Saturday, July 30, 2005

A poop sandwich, yes. But a quality poop sandwich

Many things piss me off. One of those things happens to be a football coach making several million dollars a year condescending to fans that loading up the schedule with patsies is something to be proud of. Yet that's exactly the snake oil Dennis Franchione is selling these days:
From a coach's viewpoint, you have to understand some things. One, we play a collision sport. We're playing with young men basically 17-22 years old. At Pittsburg State, in Division II, we had playoffs and experienced 15-16 game seasons, and I can tell you it's a grind. Reggie McNeal, our quarterback this season, was talking on one of our trips about his senior year in the high school playoffs and how by the 15th game it was punishing.

Well, yeah. But NCAA Division I-A programs have 85 scholarship athletes, plus walk-ons. That's 20-30 or so more than a Division II program. And because academics is so much more important at the Division I-A level, there is no 16-game season, including playoffs. The season is only 11 games long. Oops. I mean 12 games, since the academically-minded presidents just added another.
Here's another thing to consider as a fan: we have 85 scholarship players, and another 40 or so walk-ons. They all want to play. They all want you to see them play. In the pre-conference schedule we have a chance to schedule some games in which they have a chance to play at home. While none of those games is a gimmee, they are games that help us prepare for the grind of the eight-game Big 12 schedule and, hopefully, get some young and new players game experience before we start playing for a championship.

Oh, I see. You have to be able to blow out other teams, otherwise al the underclassmen won't get a chance to step onto the field, and that wouldn't be fair. So that means you don't have enough players to play a 16-game schedule, because your bench isn't deep enough, but you have too many players to face decent opponents. Makes sense to me.
What we need from Aggie fans is a mindset that Kyle Field is the greatest place for college football on a Saturday in the fall, and it doesn't matter who we're playing against. You want to come to watch and root for the good guys and create an intimidating environment for the bad guys. You want to do what our players do -- play for the name on the front of the maroon jersey. It makes no difference what the name is on the other team's jersey. When you fill up Kyle Field, you're helping us win, and financially you're helping every other Aggie athlete on 20 other sports teams.

Ah, so here we get to the gist of it--it's the fan's fault! There's something wrong with us if we're interested in something more than Sam Houston State getting clobbered by 75. You betcha. For some strange reason, I'd always thought that the game of football implied, you know, competition. I was a sports writer for the better part of a decade, and covered Big 12 football fairly regularly. Teams may claim to crave media attention and television exposure, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why there are more reporters and TV cameras at Floyd Casey Stadium for the Baylor vs. Colorado non-conference matchup than for Baylor vs. Louisiana Tech.

If a coach that's making millions every year wants to load up on cream puffs ala Bill Snyder, fine. Go ahead. Just don't get uppity and try to convince us that's not what you're doing. That Franchione takes offense when Old Ags suggest playing LSU or Arkansas in a non-conference series is disingenuous in the extreme. LSU is by far our longest-running non-conference rival, with lots of history there. There was a passion at those games exceeded only by the Turkey Day matchups with t.u. And Arkansas, while I have no desire to play them again, are a former SWC rival, so there's a legit connection there as well.

What probably offends me the most about Franchione's comments is the implied "all or nothing" context. That fans want every single non-conference game to be against a top 10 opponent. And, from Franchione's perspective, if we don't play 4-5 cream puffs then we'll be too banged up to have a prayer in Big 12 play. That's a crock. Jackie Sherrill had a vocal philosophy of playing one marquee matchup in the non-conference slate, one mid-level opponent and one easy win. R.C. Solcum had a policy of taking on any challenger, which meant many of his schedules were polarized with tough teams on one end and gimmies on the other.

Now that there are four non-conference games available on a yearly basis, there is absolutely no excuse for not having at least one decent game on the slate. This year's slate, with Clemson, SMU and Texas State, is almost respectable. Clemson, no doubt, will be a stout challenge in Death Valley, but any way you slice it, SMU and Texas State will be blowouts. But Clemson's legit, and validates the schedule (although I'd much rather the Tigers no be our season opener). I give the schedule a B. Next year's lineup included the Citadel, Army and Troy State. Army is a good matchup because of the schools' shared military heritage, but what is gained by playing the Citadel? Troy State's a team that can upset a major program on any given Saturday, yet we get no credit for a win. Replace Troy State with Florida State, our original opponent, and I'd give the lineup a solid A for generating fan interest and excitement. As it stands, the current schedule gets a D-minus. For 2007, Miami is the only opponent lined up thus far, so that alone earns a preliminary B ranking. But after seeing Franchione's thoughts on scheduling, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if Miami quietly goes away in the next year or so, replaced by New Mexico State or the like.

Welcome to big-time college football.

Now Playing: Various Artists Moonlighting: The Television Soundtrack Album

Introducing... the 10th planet!

I started hearing about this Friday afternoon on some space science newsgroups I was on, and by this evening they'd literally erupted with news. It'll be all over the media by Saturday, but what I guarantee will be overlooked or mangled is the fact that not one, but three planet-sized Trans-Neptunian Objects have been found! Mike Brown, operating out of the Palomar Observatory, has a site up with information about the TNO they're officially calling 2003 UB313 for now (but on the sly, they're calling it Lila). And, oh, here's a picture of the little tyke:

Two days ago, a Spanish team under the leadership of Jose Ortiz reported 2003 EL61. Early on, it had the potential to be larger than Pluto, but then a moon was discovered orbiting it, which altered the equations and reduced EL61's size to roughly a third of Pluto's. It's located at a distance of 51 A.U. from the sun, and the satellite around EL61 has a 49-day orbital period, if you were curious.

The third TNO, provisionally named 2005 FY9, also had a possible size range that exceeded Pluto's, but measurements from NASA's space-bases Spitzer telescope appear to indicate 2005 FY9 is indeed slightly smaller than Pluto as well.

So what about 2003 UB313 then? According to Mike Brown, it is unequivocally larger than Pluto in diameter, but no larger than twice Pluto's diameter. This raises an interesting point that I think will be overlooked in the following days. People are going to fixate on Pluto's diameter of 2,300 km. But Mercury has a diameter of 2,439 km, and Mars has a dimeter of 3,397. If UB313 has a diameter merely half again as much as Pluto--splitting the difference between the maximum and minimum range--then there's a planet the size of Mars out there in the icy nether regions of the solar system. All of those astronomers who try to claim Pluto isn't really a planet because it's really just a large TNO will be hard-pressed to dismiss this one via the same logic.

Things we know already about UB313: It has a 560-year orbit that is tilted a steep 44 degrees to the eliptic. Plus, its orbit is highly eccentric. The world is currently 97 A.U. from the sun (making it the most distant object in the solar system, period) but at perihelion it is only 35.5 A.U. out. For the sake of comparison, Pluto's aphelion is 49 A.U. and perihelion is 29 A.U. Wow.

As for the planet's formal name, Persephone has already been suggested...

