Sunday, May 27, 2012

When Mining Asteroids, Don't Forget Your Trusty Dog

The recent arrival of the privately designed-and-built Dragon space capsule at the International Space Station dovetails nicely with another recent event: the announcement of a privately funded initiative called Planetary Resources, Inc., to seek out and mine near-Earth asteroids.

Both dovetail nicely with my own initiative: the release of my short story "Dog Star" as a standalone ebook. The dovetailing has to do with the fact that "Dog Star" is about a young asteroid miner who finds himself grounded on just such as asteroid, just him and his disabled ship... and his trusty "smartmutt," an enhanced border collie named Sam. Dogs who can discuss astrophysics with you while thinking about digging on an asteroid aren't a dime a dozen even in this future. Sam has to prove his mettle while helping his human dig his way out of this life-threatening jam.

This is a reprint of a story that first appeared as part of an online science-oriented anthology of stories called Diamonds in the Sky, which was funded by the National Science Foundation to help further the cause of science education, particularly in astronomy. (This new release has a couple of minor corrections from the text as it was released in the anthology.)

Gretchen, the student who has been working with me, helped get "Dog Star" up for sale on the last day of her interning stint. (Thanks, Gretchen!) It's now free at Smashwords, and you can also get it in the Kindle and Nook stores.
Kindle | Nook | Smashwords (free!)

"Dog Star" will also appear in my forthcoming short story collection, Reality and Other Fictions, which is rapidly moving toward completion. I hope to make an announcement about that in the next few weeks. It will contain about half my published stories, including a couple not released as standalone ebooks. The other half will follow in Going Alien, soon after.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Dragons Return!

My short story "Though All the Mountains Lie Between" was the spark that led to two novels, Dragons in the Stars and Dragon Rigger. Those books have been back in ebook form for a while now, and I even gathered them into a low-cost set, Dragon Space: A Star Rigger Omnibus. But the short storyoriginally published in The Science Fiction Times and the anthology Dragons of Darkness, edited by Orson Scott Cardhas been out of circulation for many years. With Gretchen's help, I've now amended that situation. Give it up for "Though All the Mountains Lie Between" the ebook!

It's available in the usual suspect places, and will eventually migrate to even more stores. Just $.99 at Kindle and Nook, and free at Smashwords! It includes a preview chapter of Dragon Space.

Labels: , ,

Monday, May 21, 2012

Guest Post: Gretchen on Interning

I invited Gretchen, who's been helping me as an intern for the last two weeks, to write up a post about what it's been like for her. Gretchen is a high school student with an interest in publishing. Working for me, she's gotten a look at a side of publishing she probably never knew existed. Take it, Gretchen...

When I began my internship with Jeff, I didn’t really know what to expect. Completing a three-week internship is a requirement to graduate at my high school, and I just jumped straight from my exam week to my internship without wondering too much what it would be like. I soon found out. The first thing I learned—of which I was very appreciative—was that I didn’t have to get up at way-too-early-o’clock in the morning every day to begin work; I got to start at a much more reasonable hour in the afternoon, unlike most of my classmates.

The next thing I learned was that publishing eBooks really isn’t at all like I thought it was going to be. There is much more of a focus on little, seemingly insignificant formatting details than I had thought there would be (of course, those “tiny details” end up more like “huge problems” if you ignore them). Conversely, the actual conversion of documents into eBook formats and the process of putting them up for sale online seemed much easier than I thought it would be.

Even though some things haven’t been what I’d imagined, working with Jeff and learning more about publishing in general has been extremely interesting. I have a clearer idea of what publishing is about now—which will be helpful for me if I decide to go into the publishing business—but even beyond that, I’ve just had a lot of fun learning from Jeff and reading his stories.
And with Gretchen's help, I've gotten three stories into ebook form (the third going up today), and several more in the pipeline! 

Labels: , , , ,

Tor/Forge Books to Go DRM-free!

This one slipped by me when it was first announced, almost a month ago. Tor Books, my publisher, has announced that all of their ebooks will be going DRM-free. (DRM is the digital right management—or copy protection—that on most books from major publishers locks purchased books to a single type of reading device.) Here's the announcement in part:

Tom Doherty Associates, publishers of Tor, Forge, Orb, Starscape, and Tor Teen, today announced that by early July 2012, their entire list of e-books will be available DRM-free.

