Wednesday, March 22, 2006

This Weekend: I-CON

I will be at a convention called I-CON this weekend, March 24-26, at Stony Brook University on Long Island. If you're going to be there, please stop and say hello. I'm scheduled to do a book signing at 8:00 p.m. on Friday evening, and will be participating on some panels throughout the weekend.

Other featured guests include George Takei, Kevin Sorbo, Spider and Jeanne Robinson, Terry Brooks, and—last but far from least—Tom Doherty, founder and publisher of Tor Books, book marketing genius, and one heck of a nice guy. If any of these people want to hang out at the same parties where I hang out, that's fine with me!

Hope to see you.


David Stemple, Rest in Peace

David Stemple was the husband of writer Jane Yolen. He died today at age 68. He was a gentle and witty man who brightened any room. He was a computer scientist, but his delight was studying birds, and he had compiled some enormous database of bird sounds. I saw him only on occasion, when he was with Jane for a book signing or some other function, or at one of their gatherings at their farmhouse. I wish I'd had a chance to know him better.

Jane herself is a delightful person (besides being a fantastic writer), and they were perfectly suited to each other. I remember them visiting once, on their way to being proud "rock and roll parents," watching their son Adam perform with his group Boiled in Lead at Johnny D's in Somerville.

It is so sad. We are losing too many of our best.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Back Home, BSG Off to Tor Again, and...

What? Galactica—again? Yes, this time I had the page proofs for the mass market paperback edition to correct. (We won't mention that the proofs were mailed by mistake to Craig Gardner, who wrote the second book, and who fortunately lives just a few blocks away.) This meant reading through the book again—actually, for the first time since I corrected the proofs for the trade edition. Why should I have to do this? you might ask. Well, partly because the typesetting has been adjusted for the smaller page size, and sometimes errors are introduced when that's done. But mainly it's to catch all the stupid mistakes we missed the first time around. Yes, it's true.

I know this makes it sound like we're careless when the first edition goes out, but that's not true. It's amazing how many errors can sneak by multiple proofreaders (including yours truly), who are all doing their best to catch the little buggers. And then there are the occasional infelicitous phrasings or word choices that any one of said proofreaders (including yours truly) should have caught—but didn't. Things like the phrase "for a moment" appearing three times in a paragraph. Yeesh.

So it's done. And you know what? I really liked reading the book. I consider this a positive sign.

Oh—the wrestling. Alexandra placed third in the Ohio state girls tournament in Mt. Vernon, Ohio. It wasn't a huge field. But lemme tell you, some of those girls who are wrestling in Ohio are tough hombres! (You should forgive the expression.) I'll try to snag a few stills off the video we shot and get them up soon.

With my sister Nancy as tour guide, we also visited the campus of Kenyon College, which is right down the road from where the tourney was held. We admired their fantastic new athletic Taj Mahal, and sought out advice and info from fellow SF author/biology professor Joan Slonczewski.

We arrived home, well after midnight on Sunday night, exhausted but happy—greeted by wife and other daughter, and dinner laid out on the table! Who could ask for more?

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Friday, March 10, 2006

Off to a USGWA Wrestling Tourney

No, not the WWF, or anything remotely resembling it. It's the U.S. Girls' Wrestling Association, an organization that promotes folk-style (high-school style) wrestling for girls, just as much larger associations promote wrestling for guys. They have many tournaments for girls after the regular wrestling season is over, and girls who have been training in a mostly male-dominated sport all winter can come together and wrestle each other. My older daughter Lexi and I are heading to Ohio later today so that she can compete in one such tournament. We're also going to squeeze in a visit to a college, as we're just about to start ramping up what I'm sure is going to prove a long search.

Here's a picture of the two of us, taken recently at one of the Massachusetts sectional tournaments—by the mother of one of the guys she came up against.

Photo © 2006 by Denise Brown. Reproduced here by permission.


Dark Energy Stars? The End of Black Holes?

A provocative article in the New Scientist online today suggests the possibility that maybe black holes really are just too cool to be true, and that what we should be looking for instead are "dark energy stars." Furthermore, to quote from the article by Zeeya Merali, "Dark energy and dark matter, two of the greatest mysteries confronting physicists, may be two sides of the same coin." Which would be a neat trick, since dark energy is apparently blowing the universe apart, while dark matter is helping to hold things together.

