Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Kliper: You know, what it really needs are solar sails

MSNBC has an interesting article up by Russian space expert James Oberg on the unveiling of the next-generation Russian spacecraft, which is optimistically named after the famed "clipper ships" of yore:
Russian next-generation Kliper spacecraft

I find an interesting degree of irony in this picture, as behind the Kliper mockup you can see what remains of the Buran space shuttle, the previous next-generation Russian spacecraft which made several successful test flights prior to the breakup of the Soviet Union, but no manned flights.

I have no idea if Kliper will ever fly, but it's an interesting design. Like some of the designs NASA has toyed with, it's based on the lifting body concept, which I'm convinced will eventually become the preferred approach for orbital vehicles. I'm not convinced this ship can fly as cheaply as the Russians say, but then again it doesn't try to do too much--simply ferry six crew and a modest amount of cargo, as opposed to the U.S. shuttle which tried to do everything, and did everything poorly. The basic approach and design appears sound, but again, the devil's in the details. Venturestar looked great on paper as well, and we all know what a fiasco that one turned out to be.

You can find some interesting schematics and technical specifications for the Kliper at Russian Space Web, and a good visual comparison with the current incarnation of the Soyuz spacecraft at Astronautix.

Now Playing: The Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

I am agog

There exists in this world a Sailor Moon Christmas Song Collection. Oh, my. Sailor Moon had merchendising out the wazoo, so how is it that I never heard of any of this stuff? I'm painfully familiar with Power Rangers, which was the cat's pajamas around the same time.

The good thing about this is that as Sailor Moon is in something of a fallow period now, there isn't much demand for that collectible stuff. Even the Japan-only toys and CDs and whatnot are available pretty cheaply on eBay. Some 11.5-inch Sailor Moon action figures cost only about the same as cheaper Barbies, even with shipping costs. The downside is that there is simply so much of this stuff that I'm doomed if Calista and Keela ever find out about it.

Now Playing: Vince Guaraldi Trio A Charlie Brown Christmas

The new catalogs are here! The new catalogs are here!

Forgive me if I sound like Steve Martin from "The Jerk." But I do have a similar feeling of acknowledgement by the cosmos. I just got an email from Tom Grimes, author of the novels WILL@epicquest.com and City of God, who also happens to be director of the creative writing program at the university, congratulating me on Voices of Vision's listing in the new University of Nebraska Press spring/summmer 2005 print catalog.

And you know what? It's true. I've got my own copy of said catalog sitting right in front of me. I'm looking at my entry on page 16, following a big four-page spread devoted to The Works of Robert E. Howard. Not bad company. Two pages later, there's the more provocatively-titled Venereal Disease and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Wow. We never studied that in history, that's for sure!

Now Playing: The Chieftans The Bells of Dublin

Monday, November 29, 2004

Sailor Moon mania!

Somewhere along the line, we picked up some kid videos with Sailor Moon trailers tacked onto them, and in due course Calista and Keela became fascinated. They wanted these "Girl Power" super-hero adventures on DVD or tape, so they could watch and enjoy. Well, that was fine with Lisa and myself. I grew up with Starblazers and Speed Racer, so I knew the goofy pleasure of Japanese animation coupled with bad dubbing. And we're going out of our way to give the girls pro-active female role models, so Sailor Moon seemed taylor made. A few months back I picked up the first volume DVD of the edited-for-American-television series, and the girls went nuts for it. Lisa even made a Sailor Moon costume for Calista at Halloween.

Naturally enough, the girls wanted more episodes--particularly keen on seeing more of the other Sailor Scouts, which are featured in the intro, but only Sailor Mercury made it into the first selection of episodes. Last week, for Calista's birthday, I found volume 2 and 5 at Hasting's for $9 each, which gave them a good dose of all five original Sailor Scouts, plus the two talking cats. The general formula of Power Rangers/Battle of the Planets is evident here: Bad guys come up with a bizarre plan to attain their stock macguffin, and after an initial setback, the heroes triumph in the end. Only after watching the last few episodes of volume 5, I could tell there was more of a developing plot arc to these stories. They weren't strictly episodic, even though they'd been edited for American television with some of the more graphic elements obviously chopped out.

I'm passingly familiar with anime, and know how popular Japanese series are usually watered down for American children's programming. I knew Sailor Moon was originally targetted to teens, rather than adolescents. I knew to avoid the "Uncut" versions of the series, which take up far more shelf space in Hastings--there are even boxed sets. I figured that these original versions are indeed better, with more coherent storytelling, but I also know that the girls aren't ready for something aimed at more mature teens. So out of curiosity, I did some googling. Aside from the somewhat disturbing fact that there was recently a live action Sailor Moon series broadcast in Japan, I found two interesting sites with lots of detailed information on just what my girls have gotten involved in: Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon and Sailor Moon Universe.