Now Playing: Monks of the Benedictine Abbey el Calcat with Boy's Choir from L'Alumnat A Treasury of Gregorian Chants

Friday, July 29, 2005

Metropolis, sans Superman

Huh. So I finally got around to watching Metropolis--the 2002 anime film, not Fritz Lang's 1927 opus. Interesting and well-crafted film, even if it never engaged me fully. In fact, it took me two nights to watch it, because I fell asleep halfway through the first night. I think part of the problem was that the look of the amimation kept making me feel like I was watching a Bakshi movie. Only one with a coherent plot and without that damn rotoscope.

Now Playing: Elvis 30 #1 Hits

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Talk about a sweet patch of ice, eh?

The NHL just released its 2005-06 season schedule, including the busiest opening night in league history. So busy, in fact, one wonders where they're going to find enough ice to play all those games on. Well, wonder no more--the European Space Agency has come through with this gorgeous, virgin rink:

Granted, it's not regulation, and the commute will be a bear, but I think the natural scenic beauty more than makes up for it.
The HRSC on ESA's Mars Express obtained this perspective view on 2 February 2005 during orbit 1343 with a ground resolution of approximately 15 metres per pixel.

It shows an unnamed impact crater located on Vastitas Borealis, a broad plain that covers much of Mars's far northern latitudes, at approximately 70.5° North and 103° East.

The crater is 35 kilometres wide and has a maximum depth of approximately 2 kilometres beneath the crater rim. The circular patch of bright material located at the centre of the crater is residual water ice.

Now Playing: Vivaldi Concerto in C for Two Trumpets

Were I a fisherman

Were I a fisherman, I'd be ready, willing and able to stretch the truth a tad. Since I'm not (haven't really been fishing in 20 years) I'm a might reluctant to make mountains outta molehills. But...

For quite a while now I've been shopping a couple of anthology proposals around the publishing world. Early on there was an editor who fell in love with one, and all but had the contract drawn up before before his superiors told him "No" in unequivocal terms. Since then, it's been a series of "Hey, this is a neat idea. No, our people won't go for it. Good luck elsewhere!" Until now.

No, I won't go so far as to say we've got a nibble (hence the fishing reference above). But I can say there is an editor fish circling, eyeing the proposals with wary interest. Maybe we'll get a bite on both. Maybe on one but not the other. Maybe said fish will swim off to better feeding grounds. I dunno. Hopefully things will be clearer in a month or so. But by gosh and by golly, this is good news as far as I'm concerned. Whee!

Now Playing: Schubert Symphony no. 4, "Tragic"

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

World Fantasy Con

Hey hey hey! The 2006 World Fantasy Convention has a website. I'm a wee bit concerned that I'm not listed as an attending member, since I sent in my registration back at the end of June, but I'm sure that'll get sorted out sooner or later. The important thing is that it's filling up quick--register now, while you still can!

Okay, call off the attack dogs. I am indeed listed as an attending member in the downloadable progress report no. 1 (even if my name is misspelled). Everyone can rest easy now.

Now Playing: SubVision and Guy Gross Farscape Soundtrack

Best. Google. Ever.

Presenting the Moon. Granted, it does get a tad low-res and distorted once you get past 75 degrees lattitude in the polar regions, but hey, it's the moon. And I do wish they'd add the Ranger, Surveyor, Lunokhod and other unmanned landing sites. But again, it's the moon.

Thanks to Science Fiction Blog for the link!

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

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Hey! Another review!

There's a review of Voices of Vision in the latest issue (no. 260) of The Science Fiction Chronicle (actually, it's just Chronicle, but when you say that, nobody knows what the hell you're talking about). In the "Critical Mass" section, Don D'Ammassa gives it a brief but positive writeup:
Another collection of interviews with prominent writers. There are seventeen interviews here, ranging from a section with editors like Gardner Dozois and Gordon Van Gelder to fantasy writers like Charles de Lint and Robin Hobb, to comic book writers like Neil Gaiman. The entries for Harlan Ellison, Gene Wolfe and Samuel R. Delany were the most interesting for me, but personal tastes will vary. The interviewer does a very fine job of enticing interesting responses from her subjects. Terrible cover on the book though.

Ooh, another fence-straddler on the cover issue! I wish these folks would make up their minds and say what they're really thinking already.

Also, as an added bonus, this issue also contains an ad for VoV. It does look like they've learned their lesson from the more-is-less fiasco with the Fantasy & Science Fiction ad from a few months back, because this one features large cover scans of VoV and Queen of Atlantis, and no more. The ad copy plugs seven different books (including mine) but the layout and design is crisp and eye-catching, very easy to read. It really helps that it's printed on an 8.5x11 inch glossy page, though, as opposed to the 4x5 (or whatever) newsprint page from F&SF. It will be enlightening to see how effective Nebraska's and my joint promotional efforts have been once I get my first royalty statement in a couple of months...

Now Playing: The Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos Chant

There are officially too many summer camps

Long years ago (as Grandpa Fritz used to say) there was summer camp, which actually involved camping in the wilderness and such. For me, it was Boy Scout Camp on the Blanco River. Then educational camps got into the act--I spent several summers at Texas A&M-Galveston in the marine biology, archaeology and space science summer programs they had there. Sports followed, with football and baseball camps at major universities, along with drill team camps and cheerleader camps and whatnot. Soccer camps (shudder) have really taken off in the last 10 years or so. But I tell you, friends and neighbors, the end is truly near when Austin radio stations are running ads for cricket camps. I kid you not. I'll be the first to admit that "sticky wicket" is fun to say in mixed company (mainly because it sounds vaguely dirty) but in all honesty, is the U.S. of A. really ready for cricket? I mean, isn't that why we invented baseball in the first place?

Now Playing: Billy Joel Rarities vol. III

Monday, July 25, 2005


My review for the Neil Gaiman/Dave McKean MirrorMask: The Illustrated Screenplay is now live over at RevolutionSF.
Mirrormask: The Illustrated Film Script isn’t likely to become as beloved a work as Gaiman’s other fiction offerings because, well, it’s a film script. Scripts, by their very nature, don’t lend themselves to casual reading as does other prose. Film is, after all, a collaborative nature. Directors, actors, producers and all manner of studio executives influence the final product, and the truth of the matter is that the writer is often regarded as a bottom-feeder in the circle of cinematic life. Whereas novels are lush with scene-setting and character background that flesh out a central plot to the tune of 300-plus pages, a solid movie script will generally clock in somewhere under 120 pages total--one script page equals one minute of screen time is the general rule. So when it comes to scripts, the writing is invariably stark and bare, leaving room for the director to tell much of the story visually. More importantly, however, the writer has to imply much of the needed character background and relationships, not to mention history and pertinent sub-plot details in the characters’ words. To say that the scriptwriter has to choose his or her words very carefully is a vast understatement, particularly when one takes into account that words that read well on the printed page do not necessarily sound at all natural when actually spoken aloud.

