Saturday, February 27, 2010

M.K. Hobson on the grind and glory of writing

Meet Mary, aka M.K. Hobson. She's a creator of excellent humorous science fiction and fantasy, a member of Broad Universe and great fun to kick around with. Her first novel, Native Star debuts this fall closely followed by the second in the duology, The Desired Poison. She's the first to experience an interview with me face to face with my Blackberry recording. Email interviews are less work (for me, at least), but they're less interactive. See what you think.

(Photo by James W. Fiscus)

AW: When and how did your journey to speculative fiction begin? Both as a reader and a writer?

MKH: I definitely started reading speculative fiction quite young. Mostly starting with fantasy. Well, there was TV, obviously. I loved Fantasy Island. That was my favorite TV show when I was a kid. I thought Mr. Roarke was so freaking sexy. He was like my first crush I ever had. The first fan fic I ever wrote was fantasy island fan fic. That's a little embarrassing. I started reading, Ursula Le Guin, (The Earth Sea Tales were huge when I was probably 10, 11), a lot of Piers Anthony, which I just thought was absolutely hilarious. I thought the Xanth books were the sine qua non of fantastic, wonderful writing.

I found a little bit of what I liked in everything. I liked the humor of the Xanth books. I liked the beautiful writing of the Ursula K. Le Guin books. I liked the historical detail of the Little House on the Prairie books. But it was all just pieces. So, I guess, as a writer, I wanted to take all the elements that I really liked and make something out of them that I wanted to read.

AW: So when did you start writing?

MKH: I remember I used to write in notebooks when I was probably seven or eight. I would write stories and novels, as long as a novel was for me at that age in lined notebooks. When I was 10 or 12, my Mom brought home an Ozborn word processor. Remember those Osborn word processors, there was no operating system on it, you had to insert a floppy drive in it for it to have an operating system. She brought this thing home and I was agog. Actually, there was an intermediate stage between the notebook and the word processor, my Mom had a Selectric typewriter. There was something magical about typing.

And then she brought home the word processor. I just wanted to be on that thing all the time.

AW: Does it seem to you that women authors tend to put romance into their fiction? I believe there are more men reading SF than women so I write for them. And I find that I read mostly male authors. Is it a struggle for women to write for men?

MKH: It's not just romance. Women write about relationships.

In a lot of the sci-fi short fiction I've written, I've made conscious decisions keeping a male audience in mind. One of the stories I wrote for F and SF is called "Powersuit," and it is just a humorous little science fiction piece about a guy and his AI and it's told from a masculine point of view. It's a very masculine science fiction story and I found myself making choices in that story that I actually question like, 'I'm not really sure I like the way I'm depicting this woman in this story because she's kind of your typical sex object a bit,' but for some reason I was thinking that that's the audience that I'm writing for so I'm going to go a little more in that direction. And again, I don't know if that's the right choice. I don't know if that's an honorable choice to make but I think what you've put your finger on is very real.

And I definitely think that women are much more readers of fantasy as a category. I agree, men or women writing science fiction don't tend to think of women as being their readers. They follow the tropes and the expectations of what they think a male reader is going to want.

We live in a patriarchal culture; men are better at writing to the expectation of what is good writing. What is "good writing" is what is taught in colleges and what is decided on by critics. And critics and professors are mostly male.

There are female science fiction writers like Mary Rosenblum, for example. Louise Marley is fantastic. And Brenda cooper. I can think of four or five female science fiction writers in the Pacific Northwest alone, who are very good.

It's interesting, too, that they all write under female names. When I started writing science fiction, I very carefully chose a gender-neutral pseudonym because at that point I was writing a lot more sci-fi than fantasy. I thought that I had to do that to attract the male audience. Now when someone goes by their initials, they're assumed to be a woman.

I would love to hear about what those authors had to struggle with in terms of the expectations because they all write very hard science fiction.

AW: Where do you stand on the Google gobble?

As far as I can tell, it mostly affects people who already have stuff in print. As a relatively new writer, going through and looking at what I had in the Google database, it was pretty limited. It's a really hard question because I have many, many, many a time benefited from the Google search of books, to look up a citation or something. I'm not reading the whole book. The question becomes would I have gone out and bought the book to get that information? No. Is the world a better place because I'm able to find that information? I think so. It's definitely a better place for me. How much is it really impacting the people that actually put in the work? That's the question. Because, like I said, I wouldn't have gone out and bought the book so they're not losing any money on me. But I think over the aggregate it is an issue.