Holy moley! I knew the original versions would be darker and edgier, but... DAMN! Every single freakin' one of the Sailor Scouts, with the exception of Sailor Moon, gets killed off in an epic battle that spans the final five episodes the series. Two of the Sailor Scouts betray the others and join the enemy! There's blood and carnage and nudity. Sure, good triumphs in the end, and these momentous events are 200 episodes down the line, but man o man, am I ever glad I resisted the temptation to grab that uncut boxed set. In five years, the girls will probably eat that stuff up. I mean, they're pretty rough and tumble girls, and Calista thinks the threatened beheadings in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland are downright silly, but right now, seeing their "Superheroes," who they've really begun to identify with, slaughtered and betrayed by the forces of evil... no thank you. They're not ready to parse that level of complexity, which is probably why they're not all that into Babylon 5 and Farscape yet, either.

It just now struck me that I can hold extended, continuity-laced discussion and debate regarding Sailor Moon in all that series' incarnations, and I've only seen maybe a total of nine 20 minute episodes, total. No movies, no uncut episodes, and no (thank goodness) live action episodes. Damn. Am I pathetic or what?

Now Playing: Various artists A Classic Cartoon Christmas

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Wait 'til next year

I won't deny that I'm disappointed the Aggies lost to t.u. 26-13, especially after Jonte Buhl returned a fumble 98 yard for a touchdown to end the first half, giving A&M a 13-6 lead. But considering the fact the sips fielded a team that's ranked no. 5 in the nation, the game was played in Austin, and the Aggies are just one year removed from last season's disastrous 4-8 mark, I'll say the improvement has been remarkable.

Now we get to sit back and wait to see if the Aggies play in the Holiday Bowl against Arizona State or in the Alamo Bowl against Ohio State. Those are both good bowls against solid opponents. Either should be a good matchup for A&M, more winnable than LSU or Georgia would've been in the Cotton Bowl. I'd rather the team's 7-4 record be a bit better (that Baylor loss still rankles) but winning the final game against such a well-regarded opponent would be a good way to end the season. And next year, with another strong recruiting class on campus, I really like our chances against the sips at Kyle Field...

Now Playing: Smithfield Fair Winds of Time

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Get a jump on that holiday shopping

Created solely with the ulterior motive of promoting my forthcoming book, Voices of Vision, I've created a Voices of Vision shop over at Cafe Press featuring a variety of wares you can order for your very own, to hug and squeeze and call George if you so choose.

I made up these things for myself and my family, because when it comes to self-promotion, I'm a complete and total whore. But then the thought struck me, that perhaps some readers of this blog--or, better yet, my book--aspired to be complete and total promotion whores as well? So, hey, who am I to deny you that chance? And if it makes any difference to you, I've set the cost of all that junk at Cafe Press' base price, which means I'm not making one red cent off of any sale. Ooh! I'll bet you're all tingly now, eh? Well, don't just sit there, buy stuff and promote my book!

Now Playing: The Smithereens 11

The Yankee Clipper comes home

On this date in 1969, the command module of Apollo 12, Yankee Clipper, splashed down in the Pacific Ocean around 4 p.m. EST, completing a 10-day mission. Commanded by Charles Conrad, with lunar module pilot Alan Bean and command module pilot Richard Gordon, the mission successfully followed up Apollo 11 by landing the lunar module Intrepid at Oceanus Procellarum. They retrieved instruments from the unmanned Surveyor 3 robot craft, which had landed in the area two years earlier. The mission proved accurate, targeted landings were possible on the moon, and also returned 75 pounds of lunar samples to Earth.

I just thought someone ought to make note of it, is all.

Now Playing: Billy Joel An Innocent Man

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The Black Hammer

In the mood for some good, old-fashioned high fantasy? How about high fantasy infused with a healthy dose of Norse hammer-smiting of evil? How about a hot shield-maiden type doing the smiting? We've got one up over at RevolutionSF by Laura Underwood.
The quiet village huddled in terror from the ruins crowning the hill beyond. Arula reined in her horse and cast a puzzled glance over the wretched landscape. Instinctively, she reached down to touch the war hammer hanging off her saddle. The Thunder Hammer responded with a cold, nervous thrum of symbiotic magic, and Arula frowned.

"Not the most inviting place to spend the night, eh, Ham?" she said.

She let her dark gaze shift to the black-bearded Dvergar who dragged his large pony to a halt beside her. Hamlin Gobbler wrinkled his nose. "It's seen better days," he said.

"Do you know this place?" she asked.

He nodded. "Thunor's Hill," he replied. "That used to be a temple to your god up there."

"Those ruins?" she said. "What happened?"

Ham shrugged. "Haven't a clue, Rul. Haven't been here in ten winters or more. Strange. I don't remember that mountain in the middle being so tall."

Arula frowned, not sure if she was more disturbed to think a temple to her god had been deserted or the fact that Ham, like all Stone Folk, could tell if a mountain had grown. The peak he stabbed one stubby finger at did look oddly taller than those around it. It cast a long shadow towards the village. On the road ahead, she saw thralls making quickly for their homes. Since when do farmer folk leave their fields so soon before sundown? she wondered.

