Friday, February 27, 2009

The New Crop

Regular readers of this page may remember my 2/16 post "Hot Sauce!" in which I boasted of making hot sauce from our home-grown chiles, and also linked to a posting on the web of my hot sauce-inspired short story set in a habitat in cislunar space. We have a lot more chiles in the freezer and may make some more stuff this weekend. This photo, taken today, is the start of the next generation. That pot contains the new seedlings of our "mutant" strain.

Science Friday: Solar Power Tower/ Looking back at Robinson's MARS

1) Today's Science Friday on NPR will feature this super-cool thing: a solar power plant will be created in the California desert by setting up thousands of small mirrors which will aim sunlight at a "power tower" which will in turn generate steam to run the plant. It is estimated that this project can generate enough electricity to power 845,000 homes. I am glad that someone is actually getting to work on something like this--actually putting into action a real, bona fide solar energy concept. Because I am freaking sick of hearing nothing but political talking heads and fossil fuel company shills babbling about the future of "clean coal."  The very phrase makes me choke, and I'm sure it makes George Orwell spin in his grave every time someone says it.

2) My friend Pat has reached the end of reading Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy, a project that I encouraged him to set upon some time ago. I read it a couple years ago, and I have enjoyed discussing it with him, and being reminded of a lot of the great ideas and story premises in it. I am also struck by how well Robinson's Mars science has held up as new things are learned about the Red Planet. He wrote these books during the 1990s, yet every time we get a new piece of  inf0
from the rovers or the orbiting observers, it always seems to confirm or lend more credibility to Robinson's speculations of over a decade ago. 

Of course, Robinson wasn't just "speculating," but rather making some reasonable extrapolations from a rigorous attention to what was known to science at the time he was writing and what the likely possibilities might be according to what was known. The Mars trilogy is hard, hard, hard science fiction, and is highly recommended, if not required, reading for enthusiasts of hard sf and for writers who want to write it. The text can get a little dense and be a bit more like going to school than reading a novel. Every single thing that was known about Mars or could reasonably be concluded makes it into these novels, often in minute detail. The reader learns everything about the geology and topography of the planet as it is now. Later as the terraforming commences, one learns everything there is to know about what happens to that topography, how the biosphere develops, what grows and what dies down to the last lichen. The reader also gets an education in sf tech things like how to build a space elevator using carbon nanotubes, how to use stem cell treatments to slow cellular degradation and reverse the effects of aging, how best to get to and from Mars, how to make an ocean and how the waves on that ocean behave in Martian gravity, and many many other things.

But over the top of all of this science is an amazing human story filled with epic strife, triumph, disaster, romance, social upheaval, and ultimately a profound optimism for the future of humanity.  I also love how scientists get to be the heroes of the story.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

ANATHEM/ Slush pile

1) Pat lent me his fresh new copy of Neal Stephenson's Anathem today. I'm pretty excited about it after reading the dust-jacket notes, so I am passing over to him my as-yet-unread copy of The Power and putting off The Forever War until after I'm done with Anathem. I've read three other Stephenson books: Snow Crash, The Diamond Age and Cryptonomicon. I really enjoyed all of them, the first two perhaps a bit more than the last.  The Diamond Age is, in fact, stunning and downright gorgeous, so I have high hopes for this newest one. I have not, however, read the thick tomes of Stephenson's Baroque Cycle: I just haven't been ready to tackle that one.

2) It seems like it was just a couple days ago that I was looking at my relatively empty in-box and starting to wonder if I was still getting story submissions to M-Brane at a sufficient rate. Now, today, after coming out of the fog of a particularly long and arduous stretch of days at the day job, I see that I have a new pile of unanswered submissions that I had better get to work on. I wouldn't call it a "slush pile," and I don't really like that common editor term that much because it seems to imply that the submissions are some kind of hopeless, unwelcome mass of documents that needs to be slogged through drearily.  It's not like that at all.  But I need to stay on top of it if I want to maintain my standard of pretty rapid response time. Speaking of response time, I noticed that some M-Brane writers have been taking the time to report their responses to Duotrope, which I appreciate.  I think the average response time as stated for me on Duotrope is pretty accurate.  Though the statistics on there also indicate that I have whopping seventy percent acceptance rate, which is not close to accurate--I suppose more people feel like reporting their acceptances than their rejections, which I can understand.

Monday, February 23, 2009


Sometimes I get titles for new stories stuck in my head, often based on my mis-hearing of something in conversation or on the radio.  If I could actually write more stories to match all my titles, I could have written by now several anthologies worth of stuff.  In Oklahoma, it seems that a large percentage of the population pronounces the number "ten" exactly the same way as the metal "tin." On the radio this morning, during a tedious segment about this year's state legislative agenda, they discussed a bill that is apparently moving forward to authorize the erection of a monument displaying the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the state capitol.  (That's the kind of shit that our state legislature pushes to the top of the agenda, while deciding to do nothing about making health insurers provide some help for parents with autistic kids). Anyway, I got the idea for a story called "The Tin Commandments." I imagined it could be some kind of robot story set in a steampunk milieu.  That's as far as I've gotten.  I am half-seriously considering announcing an M-Brane contest with this challenge: write the best version of "The Tin Commandments."  Speaking of contests, there's barely a month left until the Baen deadline. [The image is of the sentient space-going lifeform Gomtuu, from the Star Trek: TNG episode "Tin Man."]

