Saturday, October 30, 2004

And away we go

It's late, and I'm tired, but the story's comlete, the rewrite finished and copies neatly stacked for the Turkey City eviceration tomorrow. But before I take my leave, I want to take this opportunity to indulge in a little bragging on my kid sister, competing in the Aggie Invitational Archery Tournament:
COLLEGE STATION, Texas- Freshmen Anna Stratton (Bend, Ore.) and Cassie Raffaelli (Bartonville, Texas) sit in first and second place in the compound division after the first of two days of competition at the Aggie Invitational being held at the Student Rec Center Archery Room this weekend. Sophomore Candice Blaschke (Columbus, Texas) is in third with a score of 560.

My brother, John, was an All-American archer and two-time World Champion in the compound bow division a few years back. Me, I'm not so good. But I've got a really sweet recurve that I really need to take out and shoot more often.

Now Playing: Mannheim Steamroller Halloween Monster Mix

Thursday, October 28, 2004

News from Nebraska

I just got a couple of emails from the University of Nebraska Press that the final page proofs for Voices of Vision have been completed by the production department and are even now, as we speak, speeding my direction via the modern-day Pony Express known as Federal Express.

Or are they? A nagging suspicion at the back of my mind said, "No, they've sent the pages to Bastrop, just like they did with the original proofs." Bastrop, you see, is where my in-laws live, and the address I used for a time when the Temple house had sold but the New Braunfels house hadn't been built yet. I have informed Nebraska about this change, oh, four or five times now, but it never quite manages to get to the folks in shipping. So the in-laws have been alerted to be on the lookout for suspicious packages, and I'll be making a run up there in the near future.

Now Playing: Melissa Etheridge Melissa Etheridge

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

A story for the political season

Eileen Gunn is the enormously talented editor of Infinite Matrix as well as a cracking good writer in her own right. Her newest book is the short fiction collection Stable Strategies and Others, and I just happen to be the lucky editor who is running Fellow Americans on RevolutionSF this week in observance of the train wreck known as the presidential election.
Fellow Americans featuring Tricky Dick, by Eileen Gunn

He raises his hands above his head in the familiar double V-for-Victory salute to acknowledge the applause, then gestures for quiet.

"Thanks for the hand, folks." His voice is deep, quiet, and sincere. "You know, I needed that applause today." A catch in his throat. "Right before the show, I was on my way down here to the studio...." He shakes his head slightly, as if contemplating the role that Chance plays in Life. "An elderly lady came up to me, and she introduced herself, and then she said, 'Oh, Dick, I'm so pleased to meet you, you know you were my all-time favorite presidential candidate...." He lets the compliment hang there a second, as if savoring it. "...after Jack Kennedy, of course."

The audience laughs, appreciating the host who can tell a joke at his own expense. When the laughter has diminished, but before it stops completely, he continues.

"Speaking of politics, why is everybody picking on Dan Quayle these days?" He looks from face to face in the audience, as if for an answer. "He hasn't done anything." An artful pause. "And, as I know from my own turn at the job, he probably won't get to do anything in the future, either." More laughter, stronger.

It is, of course, an alternate history, road-not-taken piece. Which, naturally enough, I'm fixating on at the moment with my own writing. But despite the obvious opportunity for cheap jokes and absurdity when dealing with an alternate version of Nixon, Gunn treats the material with a steady hand. Ultimately, the story mixes equal parts comedy and tragedy. Nixon had the potential to be one of America's leading presidents, but undermined all of his positive accomplishments with arrogance, hubris and paranoia. It's fitting that this story of an alternate Nixon be tinged with an air of sadness.

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

It's finished--for true, this time

My simple short stories are never as simple and straightforward they pretend to be when they insinuate themselves in my mind. Prince Koindrindra Escapes evolved from a make-it-all-up lark to a research-intensive labor pretty quickly. And the short, punchy sections grew to be significantly larger than could readily be considered "short." All in all, the whole thing blew past my original length target by more than a thousand words. That's my story as a writer--I never met a short-short I couldn't turn into a novella.
It was the gravest of sins to defy the king. Koindrindra was many things, but he was not depraved.

Koindrindra’s younger brothers Rakotondrandria and Siferanarivo--the twins had not yet grown into their proper names--argued that these Europeans held great power in their guns and their ships and their numbers. That they were more worthy than the loyal and brave Malagasy.

Koindrindra’s brothers were fools.

General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck swept through Portugese East Africa with an army of only 30,000, routing the French and Portugese before him. The Germans were celebrated by the natives as a liberators, and 50,000 Portugese, French and South African troops fled the mainland to Madagassikara.

The good news is that the first draft is complete, and I have a viable story to subject to humiliation at Turkey City on Saturday. I'm curious to see how Bruce Sterling would rewrite this into something completely different. I even managed to so some light rewriting here and there, planing down some of the extremely rough edges. A consistent tone is still the most elusive aspect of this story. I'm going to have to make some serious decisions over the next day or so, but no matter what I do, it's still going to be an extremely silly alternate history piece.

Now Playing: Sting Soul Cages

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Feeling overwhelmed

You know that deer-in-the-headlights feeling you get when deadlines are looming, and you suddenly realize you've over-committed yourself to too many projects? That's what I'm feeling right now.

The trip to College Station over the weekend for the Colorado game really threw me a curve. The whole weekend, Friday through Sunday, was a wash. Not that I've got second thoughts, mind you. I hadn't been able to make a game since back when I was still a sportswriter, and I had a great time. But those three days were days I'd planned to finish up Prince Koindrindra Escapes, and devote the bulk of this week to working on those additional Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy Themes entries. So now my schedule's jumbled. I'll finish Koindrindra tonight, but it's very rough. I don't know if I'll have a rewrite opportunity between now and Turkey City. SFFS is holding its annual masquerade ball on Thursday, and as the staff advisor, I'm honor bound to attend and watch over things. The fiction at RevSF doesn't edit itself, and of course, there's the whole Halloween thing coming up, which is a big deal in the Blaschke household.

In all honesty, I've gotta stop putting myself in these positions.

Now Playing: Sheena Easton No Strings

Monday, October 25, 2004

Innocence lost

While driving Calista to school, our morning conversation somehow came to the subject of fire drills. Last week they'd gone through the whole fire drill routine, she informed me. And also a poison drill.

Poison drill?

A railroad track runs right near the school--a hundred yards away, give or take. Union Pacific has had an inordinate number of derailments in and around San Antonio lately, and this summer a toxic cloud of chlorine gas killed a number of people after one pileup. So if there's a train derailment that releases toxic chemicals, all the students go to one particular room, which the teachers then seal up with duct tape around the door so they don't all die. Bear in mind she's telling me this with a combination of matter-of-fact and breathless enthusiasm that only a five-year-old can muster. Naturally, the spectre of a clorine cloud rolling over the school wasn't an image I was particularly taken with.

Then she told me about the "bad guy" drill. Explaining the step-by-step process the kids and teachers are supposed to go through was chilling for me to hear. Obviously, the lessons of Columbine have been taken to heart by the school district. And the counter-terrorism actions they have in place are good ones. But that doesn't make it any less troubling.

My generation grew up in a different time. Kids in the 70s and 80s didn't have to face a major war that killed or scarred ourselves or classmates. The Cold War was too abstract a concept to grasp. Terrorism only happened in other countries, and school shootings weren't an issue. We practiced fire drills every year, and very occasionally tornado drills. That was it for excitement. We had it good, relatively speaking, and had hoped the same for our children. But now they're facing the 21st Century equivalent of "Duck and cover." I'm not happy about that, but such is the world we live in.

