Market Monday: Analog Science Fiction and Fact

I had an eleven-hour day at work, followed by a ninety-minute drive home. It has been a long day.

So I’m going to cut down on my usual waxing poetic. It’s Analog Science Fiction and Fact, formerly Astounding. It’s the longest-running magazine in the field. If you need me to tell you about Analog, you need to brush up on your market research.

Oh, wait, there’s one thing I need to tell you…

DON’T SELF-REJECT!!!!!

I hear so many authors say, “Oh, my stories aren’t for Analog. They’re too character-oriented, not hard science fiction.”

Bull****!

First, hard science fiction can be plenty character-oriented. That’s the way Analog likes it. They have bought four of my Carver and Aames stories so far, and what’s the number one thing I hear about those stories from readers? They love the characters. As damaged and screwed up as he is, they love Nick Aames. They even gave Racing to Mars an AnLab (Analytical Laboratory) Award.

And second, hard science fiction is by no means all that Analog publishes! As editor Trevor Quachri likes to point out (closely paraphrased): “We published Dune; and we’d do it again. We published Pern, and we’d do it again.” Analog may welcome hard science fiction more than other markets do, but they also welcome other science fiction as well. As their guidelines say:

We publish science fiction stories in which some aspect of future science or technology is so integral to the plot that, if that aspect were removed, the story would collapse. Try to picture Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein without the science and you’ll see what I mean. No story!

The science can be physical, sociological, psychological. The technology can be anything from electronic engineering to biogenetic engineering. But the stories must be strong and realistic, with believable people (who needn’t be human) doing believable things–no matter how fantastic the background might be.

Trevor doesn’t do your job (writing your stories), so don’t you do his job (rejecting stories). Let him decide if it’s an Analog story or not.

He may surprise you…

 

Science Sunday: The Boom Star in My Back Yard

Prof Larry Molnar Credit: Calvin College

“What’s a Boom Star, Martin?”

It’s two stars that are going to collide in 2022, creating a Red Nova dubbed the Boom Star.

“Why do you say it’s in your back yard, Martin? Isn’t that kinda close?”

Well, of course, the stars won’t be in my back yard. But that’s where the research was done to discover this impending collision: at Calvin College in Grand Rapids. Not precisely my back yard, but close enough to give me a sense of regional pride. This is world-class astronomy work, headed up right here in West Michigan. Dr. Molnar presented his paper at the American Astronomical Society last week. You can read a preprint version here.

So what’s going to happen? From the Telegraph article linked above:

Before their meeting the two stars were too dim to be seen by the naked eye, but in 2022, the newly formed Red Nova will burn so brightly in the constellation Cygnus that everyone will be able to to see it.

“For the first time in history, parents will be able to point to a dark spot in the sky and say, ‘Watch, kids, there’s a star hiding in there, but soon it’s going to light up,” said Dr Matt Walhout, dean for research and scholarship at Calvin College, Michigan, where the prediction was made.

For around six months the Boom Star will be one of the brightest in the sky before gradually dimming, returning to its normal brightness after around two to three years.

That. Is. So. Cool!

Now for Science Sunday, I like to explore the story implications of a scientific discovery. One obvious implication: suppose one of these stars had an inhabited planet? What would happen to the occupants? Nothing good, I fear. Would they live long enough to see the Red Nova engulf their planet? Or would the approach of the other star tear them out of orbit from their primary, either pulling them in to a fiery death or tossing them out into the cold darkness of space? Neither would be a good fate.

Though in the latter case… If they had time to move their civilization underground… Hmmm…

Of course, we don’t know if a binary system could have a planet in a stable orbit long enough to evolve intelligent life. The odds seem kinda long for that. But it’s not impossible. Might be a good story there.

I hope to interview Dr. Molnar for a future Science Sunday. Stay tuned!

Friend Friday: Joshua Sky

It was less than a year ago, at the Volume 32 Writers of the Future Gala and autograph session. I was there as a returning past winner, which meant I was out of the spotlight. I could simply enjoy the festivities, congratulate my V32 brothers and sisters, and meet people.

Yeah. Meet people. All these writers, predominantly introverts, and we’re supposed to spontaneously meet people. Why came up with this idea?

But then suddenly this guy starts asking me questions about the contest. And about short fiction. Really good questions.

And that’s how I met Joshua Sky, a real kindred spirit. Joshua is a screenwriter, as well as working other roles in Hollywood; but he has a real passion for short fiction, science fiction especially.

