Hey look–Stan Schmidt (former Analog editor and author), Trevor Quachri (current Analog editor), Alec Nevala-Lee (Analog author) and me at MidAmeriCon 2. Stan, Alec and I read stories from our stories in recent and forthcoming issues of Analog. Also participating but eluding the cameras was long-time Analog writer James Van Pelt. My thanks go to Trevor for moderating the panel and to my fellow writers for such entertaining readings.
I have to say that I was a bit dubious when I saw that those in charge of convention programming had organized several of the author readings by the various magazines in which their stories had been published. Well, I sure changed my mind in this case. The room was packed and people had some interesting questions.
Hello Kansas SF readers: I’ll be signing some of my stories at the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson on Tuesday Aug. 16 from 1 p.m to 2 p.m. Come say “hi” to me and other writers: Martin L. Shoemaker, C. Stuart Hardwick, Daniel J. Davis, and Steve Pantazis. I’ve never been to this space museum and am looking forward to it. Hope some of you can drop by. Here’s the press release:
Next, I’ll be in Kansas City on Wed. 8/16 through Mon. 8/22 for MidAmeriCon, the world science fiction and fantasy convention. In addition to signing some of my work, I’ll be on panels talking about dinosaurs, time travel, Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop, magic, and cloning mammoths. Those are separate topics (whew!). Hope to see a bunch of you there. Here’s my Worldcon schedule:
What’s New in the World of Dinosaurs!
Thursday 1:00 – 2:00, 2205 (Kansas City Convention Center)
Dinosaurs are cool! New discoveries are being made every day as we unearth bones from the past. In a recent discovery, scientists believe that a pregnant T-Rex found in Montana may have fragments of DNA preserved in her medullary bone. What else is out there? What other news from the past is there to share?
Bennett Coles, Michael Swanwick, Mel. White, Frank Wu (M) Rosemary Claire Smith
Amateur Scientists Doing Real Science
Thursday 2:00 – 3:00, 2206 (Kansas City Convention Center)
We all know of amateur astrophysicists and their successes, but what other science is carried out by non-professionals? What can they teach us about doing science and learning about science in real life situations and in our sf-nal worlds?
Spring Schoenhuth, Rosemary Claire Smith, Renée Sieber (M)
Thursday Aug 18 03:00 PM to 04:00 PM (Kansas City Convention Center)
Launch Pad is an annual event whereby a group of invited writers, editors, and creatives learn about modern science, specifically astronomy, so that they can in turn use it in their work and inspire others. Members who have attended Launch Pad discuss how it has affected their writing and ideas.
Fonda Lee (M), Monica Valentinelli, William Ledbetter, Matthew S. Rotundo, Rosemary Claire Smith
To Clone a Mammoth
Thursday 6:00 – 7:00, 2207 (Kansas City Convention Center)
We’re trying to clone dinosaurs (because that went so well in the Jurassic Park films), but maybe we should start with something smaller. Perhaps… a mammoth! Then again, what would we do with a mammoth? Where would it live? How would we go about cloning it? What are some of the risks, real or imagined, of reviving extinct species using cloning technology?
Rosemary Claire Smith, Mel. White (M), Frank Wu, Takayuki Tatsumi, Lynette M. Burrows
Autographing: Neil Clarke, Brenda Cooper, Rebecca Moesta, Martin Shoemaker, Rosemary Claire Smith
Friday 10:00 – 11:00, Autographing Space (Kansas City Convention Center)
Rebecca Moesta, Neil Clarke, Brenda Cooper, Martin L. Shoemaker, Rosemary Claire Smith
Archaeology in SF
Saturday 2:00 – 3:00, 2503B (Kansas City Convention Center)
Forget Indiana Jones, learn what archaeologists really do and how science fiction and fantasy get it right and wrong.
Dana Cameron, Rhiannon Held, Jason Sanford (M), Jack McDevitt, Ms Rosemary Claire Smith
When The Magic Goes Away
Sunday 11:00 – 12:00, 3501H (Kansas City Convention Center)
In a world once filled with magic, mystery, and beauty, where the Old Magic slipped away from the forests, the gates to Faerie closed, and the last ships sailed to the west, what does it mean when the magic fades? We look at representations of coming back to the real world or letting go, and wonder why it is such a potent part of fantasy writing.
Mr. Jared Shurin (M), Heather Rose Jones, Ms Rosemary Claire Smith, Erin Wilcox, Mr. Kevin J. Anderson
Time Travel and the Search for Redemption
Sunday 1:00 – 2:00, 3501D (Kansas City Convention Center)
Much of literature involves characters’ fraught relationship with the past. They are haunted by memories or spend their lives regretting a single horrible decision. Time travel permits the character to confront the past directly, to make literal what in mainstream fiction is only metaphorical. Join us as we discuss stories where time travel is a metaphor or device for witnessing and learning about the past or wishing to correct personal flaws and errors.
