Friday, October 31, 2014

Spaceship Two Crashes on Test Flight

This has been a wrenching week for space enthusiasts, and especially space entrepreneurs. I just read the heartbreaking news that Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship Two exploded during a powered test flight today, killing one of the two pilots and seriously injuring the other. (This follows the explosion, a few days ago, of Orbital Science’s Antares cargo rocket, on liftoff for the International Space Station.) Both were privately funded space ventures.

Spaceship Two, of course, was slated to carry paying passengers on brief excursions into space (suborbital, not orbital). It is the offspring of Spaceship One, which a few years ago won the Ansari X-Prize for being the first privately funded craft to reach space, and to turn around and do it again a short time later. Spaceship One was funded largely by Microsoft’s Paul Allen, while Spaceship Two is funded by Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Galactic.

Spaceship Two after release from White Knight Two. LA Times photo

Spaceship Two explodes soon after. LA Times photo

What this means for the future of Spaceship Two is not yet clear. It was flying with a new fuel today from that used in previous test flights. Perhaps that caused the rocket engine to explode, or perhaps not; it’s too soon to know.

As we’ve heard more than once from those who know a lot more than I do, “Space is hard.” There will be accidents. My heart goes out to those hurt by this one, the pilots and their families and friends, and all of those associated with this venture. But I’m going to echo here a quote that my colleague Geoff Landis echoed from someone else on Facebook:

"It is not the critic who counts; nor the one who points out how the strong person stumbled, or where the doer of a deed could have done better.

The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually strive to do deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotion, spends oneself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at worst, if he or she fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

— Theodore Roosevelt
This is how I will remember Spaceship Two:

Spaceship Two during an earlier, successful test flight. LA Times photo


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Happy Halloween Kobo Sale: Oct. 31– Nov. 3

If you like to buy ebooks at Kobo (they’re the ones with the waterproof ereader!), you might like their sale running this weekend: 35% off on selected titles. I’ve got a couple of books in the sale, as do some of my colleagues at Book View Café. What you do is pick your books from the sale page and apply this coupon code at checkout: UNLIMITED35.

That sale page will let you see the whole spectrum of offerings. For my own books, you can go straight to Eternity’s End and Star Rigger’s Way. But don't forget to use the coupon code.

Trivia point: The hero of Eternity’s End, name of Legroeder, first appears as a minor (but important) character in Star Rigger’s Way, when he helps the hero of that book out of a jam. The genesis of Eternity’s End was my editor Jim Frenkel asking me, “Whatever became of that guy Legroeder? Don’t you ever wonder?”

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Another Flying Car on the Horizon!

This story made me immediately think of my Slovenian-made moped, a Tomos. Well, the wily Slovakians are giving my neighbors the Terrafugia people a run for their money on the race to develop a practical flying car. (A race that’s been on for, what, sixty or seventy years? About as long as the race to develop practical fusion power.)

Take a look at this beauty, the Aeromobil 3.0.

(Best viewed at full-screen size.)
View on Washington Post

Estimated to cost only a few hundred thousand dollars! (But I’ve already got the pilot’s license, so I’m partway there.) Woo-hoo!

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Antares Explosion

I’ve written from time to time about the encouraging progress being made in privately funded efforts to get us into space. SpaceX has certainly had some great successes lately. And so has Orbital Sciences. But I suppose I should note the bad along with the good. This failure of the Antares cargo rocket bound for the ISS, yesterday, had to be a huge blow to the folks at Orbital Sciences. But thankfully no one was hurt.

It’s yet another reminder that space travel isn’t easy, and won’t be for a long time to come. Let’s hope they can find the cause of this, fix it, and get back onto the Star Road. Because as Tsiolkovsky said, we can’t live in the cradle forever.

Addendum: The Antares rocket was powered with refurbished Soviet-made rocket engines. This in itself isn't unusual, since several of our major launch vehicles, the Atlas and Delta, are now powered by Russian-made rocket engines (though I believe of a later design). Whether this is a good idea or not is an entirely different question.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Enough With the Auto Accidents!