Now Playing: ZZ Top El Loco

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Where did the weekend go?

I survived the game at Kyle Field, and the Aggies did indeed emerge victorious, but the overtime thriller I could've done without. Sure, give me a tight game for the first half, but once the third quarter starts, I want a blowout under way. Why does Colorado always play us great in College Station? This was the first loss the Buffs have suffered there in three tries, and was almost a win. I don't get it.

Also retrieved my taped copy of Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars from my in-laws. Wow. When David Kemper said they condensed the entirety of season 5 into a four-hour miniseries, he wasn't fooling. I could see how the mini could've been played out over a dozen episodes, easy. They shoehorned in a lot. No telling what they left out. The mini wraps up the major loose threads nicely, and I can't wait to see what future Farscape projects the Henson company has in store.

Now Playing: nothing

Friday, October 22, 2004


All writing planned for tonight and tomorrow has been summarily cancelled. Into my posession have fallen three coveted tickets to tomorrow's Big XII football game between teh Texas A&M Aggies (Whoop!) and the Colorado Buffaloes (Hissss!). I can't remember the last Aggie game I saw in person... Probably the 1998 Cotton Bowl against UCLA. I certainly haven't been to Kyle since the 1997 season. Wow. This will be Calista's first Aggie game. Good bull. I'm excited. This is going to be great fun.

Now Playing: The Fightin' Texas Aggie Band Recall! Step Off on Hullabaloo

Thursday, October 21, 2004

One play

You have to credit Jim Edmonds. That impossible diving catch in the top of the 2nd saved what likely would've been a game-breaker for the Astros.

Such is the lot of Astros fans. The BoSox have the Curse of the Bambino, which dictates they shall not win the World Series. The Cubs have the goat, and shall always be awful. But the Astros have perhaps the worst burden in baseball--perpetually good enough, but never able to put it together at the right time. They continue to be the winningest team in baseball never to reach the series.

Next year's team should be good. Beltran's probably gone--no one can match the Yankees' checkbook--but Andy Pettite and Wade Miller should be back, giving Houston the best starting rotation in the major leagues. And I suspect Clemens will return for one more year, especially if he takes home another Cy Young. Will that make a difference? I have no idea. The Astros have always been good enough, just not when it counts the most.

Now Playing: Profound Disappointment

Do or die

I've got on my Colt .45s cap. To my left is my autographed Joes Cruuuuuuuz baseball, to my right is my Buzz Aldrin/Neil Armstrong 25th Moon Landing Anniversary Astros Commemorative Astros baseball. My stein is filled with dark brown homebrew ale. On the mound tonight is the Rocket, Roger Clemens, fully rested and ready to go. In the bullpen is 20-game winner Roy Oswalt, with "Lights Out" Brad Lidge ready to slam the door in the 9th. Ready to step into the batter's box are the Killer Bs, the most powerful hitting lineup ever to grace a Houston manager's bench. Backing them up is more than 40 years of history as the winningest team never to play in the World Series. This one's for the Astros fans, the Colt .45s fans, even the Buffs fans. This is for keeping Carlos Beltran, and ending the careers of Bagwell and Biggio on a high note. This is for the Astrodome, the Eighth Wonder of the World. It's for Nolan Ryan and Mike Scott. It's for Larry Dierker and the Toy Cannon. "Crazy" Charlie Kerfeld and Glenn Davis and Alan Ashby. Joe Niekro and Bob Knepper, Daryl Kyle, Ken Caminitti and Cesar Cedeno. It for those glorious rainbow uniforms, and rainouts in a domed stadium. It's for redemption, of finally shedding the underachiever stigma.

It's gametime. Give 'em hell, Astros!

Now Playing: Nervous anticipation

And since I'm on a tear...

I've got a headache now because this Creationism crap has got me so worked up. I', hungry and getting crankier by the minute. So I'll let one of my idols, Galileo Galilei, take it from here, with words far more eloquent than I could hope to manage.
I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.

It is surely harmful to souls to make it a heresy to believe what is proved.

Hate to say it, but I'm starting to think the French have gotten it right.

Now Playing: Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1

Camel's back broken... straw everywhere

Okay, this is it. If you don't like tirades, leave now. I don't care if you're a Republican or Democrat, Libertarian or Communist. For the love of Pete, vote for John Kerry immediately, if not sooner, and get Bush out of office! His cozy relationship with the wild-eyed, apocalyptic, fundamentalist "Christian" right wing has thrown even the veneer of moderation and sanity out the window:
In a series of recent decisions, the National Park Service has approved the display of religious symbols and Bible verses, as well as the sale of creationist books giving a biblical explanation for the Grand Canyon and other natural wonders. Also, under pressure from conservative groups, the Park Service has agreed to edit the videotape that has been shown at the Lincoln Memorial since 1995 to remove any image of gay and abortion rights demonstrations that occurred at the Memorial.

These moves all emanate from top Park Service political appointees, in many cases over the objections of park superintendents, agency lawyers and career staff. A number of fundamentalist Christian and socially conservative groups are claiming credit for these actions and touting their new direct and personal access to Bush Administration officials.

Creationist Science

This summer, the Park Service approved a creationist text, “Grand Canyon: A Different View” for sale in park bookstores and museums. The book by Tom Vail claims that the Grand Canyon is really only a few thousand years old, developing on a biblical rather than an evolutionary time scale. The Grand Canyon National Park superintendent went so far as to ask Park Service headquarters for clearance to offer the book for sale at park-supervised concessions.

At the same time, Park Service leadership has blocked publication of guidance for park rangers and other interpretative staff that labeled creationism as lacking any scientific basis. That guidance was supposed to have been issued in 2001.

On these issues, the current Park Service leadership now appears to cater exclusively to conservative Christian fundamentalist groups. As a result, the Bush Administration is sponsoring a program that can fairly be called “Faith-Based Parks.”

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local, state and federal resource professionals, working to protect the environment.

Now, I'm not one who believes all vestiges of religious faith have to be forcibly extirpated from public and governmental settings. "Separation of church and state" comes from Thomas Jefferson, not the Constitution. But the Constitution does forbid the establishment of a state religion, and denying hard science fact while condoning and hawking creationist bullshit damn well sounds like the establishment of an official religion to me. I hope Dubya has plenty of time to ponder that issue, as well as the fallacy of "Divine right of kings" after his infallible ass gets handed to him on Nov. 2.

Now Playing: Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3

Backfill struggles

The flashback sequences have proven to be much more uncooperative than I anticipated. Simply put, they're tending to spiral out of control. The way this story is structured, each episode needs to be short and punchy, conveying just enough information to suggest cause and effect before the next episode kicks in. But the flashbacks are providing the context and backstory for the parallel "real time" events in Prince Koindrindra Escapes, so I'm having to shoehorn not only the backstory into those passages, but also the details and circumstances that give each flashback context--I don't have the luxury of an additional flashback layer to accomplish that with. Coupled with my natural tendancy to write long--boy, can I write long--the flashbacks are growing like kudzu. Wild. Unruly. Not serving the story particularly well. I seem to be spending more time slashing and burning than actual writing. I anticipate the initial draft being finished sometime over the next few days, but a heavy rewrite and all-around pruning will be in order afterwards. But that doesn't mean I'm not making progress:
Koindrindra tried to slip the pry bar through the shackle of the brass padlock. The tip missed with a clank, sending the lock swinging.

He glanced over to the lovers. Dick was now grunting louder than Sweetheart. And she was pretty damn loud.

