Thursday, February 11, 2016

Have You Missed Us?

We've missed you. Have you missed us? Come visit at our blog's new home:!

If you've fallen behind, check out The Ponce Chronicles, the ongoing story of our recent trip to Puerto Rico to fix up a family house. While you're there, why don't you subscribe to our new Wordpress blog feed, so you don't miss any more installments?

See you there!

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Saturday, December 19, 2015

They’ve Moved!


Don't panic! 

Pushing a Snake Up a Hill has moved! 
Come visit us at: 

and sign up to follow us there!

Labels: , , ,

Friday, December 18, 2015

New Website—It’s Aliiive!

My new, completely revamped website has gone live, replacing the old one at the same address:

Please visit and check it out. Most of the previous content is still there, but presented in a much more readable way, especially information about my books. It’s a Wordpress site, and fully responsive, which means it’s friendly for viewing on smartphones and tablets, as well as regular computers. I hope you like it! If you have any problems, please let me know.

Thanks and kudos to Abigail and Brian McMurray for their expert work in setting it up!

My blog will be moving there, as well. In fact, this will likely be my last regular post here at Blogspot. (Sniff. G'bye, Blogspot!) I’ll be keeping this alive as a backup archive, but all my posts from this site have been ported over there, as well.

At the moment, the Subscribe to Posts function on the new site is acting a little wonky, but I hope to get that straightened out quickly. (The RSS feed should be fine.) I hope you’ll all come over and subscribe! (But give it a day or two.)

See you there!

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Neptune Crossing Back in Print!

A long time ago in a publishing house far, far away, my novel Neptune Crossing, Volume One of The Chaos Chronicles, was published by Tor Books. (Okay, Tor, now part of Macmillan USA, is in New York, which isn’t that far away.) The book has been out of print in paper for not quite as long, but long enough.

Now it’s back—in a nice trade paperback—from my Starstream Publications imprint, in association with Book View Café! You can order it! You can buy it! You can give it away!

For the moment, it’s available direct from CreateSpace, an Amazon company. Edit: And now it is available at Can you get it in time for Christmas? I honestly don’t know. I ordered copies from my publisher account, and they will not be here in time for Christmas, but it might be different for regular customers. If you find out, let me know! Edit: I think it's possible, if you order from Amazon. 

In the fullness of time, it will be available through other stores, as well, including (perhaps) your local bookstore. But that may take a while, and possibly a second printer/distributor.

Buy from CreateSpace
And now at

Time to get started on Strange Attractors. Maybe after New Years. 

Labels: , , ,

Life Imitates Art Imitating Life

This is nuts. On Thursday, an MBTA Red Line train in Boston took off without its driver (who had stepped out of the cab to throw a switch under the car). The train ran through three stations inbound from Braintree, with no one at the controls, until dispatchers cut the power to the third rail and brought it to a coasting stop.

Reports emerging from the investigation indicate that the driver had not properly set the brakes before exiting the car, and further had tied off the “dead man” lever that controls the train’s movements. (This has not yet been officially confirmed, so we’re going here by reports from The Boston Globe.)

This could be a remarkable instance of life imitating art, said art having already imitated life.

In the 2010 movie Unstoppable, a runaway freight train endangers an entire city, due to its load of toxic chemicals and the sharp curve it is thundering toward. Only the heroic actions of engineer Denzel Washington and conductor Chris Pine save the day. The cause of the runaway: a dunderhead engineer* getting out of his locomotive to throw a switch without properly setting the brakes, and (I forget exactly how) leaving the controls in such a position that they start the train rolling under power.

That movie, in turn, was inspired by a real-life incident in which a freight train in Ohio, carrying dangerous cargo, rumbled along without anyone in the cab for 66 miles before finally being brought under control in much the same way as in Unstoppable.

It would be very hard to make this stuff up and have anyone believe you.

*In the film, the engineer was clearly a dunderhead. I'm not suggesting that the driver of the T train was. That's for the investigation to decide.

Labels: ,

Friday, December 11, 2015

Watching a Writer Work

Here’s Moonlight and Captain Jack keeping me company in my office while I work. I’m pretty sure they think watching me write is a lot less interesting than watching paint dry. At least with paint, you can walk across it and then track it around in artistic ways. Watching a writer work?


Labels: ,

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Woodpecker on Site!

Here’s a fellow I found pecking away at a mulberry tree stump at the corner of our garage. He let me get pretty close. I’m wondering if he’s carving out a home for the winter. I hope so! It’d be fun to see him stick around.

Based on pictures on the Mass Audubon site, I'm guessing he's a Downy Woodpecker.

Labels: ,

Optimism Makes Us More Adaptable, Says Carver

No, that's not me I quoted in the title. But Prevention magazine, in an article titled, 9 Traits Optimists Have In Common, quotes extensively from noted University of Miami psychologist Charles S. Carver, who says that optimists, compared to pessimists, tend to be:
  • More resilient
  • Less likely to quit
  • Quicker to forgive
  • Less stressed
and five other more or lesses than. Yay! (I tend to be pretty optimistic. Although I can’t vouch for the “sounder sleepers” item; I don’t sleep soundly at all. But I think a lot of the other traits quoted in the article fit.)

And now maybe I should read the linked article, 7 Reasons You're Tired All The Time. (I wonder if optimists are more tolerant of listicles. Hm. Nah.)

Charles S. Carver, by the way, is my big brother. Ironically, I think he’d probably call himself a pessimist, but that may just be my view as the younger sib.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

A New Personal Best

Is “best” the right word here? I used to feel like a laggard when I didn’t get the window aircons out and stowed for the winter before October. Then, I think one year it slipped to November. Well, now it’s December and I’ve raced ahead and gotten two of the six units out of the windows! Hurray for me! Will I get the rest out before the snow?

I’ve never liked this task, but I swear those things get heavier and more awkward to handle every year.

