Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Pro Wrestling on the SciFi Channel?!!

Reader Tsmacro sent me an article that made my jaw drop. According to Zap2it.com, the SciFi Channel is...oh God, I'll just quote them, it's less painful than typing the words myself:

World Wrestling Entertainment and NBC Universal are extending their relationship, bringing the resurrected Extreme Championship Wrestling to the Sci Fi Channel for a summertime run.

Because when you think of pro wrestling, you think of the Sci Fi Channel.
Riiiight. I have a hard time thinking of anything more appropriate to a science fiction network than a run of mindless pseudo-sports whose chief characteristic is appealing to the lowest (and by lowest, I mean worst, not broadest) common denominator.

Now, I know there are those people—one of them is even a friend of mine, but I won't mention his name—who find this sort of drivel entertaining. But it's beyond me why. Okay, maybe I'm a little sensitive because I happen to be interested in the actual sport of wrestling, as opposed to the crap that gets actual airtime as alleged wrestling, but still. This is a very, very bad idea. I can only hope that the fans will crucify the network brains that came up with this one.

As a possible antidote to this nonsense, I'll just pass on a story from the New Scientist. Here it is:
NEWSFLASH: Artificial penis allows rabbits to mate normally.
In a “landmark development” researchers have grown penile tissue that has allowed rabbits with damaged sexual organs to successfully mate.
So, guys, here's one big worry you can let go of, eh?

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Friday, May 26, 2006

New Friends

Before the memory of the Young Writers conference fades, I want to mention a few of the interesting people I met there, and what they're up to.

Philip Baruth is a novelist and teacher in Vermont. But he's also a political blogger, and runs a blog called the Vermont Daily Briefing. Though a lot of what he talks about is Vermont politics, some of it is pretty funny even for outsiders. Try this entry about Senate hopeful Rich Tarrant, who chose Bachman Turner Overdrive's "Taking Care of Business" for a campaign song. It's hilarious, sort of in the same way Dan Quayle was hilarious.

Marjorie Ryerson is an astoundingly articulate and energetic woman, who walked away from a tenured faculty position because she felt she had more important things to do with her life. (The fact that these other things didn't necessarily pay was an annoying side effect.) She's an author, which is enough for many people, but one of the other things she did was found an organization called Water Music, "an international, non-profit project designed to help the earth's waters" through the arts and music. Her book, Water Music, is a spectacularly beautiful collection of photographs combined with poems and mini-essays by musicians, who are helping the cause by putting on benefit concerts. She's working with the UN (UNESCO, if I'm remembering correctly), and in addition to trying to raise awareness among Americans of the importance of protecting our water heritage, she's working overseas to help provide clean drinking water to populations who (unlike many of us) cannot take it for granted.

Doug Wilhelm has written a young adult novel called The Revealers, which deals with bullying in the middle school years. The book has been so successful in raising consciousness about the issue that it's being used in many middle schools as a resource for focusing attention on the problem of bullying. Doug recently adapted the novel as a play, and that has been successfully put on in several middle schools. (My family is reading it right now, to see if it might be something our local theater group might be interested in trying.) The other thing you should know about Doug is that he's about 8 feet tall, and you can pick him out of any crowd. (Okay, okay, 6' 10" — close enough.)

Finally, the director of the workshop, Matt Dickerson, is not just a teacher of computer science, but a writer of nonfiction literary analysis—his latest book being From Homer to Harry Potter, with another one coming on the subject of Tolkien and environmentalism—and the author of a historical fantasy novel. He also has a son who's a budding SF writer. He's also a hell of a nice guy, and he puts on a whopping good conference.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

The End Times Are Coming! The End Times Are Coming!

MoveOn.org and the Christian Coalition are joining forces in the cause of internet freedom! In fact, they're taking out an ad together, with the headline:

When it comes to protecting the Internet, the Christian Coalition and MoveOn respectfully agree.
Wow, if that doesn't make you think the world's shaking at its foundations, nothing will.

In case you haven't been following (or live outside the U.S., where it might not be in the news), forces in Congress are pushing hard for a law that will allow the big Internet companies like AT&T and Verizon to decide "which websites open most easily for you based on which site pays...more.... Many members of Congress take campaign contributions from these companies, and they don't think the public are paying attention to this issue." (Quotes from MoveOn.org.)

Opponents of this law are working hard to keep the Internet free and neutral, "So Amazon doesn't have to outbid Barnes & Noble for the right to work more properly on your computer."

The coalition SavetheInternet.com includes the Christian Coalition, MoveOn, Gun Owners of America, the ACLU, Craig from Craigslist, Free Press, small businesses, consumer advocates and musicians including Moby, R.E.M., the Indigo Girls, and the Dixie Chicks. (List of the coalition members.)

Update: a news flash on SavetheInternet's web site says that "a bipartisan majority of the House Judiciary Committee passed the 'Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006' — a bill that offers meaningful protections for Network Neutrality," just today. Good news!


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Fabulous Writing Conference for Young People!

