Thursday, August 31, 2006

Bet you won't find this at Fiesta Texas

I suppose nothing should surprise me in this opportunistic capitalism society we live in, but every so often something stops me in my tracks, slack-jawed and blinking. Such as this park that specializes in the 'extreme sport' of border-crossing:
Welcome to one of Mexico's weirdest tourist attractions: A park where visitors pay $15 to hike across fields and through treacherous ravines, a grueling experience aimed at simulating an illegal journey across the U.S.-Mexico border.

"We want this to be an exercise in awareness," said Alfonso Martinez, who acts as the chief smuggler at EcoAlberto Park in central Mexico.

Marion Lloyd/Houston Chronicle

Would-be migrants hide out from 'the Migra' in a park game in El Alberto, Mexico. The real Border Patrol is not amused.

"It's in honor of all the people who have gone in search of the American Dream."

The park, funded in part by the Mexican government, compares crossing the border to an "extreme sport" and tells participants that they, too, can "trick the Migra," slang for the Border Patrol.

U.S. authorities, naturally enough, are not amused. I, on the other hand, am extremely amused at the mental image of affluent white suburbanites plunking their $15 down for a few hours of manufactured thrill. I mean, really. Anyone who thinks this is real "training" for an actual cross-border excursion has been dipping into Rush Limbaugh's cache of happy pills.

Now Playing: The Ventures Walk-Don't Run: The Best of the Ventures

Last Days on Earth

I watched a speculative news program on ABC last night called Last Days on Earth, which gathered a bunch of talking head scientists, paired then with computer animations of varying quality, and walked the viewer through seven different scenarios that could result in humanity being wiped out.

"Last Days on Earth" goes beyond science fiction to science fact.

Well, that quote above from the release they have on the website is annoying as hell, since what they did on the program was science fiction in its purest, most basic form. But then again, PR flacks can't always be as thoughtful and knowledgable as me, can they?

The program itself was pretty doggone entertaining. Yes, they played each disaster up in sensationalist manner, but by and large they got their facts right. I mean, how often do you get a major network broadcast talking intelligently about gamma ray bursts and rogue black holes? This is something I'd have expected to see on the Discovery Channel. Apart from the two doomsday scenarios just mentioned, they covered an A.I. revolt, asteroid collisions, superflu/engineered viruses and super volcanoes. The biggest threat facing the world, however, was Global Warming. When I saw that I swear I could hear thousands of neo-cons across the country throwing their remotes at the TV, particularly when Al Gore came on. I thought it particularly apt--and ballsy--when one of the researchers on the program came out and point blank equated Global Warming naysayers with Holocaust deniers. And honestly, I would love to see President Bush or anyone from the current administration tell Stephen Hawking he's an idiot and doesn't know what he's talking about when he says Global Warming is the biggest threat the world--and western civilization--faces. Yeah, tell the greatest mind since Einstein that there isn't any real evidence, and you understand the issue better than him. See how well that plays in Peoria.

Now Playing: The Andrews Sisters 50th Anniversary Collection

The Whale Below--the lost pages

Turns out I did not lose a paragraph or two due to Tuesday night's power outtage. It was more like a page or two, which is frustrating since I was pretty pleased with what I was writing. So last night was taken up with reconstructing what had been written before. Unfortunately, someone, somewhere, turned off the tap and the words weren't flowing. I rewrote the missing verbiage and even slogged on a bit beyond the point where I'd gotten before everything went black, but I feel I'm grasping for the right words, not quite evoking the mood and atmosphere (and--dare I say it?--drama) that came so easily the night before.
"See there? They're made to latch automatically whenever they close, so big waves or somesuch don't swamp the whale and drag her down with a belly full of seawater," Galindo said. He grabbed the latch handle and gave it a pull. It refused to budge. "Bastard's got some nasty internal pressure built up. Must be from the sun's heating."

"Rot gas, more likely," Ayala said, taking a swallow from his flask. "It's been dead the better part of a week. It's decomposing. What do you expect?"

"Huh," grunted Galindo, bracing himself against the drum and tugging on the handle again. "Stand clear. With that much pressure, when I do get this open, it's going to--"

The lid flung open with a sudden foomp, jerking the handle away and clanging against the side of the drum. A geyser of fog billowed out like whalespout. A sticky, stagnant stink settled in over them.

I expect to sharpen up all the soft spots when I do my inevitable second pass in a couple of weeks--provided I ever finish it in the first place. Wetsilver is calling to me more strongly these days, which is a good sign. Well, there's a long weekend coming up, so maybe that'll be what I need to get this thing knocked out.

Now Playing: The Andrews Sisters 50th Anniversary Collection

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Whale Below late last night

Last night I buckled down. I said to myself, "Self, this story's taking too damn long. Quit farting around and get it finished already." So with the girls in bed and the dishes done, I jumped into the story with both feet. No checking out the blogs online for more commentary on the Ellison Hugo Awards fiasco. No checking email. Nothing but writing.

And lo and behold, a groove was gotten into. Some trouble spots upstream were identified and corrected. Characters were rearranged on the playing field. Then I charged headlong into furthering the plot. The whale was lifted. I knew I wouldn't finish it in that sitting, but I knew I'd get within shouting distance--and it wasn't even midnight yet. Folks, I tell ya, I was cooking with gas.

Then the power went out. Twelve o'clock, straight up. This whole side of the county, apparently. I had a few choice words for the power company, of course. Fortunately, years of journalism have instilled in me the habit of backing up regularly, so I figure I only lost a couple of paragraphs. But still, when I'm hitting the sweet spot and the words are flowing, disturbances in the Force are not what I want to be dealing with.

Now Playing: SixMileBidge Across the Water

Czech out them pipes

Betcha didn't know that there's a strong bagpipe tradition in the Czech Republic. The unique, bellows-blown pipes of the region (which overlaps some with Germany and Poland) are called Ceske Dudy or Bohemian Bock. Are those not the coolest names for pipes ever? Almost makes me want to learn to play 'em.


Wanna hear what they sound like? Of course you do.