What I'm most proud of is the end-all, be-all of cover blurbs that I somehow managed to peck out before I could think better of it. It turns up toward the end, third graf from the bottom. I know there's no way the publisher will use it for any of the various MirrorMask books forthcoming, but golly, would I love to have something like that on one of my books!

Now Playing: Billy Joel Songs in the Attic

Doctor Love revisited

Way back in the shadowy mists of my college years, there was a band that rose up to to stride as giants over the College Station music scene for one brief, shining moment: Dr. Love and the Erogenous Zones. Comprised of Kerry and Kelly Shatzer (who I knew pre-band days) and several other members I recall only via their stage names, they were a hell of a lot of fun to see, heckle, listen to and drink beer with. The stage personas were Dr. Love, Vinnie Vomit, Guido, Nurse Chastity and Hans Amadeus Wolfgang von Ax of Ulm. In their latter days, Hans (the base player) graduated and left the band, to be replaced briefly by a girl named Annie before they broke up for good.

They couldn't sing. Could barely play. But that didn't diminish the fun factor on iota. They became a huge draw around A&M, and eventually played gigs in Dallas and Houston. Austin remained elusive, however. I talked them into holding a concert for Aggiecon 22 at the Grove outdoor theatre prior to that night's showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, where they were joined by local legend "Sneaky Pete" Rizzo. They had songs played on the Dr. Demento show. They created such musical gems as "Love Sneeze," "Inflatable Woman," "Sexist Pig" and "Hefty Hefty Hefty." They covered Billy and the Boingers as well as Plan 9. And they had some really wicked, perverted parody songs that would make Weird Al turn very, very red.

Driving to work this morning, Robert Palmer's "Doctor Doctor" started playing on the radio, and it took me a moment to realize I was singing right along with it--only I was singing the Dr. Love lyrics from 15 years ago. Bizarre how I can remember that, but not my phone number:
Hot summer nights and a one-night stand
who I was seeing more than I planned
then one night while we were in bed
my face turned blue when she said--

Doctor! Doctor! I've got bad news
I'm gonna have a baby because of you
Oooh I forgot to take my pill
I'm gonna have a baby because of you

Just one mistake can change your life
that one-night stand became my wife
burping babies and diaper rash
I'm now a dad because I was outta cash


Don't you know that you'll pay for your sins
I feel so old now 'cause she had twins


I've still got my official Dr. Love concert shirt tucked in a drawer at home, although it's not in the best of condition these days. I used to have a bootleg tape of their best parodies, but that one vanished somewhere along the way. Every so often, I run into an old college pal who claims to have both bootleg and their lone commercial release, but he never quite comes through with the copy. Ah well. At least the glory of Dr. Love lives on in my memory.

Aaaaay batterbatterbatter SA-wing batter!

Now Playing: Brian Wilson Smile

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Austin signing

It went fairly well, at least in comparison to yesterday's. The floor manager set me up with a bottle of water and 30--count 'em, 30!--copies of my book, and I didn't have much contact with anyone from the store after that. My in-laws stopped by to offer moral support, and also bought some children's books for the girls. Then I was on my own. There was the usual assortment of vaguely curious folks coming up to chat. One guy named Ed was a huge Star Trek and Babylon 5 fan, and as soon as he heard there was a Harlan Ellison interview in the book, he bought it on the spot. I like those kinds of guys. I sold a few books--which was a few more than I did yesterday--and was pleased to see that they already had a number of them on the store's shelves.

The highlight, though, was a guy who came out specifically to see me and talk even though he was short of cash and couldn't buy a book then (Hi Jan!). That's cool. The fact that he felt I was worth the effort is flattering enough in its own right.

Now Playing: The Righteous Brothers Unchained Melody

Saturday, July 23, 2005

A lesson in humility

Well, today's signing at Borders did not go well. Not a single, solitary book sold or signed despite several hours of smiling and pressing the flesh. Half a dozen folks waxed enthusiastic about my book before claiming poverty, sneaking off when I was greeting someone else, or promising to buy it "some other time." One fellow engaged me in an animated conversation about it, and the authors contained therein, for a good 20 minutes before walking off with a dismissive "I'm just not into that sci-fi stuff." I'm telling you, if I suffered from an over-inflated ego, that's not a problem anymore.

Fortunately, the staff treated me with absolute professional courtesy. The floor manager greeted me with enthusiasm and made three P.A. announcements during the course of my signing. They made sure I had cold water to drink and were absolutely top notch during my non-signing event. So, despite the fact that I signed no books, I had a decent time, and my title is now stocked on their shelves. Which is, when you get down to it, why I'm doing these things in the first place. Now, on to Austin!

Now Playing: Grateful Dead In the Dark

Friday, July 22, 2005

Signings this weekend

Before I forget, on Saturday I'll be having a signing and discussion at the San Antonio Borders in the Quarry Market on Basse Road from 2-4 p.m. I'll follow that up on Sunday with a 2-4 p.m. signing at the Austin Borders at the Westgate Marketplace on South Lamar. It'll be fun. It'll be happenin'. It'll be a rousing success if I actually manage to sign a few books...

Now Playing: Peter Gabriel US

Well, this just sucks seven ways to Sunday

I've just learned that Fred Saberhagen has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. The cancer has spread. Aggressive treatment is being implemented, but the chances of success aren't as great as if they'd caught it earlier on. I'm told this is essentially the same thing that got Poul Anderson. Damn.

While I make no bold claims at a close friendship with Saberhagen, he was my author guest of honor at AggieCon 22 way back in 1991. That's the lone convention I've run in my lifetime, and I have to say that friendly, cooperative guests like Saberhagen made things go swimmingly. And he's always been friendly toward me when our paths have crossed at subsequent conventions.

Man, I hope he licks this thing.

Now Playing: Gipsy Kings Volare!

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The message boards are back

RevolutionSF used to have message boards. Then they were spammed into oblivion. RevolutionSF didn't have message boards for a long time. Now RevolutionSF has message boards again. And I'm one of the moderators. Oh joy! Drop on in and leave something crude and disgusting for us to clean up!

Now Playing: The Who Greatest Hits

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Fate of Pol Krage

Just published a new piece of fiction over at RevolutionSF titled The Fate of Pol Krage by John Garrison.
When Pol Krage came to our village, he was already an old man. I don't know where he'd lived before and it never occurred to me to ask him. Lots of old people move here to Brigitta. There's plenty of food from the forest and farmland. And it doesn't snow in the winter.

Pol Krage was a good neighbor. He could take one look at your garden, scratch at that gray beard of his, and then tell you exactly what you should be doing. In a nice way. "The brighter the color, the more the flower will like the shade." "Don't water a dying plant." Things like that. I may be the strongest guy in town with a hammer or an axe, but I got no mind for gardens. He helped me get tomatoes going in a patch of soil by my window, and I helped him dig his root cellar in the side of the hill out behind his house.

That's the way things are around here. We look out for each other.

It's an interesting story. You should check it out.