Gritting his teeth, he tried again. This time the bar caught. With a ferocious heave, Koindrindra twisted the bar, snapping the shackle from the casing with a loud crack.

Things don't go well for Dick and Sweetheart after this, but I guess you kinda figured that, eh?

Now Playing: Tom Petty Wildflowers

Wednesday, October 20, 2004


Well, going with Pete Munro on the mound was always a "maybe we'll get lucky" gamble. Darn near paid off for the Astros, stretching the Cardinals to 12 innings before falling 6-4. Ah, well. That's baseball. Houston still gets to go with a fully rested Roger Clemens tomorrow for all the marbles in game 7. Ain't baseball grand?

Now Playing: The Cars Greatest Hits

King of the Fescue

A new story is up over at RevolutionSF titled King of the Fescue. It is a certifiable hoot, as we like to say in the "biz" (we editors always refer to the high-stakes, jet-set life of science fiction publishing as the "biz").
"Howdy, neighbor!" Nelson smiled at Joe, revealing huge yellow buckteeth. "Hot day for yard work." His voice sounded high-pitched, almost squeaky.

Joe did his best to smile back. "It'll be like this for months before it cools off."

"True. I'm getting caught up with my yard, finally." Nelson looked down as he ran his foot back and forth through his grass. His old, baggy jeans and canvas shoes concealed his legs and feet so Joe couldn't tell whether he had any more of that long, gray hair. "What kind of grass is this?"

"Fescue." That was strange. Joe could have sworn that even Nelson knew what the hell kind of grass he had.

"I don't know if I can ever achieve your state of yard perfection, but at least I can keep it under control." Nelson stomped on a dandelion with the other foot. A hole in the toe of that shoe exposed a huge brown toenail, and Joe hastily looked away. He caught a whiff of something sweet, vanilla or cinnamon or something, as if Nelson had been eating candy.

I love getting original fiction submissions like this. No, it's not something that's going to change the world, but it's a heck of a lot of fun and never takes itself too seriously (even if it does manage to be creepy every now and then). Science fiction doesn't have to be dour all the time. I think that's forgotten too often these days.

Now Playing: Slowakische Philharmonie Peer Gynt Suite 1+2

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Koindrindra is finished

Or rather, the ending has been written. I'll revisit it later--I got a wee bit over-the-top and need to recast a few things in the climax--but the finale is in the can. It came out pretty much as anticipated.
To the east, the rosy glow of dawn swelled on the knife-edge horizon of the Atlantic.

Koindrindra crouched on the tower, pressing his knuckles against the cold metal. His blood smeared the polished surface. He growled. I am Andrianatompokoindrindra, rightful king of Madagasikara, eldest son of Razafindrandriatsimaniry and lord of the Kalonoro. I reject my prison, cast off my chains now and forever.

He jumped.

Now, I get to go through the story and add in all the flashbacks. At this point, I believe I'll write them in reverse-chronological order and see how that works out. It's an interesting experiment, technically, writing in ways I've never attempted before. It's fun, and I'm curious to see how it all turns out.

Now Playing: Ray Charles Ultimate Hits Collection

Monday, October 18, 2004

A homer in the bottom of the 9th to win!

What can I say? Jeff Kent's da man!

I was strangely calm this entire game. Both pitchers were throwing lights-out, but I felt the Astros had the momentum going their way the entire game. Don't ask me why. I knew the 'Stros would win this one with certainty--my only uncertainty was in which inning the winning run would score. After the Red Sox and Yankees went into extra innings, I kinda felt that the Astros would end up in extra frames as well. Not to worry. You simply don't want to piss Jeff Kent off by intentionally walking the guy in front of him, nevermind that Kent often hits into double plays.
Game 6 will be back in St. Louis on Wednesday, with Matt Morris starting for St. Louis. Roger Clemens may pitch on three days' rest for the Astros -- manager Phil Garner said he will announce his choice on Tuesday's off-day.

I dunno if quick-starting Clemens is a good move. At this point, with two chances to close things out, the wisest course of action may be to go ahead and start Pete Munro and hope for the best, saving Clemens to start--with full rest--a possible game 7 with Oswalt ready for middle relief. If you start Clemens in gam 6 and lose, then you've got a tired Oswalt up in the crucial game 7 with a shakey bullpen. Bad strategy there. In any event, up 3-2 in the series, I feel pretty darn good about Houston's chances Wednesday in St. Louis. Wouldn't you?

Now Playing: Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra The Best of Mozart vol. 1

Sunday, October 17, 2004

All in all, a productive day

It's late, I'm tired, and I've got a busy day ahead of me tomorrow. But I feel the need to post before turning in. It was a great day for my teams, after all. First, Roger Clemens leads the Astros over the Cards, making it a series again, especially when Oswalt wins Sunday to even things up at 2-2. Whoo hoo! Then, holey moley! I was seriously concerned about how rudely no. 16 Oklahoma State's rushing game would treat Texas A&M, but Reggie McNeal went bonkers and the Aggies blew the doors off the Cowboys en route to a 36-20 win that wasn't as close as the final score would suggest.

And to top it off, I got a good bit of writing done. My plan of attack does indeed seem to be working--I'm finding it much easier to retain a consistent voice in the story by writing the "present" sequences in succession. It's actually turning out to be quite fun, even if I am having to stop every so often to look up what street a particular fire station might be on (good thing I did--would've committed a howler if I hadn't). So here's a taste of tonight's labors:
More bullets hit him, some chipping at the brick around him. Koindrindra didn’t much like being shot, and sincerely hated the idea of another hitting him in the ass. He shoved his hand through a window, groping around until he found a desk. He hurled it down at the police, a dozen stories below. It shattered on the street. He reached through another window, finding a couch. It was too large to fit through the window, so he snapped it in two. The second throw scored a bulls-eye on the squad car, caving in its roof. The two officers fled out of range.

And remember, Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars airs tonight. So tune in, set those VCRs or Tivo, whichever tickles your fancy. I have it on good authority that this one rocks the frellin' leviathan!

Now Playing: Nothing. I'm going to bed, remember?

Friday, October 15, 2004

Prince Koindrindra Escapes

Reading Gibberish lately, you'd think the only thing I do is watch the Astros and the presidential debates, with a little mutant animal speculation thrown in for variety. Not so. I do still occasionally write. Sometimes. If I can't come up with a good excuse not to.

These last couple of days I've been working on my sacrifical offering for the altar of Turkey City. This is significant, as it will be the last Turkey City attended by Bruce Sterling for the forseeable future, as Bruce is moving to California. To mark this bittersweet occasion, I'm writing an alternate history piece titled Prince Koindrindra Escapes. I've never written that sub-genre before, which means I'm just begging to be hammered by Howard Waldrop, who will pick up on every single obscure historical reference I make in the story, and then point out where I went wrong by not incorporating a dozen or so other, even more obscure references. In short, I shall be schooled by the master. But that's what writers workshops are for, right?
He hazarded a glance over his shoulder. He couldn’t see the garish spires of the Hippodrome anymore. He could see the flickering glow of flames against the rising column of smoke. That hellhole was going up like a tinderbox. Coleen had stressed the need for speed. Avoid delay at all cost. Koindrindra allowed himself a grim smile.

Interesting thing about this story, it alternates between the present (the present being the 1930s in the story) and flashback. The present scenes are short, punchy and crisp. I think they're working very well. The flashbacks, however... ugh. When I finished writing last night, I looked over my efforts and was appalled to see I'd really lost the "voice" I'm trying to write in. Infodump city.