It's part of a much larger issue which is as creative individuals, as creators, who take the product of our mind and hope to get some tangible benefit out of it, we're being asked more and more to give a lot of our stuff away free, it's that loss leader mentality. And the problem with that is that there's just so much being given away for free. I do a lot of the research into class and class consciousness and it seams to me the creative people are being asked to sacrifice the most. And they're the ones who are already getting to be the most marginalized. Where we were once paid for our stories, now we're expected to be glad of and settle for the exposure. That disturbs me.

How that applies to Google? I think that Google's the camel's nose in the tent. We still have bills to pay. If I knew that I was going to have my housing paid for and my healthcare paid for and I lived in some kind of socialist paradise, I would say fine, I will just write beautiful things and everyone can read them, but we don't live in that world. We live in a horrible free market economy.

AW: Your process isn't linear. Can you describe it for my readers?

MKH: It comes to me in bits and pieces. I don't like the whole, 'it's my muse, it's my muse,' I think that's silly but definitely nothing comes to me and is revealed all at once. Light shines on different parts. And I think, "Oh, yeah, that would totally happen between those characters," and so I would write that scene. And that illuminates another area. For me, approaching a story is like walking thru a dark room with a flashlight. There was an Atari game called adventure. And u would go into this dark room and you would know nothing about the room or the maze or anything until you've gone through it. Once you've gone through enough of the maze, then things are revealed to you. I have no idea what a story is going to be until I start walking through it with my flashlight and then I know what feels right, like choosing the solid stepping stone to cross the river.

AW: Does it ever get away from you? How do you organize all the bits and pieces?

MKH I get very frozen at forks in the road. It's a lot like the iceberg, 95% is cogitating and working things through, and then 5% is writing. For me, the process is grinding; thinking as far ahead as I can, like several moves ahead in a chess game to figure out which way to go. You have to get to that one moment that stops you in your tracks.

AW: Then you work backwards sometimes?

MKH: Yeah, and it can take a long time to find the right course. I think a lot of people have this sort of process but it's not talked about as much. Writing 1K words a day is easier to blog about.

AW: I think it goes back to that inspiration thing we discussed earlier. If we're not inspired and crank out words to make a quota, it can be fodder that never makes the cut.

MKH: I never get big inspirations. I don't get inspired for a whole book. I get inspired for a scene. I envision a conversation or a fight scene.

AW: Do you start with plot, world, situation or character?

MKH: I think my first foundation of what I write is the "what if?" or the juxtaposition of two odd concepts. Like my book has 19th century America with magic. Taking two disparate concepts and fitting them together was very interesting to me. In my short fiction it's often not only juxtaposing different concepts but exploring interesting things in a different light. Like one of the stories I'm doing right now is about 1930s films with magic – a fantasy element to it. I find the secret true story thing fascinating. Everybody wants the real story to be more interesting than it actually was.

Learn more about M.K. Hobson.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Why do I read more male SF writers?

I've been wrestling with an interesting dichotomy for a while. I'm hoping to stir some good non-healthcare related debate here. I belong to an organization which has as its sole purpose, the advancement of female-written speculative fiction, Broad Universe. I love my club. I have participated in it on many levels throughout the three years or so I've been a member.

Here's my problem. I'm an advocate of women writing speculative fiction because, well, I'm a woman, and more importantly, a woman who writes speculative fiction. But if I'm such an advocate, why do I read novels by men far more than those written by women?

Perhaps it's because I know I won't get any romance in my science fiction. Mind you, when I find romance, I get sucked in like any other warm-blooded female, but afterward, I feel cheated. I chose the book because it promised science fiction or fantasy. And I'm not your typical female. I don't like to shop. I don't like attending baby and bridal showers and Tupperware parties.