It's a fun piece, and I'm glad we're running it. I've been riding Laura for the better part of a year to get it whipped into shape, and I'm pleased with the end result. It's probably not the kind of thing people expect to see on RevSF, but then again, I'm not a genre snob. I don't want RevSF to become pigeonholed as publishing only this kind of speculative fiction, or that kind. Of course, the reality is that writers already have the site pigeonholed. I've been told by some that they haven't offered me anything because they don't write "the right type" of story for the site. Is there any SF site out there that has a more eclectic fiction archive? I think not...

Now Playing: The Beach Boys Endless Summer


I've liked the Beach Boys for as long as I can remember. Even when I was a little kid and listened to both kinds of music (country AND western) the Beach Boys always stood out for me. When I got into high school, and later college, I became more of a Brian Wilson disciple--although this was overshadowed by my ongoing love affair with the Kinks. I bought Brian Wilson's 1988 solo album debut the week it came out in stores. There was some great stuff there--his arrangements and vocals are phenominal--but like others, I was turned off by the pap-psych influence of Eugene Landy. The best song on the disc (which I didn't appreciate as such until some years had passed) was the vocal rhapsody "Rio Grande." That's a song that echoes Wilson's best compositions and complexities, and shares stylistic roots with "Heroes and Villains" from the legendary "Smile" album.

So now Wilson has completed and released a "finished" version of "Smile", and naturally enough, I was compelled to grab it at first opportunity. I mean, really, who isn't curious to hear this most legendary of history's unreleased albums? Granted, this version isn't the same as what would've come out in '67, but listening to it I can tell it would probably have earned more acclaim than "Pet Sounds", and been as influential as the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper." Unfortunately, "Smile" probably would've been the least commercially successful of the lot. It's beautiful, but doesn't sound all that commercial.

I've never heard the Smile bootlegs that are floating around (someone wanna help me out here?) but am familiar with tracks released on ensuing Beach Boys albums like "Smiley Smile" and "20/20". I actually like the new version of "Heroes and Villians" better than the previously released one (which I felt somewhat tedious), and am impressed with the "Song for Children/Child is Father of the Man" sequence. I'm not that impressed with the new version of "Wind Chimes," and the new "Surf's Up" is good, but again, the original is more powerful. "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" is something of a disappointment. I'd heard the original "Fire" first on "The Beach Boys: An American Band" documentary, and really dug the raw intensity of it. I mean, who wouldn't be impressed by the band bringing in burning embers from a huge fire down the streat to enhance the ambience of the recording session? Granted, the drug-addled belief that the song was somehow causing the fire is less impressive, but you take the good with the bad. This new version strikes me as too slick and sterile. Which is probably my biggest criticism of the disc. Too slick and sterile. It's a beautiful album, and I'm glad it's finally out (after a fashion) but maybe without the conflict generated by Mike Love, Al Jardine and the rest, who were pushing for more commercial, less experimental music during the original "Smile" sessions, Brian Wilson was able to spend too much time polishing his masterwork?

Still, this is a worthy effort. The tragedy is that now it is merely a musical curiosity. Were it released 30 years ago, it'd be a landmark.

Now Playing: Brian Wilson Brian Wilson

Monday, November 22, 2004


Around midnight on Friday, thunder crashed and the heavens opened. It rained off and on all day Saturday, forcing Calista's birthday inside our house. Imagine 60-plus people, kids and adults, crammed into a space that'd be cramped with half that many. Sunday it rained off and on all day. Today is Monday, and the downpour has really started. Calista's school was cancelled (why build a school with four roads leading to it, when all four roads have low water crossings?). We've sent out media notices that Texas State University is shutting down at 3 p.m. because of rising waters. Not that this does me any good--I-35 between here and New Braunfels has water over the road, and is closed. Which means I can't get home as of now. I might be putting in some long hours tonight. Joy.

Now Playing: Brian Wilson Smile

Friday, November 19, 2004

The Spirit of Aggieland

The "Spirit that can ne'er be told" has never been stronger than at the Bonfire memorial dedication, which drew 50,000 from across the country. Unless, you count the spontaneous gathering at 2:42 a.m., which drew thousands as well.

Looking in, you can't understand it; looking out, you can't explain it. It simply is. For all of its faults (and it has many) this is what makes Texas A&M the greatest university in the world.