On the plus side, the outside tree lights are up!


Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Capt. Kirk Commands Cutting Edge Vessel!

Captain James Kirk left port today—for real—on the bridge of the brand-new U.S.S. Zumwalt, the first of a new class of starsh-... er... Navy destroyer. It’s true. Capt. James A. Kirk really is skipper of the Zumwalt, according to the Associate Press, which reported it without so much as a blink.

The Zumwalt, named after the admiral with the memorable eyebrows and serious credits as a reformer in the Navy, is a controversial, super-high-tech prototype of a new kind of destroyer, which has a hull design more suggestive of a vessel from the 1890s crossed with the Civil War era Merrimack. This design, with the bow extended forward and down to slice into the water, and a superstructure totally enclosed in a box, reportedly makes it more efficient in the water and stealthier when it comes to radar avoidance. It’s turbine-electric powered, and has the latest in long-range weaponry. It’s also hideously expensive, so much so that the Navy cut its initial order from 32 ships to 3. Proponents say it will serve as a valuable test platform for ships of the future. Skeptics call it a boondoggle. I call it a great reason for Capt. Kirk to get back into his game. (Even if this Capt. Kirk went to Annapolis rather than Star Fleet Academy.)

Time will bring us answers to those questions of usefulness, no doubt. But right now, what I want to know is, why didn’t Capt. Kirk’s parents have the foresight to give him Tiberius for a middle name?

I suppose they must have had their reasons. Meanwhile, congratulations on your new command, Cap'n Kirk!

P.S. You can read a pretty interesting interview with Capt. Kirk here.


Monday, November 30, 2015

Thanksgiving Weekend in Provincetown

This year we packed up the whole extended family (local branch) and headed to Provincetown at the very tip of Cape Cod, for the Thanksgiving Weekend, splurging on a nice guest inn. In some ways, this was a lunatic mission, since we decided to fix our entire turkey dinner the day before, and pack it all up in coolers and take it with us for Thanksgiving dinner. But it turned out well, and we spent much of the weekend hanging out in front of a fire, and in the hot tub, and walking along the streets and waterfront of Provincetown, and doing our best not to have any consumables left to carry home at the end of the weekend. A fine time.

In the course of our walking, we came across Carver Street, and so of course had to get some pictures. Here are a couple of them.


There’s a big tower called the Pilgrim Monument, which—after climbing a lot of stairs—gives a fabulous view of the surrounding town and the end of the Cape.


Or it would have  been a fabulous view, if it hadn’t  been raining. Ah well. By the way, the reason there's a Pilgrim's Monument in Provincetown is that that's where the Mayflower Pilgrims landed first. After finding it too inhospitable, they moved on to Plymouth, where they stepped off the boat onto a rock conveniently named Plymouth Rock. Or so the story goes.

Hope you all had a great weekend!

Labels: , ,

Friday, November 27, 2015

Star Wars Coming! Print Books Coming!

Did I say that I was preparing to launch a new website? Yes, I did. And I am.

But I am also launching new print editions! That’s on paper! Tree-books. Can you believe?  It’s true!

First to appear will be Neptune Crossing, in a nice trade paperback. Perfect, now that I think about it, for giving to a loved one for Christmas! Or Hanukah! Or Solstice! Really, now that I think about it, the recipient doesn’t even have to be a loved one. It can be a liked one. Or a tolerated one. Or even someone you’d like to get rid of—someone you hope will turn back from the dark side. How about that? What better way to celebrate the new Star Wars movie?

Why else put “Star Wars” in the title of this post?

And yes, more titles will follow. Watch this space for an announcement. Soon!

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Organic Farming? Or Alien Produce?

Here at the Star Rigger Ranch, we believe strongly in organic farming, especially if someone else is doing the work. In that spirit, Allysen signed us up for a weekly allotment of organic produce through CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Every week she brings home twice as much produce as we can eat, which encourages us to give. And some of that produce is some kind of weird.

In keeping with the Thanksgiving Feast theme of today, I present to you:

The alien carrot (organic)

The face-sucking alien chard (organic)

Bra-a-a-i-i-ns (organic celeriac)

Alien fractal cauliflower (organic)

And some regular veggies (organic), just to keep us off balance.
But we know what they're up to.

Enjoy your meal!

Labels: , , ,

Happy Thanksgiving!

To everyone in the United States: Happy Thanksgiving! To everyone outside the United States: Happy Thanksgiving, even if you don't know what our holiday is about! Eat! Give thanks! Be merry!


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

About That Last Bookbub Promotion

I feel that I need to thank you all. My recent five-day Bookbub promotion on Dragons in the Stars shattered all previous records. In a typical promo, I might sell between 1500 and 3000 copies of an ebook at a temporarily discounted price. And that’s pretty cool. Bookbub is a great promotion platform for authors and publishers and a boon to book buyers, but an ad there is not cheap. Even so, those kinds of numbers cover the cost and make some nice profit besides. It also connects my work with a lot of new readers, which is even cooler.

Last winter, I had one promo that sold 4200 copies in a week, and we were shooting off fireworks at that one.

Well, last week, in just five days, more than 4600 of you wonderful people bought ebook copies of Dragons in the Stars! Are you guys great, or what? I hope you enjoy the book, and obviously I hope you will want to come back for the sequel, Dragon Rigger.

So, thank you. All of you, whoever you are. Thank you.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, November 23, 2015

New Web Site Coming!

Over the last few months, I’ve been working away in odd moments on a new project. That project is a complete revamp of my website! Oh yes, this has been a long time coming. My current site ( has existed in essentially the same form since 1996. That’s a long time in dog years and people years, and in web years, it’s practically geologic.

Time for a change, you think?

Actually, what drove me to it, beyond a nagging feeling for the last ten years that it really was time, was the relatively new importance of making websites mobile-friendly. Google made it crystal clear: If your site isn’t mobile-friendly (meaning, easy to read on a smartphone), you can expect to see your search rankings suffer.

