Thursday, April 26, 2007

Shields Up?

One of the thorniest questions relating to interplanetary travel, or even long-term residence on the moon, is danger to astronauts from radiation. I've often wondered why magnetic fields could not be used to protect astronauts in the same way that Earth's magnetic field protects us. Well, maybe the answer is—they can. A group of British scientists is working on a plan to create a magnetic field 20-30 km around a spacecraft or moonbase, and then fill that space with ionized gas (plasma). The plasma would slow incoming particles and reduce the hazard.

We're getting awfully close to Star Trek technology here.

Read the full story at

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Gliese 581 C: a New Earth?

For some years now, astronomers have been racking up discoveries of extra-solar planets—that is, planets circling other stars. It's been very exciting, but until now, they've mostly been giant planets, because those are the most easily detected. And they've all been way outside the presumed habitable range in terms of distance from their suns. That has now changed, according to study leader Stephane Udry of the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland. reports:

An Earth-like planet spotted outside our solar system is the first found that could support liquid water and harbor life, scientists announced today.

Liquid water is a key ingredient for life as we know it. The newfound planet is located at the "Goldilocks" distance—not too close and not too far from its star to keep water on its surface from freezing or vaporizing away.

And while astronomers are not yet able to look for signs of biology on the planet, the discovery is a milestone in planet detection and the search for extraterrestrial life.
This possible Earth-like planet is only 20 light-years away, circling the red dwarf star Gliese 581. Read the whole story on

As an aside, although we haven't yet discovered weird life on other planets, we do have some pretty weird life on this one (outside of the federal government, I mean). Check out this short video of a bird of paradise performing a mating dance.

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More Progress on Rewrite

After yet another rewrite of the opening of Sunborn, I feel as if I've finally got it. I haven't yet heard from my writing group or my editor, but this version—a hybrid of my original approach and the alternative version I'd attempted on editorial request—feels right to me. We'll see if others agree. (And eventually, we'll see if you the readers agree.)

Progress was impeded somewhat by two rites of getting-on-in-years: a routine colonoscopy (not bad in itself, but the preparation—oy!), and a few days later, a kidney stone. (!!) I've gotten off easy on the kidney stone, so far; it wasn't fun, but neither was it the excruciating pain I remember from a previous incident, years ago. But an X-ray says it's still there, so it ain't over till it's over. If you hear a muffled scream, that could be me with a fist in my mouth. Right now, though, I feel fine. (Another glass of water? Why, thank you—don't mind if I do.)

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut, 1922 – 2007

Kurt Vonnegut has died, from brain injuries resulting from a fall. He was 84. (See New York Times obituary.) An iconoclastic writer, he had a big influence on me during my college years, circa 1970. I remember first encountering his work with Cat's Cradle, which I started and at the time didn't finish. It just didn't grab me, somehow; probably I was looking for something more like "normal" science fiction. I also tried Player Piano and didn't like that, either; it was too normal, and seemed like just another take on the familiar Brave New World theme.

But then he came to give an informal talk at Brown, where I was in school, and I went to hear him. I was an aspiring writer, and he was a sensationally popular author. In person, he was fascinating, very unassuming and welcoming to questions from the students. I remember someone asking him what his favorite novel was (I believe this was before Slaughterhouse Five), and he said that he had had the most fun writing The Sirens of Titan. That title had seemed so preposterous to me, so unserious (I was pretty serious about my SF back then) that I hadn't even thought of reading it. But I got a copy of Sirens—and I loved it. Somehow that story infected me with Vonnegut's sardonic sense of humor and absurdity, and from there I went back and tried Cat's Cradle again; and it was all different this time. On the second attempt, I thoroughly enjoyed it, too. Finally I read Slaughterhouse Five, and that one did me in, not just for the heavy-hitting themes inspired by Vonnegut's witnessing of the Dresden fire-bombing in World War II, but for the silly stuff, as well. The line, "Kazak wuzza dog. Kazak wuzza dreat big chronosynclastic infundibulated dog" has been embedded in my mind ever since. (I hope I got that right. I typed it from memory.)

Reading those books was an intense emotional and intellectual experience for me, but one that was never repeated. His later books didn't do it for me, and my world-view now is pretty different from what it was when I was in college, so I don't know how the books would stand up to rereading. But I'm profoundly grateful to him for what he gave me then and there, when this aspiring writer needed it.