And just in case you're wondering, yes, this is part of my writing research. Look for the Ceske Dudy to make an appearance in Wetsilver.

Now Playing: Istanpitta Chevrefoil

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The story so far...

Since I've neglected to post for quite a few days on quite a few topics of interest to myself (if not to you, the loyal reader) I hereby decree this will be a blog of no single topic, but rather a gooey confection of many random bits. Enjoy:

The weekend was a whirlwind. Friends came in from out of town, and we spent the day at Fiesta Texas. In 100 degree weather. Even though most of the time was spent in the waterpark, we were all pretty much drained all of Sunday. I managed to do some reading, but just a little bit of this and that--nothing really substantive. I also transplanted a palm tree from a large pot in the front of our house to the ground in the backyard, because it was dying anyway and the change might do it good. But then the girls' kittens attacked it, so I may have merely hastened its death. Also discovered the first passion fruit of the season dropped from the vines, but the beagles got ahold of it before I found it and mangled it pretty thoroughly.

I wrote a little on "The Whale Below" Friday night, and again Monday, but the words are coming excruciatingly slow. It doesn't seem so when I'm actually writing because the flow is steady, more or less, but at the end of two hours I scroll up and see I've merely completed a page or so... man, that sucks. What I'd originally planned to be a one-week jaunt has expanded to take up almost the entire month of August. The good news is that I've gotten to the point where there are only two sequences left, so perhaps this week I really will finish it. Hey, even under the worst-case scenario I'll have it finished in time for Turkey City on Sept. 30. I've also been distracted by a side project that has gotten far more positive feedback that expected. I'm dumbstruck, really, since similar endeavours in the past have been met with resounding indifference. With luck, I'll be able to say more about this after World Fantasy.

And speaking of Turkey City, Bruce Sterling's working on a new novel, and has called for a Turkey City on Oct. 14 to beat some of it into shape. Glutton for punishment that I am, I've signed on for that and will be taking some chapters of Wetsilver in for evisceration. I figure that deadline can serve as a jump-start for my renewed efforts on the book. It's looking pretty bleak for my original plan to have Wetsilver finished in time for World Fantasy, but with two months to go I don't see it unreasonable to have the first two-thirds completed in semi-final form. If nothing else, at that stage I won't feel bad about chatting the editors up about it.

Mark Finn has sent me money. I wish that everyone would send me money. This money isn't without strings, however. The devious Mr. Finn has contracted me, Brewmaster to the Stars, to craft a limited-edition beer in support of his new book, Blood and Thunder, a biography of Robert E. Howard which will be released at World Fantasy. Coincidentally, this beer will be available to members of said convention. Clever, huh? I wonder why nobody has thought of that before?

A review of mine sent in to Green Man Review apparently never made it to its final destination some weeks back. So that problem has been corrected.

Lisa has informed me that my birthday present this year is a set of tickets to Texas A&M vs. Army at the Alamodome on Sept. 16. The whole family's going. Should be great fun--haven't been to an Aggies game since they beat Colorado two years back.

Finally, I'm also facing some turmoil/interesting times at the day job. But unlike most cases of this sort, the upshot is potentially very, very good for me, if stressful in the interim. I'm not going into details here, because hey, who am I to jinx anything. But fingers are crossed.

Now Playing: Glasnots Brave Spirits

Friday, August 25, 2006

Moomaw speaks

Bruce Moomaw's a freelance space science journalist who's a pretty sharp cookie. We've had some interesting discussions over the years, and if there's one thing I've learned about him, it's that he's passionate about space. We don't always agree, but he pretty much knows his stuff.

He went on a tear today on a mailing list I'm on, and I thought he outlined the problems with the new IAU definition of "planet" so well that I asked if I could repost here. He agreed, so now you good folks get to bathe in his starry-eyed wisdom:
So now we have a defintion which is fuzzy on THREE grounds: it retains the uncertainty about what is meant by something being "nearly" rounded by gravity; and it now adds to that uncertainty:

(1) Just how wide is the "neighborhood" that a planet is supposed to have gravitationally cleared out around itself?

(2) Just how much bigger must an object be than the other objects in its "neighborhood" (such as asteroids or Centaurs flying past it) for it to be considered the only "planet-sized object" in that neighborhood?

Christ. As Leo Durocher said during the Mets' nadir in the early 1960s, can't ANYONE play this game? Quite apart from the reaction of the general public to this game of Revolving Planets (and you need only look at the humor columns in the newapapers to see that), the astonishing fuzziness in this defintion raises genuine, honest-to-God questions about the scientific competence of planetary astronomers.

I see that several of the Johns Hopkins astronomers have homed in on the same points raised by Alan Stern, Ken Arromdee and (belatedly) myself. Is Neptune sufficiently bigger than Pluto (which crosses its orbit) that you can't say that the latter is also a planet? What about Sedna, which is a good deal smaller than Pluto but which (as Ken points out) is so far the only known object within a huge range of orbital distances from the Sun? If we find KBOs bigger than Mercury (a very real possibility), are we going to insist with a straight face that they are not "planets"? And what about the huge gas giants now known to be in very eccentric orbits around many other stars? It's likely that a few of them cross orbits, having settled into resonant orbital-period relationships that protect them from ever colliding (just like Neptune and Pluto's 3:2 resonance). Are we going to solemnly
declare that two such worlds are not planets because they're in the same "neighborhood"?

What the hell was the IAU THINKING? We need a pure and simple size-linked definition, and we need one with a sharp clear edge -- none of this nonsense about something being "sufficiently" gravitationally rounded. Such a definition could utilize mass, maximum or minimum diameter, or average diameter -- with the latter by far the easiest to measure. After that's established, it really doesn't matter that much to me if that average diameter is 1000 km, 2000 km, or 4000 km. But we need to get out of this silly mess as fast and neatly as possible before (to repeat) planetologists make themselves into public laughingstocks at a time when their funding is already in danger -- and this is the only way to do it.