And so, my lovingly homebrewed-html website that has served me for so long, prepare to be put out to pasture. Or into the Wayback Machine, if you will. It’s not too late to take a final look—the new site isn’t live yet for public viewing—but it will be soon. The new one will be at the same URL, but will be on the Wordpress platform, and will be way easier to browse on a phone, and for that matter, on a computer.

This blog will move to the new platform and will be at the same address as the website: (The existing blog content will appear there, as well.)

Here’s a sneak preview:

Look for an announcement soon!

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, November 14, 2015


So, having my big sale come out right after the horrific events in Paris feels crass, at best. (It was all set in motion, of course, long before those events.) I feel a bit weird about promoting books in the face of all that pain.

Truthfully, all I can think of to say about Paris is: People of Paris and France, my thoughts and prayers are with you. We’re all in this together, as you were with us after 9/11. 

Perhaps I’ll just point you to this piece, which offers some good thoughts about constructive ways not to respond to tragedies like this. Please read it.

And now that I think about it, maybe I shouldn’t feel too bad about offering redemptive entertainment in the face of real-life hatred.


Get Your Red-Hot Dragons! And Supernovas! Hot Hot Hot!

I’ve got two specials going at once, starting today! Am I crazy or what? (Yeah, I know.)

For dragon lovers, or anyone wanting to dive more deeply into the Star Rigger Universe, I offer Dragons in the Stars! How much? Ninety-nine coppers, or a single George Washington, keep the change! That’s way less than a good cup of coffee. For a very limited time, this is, so don’t delay.

$.99 @ Kindle | Nook | Smashwords | Kobo | iTunes | Google

For lovers of hard SF, with layers of big cosmic stuff interwoven with nanotech and AI, not to mention interesting characters, I offer From a Changeling Star! How much? This one’s a single George Washington plus ninety-nine coppers. Still less than a cup of coffee! Think of this: the more copies you buy, the more you save!

$1.99 @ Kindle | Nook | Smashwords | Kobo | iTunes | Google

I didn’t set out intending to do two at once, but that’s how my Bookbub and Fussy Librarian promos, respectively, shook out. So I’m riding the tiger.

Just for a few days, on this one.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Hitting a Wall Writing?

Writing can be so frustrating. You start out with a brilliant idea, and you fling yourself into it with abandon. And you write up a storm. And after a while...

Jim C. Hines says exactly what I feel. Happens to me every damn time. Here's what he wrote:

I decided to talk about that part in my process where the novelty and shininess has worn off, and I realize my outline is broken, and suddenly it feels like the story is crumbling in my hands, and what was I even thinking???

It happens with pretty much every book I write, usually around 1/4 to 1/3 of the way through the first draft.

Here’s an excerpt from the pep talk:

This is the time in Jim’s writing process where, like Charlie Brown kicking at that elusive football, I lose my footing and end up flat on my back, staring into the sky and wondering what the heck just happened.

My shiny new idea isn’t quite so shiny anymore. I’ve gotten lots of words down, but they don’t exactly match what I was imagining. And this next part of the outline doesn’t make any sense at all, now that I think about it more closely. Good grief, the Jim who was outlining this thing last month is an idiot. And now I have to fix his mess.

Everyone’s writing process is different, of course. You might zip through the entire month with never a doubt, never a stumble. (In which case I hate you a little bit.) But most of the writers I know, beginners and pros, hit a point at least once in every project, sometimes more, where everything feels like it’s falling apart.

[Read the rest on Jim’s blog. Or the longer version here.]
All I can say is, Amen to that. And to everyone doing this year's NaNoWriMo, good luck, and write on!

Labels: ,

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Do the Funky Conch Hop

A conch is a kind of snail, right? And snails don’t jump; they ooze, right? Well, not always, it turns out. Here, from Science News, is a story about the motion of Gibberulus gibberulus gibbosus, aka hunchbacked conch.

To quote: “The sea snails save their jumping for conch emergencies, such as when they detect dissolved body odor from the deadly cone snail Conus marmoreus. Cone snails glide rather than jump. But if a cone snail gets close enough, it harpoons the conch with a long, venom-delivering proboscis that is as agile as an elephant’s trunk. Then it reels in the paralyzed conch like a fish on the line. Such threats favor epic jumping in spite of the conch circulatory system...” [more]

Watch this conch jump. (It’s small in the screen, so click in the lower right corner to maximize.)

Labels: ,

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Braided Clouds, from Space

This NASA image caught my eye on The Atlantic’s website. (Click the link if this embed code doesn't work. Ah, nope, it doesn't. Click the link.) Cloud vortices off Heard Island, south Indian Ocean, from NASA's Aqua satellite.

Cloud vortices off Heard Island, south Indian Ocean. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this true-color image of sea ice off Heard Island on Nov 2, 2015 at 5:02 AM EST (09:20 UTC). A cloud vortex- the circular pattern seen here- is produced by the flow of air in the atmosphere. Heard Island (visible in the lower right portion of the image) is located in the Indian Ocean, about two-thirds of the way from Madagascar to Antarctica. The island is uninhabited by humans, although it is home to many birds and seals. Heard Island is rugged and mountainous, and is mostly covered with ice. It is also home to an active volcano, Mawson Peak. The island has been a territory of Australia since 1947. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Jeff Schmaltz/MODIS Land Rapid Response Team #nasagoddard
A photo posted by NASA Goddard (@nasagoddard) on

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Gorilla Watching Cat Video

I can’t figure out how to embed this (short) video, so I’ll just have to give you the link, at

The commenter noted that the girl seemed to be ignoring the magnificent creature beside her. I actually found it rather sweet that she was sharing a video in such an unstudied way—just one friend to another.

Labels: ,

Monday, November 02, 2015

Another New Star Trek!