Kenneth Schneyer (M), Jack McDevitt, Jason Heller, Ms Rosemary Claire Smith
Once upon a time, it was enough for the hero of a science fiction book or movie to want to save a few people in a space ship from, well whatever was endangering them. That soon morphed into the whole space station, or town or city, needing rescue. Then the stakes got raised and the hero had to save the nation or space colony. That became the world/planet. Eventually the galaxy. Ultimately the entire universe. These days, the situation’s no better in fantasy where the rightful ruler’s life is at stake, oh and also those of the common folk, plus those of generations yet unborn, and that goes for every other country on the map adorning the frontispiece. No pressure or anything.
But not all SF or fantasy stories have to go that way. [Warning: mild spoilers to follow.] The Martian is a smashing success built upon a plot that turns on one astronaut’s efforts to rescue himself, and only himself, with no more than what he has on hand, which he must use to produce everything he needs for a long time. Yes, several others at a great distance try to come to his aid. And yet it remains a tale of one person’s survival against long odds. It helps that both the book by Andy Weir and the movie focus on a resourceful, likable character, one who is brave, smart, resourceful, and curious. These qualities are precisely what brought a character such as the protagonist to Mars in the first place. He needs every one of these characteristics if he is to prevail in his life-or-death struggle.
You see? You don’t have to raise the stakes to galaxy-spanning, or even global, levels. Not convinced? What if I told you that one person’s fight to survive with minimal resources in an incredibly hostile environment happens to be a plot that has been enthralling us since Daniel Defoe published Robinson Crusoe in 1719?
Still not persuaded? Have you seen the You Tube video that opens with one turtle lying on its back, legs waving uselessly, and then another turtle comes along and manages to right it? How about the video in which a baby polar bear tumbles into the water and Mama Bear plunges in and rescues it? Have you noticed how many jillions of views those clips have racked up? Truly, your character doesn’t need to set out to do anything more than to save himself or herself or one other character, who doesn’t even need to be human.
Sounds easy enough to write a story like this, you say. Well, there is a trick to it. Namely, not just any protagonist will do. Like many newbies, I went through my share of whiny and worthless characters before some really terrific protagonists turned up at my casting call, ones who had what it takes to save themselves. Or to save others. The right stuff. Let ’em have at it.
Eggs. Feathers. Hunting packs. Dinosaur fossils are giving paleontologists tantalizing dribs and drabs of evidence as to all sorts of things these days, evidence suggesting not only what dinosaurs looked like, but how they may have lived beginning with the moment they hatched to the way they moved, to how they hunted, to how they interacted with their own species, and so much more. A lot of this was presumed to be unknowable when I was in college, back when all that paleontologists had to study were the bones that happened to have survived for tens or hundreds of millions of years. Plus, more and more intriguing specimens are being discovered and described every day from every continent, even Antarctica.
For a science fiction writer like me, all this means that September is the time to begin a new chapter in my education. I’m looking forward to taking Dino 101 again. Whew! They sure don’t make those Mesozoic critters like they used to.
Final note: A (virtual) gold star goes to those of you who recognized that this distinctive looking dinosaur comes from China and has been named Anchiornis huxleyi.
Between lectures, labs, a planetarium show, rooftop observing of stars and the International Space Station, visiting the Wyoming Infrared Observatory (WIRO), and hanging with SF writers and astronomers, I’ve not had a great deal of time to blog. Never fear, dear readers, for it’s been a remarkable few days thus far. I’ve crammed so much new learning into my head that I feel like a forming star with all this knowledge whirling and coalescing. This was to be expected as it has been decades since my formal astronomy training took place. So much has been discovered in the intervening years! In the compressed time we had, we just scratched the surface on a lot of topics.Thankfully, I’ve gotten myself equipped with a space-station’s worth of cool resources to draw upon when I’ll need to go into greater depth on … well on lotsa stuff from the Big Bang to the end of the Universe.
I’ll go into more detail later, but for now, here is WIRO, housing a 2.3 meter telescope, which is perched at 9656 feet in altitude with gorgeous views in all directions, courtesy of awesome writer Alan Gratz.
It’s that time of year again for readers of science fiction and fantasy to make nominations for the Hugo awards. In fact the Hugo nomination deadline is March 10, 2015. It’s also time for writers belonging to the Science Fiction Writers of America to make nominations for Nebula awards. That deadline is February 1,2015. Yikes, both dates are right around the corner!