Basically, my read is that they worked up this new, Rube Goldbergian criterion for planetary status solely to avoid taking the obvious route an setting an arbitrary size limit. They wanted to base it on measurable scientific factors rather than a human-created, arbitrary dividing line. Unfortunately, what they came up with was a messy slight-of-hand pushed by the anti-Pluto radicals that opens the door to far more problems than it can ever hope to solve. I think Bruce expresses those shortcomings quite effectively.

Now Playing: Christopher Franke Babylon 5

Yay Picacio!

Locus Online and Emerald City have reported most joyous news coming out of Worldcon: John Picacio has won the ASFA's Chesley Award for the Best Artistic Achievement. Hot diggity dog! If I could buy stock in that Picacio fellow, I'd do so in a heartbeat.

Now Playing: Dick Dale and His Del-Tones King of the Surf Guitar

Friday Night Videos

I had planned on posting a pretty cool video from another band, but I stumbled upon this gem from Triumph. I had their album, Sport of Kings in high school, and played the heck out of it until the cassette got stolen on a trip to South Padre Island. Triumph was a fun Canadian rock group in the hair metal era that never quite struck the jackpot, despite a scattering of hits here and there.

So why'd I post this one rather than the one I'd planned? Well, with all the hoo-ha regarding Pluto's demotion from "Classical Planet" to "Dwarf Planet," it seemed oddly appropriate to run this video with its prominent display of telescopes. And anything that promotes voyeurism can't be all bad, right? Personally, I think all telescopes and observatories should be done up in garish, day-glow colors.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Traveling Wilburys

Now Playing: Rush Chronicles

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Boy, my day just keeps on getting better

Let's see, first I lose all my email to an Outlook compacting frenzy, the Tooth Fairy forgets to come for Keela's tooth last night (forgot to mention that earlier--I'm a baaaad parent), and there's a potential blow-up crisis at work that, if it reaches the tipping point, will make my life miserable for six weeks or so, minimum. So how can we improve on that? Why, by reading that the I.D.-friendly folks at the Vatican have given Rev. George Coyne the boot, replacing him as head of the Vatican Observatory. Coyne, you may remember, is one of my heroes for calling "Intelligent Design" as the crock that it really is.
Pope Benedict XVI has appointed a new director of the Vatican Observatory, replacing the Rev. George Coyne, a long-serving Jesuit astronomer and a vocal opponent of "intelligent design" theory.

It was unclear if the replacement of Coyne, the observatory's director since 1978, reflected a sense of disapproval within the Vatican over his opposition to intelligent design -- the idea that the world is too complex to have been created by natural events alone.

The Discovery Institute, of course, is having an outright field day with this, claiming it shows the Catholic Church endorses their brand of creationism, etc. Bah.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Delicate Sound of Thunder

A foul and evil mood

There is a special circle of hell reserved for Bill Gates and his minions. When frellin' Windows insists on compacting all email folders even when I don't want it to, that's not serving the customer. I don't give a shit if Outlook will run faster and more efficiently. Especially when three years' worth of emails --sent, received and drafts--abruptly vanish. A lot was junk, sure, but lost in there were messages from Michael Moorcock, Charles de Lint, Samuel R. Delany, Damien Broderick and who knows what else. Miraculously, the several hundred spam emails in my deleted folder remain untouched. I do not need some stick-up-his-ass techie on the MS tech support boards condescendingly explaining that compacting does not delete emails. Fine, asswipe. Encrypted, zipped, corrupted... call it what you will. The shit's gone.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Atom Heart Mother

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

I don't have a spaceship named after me

My son's already-cool name just got infinitely cooler: NASA has named its new crew exploration vehicle (aka the shuttle's replacement) "Orion."

NASA announced Tuesday that its new crew exploration vehicle will be named Orion.

Orion is the vehicle NASA’s Constellation Program is developing to carry a new generation of explorers back to the moon and later to Mars. Orion will succeed the space shuttle as NASA's primary vehicle for human space exploration.

Orion's first flight with astronauts onboard is planned for no later than 2014 to the International Space Station. Its first flight to the moon is planned for no later than 2020.

Orion is named for one of the brightest, most familiar and easily identifiable constellations.

"Many of its stars have been used for navigation and guided explorers to new worlds for centuries," said Orion Project Manager Skip Hatfield. "Our team, and all of NASA - and, I believe, our country - grows more excited with every step forward this program takes. The future for space exploration is coming quickly."

In June, NASA announced the launch vehicles under development by the Constellation Program have been named Ares, a synonym for Mars. The booster that will launch Orion will be called Ares I, and a larger heavy-lift launch vehicle will be known as Ares V.

Orion will be capable of transporting cargo and up to six crew members to and from the International Space Station. It can carry four crewmembers for lunar missions. Later, it can support crew transfers for Mars missions.

Orion borrows its shape from space capsules of the past, but takes advantage of the latest technology in computers, electronics, life support, propulsion and heat protection systems. The capsule's conical shape is the safest and most reliable for re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere, especially at the velocities required for a direct return form the moon.

Orion will be 16.5 feet in diameter and have a mass of about 25 tons. Inside, it will have more than 2.5 times the volume of an Apollo capsule. The spacecraft will return humans to the moon to stay for long periods as a testing ground for the longer journey to Mars.

NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston, manages the Constellation Program and the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., manages the Exploration Launch Projects' office for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, Washington.

For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

I wonder if any of my kids will ever fly one of these things?

Now Playing: Prince The Hits/The B-Sides

Schlitterbahn A Go-Go

My, oh my. It appears that MTV is coming to New Braunfels:
The title may not be as sexy as "Laguna Beach," but television producers and management of a Central Texas water-based theme park are betting a new show will become a darling of the high school set.

With the succinct working title "Waterpark," the show could invade homes the world over a year from now, if MTV producers follow through with plans to film a reality show at New Braunfels' Schlitterbahn.

A casting call of current staffers began last weekend and continues through Sunday. Those who work at the water park — from lifeguards to food and beverage personnel — are encouraged to submit a headshot, bio and photos of friends. So far, about 50 have.