We know that men and women think and act differently, overall. Why assume that they will write the same? There have been a few women writers whom I've read that have managed to write a good story without the romance derailing the plot, but it seems like they are few and far between. When men do throw romance in, it's more like how I shop: get in, get out, go back to more important tasks. When men—and the few women who can pull it off like men do—write romance, they do it to add an additional layer to the plot, not to drive it. And when they don't throw in romance, I don't miss it.

From the beginning, when I first started writing science fiction, I assumed that men would comprise the majority of my audience. I thought, and still do, that more men read science fiction than women. That may not be true of fantasy. But I prefer science fiction with a few very special exceptions. Like I said, I'm not your typical female. I have always gravitated to the male conversation at a party. I don't want to talk about diets, shopping and fashion. Maybe it's not just the romance at all. Maybe it's because I prefer talking with men, so I prefer reading from their perspective.

Women are inherently more concerned with relationships. We have to be. We have historically been the ones nurturing the children. It's how we (well, most of us) were made. If you're a female spec-fic author, is it a constant struggle for you to write for a male or mixed audience and keep the romance at bay?

Or could it be that I read more male writers because the women aren't getting the same exposure? Many of the male writers I read are well-established, not an unknown quantity. Are there fewer women writing science fiction? Are there fewer of them getting published?

I want to hear from you. Tell me there are plenty of women who can write without including romance. And please, oh please, tell me who they are. Tell me I'm an unromantic cold-hearted woman. (I love romance out in the real world, by the way.) Or tell me you know what I mean. But don't be silent. Let the discussion begin!

PS – Tomorrow, an interview with a speculative fiction writer. ;)

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Radcon recap #2 - the rest of the story

Radcon day 2 and 3, Feb. 13 and 14 were a blur! I'll try to capture the highlights and the mood. The pictures will help.

I had a rather late night on Friday, but I had to get up at a more or less reasonable hour to wedge in an interview with Laurel Anne Hill before her first panel. I miscalculated how much time I had and was moving pretty slow, so I ended up meeting Laurel before my morning infusion of caffeine. She was very good-natured about waiting with me at the hotel cafe's cashier/coffee bar. The wait was inordinate and when I finally got to the front, the newbie behind the counter was having technical issues. I decided to forego the tea and get on with the interview. Next problem was to find somewhere quiet to conduct the interview. In hind-sight, I should have just done it in the hotel room as opposed to the quiet, remote stairwell that suddenly became a preferred shortcut.

After a delightful interview, I headed off in search of tea, Earl Grey, hot. I had to settle for the only black tea in offing. But caffeine is caffeine.

Saturday was my day of characters. My panels were both on characters. The first focused on how to use them and keep them real and fun. That panel was made more fun by the fact that it included Kevin Shamel of Bizarro Fiction fame. Also on the panel were Christine Morgan and Forrest Armstrong. So what can I say? We kept it real. ;)

Before the next Character panel, I emceed and participated in the Broad Universe reading. I'd like to say we drew a crowd. We had a small but receptive audience - and he bought a copy of Awesome Lavratt. The lack of bodies might have been because of the location and the posters that proclaimed it #2 of the top ten things to do at Radcon, but gave the time as 2 hours after the scheduled time.

The second Character panel was on compartmentalized characters. G. David Nordley led us on an oddyssey of all the reasons why people and, in turn, characters might be compartmentalized and whether we can get away with portraying them in fiction. I think the consensus was that yes, you can, but give the reader a clue as to the reason or motivation for their seemingly split personality.

After a brief rest, I caught my buddy Irene Radford's reading.

After dinner with my buddies, the four muskateers got together in Maggie's (M.H. Bonham's) room to help her with her mead.

And Andrea (Howe of Blue Falcon Editing) was busily making Jayne hats. If you don't know what those are, you obviously haven't been introduced to Firefly, the best sf show ever. The other muskateer is sf/f writer S.A. (Sue) Bolich. I only managed to get one picture of her and she'll kill me if I post it.

Next up was John Pitts' birthday party / ARC give-away contest.

And here he is signing his first book, Black Blade Blues! An SFOO exclusive! ;)

Jay Lake was unable to make it to Radcon. Mark Ferrari, however, dressed up in Hawaiian shirt and fake bird and emceed the masquerade as Jay Lake. I missed it, but here he is sharing a picture of himself as Jay on an iPhone with Patrick Swenson of Talebones magazine and Fairwood Press at the small press party. Looking on are furry-costumed Edgar T. Lincoln and Shannon Page.