Sunday, February 22, 2009


It appears that the PDF version of M-Brane #2 will be ready for release on 3/1, half a month earlier than originally planned. I’m not sure if I can get the print edition release date in synch with that yet, so I am still going to say 3/15 for that one and get the details up on how to buy it and what it costs for those who want it as soon as I can. Going forward, I would like to have the release dates of the issues be on the first of the month in both formats (or all formats, should more emerge, like Kindle), but it will probably take me until #3 to accomplish that.


Last night, Jeff and I actually left the house and went to a public place for a beer or two for the first time since we moved to OKC. While this was fun for a while, the downside of it was that I had to work this morning and I was suffering what I assumed to be a wicked hangover. We have in recent weeks drastically curtailed our alcohol consumption for budgetary reasons (I also ought to keep losing some weight, and am generally able to do it pretty fast if I don’t drink a ridiculous amount). So it occurred to me this morning that perhaps I am not used to as much imbibing anymore, and perhaps I overdid it a just bit last night. Because if there’s something like that to do, you can bet that I’ll overdo it. But as the hours of my workday passed and I was not feeling appreciably better no matter how much coffee I drank, I started to get the creeping suspicion that it wasn’t just a hangover—and I really did not have that much to drink anyway. There’s another viral plague of some sort running through the population at my place of work, and I am really wondering now if I have caught it. I really hope not, because that would be the second time in a month. I think I feel a bit better than I did this morning, so I will be optimistic about tomorrow. It's also given me this idea to somehow combine Levy's Etch-a-Sketch nano-transistor technology with designing artificial viruses to unleash on the world (in a piece of fiction, of course).

Friday, February 20, 2009


I might be getting in the habit of having Friday on the M-Brane--like on NPR--be "Science Friday."  The cool thing I heard about today on the NPR show was how the Etch-a-Sketch toy inspired a stroke of genius in the realm of making nano-scale transistors, possibly eventually leading to advances in computer technology. We hear once in a while that computer processing capability doubles every couple years--and this has a lot to do with the ability to make the transistors in the silicon chips ever smaller--but that pretty soon it won't be possible to keep up that pace of miniaturization because of the physical limits of the thing and that some kind of new tech will need to be developed.

A University of Pittsburgh research team led by physics and astronomy professor Jeremy Levy has figured out a way to basically "draw" nanoscale wires into an insulating material using the sharp conducting probe of an atomic-force microscope.  And then what they "draw" can be "erased."  Don't worry: I won't try to explain it any better than that since you can read about in detail online if you are interested. I bet this idea will start showing up in people's sf stories any day now, though.  I wish they had put up some kind of cool-looking pics to illustrate this, but I couldn't find any. But here's a pic of Levy.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Oh, I've added Twitter to my ways of communicating. I don't quite have the hang of it yet, but I'm seeing some possible usefulness for it.  So I'm not really a member of the true Twitterati yet, but over on the left down there somewhere is a box that posts my updates and lets you start following me if you want. There's not much with me to follow yet, though.

Coming up on the READING LIST...

When I finally finish Terminal Cafe (probably while at work sometime this week--I'm heading into a five-day/60-hour slog starting tomorrow), I think my next two selections will be a couple of well-known classics that I have somehow never managed to catch over the years. 

One of the M-Brane writers recommended Frank M. Robinson to me a while back and specifically mentioned The Power.  It's been filmed a couple of
 times--haven't seen either one of the movies--and I was somehow unaware of it.  Then, the very next day after it was recommended to me, I was in the used book shop and found a copy of it. The shop owner told me about the movies. One was a TV special and then, later, George Pal made a movie of it starring George Hamilton and Suzanne Pleschette. This seems to be such common knowledge now (that I'm aware of it) that I wonder, as I often do, if I have somehow slid over from a slightly d
ifferent alternate universe, that didn't have this book and these movies, without realizing it.

The other one, newly re-released by St. Martin's and newly bought by me at Barnes and Noble with some of my tax refund money, is Joe Haldeman's The Forever War.  This one I had certainly heard of again and again over the years, but never managed to turn up a copy in either a store or a library. Or just wasn't remembering to look for it when there probably were copies around. I remember first hearing of it when I was a kid in the early 80s and had read in either Analog or Asimov's a review of a game based on it. Later, I kept hearing of it as being a sort of counterpoint or rebuttal to Starship Troopers. Anyway, I am looking forward to it, because I have had a sort of secondary project going on the last couple years of trying to read the major works of military science fiction. The novel that I have been ever more slowly writing (code-name Current Project...should soon be re-named Neglected Project) has developed into something that could probably be classified as military sf, so that's a lot of the reason I have lately become more interested in that sub-genre. This new edition features an intro by John Scalzi.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


In an effort to clean up this page a little bit, I have added a sort of second site that links back and forth between here and there, mostly just to hold some of the static stuff that doesn’t change much, like the writers’ guidelines and the subscription info and some other stuff. It’s a temporary measure until I either get a new template or set up a “real” full-blown website for M-Brane, but it should clean things up a bit, or at least make it so you don’t have to scroll ninety virtual meters down the page to see stuff like the guidelines.