Now Playing: Melissa Etheridge Never Enough

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Who mourns for Mollie?

Back in the winter I planted a Mollie's Delicious apple tree as a companion to the Gala I planted the year before (and dutifully pruned the whip back at the time, and treated the roots with a growth stimulant). Galas are supposed to be somewhat self-fruitful, but a pollinator is helpful. The Mollie, along with the Gala, are low-chill varieties that are tolerant of the alkalai black clay around New Braunfels, and both are recommended specifically for Comal County. After a slow start, the Mollie's been growing very determinedly. There was strong vertical growth, and many leafy sprouts up the trunk, which I planned to prune back during the dormant winter months. Essentially, the Mollie was growing as vigorously as any apple tree could. Until several weeks ago. The leaves started browning at the edges, yellowing all over, then browning all over and dropping.

Neither the Gala nor our pear trees were showing signs of this, so I didn't think it was fireblight (which was a big problem last year, what with all the rain). That didn't stop me from spraying for such, just in case (fireblight was rough on the pear trees last year--and our varieties are resistant!). After consulting with Dr. Jerry Parsons at A&M the verdict is... not good. It's not fireblight--the tree's suffering some sort of root problem. It may lose all its leaves. It may re-root over winter and recover in the spring, or may be dead, dead, dead.

There are many possible causes of this. Over-watering is one (possible, since we've been watering frequently because of the drought--but again, none of the other trees are suffering). Cotton root rot is another (!) I so desperately hope we don't have cotton root rot. If so, replanting another apple (or pear, or pretty much any kind of fruit tree, not to mention oaks, pines, cypress...) will result in the same cruel death. What's worse, it may be only a matter of time before the Gala, the pears, Lisa's roses and almost everything else we've planted goes belly-up. And there's not a whole lot of stuff out there that's resistant (well, not a whole lot that we're actively interested in, at any rate. A huisatche isn't an even trade for an apple, in my book).

There is some hope, though. The leaves are shedding after becoming afflicted, which is atypical for cotton root rot (afflicted trees are generally supposed to hold their dead leaves). And the tree's decline has been more gradual than what I understand is supposed to be a very rapid root rot death. (Can you tell I'm grasping at any glimmer of hope I can?)

In the winter, when the trees are dormant, I plan to dig up some of the Mollie's roots and check for the fibrous signs of cotton root rot infection. So I may know one way or the other. Or not. Cotton root rot sucks.

Now Playing: Melissa Etheridge Breakdown

Monday, July 18, 2005

Back from Tulsa

I have safely returned from the wilds of Oklahoma after experiencing the delights of Conestoga. The entire journey was not without its interesting bits. For one, Tulsa is much, much farther away from San Antonio than one would expect from just glancing on maps. I chalk this up to the "Texas effect." Oklahoma is so much smaller than Texas, after all, that once you're within that state everything is within reasonable reach. The trouble is that to get to Oklahoma, I first had to drive to Dallas, which is pretty much at the end of the earth. And the border's more than an hour's drive past that. With the distance involved, I almost felt I was driving to El Paso--only it was greener with more hills.

The Oklahoma highway system left something to be desired as well. All the logical routes from point A to point B were occupied by toll roads--which I was not prepared for. Taking the less direct routes led me to a time warp, where I was driving through 1970s Texas, in which the highway department had yet to discover a thing called the "bypass." When highways wrap around town squares and stop every few blocks for traffic lights, well, that's old-school Americana. Oklahoma didn't have the worst roads on my trip, however. That distinction goes to the stretch of I-35 between Hillsboro and Dallas. Egads, that highway is downright awful.

The convention itself was good fun. I made it just in time for opening ceremonies. Brad Denton was the toastmaster, and had the crowd in stitches with his unique view of reality--one that included Mr. T at every opportunity. I got to see the Oklahoma writers--Kathy Wentworth, Brad Sinor, Brian Hopkins--that only sporadically make the Texas cons. It was good to meet and mingle with new faces.

The panels were entertaining: Comics: The Bastard Child of SF/F was a hoot, mainly because Howard Waldrop was on it with me. Howard's always a hoot. I was dragged onto the film panel, which was fun, and we talked about the good and bad SF and fantasy films of the year. The Writers of the Future panel had more panelists than I thought possible--Wentworth's been cultivating her locals quite effectively! I got to watch Lou Antonelli moderate his first panel, and am continually impressed by how easily this newcomer to cons and fandom blends in and makes himself an integral part of the proceedings. We managed to lose Lou when we went for dinner on Saturday night, however. Waldrop, Denton, Warren and Caroline Spector, George R.R. Martin and several others trekked over to a barbecue place called the Rib Crib. Actually, Waldrop's group went to the wrong one, but caught up eventually. Decent barbecue and a variety of sauces, but Rudy's barbecue sauce still has it beat. There weren't enough high chairs for the elevated tables we sat at, so Warren Spector sat down low, looking like a little kid peeking over the edge. Much humor was had at his expense.

Later that night, Waldrop and Martin sat in a corner of the con suite singing theme songs from old TV westerns. That may indeed become a Waldrop blog entry in the future, as one western was based on chapters from "The Fairy Queen." Alas, I forget which one it was. I sat in on the sing-along, vastly out of my depth (the only classic westerns I really remember beyond Gunsmoke and Bonanza were The Virginian and Big Valley, and I couldn't recall the theme to either). Most of the time I spent at the Fencon party, passing out more of my Voices of Vision homebrew. The reception was overwhelmingly positive, and the next day, Zane from Edge Books told me several folks came up and bought copies of my book, specifically referencing the beer. So there's some degree of success at work, but at the very least many people are being made happy.

Now Playing: Clandestine The Ale is Dear

Thursday, July 14, 2005

NASA excursion

Last weekend, while we were in Houston, we swung by Space Center Houston, the touristy interactive museum/money trap that now serves as the gateway to the LBJ Space Center. Calista and Keela love it, and now that they've added an elaborate playland, the girls find it even more exciting. But mostly they're attracted to the rockets and spaceships. I have to admit that despite a certain degree of cheesyness, Space Center Houston is a vast improvement over the utter lack of a visitor center Johnson used to boast. A decade ago, you'd drive up and park, and beyond the famous Rocket Park, there just wasn't much to see.

Apollo-Soyuz docking collar

Here Calista and I are checking out a mockup of the Apollo/Soyuz docking collar that was used to link the two spacecraft during the 1975 test project. There's even a fairly lifelike mannequin of Tom Stafford floating inside (at least, I hope it's a mannequin!). The full-scale Skylab trainer is just off to our right, and walking through it I can't help but think Skylab was better-designed, more efficient and a better dollar value than the current ISS.

Faith 7

Here Calista, Keela and I take a look at Faith 7, the Mercury spacecraft that carried Gordon Cooper in orbit in the final flight of the Mercury program. Just a few moments before, we'd walked through Skylab, then looked at the Apollo 17 command module, followed by Gemini V. Calista was decidedly unimpressed by the steady reduction in size of the ships, declaring that Gemini was too small even for she and Keela to play in. You can imagine her reaction to the tiny Mercury capsule.