Unfortunately, they seem to be looking for folks aged 16-22. Youngsters. Preferrably beautiful (although that's not actually listed anywhere, it kinda goes without saying). Alas, there is no mention of slots open for fat, 30-something science fiction writers. Must be an oversight, I'm sure.
Siebert said camera crews would follow the cast members around the water park as they deal with the issues of the day, and after work as they hang out with friends. MTV producers should have plenty of folks to pick from, since more than 2,000 employees are hired as seasonal workers at the park, which stretches over more than 65 acres.

"If you want to be on the show you have to work here first," Siebert said. "You never know when a star might be born."

Okay, here's one more thing: School's started back up, so the park's only open on weekends now until Sept. 17. If they're just now casting, that gives them a grand total of three weekends for filming. If they wanted relationship "drama," wouldn't it make more sense to start back in May, when the park actually opens for the season?

Now Playing: The Pretenders The Singles

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Whale Below: Monday's output

I worked a bit on this Sunday, but I was so tired that I managed less than half a page. The old neurons just wouldn't fire like they was supposed to. I returned to "The Whale Below" last night, though, and I fell into an easy rhythm. I had to stop for a couple of research points, but on the whole I'm happy with the quality of what I put down.
Capitan Valdez shook his head. "Magda, Magda, Magda. Where's your sense of adventure? Your sense of romance?"

Magda narrowed her eyes. "You watch your mouth. Capitan or no Capitan, I can cut you up for crab-bait just as easy as Chago."

"Curiosity, Magda. I mean curiosity."

"Yeah, only I don't got none of that. It's too much trouble. Say, I have an idea: Let's take what we got and not be here anymore."

I suspect I've passed the halfway point in the story, which would bring this one in at right around 5,000 words. I know, that's a pathetic production rate, even by my slow-writing standards. I can't explain it. But I'm really, really hoping to get the story wrapped up by this weekend. Then I can let it sit for a few weeks before a quick polish prior to Turkey City. And, of course, that means I'll be returning to Wetsilver before long as well.

Now Playing: Violent Femmes Why Do Birds Sing?

Border Patrol!

After dropping the girls off at school this morning, I'm driving north on I-35 just south of New Braunfels. Ahead of me, I see police lights suddenly flashing and think, "Ah-ha! That pickup trooper has caught someone speeding." (There's a DPS trooper who works this section of the highway in a big black-and-white Chevy Silverado or somesuch). As I catch up to the scene, I realize that the flashing lights are coming from a green-and-white Border Patrol Blazer (or Explorer--I didn't look that closely) which is pulling over a big white dualie. Another Border Patrol Blazer is coming in from the access road. The dualie stops on the shoulder right as I pull even with it, and a young man in his early 20s--obviously a Mexican national--comes flying out of the passenger door. He takes off running down the shoulder of the road, against the flow of traffic. He's wearing a bright yellow polo-style shirt with darker horizontal striping--funny what details stand out. Four Border Patrol agents give chase. As I'm watching in my rear-view mirror, the fleeing illegal suddenly cuts right, across the heavy flow of traffic. At this point I crested a hill and lost sight of the drama, but damn, traffic wasn't light by any stretch of the definition. And flying along in the 70 mph range. That guy must've been 27 kinds of desperate to try a stunt like that. Hope nobody got hurt.

And yeah, it looked exactly like something you'd see in the movies. Very strange all around.

Now Playing: Astrud Gilberto The Best of Astrud Gilberto

Monday, August 21, 2006

Interesting times

Today is Keela's first day of kindergarten, and Calista started second grad. Lisa took them to school, documenting the whole affair on video. I got to stay home with Orion, who let me know quite clearly I was not who he wanted.

Meanwhile, the new semester is starting and the reserved staff parking lot--empty all summer long--is mysteriously full now as hordes of students register for classes, financial aid and other such things. My $140 staff parking permit is giving me the privilege of parking two blocks away and hiking cross country to get to the office.

And I've discovered the quickest way to deflate one's ego is to get a dismal royalty statement in the mail. Seriously--works like a charm. Did I mention I have a pounding headache that's laughed off all the Tylenol and ibuprophin I've thown at it? Joy.

Now Playing: Billy Joel Fantasies & Delusions

Friday, August 18, 2006

Friday Night Videos

Okay, maybe it hasn't been all that weekly here on the blog, but it remains a feature. So join me on a nostalgia trip back through time as I revisit fondly-remembered classics courtesy of YouTube. This week, I offer for your viewing pleasure a rarely-seen classic: The Traveling Wilburys' "Wilbury Twist."

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Talking Heads

Now Playing: Fine Young Cannibals The Raw and the Cooked

More Armadillocon pics

Okay, it is taking me longer to post these than planned. All I can say is, "You get what you pay for." So here're a few more shots to entertain you folks. First up is yours truly and Author GoH Julie Czerneda. Julie's a tremendous amount of fun, and her enthusiasm is downright infectious. The next shot, below right, features one of those weird "Separated at Birth" comparisons Spy used to run all the time. Who knew Charles Siros and John Picacio looked so much alike? Can you tell them apart?


Below, left, is a rarely-photographed meeting between two Austin literary legends--Bradley Denton and Neal Barrett, Jr. The exchange between the two went, I believe, something like this: Brad, "Hey Neal, are you ever going to pay me back that $20 you borrowed back in '97?" Neal, "I don't think so!" Below, right, is a scene from the "Fannish Feud" panel, with Fan GoH Grant Kruger in the foreground and Special Guest James P. Hogan standing farther back. There are other people in the pic as well, but identifying them would take effort.


Below, left, we're still on the "Fannish Feud" panel. Scott Bobo is famous (or infamous) for his partying abilities, his martini-mixing skills in particular. He mixed quite a few for this panel, which could go a long way toward explaining why the pros did so miserably in the game (I would like to point out that the one year I was on "Fannish Feud," nobody gave me so much as a flat beer!). The final pic in this set shows those hapless, snookered pros falling hopelessly for their opponents' martini-fueled ruse. From left to right we have Julie Czerneda, James P. Hogan, Diana Gill and John Picacio.


Now Playing: Henry Mancini Instrumental Favorites

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Planets out the wazoo!