I've just returned from four days at the Bread Loaf, Vermont campus of Middlebury College, where I was one of twenty-two writers teaching at the New England Young Writers Conference. It was my first time at this annual event, and it was an amazing experience, working with talented high-school-aged writers from all over New England. I can't remember the last time I had so much fun in a gathering with other writers, or felt so humbled by the talent around me (and I'm referring as much to the students as to the professionals).

It was also the nicest, most welcoming bunch of people I've met in years. It rained the whole time I was there, but I didn't see a frown all weekend. Though I was the only science fiction writer among poets, nonfiction writers, and young adult and mainstream fiction writers, I felt completely at home—more at home than I sometimes feel at SF gatherings. I'll remember with pleasure both the adult friends I made and the group of kids I worked with, and for that matter the girls who came over at the dance and asked me to join their group on the dance floor, "because only the kids are dancing, and if you dance with us, maybe the other adults will join in." And they were right—all the grups in the place heaved themselves up and we danced the night away.

I was invited to bring my family along, and my younger daughter came with me, diving right into the workshops and making friends with other kids, despite being a couple of years younger than most of them. They're already emailing each other back and forth. And though older daughter didn't come*, one of her friends from school turned out to be there.

One reason I'm going on about this is that I want to get the word out that this is a terrific event. If you're a high-school aged writer or know one or teach one, check it out at http://community.middlebury.edu/~neywc/. (The web site is a bit pedestrian, but it's maintained by the college, not the conference staff. It doesn't do the event justice.)

*Older daughter opted to stay home to go to the prom, taking the opportunity to get her hair cut in a Mohawk. Oy. I'll say, though—after looking at the prom pictures of her friends in wild and colorful hair styles, and noting that most of the kids didn't bother with dates but just went with friends—that they seemed to have a much better idea of how to have fun than I did at that age.


Saturday, May 13, 2006

Roswell Film Explained?

Remember Roswell, New Mexico, where an alien spacecraft supposedly crashed in 1947, and the Air Force made off with the wreckage and hid it? (Of course you do.) Remember the movie Alien Autopsy that came out a while back, purporting to show grainy, black-and-white footage of government scientists dissecting the alien bodies found in the wreckage? (Sure you do—if you don't, you haven't been reading enough junk journalism.) I think I watched about five minutes of it once when it was airing on TV. Or maybe I saw five minutes of a show about the movie. Whatever. In any event, a report in The Times of London says:

"THE creator of Max Headroom, a 1980s television cyber-presenter, has claimed he was one of the hoaxers behind the Roswell film.... John Humphreys, a sculptor and consultant on Alien Autopsy who has also worked on special effects for Doctor Who, said it was he who made the models for the alien dissected in the original fake footage.... He said he spent four weeks fashioning the models from latex using clay sculptures.

"Rather than being shot in 1947 near Roswell in the New Mexico desert as previously claimed, the film was actually made at a flat in Camden, north London, in 1995."
There's something oddly appropriate about this coming from a guy who helped create Max Headroom, one of my favorite off-beat SF shows of the 1980s. Lending even greater synchronicity to this story is the fact that I just recently started watching the old Max shows from digitally archived VHS recordings. (It holds up quite nicely.)

Also funny, in an odd sort of way, is that according to an old report on eonline.com the Fox network, which first released the Alien Autopsy film in the U.S., later released another "documentary" which exposed the film as a fraud. What's their byline—"Fair and Balanced"? Heh, heh. Yep.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Nebula Awards for 2006

The results are in from the Nebula Awards® banquet put on by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), and here are the 2006 Nebula Award winners:

  • Novel — Camouflage, by Joe Haldeman
  • Novella — "Magic for Beginners," by Kelly Link
  • Novelette — "The Faery Handbag," by Kelly Link
  • Short Story — "I Live with You," by Carol Emshwiller
  • Script — Serenity by Joss Whedon
  • First annual Andre Norton Award for young adult SF — A Modern Tale of Faerie, by Holly Black
  • Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement — Harlan Ellison
  • Author Emeritus — William F. Nolan

Congratulations to all! You can view photos from the event at http://www.midamericon.org/photoarchive/06neb01.htm.

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Titan Landing Videos

It's been over a year since the Huygens (that's pronounced hoy-gens) probe landed on Saturn's moon Titan, penetrating for the first time the opaque clouds that have hidden Titan's surface. Scientists have now released a pair of videos, created from a vast number of still images, to let us share the view as Huygens descended. They're about 5 minutes long, and well worth a look.

You can read an article about it on space.com, which will help you to understand what you're seeing.

The first video, View from Huygens, gives the best view, with narration. (I couldn't hear the narration the first time I played it, but when I replayed it, for some reason it came on. Oh, and you have to watch an ad for space.com before the video comes on.)

The second, Descent with Bells and Whistles, is more SFnal, with lots of squeaks and funny noises, but harder to understand. (I wish they had a larger version available, because it has lots of telemetry stuff around the image, but too small to be very readable.)

Huygens turned up evidence of flowing liquid methane, but I'm still waiting for pictures of methane lakes!