More than that, Joshua is fascinated with the history of the field, and the culture. He has the fortune (?) of living in Los Angeles. On the downside, that means long, frustrating commutes. On the upside, that means he can attend the famed Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, where he has access to their fantastic archives… and also to some of their fantastic, famous members. For Joshua, that’s a true treasure trove.

And he has put his research (both there and elsewhere) into a project: interviews with science fiction authors for Omni Media. I was honored to be one of his interview subjects, and it was the best interview I have had so far. Joshua doesn’t just ask a stock set of questions. He makes a point to read some of the author’s best works as well as their bio and web sites, and then he creates unique questions for each author. It’s a very personal interview every time. Here are his interviews so far.

It’s a short list, but he’s adding to it. Keep an eye out for more.

But Joshua is more than a science fiction historian, he’s also a short fiction author. Two of his stories have appeared in Omni, and I expect we’ll see more and in more markets soon.

And he’s an essayist. The House Had Eyes falls on the edge between memoir and fiction. It’s a tribute to Ray Bradbury, and it perfectly captures the wistful nostalgia and sense of loss of a great Bradbury tale. This one’s special. I give it my highest recommendations.

So that’s my friend, Joshua Sky. I hope you enjoy his work!

Thinking Thursday: Chorizo Pie

Thinking Thursday is supposed to be about random thoughts; but after nearly four hours of commuting today, my only thought is: I hate snow!

So instead of searching for a topic, I’m going to share a recipe I just discussed with my friend Tom Lavey of L&M Precision Machine Inc., makers of high-quality LRTs (Little Round Things). Here’s a Mexican-inspired variation on a traditional Irish dish…

CHORIZO PIE

1/2 lb. Chorizo (or substitute 1/2 lb. ground beef with taco seasoning if Chorizo is unavailable)

1 can whole kernel corn, drained

1 can diced tomatoes, drained

1 can refried beans, drained and whipped

1 large can black beans, drained

1 ½ lbs. mashed potatoes, whipped

1/4 cup shredded Mexican style 4 cheese mix

Chili powder to taste

 

1. Mash the potatoes thoroughly, and then whip them. You don’t want lumps, and you want them smooth enough to spread.

2. Whip the refried beans as well. Again, you want them smooth enough to spread.

3. Drain the corn, black beans, and tomatoes. Dice the tomatoes.

4. Depending on the brand, the Chorizo may be in a tube or a square. Break it into small, loose bits.

5. Brown the Chorizo over medium heat in a skillet.

6. Start the oven preheating to 400 degrees F.

7. Reduce the heat under the chorizo to simmer and mix in the corn, tomatoes, and black beans. Add chili powder to taste. Stir in thoroughly and continue to simmer until the oven is preheated.

8. Pour the Chorizo and vegetable mix into a large glass baking dish and spread evenly in the bottom.

9. Using a fork, scoop the refried beans on top of the chorizo and vegetables and spread out into a layer, being careful not to mix into the layer below.

10. Again using a fork, scoop the mashed potatoess on top of the refried beans and spread out into a layer, being careful not to mix into the layer below.

11. Sprinkle the top of the potatoes with chili powder to taste.

12. Sprinkle the Mexican style 4 cheese mix across the top of the potatoes.

13. Bake for 30 minutes or until the top of the potatoes is lightly browned.

 

Serves 3 to 5.

Work-in-Progress Wednesday: The Oncoming Storm

…Millie turns back to the pond. “Oh, please, Carey, take pictures. I want to show Mom and Dad.” Many kids Millie’s age have wrist comps they can use as phones and cameras and music players and games. Millie has shown little interest in those. She has me and I can make calls and I can take videos. I have no immediate need of this video data, so I open a Cloud connection to stream the video directly to storage.

Today I am Brad. I do not know why I am on my knees. That is not a natural position for Brad. So I stand, darken my silicone skin, and square my shoulders to stand tall. As Brad, I have cleaning to do. So I start walking towards the closet…

“Carey!” Millie squeals.

I look down. I am standing in the tadpole pond and wondering who is Brad and why was I him.

“I am sorry Millie,” I say. “I do not know –” I stop. I do not know what happened to me and I worry that I may be a risk to Millie. I stare around at the rushing stream on one side and the deeper main channel on the other side. I see storm clouds upstream, and I worry: can I get Millie home safely if something within me is malfunctioning?