George Chapline, a physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, and Nobel laureate Robert Laughlin of Stanford University, and their colleagues have suggested that "the objects that till now have been thought of as black holes could in fact be dead stars that form as a result of an obscure quantum phenomenon. These stars could explain both dark energy and dark matter." The obscure quantum phenomenon is one that has been observed in superconducting crystals "as they go through something called 'quantum critical phase transition.'" It all has to do with an apparent slow-down in the passage of time, due to some quantum trick that I certainly don't understand.

Anyway, this gave the researchers an epiphany regarding black holes, and they set about analyzing what would happen if matter falling onto a collapsing star were passing through a layer of " quantum critical phase transition." And what they came up with was something that looks from the outside very much like a black hole, but without a singularity—and also without some of the problems that have frustrated black hole researchers for a while now.

I'll stop trying to summarize, because it gets a little complicated. If this intrigues you, do read the article. It might ruin your day, if you really like singularities (as I do). But what the hey, I think we were all getting a little too comfortable in our cozy little feeling that we understood all about black holes. Don't you?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Old Negro Space Program

There's a short dramatic work that had to be declared ineligible for the Nebula for technical reasons*, but it's a lot of fun to watch (free online), and at the same time delivers a punch. It's called The Old Negro Space Program, and was created as a labor of love by its...creator...a fellow named Andy Bobrow. Give it a look. It's only ten minutes long, and is a very witty ten minutes.

*By technical reasons, what I mean is, the rules** said it wasn't eligible. I'm not discounting the possibility that the rules are screwy. (I'm on the committee charged with interpreting the rules, so I'm allowed to say things like that. Though come to think of it, so is anyone else.)

**If you're having trouble sleeping tonight, you could always settle in with the Nebula Rules, which you can read online 24/7, at the link I just gave.

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Nebula Awards Final Ballot

Finalists for this year's Nebula Awards have been announced. They are:

Air by Geoff Ryman, Camouflage by Joe Haldeman, Going Postal by Terry Pratchett, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, Polaris by Jack McDevitt, and Orphans of Chaos by John C. Wright

"Clay's Pride" by Bud Sparhawk, "Identity Theft" by Robert J. Sawyer, "Left of the Dial" by Paul Witcover, "Magic for Beginners" by Kelly Link, and "The Tribes of Bela" by Albert Cowdrey

"The Faery Handbag" by Kelly Link, "Flat Diane" by Daniel Abraham, "Men Are Trouble" by Jim Kelly, "Nirvana High" by Eileen Gunn and Leslie What, and "The People of Sand and Slag" by Paolo Bacigalupi

Short Story
"Born-Again" by K.D. Wentworth, "The End of the World as We Know It" by Dale Bailey, "I Live With You" by Carol Emshwiller, "My Mother, Dancing" by Nancy Kress, "Singing My Sister Down" by Margo Lanagan, "Still Life With Boobs" by Anne Harris, and "There's a Hole in the City" by Richard Bowes

"Act of Contrition"/"You Can't Go Home Again" by Carla Robinson, Bradley Thompson and David Weddle, (2-part episode of Battlestar Galactica); and Serenity by Joss Whedon

Not a Nebula, but to be awarded at the same time, the first annual award for outstanding Young Adult SF or fantasy novel:

Andre Norton Award
The Amethyst Road by Louise Spiegler, Siberia by Ann Halam, Stormwitch by Susan Vaught, and Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie by Holly Black
The Nebula and the Andre Norton Awards are voted on and conferred by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). Winners will be announced at the Nebula Awards Banquet in Tempe, Ariz., on May 6. (I won't be there, I'm sorry to say, but best wishes to all the nominees.)

If you look at the same list at, you'll find links to online copies of many of the shorter works.

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Friday, March 03, 2006

What do Jupiter's Spots, Warplanes, Dodoes, and Memes Have in Common?

Answer: they all showed up in my inbox today.

From NASA Science News, Jupiter is growing a new red spot!

