Friday, October 31, 2008

Concord (er, Lowell) SF Panel

Our panel at Umass Lowell, as part of the Concord Festival of Authors, went very well. Panelist and new writer Chris Howard blogged about it, and said everything I would say, except that he gave a nice big plug to Sunborn while he was at it. Thanks, Chris!

Funny thing: I clicked on Chris's Amazon link to Sunborn, and noted with my usual scowl that Amazon already listed used copies for sale, three days after the book's release. Then, out of curiosity, I clicked to look at the actual listing—and saw, first of all, that most were actually new, not used, copies from Amazon Marketplace sellers. But here's the funny part—some sellers listed used copies for over $40, or more than twice Amazon's price for new books! Do you suppose anybody would actually buy one of those? It's good work if you can get it.

Nobody's emailed me yet to request a free ebook, but there have been over 4000 hits on the Sunborn PDF in just three days!

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sunborn Is Born!

Sunborn is a book, available in fine stores everywhere! Yay! I even have copies myself! By a wonderful fluke, the case I ordered for the upcoming book signing at the Menotomy Beer and Wine store (see earlier post) arrived on my doorstep today. So I get to see it, too! (This may sound odd, but usually the writer is the last to get copies. Well, sometimes the editor is last, and the writer is second to last. Indeed, there's no telling when my regular "author's comp copies" will arrive.)

Order now from:

If you'd like to read before you buy, here's the deal on downloads. I've put up a regular PDF version for free download. This will look nice on your computer (but probably not so great on your small device). In addition, I'm offering anyone who buys the hardcover a free ebook in other ebook formats, straight from me! Buy the book from me or from any store—and just send me proof of purchase of any kind. Details are on my downloads page.

I don't quite have the ebook ready at this moment. I've been untangling the formatting on Tor's typesetting file, which required a somewhat messy Quark to Word conversion. That's just about done, and very soon I'll be able to start converting it into the formats that ebook readers prefer.

The long wait is over!

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Coming Personal Appearances

For those of you in eastern Massachusetts or southern New Hampshire, or...okay, for those of you in the continental U.S., or neighboring countries...

The evening of October 30 will find me moderating a panel at the University of Massachusetts Lowell campus, called "We May Be On to Something Here (Science Fiction in the 21st Century)." Part of the Concord Festival of Authors, the panel will also include Craig Shaw Gardner, new writer Chris Howard, Alexander Jablokov, and Matt Jarpe. We'll kick off at 7:30 p.m., jawbone interestingly with each other and the audience for a while, then segue into a book signing hosted by the university bookstore. This will be my first opportunity to sign Sunborn—and in all likelihood the first time I will have set eyes on the actual book myself.

If you can't make that—or even if you can—you'll have another chance to say hello and pick up a signature on a shiny new hardcover (if that appeals to you, and why wouldn't it?) on Saturday, November 8, from 4-7 p.m. The venue will be a little different this time; I'll be signing at Arlington's Menotomy Beer and Wine store, while a free wine-tasting swirls around me. The wine tastings are a popular event at the store, and it's a great bunch of people, with some interesting wines. Stop by and say hi!

Another signing is tentatively planned for later in November, but more about that when details firm up.

And don't forget: you can download the first three novels of the Chaos Chronicles for free in ebook form, so even if you haven't read them yet, you can grab them now and be all up to speed for Sunborn. Go for it!

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Baby, Let Me Fly My Car!

Some of us still haven't given up on a combination airplane/car, and some of us (fortunately) are aeronautical engineers from MIT. Carl and Anna Dietrich, cofounders of Terrafugia, Inc. ("Flee from Earth") in eastern Massachusetts, are building such a craft now, and they hope to fly it by the end of the year and be selling them in another year. You can read the Boston Globe article here and see more video and read more about it on the company website.

Terrafugia Transition, a "roadable airplane"

Personally, I think they need a snappier name for the airplane than the "Transition," and probably a cooler name for the company, too. But if I had a couple hundred thousand dollars burning a hole in my pocket, you can betcha' I'd have my deposit down by this time tomorrow!

"Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings..." —John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Incredible Sun

Reader Charlza mentioned this in a comment further down, but it's too awesome to leave buried in the comments. Take a few minutes to browse a most astounding set of high-res photographs of the sun, taken by various research telescopes and sats and collected on Many of them are familiar, but it's a truly breathtaking gallery. Here's one, in thumbnail:

NASA/TRACE image of the sun

Also breathtaking, but in a less wonderful way, is the long list of comments following, where battle rages between those who would thank God for the magnificence and those who bridle at the very notion of "God" being involved when it's all physics. Me, I thank God for the incredible thing that is the sun, and scientists for the incredible pictures that let us see it and begin to understand the physics of how it works and how it got there.

Also on is Way Too Tired?, an article on why, when you're tired (or even just getting over being sick), what you may need to do is not nap, but get up and move around: jog, skate, bike, walk, whatever. Here's why, in abbreviated form:

Scientists are now convinced that fatigue has a real, molecular basis, and that at least two major biological processes are involved: An excess of natural chemicals called pro-inflammatory cytokines, which the body pumps out in response to infection. And sluggish mitochondria, the tiny organelles inside cells that make energy...

[B]ecause both cytokine and mitochondrial problems get worse with excessive rest and improve with moderate exercise, it means exercise is an obvious, and readily available, remedy. A large body of research has already shown that exercise dampens down the "bad" cytokines and boosts the number and efficiency of mitochondria.

This doesn't mean you should go run a marathon if you've got the flu. Quite the contrary. In the acute phase of any illness, your body needs all its available energy to heal. But it does mean that, as soon as possible, you should get out and walk, even if it's just around the block for starters.

I read that just as I was getting up and around again from a nasty cold, and I did indeed get out rollerblading a few times last week, even though exercising was the last thing I felt like doing. It helped.

"Man must rise above the Earth—to the top of the atmosphere and beyond—for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives." — Socrates

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Old Time Radio Shows

For the last couple of days, I've been laid up with a nasty cold, and haven't been in shape to do much of anything. Couldn't sleep, couldn't read, couldn't work. But one thing I could do was close my eyes and listen to my iPod. And luckily, I had something new to listen to: some old radio drama from the Old Time Radio Show Catalog. I'd only just learned of this site, and had just downloaded some sample tracks. I was glad I had.

They've got all the great old science fiction shows: Dimension X, Beyond Tomorrow, Buck Rogers, Tom Corbett, Superman, Space Patrol, and more. They've also got mystery shows (Mercury Theater, CBS Radio Workshop, and tons more), westerns, war, comedy, British...the list is long. They sell CD collections (in mp3 format, so you get a lot on a disc) for only $5 per CD. I listened to dramatizations of Heinlein's "Requiem," and Bradbury's "Marionettes, Inc.," and if you have any taste at all for the classic old work, it's great stuff. Take a listen. You can grab a free download, it would seem, from every CD—so sample before you buy.

Highly recommended!

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Salon on Politics and Psychology

Reader Marco sent me to an interesting article on the psychology of voting—and whether we're willing to change our minds in the presence of new evidence or information. Neurologist Robert Burton writes on

In the current presidential election, a major percentage of voters are already committed to “their candidate”; new arguments and evidence fall on deaf ears. And yet, if we, as a country, truly want change, we must be open-minded, flexible and willing to revise our opinions when new evidence warrants it. Most important, we must be able to recognize and acknowledge when we are wrong.
Most of us don't seem to be very good at that. It also turns out that the less competent we are, the less likely we are to be aware of our own incompetence. Burton quotes from a Cornell psychological study:
People who lack the knowledge or wisdom to perform well are often unaware of this fact. That is, the same incompetence that leads them to make wrong choices also deprives them of the savvy necessary to recognize competence, be it their own or anyone else’s.
I also stumbled across this on Salon (but now can't find it again). It appeared first in the Baltimore Sun, and is an open letter to John McCain, which says in part:
At a Sarah Palin rally, someone called out, "Kill him!" At one of your rallies, someone called out, "Terrorist!" Neither was answered or denounced by you or your running mate, as the crowd laughed and cheered...

In 2000, as a lifelong Republican, I worked to get you elected instead of George W. Bush. In return, you wrote an endorsement of one of my books about military service. You seemed to be a man who put principle ahead of mere political gain.

You have changed...

