. Not so good a night of sleep. I produced a 1,300-word article titled Four groovy flicks from the 70s wayback machine. It was fun to do. Fun to write, and fun to research. All of which I did last night instead of working on the Europa story rewrite or interview transcriptions. You know, paying gigs. The article begins thusly:
I was born in September of 1969. Less than a month earlier, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down on the Sea of Tranquility aboard the lunar lander Eagle. Quite literally, I have never lived in a world where humans have not walked on the moon. That’s something of a heady thought for someone who’s main calling in life is to write science fiction.

So you can forgive me, perhaps, for lapses in which I assume the universe revolves around me, and that my perspective is analogous to that of others. It’s not. I know that, but sometimes conversations I have with members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Society of Texas State drive that point home harder than most. Most of the students in the club have never lived in a world sans Star Wars. Whoo. That’s something to consider, since Star Wars altered the perception of cinematic SF for not just my generation, but also those that came before and after.

From there I continue on for another thousand-plus words or so, giving background info, useless trivia and quick-and-dirty synopses of four SF films from the 1970s I think SFFS students would benefit from seeing. And enjoy, too. An entirely different class of SF films were produced in that decade, an after-effect of the New Wave of the 60s I'm sure.

The piece has been offered to Elizabeth Lowe for her fanzine project, and we'll see what happens with it from here. First person to correctly guess which four 70s films I put under the microscope for this article gets 50¢ and a red bananna...

Now Playing: Jewel 0304

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Books in the Barrio

For all the talk and debate I hear about the general population not reading or caring about books, sometimes a ray of sunshine breaks through all the doom and gloom and gives me hope that there is a future for the written word. For years, a community activist group called Books in the Barrio has been fighting to get a bookstore opened on San Antonio's south side. Now, San Antonio's south side has a tremendous population. But it's mostly Hispanic and working class. That side of the city is mostly known for colonial-era Spanish missions and used to be dominated by military bases, until most of them were shuttered in the '90s. In a nutshell, it's not the high-income, upwardly-mobile neighborhood most chains covet for new bookstores. Fortunately, Books in the Barrio's efforts are paying off:
Hard work and economic growth finally are paying off for South Side students, community and business leaders — they're getting a major chain bookstore in South Park Mall this summer.

Tim Duda, a South San High School teacher who long has lobbied for a South Side bookstore, thinks the continued publicity and constant correspondence with various bookstores helped convince Waldenbooks to plan the 3,000-square-foot store, which is to open in July.

For six years, students in Duda's economics classes campaigned to bring in bookstores, which bloom in a wide band across the city's North Side. The students organized "Books in the Barrio," which called for bringing a bookstore south of downtown through public activities such as poetry readings at South Park Mall.

The full story can be read online here: Bookstore means a new chapter in S. Side history. Sure, it's only a Waldenbooks, but I remember growing up in tiny Columbus, Texas, where we didn't even have that, and visiting a Waldenbooks or B. Dalton in a mall in Houston or Victoria was a big deal. A Waldenbooks will be a great addition to the area, particularly if they follow through on commitments to tailor their stock to the community's interests.

While I don't doubt this wouldn't have happened without Books in the Barrio's unceasing efforts, the cynic in me suspects that the huge new Toyota truck plant being built just down the road probably played just as big--if not bigger--role in the Waldenbooks decision.

Hmm. I wonder if they'd have any interest in a science fiction book signing next spring...

Now Playing: Melissa Etheridge Your Little Secret

Paper is to pen as toilet is to...?

If you don't read Nalo Hopkinson's web journal, you should. She's always got interesting thoughts going on over there. Today, she's got a thought-provoking piece regarding "artistic integrity" and the dirty business regarding gasp! getting paid for one's writing:
Making art is work; when people pay me for my work, that helps me to eat and keep a roof over my head, which allows me to keep making art. Work/get paid/purchase sustenance is a very real and pressing economic reality for me and many other artists I know. I'm never sure why we're expected to be embarrassed about it when other people who do work are not. When a plumber fixes your toilet, you don't tell her that you shouldn't have to pay her because she should be working for some--putatively more noble--purpose.

I particularly like the plumber-fixes-toilet invocation. It's appropriately Harlan Ellisonian in tone. To wit, an excerpt from my interview with Ellison (soon to be republished with all-new, value-added material in Voices of Vision):
Because I've done 70 books, people go, "God, you're so prolific." And I say, "What do you mean prolific? I've been doing it for 42 years, and I've done 70 books. That's what I do. It's a full time job. If I were a plumber, and I had unclogged 10,000 toilets, would you say to me 'You're a prolific plumber?'"

Unless you're Stephen King or Tom Clancy, choosing writing as a career path isn't going to make you rich. Believe me, I speak from the experience of supporting myself and my family through my writing for the past dozen years or so. Plumbers, though, I hear do quite well for themselves.

Now Playing: Jewel 0304

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Writing progress report

I look at other writers' web logs, and I'm shamed by the fact they religiously post their writing production for each day. I look back at my blog, and see that I've posted on just about every topic except my writing production. Huh. Okay, well, that changes right now.

I didn't write yesterday. No, that's not true. I wrote the first half of a review of Walter Wangerin's The Book of the Dun Cow for Green Man Review. I'll finish it up tonight. But as far as fiction or interviews go, nada. Zip. For shame.

But I've got an excuse. I was working on my office. The new house (hey, it's less than a year old, so that counts as new in my book) has a small "den" that I use as my office. But it has a high, broad entry sans doors which makes it hard to get into that writerly cocoon mode when kids and cats and everything else drifts in at regular intervals. So I've been carpentering and remodeling. Last night I hung a pair of double doors and installed the door handles. Naturally, no commercial doors fit the actual space, so much sawing and sanding and chiseling and cursing were invoked to make them fit. Not to mention staining and puttying. But the end result is quite attractive.

The remodeling isn't finished yet--floor to ceiling bookcases are next on the agenda--but now I have privacy, and can write to my heart's content in peace and quite. Or play Joust and Centipede. Whichever.

Now Playing: Violent Femmes New Times

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Technogeeks on the make. Heaven help us.

Man, what is the world coming to? Now technology scans crowds for you, seeking out potential sexual partners and querying them in private. Liaisons are made without anyone the wiser. No ever-present threat of public rejection and humiliation? Dude, where's the fun in that?
British commuters take note - the respectable person sitting next to you on the train fumbling with his or her cell phone may be a "toother" looking for sex with a stranger.

"Toothing" is a new craze where strangers on trains, buses, in bars and even supermarkets hook up for illicit meetings using messages sent via the latest in phone technology.

Read the whole article here: Britons go 'toothing' for sex with strangers Anyone else find it somewhat ironic that the story focuses on the supposedly under-sexed Brits for this journalistic titillation?

Now Playing: Talking Heads More Songs About Buildings and Food

Monday, April 26, 2004

So how do you define a Thark's strike zone?

This is brilliant. While Major League Baseball continues to make most decisions with its head stuck up its rear, the good folks running Little League Baseball are really planning ahead. There may be hope for this sport, after all: Little League gives Virginia jurisdiction over Mars

Naturally, there will be some necessary interpretation of the rules. Not everything translates nicely between Earth and Mars at a 1:1 ration. For example:
Of course, the expansion to Mars raises several logistical issues for Little League, particularly with the always sticky question of age. Children must be age 12 or under to participate in Little League's core program, and Little League officials have struggled to enforce that requirement in some recent scandals at its World Series.

The Martian expansion muddles the issue, because a Martian year lasts 687 earth days. So a 12-year-old in Martian years would actually be 22 in Earth years.

Also, Martian gravity is a third of that on Earth, so a 200-foot home-run fence would have to be extended to 600 feet on Mars.

It also gives rise to endless controversy, which baseball thrives on. On Babylon 5, when one character mentioned that Mars' team had reached the World Series for the first time in history, another argued with him over the validity of the Martian team's home run record set that season--whether Mars' lower gravity and thinner atmosphere warranted an asterisk in the record books or not. Not unlike the second-guessing the Colorado Rockies face daily, come to think of it...

Now Playing: ZZ Top Rio Grande Mud

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Cock of the walk

Made a family outing to the San Antonio Zoo today. We went by the species conservation area, which we'd missed on previous zoo visits because of construction. They had an Attwater's Prairie Chicken pair there in a large enclosure. The cock was doing a mating display. Wow. While the hen was coy and pretended not to notice, the cock would do what can only be called a step-dance (this had to inspire at least some Native American dances), then stopped and inflated yellow-and-red throat sacks on either side of his neck. His call was unearthly, sounding like a mournful ocarina. We watched for 30 minutes and he showed no signs of stopping. Unfortunately, we found out that the batteries were dead in the video camera, so we didn't catch the show on tape. Lisa took some pictures, however, so if any of those turn out, I'll post them in a few days.

Also saw a silver SUV going far too fast on U.S. 281 hydroplane at 70 mph (it was raining off and on all day), spin and slam into the concrete divider. Managed not to crash into him. Called 911 to alert emergency crews. Despite the spectacular appearance of the wreck, it appeared that nobody was hurt, thank goodness.

Now Playing: Billy Joel The Bridge

Paging Lady Amherst

Driving home from an afternoon spent dining on the Riverwalk and other assorted San Antonio fun stuff, my family and I were stopped short by a gorgeous bird walking beside the road not half a mile from our house. I knew instantly it was a pheasant, but not a species I'd ever encountered before. Which is to say it wasn't a golden or ring-necked. Its face was dark, but the neck down to the "shoulders" was covered in striking white feathers edged with black. After that, the feathers turned metallic green, and the tail was the classic long, barred pheasant type. We stopped and backed up, and while it watched us warily, it didn't panic. It simply picked its way along. Unfortunately, we didn't have a camera in the car with us. Once we got home, I grabbed the 35mm and headed back with Calista to try and get some shots, but the bird had disappeared into the woods.

Fortunately, a little googling turned up the information I sought. The species was a Lady Amherst Pheasant. The following image was taken by Myles Lamont of Mapledale Farm:
Lady Amherst Pheasant. Photo by Myles Lamont

They're natives of southwest China and northern Burma. They're popular among captive breeders, but unliked the ring-necked pheasant, they supposedly haven't established breeding populations in the U.S. I have to assume this one was an escapee. It certainly seemed unconcerned by our presence. To have all your pheasant questions answered, I recommend you check out There are some gorgeous birds there, and tremendous amounts of useful information.

Now Playing: Ray Charles Ultimate Hits Collection

Friday, April 23, 2004

I got yer school finance right here

People outside of Texas sometimes ask why our state legislature only convenes once every two years. The answer, of course, is that they do less damage that way. Unless, of course, the governor decides to call a dreaded Special Session, in which case the lege can do all the damage it wants, whenever it wants.

Currently, Texas is experiencing the joys of a Special Session dealing with school finance reform. School finance in Texas is problematic, to say the least. A history lesson is apropos: For decades, local property taxes have funded schools. But some areas—particularly West Texas and the Rio Grande Valley—are very poor, so the school districts there were grossly under-funded. Little over a decade ago, this was ruled by the courts as unconstitutional, and the patchwork solution was dubbed “Robin Hood.” Simply put, property tax money was taken from districts dubbed “property-rich” and given to those deemed “property-poor.” It alleviated some problems, compounded others and generally made everyone involved angry. And it did nothing to address the underlying fact that public education in Texas is woefully under-funded. In the years since, property tax rates have soared to unbelievable levels while schools are more and more often dealing with shortfalls. Some school districts are even resorting to charging students fees to participate in extra-curricular activities.

So into this morass rides Governor Rick Perry upon his white horse, leading the lege into the promised land of reduced taxes and school finance reform. The governor’s groundbreaking strategy to fund the education of our future leaders? Sin taxes. Yes, according to Governor Perry, the salvation of our education system lies in the silicone valleys of Texas strip clubs, in the carcinogen-laced packs of cigarettes and the friendly handshake of one-armed bandits. I expect luxury taxes and fees to be levied on condoms, adult novelties and DVD sales as well before the dust settles. Sure, it rather overtly encourages the commercialization of sex far beyond the titillating niche it currently holds in mainstream society, but it’s all for a good cause, right? If folks are going to be naughty, society should at least derive something for the greater good out of that bad behavior.

Unfortunately, it looks like Texans just aren’t behaving badly enough. At least not badly enough for sin taxes to plug a $2.6 billion budget hole. Ouch. No matter how hard he tries, Governor Perry’s going to find it awfully hard to hide that shortfall behind smoke and mirrors. Fortunately, I’ve got the perfect solution for him. Since he’s so keen on expanding the sin tax base, he should throw caution to the wind and go for broke: Legalize prostitution.

The upsides are enormous. Nevada has enjoyed legalized brothels for decades, and it hasn’t hurt them any. Not when you consider that Las Vegas and Reno successfully bill themselves as “family vacation destinations.” And, frankly, Texas has more historical claim to being the prostitution capital of America than Nevada. He could sign the legislation in La Grange at the grand re-opening of the Chicken Ranch. Then his office could foot the bill to treat the winner of the annual Texas A&M/Texas football game to a visit afterwards, just like in the “good old days.” Increased convention bookings from out-of-state groups would be an added benefit.

Each working girl would be licensed, paying a registration fee, of course. Each house of ill repute would be a licensed, fee-paying contributor to our children’s education. At $ 300 a pop (er… so to speak) a 10 percent state surcharge would net a tidy profit at the end of the year, in addition to the afore-mentioned licensing fees. And the marketing slogans practically write themselves: Cathouses for Kids! or Brothels for Books! trip off the tongue. And I’m certain the entrepreneurial spirit and sense of civic responsibility would pay off in handsome ways. Instead of charging students fees to participate in extra-curricular activities, schools could line up sponsorships and fundraisers with area bordellos. Instead of World’s Finest Chocolate and boring magazine subscriptions, kids could now go door-to-door peddling “Boink a Babe for the Band” certificates. Booster clubs could raffle off $10,000 VIP season-passes instead of pickup trucks and Schlitterbahn tickets. Plus, it has the added bonus of being one source of funding that wouldn’t, ah, dry up.

I was also going to suggest that the revenues could be easily doubled by expanding the legislation to include the licensing of men to serve homosexual clientele, but then thought better of it. Promotion of gay prostitution, you know, just wouldn’t be moral.

Now Playing: David Byrne Uh-Oh

Whoa nelly! Digital paper is here!

Sony's rolling the first commercial version of digital paper to market. Wow. It's not much more than a glorified PDA right now, but the potential is there: Library without books
The quality of the display will come as quite a shock to any seasoned user of mobile devices; it looks more like paper than the computer screen it is. The closest comparison is to think of old-fashioned ink on pulp you're likely holding now, unless you're reading this online, in which case the Librie looks far better.

Current features include a 6-inch screen with 170 dpi resolution that runs on three AAA batteries, which is supposedly enough to "turn" 10,000 pages. It's implied that future versions will be more book-like, hold more content, have expanded multimedia capabilities and online (think Wi-Fi) talents as well. This technology is definitely getting interesting a lot faster than I thought it would.

Now Playing: R.E.M. Out of Time

This hits far too close to home...

I just saw this on Four-year-old killed by lawn mower

I'm a bit rattled by this at the moment. See, the same thing happened to me when I was three. My dad was mowing the grass on a riding lawnmower, and accidentally backed over me. Those are some of the earliest memories I have, and they're also some of the clearest. Obviously, I didn't die, but my right foot got chopped up rather nastily. I'm better now, thanks for asking. But I'm extremely careful to this day when dealing with lawn mowers, even the unpowered push type. Especially when my girls are around. I feel horrible for this poor boy and his parents...

Now Playing: R.E.M. Document

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Title, title, who's got the title?

A few days ago I got an email. The subject line was along the lines of "Congratulations on Voices!" and I didn't recognize the sender. Naturally, I assumed it was spam. Some little hindbrain twitch kept me from deleting it, however, and I opened it up, fully expecting a pitch regarding unclaimed African millions, breast enlargement or herbal Viagra. It was none of these, to my surprise. It was from someone in the marking department at the University of Nebraska Press introducing herself, and expressing enthusiasm about working with me on the promotion of my new book. My new book being Voices of Vision: Creators of Science Fiction and Fantasy Speak. This, quite naturally, caught me off-guard, since the working title of the book has been Cosmosis for more than a year. Curiosity piqued, I inquired as to when they'd planned on informing me of the change.

Nebraska: "Well, you know we never thought Cosmosis worked as a title at all."

Me: Um, no. I actually didn't. Nobody ever said anything to me about it.

Nebraska: Oops.

The long and short of it is that the interview collection is now titled Voices of Vision. Which is fine with me, because Cosmosis was simply a random, unused title I had sitting in the future projects bin that seemed non-committal enough to use for said interview collection. Voices of Vision is much more descriptive of the actual book content, and has a kind of visual resonance I think will work well. It also has the added benefit of freeing up Cosmosis for whatever future writing project that may or may not attach itself to the title.

Thus ends today's lesson in the importance of good communication. Ain't publishing a strange beast?

Now Playing: Ry Cooder & Ali Farka Toure Talking Timbuktu

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Two weeks, two editors

Last week it was my sad duty to report an end of an era, that David Pringle was stepping down at Interzone. Well, apparently it must be catching, because Gardner Dozois has just announced his resignation from Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. Both and Locus Online have brief stories up. The gist of it is that Gardner is giving up the Asimov's gig in order to concentrate more on his own fiction writing. That's quite plausible, as he seemed wistful regarding what his fiction career might have been had editing not intervened back when I interviewed him several years ago.

For purely selfish reasons, this is depressing. Sheila Williams is Gardner's successor, and while I'm sure she'll do a fine job, she doesn't know me from Adam. I had a relationship already established with Gardner. He's been the only Asimov's editor I've ever known. I came close to selling to him a couple of times. I was determined to someday write that story he couldn't resist. Unfortunatley, that window of opportunity is now closed. Sure, he may pick up a short story of mine for his Year's Best collection some day, but it's not the same, you know? This really is the end of an era.

Now Playing: Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass Greatest Hits

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Because a blog can never have too much viking content

A few days ago, astute readers will recall I had a close encounter with a viking longboat on the highway. There was, of course, no way I could pass a viking longboat cruising down I-35 and not follow up on it. Or rather, obsess over it would be more accurate. After much googling, I'm pleased to say I've located and identified the towed ship:

It's name is Skelmir, which means, I understand, "The Rogue." It's a 22-foot dwarf longboat, but size doesn't detract from its impressive nature. It was, believe it or not, on its way home from Viking Fest held over the weekend in, of all places, Waco. Wonders never cease. It was originally built by some dedicated SCAers up near Austin (that photo really looks like it was taken at Barton Springs Pool), and is now cared for by a group living near San Antonio. The Alamo City group, in addition to touring the state and sailing Skelmir in places you wouldn't normally expect to see a viking longship, is currently hard at work building a full-scale, 40-foot version. A series of email exchanges with "Ivar Runamagi," one of the Skelmir's caretakers, proved illuminating:
We are still working on the 40-footer. Since we all have jobs, and other obligations, we really only work on the boat about one weekend a month. Progress is slow, but we are making some progress. We would like to have it finished for Viking Fest next year, but then we need to get a trailer built to put it on, no small task. If you know of anybody who would like to donate a trailer, we are a non-profit organization.

So there you have it. The vikings building Skelmir's big brother need a bigger trailer to hault it around. If you've got a spare 40-foot trailer handy, or know somebody who does, let's help these barbarians from the north out, what do you say?

Let's just hope they don't decide to go a-viking over NASA way. The rocket boys are ready for 'em.

Now Playing: Billy Joel Glass Houses

Orion has landed

On this date in 1972, at 9:23 p.m. EST, the lunar module Orion touched down on the moon at Descartes (8.97 S, 15.50 E) making Apollo 16 a success. John Young, commander, and Charlie Duke, lunar module pilot, got to tool around in the moon buggy for three days, while Ken Mattingly, the command module pilot, orbited above in the Casper. Just in case you didn't know.

Now Playing: Jimmy Buffett Boats, Beaches, Bars and Ballads

Newsflash! We don't know everything about Earth!

Olivia Judson makes some good points in this op/ed piece from the New York Times. She gives a clear, concise summation of all the potential dangers inherent in bringing back rock samples which could contain extraterrestrial organisms. To her credit, she also provides counterpoints, explaining how these dangers may not amount to any real hazard at all. Essentially, you may or may not get an Andromeda Strain, and even if it turned out that Martian microbes could do nasty stuff to Earthlife, NASA is taking serious steps to prevent contagion.

That's not what chaps my hide. That cautionary approach is one that I understand and can sympathize with, even if I don't completely agree. No, instead she ultimately jettisons these tangible arguements for an against a Mars sample return mission in favor of... on, just read it yourself: Some Things are Better Left on Mars
Our chances of recognizing Martians, whatever they are, will surely be greater when we know more about life here. So for the time being, let's cancel our invitation to the Martians for a terrestrial adventure, and concentrate on exploring our own planet and understanding the amazing diversity of life forms on Earth.

Hard to believe that the woman who gave us Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation: The Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex (a book that is not in my library, but will be shortly) could espouse the hoary old "We're ignorant, so we'd better not learn" attitude, but then again scientific disciplines have always been territorial where funding is concerned. Fortunately, she didn't say "We shouldn't be launching all these rockets when there is poverty here on Earth." Well, she hasn't said that yet...

Now Playing: Emerson, Lake & Palmer Return of the Manticore

Monday, April 19, 2004

And the skalds will sing of it thoughout the ages...

I saw a viking longboat on the drive home from work today. Seriously. And honest-to-god, 20-foot viking longboat. Granted, it was a small viking longboat, but who am I to quibble about length? Southbound on I-35, halfway between San Marcos and New Braunfels. I knew New Braunfels had a lot of Teutonic ancestry to it, but come on. I came up behind it, and immediately knew something was odd. That boat on the trailer ahead definitely looked too wide to be normal. And it was shallow of draught. I pulled alongside, and the sheer beauty of it struck me full force. The rich, wooden side planking literally gleamed. It was polished to a fine sheen. The bow was carved into that classic, crescent-mouthed dragon head and painted a brilliant crimson. Along the "neck" was carved an intertwined latticework, painted bright metallic gold. There was no mast visible, but then that would be stowed for highway travel. All in all, it looked quite the faithful reproduction. Except that the old blue Ford pickup hauling it spoiled the effect to a degree. Now I find myself wondering if they were headed to--Canyon Lake? San Antonio? There's definitely a story in there somewhere...

Now Playing: The Vaughan Brothers Family Style

Sunday, April 18, 2004

In which Speed of Dark wins the Nebula

I just found out that Elizabeth Moon has won the SFWA Nebula Award for best novel for her book Speed of Dark. This makes me exceedingly happy. Consider my SFSite review of said novel from last year:
Comparison to Daniel Keyes' seminal Flowers for Algernon are unavoidable, and make no mistake, Speed of Dark is a worthy successor. But Lou is no Charley, and the two books' similarities are more thematic than anything else. Where Flowers for Algernon gave readers a filtered glimpse of Charley's experience through the pages of a journal, in Speed of Dark readers are inside Lou's head from the first page.

And what a fascinating head it is.

I'm serious here. If you haven't read the book, do so now. If you don't own it, go to the bookstore and buy it, then read it. Or, if you're below the poverty line, borrow it from your local library. In any event, it's an award well-deserved for a writer who's more than paid her dues over the years.

Now Playing: Dire Straits On the Night

Friday, April 16, 2004

To Shuttle-C, or not to Shuttle-C. That is the question.

Jeffrey Bell, an adjunct professor of Planetology at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa has a new article up at Space Daily titled Shuttle-Derived Vehicle; Shuttle-Derived Disaster. Well, article is a bit of a misnomer. Rant is a more apt description. This man is dead-set against the development of the Shuttle-C (or Shuttle-Z if you're among The Case for Mars crowd) heavy-lift vehicles. Bell claims the Shuttle-C is too costly, too dangerous and too primitive to be used effectively.

Now Dr. Bell makes some valid points, don't get me wrong. But he also uses bait-and-switch tactics in his argument, nits and picks here and there and generally focuses only on those facts that support his case. He confuses the issue. At one point, he goes off on how a derivation of the Shuttle-C couldn't be made "man-rated":
Finally, the SRBs cannot be shut off in flight to allow the escape of a crew. SDV-2 could not be man-rated and we would have to develop a man-rated version of Delta 4 or Atlas 5 in addition to the SDV to carry crews up to LEO.

Well, yeah. That's kind of the whole point of the exercise: The Shuttle-C isn't supposed to be man-rated. It's supposed to be a big, dumb, heavy-lift booster. The basic design is inherently dangerous, which is why the existing shuttle fleet should be retired sooner, rather than later. Bell points out several promising alternatives, including kerosene-fueled boosters, and I agree that these would be preferable.

But he's ignoring reality. His claims of cost efficiency are as flimsy as those NASA made of the shuttle making several dozen flights a year. The development of a heavy-lift booster from scratch would eat up billions and take a decade, if not more. That's the way this beast works. Every Congressman would want his district to have a slice of the booster pie. What we'd end up with is a compromised launch vehicle beset by the same flaws he so gleefully points out on the shuttle system. And again, we'd be out of the space business for the better part of a decade.

Embracing the Shuttle-C design circumvents a lot of problems. The designs and studies have all been done. We know how to do it. If NASA ordered them built today, heavy-lift Shuttle-C could be on the launch pad inside of two years, which is probably sooner than we'll actually see a manned shuttle out there. Remember, we are technologically incapable of even building a Saturn V these days, as all the pertinent technical and manufacturing specs were destroyed or disposed of after Nixon killed off the moon program. We simply don't know how to build a heavy-lift booster these days, although we're quite good with light- and medium-lift rockets. More importantly, however, is the fact that the pipeline already exists for Shuttle-C manufacture and supply. There is significant financial and political pressure not to discontinue the manned shuttle program coming from current contractors, which could (will) make the job of retiring the shuttles and developing a replacement difficult at best. Maintaining their contracts for Shuttle-C launchers would keep many of them happy. It would keep many senators and representatives happy, too, which may be even more important.

A replacement for the shuttle as a manned spacecraft is imperative. A replacement for the shuttle as a heavy-lift booster is equally imperative. The idea that these two goals must be wedded into a single vehicle is foolish and wrong-headed. Splitting the systems into two separate vehicles makes the most sense, and avoids the conflicts inherent in the different purposes of those systems. The Shuttle-C is an interim step, a stopgap between what he have now that is terribly flawed, and the next generation booster, which may or may not arrive on the scene before 2015. The Shuttle-C isn't sexy, it's not hip and it's certainly not without serious drawbacks. It is, however, the only option we really have right now, and to my mind it's better to have a temporary, adequate solution than none at all.

Now Playing: Andean Fusion Dreams

In which new fiction graces our otherwise dreary lives

Another week, another dose of new fiction is up at RevSF, led by Austinite Michael Bey's tastefully subtle story "Phlegmatic Planet", or, as I tend to call it, "Snotbush City Limits." There's also Chapter 20 of Mark Finn's The Transformation of Lawrence Croft, in which MagicCon's comic book guest of honor undergoes a total and complete meltdown at his main guest event, highlighted by that immortal question from the audience, "How does it feel to be kicking the corpse of Jack Kirby for your commercial success?" We wrap things up with the latest installment of Don Webb's Uncle Ovid's Exercise Book, this time getting a multiple-choice, choose-your-own adventure. Wow! I just now realized that it's an all-Austin edition of RevSF fiction this week. Spooky. Scary. Those wacky Austin writers!

Under personal writing news, the incomparable Peter Crowthier has accepted my interview with Kage Baker for publication. It'll be out in Postscripts no. 2, or so they tell me. I'll let you know as soon as I have more particulars.

Now Playing: Andean Fusion Andian Sounds for the World, Vol. VII

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Spurs in six

So, the regular season is over and the playoffs now begin. Minnesota won last night to secure the top seed in the West (good for them--they're still not going to the finals) and the Spurs beat Denver to clinch the third seed. The Spurs will face the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round starting Saturday, which will end with the Spurs winning in six, because it's in the NBA bylaws somewhere that the Spurs must play six games in every playoff series they participate in. The only real uncertainty for Spurs fans at this point is how the team will handle the playoff atmosphere without David Robinson.

On the flip side, the hated Los Angeles Lakers backed into the second seed in the west (even though the Spurs finished a game ahead of them). I don't care if the Lakers are Irwin Fletcher's favorite team (note that I'm currently reading Fletch's Fortune), I still gag at the thought of that ego-laden circus that passes for a basketball team. The bright side of this seeding is that the Lakers have to play the Rockets. The Rockets have the talent to get hot and pull an upset, and the Lakers have the talent to self-immolate and implode. By the time the second round starts, the Spurs might even have Devin Brown back and have the roster at full strength. All things being equal, I'd love to see a Spurs-Rockets series again. We just don't get enough of those.

Now Playing: Eric Clapton with the National Orchestra 24 Nights

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Steven Spielberg, take note

If you're going to approach a major university about filming a movie there on location, please make sure your script writer has a coherent grasp of the English language. Women don't "flea" bad guys down the "isle" of a bus. "Or" and "are" don't mean the same thing, even though they do indeed sound the same. And please don't get indignant and offended when the university declines, because said university doesn't think multiple scenes showing students shooting up, professors raping coeds and killing each other would be the kind of image it wants to project to the public. I'm just saying, is all.

Now Playing: Johnny Cash The Essential Johnny Cash

Alas, Interzone...

Okay, so I'm apparently not plugged in to the publishing grapevine as well as I previously supposed. If I had, then I wouldn't just now be finding out--to my shock--that David Pringle is stepping down at Interzone. The Write Hemisphere has the details (what there are of them) here: New publisher/editor for InterZone

I knew Interzone had been suffering through cash flow problems of late, but really, when hasn't Interzone suffered through cash flow problems? Publication was somewhat erratic over the last few months, but our mail and forwarding issues have been spotty since we relocated to New Braunfels, and I didn't think much more of it. Boy, can I be dense sometimes.

Andy Cox, editor and publisher of The 3rd Alternative is taking over the venerable Interzone, and to my mind that's as good an arrangement as we can get. Andy knows the British publishing scene inside and out, and has effectively built up his little publishing empire. The science fiction focus of Interzone will dovetail nicely with his other publications.

But I'll miss David Pringle. Sure, he had an annoying habit of not responding all that promptly to correspondence, but he was the first editor to ever buy my work. And it wasn't a fit of temporary insanity. He continued to buy my work--fiction and interviews--as the years went on. It's not a stretch to say that Interzone has published as much of my writing output--or at least close to it--as all other markets combined. That's saying something about a relationship between a writer and an editor. Hopefully, I'll be able to establish a similar rapport with Andy Cox (especially now, since the British pound is making the dollar look like a peso in comparison) but I'll always be grateful for David giving me my start. I'm missing him already.

Now Playing: Clannad Clannnad 1

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Hi! I'm Troy McClure...

Who says our government isn't prepared for terrorists? They've made films about it: How can we protect ourselves against the threats of germs and toxins? Cold War America gears up to fend off threats from unconventional bioweapons!

What You Should Know About Biological Warfare

This gem from the U.S. Federal Civil Defense Administration is great! You've gotta love and the public domain. My only question now is whether or not John Ashcroft will institute manditory showings in public schools or try suppress these films because they might give terrorists "ideas."

Now Playing: London Philharmonic Symphony Us and Them: Symphonic Pink Floyd

Sandcastles revisited

Remember all those nifty sand sculpture pics I posted last week from Port Aransas? Well, the official SandFest page has been updated with many, many more pics, along with the winners' list. It's interesting to note that some of the sculptures differ markedly from what we saw when we were there. The sculptor crafting himself is quite different--the version we saw had the sculptor positioned right up against the carving, working away with a chisel and brush. So either these pictures were taken Friday before the rains damaged the sculptures, or on Sunday after all the rebuilds and repairs were completed. Either way, there's some neat stuff here to view. Check it out at (a word of warning, tho--they have a steel drum rendition of "Under the Sea" programmed to blast through your speakers when you arrive at the site, so you may want to make sure your computer's sound it turned down or off).

Now Playing: Gustav Holst The Planets

Robots, brain-eaters, starships — and what we can do with them

Howard Waldrop has a blog. A weekly blog, but a blog nonetheless. Oh my. If you've ever read one of his short stories, then you know what this means. Where other bloggers spend maybe 15 minutes posting a link and a graf or two of set-up exposition, I'll betcha dollars to donuts Howard spends six weeks in intensive historical research before writing a single sentence. I kid you not. This week he delves into the myriad possibilities of brain-eating robot films that were never made. Again, I kid you not.
If this were an American movie from the 1950s it would have John Agar, Mara Corday, and Morris Ankrum in it. The robot would look like Gort or Chani from Devil Girl from Mars. If the brain-eating were literal, the movie would have been made in Mexico or in the late 1950s by AIT (or in the 1980s by Stuart Gordon).

You've simply got to read this to believe it. You can do so over at InfiniteMatrix. Tell 'em I sent you.

Now Playing: The Blues Brothers The Blues Brothers Soundtrack

Monday, April 12, 2004

The most heroic babes of all time

What? You mean that's not the most politically correct way to phrase the title? Ah well, you'll appreciate the attitude when you read the full article over at RevolutionSF: Top 75 Heroines of Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror: Part I

It's a very big list, but even so, I'm sure there are lots of readers who'll cry foul that this woman or that didn't make the cut, or wasn't ranked higher in our informal staff poll. Entries I contributed include Dr. Helena Russell from Space: 1999, Sheena, Queen of the Jungle and Serena from Battlestar Galactica. And that's just from part one. Wait until the latter installments go up in coming weeks--whoo! There're some interesting discussion in store for sure!

Now Playing: Joanne Shenandoah and Lawrence Laughing Orenda

I love the smell of rejections in the morning

Nothing, and I mean nothing, gets my goat like a rejection letter in the mail. We hates them, my preciouss. We hates them forever! So, naturally, I garnered a few over the last few days. Not a happy camper, I. So how do I respond to these obviously short-sighted editorial decisions? Defiantly, of course. If these editors won't buy my stuff, I'll find others that will. Simple as that (note that as editor of RevolutionSF I won't print my own work). Imagine whilst going through my files the horror of discovering almost half a dozen perfectly good stories not sitting patiently in some slush pile somewhere. Man, I lose track of things far too easily. Easily rectified, that oversight. At lunch, I trekked over to my friendly neighborhood post office, and 10 minutes and $15 later, a half-dozen stories were winging their ways to editors hither and yon. In three months' time, a half-dozen acceptance letters and generous checks will arrive in my mailbox. At least that's the plan.

If such writer-editor matters bore you, there's always the Asteroid Impact Calculator for entertainment.

Now Playing: Various Artists Pulp Fiction

Friday, April 09, 2004

So you're a great writer. So what?

Remember poor ol' Jane Austen Doe and how miserable her life had become because the publishing industry is a cruel, unforgiving place? And how we all wept and wailed and beat our breasts because of her suffering? Well, if Jane Austen Doe is still out there feeling sorry for herself, I hope someone turns her on to this article:
Let's be clear on this, so there's no confusion on that matter: No one cares that you're totally the best writer ever. They just don't. Because while people want their writers to be many things, "the best" isn't usually one of those things. Readers want you to be entertaining. Editors want you to have commercial appeal and not be a pain in the ass to line edit. Publishers want you to fill a hole in their production schedule. Book stores want you to stimulate foot traffic in their store. None of that inherently has anything to do with being a great writer.

You can find even more compassionate nuggets of sage advice at Even More Long-Winded (But Practical) Writing Advice. Enjoy!

Now Playing: Glasnots Re-Elect the Moon

I want a second home by the sea

Last weekend Lisa, the girls and I went to Port Aransas for their SandFest sand sculpture contest. It was a great deal of fun. Some of the best beach weather I've ever seen. Warm, but not hot. Clear and sunny. Nice waves. Lots of tiny clams for the girls to have fun collecting in buckets.

We took pictures. I've just now gotten some of the highlights posted. Lots of fantasy and SF elements. All the more impressive when you realize they had 20 hours to complete their sculpture, but rains the night before damaged many forcing them to start over. Here's two samples. Click on them to go see the rest.

Now Playing: Aerosmith Just Push Play

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Riddle me this: When is a warning not a warning?

When it's given to Condoleeza Rice, apparently.
Rice said she believed the memo, called "Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States," focused on history and "was not a warning."

The full story over at doesn't paint a very impressive picture of our defenders of liberty. Dr. Rice sounds more like someone trying to CYA than give direct answers, which is disappointing. Her mantra is "There was no silver bullet to deter the 9/11 attacks." I believe that's true. No single piece of evidence was available at the time that would've unravelled the plot. But, call me crazy, Sherlock Holmes didn't stumble across too many silver bullets either, yet he managed to solve a case or two. Had the administration heeded the warnings of its own experts and committed more resources to counter-terrorism instead of stoking a fixation on Iraq, our FBI operatives may very well have gotten the support they needed when they voiced suspicions about all these radicals enrolled in flight school.
Former Sen. Bob Kerry asked Rice why the United States did not attack al Qaeda after the bombing of the USS Cole, and her statement that the president was "tired of swatting at flies."

"Can you tell me one example where the president swatted a fly when it came to Al Qaeda prior to 9/11... We only swatted a fly once on the 20th of August 1998. We didn't swat any flies afterwards. How the hell could he be tired?"

Swatting at flies. That's an amusing, if sad, exchange. Sure, I'm tossing around a lot of ifs and buts, and an earlier focus on al Qaeda offers no guarantees of success... but we have the unfortunate historic fact that ignoring al Qaeda guarantees disaster. Leave flies alone long enough and you'll have maggots everywhere. The Bush administration ignored al Qaeda during the early part of the current term, made the rocks bounce in Afghanistan for a few months, then promptly ignored al Qaeda again due to the invasion and occupation of Iraq in order to protect America against non-existant WMDs. We didn't have these kinds of problems when Bush Sr. was in office...

Now Playing: The Kinks Low Budget

In which a new fanzine is born (maybe)

The reason I got to try out Zookas yesterday is because I was hanging around town to attend the Texas State Science Fiction and Fantasy Society meeting. I'm a staff advisor for them. Attendance wasn't great, because there was a Japanese cultural expo going on across the student center, which I'd forgotten about (embarrassing, since I'd wanted to go and even wrote the media releases for the event). But it was a productive meeting. The last fundraiser they staged actually made money (as opposed to losing money, a they have an unfortunate tradition of doing). They also discussed becoming more goal/even oriented. Meetings are currently more of a social occasion, and they don't generally have anything in particular they work towards, as opposed to, say, Cepheid Variable, which puts on Aggiecon. SFFS is too small a committee with too miniscule finances to resurrect the long-dead San MarCon, but the possibility of bringing in a major writer such as Bruce Sterling or Elizabeth Moon for a guest lecture and book signing was floated as a possibility. The Southwestern Writers Collection does this sort of thing regularly, so some sort of co-sponsorship agreement could possibly be arranged.

Elizabeth Lowe, the SFFS secretary, also announced that she was going to be launching a fanzine, and invited submissions. She's going to publish in honest-to-goodness paper copies. I think it's a brilliant idea. She wants reviews, fiction, commentary, art, cartoons--pretty much anything under the sun. Eclectic is in. Fanzines have a long and stories history in science fiction fandom, and served to link like-minded individuals way back in the dark ages before everyone had DSL. Julie Schwartz launched one of the first SF fanzines, and went on to much bigger things. Bruce Sterling published The Cheap Truth. That's pretty heady company. I think a fanzine would give the committee something tangible to work toward, and also teach useful production and editing techniques. Maybe. That last bit isn't guaranteed, but it's a possibility. At any rate, I'm behind this in a big way, and will probably contribute an article or something to help get the first issue off the ground.

Gosh, I hope I don't get a rejection!

Now Playing: The Kinks Did Ya

Sometimes, you just need a burrito

It’s not Freebirds, but it wants to be. Zookas Ultimate Burrito, San Marcos’ entry into the burrito bistro biz opened Monday, April 5, next to “Joe on the Go” in the old “I’m Game” location at the corner of Moon Street and University Drive. I got a chance to check it out last night. Right away, it’s obvious they’ve emulated Freebirds to a great extent (Chipotle and Habanero’s as well, but as I’ve only eaten at those rarely in the past (Habanero’s more than Chipotle), their influence wasn’t as obvious), which is why this review will reference Freebirds heavily in comparison (since, after all, that’s what I’m most familiar with). There was around 8-10 people eating there when I arrived, with a steady but modest flow moving through the entire time I was there. They’ve got the sheet-metal aesthetic going on, with pipe-lined waiting lines and a bare concrete floor. There are outdoor tables and an indoor bar running along the big picture window areas. There’s a big “Texas State Supercat” logo over the grill area, and the left wall is earth-toned stucco with a big “Zookas” logo emblazoned across it. The atmosphere was actually pretty minimalist. They hadn’t tried hard to achieve that “funky cool” that permeates most burrito eateries. I got the impression of significant open space, and honestly, wasted space, although the restaurant area isn’t all that big. It actually reminded me more of the original Santa Barbara Freebirds location than it does the wacky Texas versions, with a heavy dose of the Chipotle chain aesthetic.

The menu offers a “regular” burrito on an 11-inch tortilla, or a “bazooka” on 16-inch (equivalent to the regular and Monster at Freebirds. There is no SuperMonster variant). Other options include open-face burritos (burrito in a bowl) and several other entrees I’m afraid I didn’t pay much attention to. I was there to put their burrito to the test. Tortillas come in flour, cayenne and spinach varieties. Unlike Habanero’s, they steam the tortillas here, which is a plus. The build-your-own burrito concept is in force here, laid out much the same as Freebirds (whereas Habanero’s focuses more on pre-designed “gourmet” burrito selections). First option is rice, which is your run-of-the-mill Spanish rice. The bin was uncovered and the rice was pretty clumpy. It also tasted a little odd to me, but then I’m used to the milder flavor of Freebirds’ rice. From there it was beans—black or pinto—and choices of tomatoes, pico, white onions, cilantro, shredded lettuce, grilled onions and green peppers, jalapenos, salsa, cheese (a shredded blend of cheddar and Monterrey—it appeared to be the pre-packaged variety). I believe there were a couple of non-Freebirds standards as well, but they escape me at the moment. Meat choices consist of steak and chicken. Rather than the fajita style of Freebirds, the meat is chopped/diced. Sauce options include barbecue, tomatillo, habanero, chipotle, ranch and maybe a couple of others I’m forgetting. They also have guacamole and sour cream options. A very big plus for Zookas: ALL of the extras are free, and included in the base price of your burrito. So you don’t have to pay extra for grilled onions or guacamole. That was cool. Another plus is that they’ve adopted Freebirds’ 25¢ increment, tax-included pricing structure. Pricing is very reasonable as well: $5 gets you a regular chicken burrito, $5.75 gets you a Bazooka chicken. Drinks are $1.25 with the standard soft drink self-serve setup. There is no beer.

My server was tentative and unsure of herself, although she was polite and friendly. She was constantly second-guessing herself on the amount of ingredients she put in my burrito, and tried to talk me out of the habanero sauce because “It’s REALLY hot!” The manager/owner (?) showed up while I was there and began helping on the serving line, and it was obvious he knew what he was doing. Quite confident and decisive in his burrito construction. I wonder if he’s managed an Austin Freebirds or Chipotle? My finished burrito was somewhat lumpy, but I write that off to my server’s inexperience. The burrito itself tasted pretty good. It wasn’t Freebirds, but it came pretty darn close. The pico hadn’t looked all that fresh, but tasted fine in the mix. I’d asked for all of their sauces on it (my usual thing) and while my server had included all of the sauces, she hadn’t included very much of any of them, so my burrito wasn’t as sloppy as I like. My fault for not telling her otherwise. A big negative was the absence of any kind of sauces on the tables. I had to ask for a cup of sauce from the cashier. I think all burrito places should be federally mandated to include a selection of sauces on their tables. Habanero’s in San Antonio doesn’t have that great of burritos, but their sauces are potent and some of the best I’ve come across. The hot sauce at Zookas is almost, but not quite, indistinguishable from Freebirds death sauce.

While I was waiting in line, a college couple came in and the girl squealed “Wow! This is just like Chipotle!” I cringed at that. Not because of the Freebirds vs. Chipotle thing, but because she mispronounced it “chi-POLE-tee.” Now, I know the chipotle pepper is mispronounced in practically every ad its featured in, whether its for Chipotle or not, but come on people. It’s not that hard to get it right. It’s pronounced “chi-POHT-lay.” Just like it’s spelled. You actually have to do more work and transpose letters to mispronounce it. Like fingernails on a chalkboard. Almost as bad as people saying, “Sign your John Henry.” It’s John Hancock—he signed the Declaration of Independence with an enormous, flourished signature. John Henry was a steel-driving man. Two very different people that shouldn’t be confused.

So, the ultimate verdict is that Zookas is a pretty darn good burrito fix. I question the wisdom of opening just a month and a half before the University’s spring semester ends. They’re obviously going for the college crowd, and I’m not sure if enough Freebirds-deprived Aggies live in San Marcos to support them over the summer months. But I’ll definitely be going back. It’s good stuff.

Now Playing: The Kinks The Great Lost Kinks Album

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Before, during and after silence

I still despise working out. Just so we get that out of the way. But the scale is tipping more and more in my favor these days, so I keep at it.

One good thing about working out today is that it gave me a chance to get a good start on Jonathan Carroll's After Silence. I first encountered Carroll's writing more than a decade ago, when I read Bones of the Moon and was very much impressed by it. I thoroughly enjoyed his confident style and the unabashedly flawed characters populating the pages. It was a smooth read, a good read, but also a challenging read. His use of the fantastic and the mundane is masterful. I don't write anything like he does, but I certainly wouldn't mind if I did.

His writing impressed me so that I planned to read more of his stuff--he hadn't published so much back then. But for some reason, I didn't. I have no idea, although I came very close many times only to back off. Maybe I was afraid his other books wouldn't live up to the first one I read. I dunno. But at any rate, the other day, quite on impulse, I picked up After Silence. I began reading it today, and the prose is as smooth and the characters as wonderfully oddball as I could hope. By one of those unexpected coincidences, there's a new interview with Carroll up at S1ngularity. Not an interview of mine, I'm afraid, but good stuff at any rate.

Now Playing: The New World Renaissance Band Where Beauty Moves and Wit Delights

It warms the cold, black rock that is this editor's heart

Most editors pretty much toil in anonymity, except when battling massive piles of slush or when writers are trying to kiss up by buying you drinks at conventions. Being the editor of a non-paying market, I've been spared such torments. But today, that anonymity crumbled just a bit. Not for me, necessarily, but for a story I recently published at RevSF: Jay Lake's The Redundant Order of the Night.
Being very short, this writing doesn't have to do much to be worth the time spent on it. It is, however, more interesting than many stories ten times its length, and more deserving of repeated reading than the majority of stories published in the major SF magazines recently. It's the kind of story you'd get from the love child of Gertrude Stein and Frank Zappa.

Now if that doesn't pique your interest, nothing will. The author is one Matthew Cheney, and the quote from his blog The Mumpsimus. Nobody ever praises editors, and that's pretty much as it should be. Where editors get their ego boo is from the acclaim bestowed upon the fiction they pluck from the wilderness and publish for all the world to see. Would that all my writers earn such praise.

Now Playing: Clandestine The Ale is Dear

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

A blimp in the sky is worth two in the bush

Now here's something you don't see every day, Saturn's 165-foot, 6,335-pound, candy apple-red A150 blimp:

I saw it today, cruising along I-35 over New Braunfels, promoting the Saturn Ion. The girls had seen it the other day, and were excited by seeing the big thing floating in the sky above us. I can only assume it was in the San Antonio area because of the Final Four--after buzzing over New Braunfels for maybe half an hour, it turned and headed southward back to the Alamo City. A few years back, when Saturn first leased the "Lightship" (so called because of their unique interior illumination) from American Blimp Corporation, it hawked the Saturn Vue, rather than the Ion. Times change. Apparently, there are around 35 of these Lightships plying the skies, leased or owned by everyone from Met Life to Goodyear--yes, that Goodyear. The grandaddy of blimp fleets leases a Lightship for its Brazilian operations. Who knew?