Every year I stumble upon the usual spate of articles bemoaning the fact that “too few” people submit nominations for the Hugo and Nebula awards, with the bemoaners asserting that the nominations have been rendered less meaningful by reduced participation. I don’t have a lot of patience with this viewpoint. Instead, I have an idea … If you’re reading my blog because you are interested in science fiction and/or fantasy stories, you might consider making some nominations if you are eligible to do so, and voting when the time comes.
So what is worthy of being nominated as one of the best science fiction or fantasy works of 2014? It seems like I go through the same mental process each year. First, I absolutely intend to make some nominations because there are several terrific novels and shorter works that were published in the last year. But wait, there are so many stories, long and short, that I did not read, and didn’t even open. How can I possibly put forward informed choices?
Then I remind myself that absolutely everyone who nominates is in this same position. There are hundreds of choices (or maybe more?) if you consider every science fiction and fantasy work that was published in 2014. Nobody could attempt to get even a cursory overview of everything out there. So, I’d better start making my selections because that excuse won’t cut it.
After I’ve drawn up a preliminary list, I usually see that it seems skewed toward those publications I like best, such as Analog. Well, Analog did publish 3 of my stories over the years, and one of those, “Dino Mate,” is eligible in the 2014 short story category. How could I not find that Analog stories speak to me? That’s one reason why I’ve read more of that magazine this year than any other periodical.
So I usually start by figuring out my choices for the Analog Readers Choice Awards. This is a marvelous award as it is chosen by Analog readers. You don’t have to qualify to be a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America, which is for professional writers. Nor do you have to be a member of any science fiction convention or group, which can be pricey. Anyone can fill out the Analog ballot by February 1, 2015 in the comfort of your own computer. Here it is:
But getting back to the Hugos and Nebulas, my next step after deciding on my AnLab choices is to take a look at the Tangent On Line Recommended Reading List. I love that the Tangent reviewers make such an outstanding effort to look at nearly every novella, novelette and short story that has been published in the past year. However, even just looking at what they recommend can be a lot, so I tend to focus especially those works that have 2 or 3 stars or that are written by the ever-growing list of writers whose works I admire. Here’s this year’s Tangent list:
One last thought—I’ll undoubtedly have missed some great stuff when I submit my nominations. Not to worry; I’ll be sure to read all those nominees when it comes time to vote for the Nebulas and Hugos.
Now that the literary dust has settled and I’m back from the 40th annual World Fantasy Convention, I have several thoughts. First, I got to watch writers, editors, artists, and agents share the Hyatt Hotel in Crystal City, VA with a gathering of Rolling Thunder motorcyclists who annually commemorate American POWs/MIAs. When human curiosity took over, members of these groups interacted at the hotel bar and began to learn a bit about each other’s driving interest.
As far as gatherings of the science fiction clan go, I’ve reached the point where there are simply more people whom I want to see at conventions than time to do so. Hence, I never really got a chance to talk to several people who were there fleetingly on the other side of a room. (Hi, guys! Hope you had a good time!) What partly made up for that was the opportunity to meet new people, and some whose work I’ve enjoyed for years. Above is Rick Wilber, who volunteered with me to cover the SFWA table, fielding questions that came our way from members and non-members, alike. Doing so was a reaffirming experience, at least for me, as I was reminded all over again that SFWA membership is a meaningful thing if one goes by the looks of longing on the faces of some writers who have yet to qualify.
One highlight of the four days was the World Fantasy Awards banquet, where mistress of ceremonies Mary Robinette Kowal treated us to the sort of witty, incisive, and comforting speech that only she could give. Naturally, it was terrific to see Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and Ellen Datlow receive well-deserved lifetime achievement awards. I also enjoyed a panel by one writer friend and a reading by another, both of whom had never been on a panel or done a reading before. They were well prepared, entertaining, and generally terrific.
A lovely tradition of World Fantasy Convention is that each attendee receives a hefty canvas goody bag of books. Mine came with titles by Cherie Priest, Scott Lynch, Nnedi Okorafor, Geoff Ryman, Joe Abercrombie, Jo Walton, and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. So now the pleasant decision becomes which to read first.
There’s a FB meme circulating among my writer pals challenging one another to list ten books that we’ve read at a formative age, indicating why they stayed with us. I’m always fascinated by what influenced present-day writers. If you are too, here’s my list, though it could change somewhat next week or next month. Most of these are books I read before entering college. What I never fully realized until now is that several of the books on my list not only had a big influence on my first profession – archaeology – but they also seem to have had an influence on the fantasy and science fiction stories I currently write.