By now, everyone and their dog has chimed in on the IAU's proposed new definition of what constitutes a planet. And to think that up until yesterday folks were focused on the "Is Pluto or isn't it?" angle. The IAU threw all that into turmoil, basically saying that if a celestial object has enough mass for its gravity to crush it into a spherical shape, then it's a planet. This seems like a good idea at first--a strict scientific measurement that's fairly straightforward and unambiguous. Except that this definition returns the astroid Ceres to the ranks of the planets.

Although I'm a big fan of Ceres, even I think redefining the term "planet" to include objects that small (less than 600 miles in diameter--we're talking Texas folks. Texas is big, but not planet-sized!) is going too far. The gravitational factor is a good indicator of planethood, but the concept of "planet" carries more, uh, gravitas to it than that. This definition opens the door to hundreds, if not thousands of icy Kupier Belt objects being named planets. Can open, worms everywhere. This "cure" is worse than dismissing Pluto as a planet all together.

So if I were king, how would I handle this? I'd set an arbitrary limit of 2,000 km for a true planet's diameter in addition to the other parameters listed in the new IAU definition. Why? Because that's a nice round number which just lets Pluto in the club but doesn't allow much wiggle room for anything smaller. Other than that, it's completely and utterly arbitrary. Deal with it. So, sorry Charon. Shared barycenter or not, you're too small to be a double-planet with Pluto.

Those objects that fall below my 2,000 km threshhold, yet meet all other IAU criteria, well, there's a ready-made term for them. Call them "Planetoids"--an intermediate body between the full-scale planets and irregular asteroids. I mean, "planetoid" has pretty much completely fallen into disuse, and is little more than a poor-man's synonym for asteroid these days. This would bring a little luster back to the venerable term, and also offer Ceres something of a consolation prize in the process. Am I a genius or what?

Now Playing: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Live at the Fillmore

The Whale Below: Wednesday's output

I managed a good bit of writing last night. Tuesday's rewrite helped a great deal in getting me going on this one. It's starting to turn into the fun romp I'd hoped. On the other hand, I'm starting to see some of the plot creep worm its way back into the piece. It's still leaner than I normally write, but my gray matter is seeing different elements of the story and saying to me, "Yeah, we want short. But logically wouldn't it serve the story better if...?" Example: Last night First Mate Magda and Capitan Valdez were supposed to watch a particular event unfold from the pilothouse of La Aspiva Feroz. But then I realized 1) that isolated the reader from the drama, and B) the logical thing would be for Valdez to send Magda to precipitate said drama. So what was originally intended to be recounted in a few lines at most grew into several pages. It's still tight, but there's a lot more there than I'd originally planned. Here's the aftermath, which I particularly like:
"Looks like the wreck'll float well enough. I've reassigned that grapple crew to salvage," she announced, coming down the stair. "And I'm about to have to kill that Chago, Capitan. Cut him up into little pieces and feed him to the crabs."

Capitan Valdez didn't turn from the open windscreen. He leaned out, looking over the kelper whale carcass below. "Not sure if I can spare the body, Magda. Is it necessary?"

"That sonofabitch been thinking impure thoughts 'bout me. I let a man get away with that once before. Ain't making the same mistake twice."

Capitan Valdez nodded thoughtfully. "Well, use your best judgement. But try not to spook the rest of the crew."

I realized this exchange would take place somewhere in the story as I was writing page 1. I just didn't know the context or the circumstances. Now I do. And Magda is shaping up to be a great character. Pity poor Chago--his death will be neither happy nor heroic.

Now Playing: The Smithereens 11

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Whale Below: Tuesday's output

I had a number of different things to deal with last night--some of writerly import, some not--but I was happy to eventually turn my attention to "The Whale Below" roundabout midnight, since I hadn't touched it for close to a week. I'd given it a bit of back-of-the-mind thought during Armadillocon, and was pretty clear on elements I wanted to change and rework. I've learned my lesson, to some degree, after leaving all those errors creep into Wetsilver unchallenged. So I dove into "The Whale Below" with gusto, changing the viewpoint character (major course correction, that one) and adding small, telling details throughout while cutting large swaths of description that bog things down. I really, really want to keep this story lean and tight, as my natural inclination as a writer is a more sprawling, kudzu-style prose. Here's a sample of last night's labors:
The grapples lashed out in rapid-fire cadence. The great barbed prongs
speared the smaller airships, easily piercing the outer envelopes to find
solid purchase within the superstructure. The cables tightened. The
grappling teams winched their prey to La Aspiva. Timbers groaned as the
whalers bellied up against La Aspiva's hull. Matchlocks hot and rapiers
drawn, the five boarding parties--three men each--slid across on tethers hooked
to the cables.

"I'm not hearing any killing. Why am I not hearing any killing?" demanded
Capitan Valdez. "There's always some heroes amongst the fishchasers. They
always complicate what should otherwise be a simple--"

"Mateo's signalling from the pilot house of his whaler," Magda said, leaning
forward against the glass windscreen for a better view. She frowned. "He's
shouting something." She unlatched the screen and pushed it open.

"--deserted," Mateo called out. "The whole damn ship's empty."

When all the cuts are subtracted and new stuff added, total wordcount only went up by about a page or so. Not a lot of progress, but the story's got much stronger legs now. Fingers are crossed that it will come in at under 5,000 words, I'll finish it up before long, and it will dazzle those steely-eyed vultures when I take it to Turkey City next month.

Now Playing: Robert Plant Now and Zen

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Armadillocon Friday

I left the house at around 7:45 a.m., which was a bit later than I'd hoped--but despite some significant congestion on I-35 on the south end of Austin, I made it to the hotel in time for teh start of the writers workshop at 9 a.m. I have to say, for this being her first year in charge, Melissa Taylor did a bang-up job in keeping things moving along at a good clip. She and I may have been listed as co-chairs, but the truth of the matter is that she did 99 percent of the heavy lifting involved in getting the workshop off the ground.