Lastly, on Saturday, I did my celebrity bartending gig with G. David Nordley in the Radcon to Reno bar, relieving Bob Brown and Larry Niven.

Here's the changing of the guard.

And here's Jerry and I. We did great business. I'm sure it was the March Hare Hat.

The green stuff was dubbed algae bloom and the red stuff was red tide. We also had rum and scotch shots. The scotch was very good.

Our replacements didn't arrive, so we ended up closing the party at 2AM. But if we'd been replaced I would have missed Dragon Dronet's solo sax performance.

Sunday, my roomie, Sue Bolich, and I stumbled into the cafe for caffeine and stayed for lunch. Friends came and went, and we bid farewell before we traveled homeward. I still had one panel first, on the difference between science fiction, fantasy and horror with Eileen Gunn, Ellen Datlow and C.J. Cherryh. I think I was still half asleep. I did, however, manage to pose the question, "Is all of this categorizing books into sub-genre's causing readers to forego being exposed to books beyond their norm, preventing them from expanding their horizons?" The panel was divided on that one. And then I managed to drop my cell phone under the table in that room, only realizing it after a trip to the dealer's room. By the time I got back the door was locked and the keys deactivated. But I didn't mind so much. My flight was a few hours later and I enjoyed my shiny new review copy of Jack Skillingstead's The Harbinger while I waited for the con staff to sort it out.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Radcon recap #1

What a trip! I flew to Portland and had lunch with family. Then I had a cuppa with M.K. (Mary) Hobson. I also interviewed her using my Blackberry to record the interview. We had a great time talking about writing and the industry. Afterward, she showed me the church of Elvis. Apparently, you can feed it money for a fortune and call a number to have an Elvis impersonator marry you. She said this little shrine has moved all over Portland over the years.

I'm still kicking myself that I didn't have someone take our picture at Backspace. It's a gamer coffee shop, complete with LAN room in the back.

The train was on time and I had a little bit of daylight to see the view over the river, but I was so tired that I started nodding off looking out the window. Of course, I got my second wind when it was dark with nothing to see. I did manage to get some reading done and start on a new story for an anthology.

I had dinner in the hotel restaurant around 10PM. Then crashed as it was an early day in the morning. 8AM found me off to the airport where Washington State University has labs set up for the United States Transuranium & Uranium Registries.

Yes, that's what's in the freezers.

And more in the boxes.

And they're eventually burned down to get at the metals.

And then the chemical separation occurs here.

I wonder if you can guess what's in this well-traveled trunk?

The first panel was on writing non-human protagonists. Larry Niven was on this panel, as was C.S. Cole, Christina York and Katherine O'Kelly.

I shared the Short Story Markets panel with Jennifer Brozek, Bobbie Benton-Hull, Harold Gross and DiAnne Berry. So many aspiring writers were whipping their pens across their notepads. I managed to plug Broad Universe and Other Worlds Writers' Workshop, too.

I was drafted to participate in the Opening Ceremonies. The list of GOHs for this con was ever changing. Originally, Ben Bova was the Guest of Honor. Sadly, his wife passed away recently. Also, Jay Lake was to be the Toastmaster. His health prevented him from attending. And Gaye Haldeman was to be the fan guest of honor and bring her writer husband in tow. Joe Haldeman has also had health issues of late and couldn't make it either. Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith came to the rescue. Another writer that was slated to appear was Ken Scholes. He also could not make it, but stayed home with the little ones while his wife went. In a warped ghost of Radcon future scene, Sue Bolich and I were his grown daughters.

That brings us to the rousing game of writers vs. artists game of pictionary. The writers were Lizzy Shannon, Rhiannon Louve and myself. We competed with and dominated (at last amended count) the artist Joey Jordan and others. The artists were great at guessing.... >evil grin<

I finished up the evening dancing with my Broad Universe buddy, Carol (C.S.) Cole. At one point the DJ put on Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen and the whole room was belting it out. All 200 or so of them.

I'll cover Saturday and Sunday tomorrow or Thursday.