I would eventually like to have a better site (or a better template for this one), but I don’t honestly think this Blogger site is too bad at all for what it does for me. And it’s totally free. When I can spring for my own domain and someone to help me make a decent site that can handle some more dynamic features, then I probably will. But I’m not going to set up some craptastical website that’s not really any better or more functional than this blog page just for the sake of having the URL not have the “dot-blogspot” in the middle of it. There’s a lot of crappy sites out there—even ones for magazines doing basically the same thing that I am—that don’t function well and don’t look very good either. I was just on one for a zine that had all kinds of dead internal links in it, even though it had some front-page updates as recently as this week. A lot of people set up websites and just don’t maintain them, or set up blogs that are still online but don’t have posts more recently than two or three years ago. I think sites needs to have some new content on them with great frequency. I’ll just do what I’m doing for now, and get fancier when circumstances make it possible.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

M-BRANE writers' links updated

I added some more writers' site links to that section (down on the left, below the archive). If you are a writer who has sold a story to M-Brane and provided me with a web address in your contract, you should be there. If I'm wrong about that, let me know. Or if you have site, but didn't tell me about it in the first place, but would like to now, then that's cool too. 

PKD's ex-wife finishes "his" novel

This strike me as super-weird, and you ought to look at it if you are a Philip K. Dick fan. I saw it first on Locus, but went to the original source on the Self-Publishing Review site (click...). Evidently Tessa Dick, PKD's last wife has completed/written herself The Owl in Daylight, a novel that he was was working on when he died.  She has self-published it on CreateSpace.  Does it not strike anyone that she made a monumentally dumb mistake (assuming she wanted to make money from a "new" PKD novel) by not hunting up a real, brand-name sf writer to complete the book for her and get it published by a big publisher with PKD's byline on it? I think of stuff like Kevin Anderson's completion of Slan Hunter for AE Van Vogt that he did in cooperation with Lydia Van Vogt, which was not only a proper and respectful coda to Van Vogt's career but also, I think, a good marketing success, too. Who, as a sf writer or sf publisher, wouldn't want a crack at a last Dick novel? It seems there might be some kind of estate issue here that she is working around.  It smells weird.

Monday, February 16, 2009


Jeff and I had a lot of fun this last Saturday by finally turning at least some of our frozen hot chile crop from last season into some hot sauce.  We still have a LOT of peppers in the freezer, but we made three kinds of sauce: 1) a Tabasco-style vinegary sauce, 2) a green jalapeno-based Mexican-style sauce, and 3) a tremendous concoction of  roasted habeneros, garlic, onion and these incredible red chiles that we call "mutants."  A few years ago in St. Louis, Jeff grew some chiles in pots on his deck. One of the plants, which we were expecting to bear jalapenos, instead grew this unknown type of fruit which looked to us like a combination of a jalapeno and a cayenne. They ripened to red readily and were delicious. We suspected they were the result of a cross-pollination that we would likely never be able to repeat, so we dried some of the peppers, saved their seeds and successfully grew them again the next year. And so on, for several years now. We grew a fantastic supply of them last summer and fall.

Hot sauce-making was a fun way to pass an afternoon, and we have now broken the ice on the whole process of canning, a thing we had never experimented with before despite our combined  two centuries of kitchen experience.

You might be reading this and thinking, "Chris, this has got frak-all to do with science fiction."  Ah, but it does. Click here to go to Issuu and read a little M-Brane extra, a goofy little short story that I knocked out after the hot sauce project, complete with pictures!


The excellent dark sf/horror sf magazine Apex, which went from being a print digest to an online magazine, is now also available in PDF form and can be ordered for $2.o0 on their website. Editor-in-chief Jason Sizemore kindly let me have a look at the PDF version of their February issue. It is handsomely designed and looks just like a print digest. For readers (like me) who don't mind reading on-screen but like the publication to look and read something like a real book or magazine rather than a web page, this is a good way to go. But one might ask, why buy this PDF from Apex if they're going to put up for free the same content on their website? A couple of reasons spring to mind. The first is the same reason that I charge a subscription fee for the PDF version of M-Brane: the magazine needs to have at least enough income to pay the writers. The cheap amount that I charge for the zine can cover this and still provide a lot of value for money to the reader. I barely pay anything, but Apex offers a pro rate to their writers and needs to raise those funds somehow. 