1. The Golden Treasury of Myths and Legends – The folks who put out the Little Golden Books published this “Giant Golden Book Deluxe Edition” of Greek, Roman, Norse, and Anglo-Saxon myths, legends, etc. The illustrations are as evocative as the stories.
2. Tik Tok of Oz, The Emerald City of Oz, Patchwork Girl of Oz – L. Frank Baum – For me, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the subsequent books in the series that were written by L. Frank Baum, will always be the true Oz, no matter what movies and subsequent reboots may come along. I recall being fascinated by the map of Oz, which may have led to a love of maps and geography of far-away places and imaginary lands.
3. Alice In Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass – Lewis Carroll – So many sayings from this book still find their way into my day-to-day thoughts.
4. The Bull of Minos– Leonard Cottrell – a reporter’s account of archaeological excavations by Heinrich Schliemann and Sir Arthur Evans at Troy and Knossos. Though it does not hold up well for a number of reasons, it was the book that prompted me to go into archaeology.
5. The Illustrated Man -Ray Bradbury – I close my eyes and see myself reading this collection of short stories collection, which included one of my favorites,The Veldt.
6. Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe – One after the other, I devoured The Fall of the House of Usher, The Cask of Amontillado, The Pit and the Pendulum, etc.
7. The Hobbit; The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien -It’s fashionable to knock TLOTR these days. Though it may have various flaws, it introduced heroic fantasy to so many writers of a certain age.
8. Lord of Light – Roger Zelazny – I greatly fear that this fabulous writer who left us much too soon isn’t being read as much anymore as he should be.
9. Siddhartha – Herman Hesse – Many people rediscovered this book about the life of the Buddha in the 70’s, though you almost never hear about it any more.
10. The Fifth Head of Cerberus – Gene Wolfe – I read this in graduate school when I was very ill with bronchitis and in an impressionable state. Another anthropology student visited me in the school’s infirmary, pressed this book into my hands, and said I should read it. To this day, I have no idea how he knew.
As the Clarion Writers’ Workshop barrels full speed into Week Three, I’m reminded of my own third week at Clarion, and I look at this class with envy and amazement. Here’s the envy part: They’re in San Diego, whereas I spent all six weeks in East Lansing, MI. The summer heat and humidity of my Week 3 was punctuated by mosquito swarms, and our sanity depended on water gun fights. At that point, I wasn’t yet too physically exhausted to run around or too sleep deprived to fall asleep at my computer, both of which came later.
As for the amazement part: It’s remarkable how much beginning writers can learn in such a short period of time simply through lectures, writing exercises, critiquing others, having their own work critiqued by super smart people, and venturing beyond their writerly comfort zone. The other amazing thing is that a goodly number of the lessons learned in Week Three (and the other weeks, too) are time released. I never did figure out how great writing instructors do that, but they all seem to work that bit of magic. In other words, by Week Three, the Clarionites have learned more than they might suppose.
During my own third week, I wrote the initial draft of the first story that I ever sold. I’m wishing this year’s class great success with this week’s efforts.
“The dinosaur lowered its head and charged straight at Marty.”
Er … um … so what happens next in the story? I’m fond of my protagonist, so he better raise a big gun and act fast, but what exactly should he do? How long does it take to slip off the safety? Does he aim for the eyeball? How about that mouth filled with razor-sharp fangs? Are either of those actions feasible? How much is the beast’s head bobbing around? For that matter, if the dinosaur’s brain is the size of a walnut, might it be better to try for the heart? Or perhaps the kneecap? How much ground would the dinosaur cover after a bullet pierced its heart? What caliber projectile would be needed to pierce that tough hide, or bony outer layer?
So much is conjecture. Yet, all too often, I read or hear about authors making rookie mistakes when they write about firing weapons. That’s one reason why I took the opportunity, today, to visit a local shooting range with one of the world’s leading firearms experts, who is also a wilderness survival trainer. For the first time in my life, I fired several weapons, including a 22 revolver and a light hunting rifle. I found out just how loud the discharge is (while wearing ear-protection), as well as what the recoil feels like. Equally important was the chance to get a sense of the distances to various targets, as well as learning how to hold the weapon, aim, and pull the trigger.
What’s more, we discussed hypothetical encounters with dinosaurs in the Mesozoic, how my characters might arm themselves, how they might stay out of trouble, and survival strategies when trouble comes head on. One possibility is bear spray (strong pepper spray), although its effectiveness against a dinosaur of any size is also unknown.
As much as I dislike the grim idea of firing at any beasts of the Cretacean wilderness, I’m not going to drop my characters in a prehistoric jungle without giving them the means to return alive.