One weird thing happened, though. Rick Klaw and I sat next to each other during the workshop introductions, and throughout the rest of the evening, three different workshop participants came up to me and expressed how much they liked Half Price Books. It took me a while to puzzle this out, but then it dawned on me that they'd mistaken me for Rick! That's never happened before, and here it was happening 'd leathree different times. I'm not sure what to make of it.

After initial introductions, we broke out into smaller groups for critiques. Diana Gill, editor at EOS, was my co-instructor (funny how that worked out, eh?) and I spent a good deal of time paying as close attention to her critiques as the workshoppers. Since she was the apex predator on the literary food chain, as it were, her comments always came last. She pulled me aside right before we began and asked how we were supposed to approach the critiques--if the sessions should be "rah rah" or more blunt. I suggested she not pull any punches, but be nice about it. And boy howdy, she came through all aces on that count. I'm afraid I came off as the bad cop in the session, eviscerating every manuscript but one--and that one had reworked tired tropes so that it wasn't viable in the marketplace. I tried to be gentle but firm, but my natural inclination is to err on the side of tough love, since my growth as a writer was stunted for years by people telling me how wonderful the drek was that I was producing. Diana, however, delivered her critiques in such a gentle, masterful way that I almost wished I'd entered a manuscript in the session, just so I could hear her tell me how bad it was. Seriously, she was that good. I was also gratified to hear her make many of the same points as I did--albeit with far more eloquence--which gives me hope that my editorial instincts aren't too far off the mark. I may have learned as much from listening to her critiques as the workshoppers did.

After a fun alien-building exercise led by GoH Julie Czerneda, the workshop wrapped up with a 45 minute lecture/Q&A from Special Guest James P. Hogan. The workshop participants seemed to enjoy the whole affair, and the instructors seemed to as well (even if I screwed up and assigned Martha Wells to the wrong partner. Sorry Martha!). After a dash down the road to eat dinner at Freebirds, I was back in time for the opening ceremonies. Mark Finn, that wiley rascal, had been pressed into service as the stand-in Toastmaster after Esther Friesner had to cancel for personal reasons. But she really was there after all, as Finn revealed to all that he really was Friesner, having perpetrated a Tiptree-in-reverse hoax for the better part of the last 20 years, going so far as hiring his mother to portray Friesner at conventions. Oh, that wacky Finn.

Typical convention shop talk followed, lubricated by the ubiquitous Shiner Bock. After confirming the validity of one bit of information with Jess Nevins, I revealed to Mark Finn that Jules Verne had written an ape-themed opera titled Monsieur de Chimpanze, which had never been published in the U.S. I swear I thought Finn would drop dead right there. Tara Wheeler, one of the workshop participants, offered me a sample of honey mead she'd homebrewed. It was a sack mead, and quite sweet. It was almost like a good port, although it didn't quite have that much alcohol. But it had excellent balance, and enough acid to keep the rich, honeyed flavor from being cloying. Most of the meads I've ever made have been semi-dry, so it was quite nice to sample something so smooth and drinkable that also had that sweetness most neophytes expect all mead to have. After that, I ended up at the Apollocon party and managed to talk with Diana Gill some more before heading to the hotel bar to chat with Chris Roberson, Rick Klaw and Jess Nevins. Those guys packed it in after a bit, but James Hogan showed up shortly thereafter and we had a fun talk about the unprofessionalism of most comics publishers, even though Hogan admitted he didn't know the first thing about comics publishers. Ah conventions. Gotta love 'em.

Now Playing: David Shire Original Music from the Motion Picture 2010

Armadillocon pictures

For lack of time and inclination to post a thorough writeup of my Armadillocon experience at this point, I'll cheat and stick up a handful of pics I took over the course of the weekend. First up is Friday's writers workshop. Below you'll find a photo of Melissa Tyler, my co-chair in name only, as she did 99.9 percent of the work necessary to pull the event off. The other pic is one of happy participants and an instructor or two partaking in Julie Czerneda's alien-building exercise.


Next, we have Mark Finn revealing to Kim Kofmel (the legendary she of Apollocon) that he is actually Esther Friesner, and has been perpetrating a Tiptree in reverse all these many years. Don't laugh--a few minutes later, he revealed this secret to all during the opening ceremonies. The next pic shows other, non-Finn/Friesner guests of honor: Fan GoH Grant Kruger (left), GoH Julie Czerneda and Special Guest James P. Hogan.


And here we have a photo of shutterbug Elze Hamilton taking a photo of pretty much the same folks I have in my pics above. At the time I thought there was something profound in that, but I'd just eaten at Freebirds, so it was probably just the habañero sauce. The next shot gathers some, but not all of the regular Armadillocon reprobates. Pictured left to right are Chris Roberson, Mikal Trimm, Jess "Don't Call Me Jeff" Nevins and Renee "Cut Me Outta the Frame Whydon'tcha?" Babcock. In the background, you can see Editor GoH Diana Gill desperately searching for a way out of the madhouse.


That's enough for now. More to come later.

Now Playing: Talking Heads True Stories


My brother has discovered I have a presence on the web. And that people occasionally publish verbiage online that references me in some manner. So he's sending me the links.




Now Playing: Talking Heads Speaking in Tongues

Quick hits

I hope to give a more detailed account of my Armadillocon weekend soon, but at the moment my to-do list at work runneth over. So I hope you folks will be content with RevolutionSF's Live at Armadillocon 2006 blog, and Bill Crider's video blog of said event, one installment of which includes an interview with me.

Now Playing: Talking Heads Little Creatures

Thursday, August 10, 2006

My 'Dillocon sked

Tomorrow I shove off early in the morning for Armadillocon, where I'll be up to my eyeballs in writers workshop stuff. The good news is that I'm co-instructing with Editor GoH Diana Gill in my group. Gill's the person who calls the shots at EOS, so it should be an interesting experience. As for the Stargate SG-1 panel I mentioned the other day: I'm still on it, but I'm also scheduled on the "Art of Editing" panel opposite it, so guess which one I'll actually be at? Here's my iterary for the weekend. Say "Howdy" is you're in the neighborhood:
The Art of Editing
Saturday 10-11 a.m.
Diana Gill, Elizabeth Burton*, Rick Klaw, Jayme Lynn Blaschke

Guest of Honor Interview
Saturday Noon-1 p.m.
Jayme Lynn Blaschke*, Julie Czerneda
This will be my second official GoH interview gig, my first being Neil Gaiman a few years back at Aggiecon.