The second big reason is that the notion that all content distributed via the internet ought to be free just isn't viable for short fiction magazines and e-books (at least if we want a future of good ones), and I think it is coming to pass that some sort of subscription or donation model is going to be standard for magazines like this as print periodicals gradually die out altogether, readers get used to getting their fiction on a screen and start expecting the publications to be as good as the print ones that they used to enjoy. I don't know what the best way for the future is. Maybe it's an "all-of-the-above" approach with different sorts of subscriptions or single-issue sales supplemented by donations and advertising. Apex takes donations and ads in addition to selling their PDF edition, while Jim Baen's Universe charges a pretty good-size subscription fee for access to their webzine and solicits high-end donations to their "Universe Club." I, for one, will be working on a lot of options in the next few months, both in the way of raising funds and also getting the zine onto more distribution platforms such as the Kindle. 

Click here to go to Apex.  Browse around the site, too, because they offer a lot of other products besides the magazine. I will also keep a link to it all the time in the links list way down there under the posts (I know that area of the page is getting untidy--I have on  my "list of things to do" putting the links into some kind of organizational scheme).

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Baen's BEST OF book

Recently I found at the library the first volume of the Best of Jim Baen's Universe, collecting stories from the online zine from 2006. The stories therein range from so-so to spectacular. I particularly liked Gregory Benford's fascinating (if utterly science-professor-dorky) "Bow Shock" and John Barnes' beautiful and weird  "Every Hole is Outlined."

This book came with a CD-ROM that one can load onto one's computer and find the whole contents of the book plus some issues of the magazine. I thought this was quite a cool bonus feature, but at the same time it struck me as a bit weird in the sense that a disc is already a sort of outdated, transitional medium. As for the book itself, yeah, sure, that makes sense. Pulling down the content from a website also makes sense to me.  But a CD?  A piece of physical media that really just duplicates unnecessarily content that's in the book or accessible online? Then I realized an advantage to it: the book needs to go back to the library along with its CD, but I can copy the contents of the CD onto my computer if I wish. In fact, the copyright notice on the disc invites people to do just that so long as they don't try to sell it. 

Speaking of Baen, I am still hoping a lot of people will enter their contest (info here).

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Kindle Project/ Planet Norway

1) I've received some good advice on how to get M-Brane formatted for display on the Kindle. Unfortunately, all the PDF-to-Kindle methods are kinda shaky when there's much formatting involved. I got a somewhat readable result by using an iPhone/Mac app called Stanza.  It was still too messed up to actually use it, though it was much better than what I got just by running it through Amazon's converter. If I had liked the way it displayed in Stanza, then it would have been an easy thing to make it display on Kindle (though it wasn't clear to me if I could upload the Stanza version to Amazon for publication or not). I also tried to simply save the original .docx file that contains M-Brane #1 as an .htm file.  That worked, sort of, but it also screwed up the page layout too much to use it that way. I think that to get it onto Kindle, I am going to have to create a separate Kindle edition with much simpler formatting.  Just what I needed: another new project.

2) I've been slowly reading Ian McDonald's Terminal Cafe lately.  Slowly because I keep getting pulled away from it by other things, and its language demands close reading.  I dig how McDonald frequently deals with non-Euro, non-American kinds of cultures in his stories.  It's always kind of bugged me a little bit when I read about an inhabited planet in the far future that has somehow been colonized and dominated by Scandinavians (like Trondheim in Card's Speaker for the Dead, or Freiland in Dickson's Dorsai!). No offense to Scandinavians, but let's face it: right now in the present day, Europeans and Anglo-Euro-type North Americans are the smallest piece of the population pie, and getting smaller all of the time. Of that small wedge, Scandinavians are the thinnest sliver (total population of barely twenty million, about the number of Chinese in Shanghai). I do not see a future of human-colonized planets named Trondheim and Stockholm and Valhalla and New Sweden and Kobenhavn 2. Also, it beggars the imagination to think that by the time humans can colonize other planets, that we're going to do it along old Terran ethnic lines--Nords on this planet, Latinos on that one, etc. I sure hope that wouldn't happen.

Friday, February 13, 2009

More Moon/ Darwin

1) This awesome photo comes from Japan's Kaguya space probe which is in orbit of the moon. This was also one of the subjects on today's installment of Science Friday.  I don't have much to say about it, other than that I think it is super-cool. I would, however, recommend going to the Science Friday site and grabbing the audio of today's show if you want to know more about it.