Now Playing: The Kinks The Road (Live)

Thursday, November 18, 2004


The 1999 Bonfire collapse, for Aggies at any rate, is one of those frozen moments in time, like the Kennedy assasination or the Challenger explosion. It's very difficult to express the conflict of emotions that rise when the subject of Bonfire is broached. It's hard to believe that it's been five years already. It seems like a lifetime ago, but also just yesterday. Calista was just a year old, and Lisa and I had discussed taking her to Bonfire the following week. Now, the prospect of my daughters growing up without ever having experienced Bonfire is a sad one, indeed. Five years later, there's still no closure. Nobody knows whether Bonfire will ever burn again, or not.
For many of those students, the longtime symbol of the Aggies’ burning desire to beat the University of Texas during the annual November football game is little more than a tale passed down from previous generations. Some have tried to keep the tradition alive with off-campus burnings, while others argue Bonfire should return to campus or forever be left in the past with its horrifying demise.

Five years after the early morning collapse on Nov. 18, 1999, killed 12 Aggies and injured 27, the legend and future of Bonfire have been stuck in limbo. Meanwhile, the university so closely linked to the tradition has looked for ways to move on.

We make it back to College Station several times a year, and have watched as the Bonfire memorial has taken shape. It's been an emotional experience, watching it go up. There's talk of eventually building a museum to chronicle the history of Bonfire, and house the tokens left by pilgrims to the site in the aftermath of the collapse in a "spontaneous shrine". My family went a month or so after the fall. The construction fence that cordoned off the dismantled stack was covered with flowers, wreaths, "pots," ax handles, crosses and all manner of paraphernalia that'd be meaningless to non-Aggies. We brought along a bunch of packets of maroon bluebonnet seeds, and let Calista scatter them along a nearby drainage channel on the Polo Fields. Then we pinned the packets to the fence.
Current and former students already are calling the Bonfire memorial, which is to be dedicated in ceremonies Thursday, the "Aggie Stonehenge." And while the appellation might seem grandiose, it is understandable. Designed by A&M graduates at Overland Partners, a San Antonio-based architectural firm, the monument is hauntingly severe, arguably timeless.

"It's breathtaking," said Milton "Chip" Thiel, who was seriously injured in the Bonfire accident. "It's absolutely breathtaking."

The administration appears to be--from most outside perspectives--attempting to end the prospects of any future Bonfire through neglect. If enough time passes, people won't care, and the calls to revive it will fade away. I don't think that will work, because, well, Aggies are Aggies and get downright obsessive over things like this. A segment of the student body has recognized this, and responded with a student Bonfire held off-campus. It's small and hard to get to, and anyone associated with the university--from football players to the Aggie Band--are forbidden to participate in any form. It's not the same, but it's grown every year. Hopefully, by the time the 10-year anniversary of the collapse rolls around, differences can be settled and Bonfire can return to campus in a safer, sanctioned form.

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

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Mister Sandman, bring me a dream

My review of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman: Endless Nights is now live over at RevSF.
But the Sandman's greatest strength was always the serialized nature of the ongoing story. Sure, Gaiman was an early practitioner of the extended story arc, a feat that lent itself nicely to the collection of the series in neatly self-contained reprint collections, each one featuring another chapter in the ongoing saga of Morpheus. But these books, whether they collected The Wake or The Doll's House were always part of something bigger. They fit within a greater whole, were a part of a greater tale that grew in the telling. In that sense, Gaiman was a latter-day Dickens, only his Nicholas Nickleby was published monthly in 22-page funny books rather than 32-pagers with green covers in the 19th century.

It's good stuff, although it isn't the best of the Sandman stories. Too episodic for that. Personally, I'm still waiting for the story that explores Delight's transformation into Delirium.

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

After the Battle is over

I finally finished reading Battle on Mercury for the first time in 26 years or so.
Battle on Mercury, by Eric Van Lhin

How was it? Suprisingly, it was pretty much as I remembered it. I'm amazed that I retained such a clear picture of the story--wispies and demons, the frozen oxygen, crashed spaceships, space tractors--many of the details were as I remembered, or close to it. There were flaws in the story that I didn't remember, but suspected. This was a juvenile published in the pre-New Wave period, after all, and there's a great deal of clunky knife-switch and misguided technology choices in the story (why wouldn't a Mercury mining outpost use solar power?), but for when it was written the science is more or less accurate (Mercury tidally locked in its orbit is the most obvious example of obsolete science). The biggest problem is the actual writing style. There's a lot of "tell, don't show," at work here. If you watch the film versions of "Day of the Triffids" or "Puppet Masters," you'll know that as soon as the heroes figure out how to defeat the alien invaders, the movie skips forward past the implementation of said plan, and everyone's patting each other on the back saying, "Wow, that plan sure worked great!" That's at work in Battle on Mercury. There's buildup to a course of action, then said action is discussed in the aftermath, but the action itself often happens off-stage. When action does happen on-stage, it usually gets a couple of sentences, then a page or so of characters discussing what just happened. Fortunately, the book clips along at a good pace, so it never gets boring, and it's always fun. But I read it and see so much potential, and so much missed opportunity because the writer was following convention rather than serving the story.

