Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A day (well, a week) in the life

What do writers do all day? You might suppose, write. Enter text into the computer. It even happens that way ... sometimes.

15 May 1989 Dilbert, by Scott Adams

In the past week, I've managed to produce a few thousand new words toward the novel in progress. (No, I'm not ready to talk about that.) Mostly my time went to:
  •  Recovering from the realization that a character in the novel had available a cleverer ploy than what I'd already written; rewriting to take that factor into account; reworking my outline for the ripple effects.
  • Researching an unrelated story (likely to be a novelette) that also demands to be born.
  • Wrestling inconclusively with details of that story, all requiring resolution before I can commit Word One to actual text.
  • Preparing a guest post for another blog, supporting a colleague. 
  • Promoting my last novel out the door.
  • Chasing an intermittent computer problem(s). It's not easy to write a novel when the mouse driver spontaneously uninstalls, and when the mouse cursor randomly vanishes.
  • Chasing a completely different intermittent problem on my wife's computer.
  • Fretting about the spate of attacks (from Ukraine and France, mostly) upon my authorial website. If eyeballs and the firewall app can be believed, the site remains secure. (I hafta wonder: Why me?)
  •  Doing administrivia for that website and an offsite/cloud backup service.
  • Surfing altogether too much, in horror, for the latest news from the campaign trail. (I won't as much as hint at any intention, preference, or leaning. My fiction and blog are wholly apolitical.) I just can't look away ...
  • Surfing, somewhat more productively, to stay current with science news.
  • Staring at a night sky in which, due to overcast conditions, last night's spectacular, viewable all up and down the East Coast, Antares launch turned out not to be visible.
  • Other diversions, digressions, distractions, and detours that doubtless, at this moment, slip my mind.
  • And most recently ... knocking out this post.
It's time to see if I can knock out a few pages for the new novel this afternoon.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Strange doings, from atoms to galaxies to homicidal grandchildren

Still playing catch-up here after last weekend's Capclave. So: for this week's post, I'm sharing -- with the most minimal of introduction -- a potpourri of physical-sciences news that I expect will appeal to regular SF and Nonsense visitors. (And if none of these links/headlines grabs you, well, I'll just have to live with that.)

From Phys.org, about the quantum-mechanical underpinnings of superconductivity: For first time, researchers see individual atoms keep away from each other or bunch up as pairs.

Again from Phys.org, about the ever-growing enigma that is Tabby's Star: Our galaxy's most-mysterious star is even stranger than astronomers thought.

From physicsworld.com, about whether inferred-but-undetected dark matter or a Modification Of Newtonian Dynamics (MOND) best explains observed gravitational anomalies, such as the rotation of galaxies: Correlation between galaxy rotation and visible matter puzzles astronomers.

Again, from physicsworld.com, about the finale to a very successful journey to a comet: Rosetta mission ends with comet crash.

And finally, from Cosmos.com, about paradoxes and time-travel theory: Computer solves a major time travel problem.

Now tell me something in that compilation didn't pique your interest ;-)

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Madala bosons. Cosmic space blobs. And sundry objects between

For today's post, let's visit a few thought- (and wow-) inducing news items of physics/astrophysics import ...

We'll begin at the (really) small end of the scale, pondering, from Cosmos, "Glimpses of the Madala boson: have we detected the dark Higgs?"

How the Higgs was found
And what, you may wonder, is a Madala boson? If it exists (and that's a [metaphorically] big if), the Madala boson would be the dark-matter counterpart to the property-of-mass-causing (in normal matter) Higgs boson first discovered in 2012. (As for madala itself, that's "a word of Zulu origin meaning 'old man', or 'old one.'") If this doesn't seem esoteric enough, consider that the discovery of a dark boson still wouldn't reveal what dark matter itself is, only why it has the property of mass.

But are we really, truly, sure such a thing exists as dark matter? To date, we can only infer its (presumed) existence by the gravitational effects of its (presumed) unseen mass. Everywhere physicists have searched for dark matter, they have come up with ... nada. A recent essay in Scientific American challenges, "Physics Confronts Its Heart of Darkness" Cracks are showing in the dominant explanation for dark matter. Is there anything more plausible to replace it?" Thought-provoking, too be sure.

Gotten strange enough yet for you? If not, there's more ...

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Psst! Dark Secret is book of the month (and for this month, a steal!)

Phoenix Pick is promoting my newly published novel, Dark Secret, as its October book of the month. BOTM status means that, in ebook formats, you can name your price. Even zero.

They're also offering a deeply discounted bundle of three of my novels: Dark Secret (the end of the world, and what comes next), Small Miracles (medical nanotech), and Fools' Experiments (AI and artificial life).

(For more about on any book, click the thumbnail cover at right.)