Tonight, I'm going to try something I've never done before to circumvent the problem. Since the "present" is working well, I'm going to write the sequence through chronologically to the finale. Once that's finished, I'll go and backfill the flashback scenes. Hopefully, by that point the voice will be so firmly established that I won't have any backsliding.

Interesting thing about casual research for short stories--sometimes you turn up serendipitous facts that mesh perfectly with what you're trying to accomplish with the story. Oddball stuff like the fact John Ringling, the last of the Ringling Brothers of circus fame, died at the age of 70 on December 2, 1936. This is good to know.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Staying Home to Watch the Rain

Everybody loves el chupacabra

Lots of folks paid a visit to my humble blog yesterday to gawk at the strange creatures from Pollock and Elmendorf, and still more are showing up today. Welcome one and all. Lots of interesting comments coming in from different points regarding the identity of the creatures and the causes of its pitiful condition.

At this point, it is pretty much irrefutable that these are some variety of canid we're looking at. Not mutant muntjac, not monsterous kangaroo rats. The remains seem too small to be a coyote, too large for a fox. The skull shape suggests a domestic dog, but gangly limbs suggest coyote. After talking with more people, the most plausible explanation or origin seems to be a coyote-dog cross with congenital defects and bad skin afflictions. That could explain the size and weight of the animal, as well as the bone and skull structure. It doesn't necessarily explain why these animals are being spotted in such disparate locations. What are the odds of the exact same coyote-(insert specific dog breed) cross 300 miles apart, coming down with the same skin ailments? The bizarre underbite of the Pollock beast could either be a congenital defect or the effect of long-term malnutrition, when the body begins reabsorbing bone.

Someone else suggested to me the animal's condition could be the result of exposure to a variety of toxins. Again, this could indeed explain any number of questions about the animal, but isn't one of those "eureka!" solutions--what are the odds of similar animals running into the same exposures 300 miles apart? Possible, yes. Probable? I dunno.

To really, definitively get to the bottom of the creature's identity, Elizabeth Moon outlined a number of steps earnest cryptozoologists could take. The first is to take get accurate measurements of the animal, and take samples from which DNA could be extracted for analysis. This would be a nasty task at this point, as I'm informed by Sharon that the carcass is decomposing rapidly at this point, and infested with maggots. The measurements to be taken should include actual weight (not estimated), head and body length, tail length, lengths of leg bones, and tooth size, number and type as mammal classification is partly based on the number and type of teeth in the upper and lower jaw. Canids generally have 42 teeth, but the spacing, size, etc. vary among species. Moon's got a wicked mind for analytical detail, and when it comes to environmental matters, knows her stuff.

The debate may soon be put to rest, however. Whitley Strieber and his Unknown Country website sent "bones and a tooth from the Elmendorf animal to the University of California, Davis, testing facility" a few weeks back. Reading the Unknown Country story, I'm particularly annoyed by the fact that I never thought to suggest this might be a thylacine (marsupial wolf). It's not, of course, but it annoys me when cool ideas don't occur to me. One way or another, we should have a definitive answer on the identity of the creature(s) by Thanksgiving.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Scratch the Silence

Thursday, October 14, 2004

AIDS joins the Green Arrow cast

Some of you know I'm co-publisher of the currently-fallow Unofficial Green Arrow Fansite. Well, media everywhere is suddenly awash with news regarding the comic. Writer Judd Winick is revealing in an upcoming story that one of the supporting characters has contracted HIV :
"I guess [Mia's HIV status] is something I came up with," Winick told CBR News Wednesday evening." "I have no idea if Kevin was ever planning on doing it, but when I [read Kevin's stories] I actually thought this was a natural direction that this would go. Kevin Smith had done an AIDS storyline in 'Daredevil' before, he's never been one to shy away from stories with a social message or any kind of social agenda. I thought this was a place he might go. We got Mia as someone who had an abusive boyfriend; she'd obviously lived on the streets and was getting by as a prostitute. It's not an unlikely progression."

I agree. It is indeed a natural and logical direction to take this character. I looked at comments on some message boards, and there were fans complaining that Mia contracted HIV because she'd been a prostitute. They argued that it would be more of a cautionary tale if Mia had been an All-American, middle-class cheerleader type that became infected through carelessness--be it unprotected sex or recreational drug use. Which, of course, completely misses the point. Mia is not from that kind of world. She's lived a rough, abused life. I've always thought it odd that she didn't have some kind of drug addiction remaining from her life on the streets. She seemed too clean-cut, too unscarred. Now that Winick has placed HIV on the table, I have to admit that this is a development that would be unrealistic if it hadn't happened. I'll be watching to see where he goes with this.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Atom Heart Mother

Return of the zombie chupacabra

A few days ago I was emailed an image from a woman named Sharon in East Texas of a strange creature that had been killed in Pollok. The gangly, hairless dog-like critter looked for all the world like the Elmendorf Chupacabra that was all the rage back in July. Yesterday I heard back from Sharon, who came through with more images--great images--and also more information about the circumstances of this beast's demise.

Strange creature from Pollok

This first image shows that it is indeed very similar in appearance to the Elmendorf Chupacabra. It's fairly doggish, hairless and blue-gray, with characteristics that remind folks of kangaroos or, alternately, muntjac deer.

Pollok creature, head and jaws

This second shows how strange its head is. The fangs are disproportionately large, and the lower jaw is far shorter one would expect for that long of a snout. The skin looks very scabby and distorted, giving the face a rat-like appearance. Let's just say it: This thing looks creepy.

Pollok creature feet, toes and claws

The third photo lays to rest speculation about the animal being a deer. Cervids have hooves, and those are definitely doggish toes and claws. It's not a kangaroo mutant, either, as the foot structure is all wrong for those marsupials. Yes, the claws are somewhat long for a dog, but I've seen Labradors with toenails that long, so it's not unheard of.

Pollok creature, with person

This image gives a sense of scale. I still can't see this as a coyote with mange. The skull shape is wrong, and the animal itself is too small. Coyotes are significantly larger creatures. However, someone has suggested this may be a diseased fox, and that is certainly more plausible. The ears and skull shape are more akin to a fox than a coyote, and the size fits.

Stacy Womak, with 20 years of zoo and veterinarian experience, said the creature was killed underneath her mother's house. Their larger dogs were barking at the thing, but refused to go under the house after it. For good reason, apparently. This wasn't just any chupacabra--it's a zombie chupacabra:
"It was so necrotic, its tissue was just rotted," Womack said. "It had no hair, a severe overbite and its claws were entirely too long for a dog."

She said the animal's front legs were much smaller than it's hind legs, and that despite it's overall ghoulish appearance, it's extremely long canine teeth were in excellent condition. Also, despite having been shot, there was virtually no blood seeping from the animal's carcass. The animal's ear also "broke like a cookie" when it's head was held up for a photograph, she said

"It's body looked like something that has been dead for a month or so," Womack said. "Like I said, I've worked in the veterinary field for more than 20 years and I've never seen anything that bad."

The animal was male and weighed between 15 and 20 pounds, she said. The identical animal that sprinted across the road ran with it's head down and it's tail between it's legs, according to Womack, but wasn't tall enough to be a coyote or a wolf. She said the live animal is probably the dead one's mate.

Can you imagine baby zombie chupacabras running around? And we already know these things are in Elmendorf--folks there say they've seen them around before and after that one was killed in July. Of course, the folks in Elmendorf are a bit curious about this new creature. Who wants to bet they challenge Pollok residents for the right to call their city "Chupacabra Capital of the World."

Now Playing: Paul McCartney Off The Ground

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

I stayed up for this?

As if the Astros losing game one 10-7 wasn't bad enough, this third and final presidential debate was perhaps the most pitiful excuse for political discourse I've ever seen. Kerry fumbled and backslid into his old senatespeak, while Bush sputtered and salivated like an agitated Donald Duck. And neither said anything we haven't heard a hundred times before. What's the point of having three debates if you're just going to repeat the same old canned answers time and again, regardless of the question? And the U.S. is supposed to be a model of democracy? Puh-leeze. The only time the two candidates came anywhere close to an original thought was when the questions centered on their personal lives. Both suddenly came across as sincere and human. Beyond that, they were both morons. You'd think someone within their campaigns would be smart enough to catch on to the fact that it's possible to make the same point without trotting out the same old hoary catchphrases time and again, but no...

Now Playing: James Horner The Rocketeer Soundtrack

Kent or Kerry? Bagwell or Bush?

Somebody please tell me what kind of an idiot schedules a presidential debate opposite the National League Championship Series?
It's time to make a very important decision.

As President Bush and Sen. John Kerry engage in a battle of wits and words in their third and final presidential debate tonight, the Astros will slug it out against the St. Louis Cardinals in the first game of the National League Championship Series.

The game starts at 7 p.m. and the debate begins at 8 p.m., so program the VCRs and digital video recorders. Or get the remote control ready and prepare to flip-flop the night away on the television set.

I particularly like the head-to-head analysis of the two:
• Politics:
Sixteen questions. Topic is economic and domestic policy. No props or diagrams. No nose-to-nose direct questioning. Debaters must stay at podiums. Coin toss determines order of closing statements. No extra innings.
• Playoffs: Double-switches and flipflopping OK, as long as you win. So is being single-minded and sticking to your guns, unless it costs you the game. At postgame interview, team members may be questioned, blamed or criticized, depending on their performance.

And you know what? It's not just Texas. You can read the exact same story over at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Only the names have been changed. Go figure.

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

Zoran does Brisbane

Serbian science fiction writer Zoran Zivkovic has posted a report over at his Nightshade discussion board about his recent trip to Brisbane, Australia. It's an interesting account, one that makes me thoroughly envious. Visiting Australia has long been a goal of mine, and to do it in conjunction with a SFnal gathering is simply the bee's knees.

If you're unfamiliar with Zoran's writing, you can sample his short piece, The Astronomer, that I was fortunate enough to publish at RevolutionSF. He's extremely talented, and his writing has an inventive, droll air about it. He can write the most absurd, outlandish stuff without the slightest hint of a giggle. I know I would never dare play poker against this guy. And despite his protests to the contrary, his English skills are as good if not better than those of some native speakers I've met.

Thanks to Emerald City for pointing this out.

Now Playing: Melissa Etheridge Yes I Am

If presidential debates were moderated by science fiction fans

Okay, I'll admit that I'm slow on the draw on this one. But as tonight is the last of the 2004 presidential debates (talk about bad timing--who schedules a debate opposite game one of the Astros-Cardinals playoff series!?) it's timely if nothing else. The Mumpsimus has a hilarious SFnal riff on the presidential debates up, that is well worth a look.
MODERATOR: How do you feel about genre-bending movements such as The New Weird and Interstitial Arts? Are they a threat to the purity of science fiction and fantasy? Senator Kerry?

KERRY: I believe that we can have a large movement all together, and that the tent we live in -- or, rather, everyone here but the President and I and, I'm sorry to say, you Mr. Moderator [chuckles] -- that tent -- it's large and can contain multitudes. What's new and weird is the President's approach in Iraq. If we had made alliances, we would have an interstitial approach to foreign policy, but at the moment, the failed policies of this administration have given us a maze of death which our troops are dying inside.


BUSH: What's new and weird is my opponent's love for Saddam Hussein. Look, I don't know half of what he's talking about, I don't understand any of the words he's using, but I know I'm right. And that's not weird, and it's not new.

It's not too much to ask that we have a few questions about the New Weird thrown out in tonight's debate, is it? Yeah, I thought so...

Now Playing: Marvin Gaye Command Performances--15 Greatest Hits

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

It's all about ME

This is unexpected, unlooked-for and utterly cool. The good folks at Speculations have gone and set up a Jayme Blaschke topic on the Rumor Mill message boards. You know what that means? I've got my own bulletin board now!

And it's not "mine" per se, inasmuch as I don't own it, moderate it or pay for the upkeep. Technically, I suppose this qualifies it as a fan site. Profoundly groovy. I've got a fan site! Now, I just have to come up with witty things to post over there so that people will take an interest and answer in kind. Drop in if you've got a few minutes to spare.

But really, wow. I've been noticed by folks--and didn't even need incriminating photos to attract their attention.

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

Monday, October 11, 2004

Hoo. Ray.

It doesn't get any easier. Despite sweeping the Cardinals at the end of the season, the Astros limp into the NLCS with a mangled starting rotation and a dubious bullpen at best. To lose the stigma of being the winningest team in Major League history never to play in the World Series is going to take a phenominal effort from the team formerly known as the Colt .45s. But you know what? I don't care. On the day former Astro Ken Caminiti died of a heart attack, the Killer Bs put it together in honor of their old teammate and led Houston to its first playoff victory, ever. Cami's loss is sad, but tonight all Astros fans rejoice.

Now Playing: The Kinks To The Bone

October fiction at RevSF

It’s October at RevolutionSF, and while we assume that it’s October elsewhere as well, ours is not to presume. In honor of this most scare-iffic of months, we offer to you, dear readers, a host of strange and creepy stories in honor of the season. Week one brings justice system horrors, week two examines lawn-care oddities, week three opens an alternate reality can-o-worms on the terror that is the American political system, and finally, week four brings us to a bonafied Joe R. Lansdale Halloween spectacular, guaranteed to make you pee your pants. I’m serious folks, this one ain’t for the weak of heart (or stomach). The cover letter alone makes me have bad dreams.

And lest I forget, with the conclusion of Mark Finn’s “The Transformation of Lawrence Croft” last month, we now have the unparalleled privilege of embarking on a new novel serialization--one filled with lots of dead folks--apropos, again, for the Halloween season. If you’ve never encountered John Kendrick Bangs before, you’ll thank me when before it’s over.

RevolutionSF is the home for unique imaginative fiction.
Fiction at RevolutionSF in October will include:

October 8
"Destitution" by Derek Smith **Original Fiction**
"Metamorphosis #91" by Don Webb
"A House-Boat on the Styx" Chapter 1 by John Kendrick Bangs

October 15
"King of the Fescue" by Odessa Cole **Original Fiction**
"Metamorphosis #92" by Don Webb
"A House-Boat on the Styx" Chapter 2 by John Kendrick Bangs

October 22
"Fellow Americans" by Eileen Gunn **Classic Reprint**
"Metamorphosis #93" by Don Webb
"A House-Boat on the Styx" Chapter 3 by John Kendrick Bangs

October 29
"Boys Will Be Boys" by Joe R. Lansdale **Classic Reprint**
"Metamorphosis #94" by Don Webb
"A House-Boat on the Styx" Chapter 4 by John Kendrick Bangs

All stories can be read at

Now Playing: John Mellencamp Whenever We Wanted

Farewell to the Last Son of Krypton

Christopher Reeve has died:
Actor Christopher Reeve, the star of the "Superman" movies whose near-fatal riding accident nine years ago turned him into a worldwide advocate for spinal cord research, died of heart failure, his publicist said. He was 52.

The tagline of Superman was "You will believe a man can fly," and I did. I was eight years old when I saw the movie with by best friend Bill Holt at the old Oaks Theater in Columbus. I remember sitting through those endless, tedious opening credits wondering "When's the second half going to start?" I laughed my silly head off at the goofy "Bad vibrations" joke and the telephone booth gag. Yes, Otis was nonsensical and out of place--even a rapt kid could tell that--but it didn't diminish my enjoyment of the movie any. Still doesn't. Even in the later sequels, when the Slakinds were butchering the Superman mythos, Christopher Reeve always managed to dignify the role. Superman has always been an event in my life, and always will be.

Now Playing: John Cougar American Fool

Saturday, October 09, 2004

A good day for sports

Ah, bliss. The Aggies win big on the road against Iowa State and get a lot of the second stringers valuable playing time, t.u. suffered its annual debilitating loss to the Oklahoma Land Thieves, and the Astros opened a can of Killer B-style hurt on the Braves. All in all, a pretty good day for this Texas sports junkie. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some writing to do.

Now Playing: The Fightin' Texas Aggie Band Recall! Step Off On Hullabaloo!

Friday, October 08, 2004

Last political post of the night, I promise

The first presidential debate I called a push, with Kerry the marginal winner. The veep debate I also called a push, with Cheney the nominal winner. For the second presidential debate, a town hall format, I felt Bush had to come out and give the best debate performance of his life. He did that. And Kerry topped him in almost every way imaginable.

It's not that Bush screwed up--he didn't. He was personable and articulate, and kept his emotions in check. But Kerry had a devastating counterpunch ready for every Bush right cross. Were this baseball, I'd be convinced Team Kerry was stealing signs. Kerry was poised, charismatic, and ready at every turn with a Republican criticism of this administration's policies, or concrete facts and stats to bring his points home. Simply put, he came off as much more presidential than Bush.

There were only two spots where I thought Bush came out ahead of the game. The first was Bush's environmental record. This is Bush's single biggest vulnerability on the domestic front, and his claims were ludicrous. The equivalent of a hanging curve ball, to continue the baseball analogy. And Kerry went down swinging wildly, babbling generalities about the Kyoto Treaty rather than nail Bush to the wall with specifics about global warming, "Healthy Forests," the gutting of the Clean Air Act, or this administration's insistence that Pacific northwest salmon species aren't endangered because of the vast numbers of genetically engineered fish in farming operations. The second Bush highlight came on the abortion question. Bush answered with a confident swagger, playing to his conservative religious base. Kerry, on the other hand, gave a convoluted answer that sounded like he was trying to pander to all sides of the issue. The pro-choice crowd is going to vote for Kerry no matter what, but it was still painful to watch. I wonder if the national polls will reflect my perceptions, or if my views (which I consider moderate) are outside of the mainstream.

Now Playing: Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra The Best of Mozart vol. 1

Bush is weird... wait, no, he's wired

More political facts coming atcha! Well, actually they're rumors and innuendo, but who's keeping track? By now, all of blogosphere is up in arms about Bush's supposedly being fed the answers during last week's debate. I initially discounted this idea as ludicrous for one simple reason: Bush's answers were mediocre at best. I mean, if Karl Rove were really playing puppetmaster, wouldn't his guy be coming off as genius? Well, that was before I read this story on the whole affair at Cryptome. In particular, this bit of information jumped out at me:
Suggestions that Bush may have using this technique stem from a D-day event in France, when a CNN broadcast appeared to pick up -- and broadcast to surprised viewers -- the sound of another voice seemingly reading Bush his lines, after which Bush repeated them. Danny Schechter, who operates the news site, and who has been doing some investigating into the wired-Bush rumors himself, said the Bush campaign has been worried of late about others picking up their radio frequencies -- notably during the Republican Convention on the day of Bush's appearance. "They had a frequency specialist stop me and ask about the frequency of my camera," Schechter said. "The Democrats weren't doing that at their convention."

I have no idea how much validity this wild internet speculation will ultimately turn out to have, but damn, it sure is funny. And I guarantee that every techno geek in the country with a political ax to grind will be all over these next two debates, trying to hack any extant Bush radio signal. If Dubya suddenly breaks into a rousing rendition of "Let's Talk Dirty in Hawaiian" during the town hall debate, it's safe to assume the hackers have been successful. Thanks to Steven Utley for the link.

Now Playing: Jerry Jeff Walker Viva Terlingua

Taking a few JibJabs at tonight's debate

Those flash animators who gave the world the hilarious political satire This Land featuring an animated sing-along with America's leading political figures have gone and worked up another feisty gem. Now, I don't claim that Good to Be In D.C. (sung to the tune of "Dixie") is as good as the first attempt. It's not. But man, there are still some great belly-laughs tucked in there. The best (or worst) part of it is that it's all true, in its own sick, twisted way.

Now Playing: Ray Davies The Storyteller

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Deja Vu all over again

What did I say? It's the '86 Astros all over again, only this time it's a five-game series and there's no prospect of the Braves facing the Rocket in a seventh, decisive game. Going 11 innings only to lose? Geeze louise, I don't want to be pessimistic, but I see the Astros losing the next game in Houston, winning when Clemens pitches in game four to force a game 5, and then the team wasting an excellent outing by Oswalt in extra innings.

Did you know that the Astros are the winningest team in baseball never to reach the World Series? And what do you want to bet that the NL team that does make it to the big show faces a Bosox squad that has everything wrapped up only to blow it with a bizarre bloop error.

Now Playing: 38 Special Strength in Numbers

Checking in on the Mars rovers

Hey folks! Remember those Athena rovers we have up on Mars? They're still exploring and taking amazing photos, like this dazzling one of Burns Cliff:
Burns Cliff, Mars

Sure, there's some false color there--particularly the blue sky--but it's impressive the way space buffs are stitching together separate images to give us these gorgeous panoramics. Looking at the full-sized image, the stratification layers in the cliff are very sharply defined. If you look hard enough, you can almost see embedded fossils (of course, a degree of wishful thinking is required). I could easily see this image on postcards sold in Martian souvenir shops. With Virgin Galactic starting up, this may be the next great tourist destination.

There are more images, as well as discussions over at the Mars Exploration Rover Forum.

Now Playing: The Kinks Phobia

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Astros: Dare I believe?

The game's about to start against the Disliked Braves (not to be confused with the Hated Mets of '86) and I want to believe Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt and Brad Lidge can shut down Atlanta's bats. I really do. Even though Atlanta has knocked Houston out of the playoffs more times than I care to count. But the Astros look like a Team of Destiny this time, entering the playoffs as the hottest team in baseball.

Of course, that doesn't explain my growing unease of the fact this team reminds me of the '86 Astros: Namely, two dominant pitchers in Clemens and Oswalt today versus Nolan Ryan and Mike Scott 18 years ago. That series is still painful, and the Mets still Hated. Here's hoping history does not repeat itself, as I can't stomach any more 14-inning nailbiters.

Now Playing: The Kinks Low Budget

America's Space Prize

I've got to hand it to writer Wil McCarthy. A few days back he made a cryptic reference to an orbital version of Ansari X-Prize, and son of a gun, if there isn't one stepping up to the plate:
America's Space Prize, a $50 million contest under development by Nevada millionaire Robert Bigelow, looks to push privately funded human spaceflight into orbit, and ultimately on missions to a planned space station.

But the competition poses significant challenges for any competitors that rise to the occasion, some of which include developing faster vehicles to escape Earth's gravity, hardier designs to withstand the reentry stresses and the tricky ability to dock with an orbiting facility.