Although the book's too dated to find much of a modern audience (no way it competes with Harry Potter--Rowling's writing, for all its flaws, is far more accomplished) I'm more convinced than ever that Battle on Mercury would serve as the basis for a very cool movie. It's got a linear race-against-the-clock plot, a straightforward man-against-nature theme, loads of exotic settings and weird aliens and robots. Plus, it's a coming-of-age tale that could be done on a budget. Cross "October Sky" with Heinlein's Have Spacesuit, Will Travel and you begin to get an idea of what this could be. The beats and scenes break themselves down nicely. If Lester Del Rey's estate is looking for someone to work this up into a screenplay, hey, I'm your guy.

Reading the story also helped me solidify some of the ideas I've been mulling over in my head regarding that YA SF novel I mentioned a while back. I'm more convinced than ever now that I could pull it off. It wouldn't be Harry Potter, but it'd be a pretty good book, I think, with an adult crossover appeal akin to Steve Gould's Jumper. And the name of this brilliant as-yet-to-be-written confection of fictiony goodness? Sailing Venus. You heard it here first.

Now Playing: J. Geils Band Flashback

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

You know, Stalin didn't believe in evolution either

It's true. He had the Soviet school system teach Lamarckian theory for decades, crippling science education from the Ukraine to Siberia. But hey, what's good for godless commies is good for God-fearing fundamentalists, right?
"We were very pleased by the science standard that was developed" in Ohio, said John West, associate director of the Center for Science & Culture of the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank active in opposing the teaching of evolution in schools around the country. He added, "I certainly do see more of these policies being pursued" as the No Child Left Behind law prompts states to review their science curricula.

The law requires review of all subjects, and in most states the process is well underway in English and math. The reviews, conducted by state school boards, can lead to changes in curriculum, textbook selection, and standardized test content. School board officials are elected or appointed by elected officials and therefore subject to political pressure.

This movement is frightening to me. Creationists' characterization of evolution as "hypothesis" ignores the fact that scientific theory is, indeed, fact. They're not up in arms about Einstein's Theory of Relativity, are they? Or the theoretical laws of thermodynamics? No, to them it's crystal clear that dinosaurs drowned in the Great Flood, which also carved out the Grand Canyon.

What's next? Do we change geography textbooks to include the theory that the world is flat? Do astronomy textbooks need to start presenting "evidence" that the Earth is the center of the universe? After all, the Bible says Isaiah 45:18: “...who made the earth and fashioned it, and himself fixed it fast...” and Revelation 7:1: "And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree."

I'm taking this very seriously. Sunday night I wrote to each of the members of the local school board imploring them to not give in to any creationist pressures that may come to bear. I haven't heard of anything like this happening in New Braunfels, but my letter accomplishes two things: 1) it's a pre-emptive voice of support for those who would stand up against dumbing down curricula, and 2) it puts those who would pander to the creationists on notice that there are members of the community watching them closely, ready to act if they try anything.

And I will. I'll happily take on the creationists, because the pope is on my side. So while we're waiting for the Bible to hit the fan, let's all relax by watching Inherit the Wind. Spencer Tracy is da bomb, but you know, that Gene Kelly kid really steals the show...

Now Playing: Eurythmics Greatest Hits

Monday, November 15, 2004

It's away

I finished the final review of the page proofs for Voices of Vision last night. Corrected a number of typos, added some lost indentations and inserted some lost quotation marks. On the whole, pretty much what you'd expect from a manuscript proof at this stage of the game.


I found a particularly stupid blunder on my part in Neil Gaiman's interview. Gaiman's discussing how the subconscious plans ahead in series writing, and uses as an example Terry Pratchett's character of Ronnie Soak, who was the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse, only he quite before the group made it big. Pratchett never considered what Soak was actually a horseman of until several books down the line, when he realized Soak spelled backwards was "Kaos." Of course, I spelled it "Chaos." I missed that goof I don't know how many times. Gaiman missed it on his review of the material. No less than two other copyeditors missed it as well. I feel dumb, but it's fixed now.

And the manuscript has been sent on its merry way to Nebraska. It should be there by Wednesday at the latest, if the good folks at FedEx are to be believed.

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

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Aggies win. I am happy.

A 32-25 overtime victory over Texas Tech isn't ideal, but I'll take it. It was very nice to see the Aggies win this year. There are a bunch of other schools that count as bigger, more enjoyable wins. The Longhorns, of course. Then you also have to add in the Sooners. Used to be, back in the days of the SWC, Arkansas was great to beat. Around that same time, we were whipping up on LSU as well. I was always so happy after beating those teams. Losses hurt, but you knew that was a quality program that beat you, so there was no shame.

There's much shame in losing to Tech. Longhorns may be arrogant and in-your-face when they win, but hey, they've got the history to back it up. And they generally concede the better team won when they lose. Red Raider fans, though, the majority of them in my experience are rude and uncouth no matter what. A few months back, my wife hosted a La Leche playgroup in our home, and one mother who attended saw we'd graduated from A&M and started in about how stupid Aggies were, and how sorry our football team was. And this woman--who we barely knew--was a guest in our home. That, unfortunately, is par for the course with Tech fans in my experience. So I don't derive that much joy in beating them, but I can't imagine a wose team to lose to.