And here's what was in that trunk. It's a leg bone encased in a substance that is the same density as human flesh. It's used to calibrate radiation measuring devices.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Fantasy author Deborah J. Ross

I had the pleasure of meeting Deborah on a panel at Baycon. If I were to describe her based on our brief encounters at conventions, I would say she is a poised, professional writer with a giving spirit and a warm smile. She's also an excellent moderator. Deborah's short published works date back to the 80's, her novels to the 90s. She writes SF and F with equal ease. In addition, she has carried the Darkover series forward (or rather backward chronologically speaking) since her friend, mentor and collaborator, Marion Zimmer Bradley's death. Hastur Lord came out in January of this year. Read her full biography on her website.

AW: Can you tell us what it was like jettisoning your career to be with your daughter and follow your true passion of writing?

DJR: It happened in stages, as such things often do. The first thing to go was the office job, and for a number of years while Sarah (my firstborn) was small, I managed to work and write at home. The real break came when I lived in France and had to leave the other work behind entirely. I wrote every day and felt so relieved and--I guess the word is liberated--that I never went back.

AW: What sparked your interest in SF/F originally?

DJR: Andre Norton! In elementary and high school, I read omnivorously, but the Heinlein juveniles never interested me much. Then I picked up The Beast Master and fell in love. The book not only captured the sense of alienation--and I firmly believe that every adolescent feels like an alien, at least some of the time--but had the most wonderful animals. Balm to the soul of a horse-crazy teen! That book opened a door for me, and pretty soon I had stacks of favorites, not only Norton, but Poul Anderson and C. L. Moore and Leigh Brackett, and a few years later I discovered that surge of women writers--Marion of course, and Vonda McIntyre and Ursula Le Guin.

AW: What made you decide to study Kung Fu?

DJR: It’s all the fault of my calligraphy teacher! I studied (Western) calligraphy with Lloyd Reynolds at Reed College, and he talked about how tai chi had helped his other students. When I was working at the library at Cal Arts and they offered tai chi classes during my lunch hours, I jumped at the chance. That led me to network with other women martial artists during the 1980s. One of the women I met was studying with Jimmy H. Woo, who brought kung fu san soo to America. She dragged me along to watch and the next thing I knew, I was out on the mat. It was hard because there were so few women and so many of the men definitely had something to prove. But I kept coming back, bruises and all, for over 25 years. I outlasted them!

AW: How has it influenced your writing?

DJR: The obvious thing is that I had an experiential understanding of unarmed fighting, and some weapons work, too. I used my knowledge in all sorts of ways, from scenes of battle to fighting wolves bare-handed. The not-so-obvious benefit was my confidence in myself. I knew I could learn things, even things that were frightening and difficult. I learned patience and persistence, how to size up a situation and decide what’s worth fighting for, what’s important, and what I should prudently walk away from. Jimmy used to say, “You can take my life, but not my confidence.”

AW: You're not the first writer I've met who's had to finish collaborate works of a dear friend after the friend's death. What was that process like for you?

DJR: The first project, the Clingfire trilogy, was jump-started because Marion and I had worked together on the outline of the first book, and I had a firm sense of where the overall story arc was going. The characters for that trilogy, as for subsequent books, are a mix of established characters, created either by Marion or one of the other authors she worked with, and new characters entirely my own doing. I used scenes from her published books (most notably Hawkmistress! but also, to a lesser extent, Two To Conquer), changing the point of view, in order to maintain consistent tone. Fortunately, my natural literary voice is very close to Marion’s, and I’d already written a number of stories for the Darkover anthologies so I was familiar with the world not only as a reader but as a writer. Finally, I worked closely with the MZB Literary Trust and Betsy Wollheim at DAW, who was Marion’s editor and publisher. The reader response has been gratifying, to say the least.

AW: What was it like for you, personally?

DJR: I was excited, of course, and anxious to do a good job, but also confident that I would. I'd written a number of stories for the Darkover anthologies, I'd gotten a lot of feedback over the years from Marion herself, and I knew that my authorial "voice" was very close to hers. I think these feelings are common in this type of collaboration.