"It's asking a lot," Bigelow told "We're talking about a spacecraft that has rendezvous and docking capabilities, and that is a safe and reliable structure."

Couple this with the newly-announced X Prize Cup for sub-orbital competition, and you've got the makings of a sustained private spaceflight industry. Of course, reaching orbit is a great deal more challenging than going sub-orbital. SpaceShipOne, for example, would need something on the order of 15 times more thrust to reach orbit--but then couldn't land again, since it doesn't have that kind of reentry capability. These competitors wouldn't be fettered by the conflicting goals of combining a LEO human-rated space craft with a bulky heavy-lift vehicle. They can keep their craft small and focused, making them more robust with better safety margins and weight savings all around.

The technical challenges are real, but not anywhere near as difficult doomsayers would have us believe. Remember, a lot of folks dismissed the X Prize as unattainable. Certainly, within 10 years the America's Space Prize will have been claimed, and it wouldn't surprise me in the least if it happens within five. If NASA doesn't get on the stick, private enterprise may just beat the shuttle back into obit, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Now Playing: The Kinks Face to Face

An experiment

Since I've had comments on this blog, I've noticed via my stat tracker that a good number of visitors check out the comments section (whether or not there are currently any comments for a particular post) but the vast majority of these people don't leave any thoughts. I suspect this is because of the log-in requirement I have enabled. People just don't like to sign in for anything. Fine. So to satisfy my personal curiosity in the matter, I'm throwing the comments open to any and all comers. Anybody can post their thoughts now. Will this make a difference?

Let's sit back and see how long it takes the porn spammers to start making a mess of things.

Now Playing: The Kinks Arthur or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire

Yeah, what he said

Keith Olbermann has blogged a round-by-round analysis of the vice presidential debate, scoring it as if it were a boxing match. For the most part, his take on the even matches up with mine fairly closely, and is funny to boot:
Edwards runs through disparity between Bush claims and what Americans see. Turns “Shock and Awe” around on Cheney. A flurry! Turns around “everything 9/11” on Cheney. Turns around 9/11 Commission on Cheney. Cheney battered and in the corner. Two points to Edwards. Cheney’s lips tight and he skips away from the ropes with the history of Al-Zarqawi. Turns out of clinch to hit Edwards: it’s Zarqawi you see on television executing Americans. Two points to Cheney.
Round —Draw, 2-2.

Like me, he seems to think that Edwards scored more on the specific issues up for grabs, but that Cheney came out in better shape. What is this, a Phyrric victory? Bunker Hill all over again? I still can't believe Edwards stumbled that much in his delivery.

Now Playing: Smithfield Fair Winds of Time

I'll take "Veepstakes" for $100

Interesting that the vice-presidential debate was more animated and weighty than the preceeding presidential debate, even if Cheney and Edwards talked past each other most of the night, instead targeting the head of the opposite ticket. There were no knockout blows equivalent to Lloyd Bentsen's verbal body slam of Dan Quayle in '88, but both candidate got some good licks in.

All things being equal, I think Cheney and the Republicans have to be happy. They entered with diminished expectations and more to lose, and Cheney held his own for the most part. He was able to repeat his campaign attacks on Kerry without sounding like a broken record, and came across as much more articulate and intelligent than Bush did last week. He still isn't very likeable as a person, though, and probably didn't gain much in the public approval ratings. Gwen Ifill really put him on the spot when she asked him point-blank if he thought John Edwards was part of the "trial lawyer problem" the Bush campaign rails against so much. You could almost hear the ice creaking as Cheney's heart froze solid. His response that he wasn't familiar with Edwards' case history was utterly bogus--he is very familiar with it, and it's unassailable. Edwards only represented the "little guy" in cases where corporations grossly overstepped the bounds of common decency. You can bet that if there was any room for doubt, the Bush campaign would be pounding hard on that angle. Cheney is fully aware of Edwards' case history, make no mistake.

Edwards, on the other hand, didn't live up to expectations. Like Kerry last week, I think he tried to cram too many facts and subjects into his answers, which diluted the effectiveness. He was effective in putting the spotlight on Iraq early on, but his attacks against Cheney's Halliburton ties were flailing and surprisingly unfocused. He did a good job on the experience question, avoiding a sure trap by not comparing his experience to Bush's in 2000. You know Cheney had a Bentsen-style haymaker primed and ready in that event, but never got to use it. But for an eloquent, folksy speaker, Edwards did flub a lot of lines and get tongue-tied more than you'd expect. It's easy to dismiss that as nerves, as the Kerry campaign had a lot riding on the veep debate, and for all his court room experience Edwards had never been in such a testy, bare-knuckles debate before. He recovered, and I think made up much lost ground in the final 15 minutes or so of the debate, whenever he touched on areas he'd spoken about a lot during his stump speeches. And even when he fumbled, he was still positive, populist and charismatic as hell. Still, more was expected of as gifted a speaker as Edwards.

Ultimately, as with the previous presidential debate, I think it's a wash. Cheney acquitted himself well enough to stop the Bush team's hemorrhaging in the polls. Edwards didn't boost the Kerry ticket with his showing, but he did well enough to hold things steady and not lose any ground. Now, of course, it comes down to Friday's big town hall-style debate between Bush and Kerry. The winner of that one will more likely than not take the election, no matter what happens in the final debate the following week. We shall see.

Now Playing: David Lee Roth Skyscraper

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Renaissance weekend

Didn't get a chance to post about my weekend yesterday. Was much fun. Not only did my Aggies beat up on Kansas State, but the Astros managed to complete one of the most amazing season-ending runs in baseball history to win the National League wild card race. But those victories were just the sideshow to our main event: The Texas Renaissance Festival.

This year, we stayed for almost seven hours, which is a record for us in the era of children. For the past five years or so, we've been limited to maybe three hours before the girls get cranky. This is the first time they didn't want to leave. They rode many of the muscle-powered rides, ate the food, darted from shop to shop and collected flowers from the performers in the parade. In short, they were Into it. Along the way, we found (!) one of those beautiful handcrafted wooden mugs with the leather lid, as well as a beautiful blue renaissance flat hat with an impressive ostrich feather in it. Both had been lost, and after searching in vain for the original owners, we gave up and brought them home with us. Our efforts were not wholly unsuccessful: We did find a lost little girl who was about three years old and scared out of her wits. After about 15 minutes she was successfully reunited with her family. Never seriously considered claiming her for our own, though.

One of the more interesting developments was Calista's sudden fascination with renaissance music. She likes it, and occasionally asks to hear one of our CDs, but was downright enraptured with a group performing called Istanpitta. They were playing 13th century Galacian tunes, on period instruments. The leader, Al Cofrin, is a flight controller at NASA in his other life. Calista made us go back to watch and listen to them three times, and just about bounced out of the festival when I told her she could pick out a CD to buy. A great deal of her fascination came from a dancer who was performing with the (singing and playing the recorder as well). She goes by the name Sahira and is good. To say she's a bellydancer is like saying Fred Astaire was a hoofer. She combined a number of different styles very effectively. The fact that she was attractive and oozed charisma didn't hurt, either. Turns out she is a professional dance instructor in the Houston area. Too bad Houston's a three-hour drive away--Calista would jump at the opportunity to take lessons in a heartbeat.

Now Playing: The Gyspy Guerrilla Band Ernie's Ottoman

Monday, October 04, 2004

Who was the greatest fighter pilot you ever saw?

It's almost as if the Space Gods are taunting us. On the same day SpaceShipOne wins the Anansi X Prize, one of the original Mercury 7, Gordon Cooper, is taken from this world:
Gordon Cooper, who was the youngest and perhaps cockiest member of the original Mercury astronauts and set the space endurance record that helped clear the way for the first moon landing, has died. He was 77.