Now Playing: Styx Greatest Hits

Friday, November 12, 2004

Austin 2006

It's official: Austin will be hosting the World Fantasy Convention in 2006. The dates are November 2-5. Am I excited? You betcha. It was rumored that landing World Fantasy was a done deal several years back, since that would coincide with the Robert E. Howard centennial. But then Melbourne, Australia, decided to put together a bid. Because 2006 was the only year Melbourne could easily organize said convention, Austin was to drop out. Which really stinks due to the R.E.H. angle, not to mention there's no way I'd be able to swing a trip Down Under. But something, somewhere, changed. And that's good news as far as I'm concerned.

The only other World Fantasy I've managed to attend was, obviously enough, the one in Corpus Christi in 2000. That was a great deal of fun, and was one of the best con-going experiences I'd ever had. The same able-bodied crew will be working on the Austin edition, who so happen to be the geniuses who bring us Armadillocon every year as well. Now, I have no more excuses: I have to get my novel(s) finished so I can do some real business there. That gives me a little under two years--I wonder if even I can procrastinate that long?

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Atom Heart Mother

Thursday, November 11, 2004

UNIVAC will conquer all!

Do you ever sit around wondering what a state-of-the-art home computer would look like in 1954? You know, the kind Blofeld and Dr. Strangelove would use to design their doomsday devices? Well, thanks to this image, which I got from Susan Froebel, wonder no more:

RAND Corp. home computer, 1954

Boy, that RAND Corporation was way ahead of its time. Even equipped the computer with a steering wheel, so that users can take it with them on road trips. I can only hope it came with an imperious speech synthesizer that said cool things like, "Die, puny humans!" or, "Hah! I've removed your mouth--let's see you scream now!"

Now Playing: George Strait Strait Out of the Box

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Voices of Vision: We have a cover!

The good folks at Nebraska have been kind enough to send me a mock up of the cover for my forthcoming book, Voices of Vision. Now, I'll be the first to admit that this is in no way the look I was expecting, but it's really grown on me. If nothing else, it's striking and will grab people's attention on the bookstore shelves.

Voices of Vision, by Jayme Lynn Blaschke

I don't know who the cover designer is, so I haven't had a chance to discuss the thought behind the imagery. Are they Neil Gaiman fans, and saw this as an opportunity to illustrate the Corinthian? Or was the juxtaposition of the mouth and eyes inspired by conflating "Voices" and "Vision"?

In any event, it seems clear that Nebraska is putting a good bit of effort into my book. It's being published under the Bison Frontiers of the Imagination series, but with a cover that breaks it out from the style of those reprint novels. I'd be happy to hear the thoughts of loyal (and disloyal) Gibberish readers on the matter.

Now Playing: Ettore Stratta Music from the Galaxies

Monday, November 08, 2004

Insects away!

Yesterday I finished up my final entry for Gary Westfahl's Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy Themes. Insects was a fun piece to research and write (as I expected--which is why I volunteered for it in the first place) and after giving it and my Giants entry a thorough going-over, emailed them both to Westfahl in California.

I suppose I should point out here that they were both a week late. What can I say? I had Turkey City demanding my time, and Turkey City is a priority. Fortunately, Westfahl allowed me the extra week.

The bad news regarding Insects is that once again I had enough material for a solid 5,000-word article, but was constrained to a strict 1,000-word limit. Fortunately, I'm finally getting the hang of writing to specific lengths, and was able to abandon planned digressions before I wrote them. The result was very little of the hack-and-slash editing that characterized the first three entries I wrote for this Encyclopedia, Superman, Clifford Simak's City and Wonder Woman.

Folks keeping score at home will note that I made reference to H.G. Wells' The Empire of the Ants, H.M. Wogglebug T.E., Alien, Farscape, Octavia Butler's "Bloodchild," Them!, The Fly, the Borg from Star Trek, several different Babylon 5 species and Patricia Anthony's Brother Termite. There's even some Stanislaw Lem in there, as well as some obvious SF novels not listed. I'm happy with how it turned out (the Giants entry, too), but as usual, regret some of the cool facts and stories I turned up during research that there wasn't room to include. When the three-volume set comes out next year, you can let me know if I bungled it or not.

Now Playing: The Doors Best of the Doors

The Incredibles

My review of the new Pixar animation spectacular, The Incredibles, is now up over at RevolutionSF for your reading pleasure.
Wow. I've just seen pretty much the perfect Fantastic Four film imaginable. Impossible, you say? No, Incredible. Brad Bird, the mad genius behind the criminally overlooked film The Iron Giant does himself one better with this foray into the realm of superhero action. If Marvel Comics has any sense whatsoever, they would convince 20th Century Fox to fire director Tim Story, tear up the script by Michael France and Mark Frost, and turn the in-production Fantastic Four picture over to Bird to do with as he will. Unfortunately for comics fans, Bird would turn the offer down — why make the same movie twice?