A little over a year ago, our daughter Lexi got hit by a car while biking, injuring her knees and laying her up for a while. A little less than a year ago, my wife Allysen got rear-ended in our 2010 Fusion, leaving her unharmed but the Fusion totaled. Yesterday, Lexi got hit again, rear-ended in her Subaru on an on-ramp in Providence. She’s got some whiplash to deal with, and the jury is still out on her home-on-wheels Outback. I’m really grateful she’s alive and relatively uninjured, as auto accidents go. But she’s pretty upset, understandably. We were concerned about her safety in Lebanon (the trip went fine), but forgot to be concerned about her safety here on our own roads.

Can’t we all just drive our cars without hitting people? I hereby vow to increase my own vigilance behind the wheel.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Excuse Me While I Reboot My Window

No, not my computer. My car window. Our beloved Ford Fusion, Katniss, suddenly developed a very odd problem with the power window: Press Down to make the window go down, lift Up to make the window go up—and then watch it go back down again, all on its own, and very determinedly. Weird. Also—perhaps related, and perhaps not—we found the car the other day with the battery dead, Jim, and no apparent reason why.

I solved the dead battery on Sunday by jumping with my handy Stanley jump-start unit, and the battery gave no further problem. (Though it worried me a little.) But when the window started going down on its own, I took Katniss straight to the Ford dealer and let them work on it.

The upshot? “We had to reinitialize the motor on the window.” Which is either Geordi fixing something in the computer of the Enterprise, or us rebooting our car window. I knew computers were everywhere in cars, but the windows? Apparently so. Got a problem? Reboot.

As for the battery? When I went to pick up the car, they assured me the battery had tested out okay. Except when I got in to drive it away, the battery was dead, dead, dead. An hour later I had a new battery (covered by warranty, of course), and I’m so glad it happened in the dealer’s parking lot, and not a number of other places I can think of!

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Odyssey Story Slam in New Hampshire!

Are you planning to be in the vicinity of Amherst, New Hampshire on Sunday, November 2? Good! Because there’s going to be a fun event at the LaBelle Winery, which is a Bonfire Story Slam! A group of twenty SF/F writers, including moi, will be reading short-short stories (or, in the case of a few of us, excerpts) around a bonfire. What better setting for stories than a winery?*

This is not only a great event, but also a fund-raiser in support of the terrific Odyssey Writing Workshop, which I have visited on several occasions as a guest lecturer. Come enjoy some stories and s’more stories!

*My best book signing ever was at my favorite local wine store, during a wine tasting.

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Short Story Contest!

Any short-short story writers out there? I’ve just gotten a notice for an interesting-sounding SF writing contest, with a $1000 first prize and no rights grab. That second part is what really struck me. But your story entry has to be 1500 pages (Edit: Oops, that should be 1500 words) or under. Here’s the dope:

Presented by Sci-Fest LA

SCI-FEST LA: The Los Angeles Science Fiction One-Act Play Festival is happy to announce the launch our new short story writing contest for adult writers over the age of 18 called THE ROSWELL AWARD.  All submissions must be short stories (not plays), must be an original work of science fiction (not fan fiction) and must be no longer than 1500 words.  The contest is open to U.S. writers as well as writers outside the U.S.  Five finalists will be chosen and their stories will be read aloud by professional actors associated with iconic Sci-Fi TV shows in a special awards ceremony to be held at the festival on May 23, 2015 at 7:00 PM (Memorial Day Weekend).  The winner of THE ROSWELL AWARD FOR SHORT FICTION will receive a donated cash prize of $1,000.00.  All stories submitted must be typed in English and must have the contestant’s name, email address and phone number clearly typed on the title page.  All entries must be submitted electronically via the website.  Entries longer than 1500 words will be disqualified.  See terms and conditions for submitting at the website.  The deadline for submissions is January 15th, 2015.  Submit stories at  Finalists will be notified by March 15th, 2015.   Sci-Fest LA is produced by Michael Blaha, Lee Costello and David Dean Bottrell (“Boston Legal”).

It looks legit, as far as I can see. Note that they ask for the right to shop your story around to producers. But they don’t ask for any fee or commission, even in the event of a sale.

Do you write short? Go for it!