CBS announced today that they’re launching a new Star Trek series in January of 2017, to be aired on their paid subscription channel CBS All Access. The first episode will be on broadcast TV, to get us hooked. Alex Kurtzman, one of the co-writers of the reboot films Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, will be executive producer.

I’m of several minds on this announcement. I’m excited to hear that Star Trek is returning to television! On the other hand, I’m sad to hear that to see it, I’ll have to subscribe to yet another pay service. Granted, this was true of Game of Thrones, which (for that very reason) I came to late. And it’s true of Alpha House (by Garry Trudeau), one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen, though as an Amazon Prime member I got to see that for free. And it’s true of Episodes, another of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen, which I only caught on DVD after the fact. Is this the wave of the future, for quality original programming? I think it is.

But will this be quality programming? Kurtzman has a solid track record, although I admit I (again!) had mixed feelings about the reboot films, with its alternate timeline to the established Star Trek universe. Still, they were good movies, if flawed (especially Into Darkness). But this announcement is all about “franchise”—which is a term I hate when it's applied to creative endeavors—and is short on specifics. It leaves me wondering if they really have a vision for the new series, or if they’re simply reviving a guaranteed money-maker. (Hey, let’s do a new Star Trek show! It’ll be big. What will it be about? Well, I don’t know. Wait, I’ve got it! New characters, folks having adventures in space!) I didn’t really catch much of the vision thing in the announcement. There’s no indication yet of which timeline it will be set in, or whether it comes before, after, or concurrently with any of the existing Star Trek story lines. And if the latter, if it will for God’s sake have some new adversaries, rather than continuing to recycle the old ones.

So, I’m excited. But cautious. I’ve learned caution, when it comes to anticipating new TV shows.

In the meantime, I finally got to the theater and saw The Martian. What a terrific movie! If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t wait for the DVD. Big screen. Go for the big screen. I also watched the first episode of Supergirl and thought it showed real promise. Not brilliant, but good. It has the upbeat tone I was hoping for, a welcome alternative to the ubiquitous “darker, edgier, grittier” mantra that has marked so many shows in recent years. Including, um, Star Trek.

Labels: ,

Friday, October 30, 2015

NaNoWriMo Writing Tools Bundle!

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for 2015 is coming up, and I imagine there are a lot of writers who would enjoy another good book on writing or two. Or five. Or how about twenty-five, all in one bundle? It’s a great collection—and no, I’m not part of it.

Here’s the full scoop, which I’ve shamelessly lifted from the Book View Café blog:

BVC is delighted to be included in StoryBundle's 2015 NaNoWriMo Writing Tools Bundle. Not only is our Brewing Fine Fiction anthology part of the bundle, so are two additional guides by BVC members: Writing Horses by Judith Tarr and Writing Fight Scenes by Marie Brennan.

Never heard of StoryBundle? It's where you can get fantastic ebooks at one low pay-what-you-want price. DRM-free means you can read them on just about all the devices you own, no matter who makes it.

  • Pay the minimum $5 and get Brewing Fine Fiction plus five other great titles.
  • Beat the bonus price ($13), and get seven more books including Writing Horses and Writing Fight Scenes.
  • Opt into the 2nd tier bonus ($25) and get the 2014 NaNoWriMo bundle as well, for a total of twenty-five fantastic writing books!

Plus Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of their proceeds to charity.  
National Novel Writing Month happens every November. Thousands of writers all over the world take up the challenge to produce a novel in a month.

This toolkit offers great advice from a multitude of seasoned professionals including Kevin J. Anderson, Lawrence Block, Algis Budrys, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Dean Wesley Smith, and Al Zuckerman. Curator Kevin J. Anderson writes:
Here, to get you ramped up for the marathon, I've curated a baker's dozen of instructional books on all aspects of writing, from craft, to productivity, to business, to career advice, to specific areas of expertise. Presenting, for the second year in a row, the NaNoWriMo Writing Tools StoryBundle: a massive batch of useful books that will help you survive—and thrive—during National Novel Writing Month—the full spectrum of useful information. You name your own price, whatever you feel this batch of books is worth, and part of the money you pay goes to help the supportive non-profit NaNoWriMo organization. 
I put together these books from the general to the specific, a treasure chest of books vital to your success—not only in writing your novel but in launching your long-term career as a successful writer. This is a toolkit, a drill sergeant, a mentor, and a cheerleading section, all in one.
For complete details and to pick up your bundle, visit 2015 NaNoWriMo Writing Tools Bundle.

Me again. I picked up my bundle last night. Limited time offer. What are you waiting for?

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Massive Ebook Sale at Kobobooks!

This one took me completely by surprise. Starting today, Kobo is running a huge half-price sale on all ebooks published directly with them by the authors (through a program called Kobo Writing Life). That’s a huge number of books, and includes all of mine. Time to stock up! And they’re paying authors the full royalties, so you can buy knowing you’re not just getting bargains, you’re helping authors get a boost.

Here are the details. The sale is a little different in different countries. And you have to use the coupon codes below.

October 28th – October 31st
Promo Code: CA50SALE

United States/Australia/New Zealand
October 27th – October 30th
Promo Code: GET50SALE

United Kingdom
October 30th – November 2nd
Promo Code: UK50SALE

Promo code is valid for 50% off select eBook purchases from this list.

Here’s a link to the page listing all of my books:

Treat or treat! Go get ‘em.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

I Hate Raking Leaves, and I Hate Leaf Blowers. But Drones, Now...

Via the Washington Post, here’s a video of a leaf-clearing method I could get into. The guy's broom breaks, and he looks for another solution:


Sunday, October 25, 2015

I Guess I’m Not 25 Anymore

I hadn’t played softball in at least twenty years, and when a bunch of people at our church retreat (on Thompson Island, in lovely Boston Harbor) got a game going, I thought, Why not? It’ll be fun! And it was, for a while. I can still catch a ball, and throw it reasonably accurately if not far, and even smack it for a base hit when I swing a bat! Amazing!  Especially since I was never very good at that stuff even when I was at my athletic prime.