“Our authors and readers have been asking for this for a long time,” said president and publisher Tom Doherty. “They’re a technically sophisticated bunch, and DRM is a constant annoyance to them. It prevents them from using legitimately-purchased e-books in perfectly legal ways, like moving them from one kind of e-reader to another.”
This is great news for ebook readers everywhere, whether they use Kindles, Nooks, iPads, Androids, Sony Readers, or anything else. Baen Books has for years been the only big SF publisher that has eschewed DRM, and it has served them and their readers well. Tor's move may represent a break from the practice of the parent company, Macmillan U.S.; it may also be the first crack in the wall of the Big Six publishers, whose ebook publishing practices have been fairly anti-consumer for some time now. Instead of treating their customers as criminals who can't be trusted with the books they've paid for, Tor/Forge will now be treating them as, well, valued customers.

No word yet on whether this signals a change in Macmillan's policy of not selling ebooks to libraries, or whether customers who previously purchased DRM-restricted Tor/Forge books will be able to replace them with DRM-free editions.

My own policy has always been, if you've bought one of my books with DRM and it's causing you any problems in reading it on the device of your choice, just let me know. I'll personally replace it with a DRM-free copy.

Labels: ,

Friday, May 18, 2012

"Of No Return"

My first professional sale came in 1974, a short story called "Of No Return," about a man who works in a sea-floor power station experiencing difficulty in readapting to life on land. It was published In Fiction, a small magazine published at the time in Boston, and was later reprinted in a very small, limited edition anthology called Wet Visions. Aside from that, it's been out of print—not even available on my web site. That's changed, as of today.

Credit Gretchen, the high school student who has been working as an intern for me these last two weeks. She retyped the story, proofed it, created the cover and the ebook, and got it uploaded to all the usual suspect places. Here's what it looks like. It's free at Smashwords, for now, and $.99 at Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

By this time next week, we should be well along in creating a complete short story collection, for eventual ebook (and who knows, maybe paper) publication. 

Available at Smashwords | Kindle | Nook

Labels: , , , ,

Mind Control

Mind over machine. Science fiction has predicted for decades that one day we would be able to control things by hooking our brains up to computers that would just make it all happen. And now it has happened: a paralyzed woman has used her mind to control a robot arm and make it bring a coffee cup to her lips to drink. This is not just cool; it is a promise of incalculable benefit to severely handicapped people everywhere, hopefully in the not-too-distant future.

The work was developed by scientists at Brown University, the Providence VA Medical Center, Harvard Medical School and other institutions. The AP story gives more information.

Labels: , ,

Monday, May 14, 2012

"Love Rogo" Back in Print, Electronically Speaking

My fourth short story, "Love Rogo," is about a lovable doglike creature from Betelgeuse who is a little too lovable for his owners' own good. It came out in 1977 in the anthology, Futurelove: a Science Fiction Triad, edited by Roger Elwood and published in hardcover by Bobbs-Merrill. There was no paperback edition, although the Science Fiction Book Club published their own low-cost hardcover. The other two authors in the book were Anne McCaffrey and Joan Hunter Holly; plus, there was an introduction by Gordon Dickson. It sobers me to note that I'm the only one still walking the Earth of that group of estimable people. Yow. God willing, I'll keep the fires going here a while longer.

Getting this story back into circulation has been on my "to do" list for some time now, along with a handful of others. The common theme has been no digital file, which meant either retyping or scanning the stories in, something I just never got around to doing. About a year ago, my faithful reader Anne King sent me a digital copy of "Love Rogo," in a gentle effort to jump-start the process. I still didn't get around to it.

What changed is that I now have, for a few short weeks, the help of a smart young woman named Gretchen, a high-school student who is working for me as a publishing intern. The first task I gave her was getting "Love Rogo" finished and up as an ebook. She did that last week. She also designed the cover, modeled on the simple design of my other short story covers. (After a few days, I decided the cover wasn't quite right, and we worked together to change the colors and type.)

"Love Rogo" is now available free at Smashwords for the month of May, and for $.99 in the Kindle and Nook stores.

Smashwords (all formats) | Kindle | Nook

Labels: , , ,

Friday, May 11, 2012

$160 Billion Damage to New York City!