To say I liked it would be something of an understatement. This just may become my favorite superhero movie of all time. Better than Spider-Man (1 or 2) and the X-Men films. Better than any Batman. Maybe even better than Superman, and that's saying something.

Now Playing: Rush Chronicles

Friday, November 05, 2004

One Giant project completed

I finished the GIANTS entry for the Encyclopedia of Themes in Science Fiction and Fantasy, and with only a little bit of hesitancy, I think I'm starting to get the hang of it. This one took longer to write than I'd anticipated, mainly because life kept intruding, but when I finished it up, the piece was only 38 words over the length limit. Not too shabby. Particularly when you consider the fact that a 1,000-word limit is far, far too short a space to do justice to any particular subject.

Still, I think I've managed to give a good outline of giants' mythological origins and use in contemporary fantasy and science fiction literature. Terry Gilliam fans will be happy to note that I did include references to both Time Bandits and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (someday I'd like to write a story titled The Adventures of Baron Munchausen Across the Eighth Dimension, but I suspect that's simply begging for trouble). Other films referenced include the Fleischer Superman shorts, The Iron Giant and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Books you may have heard of include Harry Potter, Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun and Ballard's super-duper cool short story "The Drowned Giant" to name a few. Books that I couldn't manage to fit in were Goldman's Princess Bride (Fezzik's more of a giant in the movie, anyway, which, incidentally, didn't make it in either) and Farmer's Riverworld (which stinks, because I like the whole titanthrops concept).

Now, I get to throw myself full-bore into finishing the INSECTS entry, which is going easier since the topic naturally breaks itself into fantasy and science fiction sections. Hive minds galore! H.M. Wogglebug, T.E.! Brother Termite! Starship Troopers! Hookah-smoking caterpillars! I'd probably have the whole thing finished tonight if I weren't off to see The Incredibles. I'd probably have it finished tomorrow if we weren't going to Riverdance for Lisa's birthday. I'd probably have it finished Sunday, if it weren't for Wurstfest. Uh oh. Looks like I'm running out of weekend...

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

Thursday, November 04, 2004

To umlaut, or not to umlaut

My last name gets mangled more than anything. People panic when they see it, and have this overwhelming compulsion to insert extra letters, vowels and even syllables in it. For example, I had a teacher one time that insisted on pronouncing it as if it were derived from the name of a 1950s housewife: "Blanch-key." Another popular variation sounds like a negative review of disposable razors: "Blah-shick." There have been others over the years, some quite creative, managing to use almost none of the letters actually present for their pronunciation.

Honestly, I don't get it. Yes, there are quite a few letters present, and it's not a common name that people are going to be very familiar with, so I can see how it would give a person pause on first viewing. But there aren't any silent Zs present as in Czech names, or random sounds made by unexpected letters as in other Eastern European or Slavic names. It's B-L-A-S-C-H-K-E. The name is Germanic in origin, and my immediate ancestors immigrated from Austria in 1860-61. That corner of Europe was one of those constantly in flux, however, and Blaschkes would readily be found in Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia (particularly the Sudetenland) and even Poland.

Blaschke is pronounced almost exactly as it's spelled, with one minor exception. Under English pronounciation rules, the "a" should be a short vowel sound, as in "apple." This is incorrect. Being Germanic in origin, the "a" is pronounced like the "o" in "bother." So the pronounciation is closer to "Blaw-sh-key" than "Blay-sky" or "Blass-key" or other interpretations. The "schke" is pronounced "sh-key," only as one syllable and the "c" giving the "sh" a harder, coarser beat. Forgive my mangled phoenetic spellings, but they get the idea across.

I've been thinking about this lately with my book inching closer to publication. It's a simple, silly issue, but to a degree everyone wants their name pronounced correctly, no? Simple vanity or pride if nothing else. Sure, it's a good screener for telemarketers, but then again so's the phone ringing. Assuming people can get the second half of the name right most of the time, it's that initial "a" that is the stumbling block. It's not a normal English pronunciation, and therefore things spiral out of control from that point on.

So I'm thinking of adding an umlaut.

Yeah, I know. That will most likely confuse people even more. I can't argue with that. But adding a pronunciation guide to the name will at least make me feel like I've made an effort to clarify matters. And I suspect that someone seeing a umlaut-a will instinctively go for a more gutteral Germanic pronunciation. Umlauts being so stereotypically German, after all. More importantly, I think it'd look cool. Pompous, yes. Pretentious, yes. But cool nonetheless. Let's take a look, shall we?





Jayme Lynn Bläschke

Yes indeed, there's no doubt about it. The umlautted name is significantly better-looking than the umlaut-less name. And I hereby decree that I shall immediately and forthwith convert all instances of my last name to this new and improved version... just as soon as my wife quits laughing herself silly over the notion.