Sally Ride jumpsuit

One thing I go out of my way to do is show the girls female role models in all walks of life, so they don't develop a "Girls can't do this" mindset. Right now, Calista's career goals include becoming an astro-paleontologist, so she can hunt for fossils on Mars. I think that's a mighty fine career choice. She's already got one book about Ride, and here we got to look at the jumpsuit Ride wore on the shuttle mission where she became the first U.S. woman in space (Keela's hiding behind the display kiosk). I haven't told Calista about the Mercury 13 yet, but we'll get there, eventually.

Now Playing: ZZ Top ZZ Top's First Album

In Case of Emergency

From Jonathan Carroll's blog:
Really good idea...

Following the disaster in London . . .

East Anglian Ambulance Service have launched a national "In case of Emergency (ICE)" campaign.

The idea is that you store the word "ICE" in your mobile phone address book, and against it enter the number of the person you would want to be contacted "In Case of Emergency".

In an emergency situation ambulance and hospital staff will then be able to quickly find out who your next of kin are and be able to contact them. It's so simple that everyone can do it. Please do.

Please will you also email this to everybody in your address book, it won't take too many 'forwards' before everybody will know about this.

It really could save your life, or put a loved one's mind at rest.

For more than one contact name ICE1, ICE2, ICE3 etc.

For more details, see

Now Playing: Talking Heads Speaking in Tongues

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

We interrupt this blog for some unscheduled fiction

A while back, almost a year ago in fact, a bit of Catholic dogmatic stupidity set me off in a big way, prompting me to write a short piece of satirical fiction. Initially, I'd planned to post it here, but the few people who read it reacted positively, so I thought I'd shop it around a bit. The responses from these markets generally were of the "Funny! Now leave us alone!" variety. Then, when Pope John Paul II died and his successor elected, it just didn't seem appropriate to send it out anymore. So I filed it away.

Until yesterday. If the Vatican is intent on abandoning decades of reason and turning the Catholic church into some kind of regressive, fundamentalist sect--despite repeated assurances that Benedict is really a nice guy if you just get to know him--then I no longer feel obligated to give this bunch the benefit of the doubt.

So, for your reading pleasure, or offense, or whatever you so choose, I present The Days of Rice and Assault. If movies like Kevin Smith's Dogma or Monty Python's Life of Brian offend you, then you probably ought not to read it. And I'd originally planned to present it with sock-puppet illustrations, but you can't have everything.

Now Playing: The Kinks Did Ya

Monday, July 11, 2005

Excuse me while I go throw up

You know all those concerns I expressed earlier that Cardinal Ratzinger--as Pope Benedict XVI--would turn the Catholic Church in to a Bible-thumping, fundamentalist establishment hostile to the laity and intellectual discourse? Well, now Cardinal Schönborn of Austria has published--apparently with Benedict XVI's blessing--an op-ed piece in the New York Times that says, essentially, all that Catholic acceptance of evolution over the decades was a very bad mistake. The break with past Catholic teaching on evolution is so dramatic that the New York Times deemed it worthy of a full article, Leading Cardinal Redefines Church's View on Evolution:
In a telephone interview from a monastery in Austria, where he was on retreat, the cardinal said that his essay had not been approved by the Vatican, but that two or three weeks before Pope Benedict XVI's election in April, he spoke with the pope, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, about the church's position on evolution. "I said I would like to have a more explicit statement about that, and he encouraged me to go on," said Cardinal Schönborn.

He said that he had been "angry" for years about writers and theologians, many Catholics, who he said had "misrepresented" the church's position as endorsing the idea of evolution as a random process.

Opponents of Darwinian evolution said they were gratified by Cardinal Schönborn's essay. But scientists and science teachers reacted with confusion, dismay and even anger. Some said they feared the cardinal's sentiments would cause religious scientists to question their faiths.

Reading Cardinal Schönborn's screed, I was struck by the uncomfortable feeling that I'd seen it all before. Oh yeah, the Discovery Institute. Looks like I'm not the only one that twigged to the "theology masquerading as science" angle:
One of the strongest advocates of teaching alternatives to evolution is the Discovery Institute in Seattle, which promotes the idea, termed intelligent design, that the variety and complexity of life on earth cannot be explained except through the intervention of a designer of some sort.

Mark Ryland, a vice president of the institute, said in an interview that he had urged the cardinal to write the essay. Both Mr. Ryland and Cardinal Schönborn said that an essay in May in The Times about the compatibility of religion and evolutionary theory by Lawrence M. Krauss, a physicist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, suggested to them that it was time to clarify the church's position on evolution.

The cardinal's essay was submitted to The Times by a Virginia public relations firm, Creative Response Concepts, which also represents the Discovery Institute.

Mr. Ryland, who said he knew the cardinal through the International Theological Institute in Gaming, Austria, where he is chancellor and Mr. Ryland is on the board, said supporters of intelligent design were "very excited" that a church leader had taken a position opposing Darwinian evolution. "It clarified that in some sense the Catholics aren't fine with it," he said.

But wait a minute! I thought Catholics were fine with it. In fact, I thought that both Pope John Paul II and Pope Pius XII came down unambiguously on the side of evolution? And aren't the Jesuits famed for their reverence for science and fact? Apparently not. Cardinal Schönborn helpfully points out that everyone over the decades have been wrong, whereas he, in his infinite wisdom (no doubt helped along by Divine Inspiration) is correct:
In his essay, Cardinal Schönborn asserted that he was not trying to break new ground but to correct the idea, "often invoked," that the church accepts or at least acquiesces to the theory of evolution.

He referred to widely cited remarks by Pope John Paul II, who, in a 1996 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, noted that the scientific case for evolution was growing stronger and that the theory was "more than a hypothesis."

In December, Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo, chairman of the Committee on Science and Human Values of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, cited those remarks in writing to the nation's bishops that "the Church does not need to fear the teaching of evolution as long as it is understood as a scientific account of the physical origins and development of the universe." But in his essay, Cardinal Schönborn dismissed John Paul's statement as "rather vague and unimportant."

Francisco Ayala, a professor of biology at the University of California, Irvine, and a former Dominican priest, called this assessment "an insult" to the late pope and said the cardinal seemed to be drawing a line between the theory of evolution and religious faith, and "seeing a conflict that does not exist."

For his next demonstration of piety, Cardinal Schönborn will dig up the disintegrating bones of Galileo and retry the remains for heresy. Thanks--I think--to Jacquandor for putting me on to this particularly malodorous scent.

Now Playing: The Kinks Live at the BBC

One exhibit to rule them all...

Back from Houston, and quite tired. Why, pray tell, did the family venture to hot and humid Houston for the weekend, when New Braunfels is perfectly hot and humid in its own right? Why, The Lord of the Rings Motion Picture Trilogy: The Exhibition, of course!