You'll want to check this out while the promotion lasts.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

My 2016 Capclave schedule

The fine folks of WSFA (trying saying that quickly five times) have published the programming schedule for this year's Capclave: "Where reading is not extinct." The 2016 version of this annual DC-area regional con runs from mid-afternoon Friday October 7 into Sunday afternoon October 9.

Capclave mascot
I'll be attending only Saturday, October 8th -- but pretty much all that day. Here's my (hectic!) schedule for Saturday:

11:00 - 11:55 am: Alternate & Secret History 
-- Salon A
Panelists: Neil Clarke, Walter H. Hunt, Edward M. Lerner, James Morrow, Tim Powers.

Although alternate and secret history seem related, they are quite different. What are the differences? How do you tell them apart? What factors must you keep in mind when writing in either area? 

12:30 - 12:55 pm: Reading -- from my hot-off-the-presses (published last month) novel, Dark Secret.
-- Seneca Room

1:00 pm: Author table (For autographs, or just to chat)
-- Hallway
(Sorry, that's as specific a location as we're given -- but I know the venue, and finding me won't be too taxing ;-)  )

2:00 - 2:55 pm: Writing Gadgets Well
-- Rockville/Potomac Room(s)
Panelists: Barbara Krasnoff, Edward M. Lerner, Lawrence M. Schoen, Darcy Wold

How do you work technology into your story without boring the reader? You want to make your "inventions" believable, but how much is too much?

Saturday 5:00 - 5:55 pm: Ask the Authors
-- Salon A
Panelists: Sarah Beth Durst, Edward M. Lerner, Sarah Pinsker, Tim Powers, Bud Sparhawk

Panelists answer whatever questions the audience has on writing, editing, character development, agents, and others. Includes non-writer-parts-of-being-a-writer, such as being your own boss, setting schedules, and many more. 

Mass autographing session 7:30 - 8:25 p.m. 
-- Salon A

And those scattered times during which I've not been scheduled? I'll still be around!

You'll find much more about the con, including bios of all the panelists, on the main Capclave website

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Star- (and Moon-) Struck

Today, a few astronomy topics of note ...

To begin, it's been discovered that the Sun has a slew of unobtrusive, heretofore unsuspected neighbors: "Astronomers Find 165 Brown Dwarfs in Solar Neighborhood." How near? All within 160 light-years.

(For those not familiar with the term, a brown dwarf is a not-quite star. It's a gas ball far larger even than Jupiter, and yet not quite massive enough to fuse ordinary hydrogen into helium. Some brown dwarfs, it is believed, are sufficiently massive to trigger fusion using deuterium -- of which there isn't much, so any such fusion soon dies out. Brown dwarfs can be hot, even sans fusion, from the gravitational collapse of so much mass.)

Remote on the size spectrum from brown dwarfs are stars so massive -- ten times or more the Sun's mass -- that as one (at life's end) runs out of fusion fuel its collapse ends in a supernova. Talk about going out with a bang ;-)

As one more bit of evidence as to the prevalence of supernova events, consider the traces they've left behind in Earth's biological record: "Ancient bacteria store signs of supernova smattering." Some key snippets from that article:

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Things aren't always what they seem

I know, I know ... things usually are what they seem, else the universe would be in chaos. "Things are often what they seem" is among the eponymous rules of my 2003 short story, "By the Rules." But accepting first reports of, well, anything at face value is risky. A few cases in point ...

Suppose the Zika virus endangered "only" pregnant women and the unborn, as we were, for a long while, assured. That would be horrible enough. The situation may be worse than that. Per a more recent study, "Zika infection may affect adult brain cells, suggesting risk may not be limited to pregnant women."

Does it (can it) work?
Perhaps because it feels good to see stuffy adherents of dusty facts and institutions proven wrong, there's a cottage industry of uncritical reporting as to the supposed reactionless (read: contrary to long-established laws of physics) "em drive." Among recent plaudits doled out to the em drive is that an article on the subject -- as yet, unseen -- has been accepted by a peer-reviewed journal. Sorry, that's not enough to write off Newton's laws of motion. See "NASA's Impossible Space Engine, The EMdrive, Passes Peer Review (But That Doesn't Mean It Works)."

Friday, September 9, 2016

Dark Secret ... disclosed :-)

I'm delighted to announce the publication of Dark Secret. This is my latest novel (number fourteen, if anyone is counting)and an epic adventure with the very survival of humanity at stake.
When the experimental ship Clermont is urgently recalled from a long-range test flight, neither Dana McElwain nor Blake Westford, its captain and crew, imagines that they are about to embark on a much more urgent voyageor that this new mission will determine the fate of the human race.

A gamma-ray burst
the deadly beam of radiation spawned seven thousand years earlier in the death throes of doomed neutron starsis about to wipe the Solar System clean of all life. Only the Clermont’s prototype long-range drive might carry anyone, and any of humanity’s legacy, to safety before that extinction.

And then what? Where beyond the Solar System
is safe? What if the price of survival is to become less ... human?
Certainly I'm pleased with the early feedback: