Friday, May 25, 2007

More Cool Science

New Scientist has a bunch of interesting mini-articles in today's newsletter. And if you follow these links, you'll see a lot of other interesting articles listed in the sidebars. Take a few minutes to browse; there's some cool stuff.

Here's a sampling:

Here's one that's more sobering than cool, but it deserves reading: Taking stock of Earth's dwindling mineral wealth. (This one you can only read a partial of unless you're a subscriber, but the partial is pretty interesting in itself.)

"Always listen to experts. They'll tell you what can't be done, and why. Then do it."
—Robert A. Heinlein

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Great Time at Bread Loaf

I returned a few days ago from the New England Young Writers Conference at the Bread Loaf campus of Middlebury College, in Vermont. It was a wonderful experience, just as it was last year. Approximately 200 high school students and home school students were in attendance, with something like 20 professional writers there as workshop leaders. Among them, I was the one SF guy (though the conference director has written fantasy); there was also a mystery writer, several YA authors, a slew of poets, and some nonfiction people. The kids were amazing. I once more was blown away by the quality and originality and daring of their work. When I was in high school, I was nowhere near their level. Plus, they were a pleasure to work with, and genuinely supportive of each other.

The writers were a great bunch to hang out with, as well. During one of the readings, I was sitting there surrounded by new friends, and thinking what a blessing it was to spend time with such interesting people. Some were folks I'd met last year, and some were new friends. I like getting together with SF people, but this was different; it was warmer somehow, maybe a little less competitive, because there was so much cross-fertilization and we all have our areas of specialty. Several of us were wishing we could all have stayed on another week, just writing and hanging out during meals and after hours.

Why not check out the web sites of some of the folks I spent time with:

Better yet, try their books:

A room without books is like a body without a soul. —Cicero

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Extragalactic Dark Matter Ring

Okay, just one more entry before I head off! This image of a 2.6-million light-year-wide ring of dark matter, surrounding a cluster of galaxies, is too incredible to pass up.

To see a gorgeous, full-sized image of it, look to Astronomy Picture of the Day.

For further explanation, read the news report at One thing they don't say there that they do say on the APOD page is that the large blue ring is a digital modeling that has been superimposed over the Hubble image. I'm a little puzzled at the discrepancy there, and am not sure at this point whether the blue cloud is entirely a false-color representation or not. It must be, though, because the thing about dark matter is that it's, well, dark. You can't see it. (Except in a scene late in my novel Sunborn, but that's another matter.)

To get a better grasp of the science behind the conclusion, check out this short Hubblecast video, which describes the gravitational lensing effect that actually supports the thesis that this really is dark matter being depicted and not just some camera artifact.


In a complete change of subject, I'll just note the passing of Jerry Falwell, who probably did more to promote the cause of bigotry and intolerance in our society than just about anyone claiming (in a chillingly distorted way) the banner of Christianity. I don't wish him ill; but I do hope he's seeing things a little differently now.

"To send light into the darkness of men's hearts—such is the duty of the artist."
—Robert A. Schumann

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One More Thing

(As Lt. Columbo would say.) This will probably be my last entry before heading off to the N.E. Young Writers Conference at Breadloaf. One of the things I've been doing in preparation is adding to a list I've sort of been maintaining of quotes by writers, so that I can pass out some of the best ones to the students. There are quite a few of them. So I thought, why not share them with you? If I sign off every blog entry with one, I've easily got a year's worth.

By the way, did you all hear that Ray Bradbury was recently awarded a special citation by the Pulitzer Prize Committee, for his lifetime of contribution to literature? I think that's pretty cool, and well deserved.

See you all after the conference!

I'm going to leave you with a link to another cute video: sea otters holding hands.

"Storytelling is how we survive.... That's how we learn from each other, it's the best way. That's why literature is so important; it connects us, heart to heart." —Alice Walker

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Writing/Chaos Chronicles Update

As I've mentioned before (but for the benefit of any new readers who may have found us here), I'm doing final revisions now on Sunborn, the long-delayed fourth novel in the Chaos Chronicles series. I think I've got the hardest part done—which was redoing the first half dozen chapters for improved pacing, etc., per my editor's request. I hope I can wrap up the rest of the edits in the next few weeks, and have the book in the pipeline for publication next spring.

When I was at the Nebula Awards event last weekend (see entry below), I heard a great quote. Well, great from an ironic point of view, anyway. Author D.G. Compton (The Unsleeping Eye) related the quote, but it actually came from the late Edgar Pangborn (Davy), whose agent said to him, on the occasion of a disappointing royalty statement: "You'll never make much money writing books like that. But the very best people will come to your funeral."

Compton, with a wry smile, looked out over the roomful of SF writers and said, "It looks like all the best people are here. What do you suppose that means?"

