Wednesday, April 22, 2009

You deserve a break today

I find myself a bit talked out. Maybe that shouldn't surprise me. The stats show more than sixty posts over the past eight months.

Rather than post because it's been a few days -- and not because I have something new to say -- I'm going to pause for a bit.

But don't let that stop YOU. Are there science, technology, or SFnal topics you'd like discussed? Comment away. You might just restart my blogging juices.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Mooning for private enterprise

It's not what you think!

NASA is developing a plan for a privately run network of lunar comsats. The comsats will support the (coming at us way too slow) return to the moon and prospective long-term base there. See article here.

The likely use of lunar comsats shouldn't surprise anyone. After all, if we're going back, surely this time we also intend to explore the far side -- which is forever without a line-of-sight to/from Earth. Even on the near side, which stays visible to Earth, there will be spots -- in deep craters and near mountains, for example -- lacking a sight line home. To explore any such sites will require relays.

What's the alternative to orbiting comm relays? Time and effort wasted deploying relays all over the surface. And/or burdening long-range lunar explorations, whether robotic or crewed, with transceivers and antennae able to handle the more-than-a-light-second distance each way (versus shorter-range comm to the lunar base itself).

So: the benefits of lunar comsats have long been clear. The novelty comes in recognizing that the lunar comm array can be obtained commercially. Kudos.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Flash fiction trifecta

Flash fiction -- stories no longer than a few pages -- is one of my authorial vices.

Why a vice? Because the shorter the story, the more effort each paragraph, each sentence, each word takes. Short stories are labors of love or necessity: compulsions demanding that they be set to paper. Short stories are seldom, in any financial sense, worth the opportunity cost -- the time spent writing them.

Flash fiction, being especially brief, takes special care. More than merely serve a purpose, each word must be essential. (Death to adverbs! Less is more!) The reward? Whether it serves up a punch line or an epiphany, a piece of flash fiction has an out-sized impact.

My flash pieces have appeared in Analog more than any other venue. One such story -- and a favorite of mine -- is "Grandpa?". It deals with the (in)famous grandfather paradox of time travel.

"Grandpa?" first appeared in Analog in 2001. In 2006, the story reappeared as a short film, written and directed by Jean-Francois Dasylva-Larue under the title "The Grandfather Paradox." The short is shown at film festivals and SF cons, where it has won awards. (It's even given me me a passing mention in the imdb.)

And now ...

A few days ago, "Grandpa?" made its third appearance, this time as a free podcast at Escapepod. Reader Ben Phillips did the story proud -- again.

Just this once, I'll promote a flash piece from vice to guilty pleasure :-)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Mars to keep its secrets for a bit longer

A lot of Earth-built robots are hard at work on and orbiting the Red Planet. They've revealed a lot. The next generation of robot explorers, however, is apparently seriously delayed -- and it's an international problem.

The article that triggered this post deals mostly with a delay in a Russian-orchestrated mission to Phobos, but the last paragraph reminds us of other multi-year delays, in a next-gen NASA rover and of a European Space Agency probe.

Given the current economic climate, it's easy to imagine delayed missions getting delayed even further, or canceled altogether.

Space scientists are among the few constituencies somehow unworthy of new funding while governments dispense trillions. Perhaps anything from which we might actually learn is ineligible.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

InterstellarNet redux

I haven't had much to say in this venue about my short fiction. However ...

I've set several stories in an alternate/future history that splits off from our familiar timeline in 2002. The triggering event: receipt of a radio signal from another solar system.

In episodes spanning more than a century, the InterstellarNet stories chronicle humanity’s discovery of its interstellar neighbors, the formation and evolution of a radio-based interstellar trading community, and the long-distance jockeying among species for advantage.

So: SETI, alternate and future history, aliens .... If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll understand that these stories reflect big interests of mine.

Over the years these stories have generated lots of reader mail (thanks!) and inquiries about further installments. One episode, "Creative Destruction," was in a year's-best anthology. So I'd like to use this space to announce the latest InterstellarNet installment, the novella "Calculating Minds."

It's currently (April/May issue) running in Jim Baen's Universe. And even if you don't subscribe, you can see the first half of the story here.

(April 7, 2013 update) I should have updated this page long ago. There are now two InterstellarNet novels (with "Calculating Minds," updated, become part of the first). As for the original, short-fiction forms, here is the up-to-date InterstellarNet story listing.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Suffering through an energy literacy gap

If only that title were somehow an April Fool's item.

The title is a snippet from an essay on the Year of Science website. April's theme is Celebrate Energy Resources. Of course the knowledge gap is broader than the essay's scope: sources of energy and the consequences of using energy. The problem extends to general scientific illiteracy and mathematical innumeracy.

In my broader rant, I include economics -- the dismal science. The world would not be in its current fix if people (in which category I shall include politicians ;-) ) understood basic econ, nor would governments be so busily making things worse.

And when energy and econ intersect? Then, as the European cap-and-trade experiment shows, things get worse quickly.

Year of Science is all about addressing that galloping illiteracy problem. As Washington busily attempts to rework huge chunks of the American economy -- health care, energy, finance, the auto industry (and who knows what else next week) -- let's hope YoS makes some progress.