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Monday, May 08, 2006

Weird Politics

In a turn of events that I can only call bizarre, I find myself siding with the Bush administration against Senator Ted Kennedy on an issue involving energy policy and the environment. How weird is that? The issue is Cape Wind, a proposal to build a large farm of electricity-generating windmills in Nantucket Sound, off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Nantucket Sound is a windy place, and also part of New England, which badly needs new sources of clean, renewable energy. The problem, at least in some people's minds, is that Nantucket Sound is a big tourist attraction. It's also a place where a lot of wealthy people live, people who tend to own really nice sailboats. And a lot of those people don't want a bunch of windmills messing up their view, even if they'll be so far offshore as to be barely noticeable. I'm afraid Senator Kennedy is one of them. (Walter Cronkite was, too, for a while. Then he reversed his position and came out in favor of the project.)

Along comes Senator Stevens from Alaska who, as a political favor to Kennedy, slips a clause into the Coast Guard authorization bill, a clause that would give the governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, also an opponent of Cape Wind, the right to veto the project. This is political hackwork, and it is unbecoming of Senator Kennedy to engage in it. It is also very bad energy policy. The project should stand or fall on its merits, not on political sleight of hand.

There are numerous environmental reasons to support the Cape Wind project, and even the Audubon Society, which initially expressed reservations due to possible hazard to birds, completed a study suggesting that the danger was not nearly as great as feared.

Usually a champion of environmental causes, and almost always a defender of the working class and the poor, Senator Kennedy has turned against the common good on this one. It breaks my heart, not only because I think this windmill farm is a good idea, but also because I have long trusted Ted Kennedy to defend the values of justice and fair play that I hold dear. But I fear he has left us on this one.

And who shows up to defend the project? The Bush administration! Have I landed on the Bizzaro Planet, or what? Are they getting involved in this just because they hate Kennedy? (They haven't done anything else good for the environment that I can think of.) Well, whatever the reason, I have to stand with the Bush people on this one. They're right.

I didn't think I would ever hear those words coming out of my mouth. Aaaiiieeeee! Stop me before I say it again!


Thursday, May 04, 2006

If It's Not Writers, It's Lawyers

Maybe it’s lawyers I should fume about instead. Another story in the Globe reveals that a small number of lawyers steal an astounding amount of money from their clients. (You have to register with boston.com to read the linked article.)

In fact, to quote the Globe online: "Every state has a fund that reimburses people victimized by lawyers, and for each of the past five years approximately $25 million stolen by attorneys nationwide has been reimbursed, according to the American Bar Association...."

Is that cool or what? Theft by lawyers is recognized as a big enough problem that every state maintains a fund to reimburse people who have been ripped off by their attorneys. Oh yeah.

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To Plagiarize or Not to Plagiarize

I don't know how much coverage this story has been getting outside the Boston area, but a big story in the Boston Globe lately has been the rise-and-fall saga of 17-year-old novelist and Harvard student Kaavya Viswanathan. Viswanathan's novel, "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life," was published to great fanfare, then challenged by another author and publisher as being uncomfortably similar to a Megan McCafferty novel called "Sloppy Firsts." "Opal Mehta" was withdrawn from retail stores—something like 50,000 hardcover copies!—with the promise of a revised edition. But with new revelations that some passages are uncomfortably similar to passages in Meg Cabot's "The Princess Diaries," the book has now been cancelled altogether. You can read a fuller summary on boston.com (you'll need to register to view it).

It is, of course, impossible to know whether this young author knowingly plagiarized passages from other books, or simply unconsciously and unwittingly imitated works she had read and loved (which she insisted was the case). I felt considerable sympathy for her, at least before the later revelations emerged. All writers absorb thoughts and words and images from books and stories they read, and all that goes into the cerebral, intuitive percolator along with experiences from life. A young writer with relatively little life experience is naturally going to draw more on what she's read (and seen on TV), relative to experience, than she will ten or twenty years later when she has more real life to draw from. As my friend, writer Rich Bowker said, "When I was that age, whatever I wrote pretty much sounded like the last book I'd read." And I think that's pretty universal.

On the other hand, plagiarism has become a common disease in today's world. Students plagiarize. The CEO of Raytheon borrowed heavily from others, without giving credit, in a booklet of management advice—and now he's not going to get his next raise. (Shed a few tears, people!)

This Harvard student was under pressure to produce a book to fulfill a half-million dollar, 2-book contract with Little, Brown (that's right—half a mil to a first-time novelist for an unwritten book—why don't I get those kinds of contracts?), and she was working with a big book packager, Alloy Entertainment, which "helped shaped her book" and incidentally shared in the copyright. So the situation was ripe for corruption. Why would a publisher offer that kind of money for an unwritten first novel to begin with? Was it because she's young, beautiful (the Globe has printed her picture repeatedly), and smart? Was it because the book packager was a reliable creator of commercial successes? Damned if I know.

But as I think about this case, and all the other recent cases of award-winning writers who have fallen in disgrace when it turned out they lied or faked research or, yes, plagiarized—and when I think about the distressing number of cases of scientists who have falsified their research—I want to stand up and holler to the world: DON'T LIE AND CHEAT, YOU MORONS, BECAUSE YOU'RE GOING TO GET CAUGHT!

And then, after a while, I calm down again and fume about politicians instead. Them, we expect to lie and cheat.

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