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Interesting Things Afoot for the Future

A couple of opportunities have recently come my way, both involving travel:

A long-planned family trip to Ohio is now going to include a book signing—on July 4th, in Sandusky, Ohio. We're going to be there visiting relatives and taking a young niece and nephew to the great Cedar Point amusement park. The book signing is a new addition to the plans, and will take place at the Kalahari Resort, which apparently boasts one of the country's largest indoor water parks. So if you're going to be near Sandusky on July 4th, stop by!

Less than two weeks later, I'm scheduled to wing my way to Laramie, Wyoming, to attend the Launchpad Astronomy Workshop—a NASA-sponsored, week-long program intended to give some intensive astronomy experience to a selection of writers. Here's part of the mission statement of the workshop: "Our primary goal is to teach writers of all types about modern science, specifically astronomy, and in turn reach their audiences. We hope to both educate the public and reach the next generation of scientists." It's funded by NASA as a part of their education and outreach program. Cool! (I'll be reporting on that in due course.)

And, of course, I leave in just a couple of days now for Breadloaf, Vermont. (More on that below.)

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Back from the Nebula Awards

I did what I said I was going to do, and made a one-day trip to NYC for the Nebulas, the annual award event of the Science-Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). It was a good trip. Also, an exhausting trip. Out early Saturday morning, and back at around 8:30 Sunday morning, with an hour or two of what you might laughingly call "sleep" on the train ride home. On the other hand, the trip down on the Acela was very nice—quite comfortable and pleasant. (I was also surprised to discover that Amtrak gives a discount to AAA members, so I earned back a bit of my annual AAA fee.)

The affair itself was a pleasure: a ballroom filled with writers, editors, agents, various other people including folks who were just plain fans. I saw some friends I hadn't seen in a long time, made some new friends, saw my agent and publisher (not my editor, who wasn't able to be there, but Tom Doherty of Tor), and finally met Ronald D. Moore, of Battlestar Galactica. He was there as toastmaster for the awards, and carried out his role with charm and a disarming sense of humor. I was asked by Jane Jewell, SFWA's Executive Director and an old friend, if I would handle the reading aloud of the "In Memoriam" list, the annual remembrance of members of the SF community who have died in the last year. It was an unexpected privilege. The list was sadly long, and though only a couple of the names were of people I'd known personally, I found myself moved by the reminder of the toll that time takes on us, with the passing of loved and respected members of our field.

This was the second year for the Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult SF/F novel, an award I helped to write the rules for (in my dual role as member of the YA special interest group and chairman of the SFWA Awards Rules Committee). Despite the hifalutin' sound of that latter role, I don't usually have anything to do with running of the event or the preparation of the trophies; but in this case, I helped to unpack the beautiful Lucite blocks before the ceremony. We had a problem. The Norton Award trophy hadn't arrived with the others. But we had a spare Grandmaster trophy—one rejected by the manufacturer because of flaws in the Lucite—so we quickly decided on our out. We taped a label over the flawed Grandmaster: "Redeemable for one (1) Andre Norton Award trophy," and set it out with the others. As it happened, the winner wasn't able to make the trip from Australia, so I hope she'll get her real trophy without much more delay than would have been the case anyway.

Here are the Nebula Award® winners:
  • Novel: Jack McDevitt for Seeker
  • Novella: James Patrick Kelly for "Burn"
  • Novelette: Peter S. Beagle for "Two Hearts"
  • Short Story: Elizabeth Hand for "Echo"
  • Script: Hayao Miyazaki, Cindy Davis Hewitt, and Donald H. Hewitt for Howl's Moving Castle
Andre Norton Award winner:
  • Justine Larbalestier for Magic or Madness
Grandmaster Award winner:
  • James Gunn
Author Emeritus
  • D.G. Compton

Congratulations to all of the winners and the nominees. But especially, congrats to Jack McDevitt and Jim Kelly, who between them had—until last night—racked up something like 20 nominations without taking home a win! Last night was a biggie for both of them.

Read more about it at, and see pages of photos starting here. Or, if you want to skip ahead to the page with my photo—though I don't know why you would, unless you're related to me—that would be here and here.

Next up: I'm teaching next weekend, Thursday through Sunday, at the New England Young Writers Conference, at the Breadloaf campus of Middlebury College in Vermont!


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Nebula Awards

I previously mentioned here that I would be attending the Nebula weekend in New York City, this coming weekend. That's still true, but not as true as before. The event is taking place over the whole weekend, starting on Thursday evening. Turns out I have a prior engagement—my daughter's acting in Much Ado About Nothing, with Arlington Children's Theater. So I'll catch the Friday evening performance here (I'm the designated videographer, or one of them), and then catch Amtrak's Acela to NYC Saturday morning. So I'll be at the Nebulas for the Saturday afternoon panels and business meeting, and attending the awards banquet. Then (urk) I'm catching a red-eye back to Boston. Penn Station at 3 a.m.—whee! But it beats paying over 200 bucks for a hotel room in New York, just to sleep badly and then take the train.

I've been wanting to ride the Acela for years. Haven't had an excuse, till now. I hope this is one of its good runs, free of malfunctions.

By the way, you can see who's up for the award here: Nebula Final Ballot.