The Wonderful World of Online Publishing
Saturday 8-9 p.m.
Elizabeth Burton*, Mikal Trimm, Jayme Lynn Blaschke, Lynn Ward, Rie Sheridan

Sunday 11 a.m.-Noon
Jayme Lynn Blaschke, Jessica Reisman, Scott Johnson, Patrice Sarath, Bill Crider

On a disappointing note, I've just learned that Toastmistress Esther Friesner and Artist GoH Ellisa Mitchell have had to cancel their appearances. It's still going to be a good con, but it's disappointing to lose two such high-profile guests at the last minute.

Now Playing: Talking Heads True Stories

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Cross Plains Universe press

Hey kids! John Joseph Adams interviews Scott Cupp on the forthcoming Cross Plains Universe anthology over on SciFi Wire. And yours truly is even mentioned, belive it or not:
"We got a Briton Roman occupation weird horror story from Ardath Mayhar, ... a modern horror story from Neal Barrett Jr., a very weird western from fantasy writer C. Dean Andersson (featuring his female Norse barbarian warrior, Bloodsong), new work from Howard Waldrop (a Mexican fantasy featuring the great-nephew of [Howard's character] Breckinridge Elkins) ... and a 'Multiverse' story from Michael Moorcock. We [also] got some indescribable stories such as Lawrence Person's 'The Toughest Jew in the West' and Jayme Lynn Blaschke's very alternate-world fantasy of giant apes."

And come to think of it, "Very alternate-world fantasy of giant apes" describes my piece pretty effectively.

Now Playing: The Andrews Sisters 50th Anniversary Collection vol. 1

Monday, August 07, 2006

Armadillocon schedule posted

One of the things that jumps out at me on this year's Armadillocon schedule is this panel I'm listed on:

Saturday, 10 a.m. SG-1: Life After Richard Dean Anderson

Which would make more sense if I'd ever actually seen an episode of the series. I haven't. I saw the original Stargate movie in the theaters--the one with the freaky guy from The Crying Game--but I gather that's not the same thing at all.

Now Playing: Martin Hummel and Karl-Ernst Schroder 17th Century German Lute Songs

Friday, August 04, 2006

Winged visitor

Not all butterflies attracted to passiflora in Texas are Gulf fritillaries. This black swallowtail swooped in right after six p.m. and proceeded to sample three separate blossoms before continuing on its journey.


It was quite windy, so neither the passion flower vine nor the butterfly held still long enough to get many good shots, but these two turned out interesting, I think.


Would that my passion flowers attract as many different types of butterflies as it does wasps. My goodness--I suspect a representative of ever wasp, hornet and yellow jacket species in Texas is at my house, right now, stealing nectar.

Now Playing: Ry Cooder & Ali Farka Toure Talking Timbuktu

The Whale Below

In between my bouts of slackitude, I occasionally get stuff done. Last night I started a new story, working title of "The Whale Below." I already see a bunch of things I want to rework, but this gives you a taste of this particular adventure's flavor:
The buitre dropped below the scattered cloud deck, a silver dart with black lightning bolts emblazoned upon its bow. Props spinning furiously from the four nacelles boxing the stern, La Aspiva Feroz swept down upon the whaling fleet with the sun at its stern. Measuring 445 lethal feet bow-to-stern, the buitre dwarfed the smaller airships by a nearly four-to-one margin.

Capitan Baldomero Valdez sat on the edge of his seat, rubbing his thumb and forefinger together with nervous energy. His eyes, almost as dark as his beard, flicked from crewman to crewman in the pilot house. "Tactical situation, if you will, Magda," he asked in a voice as soft as nails. "What does our prey look like today?"

"Five whalers. All chasers. And all anchored to a kelper whale. A big one, too, from the looks of it," Magda answered, one hand holding a spyglass to her eye, the other gripping the elevator wheel. Her shoulders were almost as square as her jaw, and her red hair was chopped short into a curly knot atop her head. She lowered her spyglass and frowned. "I don't see a barge."

"Fortunate for us. Six less bodies to worry about. Señor Tavares, inform grapple station one to hold themselves in reserve in the event one of those chasers tries a breakaway."

"The Whale Below" is set in the same reality as the story I recently sold to Interzone, the over-titled "Being an Account of the Final Voyage of La Riaza: A Circumstance in Eight Parts." The kelper whales made a cameo in that one, and I wanted to do something where their weird ecology was a little bit more front-and-center. I'm hoping to have it finished before Armadillocon next week, and I'm also hoping this one clocks in at under 5K words rather than the 8-10K most of my stories from the past couple of years have. By this time next week, we should have a pretty good idea on both of those counts.

Now Playing: Joanne Shenandoah and Lawrence Laughing Orenda

Thursday, August 03, 2006

My kingdom for a title

I finished up the revisions to the currently untitled novelette and turned 'em in the other night. Thankfully, word has come back from Helix that my efforts are acceptable. Yay! I also understand that said story is being held to run in the spring issue, which means I'll have at least one publication to look forward to in 2007. I'm pretty proud of this story, even though I know many readers will probably have issues with it. I tried to do a number of things in it I'd never attempted before, and after many false starts and blind alleys, it appears I may have succeeded. At least a little bit.

Of course, it's still lacking a good title. Every potential title I come up with around midnight reads like crap warmed over the next morning. I've got a long list of potentials now, and none of 'em are any good. I just discovered the presumed front-runner was already used as a short story title by Charles Beaumont back in the '50s. Does that matter? I didn't recognize the story, but then again, I haven't read much Beaumont. Ah well, I've got five months or so to come up with something better.