What I can’t do, apparently, is run without injuring myself. Racing for home plate, I was about two strides from home when my left leg seized up and went out from under me, and I face-planted (dug a furrow in the ground with my nose, I think), and slid to a stop with my hand on the plate. My first thought—You look like an idiot. My second thought—PAIN!!! And I commenced rolling on the ground, trying to stretch the cramp out of my leg.

Well, I managed to give myself a pretty good hamstring pull, and now I’m hobbling around wrapped in an Ace bandage, giving an occasional yelp when I move in the wrong way. Luckily, I already have an appointment with the physical therapist tomorrow, for an Achilles tendon problem, so I’m covered there. And I have a classy-looking cane acquired years ago for costume purposes, so I’m covered there. But I count on walking and bicycling to get my exercise, so I'm more than a little concerned about slipping into worse shape while I heal.

But never mind that. To answer what seems to be everyone’s first question:

Yes, I scored the run.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Lunar Eclipse, with Lightning

Check out this stunning photo in full size on Astrononomy Picture of the Day, with explanation. Photo by Jose Antonio Hervás. Check out his site, too, for a lot of stunning photographs.


Monday, September 28, 2015


Last night’s supermoon lunar eclipse was gorgeous, even viewed from our suburban Boston driveway. It gave me a reason to bring out my Meade ETX-90 Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope, which is a compact 3.5 inch reflector that I don’t use as much as I would like. I don’t have equipment for taking pictures, so I’ll show you some that other people took.

The thing that most struck me was how much the reddened Moon, with its dark, patchy maria, looked like pictures of Mars, especially from the days when astronomers had only modest ground-based telescopes—but even now, with the Hubble.  I'll show you one of those, below the moon shots.

The other thing, as I peered through the lens wishing I could see the Apollo lander equipment, was that twelve men walked on that world over forty years ago. It’s high time some more men took that stroll—and some women, too. And maybe for some to go there to stay.

The third thing was, this was an anniversary of sorts for Allysen and me. It was the last supermoon eclipse, in 1982, that got us started dating!

Here (if the code works) is a slideshow the Telegraph put together on short notice. Our view probably looked most like the one you’ll see from Paris, here.

And here’s a shot of Mars, from the Hubble Space Telescope. Reminiscent, no?

And what the hey, in keeping with the theme, here’s a picture of Moonlight:


Labels: ,

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Happy Birthday to All of Us—Play It, Sam!

No more do you have to pay a royalty to Warner Chappell Music if you want to use the “Happy Birthday” song in public, in a film, or in your dining room! For most of us, it’s been an interesting bit of trivia that the song “Happy Birthday to You” was under copyright. But for filmmakers and others, it’s been a significant expense. In fact, Warner Chappell Music has been making millions of dollars on it. Well, no more.

US district judge George H King, in Los Angeles, has ruled the copyright claim invalid. The history of the song rights is something of a convoluted story, which you can read about in the LA Times or The Guardian. The bottom line, according the court ruling, is that the 1935 copyright claim applied to a specific arrangement of the song, not the tune itself. And the lyrics apparently were never copyrighted. Warner Chappell Music may be facing significant claims for refunds of the millions they’ve charged over the years.

Play it again and again, Sam! Play it in public!

Labels: ,

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Volkswagen Cheats the World

Every time I think I’m beyond surprise at what complete jerks large corporations can be, something comes along like the latest from Volkswagen. In case you’ve been on a camping trip and haven’t heard the news, the CEO of Volkswagen has admitted that VW has for years been installing software on their diesel-powered cars designed specifically to cheat emissions testing. Customers who bought cars thinking they were buying the latest in safety for the environment and fuel efficiency were getting neither.

This short video from the Washington Post sums the whole thing up in stunning detail.

What I’m wondering is why the CEO of VW is still employed and, for that matter, hasn’t been arrested.

More here.

Update: The CEO of VW has resigned. Who knew I wielded such power? 


Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Free Range Panglor!

The tide waters have receded, and I am back to my usual shenanigans. Today I am mercilessly giving away ebooks of my novel Panglor, to anyone who will take a copy.

That’s right. Panglor’s story is FREE, for a limited time only, in just about every ebookstore you can ask for. Buy it now! It’s free! It’s almost like not buying it at all! (But you still have to “buy” it to get it for free.)

If you are a regular listener, you know that I have done this sort of thing before. In fact, last May 21st, I ran a Bookbub ad for Neptune Crossing free, and over about a week and a half, there were something like forty-thousand downloads. That’s a lot of new readers and potential readers. (Even I realize that not everyone is immediately hunkering down to read their free downloads. But you know what, it turns out a lot of them did.) That last giveaway, intended to /s/e/t/ t/h/e/ h/o/o/k/ i/n/t/o/ entertain readers who were previously unaware of The Chaos Chronicles, was a big success. Sales were up for a good two, two and a half months after the ad.

Just to clarify for the sake of you aspiring writers hoping for fame and fortune, this does not mean I’m getting rich. I could still earn more in just about any other line of work, except maybe teaching. But sales are going nicely indeed, and I’m getting occasional gratifying emails from appreciative readers who discovered those books via the free intro.

So I’m trying again, but this time with the Star Rigger Universe—which is a more loosely bound collection of stories than the linear Chaos series. Panglor is the first book, at least in the chronology of the future history, but after that, the order is not intuitively obvious. I’ve spent much of the last week, when not fighting back floodwaters, writing all-new “from the author” notes at the end of each book, suggesting the next read in the series—and putting in appropriate excerpts of the recommended next book. Time consuming, that, but I hope in the long run it will help readers find their way in an enjoyable tour of the Star Rigger Universe.