2) I have enjoyed this week's news coverage of Charles Darwin's 200th birthday, particularly some of the coverage from England which points out how Darwin's findings about evolution through natural selection are still considered controversial by many Americans. The British find this fact to be completely bizarre. It's worth noting--and I do it frequently--that this controversy is essentially non-existent in the rest of the world and is completely non-existent in the scientific community (no matter how many dubiously-credentialed "scientists" the creationists bring out to make the case for "intelligent design"). There's a cool website up now called Darwin Online which is a complete web library of all his work.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Amazon has unveiled its new version of the Kindle e-reader device. I don't have a Kindle and haven't even ever seen one in person yet, but it really sounds like its catching on with at least some segment of the reading public. I have been investigating making the M-Brane zine available on it.  I think I will, in fact, eventually do so but it's a bit harder than simply uploading it to their system. Just to see what happens, I tried that today and had their converter render my PDF of M-Brane #1 into Kindle-speak, and it made a fairly unreadable mess out of it. The converter turns it into HTML and--if I wanted to actually use the converted document that it produced--I would have to go through and painstakingly edit it with HTML markers to restore its formatting and styles. One problem with that is that I know frak-all about HTML coding, and another problem with it is that it would take hours and hours to do it. It seems that I will need either technical aid in making my own conversion or I will need to make a more simply designed version of the thing that I can make work with their system more easily. I read a customer review of the Kindle edition of Asimov's and it sounded like they are just putting up their text in a really simple fashion and dispensing with bells and whistles like interior illustrations. What's odd, however, is that the Kindle versions of Asimov's and Analog appear to be priced higher than the print magazines, whereas most Kindle stuff seems to be at least a bit (and often a lot) cheaper than the print versions. If anyone's got any experience using this thing--or publishing something with it--I'd be interested in hearing what y'all think about it.


I know this will be frustrating to a handful of you, but I am still unable to offer a real subscription option for the print version of M-Brane. For at least the first couple of months, I will be offering something on a month-by-month basis.  I have completed already a first, very small run of issue #1.  The handful of people who made arrangements to receive those copies will receive them in a couple days.  As for the remaining copies, I have decided to offer them up as part of a thank-you package for a special donation to the M-Brane Writers' Fund (see note near the top of the page, under the subscription info). If some kind of credible demand for more copies of print #1 starts up, I will consider doing a second run of it.

"But what's all this about print runs and extra copies, Chris?" you might be asking. "Were you not selling it by print-on-demand on CreateSpace or some such thing?" Yeah, well, I bagged that idea for now when I discovered that the shipping charge to the reader per single copy was going to be nearly $7.00 and the best they could do for that price was promise a two to three week-wide delivery window.  Also, the lowest price I could have sold it for through them was about $6.00, so we'd be looking at about $13.00 for a single copy of a magazine, which is just plain stupid. I was expecting it to hit maybe $8.00 or $9.00, but $13.00 is just out of sight.  No one would buy it. So, for this first issue, I just hauled my laptop over to the local print shop, got some help from the nice young man there, and a did a small run of copies the old fashioned way.  (It kind of took me back to the old Trek fanzine days in the 80s--though we didn't have computers then, and we had to assemble pages for reproduction out of bits of real paper glued together with rubber cement before going to see the printer.) The upside of this is that shipping to send out a copy of it is a reasonable $1.85 first class.  The downside is that production cost per copy was nearly $8.00. So we're still looking at an almost $10/copy zine, which makes me unhappy. I could have dropped almost $3.00 off of that by giving up the color cover...but I didn't want to sacrifice that.  Anyway, I'm just not going to put out the idea that there will be a subscription available for 12 issues for over a hundred dollars per year, or sixty bucks for half a year.  That offends my sensibilities a lot...and no one would buy it anyway.

This does not, however, mean that print is just plain dead as a medium for M-Brane (but it does have a stake through its heart, which it is clutching at desperately with withered hands, like Christopher Lee in a Hammer Dracula film).  I will be offering for sale the print edition of #2 (I'll add the info on buying it in a couple days) for those who want to shell out (get your Pay Pal accounts warmed up!), but I still hope to be able to offer the print two-issue "omnibus" that I mentioned a few posts back. There is another POD service that can make for me a much larger book but at a production cost not much larger than a smaller one, and I may be able to finagle a reasonable cost, with shipping, for such a thing.  Final details on that, however, will not be out until publication of issue #2.

This is really an economy-of-scale problem that is worse than I knew it would be when I started. If I can get to where there is a lot of demand for the print version, then I have ways to bring down the cost a lot. Another possibility is that if subscriptions to the PDF version really jumped a lot to where I have a lot of "extra" money beyond what I need for the writers' fund, then I could go ahead and spring for a bigger and cheaper-per-copy print run and risk taking a bath on it, or waiting around for back issues to sell.  But I'm not there yet either, and I'd rather invest any so-called extra revenue into higher rates for the writers anyway. 


Jeff and I were touched today to receive a few notes from the M-Brane world checking in on us after yesterday's tornado in the OKC area. As it happens, we're fine and weren't really too near the twister's path. We live in the northwest quadrant but in the southern- and easternmost parts of it fairly near downtown, several miles east and south of the worst of the storm. The accompanying photo of tornado destruction was taken in Edmond, a suburb north of the city. Though OKC is not anywhere near the biggest city in the country population-wise, it is quite nearly the largest in sheer land area, so you can have a disaster happen "in town" somewhere and still be a long way away from it, as I explained to my Dad when he called last night (we were startled to learn that our weather made the news up in Wisconsin where he is--we weren't yet aware ourselves of the seriousness of it).