Rest in peace, Kurt Vonnegut.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Writing Blues

You know, sometimes rewriting can be kind of fun, and sometimes it really sucks. Currently, I am in the latter phase, trying to redraft the opening section of Sunborn in a way that will grab new readers, as opposed to smoothly moving returning Chaos Chronicles readers back into the story. I've been working on a new version for a few weeks now, and ran one attempt past my writing group tonight. While there was some disagreement among the group about what worked and what didn't, there was nevertheless general agreement that it's not there yet. I'm still waiting to hear what my editor thinks, but I suspect he'll agree. I told him that trying to restructure the opening felt like trying to fit bricks into a Mason jar. That's still pretty much what it feels like.

Rrrrr. I shoulda' been a cat herder.

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Easter Coda

I hope everyone had a good Easter weekend, especially if you celebrate Easter. Ours was, well, interesting. Came home from church to find that our boxer, Hermione, had devoured an entire 9-ounce solid dark chocolate Easter bunny! Not just any chocolate, but Williams Sonoma chocolate, which had come as a gift. Oh yes, plus a 3 ounce Lindt Easter bunny.

So she was right up there close to the level of toxicity. Which meant we got to give her hydrogen peroxide to make her throw up (and she did—ugh!) and then spend the afternoon taking a trip to the doggie E.R. to be checked and fed liquid charcoal. What fun! (She's fine, and at no time did she actually act sick or bothered in any way. Well, except when I gave her the hydrogen peroxide.)

I'm pretty sure Hermione and Moonlight the cat are channeling our departed beagle friend, Sam. Neither one used to get into serious trouble from stealing food, etc. But recently Hermione has been thieving food all the time, and the cat has learned to get up onto the pantry shelves so that she can knock her food container onto the floor. Sam, tell them to stop!


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Saturn—Curiouser and Curiouser

So, I don't pretend to really know what's going on out there at Saturn, but the images coming back from Cassini really are telling a strange tale. On the one hand, we have Saturn's north pole:

which is clearly a hex-wrench socket of alien design, though we don't know its function with certainty (could be to open up the planet, could be to adjust its orbit, could be something even more fiendish).

And then we have Saturn's south pole, which at first glance appears to be the place where you stick a Saturn-sized inflation needle to maintain internal pressure with, presumably, a giant bicycle pump:

But a closer look reveals that the south pole is...well, you decide:

Now you just tell me that's not an eye. The window onto the soul of Saturn. And if it's not related to a whale's eye, I'll eat my hat.

Who says the space program doesn't pay its own way with dividends of new knowledge. Remember Senator Proxmire? If he'd had his way, we wouldn't know any of this stuff.

By the way, these photos are all from JPL and NASA's Cassini spacecraft. I love those guys, don't you?

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Teens Only SF/F Writing Workshop

Our general SF workshop for all ages had to be canceled, unfortunately, because of too few people registering. (Too bad, our workshop last fall was packed, and was a great group.)

We are, however, offering one other workshop—a writing workshop for Teens Only. It's to run during the public school vacation week, which starts April 16. Here's the blurb, as it went out to some local email lists:

This notice is for teen writers (and parents of teen writers)! Are any of you (or your kids) aspiring fantasy and science fiction writers, or do you have friends who are? Starting during April vacation week, I'll be teaching a teens-only writing workshop along with fellow Arlingtonian and veteran SF/F writer Craig Shaw Gardner. We'll be leading three 3-hour afternoon sessions of discussion and brainstorming to help you get moving with your fiction, followed by two Saturday sessions for group critique of your completed stories.

Be ready to write, stretch your mind, and write some more! You'll learn the craft of writing—and just as important, the art of workshopping, with the support of your peers.

So who the heck are we, that we would propose to mess with your minds this way? Well, between us, we've written forty-some novels and a like number of short stories. My work has been a finalist for the Nebula Award, and Craig's has made it to the NY Times bestseller list. We've both even written Battlestar Galactica novels, based on the new series! You can find out more about us by visiting our web sites at and

The workshop costs $200, runs April 16, 17, 18 (1:00–4:00 p.m.)—that's school vacation week—and then will be followed by two Saturday sessions, April 21 and May 5 (also 1:00–4:00) to workshop the stories you've written.

We'll be meeting at Pandemonium Books and Games in Central Square, Cambridge. (For directions, visit the Pandemonium web site at You must register in advance. You can pick up a registration form in the store, or request one by email from me. Don't delay!

For more information, call Pandemonium at 617-547-3721, or email either of us at jeff [at] or csgcsgcsg [at]

--Jeffrey A. Carver
So if you're local to the Boston/Cambridge, Massachusetts area, and you are a teen (or have a teen in your house) with an interest in a cool writing workshop, get in touch! Preferably right away!

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