In just twelve hours since the Bookbub ad ran, there have been over 21,000 downloads—in the Kindle store alone!

So what are you waiting for?? Queue up and buy your free book!

Kobo | iTunes | Google

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, September 06, 2015

What a Week It’s Been!
    You know how sometimes it’s just one damn thing after another? Well, around here lately it’s been one damn thing after another after another after another....

    The hardest thing actually happened first, while we were at Sasquan (see earlier posts). My mother-in-law’s dog Diego, a charming and beloved cairn terrier who was her lifeline, died unexpectedly. We were very sad, and she was devastated, and we cut short our planned post-con vacation and came home to be with her.

    From there, it was simply adding insult to injury, a concatenation of minor and major mishaps that left me reeling. For starters, everything around me started breaking:

    • On the way home, my suitcase wheels break.  
    • After arriving home on the red-eye from Seattle, I collapse into my living room recliner. Whoomp. The back flops horizontaland that’s where it stays. (The gas cylinder has just given out. The gas cylinder for which you can't buy a replacement. I eventually epoxied it back in the upright position.)  
    • Next day, Allysen informs me that the refrigerator isn't working right. What? That can’t be! We just bought it only, like, 24 years ago! I spend two hours cleaning dust and fur out from under and behind and in the works. That brings it almost up to spec on max cool, but I think a new one is in our future. 
    • The next day, I flick on the cable TV. No sound. I unplug the cable box/DVR, and plug it back in. That’s done it: It’s dead, Jim. (On Monday, the cable guys spend two hours replacing the power cord, the HDMI cable, and half the house wiring.) 
    • 2 a.m., a couple of days later. My daughter on the cell. A close friend of hers, a student with no family within a thousand miles, has been arrested for—let’s just call it very bad driving choices—in a town forty minutes away, and could I go bail him out. (A great kid who made some regrettable decisions that night.)  At least the local magistrate, rousted out of bed at 4 a.m. to release him on bond, is cheerful and friendly. See you in court Monday morning!

    In the meantime, I am working feverishly getting some changes made to six of my books in preparation for a big promotion coming up next week. Also, a reorganization proposal for my website is on my desk, waiting for me to look at it. And the person who’s going to help me get print editions in the works waits patiently for me to get back to her with some answers to basic questions. Do I know what font I want? Umm...

    • Court for the friend is an interesting experience, which I write up for my own story notes. Gotta use that some day. The end result of the court appearance being, of course, a future court date. 
    • Give it a couple of days, and I’m standing outside talking to someone on the street. My downstairs neighbor calls from the front door: “There’s water coming from my ceiling!”  I sprint upstairs. Our tiny pantry/laundry room is flooded. Our two-year-old washer (a Samsung, a Consumer Reports Best Buy!) has let go from the drain pump, sending water down through the walls to the first floor and basement. The basement ceiling and various places in the walls are opened up as I write, with fans blowing.
    • Do I think I’m done with flooding? No, one more little nose-tweak. Last night, I’m walking through the basement and almost miss it: the pool of water overflowing the particle-board shelf where sit—sat—our jugs of emergency water. Really? 
    So far, today has been uneventful. Dare I hope?

    For a writer, all things are fodder. Surely, one day I will get a story out of all this!


    Sunday, August 30, 2015

    Schrödinger’s Sasquan—Part 3

    It takes a good sense of humor to attend a worldcon. Last year, at Loncon, we procrastinated too long in getting a place to stay, and we wound up camping on a sailboat moored somewhere off the Thames. This year, we put in for a room early, and requested a room on a quiet floor of the main con hotel. (No more schlepping an hour each way to get to the con for us!) What did we get? A room two doors down from the con hospitality suite, open 24 hours a day!

    To our surprise, it worked out okay. The soundproofing was good, and we were rarely bothered by the noise. And when we got the munchies around midnight, we just had to throw on some pants and shoes and go down the hall.

    If there’s one thing (most) science fiction fans have in abundance, it’s a sense of humor. When I saw this T-shirt at Sasquan (just weeks after my attendance at the Schrödinger Sessions for SF writers), I knew I had to have it.

    Wanted: Schrödinger’s Cat
    After Sasquan, we visited relatives in the Puget Sound region, and got a further look at the extreme drought conditions currently afflicting the U.S. Northwest. The grass is brown, and even many bushes are brown. Here’s picture of a rhododendron that’s surely alive... and dead... all at the same time. (Not unlike some con-goers I saw early Sunday morning.)

    Schrödinger’s Rhodo 
    One personal highlight of the con was at last meeting my friend Ann, who for years has been helping me format my ebooks—yes, those same ebooks I’ve been flogging (not too relentlessly, I hope) for almost as long as I’ve been writing this blog. Ann lives in Washington, and all this time our communication has been by email. She's a fan who offered to help, because it's fun! (!!!) At last, we met face-to-face, and Allysen and I got to take her out to dinner, as a very small thank-you for all the work she’s done for us. (But was I smart enough to take a picture? Noooo...)

    Finally, here’s some of the quirky fan art that accompanied Sasquan. I love fan art.

    Artist: Fan GoH Brad Foster

    Artist: Ray VanTilburg
    And that's my roundup of the 2015 Worldcon!

    Labels: , , ,

    Saturday, August 29, 2015

    Sad Sad Puppies Affair—Sasquan Roundup, Part 2

    During the lead-up to the worldcon and the Hugo Awards, there was a good deal of commotion about the attempt by the Sad Puppies coalition (consisting largely, but not entirely, of conservative white male writers), joined by the more toxic Rabid Puppies, to hijack the awards and stuff the final ballot with their choices of candidate works. I say “attempted,” but in fact they managed to overwhelm several of the major categories. (You might have heard about it on NPR, or read about it on, or seen it elsewhere on the net, where it seemed to be ubiquitous. Personally, I tried to avoid spending much time reading about it, because life is short and mean-spirited drama is long.) If you’re unfamiliar with the controversy, those links will bring you up to speed. The bottom line: A group of conservative-to-rabid voters organized to game the awards this year. In response, a couple of thousand more convention registrants than usual showed up to vote, in defense of an open awards process.