When the tornado itself was going on, we were actually experiencing no rain and no serious wind in our neighborhood. Then, later on, some more thunderstorms came through, and we got a lot of rain for a while and the bloody power went out for about three hours (what the hell to do with one's time without electricity and the internet!).  The outage affected a fairly large swath of NW OKC, also encompassing the neighborhood immediately north of us where our friends Pat and Heather live (we called to see if they had power and if we could come over and hang out with them in civilized light--no luck). We passed some of the time in the candlelight by listening to stored podcasts of This American Life. We were close to giving up on the night and going to bed way too early when suddenly the lights came back on.  Glory! Pat's house got turned back on at the same moment, so we assume that there was one problem that they fixed that solved the whole situation in our area all at once. As annoying as the power outage was, we're glad that we avoided the bad part of the storm and feel a lot of sorrow for those who took the worst of it.

During the years we lived in St. Louis, we experienced a fair amount of heavy weather and a lot of power interruptions, but full-on tornadoes didn't really get into the city center.  When they happened in the area at all, it always seemed like they were in the far north or far west suburan areas.  Even a lot of normal rain, hail and snow often seemed to veer north of us. I don't know for sure, but the difference may have something to do with terrain: St. Louis proper sits pretty much at the low point of a river valley whereas OKC sits out in the wide open on a basically flat plain, a sitting duck for things like this.

We certainly hope that this early February tornado is just some kind of freak event and not just a very early kick-off to the heavy weather season. We're still going to be living here for at least the rest of this year, and I do not want to get any closer to one of those twisters than we were yesterday.

Monday, February 9, 2009


Though the issue isn't due out for a while yet (officially on 3/15, but it may be moved up to 3/1), I thought I would, just for fun, announce its expected contents and get the writers' names on the internet in another post, and generally keep the M-Brane fire stoked:

David McGillveray: "Dystopian"
Michael Griffiths: "A Clone of a Different Color" 
Lawrence Dagstine: "A Soul to the Stars"
Tim Mulcahy: "Birth Screams of Angels"
Abby "Merc" Rustad: "Unpermitted"
Lawrence Barker: "Revelation of Wind, Revelation of Fire"
Janett Grady: "New World Order"
James Hartley: "Blinking Flashing Lights"
Jeffery Sims: "Peril in the Red Zone"

What a cool-sounding bloc of titles that is! This issue, as it stands now, runs four pages longer than issue #1 did with no "classic reprints" and no non-fiction articles like my James Blish reminiscence in that issue. So if I include anything like that, it will run longer, which may be okay, but I am waiting to decide that until after I have in my hands the print edition of #1 and know how that went (the PDF, of course, can be of any length, but I need to stay within reason for the print version). Story lengths in #2 are quite varied, ranging from Janett's and Merc's fairly brief entries to Jeffery's novella. The variety of the tales is quite broad, as well. I got several notes back from readers during the early release of issue #1 who commented favorably on how varied the stories were in content and style.  I don't think I ever consciously said to myself, "Let's have a lot of variety here." But I think it was certainly the plan anyway, and I am now quite conscious of it. I see M-Brane SF as more or less an un-themed anthology in a lot of monthly installments,  and I am plotting issues past #2 already with the idea of very varied content in mind. And it's how I read, anyway: lots of variety.

Another thing has struck me as super cool about this project is the fact that I am receiving a lot of really neat, weird, interesting stories from so many different perspectives. I've been acquiring stories from a lot of different places in the world, too: David McGillveray, who has a story in #2, is from England, and then I have stories booked for issues beyond that from writers in Canada, England, Ireland, Wales, New Zealand and Sweden as well as every major region of the US. It makes me excited about upcoming issues and wishing that I could get them published even faster than I can. 

Saturday, February 7, 2009


1. Yeah, I'm still on about this (see yesterday's post).  According to a NASA question/answer site about astrobiology, lunar terraforming is considered unlikely because its low gravity wouldn't be adequate to hold onto a useful atmosphere. I don't know about that, though. I wonder if NASA is giving up too easily (I guess if their optimistic estimate of having a new spacecraft to replace the shuttle--which has, admittedly, become the 1980 Buick Sentry of spaceships--is something like five years, I can't be expecting too much too soon on terraforming anything, much less the Moon). Whoever answered the Moon question on the NASA site did say that we would need advances in our technology to be able to approach this problem.  Well, no kidding. 

2. Today at work, I prepped myself so far ahead for tomorrow that I will be able to bring the laptop with me and spend much of the day there working on the editing and layout of M-Brane #2. In a sense, I'll be getting paid to work on the zine. It seems like a good and just way to spend a Sunday. If progress is good, I may be able to release early. I'm considering moving all the 15th-of-the-month release dates for the rest of the year to first of the month. 

