Sunday, August 30, 2015

Schrödinger’s Sasquan—Part 3

It takes a good sense of humor to attend a worldcon. Last year, at Loncon, we procrastinated too long in getting a place to stay, and we wound up camping on a sailboat moored somewhere off the Thames. This year, we put in for a room early, and requested a room on a quiet floor of the main con hotel. (No more schlepping an hour each way to get to the con for us!) What did we get? A room two doors down from the con hospitality suite, open 24 hours a day!

To our surprise, it worked out okay. The soundproofing was good, and we were rarely bothered by the noise. And when we got the munchies around midnight, we just had to throw on some pants and shoes and go down the hall.

If there’s one thing (most) science fiction fans have in abundance, it’s a sense of humor. When I saw this T-shirt at Sasquan (just weeks after my attendance at the Schrödinger Sessions for SF writers), I knew I had to have it.

Wanted: Schrödinger’s Cat
After Sasquan, we visited relatives in the Puget Sound region, and got a further look at the extreme drought conditions currently afflicting the U.S. Northwest. The grass is brown, and even many bushes are brown. Here’s picture of a rhododendron that’s surely alive... and dead... all at the same time. (Not unlike some con-goers I saw early Sunday morning.)

Schrödinger’s Rhodo 
One personal highlight of the con was at last meeting my friend Ann, who for years has been helping me format my ebooks—yes, those same ebooks I’ve been flogging (not too relentlessly, I hope) for almost as long as I’ve been writing this blog. Ann lives in Washington, and all this time our communication has been by email. She's a fan who offered to help, because it's fun! (!!!) At last, we met face-to-face, and Allysen and I got to take her out to dinner, as a very small thank-you for all the work she’s done for us. (But was I smart enough to take a picture? Noooo...)

Finally, here’s some of the quirky fan art that accompanied Sasquan. I love fan art.

Artist: Fan GoH Brad Foster

Artist: Ray VanTilburg
And that's my roundup of the 2015 Worldcon!

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Sad Sad Puppies Affair—Sasquan Roundup, Part 2

During the lead-up to the worldcon and the Hugo Awards, there was a good deal of commotion about the attempt by the Sad Puppies coalition (consisting largely, but not entirely, of conservative white male writers), joined by the more toxic Rabid Puppies, to hijack the awards and stuff the final ballot with their choices of candidate works. I say “attempted,” but in fact they managed to overwhelm several of the major categories. (You might have heard about it on NPR, or read about it on, or seen it elsewhere on the net, where it seemed to be ubiquitous. Personally, I tried to avoid spending much time reading about it, because life is short and mean-spirited drama is long.) If you’re unfamiliar with the controversy, those links will bring you up to speed. The bottom line: A group of conservative-to-rabid voters organized to game the awards this year. In response, a couple of thousand more convention registrants than usual showed up to vote, in defense of an open awards process.

After a long, angry buildup, many con-goers expected to see blood in the hallways of the convention center. It didn’t happen. David Gerrold, one of two author Guests of Honor (Vonda McIntyre was the other), was a target of some nasty pre-con slurring, and he could have chosen to lash out in his GoH speech. He did not. In fact, he delivered a classy affirmation of his love of science fiction and science fiction fandom (transcript here). His only reference to the whole affair was an expression of gratitude to those (not present) who had helped clarify in his mind what he wanted to say. Connie Willis, who had earlier declined to be a presenter, showed up in mid-program to cheer on the process.

David Gerrold and Tananarive Due MC the Hugos

Awards time came, and in five categories that had been largely or completely taken over by the puppies, the voters chose “No Award,” in a clear repudiation of the hijack attempt. You can see the final results here, including the categories voted "no award." My congratulations to the winners! But it was not a victory without price.

While I stand firmly with the rejection of the gaming effort of the SPs, I feel for those writers and editors who were hurt by the whole affair. Some innocent writers and editors were unwillingly associated with the puppies slate, because the SPs happened to like their work. Other worthy individuals were kept off the final ballot because of the stuffing. Still, the winning novel, The Three Body Problem, by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu), got its place on the ballot because another author withdrew his work after receiving support from the stuffers.

Some say that the Hugo Awards as an institution were strengthened by the voters’ repudiation of the attempt to game the system, and I hope that turns out to be true. But it’s hard to say that there were winners in the affected categories. Those writers who were shut out may get another chance, another year, and then again they may not. Either way, it has to hurt.

For perhaps the most thorough summary of the matter, I recommend this article from Wired, which includes coverage of “supplementary awards,” the Alfies, created and handed out with great cheer by Game of Thrones’ George R.R. Martin. In all, I have to agree with his summation, that vindication of the process came with considerable regret.

If you'd like to watch the entire proceedings, you can stream the Hugo Awards video here:

Labels: , ,

Friday, August 28, 2015

Smokycon—er, Sasquan—Roundup, Part 1

We’ve returned home at last from Sasquan, the 2015 World Science Fiction Convention. It was a wonderful worldcon, though for much of the time the air in Spokane was borderline unbreathable due to wildfire smoke. Here are a few photos taken at various times, during bad air and good. 

The first is a view out the convention center window, when the air was turbid with haze—and a sign that appeared on the doors leading out of the convention center that day. (Later in the evening I looked out our hotel room window over the sepia-colored skyline of the city, and saw a long train of black tanker cars winding through the center of the city. I thought I was witnessing the beginning of the eco-apocalypse.)

The next day the wind shifted, and the air was much nicer. That’s when I took these, on the riverside park bordering the convention center.

There are lots of quirky touches to the park. Sculptures along the river, molded directly into the railing. And the giant red Radio Flyer wagon, with the built-in slide for kids. Not to mention the trash-eating mechanical goat, here being fed a napkin by my wife Allysen.

The programming included a wonderful Guest of Honor speech by David Gerrold, affirming his love of science fiction. (Short version: Reading SF changes the way you view life and the universe. It builds empathy, especially for those who are different from you. Empathy is the first step toward true sentience. Follow this road long enough, and you reach the beginning of wisdom.)

I unfortunately missed the speech by the other Guest of Honor, Vonda N. McIntyre; but I did get to chat with her and to share a couple of program items, including a panel on Book View Café as a model for cooperative publishing by groups of authors. My other panel, on the New Space Opera (sharing the stage with Charles Stross, Hugo-nominee Ann Leckie, and several others) played to a standing-room-only audience. I hope I said something intelligent—but as is my practice, I leave that to the audience to decide. Suffice it to say here that space opera (once a term that was used pejoratively) is now a part of our greater cultural landscape, including not just print fiction but TV and movies, and it’s grown up a lot in the last 60-70 years.

The much-covered Sad Puppies drama played itself out in the Hugo Awards ceremony. That’s next.

Labels: ,

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Worldcon, Spokane, and Wildfire Smoke

We’re enjoying the start of Sasquan, the 2015 World Science Fiction Convention (aka worldcon) in lovely Spokane, Washington. The Spokane (rhymes with can) Convention Center is located right next to the aptly named Spokane River, with a beautiful riverside park. We’ve already seen a number of friends, and I listened to a great talk by a Vatican astronomer on astronomical models that were almost right, but not quite—usually because the astronomers of the time didn’t make the leap from the data they had to imagining the right questions to ask.

The air, however, is a bit thick here. Washington state and neighboring Canada have a lot of wildfires going, and it makes for uncomfortable breathing at times—and eerily red sunsets. My phone camera failed to catch the effect, so I don’t have a good picture. But here’s a map of the fires currently going, and you can see that the U.S. Northwest and Canada are getting the brunt of it. But the smoke is actually carrying all the way across the U.S. on the jetstream.

On our drive from Seattle to Spokane, we stopped off to see the Grand Coulee Dam, and I talked to a U.S. Forest Service guy who had also stopped to see the dam. He was on his way to a fire. I asked what his role was. He said he manages a group of helicopters that takes firefighters in to rappel down close to fires in hopes of cutting them off before they can spread. Gottta hand it to those guys!

Meanwhile, if you're attending the con, I hope you'll stop by one of my events and say hello. Today (Thursday) I'm on a panel about Book View Cafe, an author collaborative. Saturday I'm autographing, and also participating on a panel on Space Opera.

Labels: , , , , ,

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Our Hot New Grill

Not long ago, I remarked to someone that it was a point of pride with me that I’d never actually bought a gas grill, but had gotten along for years on trash-picked models that simply required some repair. (In our town, trash-picking is a well-regarded means of recycling things. Sometimes people even post to the town email list about items they’re putting out at the curb, which is how I got our lawnmower, our snowblower, and our first couple of gas grills.)