If you like pictures of cool aircraft as much as I do, follow this link from Keith Truesdale to pictures from the Moscow Air Show.

From Live Science, via blog reader Marco, news of what sounds like a funny and thought-provoking movie, in which a filmmaker portrays evolutionary scientists as a "Flock of Dodos."

And finally, an email inviting a response from me for a new blog called Meme Therapy. It looks promising, and it already has some comments by top SF writers. (I don't have a response yet, but it's on the burner.)

Electric Grapes and Strawberry Pop Tart Torches

An article in the latest SFWA Bulletin dovetailed nicely with a home-experiment tip we picked up last summer from our friend, astronomer Larry Molnar. The tip was about cool science you can do with ordinary household grapes and your microwave. The article in the Bulletin mentioned this, and also discussed the brave science you can do with a strawberry Pop Tart and an electric toaster—preferably one you never intend to use again. You can read about both experiments, at and at

If you try these at home, just don't blame me. (Actually, we tried the one with grapes, and it's pretty cool.)

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Nanotubes, Space Elevators, and Tourism Draw Closer to Reality

Having escaped from the den of mind-control aliens [brushing the dust off my sleeves], I am now on to cheerier subjects. In case you haven't kept up with progress in space entrepreneurship, there's a series of articles at on the prospects for profit-making enterprises in space—including cheaper delivery to orbit, carbon nanotubes and space elevators, and industrial and tourist parks.

This is a great reason to exercise and eat right—so we can live long enough to see this stuff happen, and maybe catch a ride topside for a firsthand look at space!


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

President Bush is an Alien

Or controlled by one. That seems the best explanation, to me.

I just finished reading an SF novel by Timothy Zahn called, Night Train to Rigel, an entertaining yarn about mystery and intrigue aboard an interstellar train. At the risk of giving away a teensy bit of the plot, I'll reveal here that one aspect of the story involves alien mind control over important leaders. Not in itself a new idea, but it works well in the context.

It also works well in the context of puzzling out the bizarrely un-American behavior of our current administration (and here I'm using "American" in the good sense—that is, standing for peace, justice, and equal rights under the law). Now, some of you probably think I'm just harping on the same old thing, and I suppose there's some truth to that. But not without reasons. The most recent two are the failure of Congress to haul White House officials up on the illegal wiretapping of American citizens, and the recent article in the New Yorker about high-level condoning of abuse and torture of prisoners. Garrison Keillor, writing on, has efficiently summarized the gist of the article, or you can read the entire article in the Feb 27 issue of the New Yorker. I couldn't find the article online, but there's an interesting Q&A with the author of the article, Jane Mayer.

It's more of the same, of course, always more of the same. And now, today, from the Natural Resources Defense Council, comes news that Bush is yet again trying open the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, this time by putting it into the federal budget package. No matter how many times we knock this madness down, it keeps popping up again like a weeble.

So I'm almost right there with Garrison Keillor—there's more than enough reason to impeach the sonofabitch. Except...that would leave Dick Cheney in charge. And he's the head alien pod-person. So I guess the only hope is to go after the aliens themselves, before they take control of more of us.

Before they...ohno they're coming after mew#$f^zzzzzzzzzzz.......what's that buzzing in my ear...?

What was I saying? Oh, I remember now. I like our president....

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Happy Birthday!

Lest I seem all dark and gloomy, let me hasten to add that today was my wife's birthday! (Well, it's yesterday now, but it still feels like today to me.) We've been together for over 20 years now, and it was a joy to celebrate with her and with the girls. She's a supportive and trusting wife, an intelligent and funny companion, and a bedrock to the raising of our daughters. And the best friend I ever had. Happy birthday, Allysen!


More on Octavia Butler

A fine remembrance of Octavia Butler appeared in the Washington Post.

I heard from a friend in Seattle—who isn't even an SF reader—that a memorial reading is planned, in which many SF writers from the Northwest will take turns reading from her work. That seems very fitting.

Too much death and threat of death around lately. I have one dear friend whose husband is dying of cancer, and another good friend whose health is failing and whose life has been so hammered by legal and financial injustices that he is dependent upon charity for medical care.

We all know that life isn't fair. But sometimes you really wonder.

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