    After a long, angry buildup, many con-goers expected to see blood in the hallways of the convention center. It didn’t happen. David Gerrold, one of two author Guests of Honor (Vonda McIntyre was the other), was a target of some nasty pre-con slurring, and he could have chosen to lash out in his GoH speech. He did not. In fact, he delivered a classy affirmation of his love of science fiction and science fiction fandom (transcript here). His only reference to the whole affair was an expression of gratitude to those (not present) who had helped clarify in his mind what he wanted to say. Connie Willis, who had earlier declined to be a presenter, showed up in mid-program to cheer on the process.

    David Gerrold and Tananarive Due MC the Hugos

    Awards time came, and in five categories that had been largely or completely taken over by the puppies, the voters chose “No Award,” in a clear repudiation of the hijack attempt. You can see the final results here, including the categories voted "no award." My congratulations to the winners! But it was not a victory without price.

    While I stand firmly with the rejection of the gaming effort of the SPs, I feel for those writers and editors who were hurt by the whole affair. Some innocent writers and editors were unwillingly associated with the puppies slate, because the SPs happened to like their work. Other worthy individuals were kept off the final ballot because of the stuffing. Still, the winning novel, The Three Body Problem, by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu), got its place on the ballot because another author withdrew his work after receiving support from the stuffers.

    Some say that the Hugo Awards as an institution were strengthened by the voters’ repudiation of the attempt to game the system, and I hope that turns out to be true. But it’s hard to say that there were winners in the affected categories. Those writers who were shut out may get another chance, another year, and then again they may not. Either way, it has to hurt.

    For perhaps the most thorough summary of the matter, I recommend this article from Wired, which includes coverage of “supplementary awards,” the Alfies, created and handed out with great cheer by Game of Thrones’ George R.R. Martin. In all, I have to agree with his summation, that vindication of the process came with considerable regret.

    If you'd like to watch the entire proceedings, you can stream the Hugo Awards video here:

    Labels: , ,

    Friday, August 28, 2015

    Smokycon—er, Sasquan—Roundup, Part 1

    We’ve returned home at last from Sasquan, the 2015 World Science Fiction Convention. It was a wonderful worldcon, though for much of the time the air in Spokane was borderline unbreathable due to wildfire smoke. Here are a few photos taken at various times, during bad air and good. 

    The first is a view out the convention center window, when the air was turbid with haze—and a sign that appeared on the doors leading out of the convention center that day. (Later in the evening I looked out our hotel room window over the sepia-colored skyline of the city, and saw a long train of black tanker cars winding through the center of the city. I thought I was witnessing the beginning of the eco-apocalypse.)

    The next day the wind shifted, and the air was much nicer. That’s when I took these, on the riverside park bordering the convention center.

    There are lots of quirky touches to the park. Sculptures along the river, molded directly into the railing. And the giant red Radio Flyer wagon, with the built-in slide for kids. Not to mention the trash-eating mechanical goat, here being fed a napkin by my wife Allysen.

    The programming included a wonderful Guest of Honor speech by David Gerrold, affirming his love of science fiction. (Short version: Reading SF changes the way you view life and the universe. It builds empathy, especially for those who are different from you. Empathy is the first step toward true sentience. Follow this road long enough, and you reach the beginning of wisdom.)

    I unfortunately missed the speech by the other Guest of Honor, Vonda N. McIntyre; but I did get to chat with her and to share a couple of program items, including a panel on Book View Café as a model for cooperative publishing by groups of authors. My other panel, on the New Space Opera (sharing the stage with Charles Stross, Hugo-nominee Ann Leckie, and several others) played to a standing-room-only audience. I hope I said something intelligent—but as is my practice, I leave that to the audience to decide. Suffice it to say here that space opera (once a term that was used pejoratively) is now a part of our greater cultural landscape, including not just print fiction but TV and movies, and it’s grown up a lot in the last 60-70 years.

    The much-covered Sad Puppies drama played itself out in the Hugo Awards ceremony. That’s next.

    Labels: ,

    Thursday, August 20, 2015

    Worldcon, Spokane, and Wildfire Smoke

    We’re enjoying the start of Sasquan, the 2015 World Science Fiction Convention (aka worldcon) in lovely Spokane, Washington. The Spokane (rhymes with can) Convention Center is located right next to the aptly named Spokane River, with a beautiful riverside park. We’ve already seen a number of friends, and I listened to a great talk by a Vatican astronomer on astronomical models that were almost right, but not quite—usually because the astronomers of the time didn’t make the leap from the data they had to imagining the right questions to ask.

    The air, however, is a bit thick here. Washington state and neighboring Canada have a lot of wildfires going, and it makes for uncomfortable breathing at times—and eerily red sunsets. My phone camera failed to catch the effect, so I don’t have a good picture. But here’s a map of the fires currently going, and you can see that the U.S. Northwest and Canada are getting the brunt of it. But the smoke is actually carrying all the way across the U.S. on the jetstream.

    On our drive from Seattle to Spokane, we stopped off to see the Grand Coulee Dam, and I talked to a U.S. Forest Service guy who had also stopped to see the dam. He was on his way to a fire. I asked what his role was. He said he manages a group of helicopters that takes firefighters in to rappel down close to fires in hopes of cutting them off before they can spread. Gottta hand it to those guys!

    Meanwhile, if you're attending the con, I hope you'll stop by one of my events and say hello. Today (Thursday) I'm on a panel about Book View Cafe, an author collaborative. Saturday I'm autographing, and also participating on a panel on Space Opera.