I can no longer make that brag. Our grill has been tottering on its last legs for a while, and it never was all that good to begin with. Allysen quietly decided to get me a new grill as an early birthday present. She did all the online research, reading reviews and searching for features. Upon my return from the quantum workshop I found a huge box in the back of our truck, bearing the words “Kenmore Gas Grill. Assembly required.”

What fun! Some assembly was indeed required. Much assembly was required. Not all the parts fit. There are two parts left over, angle irons with holes drilled in them. What are those for? I learned that—contrary to common practice—assembling large pieces of hardware in the dark, or alternatively, in the hot blazing sun, is not necessarily the smartest way to do it. But now it’s together. And what a glorious gas grill!  I especially like the built-in LED lights and the fold-out side table.

I have not yet cooked anything on it, because every evening this week has been booked up. But I’m hankering to. I might just go out there and cook a single veggie burger on it, if that’s what it takes to get this thing rolling!


Labels: ,

Friday, August 07, 2015

Dragons Fly Free in Dragon Rigger!

My novel Dragon Rigger, sequel to Dragons in the Stars, has been unavailable as a stand-alone book for over a year now. No more! My new edition has just gone up in all the stores, with a new cover and all-new formatting.

Dragon Rigger continues the story of Jael and the dragons she met in Dragons in the Stars, but much of this book is the dragons’ stories more than hers, and much of the book is told from the viewpoints of fire-breathing lizards. It’s not fantasy, though, except in the broadest sense. It’s science fiction, with a mythical and fantasy feel, set in a universe of interstellar travel. It’s a book I’m particularly proud of, even if it didn’t gain its full audience in its original print publication from Tor. The ebook audience seems to like it.

Here’s the blurb (short form):

A realm at war. The star dragons struggle under the oppression of a terrible power, one that’s intent upon twisting spacetime itself into a web of subjugation and death. According to prophecy, One will come from outside to challenge the darkness. Star pilot Jael may be that One. But if the prophecy is true, the price of victory over the darkness will be Jael’s own life.

Kindle | Nook | Apple | Kobo

Truth in advertising note: Dragon Rigger is part of the boxed set Dragon Space: A Star Rigger Omnibus. If you have that, you only need this edition if you’re a complete collector.

Download it and fly free with the dragons and the ifflings!

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, August 02, 2015

The Cat’s Still Alive (and Dead)! — Schrödinger Sessions

Not really Schrödinger's cat, but she is in a box.
I’ve just come back from an incredible weekend at the Schrödinger Sessions: Science for Science Fiction, at the Joint Quantum Institute at the University of Maryland, near Washington, D.C. The JQI staff hosted just over a dozen SF writers, and for several days stuffed our heads full of information about quantum physics. It was head-exploding. But in a good way!

Here are some of the things we learned from Chad Orzel, Steve Rolston, Chris Monroe, and others:
  • How to become quantum (which only works if you are very small, much smaller even than I was when I was at my low weight).
  • How (if you can master the first step) you can be in two places at one time—and also how to collapse that state so that you’re just in one.
  • How to trap a single charged atom (ion) in a vacuum trap and cool it to just a whisker above Absolute Zero. (And we leaned over and didn’t touch! equipment that does just that.)
  • How to quantum-entangle two or more particles in the above-mentioned apparatus. (Okay, I still don’t really understand how to do that.)
  • How to make light disappear with two polarized filters, and reappear with the addition of a third. (I sort of understand that.)
  • That sometimes the answer to the question “Why?” is “Just shut up and calculate.”
  • That probability is not a definition of a thing, but a statement of our knowledge of a system.
  • That probability is not a definition of knowledge after all, but of our ignorance about a system.
  • That there are two rules of quantum mechanics:
  1. Quantum objects are waves, and can be in states of superposition (more than one position at a time).
  2. Rule #1 holds as long as you don’t look!
Professor James Gates (familiar from countless PBS documentaries) told us why he doesn’t buy the extra dimensions suggested by most string theorists.
Professor Raman Sundrum (of the Randall-Sundrum Model) told us why he does, and furthermore why it’s possible we’re living in a holographic universe.

I learned that quantum physicists say "I don't know" a lot.

There was tons more, presented by a bunch of professors. I hope I can remember it. Or most of it. Or some of it.

Part of it, in fact, plays right into what I’m trying to do in The Reefs of Time. So I really hope I can remember that part.

Maybe I’ll buy the book by Chad Orzel, one of the workshop leaders, How to Teach [Quantum] Physics to Your Dog.

Down in there is a glowing cluster of verra verra cold ytterbium atoms.  

Labels: , , ,