The other aspect, which is more specific to me personally, is that in the late 1990s, when we began work together, I was just emerging from a very dark time in my life. I was a single mom with a troubled adolescent child, working full time and struggling to re-establish my career. Marion's offer was like a hand up in getting back on my professional feet. I don't think she would have asked me solely for that reason, but she believed strongly in helping newer writers, in giving them a chance. She believed in me enough to entrust her special world to me. I felt--and still feel--honored and grateful.

AW: What do you think about e-books? Will they threaten the printed variety? Do you own an e-book reader?

DJR: I’m a printer’s daughter and I love the feel and weight and texture of books, even the wonderful smell of ink on fine paper. I hope there will always be a place for printed books, if only because of their longevity. Acid-free paper can last hundreds of years, and we don’t know of any electronic medium that stable. I do believe that publishing is undergoing many changes, both how books are produced and how they’re distributed and read. The important thing for me is not to get caught up in fear of change. Change has brought us everything we value in life, and people will always love good stories.

AW: Can you describe your best SF/F convention moment?

DJR: There are so many, let’s see… This happened at NASFic in 1990 (the infamous “ConDigeo” where the name San Diego was so often misspelled). I was on a panel on “Women Warriors” with Alis Rasmussen (before she started writing as Kate Elliot). We’d been talking about the difference between a hero and a warrior, using our own writing and experiences as martial artists, and then paused for questions. From the back of the room, a rather large man struck what’s charitably called “an attitude” and drawled, “Have any of you…ladies ever been in a real life and death situation?” Alis, bless her, shot back without missing a beat, “Yes, when I went into premature labor with twins.” Every woman in the room got it instantly, and most of the men, except, alas, the poor challenger.

AW: Can you remember when the first fan approached you? How did you react internally vs. externally?

DJR: I remember being surprised that someone was impressed enough with my stories to remember my name. This was in the mid-80s and I had sold only a few short stories to Sword & Sorceress, the Darkover anthologies, and some small press ‘zines. Very early in my career, I’d met such wonderful and gracious writers as Marion, Poul Anderson, Madeleine L’Engle, and C. J. Cherryh, so I did my best to give my own fans that same experience. Marion used to say that the very least a fan deserves is a good, clear autograph. She went the extra mile for her fans, and I try to follow her example.

AW: What are you working on now?

DJR: I’m finishing up the last book of my original fantasy trilogy, The Seven-Petaled Shield, which will be published by DAW. It began as a series of stories, “Azkhantian tales,” in Sword & Sorceress. I used the clash between the nomadic Scythian horse people and the urban Romans, and let the landscape of culture and magic unfold, often in quite surprising directions. As you can tell, I still love horses.

I’ve also been working on the next Darkover novel, an action/adventure set in the Dry Towns, and noodling around with a paranormal romance in collaboration with my husband, Dave Trowbridge. We sit in the hot tub and think up steamy scenes and even steamier magic. So far, we’ve got a heroine who directs a classical music improvisation group, a secret mystical cabal, and an incubus who is not quite what he seems. Very delicious.

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Two days to Radcon!

In just two days I'll be heading to Portland where I'll have the opportunity to visit family I seldom see. Then I'll be having a cuppa with my writer friend, and fellow Broad Universe member, Mary, aka M.K. Hobson. I'll also be interviewing her.

I enjoy the ease of doing email interviews and most writers prefer them. However, there is so much more to be gained from a face to face, back and forth interview. I'm testing out my cell phone's voice recorder for sound clarity this evening. If it doesn't prove adequate, I'll borrow or buy a digital recorder. I'm not moving to podcasts just yet, so it just has to be good enough for me to transcribe from.

From Portland, I'm hopping a train to Pasco, WA for Radcon, where I'll be doing tons of interviews for the blog.

Radcon! I can't wait! I have a super sweet schedule. Want to see?

Friday, 8AM-9AM Tour of Hanford human tissue repository (Eeww gross to anyone but a sf or science geek. Excellent field research for one of my works in progress.)
Friday, 2-3PM Panel: Writing Non-human protagonists (with Larry Niven!)
Friday, 5-6PM Panel: Short Story Markets
Friday, 7PM Opening Ceremonies
Friday, 9-10PM Writers vs. Artists Pictionary
Oh boy! Guess I better get my skates on Saturday morning!