Join us next time, kids, when I discuss the hilarity my first name, Jayme, prompts when people assume I'm either A) female or B) Hispanic, not to mention my middle name, Lynn, which has a variety of unfortunate porn star connotations.

Now Playing: Berlin Philharmonic The Ring Without Words: Highlights from Wagner's Ring Cycle

Wednesday, November 03, 2004


Yesterday a freshman at the university apparently committed suicide via self-inflicted gunshot wound. Very sad. When kids have so much life and potential ahead of them, to see it cut short for any reason at all is depressing. Especially if you're a parent and know that your kids are going to have to face these same pressures when they reach that age.

There's not much you can do in these situations. You do your job. You answer the media inquiries. You gather the victim's personal information and a photo for release once next-of-kin have been notified. You hope the area newspapers and television stations are too preoccupied with the election to take much of an interest. You whisper brief prayers for the family, and try to keep an emotional distance without being callous.

You answer phone calls from worried students who've heard through the rumor mill that a gunman has killed a bunch of people in the library. Stupid rumor mill.

Then there's the whole election thing, and the fact that my encyclopedia entries for Giants and Insects are proving more difficult to write than I anticipated. I guess you could say that I'm a veritable barrel of laughs today. Or not.

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

Tuesday, November 02, 2004


Someone, somewhere once uttered words to the effect that a society always gets the government that it deserves. Since I don't have Bartlett's handy, it'll have to go unattributed. But there is a scary kind of logic in that simple phrase--society doesn't get the best, or the worst, or the indifferent. It gets the government it deserves. Looking back to the turn of century (the 20th century) there does indeed seem to be a spooky symmetry played out in four- to eight-year arcs. Are voters intelligent enough to look beyond oft-repeated talking points and 30-second attack ads to discern the real issues? Are they capable of going beyond knee-jerk, emotional reactions and think through the consequences of their vote? Are they willing to forgo lock-step straight-party voting in order to guarantee the best possible candidate rather than mindless party loyalty?

With luck, we'll know inside of 24 hours. Either way, we'll get what we deserve. Excuse me if I don't find that entirely reassuring.

Now Playing: Franz Schubert Fantasia in C "Wanderer"

Monday, November 01, 2004

Scene of the crime

Turkey City Writers Workshop and Neo-Pro Rodeo, 10/30/04

Here are the participants of the Turkey City Writers Workshop and Neo-Pro Rodeo, October 2004 edition. Pictured left to right are Steve Wilson, Mikal Trim, Howard Waldrop, Jayme Blaschke, Wendy Wheeler, Lawrence Person, Bruce Sterling, Jessica Reisman, Chris Nakashima-Brown and Tam Thompson. Workshop participants not pictured are Lou Antonelli, who was taking the picture, and Don Webb, who left to get decorated as a werewolf, because going to cool costume parties is apparently more fun than hanging around with a bunch of motley writers.

Now Playing: Tangerine Dream The Private Music of Tangerine Dream

Weekend update

Highlights, in no particular order, of my weekend:

Did the whole trick-or-treat thing with the girls. Calista was Sailor Moon. Keela was Princess Annalise from the Barbie "Princess and the Pauper" DVD. Both made a haul on candy from our neighborhood. They had a great time. Once they had so much candy they couldn't carry their bags o' loot anymore, we separated the cheap, yucky candy out and added it to the cache we were handing out to the trick-or-treaters coming to our house. Mixed in with the candy we were handing out were a goodly number of limestone rocks. When the adolescent bullies of the neighborhood came 'round (usually without costumes, just saying "Gimmme candy") we took great delight in slipping the stones in their bags in lieu of the good stuff. Too bad we didn't get the opportunity to see them exclaim "I got a rock!" later on in the evening.

When the hordes of kids tapered off, we went indoors and watched our video of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown followed by the DVD of Young Frankenstein. The latter is not, as the case would have you believe, "The Funniest Comedy of All Time!" It's not even the funniest Mel Brooks film (that would be Blazing Saddles, of course). But it's a darn good riff on the old James Whale films, and is utterly inspired in its lunacy at times. Good stuff.

The Aggies got upset by Baylor on Saturday. This is Bad. Let us never speak of it again.

Turkey City was interesting, to say the least. As usual, some of the comments regarding my story, "Prince Koindrindra Escapes" were quite helpful, others less so. To further muddy the waters, the story prompted the widest variety of responses of any piece of fiction I've ever submitted to the Turkey City meat grinder. Don Webb floored me by saying my piece was by far the best of the workshop, and ending with "I am in awe." Then I was promptly brought back to Earth by Jessica Reisman, who hated it with a passion and lamented that every time she finished one page, there was another after it she had to read. The other responses generally fell somewhere between the two extremes. Needless to say, some rewriting is in order.

Now Playing: The Police Message in a Box