Jayme at the Argonath

Coincidentally, the Houston Symphony was presenting a return engagement of Howard Shore and the Lord of the Rings Symphony on Friday and Saturday. I'd have loved to go, but we simply couldn't fit it in. But the two events were masterful in the amount of cross-promotion they'd coordinated. The exhibit itself was, as to be expected, spectacular. Costumes and weapons galore, including the Three Rings, which got short shrift in the movies--extended editions included. They were gorgeous, not to put too fine a point on it. Much was made of all the detail put into the costumes and accessories, and unless you see them up close, you simply can't appreciate how serious the filmmakers were in this regard. The myriad documentaries simply don't do it justice.

The most impressive aspect of the display was the "bigatures" created by WETA for the movie. Barad-Dur was there, along with the tower of Orthanc and the mill from the "Scouring of the Shire" sequence in Galadriel's Mirror. Stunning. Magnificent. There was also a life-size diorama of the cave troll bursting through the doors of Balin's tomb, which was most impressive. And a 16-inch long Oliphaunt maquette, which was equally impressive for it's small size. Almost nothing on the Balrog, though, which was a real shame. My favorite prop from the exhibit? An elegant elvish telescope, which for the life of me, I simply cannot remember seeing in Rivendel or Lothlorien. But it is very cool. I'll have to look again.

A much bigger shame, however, was the banning of cameras and video recorders in the exhibit (the Argonath is situated outside the exhibit, hence the photo above). Now, we've been to exhibitions before where this was enforced, so it didn't take us by surprise. Usually, those events (such as the "Relics of the Titanic" a couple years back) have tour-specific DVDs and program books they want patrons to buy. That's logical--why buy the souvenir program if you've already got a ton of photos? Unfortunately, the LOTR exhibit did not have any tour sovenirs for sale. Sure, there was plenty of LOTR memorabilia in the museum gift shop, but it was the exact same crappy action figures and plastic "One Rings" available at Wal-Mart or Suncoast. Absolutely nothing related to the exhibit itself. Nothing relevant to the unique items recreated solely for the tour (like the afore-mentioned cave troll, or the Argonath entrance, above). The cave troll was perfect for taking photos with, and indeed, looked as if that had been taken into account when designed, but a grim-faced guard hovered only a few feet away, pointedly on the lookout for camera phones and the like. The only exhibit-specific souvenir patrons could get was a $10 split-screen photograph on Gandalf's wagon, where one person was normal-sized and another hobbit-sized. The effect was neat, but the printed photo was very low quality, and the waiting line was close to an hour long. No thank you.

Another annoyance was the sloppiness attention to detail in the exhibit itself. The printed descriptions accompanying each display were filled with typos--one explained how Gollum would "loose" the Ring to Bilbo. Pippin's full name is misspelled "Perregrin." Rivendel is shown on a map as being located in Ered Mithrin (the Gray Mountains) far to the north, rather than along the Loudwater River west of the Misty Mountains. And an Alan Lee pencil sketch of Edoras is also mis-identified as Rivendel (here's a hint--Rivendel is in a valley, Edoras is on a very large hilltop). And the One Ring was set up in a very impressive "room of fire," floating suspended in a column of clear lucite. The effect was very much as if one were in a volcanic chamber of Mount Doom. But the fact that bits of dirt, dust and other bits of literal garbage were suspended in the lucite with the One Ring did a great deal to spoil this effect. Don't try and tell me this was intentional--it was half-assed and sloppy, plain and simple.

Now, I am well aware of the fact that 99.9 percent of the people who see these displays are oblivious to these mistakes, and would shrug their shoulders even if you pointed them out. That's not the point. After spending more than $300 million to make these grand epics, and after all the well-documented blood, sweat and proverbial tears Peter Jackson lavished on the films to make them as fine works of cinematic art as they could possibly be, it's annoying as hell to see so little thought and attention being paid to the traveling exhibit. For something that cost close to $20 a person to enter, I'm sorry, but I want something more tangible than "happy memories."

To put it in perspective, when the Star Wars: Magic of Myth exhibition came through a few years back, not only were cameras and video recorders allowed, they were encouraged. And there was plenty of "Magic of Myth" crap available to buy as well. Say what you will about George Lucas being a greedy corporate entity unto himself, but his tour was much more patron-friendly (with 87 percent fewer typos to boot!).

Now Playing: Howard Shore The Lord of the Rings-The Fellowship of the Ring

Friday, July 08, 2005

July fiction at RevolutionSF

Call the neighbors and wake the kids! The fine, fine stories we publish on RevolutionSF garnered an eye-popping FIVE honorable mentions from Gardner Dozois in the 22nd annual edition of The Year's Best Science Fiction, just out now from St. Martin's. If you've been reading our stuff in 2004 (and of course you are--you have discriminating tastes) you'll probably already have a good idea of which stories got the nod, but just in case you got all wrapped up reading Ron Moore's blog over on the SciFi Channel page and missed a few, here they are in all their glory: Steve Utley for "Little Whalers," K.D. Wentworth for "Blessed Assurance," Danith McPherson for "The Forever Cup at Bitsy's Cafe" and Lou Antonelli, who got all greedy on us and nabbed two nods for "Pen Pal" and "The Rocket-Powered Cat." In his yearly summation, Gardner had these kind words to say: "There are also lots of sites that feature mostly slipstream and soft horror, among the best of which are RevolutionSF, which--although not always of reliable professional quality--did feature interesting stuff this year from Steve Utley, Lou Antonelli, Danith McPherson and others."

So, the question now becomes "Which of the following stories slated for July publication will bring home the brass ring come 2006?" I have my suspicions, including one that may well break through to earn honest-to-gosh "Best-of" reprint status, but I'll let you good people judge for yourselves.

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

July 8
"The Magi" by S.E. Wallace **Original Fiction**
"A House-Boat on the Styx" Chapter 8 by John Kendrick Bangs

July 15
"The Fate of Pol Krage" by John Garrison **Original Fiction**
"A House-Boat on the Styx" Chapter 9 by John Kendrick Bangs

July 22
"Leonardo's Hands" by Steven Gould and Rory Harper **Original Fiction**
"A House-Boat on the Styx" Chapter 10 by John Kendrick Bangs

July 29
"Dialogue" by Lou Antonelli **Original Fiction**
"A House-Boat on the Styx" Chapter 11 by John Kendrick Bangs

All stories can be read at

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

Thursday, July 07, 2005


Today's terrorist attacks in London are repulsive and horrifying to the nth degree. That these acts are cowardly and vile go without saying. Of course, the same has been said time and time again for the last 40 years or so, yet terrrorists of all stripe continue to garner enough support to perpetrate these acts. Londoners are tough, however, and if Al Quaeda thinks they'll buckle under a few bombs in the tube, they're sadly mistaken. These folks withstood zeppelin bombings in WWI, the Blitz and an extended terrorist bombing campaign that only just ended a few years back. They're tough, all right, but quietly tough. I think that lulls their enemies into errors in judgement.