That's the estimated cost for direct damage, economic impact, cleanup time, and loss of life resulting from the battle between our heroes and the minions of Loki, as depicted in the movie The Avengers. That's according to Kinetic Analysis Corp., a leading disaster-cost prediction and assessment firm, which studied the question for The Hollywood Reporter.

Deciding who is liable for the damages could prove a more daunting task than rebuilding. Notes the report: "Most insurance policies have special provisions for acts of war, civil unrest or terrorism. Given the involvement of individuals considered deities in some cultures (Thor, Loki), there is even the potential to classify the event as an 'act of God,' though that designation would be subject to strenuous theological and legal debate." I'll say. Being a lawyer on that case could be job security for life!

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

I wish my Roombas could do this!

Especially the one I have to fix since it tried to sled down a flight of stairs on a piece of loose carpet. Here is the FirstLook, from iRobot.

Labels: ,

Monday, May 07, 2012

The Avengers

For once, we got to a movie right after it opened! Four rockets for us, and four for The Avengers! The whole family went to the theater on Saturday afternoon (to the 2D version), and we all came out  grinning. (Despite having to sit in the very front row, on the side.) The movie is absolutely great fun, with lots of good repartee, and you can enjoy it without knowing the Marvel Comics back story. If you liked Ironman, you'll like The Avengers.

I was never really a Marvel Comics reader. I grew up with Superman and Batman, but by the time the Marvel universe hit its stride, I had stopped following the comics. (Sorry about that. [Says me to my inner geek.]) In fact, my first exposure to Ironman was the movie, and ditto with the Marvel version of Thor, and with Captain America. So I can't tell you how well the movie fulfilled the promise of the printed word. But I can tell you that it's a pile of fun, even if you don't know the characters in depth. Joss Whedon did a bang-up job, as Jon Favreau did with the first Ironman film.

Oh—and sit through the credits. There are two Easter eggs, one midway through the credits, and one at the very end.

Labels: ,

Our Nutcase Border Collie

Captain Jack is a border collie, at least in part, and he wants to herd. Man, does he want to herd. (Just ask Moonlight, our cat. You thought you couldn't herd cats? Tell it to Cap'n Jack.) He also seems to regard my dirty socks as part of his flock, because he's forever fishing them out of the laundry hamper and herding them out to the living room. He doesn't chew them, just puts them where they're supposed to be. Only my socks, not anyone else's.

Maybe it's a control issue. We have several jumbo dog pillows -one in the living room, one in the bedroom, and one in my office in the finished attic. The bedroom pillow regularly finds its way to the dining room, sometimes just minutes after I've returned it to its proper spot. Or if it isn't in the dining room, it's in the doorway of our little central hall, where Jack lies on it as though deliberately metering the flow of traffic. Border collie cop?

The pad up in my office is a tougher case: it's stiffer and more awkward to move, and generally it stays in the corner where it belongs. Or did until the other day, when it too started migrating to block the nearest doorway. And then, not just to the doorway, but down the cluttered hallway of the library, down the steep attic stairs, through an even more cluttered entryway room, through the fairly cluttered living room, to the far side of the dining room. I was in my office working at the time, but I didn't see or hear him move it. Later, though, I found it -and him curled up on it -right in front of his crate (which of course has its own pad).

Every time I try to catch him in the act with a camera,  he immediately drops whatever he's carrying and gazes at me in innocent wonder. You can almost hear him: "Yo, what's up, dude?"

My last border collie, Sam, was certainly a dog with personality. But I think our Captain Jack is taking idiosyncrasy to a whole new level.

Here's another dog thinking outside the box:


Labels: , ,

Friday, May 04, 2012

And Home Again

The world traveler is home, tired but happy. Great to see her. Great to have her back home. Not so glad to hear that she wants to go live in the Middle East. But never mind; we'll cope with that later. For now, we're just glad to have her safely home.

And what did the traveler bring us from Jordan? Go ahead, think about it; I'll give you a minute. Ready?

Whatever you thought, that's not it.  Here's what she said was in the plastic bags I helped her carry from the car: mud. I haven't seen it yet, but that's what she said, and I believe it. Mud. I guess she wanted to bring a little piece of the Middle East home.

If any further understanding develops (on my part), I'll be sure and pass it on.

Edit: Okay, it wasn't a little piece of Jordan coming home with her, it was facial mud. Which she bought. (Don't ask me. This is not a guy thing.)