Saturday, 11AM-1PM Signing copies of Awesome Lavratt at the Author Signing Lunch
Saturday, 1-2PM Panel: Characters
Saturday, 2-3PM Broad Universe Rapidfire Reading
Saturday, 3-4PM Panel: Compartmentalized Characters
Saturday, 9-11PM John Pitts' Birthday Party
Saturday, 11PM-12AM Tending bar at the Radcon to Reno room party (Renovations 2011)

Sunday, 1PM Panel: Is it SF, Fantasy or Horror?

Sunday, 2PM Late lunch with my pals and fly back to my Valentine.

Here's something for the astronomy geeks out there - an image of two galaxies colliding to form a binary quasar complete with story over on Universe Today.

I just added procrastinatable to the Urban Dictionary. One of these days, when I have more time I'll have to go play for a while there.

I finished Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals. He's still got it! Review to follow soon at Mostly Fiction.

Next up for an interview is Deborah J. Ross. Look for that on Friday.

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Friday, February 5, 2010

Michael Hanlon, editor, and writer of science fact and fiction

Michael Hanlon is the Science Editor at the Daily Mail. He has appeared on TV and radio and headlined several science festivals. His fourth popular science book, Eternity, was released in 2009. Most notable of his others, at least to sci-fi readers would be The Science Of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (Macmillan, 2005).

And for my Seattle readers, he's coming your way later this month. Science: Michael Hanlon: Science’s Unanswered Questions

AW: Especially in your chapters concerning how the future might look on an individual level, I could name all the stories or novels in which I read those very premises. I'm guessing you're a SF fan yourself. You mentioned David Brin's Earth. He's one of my favorite authors, though I haven't read that one. Might have to rethink it now.

Earth, written 21 years ago, had a lot of 'hits', including an almost spot-on prediction of how the Internet would develop in the early 21st Century, and the increasing concern about environmental degradation. Considering nothing dates like the future, Earth has held up pretty well I think.

AW: Who are your favorite SF authors?

MH: Clarke, Brin, Baxter, Asimov, Aldiss, Pohl, Heinlein, Stapledon, Wells, Verne, Ballard. The greats. I have never much gone for anything with elves in it, however.

AW: Have you ever considered trying your hand at it yourself?

MH: Yes indeed. Some of the chapters of Eternity are sci-fi. I am working on a novel right now, and have had a short-story (my only attempt thus far) published in Nature.

AW: You mentioned the devastating numbers of people lost to wars and the population explosion on the same page. was this an intentional placement? Like controlled fires saving the forest? No one would ever want to say that war is a good thing, but were you, in a read-between-the-lines way, suggesting it might be a necessary evil?

MH: No, I wasn't thinking of that. It is interesting that throughout the 20th Century, war had little impact on the inexorable rise in population. The best way to regulate the number of people is not by killing them but by providing better education for women, and giving women economic freedom. Where this has happened, population growth rates have more or less always dropped off a cliff.

AW: Flying cars mentioned a lot (pg 100 was 2nd or 3rd mention. At least 3 more by 115. When did you first fall in love with them?

When I was 3. I am still cross that I don't have one. I use the flying car as a metaphor to represent the futures that could never be.

AW: On page 110, you wrote: Finally, there is the possibility of some wholly new technology: artificial microbes that turn sunlight into gasoline, huge space mirrors, or some way of harnessing the vacuum energy. Can you elaborate on the first one at all?

MH: Craig Venter is working on an artificial microbe to do just that, or at least something very similar. It is early days, but synthetic genomics has huge potential to change the world. We shall see. My point is that world-changing technologies often come out of the blue. No one really foresaw atomic power nor even steam power until they were almost upon us.

My husband LOVES airships. We went on a airship trip around the bay (SF bay) on Airship Ventures' Eureka. It was wonderful. You mention them as a possible future airliner: There will always be a market for flights across the Atlantic in six hours; but throw in enough comfort and enough greenery and a cruise taking a day or two for rhe same distance should not be too much of a hard sell. On shorter routes, airships make even more sense. What are the barriers? What about solar flares and other types of radiation? I know this is a concern for planes now. What happens when we use photovoltaic cells on an airship? Or would it charge up on the ground? How would it hold the charge?