Friday, February 6, 2009


Today on Science Friday, NASA researcher Chris McKay talked about how Terran bacteria have certainly made their way to Mars aboard the various landers that humans have sent there. Such bacteria could possibly survive in a dormant state inside this machinery--in areas shielded from the intense biocidal UV radiation that bombards Mars through its thin, ozone-free atmosphere. But what if... 1) we discover that there is native Martian life (perhaps dormant microbes down in the dirt somewhere), and 2) we somehow warm the planet making it possible for a native Martian biosphere to get started again, and 3) that Terran bacteria from the landers is still hanging around and starts getting all mucked up with the Martian bacteria! McKay says that we would certainly want to first go around and pick up all that old junk from Earth and make sure the place was free of Earth germs before starting the warming of Mars and restoration of its native life.  I got all excited that someone was actually talking pretty seriously about the possible pitfalls of terraforming Mars.  Of course, that's hopelessly far off given the plodding pace of the space program.  What may happen sooner, however, is sending a machine to Mars to drill down under the surface and maybe try to retrieve and return samples to Earth. When you drill under the surface, out of reach of the anti-microbial UV rads, then you run the risk of contaminating the soil if the drill bit (or whatever you'd call it) isn't perfectly sterile. And then those returning samples would have to treated on Earth like ebola virus until they were determined to be safe.

McKay pointed out that we got the Moon all dirty already with the manned missions there, but so what? He says that there is virtually no chance of native lunar life nor any prospect of a biosphere ever being established on the Moon. Well, of course not, I thought.  But...why not? I wonder if the Moon could somehow be terraformed. It's got the advantage of being as close to the sun as we are.  What if it could be endowed with an atmosphere? It's being tidally locked with the Earth and not rotating like a normal planet makes it kind of weird, I guess. But could it be made to spin?  And if it did spin, how would that impact Earth? Or would it?  Does anyone know?  Is there even any sf written about terraforming the Moon?  I'd like to read some if there is. You can't turn around without running into a science fiction "moon base" or decroded vacuum-of-space mining colony or maybe a nice city under a dome, but what about just full-on terraforming the whole thing?  "Just" I say!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest

If you are a writer who is into near-future space sf and like to enter contests check out the Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest, with a deadline of April 1. Grand prize is publication of the story in Jim Baen's Universe (paid, too, at their regular rate) and a package of other prizes including a cool rocket ship trophy. I think it would be super cool if a bunch of writers who have or will have stories in M-Brane would enter this contest, because I would enjoy pointing it out to everyone if a writer that I published also won this contest. I might even enter it myself.  I don't have on hand a lot of unpublished, good short fiction in presentable form, and really none that fits the criteria.  I've been focusing mostly on a novel lately, and running M-Brane, of course. But it might be a fun challenge to myself to see if I can come up with a decent new story that would fit the rules by April 1.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Market listings, types of submissions, etc.

After railing against zine editorial guidelines (in a comment post on someone else's blog) for things like not replying on rejections, no simultaneous submissions, etc., I decided I'd better double-check my own market listings for M-Brane SF and make sure I am not sending out the wrong signals.  As it happened, my listing on Duotrope did incorrectly indicate that I'm a no-go on simul- and multi-subs.  As it turns out, I couldn't care less as long as I know what's up. I sent them a correction, and it was promptly corrected. It's also true that I never listed M-Brane with Duotrope myself, so I'm not even sure how I ended up on there. I assume that a writer or rabid fan of this blog (just kidding!) submitted it for me.  Who knows. Anyway, thanks to whomever did it.  I specifically remember NOT submitting info to Duotrope because I did not yet fit their guidelines to be listed. But there it is anyway. If any of you writers know of any writers' market listing other than Ralan's or Duotrope where M-Brane is listed, would you do me a favor and let me know about it so I can make sure the info on it is correct?  If it's not listed as a writers' market anywhere else, then that's fine, too, because I'm not exactly suffering a dearth of story submissions: tomorrow I have a thick virtual stack of rejections and acceptances to send out (what I really need is publicity in more readers' markets right now!).

I've occasionally run into remarks by other editors here and there that seem to indicate that they have a lot of trouble with writers being all unprofessional and sending them bad-looking manuscripts not in "standard mss format," and so on.  I must have a really good bunch of writers sending stuff to me so far: I haven't received hardly any stories in anything other than "standard" (and I don't really care that much--I end up immediately converting all of them to something else for my on-screen reading ease anyway). Also, all of the manuscripts for the entirety of issue #1 required of me only the correction of maybe five misspelled words, three or four punctuation changes, and a few style changes (underlined text changed to italic mostly). So thanks, all y'all, for being such pros!

Only half a million dollars? Well, eff that!

I am again going to break my self-imposed rule about keeping tiresome real-world crap off of the M-Brane, but this really turns my crank: President Obama spoke truth to Wall Street and issued these new rules for the worst of the money-wasting, tax-dollar-sucking, economy-wrecking, bail-out-wanting firms requiring that, if they are going to come to Washington, hat in hand, looking for more money, then they will have to be transparent about how they spend it and that they will have to cap top exec salaries at $500,000.  That's not what pisses me off.  That's awesome, and hail to the chief for doing this.  What has irritated the hell out of me today is listening to coverage of this all day on NPR and BBC and hearing one whiner after another come forward and complain that these rules will cause some kind of "talent drain" on Wall Street. The BBC World Service anchor put the question bluntly to one of these douchebags, saying roughly "Well isn't it true that these people were incompetent? They aren't really the most talented then, are they?" In other words, so what if they quit and go look for other work? The douchebag's reply was--and I kid you not--as follows: "Well who's going to want to work for $500,000?"