    Labels: , , , , ,

    Saturday, August 08, 2015

    Our Hot New Grill

    Not long ago, I remarked to someone that it was a point of pride with me that I’d never actually bought a gas grill, but had gotten along for years on trash-picked models that simply required some repair. (In our town, trash-picking is a well-regarded means of recycling things. Sometimes people even post to the town email list about items they’re putting out at the curb, which is how I got our lawnmower, our snowblower, and our first couple of gas grills.)

    I can no longer make that brag. Our grill has been tottering on its last legs for a while, and it never was all that good to begin with. Allysen quietly decided to get me a new grill as an early birthday present. She did all the online research, reading reviews and searching for features. Upon my return from the quantum workshop I found a huge box in the back of our truck, bearing the words “Kenmore Gas Grill. Assembly required.”

    What fun! Some assembly was indeed required. Much assembly was required. Not all the parts fit. There are two parts left over, angle irons with holes drilled in them. What are those for? I learned that—contrary to common practice—assembling large pieces of hardware in the dark, or alternatively, in the hot blazing sun, is not necessarily the smartest way to do it. But now it’s together. And what a glorious gas grill!  I especially like the built-in LED lights and the fold-out side table.

    I have not yet cooked anything on it, because every evening this week has been booked up. But I’m hankering to. I might just go out there and cook a single veggie burger on it, if that’s what it takes to get this thing rolling!


    Labels: ,

    Friday, August 07, 2015

    Dragons Fly Free in Dragon Rigger!

    My novel Dragon Rigger, sequel to Dragons in the Stars, has been unavailable as a stand-alone book for over a year now. No more! My new edition has just gone up in all the stores, with a new cover and all-new formatting.

    Dragon Rigger continues the story of Jael and the dragons she met in Dragons in the Stars, but much of this book is the dragons’ stories more than hers, and much of the book is told from the viewpoints of fire-breathing lizards. It’s not fantasy, though, except in the broadest sense. It’s science fiction, with a mythical and fantasy feel, set in a universe of interstellar travel. It’s a book I’m particularly proud of, even if it didn’t gain its full audience in its original print publication from Tor. The ebook audience seems to like it.

    Here’s the blurb (short form):

    A realm at war. The star dragons struggle under the oppression of a terrible power, one that’s intent upon twisting spacetime itself into a web of subjugation and death. According to prophecy, One will come from outside to challenge the darkness. Star pilot Jael may be that One. But if the prophecy is true, the price of victory over the darkness will be Jael’s own life.

    Kindle | Nook | Apple | Kobo

    Truth in advertising note: Dragon Rigger is part of the boxed set Dragon Space: A Star Rigger Omnibus. If you have that, you only need this edition if you’re a complete collector.

    Download it and fly free with the dragons and the ifflings!

    Labels: , , ,

    Sunday, August 02, 2015

    The Cat’s Still Alive (and Dead)! — Schrödinger Sessions

    Not really Schrödinger's cat, but she is in a box.
    I’ve just come back from an incredible weekend at the Schrödinger Sessions: Science for Science Fiction, at the Joint Quantum Institute at the University of Maryland, near Washington, D.C. The JQI staff hosted just over a dozen SF writers, and for several days stuffed our heads full of information about quantum physics. It was head-exploding. But in a good way!

    Here are some of the things we learned from Chad Orzel, Steve Rolston, Chris Monroe, and others:
    • How to become quantum (which only works if you are very small, much smaller even than I was when I was at my low weight).
    • How (if you can master the first step) you can be in two places at one time—and also how to collapse that state so that you’re just in one.
    • How to trap a single charged atom (ion) in a vacuum trap and cool it to just a whisker above Absolute Zero. (And we leaned over and didn’t touch! equipment that does just that.)
    • How to quantum-entangle two or more particles in the above-mentioned apparatus. (Okay, I still don’t really understand how to do that.)
    • How to make light disappear with two polarized filters, and reappear with the addition of a third. (I sort of understand that.)
    • That sometimes the answer to the question “Why?” is “Just shut up and calculate.”
    • That probability is not a definition of a thing, but a statement of our knowledge of a system.
    • That probability is not a definition of knowledge after all, but of our ignorance about a system.
    • That there are two rules of quantum mechanics:
    1. Quantum objects are waves, and can be in states of superposition (more than one position at a time).
    2. Rule #1 holds as long as you don’t look!
    Professor James Gates (familiar from countless PBS documentaries) told us why he doesn’t buy the extra dimensions suggested by most string theorists.
    Professor Raman Sundrum (of the Randall-Sundrum Model) told us why he does, and furthermore why it’s possible we’re living in a holographic universe.

    I learned that quantum physicists say "I don't know" a lot.

    There was tons more, presented by a bunch of professors. I hope I can remember it. Or most of it. Or some of it.

    Part of it, in fact, plays right into what I’m trying to do in The Reefs of Time. So I really hope I can remember that part.

    Maybe I’ll buy the book by Chad Orzel, one of the workshop leaders, How to Teach [Quantum] Physics to Your Dog.

    Down in there is a glowing cluster of verra verra cold ytterbium atoms.  

    Labels: , , ,

    Saturday, July 18, 2015

    Loving This View of Pluto

    NASA has put together a short animation from some of the images taken by New Horizons, showing amazing detail of the mountain range and one of the smoother sections. This is only the beginning. Think of it! We are all part of the generation of Humanity that got to see Pluto up close for the first time! (Actually, come to think of it, I have lived to see, with the rest of the world, every planet in the solar system up close for the first time. That’s pretty amazing.)

    You can see it bigger at APOD.

    How can you not heart Pluto? I’m sure the aliens who painted this feature on the surface of the planet were much nicer than the ones I wrote about last time.

    The heart-shaped feature has been provisionally named Tombaugh Regio for farmer-astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930. (And whom I got to hear speak at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, back in the late 1980s.)


    Labels: , ,