And, not to mitigate the awfulness of the attack, but a gallows humor thought hit me almost instantly when I heard the news this morning: The IRA declares a turf war against Al Quaeda, under the rallying cry "You fookin' gobshites can't bomb London! Only we can bomb London!"

Now Playing: Marty Robbins The Essential Marty Robbins

Movies, movies, movies

I saw not one, not two, but three films recently. And two could even be considered new releases. Cool. For wankers like me that don't get out much, this is cause for celebration.

The first was Batman Begins. Damn, I really liked this one. The fact that the filmmakers treated the subject matter with respect, as opposed to contempt, made a big difference. Gary Oldman was phenominal as Lt. James Gordon--it's the first time Gordon's been done right in any dramatic incarnation of Batman (although driving the Batmobile was pushing it). I don't much like the Scarecrow in the comics, but he was very cool here. Liam Neeson and Ken Watanabe were both solid as Ra's a Ghul. Michael Caine made a much stronger Alfred than we've seen before. And, of course, I've been a Morgan Freeman fan since his afroed "Easy Reader" days on The Electric Company. The only false note with the actors was Katie "Tom Cruise is sooooo dreamy" Holmes, who was a featherweight in a featherweight role. Note to suits: Batman shouldn't reveal his secret ID to chicks. Reference Frozone if you don't believe me.

Otherwise, I loved the Batfilm a great deal. Easily the best Batman adaptation ever. The only big problem I had was with the microwave cannon Ra's used to blow up all the water mains in Gotham. Which was incredibly stupid. Folks, if you're going to have a microwave emitter powerful enough to vaporize water buried underground in water mains, then you are simultaneously going to people exploding all across town as their blood instantly begins to boil. And not just people, but all the dogs and cats and rats and squirrels and birds and ants and... well, you get the picture. It's the microwave over effect. Pretty well documented, I daresay. But then, if Spider-Man 2 can get away with that nonsensical fusion reactor/burning sphere of magnetic doom built by Doc Oc, I suppose we can forgive Batman one little microwave gaf.

The next film I saw was War of the Worlds. You know, the one with Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg. Let me tell you, I was underwhelmed. If Spielberg wanted to distance his film from Independence Day by not showing any cool fights, fine. But then why did he design his aliens to look like carbon copies of the already-bland alien baddies from ID4? The first hour was interesting, and I found myself thinking that Spielberg really was going to give us something new and different. But then, I thought the same thing when I saw Minority Report. That should've clued me in. The last half of the move quickly devolved into a series of stock Hollywood cliches, gore for shock sake and artificial peril. That over-long basement sequence with Tim Robbins was painful to watch, and not because it was intense. Over-long and pointless, the absolute worst part came when the electric eye came down to scout out the ruins--lifted directly from the George Pal version, it only served to remind me that I could be home watching that far more entertaining film instead. On reflection, the film actually jumped the shark right before they went into that damn basement--after the Martians (and by golly, they have to be Martians, or it ain't War of the Worlds) blow the crap out of the army. It happens when a half-dozen or so humvees come rolling over the hill in perfect formation, engulfed in flame, crews dead. I swear, you couldn't get a better formation out of the Royal Lipizzaner Stallions. That was such an artificial, choreographed note that it threw me out of the rest of the film. So I suppose it's no wonder that the punk teen who should've died under the Martian death rays turns up safe and sound in Boston, at the family townhouse that is miraculously unscathed despite the fact the rest of the city is smoking ruin. I simply don't trust Spielberg anymore. Period.

The other film I saw, on DVD, was The Dreamers by Bernardo Bertolucci, the director who also did The Last Emperor and Last Tango in Paris. Wow. What a powerful, well-done movie. I can see why it earned an NC-17 rating, but it's an NC-17 in the way that Midnight Cowboy was rated X. It's not porn, it's story. To recap: An American college student and film buff in Paris falls in with a brother and sister who are also obsessed with cinema. More a character study than a plot-driven story, the relationships become intensely sexual against the backdrop of the 1968 Paris riots. The relationships are by turn tender and creepy, with top-notch performances all around. Oh, wow. I just saw on IMDB that Eva Green, who plays Isabelle in The Dreamers very, very well, also played Sybilla in The Kingdom of Heaven, a standout role in a film full of top-notch performances. And she's pretty close to unrecognizeable as the same actress in those different roles. That's impressive.

There's a very European feel to this film, and it reminded me somewhat of the excellent Swimming Pool, although the two are very different movies. It also reminds me a great deal of Summer Lovers, but is much more intense. I really like this one. I might even buy the DVD some day, but then these are the quiet, intense character pieces I seem to gravitate towards that no one else ever sees.

Now Playing: Dolly Parton The Best of Dolly Parton

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Some weeks it just doesn't pay to come in to work

By now, pretty much everyone in America--and beyond--has heard about the "hero" arrested in San Marcos after rescuing a drowning man from the falls below Spring Lake. And our office is being innundated with "opinionated" phone calls and emails from every Tom, Dick and Harry from here to Botswana. Most start out with some variation of the endearing greeting "Hey Dumbass!" The most even-handed media account thus far has appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, but of course, that's not the version most of these people are reading:
Abed Duamni of Houston got caught in the current while swimming Sunday afternoon and became stuck under a building. Duamni said he found an air pocket and stayed there for about 15 minutes before Newman grabbed his leg and pulled him out.

Meanwhile, on the surface, emergency officials were trying to figure out how many people were in trouble, and San Marcos Fire Marshal Kenneth Bell said Newman's refusal to speak immediately with authorities hurt their ability to assess the situation.

Emergency workers had been called to the scene expecting to find four people in trouble — three struggling in the water and one stuck under Joe's Crab Shack at Spring Lake Dam. They tried to get everyone out of the water and assess the situation, Bell said. Officials could not send anyone into the water until it was clear. "I'd like to thank Mr. Newman for the part that he did have in the rescue of Mr. Duamni," said Ralph Meyer, director of the Texas State University-San Marcos Police Department. But "we didn't know how many more were there or if there was somebody else underneath."

Newman would not get out of the water, Bell said, even after Duamni was safe and talking to authorities. Bell said Newman then swam to the other side of the river and was "sitting Indian-style on a concrete wall saying, 'Why?' " when asked to come over.

You know, it's an unfortunate situation all around, but the long and short of it is that nobody died. Which was not the case back in April, when I was called out to deal with the media at midnight at the exact same spot. But the focus of the story is shifting and mutating, and the facts are rapidly mutating. Don't think so? Then try this on for size:
Islamic Community Net
July 5, 2005

The following shocking article proves just how far anti-Muslim bigotry has spread in the United States.

Abdul Hamed Duamni of Absolute Irrigation in Houston, Texas was swept away by swift currents when Dave Newman disobeyed deliberate police orders to let him drown. Dave Newman was subsequently arrested and charged with the crime of "interfering with police duties".