Now Playing: ZZ Top El Loco

Stupid publisher tricks

I am agog at what has just befallen Caitlín R. Kiernan. Actually, it befell her six months ago, but the ugly truth has only now surfaced:
Finally, this afternoon, I heard from Merrilee, who'd finally heard from my editor. And it was perhaps the worst possible news. There were no books in the warehouse because, for reasons that have yet to be made clear to me, Penguin remaindered both titles in February. Why, then, was I not informed? Liz told Merrilee that she never got the e-mail from the production manager advising her to advise me of the decision. Yes, you may pause here to shake your heads in disbelief.

There is a clause in all my Penguin contracts which states that I must be notified well in advance of a book's being pulled from the warehouses, and that I will be allowed to purchase however many of the remaining copies of said book I wish to purchase at a substantial discount. The constant reader will recall that when Silk was pulled, subpress stepped in and generously gave me the funds to purchase more than 1,000 of the remaining copies. Subpress could do that because of this clause. I would copy it here, only I have none of the contracts with me. Copies of the contracts for Low Red Moon and Murder of Angels are being overnighted to me from NYC, and I'll post the relevant bits in another entry tomorrow. But trust me; it's true.

Geeze, I know from experience publishers can be maddening in the glee with which they administer careless torture upon authors, but wow. Caitlín's got the Mother Trump of all con stories now, I can tell you. Let that be a warning to you writers out there in cyberland--if you hope to retain any shred of your sanity, get out now!

Now Playing: ZZ Top Rio Grande Mud

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Zounds! I've been TAGGED!

I've been hit with a book meme via Chris Roberson. Like Mr. MonkeyBrain, I suspect this is the first time I've ever been tagged thusly. Let's see what transpires:
1. One book that changed your life?

No contest. Battle on Mercury by Eric van Lihn (later I learned that was a pseudonym of Lester del Rey). It was part of the Winston Science Fiction juvenile series. I was big into space science at the time, and was searching the Nesbitt Memorial Library card catalog for books on planets. This one came up. It obviously wasn’t non-fiction, and on top of that, it was a chapter book with lots of words and no pictures. Despite my misgivings, I checked it out and took it home to read. My life has never been the same.

2. One book you have read more than once?

There’s not a lot of them, but the one I’ve reread the most is The Lord of the Rings. I know it’s trendy to dump on Tolkien’s writing, but his worldbuilding always leaves me in awe. I’ve reread the thing somewhere around six times, and every time I open it back up, practically every page has something I don’t remember. It’s like reading an new book every time.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?

Don Quixote by Cervantes. I’ve never read it, although it’s one I’m convinced is right up my alley. I figure that on a desert island, I’d eventually get around to it.

4. One book that made you laugh?

The Princess Bride by William Goldman. You know how perfect the movie is? The book is even perfecter.

5. One book that made you cry?

I’m with Deanna Hoak on this one: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. Oh, man, I still have vivid pictures in my mind of the aftermath of the mountain lion fight. The movie’s sad enough, but the book is brutal. And I didn’t cry on this one, but Nevil Shute’s On the Beach left me deeply depressed for days afterward.

6. One book you wish had been written?

Ken Grimwood’s sequel to Replay. Sure, it may very well have sucked. But the first one was such a brilliant riff on the old “live your life over” schtick (I mean, who saw that serial killer coming? Tell the truth now) that I have great confidence Grimwood could’ve dazzled again without the scenario turning stale. It’s sad he died just as he was starting work on it.

7. One book you wish had never had been written?

Any red-meat partisan wankfest. I mean, really people. Don’t we have better things to do with our valuable reading time?

8. One book you are currently reading?

The Compleat Meadmaker by Ken Schramm. Need you ask why?

9. One book you have been meaning to read?

Lisa Tuttle's The Silver Bough is next up on my to-read list. It's currently sitting patiently on a chair beside my desk. In a more nebulous, universal sense, China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station is up near the top of my "must read" list. Yes, I admit it. I’m the one person in genre circles who hasn’t read it yet. I’m a leper. So sue me.

10. Now tag five people.

Bill Crider
Lou Antonelli
Kelly Sedinger
Michael A. Burstein
John Picacio

Now Playing: Steve Winwood Roll With It

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Last Temptation of Mel

So now the deputy at ground zero of Mel Gibson's anti-semitic meltdown is downplaying the incident:
"That stuff is booze talking," the deputy said. "There's two things that booze does. It amplifies your basic personality. If you are a laid-back kind of person, just an easygoing kind of person, booze is going to amplify that and you'll be just sitting around going how it's a wonderful day.

"But, if you are a high-strung person, it's going to amplify that, and all the bad things are going to come out."

The thing is, alcohol is a depressant, in that it lowers a person's inhibitions. Alcohol doesn't make you say "things that I do not believe and which are despicable"--it makes you say despicable beliefs that you would otherwise keep to yourself. Honestly, people, how many drunken midnight confessions of unrequited love do we have to suffer through before accepting this as a Universal Truth? As a Catholic, I find Gibson's equivocation on the matter particularly annoying: He can't have it both ways. Gibson references the Vatican and papal condemnations of anti-Semitism as a defense:
"To be anti-Semitic is a sin," he said. "It's been condemned by one Papal Council after another. To be anti-Semitic is to be un-Christian, and I'm not."

But at the same time, Gibson refuses to repudiate his father, the notoriously anti-Semitic Hutton Gibson:
Like his father Hutton Gibson, Mel Gibson follows an ultra-traditionalist branch of Catholicism that still conducts Latin Masses and rejects almost all the modern teachings of the church.

Hutton Gibson is a Sedevacantist, a Catholic breakaway sect which even rejects the legitimacy of the modern popes.

Theologians say it's a belief system underpinned by anti-Semitism and it could have fuelled Mel Gibson's outburst.

So then... Mel still stands behind his father and church, which doesn't recognize the legitamacy of the papacy. Mel, here's a hint: if you're Sedevantantist, quoting the pope and papal councils as your defense against charges of anti-Semitism doesn't hold much water. You're full of mealy-mouthed weasle words and too chickenshit to own up to what you really are. One thing's for sure--if Gibson actually were Roman Catholic, he'd be due for an excommunication right about now.

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