MH: I would love airships to replace planes. I would actually be happy for trains to replace planes (which they yet may). But there are problems. Airships are slow ... best-case is 24 hours London-NYC, using modern engines and aerodynamics. I could live with that (go to the bar, dinner, watch a film, the bar - again, bed, wake up in new continent) but most people, lunatics as they are, want to rush around as fast as possible. Airships are also susceptible to weather, and landing in windy conditions is hard or impossible. Solar flares would be far less of a problem for airships than jet airliners as the former fly so much lower. It would make sense to coat the hull with PV cells indeed.

AW: Do you have any words of wisdom on organizing research?

MH: You mean for writing? Random stabs in the dark is the best way, I find.

AW: What are your top five online research resources?

Well, aside form the usual first-port-of-call on-line suspects, my increasingly unreliable memory, various random books, overheard snippets, surmise, conjecture and the wonderful British Library. And those random stabs in the dark.

AW: Can you tell me about your next book?

MH: Yes. It is a science fiction novel, a detective story set 872 years hence, in a decaying and decadent London, although the action stretches from America to China. All with a HUGE twist at the end. Progress is slow. Hopefully it will be finished before '872 years hence' starts to look too current. If I can't make more progress I might just write the twist and let the readers fill the rest of the book in for themselves.

And his 10 Questions Science Can't Answer (Yet): A Guide to the Scientific Wilderness releases later this month.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Truly science fiction and other ODDysseys

I didn't wrestle with dear Horace (of Awesome Lavratt fame) this weekend as I would have liked. I may yet write a scene tonight before I retire. Work has been very busy, but the department all went out to Thai for lunch today. That was great until I aspirated a piece of rice. Who knew that laughing while eating could be so dangerous?

We had a minor emergency with dear rescue dog Alegro yesterday. He was puking large puddles everywhere. Seems he only has a nervous tummy. He's better now and we discovered that giving him a bath is possible after all. Since he managed to lay in the puddles, we had to try. We'd been taking him to the groomers because he's a 90 lb., long-haired German Shepherd. He loved it. Maybe we can save on groomer bills.

I'm sure most of you have already heard about Kage Baker. She lost her batttle with cancer on Sunday. Here's an obituary. She will definitely leave a hole in the speculative fiction community and readers everywhere will mourn her and her wonderful well-spring of science fiction and fantasy books and short stories.

The shortlist for the BFSA (British Science Fiction Association) awards was released.

Best novel: Ark by Stephen Baxter (Gollancz)
Lavinia by Ursula K Le Guin (Gollancz)
The City & The City by China Mieville (Macmillan)
Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts (Gollancz)

Best Short Fiction:
“Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast” by Eugie Foster (Interzone 220)
The Push by Dave Hutchinson (Newcon Press)
“Johnnie and Emmie-Lou Get Married” by Kim Lakin-Smith (Interzone 222)
“Vishnu at the Cat Circus” by Ian McDonald (in Cyberabad Days, Gollancz)
“The Beloved Time of Their Lives” [pdf link] by Ian Watson and Roberto Quaglia (in The Beloved of My Beloved, Newcon Press)
“The Assistant” by Ian Whates (in The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction 3, ed. George Mann)

To read the shortlisted artist works and nonfiction works and more about the awards visit the BSFA site.

Has George Lucas gone soft? All we know about the new animated project he's working on, aside from whom he's working with, is that it will have fairies. Read more.

So, I've decided that the iPad is a cool toy, nothing more. You can't DO STUFF, you can mostly just look at stuff. Unless the price drops drastically, that's too much for me to pay for the wow factor and a cool new toy. Apple Makes at Least $200 Per iPad Sold: Report

I ran across this while searching for retail news at work. My husband would love to have the opportunity to test out a new hydrogen-cell car. Japan, it seems, is leading the charge here.

I think I'll end with a lovely quote from the latest Terry Pratchett I'm reading, Unseen Academicals:
"I would like permission to fetch a note from my mother, sir."
Ridcully sighed. "Rincewind, you once informed me, to my everlasting puzzlement, that you never knew your mother because she ran away before you were born."

Friday, expect an interview here with Michal Hanlon, science editor for the Daily Mail and author of Eternity, his insightful and imaginative look into mankind's future.

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