So now it has come to this: that one of the "duties" of the US police is to get Muslims drowned, and woe to anyone who dares "interfere".

Yeah, that's all we need now--a fatwa on the university. I think I'll call in sick for, oh, the next month or so...

Now Playing: Billy Joel The Bridge

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Raised on radio

The new podcasts are here! The new podcasts are here! Really and truly, they are. If you'll remember from a while back, I did an interview with Michael and Evo of the DragonPage radio show for their Cover to Cover segment. And now said interview is live. Yes indeedy--you can rush right over this very minute and hear yours truly babble on at length like a jackalope mainlining peyote. It's not what I'd call pretty, but it is fascinating, in a steamroller-plowing-into-innocent-bystanders kind of way. The direct download link is:

Now Playing: DragonPage Cover to Cover

A writer's glamorous 4th of July

Thinking about all the fun 4th of July excitement you could've had but didn't? Well, here's a sample of my leisure-time activities: Intending to change the air conditioning filter, I was caught up short by said filter's absence. The slot where the filter was supposed to be was empty. That can't be good, thought I. So I get out screwdrivers and pliers, and after a good deal of cursing, remove the big metal vent from beneath the central air unit. The vent space beneath the air conditioner is technically big enough for a person to work their way into, but there are pipes and such that make this a difficult, contortionistic proposition. Not to mention the fact that my fat belly doesn't help matters any.

So I manage to wedge my head and a shoulder in enough to aim a flashlight up to where the missing filter ought to be. And there's the filter, folded in to sucked up against the evaporator (it's a 20x20 cardboard and fiberglass panel. Just so you know). I rip the filter down (very dusty and dirty) and check out the evaporator. Friends and neighbors, I don't know how long that filter was folded up, failing to filter, but geeze Louise, that was one of the most disgusting things I've ever seen. Dust, dirt, cat hair, people hair and other stuff I shudder to even think about had combined with the condensation from the evaporator to create one of the most vile mats of rank matter I've ever had the misfortune of laying eyes upon. Twisting my body into all manner of unnatural shapes, I used the vacuum cleaner's various hose attachments to suck big strips of the gunk away. Some had dried on the evaporator, and resisted the vacuum cleaner's best efforts, so Calista--doing her best Indiana Jones impersonation--climbed in there with a scrub brush and stripped the worst of it loose.

Three hours and a variety of mashed fingers, grit-in-the-eye, bruises and strains later, the evaporator is as clean as it's been since it was first installed. And a new filter is in place, apparently working perfectly and catching all that nasty stuff before it can become a breeding ground for bacterial colonies and mold forests. There's a story in there, somewhere. It's just hard to see because of all the gunk in the way...

Now Playing: Marty Robbins Essential Marty Robbins

Friday, July 01, 2005

Sailing Venus

Okay, so Mister Smarty-Pants Writer is reading articles and books with big words in them. So what? Number-crunching does not a story make, and it's a well-known fact that Blaschke (the Texas one, not the dead Austrian mathematician) is woefully unequipped to write a mindbending hard SF romp, ala Greg Bear or Neal Stephenson. So what gives?

I've always wanted to write a Venus story. I've done Mars and Jupiter tales, but Venus has held a special appeal to me since it's so inhospitable. SF writers have tended to avoid it for the last 30 years or so, ever since they learned the steaming jungles burned away several billion years ago. But several things came together to plant the seeds of inspiration a year ago (of which I outline a few here, for the benefit of those who find the process of writerly creation somewhat more interesting than watching paint dry).

First (not necessarily in cronology, but perhaps in importance) I stumbled across JP Aerospace's Ascender. Is that thing cool or what? A space-faring balloon. I've put dirigibles on Mars (and really, who hasn't?) but with Venus' higher air pressure, airships would be more viable--particularly at altitudes where temperatures were somewhat hospitable for humans. Another thing that occurred to me at this time was that hydrogen isn't explosive or flammable in the absence of oxygen. So on Venus, with an atmosphere almost wholly composed of CO2, hydrogen airships would be as safe as helium, and a heck of a lot more viable from a cost-benefit perspective. At this point, the title--Sailing Venus--popped into my head, fully formed. When you get a title like that, you don't argue. Thirdly (or fourthly?)--and this might need to go first when all is said and done--I reunited with Battle on Mercury, the first science fiction novel I ever read (first novel, period, I might add). At the time, I couldn't imagine a more alien or hostile world than Mercury, and the story used all those elements to its advantage. Talk about "man against nature."

Part of my wanting to this Venus story is to see if I can take those "hostile environment" elements from Mercury and one-up them. That's the technical angle of the writer in me looking for a challenge. But another major drive is the desire to write something my kids can read. Almost the entire body of my work to this point has been specifically for an adult audience, and now that Calista is reading (and Keela will be learning soon) that parent reflex is kicking in a little. Gaiman had the same motivation in writing Coraline, after all. This wouldn't be a children's book by any means--it'd be closer to Steve Gould's Jumper, in that it'd be equally accessible by adults and non-adults. Plus, there is the undeniable fact that the Harry Potter phenomenon has boosted the profile and production of young adult fantasy, but there is something of a scarcity of comparable SF. I'm not saying I'll be the next Heinlein as far as juveniles go, but I do plan on filling the story with danger and excitement with the intent of making it a fun read.

So. Sailing Venus. The first words may be laid down this weekend, or I may instead finish up a couple of short stories that've been languishing. Either way, we're close to liftoff. And knowing the blazing speed at which I write, the damn thing might be finished by the time my kids graduate high school

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

Approaching Venus

A while back, a little more than a year ago, actually, I started accreting the makings of a story set on Venus. I generally let ideas lie unmolested in the dark recesses of my mind, fermenting at their own pace until they decide they are ripe for a story. Sometime over the last few days--spurred on by my time at Apollocon, no doubt--something clicked and the relevant pieces fell into place. Suddenly, I had a clear story outline in my head.

Which means, more or less, that all the Venus research I've been putting off has suddenly become my obsession. It didn't take too long to figure out that much of the content of Venus II is way over my head. There's still useful information I can wrap my feeble intellect around, fortunately, and the interactive Quicktime Venus globe that comes on the accompanying CD-Rom is fun to play with. Much to my relief, The Planet Venus has proven to be much more my speed, and I'm finding much of the factual detail about the planet that I need to make my story seem real-like and stuff. And for the really obsessed planetary science enthusiast, I can't recommend the NASA Astrophysics Data System abstract service highly enough. Most of the entries are, naturally enough, merely abstracts of articles, but there are some full-blown journal articles archived on the site, or links to online articles on other sites. Some Russian research is even translated. I've been treating myself over the past couple of days to page-turning articles such as Implications of preliminary Vega balloon results for the Venus atmosphere dynamics" and "Thermal structure of the Venus atmosphere in the middle cloud layer." And I'm not being facetious--this stuff is interesting.

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