I remember when Goodyear was the only game in town. There was a blimp hangar in Houston until 1992 or so, and around 1977-78 the blimp there (the America) came to my home town of Columbus (Texas, not Ohio) for about a week. I remember rushing outside whenever that distinctive buzzing drone of its engines heralded its arrival. At night, the thing was spectacular--thousands of colored lights covered its flank, and animations and advertising slogans lit up the sky for miles around. Hey, it was small-town Texas. Can I help it if we were easily impressed?

Our house was located on a semi-bluff over the Colorado River. The river channel was broad and deep at that point, lined on our side by tall sycamore, pecan and cottonwood trees as well as grapevines. Lots and lots of mustang grapevines. Think an impenetrable green curtain almost a hundred feet tall shielding part of the river from view. Saturday afternoon I was playing in my backyard when I heard that wonderful drone. I started looking wildly around the sky, but saw nothing. All the while the sound got louder and louder. It sounded like it was coming from... the river? Was it that airboat that sometimes blows by? I started that direction, then stopped abruptly. The red point of an enormous bow poked around the trees, followed by a gleaming silver-grey bulk. I mean, I was at eye level with the crossbar in the letter "G!" The America was cruising along, scant feet above the river itself.

I was beside myself with excitement. Here I was, closer to this famed blimp than all my classmates. Oh, how we lusted after a ride on it! I'll never forget how it abruptly began to rise, as if it was a living thing satisfied with my shock at its dramatic entry and now wanted to end with a flourish. It continued to rise. My God, but that thing was big--nearly 200 feet long, a quick Google search turns up. And as it climbed, it turned towards me! For an instant I panicked, afraid it wouldn't clear the bluff, or the huge live oak tree that grew over my father's work shop there on the edge of our property. But clear them it did--with the exception of the mooring lines dangling from the underside of the ship. Those dragged across the metal roof of the shop and then slid along the ground, toward our house. I'm not making this up, it really was flying that low. Crazy kid that I was, I chased after it, with the notion that I'd grab the line and climb up to the control car, where they'd be impressed with my cleverness and give me a ride around town. Or something like that. Fortunately, I've never been all that fast on my feet, and I didn't reach the lines before they lifted off the ground. They didn't lift high enough, fast enough however, and tangled in our next-door neighbors' TV antenna (cable TV being a newfangled arrival in Columbus at the time), tearing it down. That's one of those weird things that you never forget, and I doubt my family would've believed my story if it hadn't been for that pile of twisted metal that used to be our neighbors' antenna.

That's probably where my love of airships arose. I ended up getting several of Monogram's Goodyear Blimp model kits--the ones where you colored in dots on a paper roller that lights up from inside to simulate the flashing light display on the real thing. One somewhat battered model still survives back in Columbus. Those were lots of fun to make, and one hung from my ceiling light in my room for years as I was growing up. I deeply regret that the great Zeppelin airliners died out with the Hindenburg, because I would dearly love to take a cruise aboard one. I think of the millions the cruise ship industry takes in each year, and am convinced an airship cruise line could clean up, especially with modern technology backing up the liners. Happily, the Zeppelin Company has apparently gotten back into the lighter-than-air business after far too long an absence. They're now manufacturing the Zeppelin NT, which is a semi-rigid hybrid combining some of the best features from small, non-rigid blimps and the enormous, rigid Zeppelins of yore. The English site can be found here and the German site, with lots of neat-o pictures, here.

Amazing what memories and nostalgia a little red Saturn blimp can stir, eh?

Now Playing: Grieg Peer Gynt Suites I & II

That was odd

I've never had a double post like that before. Strange. Well, the double dose of "Farscape is back" has now been reduced to a doctor-recommended single dose. So relax and enjoy.

Crackers, apparently, do matter!

Farscape is back! Finally! Hip-hip-hooray! That's the good news. The bad news is that it's back where it started--on the SciFi Channel. There was some seriously bad blood exchanged between the Jim Henson Company and the SciFi Channel a year ago when the Channel reneged on its contract for a fifth Farscape season. Lots of accusations flew, but the fact of the matter remains that Farscape was one of SciFi's two top shows, but was axed as part of a short-term money-saving move ordered by cash-strapped SciFi parent company Vivendi/Universal. With the sale of USA Networks (which owns SciFi) to General Electric (which owns NBC) the purse strings have apparently been loosened a bit. In addition to Farscape's return, we'll see another Dune mini, a mini based on A Wizard of Earthsea as well as a previously announced Battlestar Galactica ongoing (yeah, Starbuck's still a girl and the redesigned Galactica is ugly as sin, but whatcha gonna do?). Reuters has a good, if brief, summation here: SciFi Channel moves ahead at warp speed
NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - A host of new series, movies and the return of the popular "Farscape: Peacekeeper War" miniseries took the spotlight at Sci Fi Channel's presentation to advertisers Monday.

Such projects are part of Sci Fi's rapidly rising spending threshold, which a company spokeswoman said is estimated at $150 million and $200 million this year -- four to five times greater than what it was just a few years ago.

Some of those other projects look interesting, but Farscape is the biggie as far as I'm concerned. The cliffhanger of the final season four story arc, "We're So Screwed: Bad Timing" (tell me they hadn't heard about season five's cancellation when working up those titles) ended with Aeryn Sun and John Crichton confessing their love for each other on an alien world, whereupon they are zapped by bug-eyed aliens, which turns them into pillars of something not-entirely-alive that crumble into dust. The star-crossed lovers are apparently dead, but then again, John was turned to stone and decapitated way back in season two's "The Maltese Crichton," so to paraphrase Monty Python, "They're not dead yet!"

Wanna read a summation of SciFi's recent announcements from a really clueless reporter? Then take a gander at Sci Fi Channel's Upfront: More Than Just Space.
Sci Fi Channel isn't just about aliens and humans in far-flung reaches of the galaxy anymore.

That's evident when you look at what the channel has in store for the next year or so. Sure, you'll still find some spaceships, lasers, great special effects, and all the other requisite science-fiction staples. But Sci Fi has loosened the strict bonds of the species, focusing on more down-to-earth locales with a twist, as Sci Fi chief Bonnie Hammer said.

Now, anyone with half a brain will tell you that the SciFi Channel has never actually had all that much science fiction on it. I've got a video trailer from 1991 they sent out before they even launched, and despite lots of promises, the only thing they delivered in those early years was lots of schlock, including endless Incredible Hulk and Land of the Giants repeats and bad B-grade horror films. After the network launched, news articles for years referred to it as "the increasingly inaccuratly-named SciFi Channel." Not even good B-grade horror films. The Dune miniseries and Farscape were exceptions to this in recent years, but then as a result of parent company Vivendi/Universal's cash-flow problems, the channel became enamoured with mediocre paranormal programming such as Crossing Over with John Edwards and Scare Tactics. Coincidentally, these were dirt cheap to produce. With the return of Farscape and Ursula LeGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea (okay, that last one's fantasy. But at least it's straightforward genre, not some half-breed paranormal reality crap) it looks like they're finally putting some genuine science fiction back into SciFi.

Now Playing: Vivendi The Four Seasons

Monday, April 05, 2004

But what would E. King Gill say?

Up until now, only two schools participating in Division 1A football (that I'm aware of) have fielded student-body walk-ons for kickoff coverage. The first is, of course, Texas A&M. The second is Mississippi State. The unifying factor of both is the former head coach at both universities, Jackie Sherrill. Well, add one more school to the list, one that has never seen old Jackie prowl the sidelines: 'Utah Man' more than a fight song
In the Texas A&M tradition, the University of Utah football team will have an Everyman element next season. Coach Urban Meyer was so impressed with his first visit to College Station, Texas, last year that he wanted to adopt some of the Aggie rituals, starting with a student body representative taking the field.

...Meyer suggested copying the 12th Man name--and you thought he was innovative--before Kim Raap of the marketing staff came up with "Utah Man," the title of the school's fight song.

Interesting bit, that last line. What's left out of the article is that "12th Man" is trademarked by Texas A&M, and had Utah attempted to use it, well, they'd have gotten a call from the Aggie lawyers. It's happened before--about five years back ESPN had an "NFL 12th Man" promo that ran for a few weeks at the beginning of the season, vanished for a few days, then returned after a deal was worked out giving A&M a licensing fee and a disclaimer at the end of each ad stating "12th Man is a trademark of Texas A&M University" blah blah blah.

While I never begrudge a college from trying to instill traditions and fan loyalty in the student body, these things don't necessarily spring from whole cloth. They're often born of desperation. E. King Gill was the original 12th Man way back in 1922, and the student section has stood throughout games ever since. After Jackie Sherrill's disastrous first seasons in College Station, he concocted the 12th Man Kickoff Team, which was a tremendous hit. Which was a Good Thing as far as Sherrill was concerned, because disgruntled deep-pocket boosters were reportedly taking up a collection to buy out his contract. For most of its existence, it led the nation in kickoff efficiency, and only allowed one kick returned for a touchdown during that time--a far better legacy than the varsity kickoff team of the same time (which performed those duties on road games). When he took over after Sherrill's ouster, R.C. Slocum disbanded and diluted the 12th Man team concept, to my everlasting disappointment. Coach Slocum always had a conservative coaching bent, and the 12th Man flew in the face of that. I'd hoped that Dennis Franchione would revive the full team, rather than the single representative on the field, but it looks like that is not to be. Ah well. For one brief period, the 12th Man Kickoff Team embodied all that was great about college football, and that will never change.

No matter what Utah calls its version.

Now Playing: Jerry Jeff Walker Viva Terlingua

Friday, April 02, 2004

And now, for your reading pleasure...

As fiction editor at RevolutionSF it is my duty to inform you that our mondo-groovy fiction lineup in April will include:

April 2
"Another Continuum Heard From!" by Steven Utley **Original Fiction**
"The Transformation of Lawrence Croft, or, Three Days of the Con-Dorks"
Chapter 18 by Mark Finn
"Metamorphosis #76" by Don Webb

April 9
"In the Tank" by Ardath Mayhar **Classic Reprint**
"The Transformation of Lawrence Croft, or, Three Days of the Con-Dorks"
Chapter 19 by Mark Finn
"Metamorphosis #77" by Don Webb

April 16
"Phlegmatic Planet" by Matthew Bey **Original Fiction**
"The Transformation of Lawrence Croft, or, Three Days of the Con-Dorks"
Chapter 20 by Mark Finn
"Metamorphosis #78" by Don Webb

April 23
"Sold to Satan" by Mark Twain **Classic Reprint**
"The Transformation of Lawrence Croft, or, Three Days of the Con-Dorks"
Chapter 21 by Mark Finn
"Metamorphosis #79" by Don Webb

April 30
"The Perfect Clone" by David Chunn **Original Fiction**
"The Transformation of Lawrence Croft, or, Three Days of the Con-Dorks"
Chapter 22 by Mark Finn
"Metamorphosis #80" by Don Webb

Steven Utley's story is live now, as we speak. Go read it. It's of his Silurian cycle, and turns a skewed eye towards the US of A's election process, and the legal wrangling that can turn even the most inane of factors into the largest points of contentions. And it's far more interesting than "hanging chads." Trust me on this one.

Now Playing: Subvision and Guy Gross Farscape Soundtrack

Politics, politics, politics

Every time I begin to think the Bush administration is coming to its senses (albeit kicking and screaming sometimes), it turns around and pulls a boneheaded stunt straight out of a Three Stooges two-reeler. I mean, executive privilege or not, how could President Bush and his advisors not realize how bad it would reflect on them to have Condoleeza Rice talk to every media outlet in the country, but refuse to speak to the official 9/11 investigation? Politics aside, is simply looks bad. They've given in, finally, but about two weeks too late in my opinion.

So the President's men (and women) are now cooperating with the 9/11 investigation. Right? Maybe not. Imagine my surprise to read in the San Antonio Express-News this morning that the Bush team is refusing to turn over documents from the Clinton Administration relating to efforts against terrorism: Clinton Lawyer Says Bush Administration Is Denying 9/11 Commission Full Picture
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- The commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks isn't getting a full picture of former President Clinton's terrorism policies because the Bush administration won't forward all of Clinton's records to the panel, a lawyer said.

Bruce Lindsey, Clinton's legal representative for records and a longtime confidant of the former president, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that only about 25 percent of nearly 11,000 pages have been turned over.

"I don't want (the commission) drawing the conclusion the Clinton administration didn't do X or Y and then there be a document that contradicts that and they didn't have access to that document because the current administration decided not to forward it to them," Lindsey said.

That New York Lawyer contains the gist of the Express-News story, which does not appear to be online. But the more pressing question is, "What are the President's advisors thinking?" Since the 9/11 panel has already come down pretty hard on the Clinton administration for being too timid and indecisive when dealing with terrorism, you'd think the Bush team would want to release everything they could to further discredit the Democrats. The alternative is that the Clinton administration did leave strong warnings for their successors, warnings which were ignored and potentially damaging during this election cycle. Of course, either of those lines of thought ignores the fact that from a moral standpoint, the administration should be cooperating with the 9/11 investigation without question, in every way, shape or form possible.

This behavior is cast in an even more absurd light when you consider that the Clinton Library has been cooperating extensively, granting access to more than 6,000 documents that otherwise would remain sealed for another two years: 9/11 panel scours Clinton records
LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (AP) -- Federal commissioners investigating the 2001 terrorist attacks have been poring over some 6,000 documents from former President Bill Clinton's presidential archive.

Archivists for Clinton's presidential library spent three months gathering papers requested by the commission and recently finished sending the information to Washington, said David Alsobrook, director of materials collection.

While presidential records are sealed for five years by law after a president leaves office, an exception was made to allow early access for the September 11 commission, and in some other cases.

But then again, President Bush opposed the initial creation of the 9/11 investigative committee, and has never been all that rah-rah over the whole thing. I don't believe he ever considered Al Qaeda a priority, and terrorism was merely an annoyance to be dealt with in passing. Iraq was always his focus, made obvious by his infamous, "They tried to kill my daddy," declaration three years ago. The "Great Man's Son" syndrome plays into it, surely. But that's a gross simplification. A thoughtful analysis of the current administration's mindset can be found in this article from the Christian Science Monitor: New Glimpses of Bush Worldview
WASHINGTON – An extraordinary fortnight of revelations about US preparedness before Sept. 11 has provided at least this preliminary picture: When the Bush foreign policy team took office in 2000, it was determined to focus on big nations and traditional power geopolitics, not Al Qaeda and the new terrorist threat.

The Clinton people? Sure, they'd made terrorism a priority. But top Bush officials were dismissive of their predecessors' performance, and determined to avoid what they felt were Clintonesque mistakes.

And that will be the end of our political lesson for today, class.

Now Playing: Various Artists Saturday Morning: Cartoons' Greatest Hits

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Bad Samaritan! Bad!

Driving to work today on I-35, I saw a woman in an SUV pulled over to the left shoulder of the highway with car trouble. Anyone who's ever driven on I-35 knows that it sports unceasingly heavy traffic, and the left shoulder, next to the concrete wall dividing southbound from northbound lanes, is not a place you willingly pull over to. The woman was nicely dressed in a red sweater, in her mid 30s. Stalled vehicles are common, so I was almost past her before I realized she was still with her vehicle--and she was looking to cross the busy highway.

My first thought is to pull over and help her out. Then the second-guessing sets in. I'm a physically big person, and with my head practically shaved as it is, I look more like an ax murderer than not. Plus the Neon I'm driving does not look to instill confidence, what with the mashed-in hood and clutter on the inside. Plus, the cooling fan is still broke, so it overheats in stop-and-go traffic as well as when I run the AC (but she doesn't have to know this). Realize that as this indecision is playing in my mind, I'm still traveling at 70 miles an hour, so I'm half a mile past by the time I decide it's worth the risk of being pepper-sprayed as a suspected rapist to help. At which point I see in my rear-view mirror that she's already made it across the highway safely to wherever she's going for help. By the time I exit and circle around (an endeavour promising to take 10-15 minutes) it's doubtful I'd be able to find her.

It's only after I get to work that I remember, like the moron I am, that I have a cell phone and could've called the DPS to send an officer to assist her. So now I feel guilty and stupid.

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