Stop! Think! Your rallies are beginning to look, sound, feel and smell like lynch mobs.
I didn't know until I got to the bottom that this was Frank Schaeffer, author of the book Crazy for God, calling McCain to task for inciting (or certainly tolerating) the flames of hatred at his rallies. It is true that Senator McCain stopped one woman who was denouncing Obama as an Arab—though it might have been good if he had also noted that "Arab" does not equal "bad"—but where was his reaction when people start shouting "Kill him!"?

(By the way, I've read Schaeffer's book, and it's a fascinating story of journey as a member and leader of the evangelical right who later left the movement in complete disillusionment. Not a political story so much as a personal odyssey.)

"Muddy water will become clear if allowed to stand undisturbed, and so too will the mind become clear if it is allowed to be still." —Deng Ming-Dao


Friday, October 10, 2008

Sarah Palin and Mirrors on the Moon

No, as far as I know, Sarah Palin isn't advocating mirrors on the moon; astronomers are. But an interesting response to Sarah Palin came across my desk today, and so did a piece about, you know, mirrors on the moon. So, two birds with one stone.

In the recent VP candidate debate, because it was clear that with Sarah Palin's looks and folksy charm, Joe Biden was in a match with both hands tied behind his back, and maybe his feet, too. I thought he did just fine. Probably the best commentary on the debate was Saturday Night Live's dead-on impersonation of Palin by Tina Fey. If you missed it, you can catch it on NBC's web site.

Today, though, I saw a particularly incisive written commentary from England, by Michelle Goldberg of The Guardian, who said in part:

At least three times last night, Sarah Palin, the adorable, preposterous vice-presidential candidate, winked at the audience. Had a male candidate with a similar reputation for attractive vapidity made such a brazen attempt to flirt his way into the good graces of the voting public, it would have universally noted, discussed and mocked. Palin, however, has single-handedly so lowered the standards both for female candidates and American political discourse that, with her newfound ability to speak in more-or-less full sentences, she is now deemed to have performed acceptably last night.

By any normal standard, including the ones applied to male presidential candidates of either party, she did not. Early on, she made the astonishing announcement that she had no intentions of actually answering the queries put to her. "I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also," she said.

And so she preceded, with an almost surreal disregard for the subjects she was supposed to be discussing, to unleash fusillades of scripted attack lines, platitudes, lies, gibberish and grating references to her own pseudo-folksy authenticity....

Read the whole column. It's so, so true.

On a far cheerier note, NASA's science newsletter today reports on proposed plans to place giant, liquid-metal telescope mirrors on the surface of the Moon. The reason? Huge mirrors outside Earth's atmosphere could do astronomy that would make the Hubble seem like a school science project. And liquid mirrors could do that for far less money. Basically, you put the liquid in a stable basin, and you spin it at a very moderate speed. The result: a nearly perfect parabolic mirror surface. At Science@NASA.

"No amount of skillful invention can replace the essential element of imagination." —Edward Hopper

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Dog Star

I can't believe I forgot to mention this earlier. I recently sold a short story—the first short piece I've written in years—to Diamonds in the Sky, an online anthology edited by Michael Brotherton and funded by NASA to promote astronomy education. It's going to be available online realsoonnow, I understand. The anthology is intended as a free online resource for astronomy teachers and students, bringing together a group of science fiction stories each of which illustrates a particular astronomical concept. The hope is that the stories will be a fun way to learn science, and might even make some difficult concepts clearer than a straight expository approach. It's to be kept "in print" indefinitely, so that teachers—and their students!—can always go back to it.

In a way, it's a throwback to the Golden Days of Science Fiction, when men were Real Men, and the science in science fiction was Real Science. (Sometimes, anyway.) It should be interesting.

Oh—the title of my story is "Dog Star." It's about a boy and his dog and asteroids and dark energy.

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Ultimate SF Workshop Full

Registration has closed for the Ultimate SF Writing Workshop. We got a full house for this year's class. You never know how these things are going to work out. Last year we worked extra hard on publicity and registrations trickled in, barely meeting the minimum (though it was a terrific group!). This year, we scrambled to get word out in time, and we got students in abundance. Craig Gardner (my co-leader) and I are looking forward to getting started with it next week!

As I've said before, Mars needs writers!

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