Cooper died today at his home in Ventura, NASA officials said in a statement. He died of natural causes, said Mitch Breese, of the county medical examiner's office.

Cooper's death leaves only three of the original Mercury 7 still alive: Wally Schirra, Scott Carpenter and John Glenn. Cooper, of course, was probably the most flamboyant of the bunch:
When asked who was the greatest fighter pilot he ever saw, Cooper enthusiastically answered, "You're looking at him!"

I've met my share of celebrities in my time--star athletes, singers, actors, politicians--but the only times I've ever gotten really geeky and star-struck was when astronauts were involved. I found out just the other day that an Apollo astronaut lives just a few miles from me, and was downright giddy. These people are flawed and human, sure, but they've actually done what I've dreamed about since childhood. Astronauts, more than anything else, are the reason I write science fiction. Cooper was part of that, and his loss diminishes us all.

Now Playing: Smithfield Fair Winds of Time

Rumblings over at DNA

There's an interesting thread going down over at the Nightshade Discussion Boards regarding an irate subscriber's difficulties with DNA Publications. It seems this person took out subscriptions to a couple of DNA Publications, and never received an issue. And it got worse from there:
Every time I call DNA, I am promised swift resolution (even by publisher Warren Lapine's daughter), but I NEVER received my magazines, and I have NEVER received my refund, despite being promised to receive it multiple times. In fact, Mr. Lapine's daughter informed me in my last conversation with her that I apparently had been lied to when I was told I hadn't received any issues of Absolute Magnitude because all issues so far this year were "sold out", as I had been told previously multiple times by other DNA staff---in actuality, DNA has not released ANY Absolute Magnitude issues for this entire year---yet, they are still taking subscription orders and telling purchasers they have not received any issues because they "sold out"---as if the magazine is still being produced! This is a misleading business practice as well as FRAUD.

I have made my anger and frustration of being ripped off by DNA to their staff several times and have made many requests to be given a full refund for my subscriptions, since they have failed time and again to deliver the product I purchased-----my refund has been promised to me by DNA staff multiple times---TO NO AVAIL.

That sounds amazingly like my experience with Warren Lapine and DNA Publications--although, in my case it was as a contributor trying to get paid for work. The pattern started with assurance the issue would be addressed post-haste, followed by silence, then more assurances, then pointed and willful silence at any and all inquiries. Reading the thread, there are some writers that seem to share my experiences. What a shame.

I've seen other editors get into precarious situations with their publications and resort to the "ignore the problem and it will go away" mentality, although never to the extent Lapine seems to have adopted. I'm baffled by this, as in all my dealings with Lapine, the man seemed quite personable and honest. When things were looking dark for Interzone, editor David Pringle was incommunicado more often than not, but he never generated the amount of ill-will that Lapine apparently evokes from the masses. Even after Interzone was sold to The Third Alternative and Pringle had no more legal obligation to the publication, reports continued to trickle out of writers receiving overdue payments written from Pringle's own checking account. I, personally, was delighted to find in the mail one afternoon a stack of contributor's copies from Pringle that I'd given up for lost a year before. Those are the kinds of gestures that cement a lasting, positive reputation even when life is otherwise dealing you a rotten hand.

DNA publishes (and I use that term loosely) some significant titles, including the venerable Weird Tales, and if the publisher has indeed managed to overextend the company to the point of insolvency, that's too bad. But if they go under now, it won't matter to me. As far as I'm concerned, those markets don't exist, under the "Burn me once..." rule. My experience left a bad taste in my mouth, obviously, and I don't recommend anyone deal with any of the markets under the DNA banner. Fortunately for me, I did manage to extract payment eventually. It chafes, however, that I never received my contributor's copy of Science Fiction Chronicle no. 203, so if any of you kind readers happen to have one lying around, I'll be happy buy it off you.

Now Playing: SixMileBridge Across the Water

Does Binnie get a bonus?

Congratualtions to Brian Binnie, who piloted SpaceShipOne on a suborbital flight today to win the coveted $10 million Ansari X Prize. Binnie becomes only the second private sector pilot to earn astronaut wings for his trip:
With pilot Brian Binnie at the controls, SpaceShipOne rocketed to an unofficial height of 368,000 feet, setting a new altitude record for the craft and proving that private industry can build a viable vehicle for sending paying passengers to space.

Winning the X Prize means that Scaled Composites may actually be showing a profit with SpaceShipOne. Development costs are reportedly between $20-30 million, and a couple of weeks ago the technology was licensed to Virgin Galactic for $21 million or so. I'd say Astronaut Binnie is a popular guy with the Scaled Composites accounting department today.

But what of the other competitors for the X Prize? Well, the Canadian da Vinci group insists it will continue to work toward a launch of its Wildfire rocket:
Brian Feeney, who leads a rival X Prize effort called the da Vinci group, wished the SpaceShipOne team well this morning just prior to the flight, and he vowed not to stop his own effort.

"Even if the prize is won today, we will fly," Feeney told "We're moving our program as fast as we can. We'll announce a launch date in a short period of time.

And of course, there's the brave, rebuilt mannequin Stevie Austin, who's leading the intrepid team of rocket scientists heading up Space Transport Corporation. Keep 'em flying, guys.

Now Playing: Istanpitta Chevrefoil

Friday, October 01, 2004

Full of sound and fury...

Yes, I watched the debates last night, and since there is a federal law mandating that the entire blogosphere comment on the Kerry/Bush showdown, I shall comply like a good little lemming.

Technically, I'd say Kerry "won." No surprise on that count, since I'm a Kerry supporter and perceptions are skewed by partisanship. I expected Kerry to mumble and stumble through long, convoluted answers, delving into amorphous nuance as his television audience fell asleep in droves, and was pleasantly surprised when this didn't happen. He stayed focused, his answers were concise, and he showed that he had a detailed grasp and understanding of the issues.

Bush, on the other hand, looked annoyed most of the time while Kerry was speaking, and had several brain-locks, although nothing serious enough to cost him the election. In the first debate of the 2000 elections, I thought Gore came across as pompous, condescending and arrogant, while Bush came across as relaxed and folksy. I'm convinced that believe that the election turned on the performances in that first debate. This time, the roles were somewhat reversed--though not to the extent of 2000. Bush did "stay on message" through the debate against Kerry, bringing up the "hard work" being done in Iraq and painting Kerry as a flip-flopper by repeatedly branding him as sending "mixed messages." Unfortunately for Bush, after the first 30 minutes it started to sound like he'd only been coached on two answers--"hard work" and "mixed messages"--which he repeated for every question, whether relevant or not. Someone could develop a good drinking game out of that.

So I think Kerry technically won. Fine. But pragmatically, I have to say it was a draw. Bush argued from a position of power, and didn't make any crucial mistakes. Kerry was more articulate and knowledgeable, but Bush again made good use of the "I'm just plain folks like you at home" approach. Bush's black-and-white worldview is an easier sell than Kerry's more complicated (and more realistic) shades-of-grey view, and so Bush had the advantage in conveying this to the electorate. Ultimately, it's a push, with both candidates coming out of the debate having shored up their constituency, but not making much headway with the undecideds. Kerry may have shaken the resolve of some Bush-leaning undecideds, but his performance hasn't won them over. It's all going to come down to the next debate, a town-hall forum. If either candidate can score a convincing victory there, it's all over.

Now Playing: George Strait Greatest Hits vol. II