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Friday, October 10, 2014

Star Rigger’s Way Finds Its Way

Dell paperback (first edition)
...back into ebook, for the first time since June!  Yes, the long wait is over. Star Rigger’s Way is now available in all-new clothes, in its long-awaited Starstream edition. Completely reformatted and with a new cover, this is not one to miss! (Wait—have any of my offerings been ones to miss? I hope not.)

Star Rigger’s Way was not my first star rigger novel (that distinction belongs to Seas of Ernathe), but it grew out of my first star rigger story, which was called “Alien Persuasion,” and appeared in Galaxy during the twilight years of that esteemed magazine. (If you want to read the story, you can find it in my collection, Going Alien, along with a cool illustration of the alien, Cephean, by Freff.) In its first edition, Star Rigger’s Way was published by Dell Books, during the twilight years of that publisher’s esteemed science fiction line. (Do you detect a pattern here?) Later, I revised it for a new edition from Tor Books, and that’s the version that’s in this ebook.

Within the Star Rigger Universe chronology, this book falls in the middle. Panglor sets the stage, with the discovery of certain properties of space-time that lead to the development of starship rigging through the Flux. The two dragon books (combined in Dragon Space) come next, well into the era of rigging but before the RiggerGuild, an institution created to protect the well-being of riggers, who are pilots with extreme sensitivity in certain areas of perception and imagination, and often vulnerable personality types. Eternity’s End follows close on the heels of Star Rigger’s Way, picking up the story of Legroeder, a minor character in this book. Seas of Ernathe jumps way into the future, at a time when the rigging techniques have been lost or forgotten.

Here’s the e-jacket copy for the new edition of Star Rigger’s Way:
His shipmates dead, star rigger Gev Carlyle is adrift in the Flux, the subjective hyperspace that carries ships between the stars. His lone companion, and sole hope for survival, is a suicidal catlike alien named Cephean. Only a compatible rigger team, their visions meshed in psychic unity, can safely harness the turbulent currents of the Flux—and Carlyle's ship is sailing inexorably toward the deadly maelstrom of the Hurricane Flume. For even a chance at survival, he needs Cephean's help. But the price for that is a complete merging of minds and memories. And Carlyle, at war with his own past, dreads that union more than death itself.

A grand space adventure, from the Nebula-nominated author of Eternity’s End and The Chaos Chronicles. (Etc.)
Available, of course, wherever fine bits and bytes are sold.

Starstream Publications ebook

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Saturday, October 04, 2014

BookBub Rumbles Down the Stream of Stars

Time for another ebook special. This time Down the Stream of Stars is discounted, starting today and continuing for a week. Just $.99—which if you look carefully, you will see is less than a dollar! Such a deal.

Starstream! In a great diaspora, starships ply the ethereal new highway into the galaxy. But none could have guessed the dangers unleashed by the starstream—including the deadly Throgs. When starship Charity flies into peril, a young Claudi Melnik confronts a threat from beyond space and time. Triumphant sequel to From a Changeling Star and a daring journey to the heart of consciousness itself.

Named one of the best SF novels of the year by Science Fiction Chronicle.

And if you haven’t signed up yet for Bookbub's daily/weekly “ebook deals” emails, what are you waiting for? Don’t you like to read?

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Wednesday, October 01, 2014

3D Printing Now—and Then

I was reading recently about the delivery of the first 3D printer in space to the International Space Station, by the SpaceX Dragon cargo spaceship. You can read all about it here, and it’s pretty cool.

Not long after, I was reading a piece of fiction I’ve had around for a while that included this paragraph:

Igor’s countrymen, though lacking many earth techniques, were far ahead of earth in manufacturing skill. They used a single general type of machine to manufacture almost anything. They fed into it a plan which Igor called for want of a better term the blueprints—it was in fact, a careful scale model of the device to be manufactured; the machine retooled itself and produced the artifact. One of them was, at that moment, moulding the bodies of fighting planes out of plastic, all in one piece and in one operation.
That’s from Robert Heinlein’s “Elsewhen,” first published in 1941. It’s included in the collection Assignment in Eternity.

That man had some vision. 

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