I'll tell you who: me.  How hard can it be?  I bet not at all. I'll take the job right now. I know how to read resumes and hire people to do the real work for me while I sit in a lux office. I correspond with a number of people who are currently unemployed--or have shitty jobs like I do--who are talented and who are not jackasses, and who would also probably take a job for a measly little half million bucks, too. There's something seriously wrong around here when people like that dude on the radio can cry about something like that in the face of this economic mess. Priorities need some serious resetting. Gordon Gekko was wrong: greed is not good!

I promise I'll get back on normal topics in my next next post!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Print tedium/ Gaylactic Spectrum Awards/ Agony Column

1. I'm going to back away a bit from my recent speculations about starting to sell the print M-Brane #1 "any day now" and just say that it will go up for sale on 2/15 like I originally planned months ago and say no more about it until then. The POD printer has found yet another freaking format issue with it, so I am still not able to see the proof yet.  It makes me wish I had gone with another company that I had originally considered but dropped over price. It moves along though.

2.I saw that the 2008 Gaylactic Spectrum Awards were announced. Best Novel was Wicked Gentleman by Ginn Hale, published by Blind Eye Books, a small publisher that specializes in genre fiction featuring gay/lesbian characters.  On the short list of nominees in that category were a whopping three novels by Elizabeth Bear: Dust (Bantam Spectra), New Amsterdam (Subterranean) and Whiskey and Water: A Novel of the Promethean Age (Roc). I really dig Elizabeth Bear. I haven't read a lot of her stuff yet, but I was recently blown away by her short story "Tideline," which was in last year's Year's Best. It's just stunning.  Gaylactic's short story winner was "Ever So Much More Than Twenty" by Joshua Lewis and published in Lethe Press' So Fey anthology. The whole list, and those from previous years, can be found at the Spectrum Awards site. That site also has a link to Lambda Sci-fi's Recommended Reading List which, unfortunately, appears to be long-neglected as far as updates and which contains some odd omissions (only one title by Delany?) and even odder inclusions (Songmaster aside, I have a hard time seeing that Card's name belongs on such a list). 

3. If you are into comic books, and Batman in particular, check out Rick Kleffel's audio piece on  "Batmanga" on the Agony Column about these old Japanese Batman comics that were done decades ago and are much-sought-after items now, and which are reproduced in a book by collector Saul Ferris.  This site is heavy with genre-related podcasts, and should be a regular stop for sf enthusiasts anyway. Some most recent ones include an interview with Sean Stewart and a panel discussion with him, Aimee Bender and Terry Bisson at the SF in SF event. The audio archive has endless treasures in it going back for years.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Frederik Pohl's blog/ Updike/ Magazine schedule

1. I was fascinated to discover the relatively newly-started blog by sf great Frederik Pohl.  How to put this delicately...I wasn't sure until I saw it that Pohl was even still alive.  I didn't have any reason to think otherwise, but I'll it say it wouldn't have surprised me if I had heard that he had since passed on since so few writers whose careers reach back into the 1930s are still with us.  Truly a major writer and supporter of the sf genre with an amazing history, it is a treasure that he is still around and has decided to blog. Aside from his many, many novels and short stories, Pohl was in his earlier career a major editor as well. He edited the pulps Astonishing Stories and Super Science Stories in the late 1930s-early 40s, and then in the 1960s edited both Galaxy and if. In the 1970s, he acquired novels for Bantam and also wrote prolifically. 

2. One writer who has recently, and rather suddenly, passed is John Updike. Not really the sort of writer who would be subject matter for this blog, I note it because of his significance to the contemporary American novel in general and because he was a gracious and entertaining interviewee when people in other media wanted him to talk about his craft. Some examples of this can be heard on the 1/29 installment of Terry Gross's Fresh Air which is compiled from some archival interviews from the 1980s onward.  I remember finding it annoying, years ago, that David G. Hartwell included in his anthology The World Treasury of Science Fiction (Little, Brown, 1989)  Updike's sole sf story "The Chaste Planet." It's neither a good example of Updike nor of the sf genre.  It absolutely would not have been in that book if it had been written by someone with less literary stature than Updike. It almost seemed like the Updike story was there just to pull up into mainstream "respectability" the much better stories by genre writers like Wolfe, Heinlein, Dick, Delany and Lem. Today I'll cut everyone some slack on that though.

3. I'm hoping to know soon as tomorrow when I can offer up the print M-Brane #1, and will go ahead and do so ahead of the 2/15 date if that is possible.  Depending on how it all shakes down, I might possibly move up slightly the rest of the schedule as well. I am considering moving #2 into Feb or maybe at least to March 1 (instead of 3/15) just so I can get it out sooner and also have the print "omnibus" of #1 and #2 available sooner.  If that happens, then the whole rest of the year will move up with it.  It shouldn't impact significantly any writers who have scheduled stories, other than their stories coming out a couple weeks earlier than planned, which I assume won't bother anyone.


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