“That’s okay, Carey,” she says. “Did you get the video? Did you get a picture at least?”

I check my Cloud storage.

Today I am Frances. Dr. Zinta is testing my emulation net. As Frances, I have simple tests to perform in the functional testing lab. Picking up the dropped objects, sorting them into their proper locations. I look around. “Now where did I drop those tadpoles?” I say. “All I see are frogs.” Dr. Zinta stares at me oddly. Somehow I know that this is odd for her even though I’m still learning her emulation profile.

“Dr. Zinta,” I say, “I think something is wrong.” She looks at me. “Dr. Zinta?”

Once more I’m standing in the water. I back carefully out. “Millie, I think something is wrong,” I say. “I’m going to call your father.” I open a phone channel.

“G9A27, why did you call me Dr. Zinta?”

“Is that not your name?” I say.

Dr. Zinta plugs a diagnostic scanner into my chassis. “It is, but you always call me Dr. Jansons.”

I puzzle over that. Finally I answer, “I find that in casual conversation humans are more comfortable with given names.”

“G9A27,” Dr. Zinta says. “I’m afraid there’s something wrong.”

“I am afraid there is something wrong,” I say to Millie. “I think we should get home now.”

“But Carey, we just got here.”

“I am sorry, Millie but, this is a matter of safety. I must insist.”

“But Carey…”

I put my foot down, literally, emphasizing my insistence. “Millie, we can come back when I’m functioning properly. We must get home right away.”

She looks up at me, and her eyes grow more intent. “Are you all right, Carey?”

I cannot lie to her. “I am functional but I will need maintenance.” Then I look at the rocks across the ford. “But I am still sufficiently in control of myself to carry you across the court. I think we need to hurry.”

“All right.” She lifts her arms and I pick her up and start across the rocks.

We are on the largest rock when lightning flashes far upstream and the roll of thunder hits us. My emergency weather radio kicks in, and –

Today I am Brad. I still have cleaning to do. I do not know what I am carrying but I sent it down so I can go fetch the broom. I turn and head for the closet; and suddenly somehow I’ve fallen through the floor and into rushing water all around me. Somewhere I hear a child screaming, but I see none when I look around. I see no water either, but my tactile senses tell me I am bobbing, tossed about by rushing water. My metal ceramic frame and my silicone sponge body are buoyant enough for the water to carry me along, farther away from the fading screams, the source of which I still cannot see.

“Again,” says the voice in my radio receiver, “possible flood conditions. Residents are urged to stay out of the floodplain.” Somehow I am in the stream, at least 10 meters downstream from Millie as she stands on the large rock, screaming at me. I am bobbing up and down in the water, being carried away; and then I bump into something. I have hit a branch sticking out from a submerged log. I grab it and I hold on to try to keep myself from getting washed even further away.

“Carey,” Millie screams. “What’s wrong?”

I wish I knew what is wrong. There are gaps in my data record. Accessing those gaps, I see that I was asleep during those periods. Just an ordinary, unaware medical care android. Each period of unconsciousness corresponds to a message to or from an external data feed. Somehow external feeds are interfering with my operations.

Yet strangely, I have memories from those sleeping periods. Memories from the MCA test labs. Current memories: the time signature is today, within the last few minutes. I need Dr. Zinta to explain; but first I need to get Millie to safety before the waters rise.

— From Today I Am Paul (The Novel)

Market Monday: Digital Science Fiction

Digital Science Fiction (part of Digital Fiction Publishing Corp.) is the first pro-paying market to print one of my works. That by itself is reason for me to be grateful to them; but that’s not why I’m recommending them to you. (Unfortunately they’re closed to all but flash submissions at the moment, but keep an eye on their submission status! Reprints only at this time.)

No, the reason why I recommend Digital SF and the whole Digital family is a two-word answer: Michael Wills.

Michael is the publisher, and he has a strong sense of personal and business ethics. His contracts are some of the most author-friendly that I have seen. (In fact, he had three pro authors help draft them.) But most important… When he started Digital, it was a pro-paying original market (a series of anthologies, essentially a magazine). He made his wife a promise: he would give the magazine a fair shot, but it had to be self-supporting. He would pay for it from internet ads and from sales of the anthology, but not a dime would come from the family budget. Before he would let that happen, he would shut it down.

And when the time came that it wasn’t self-supporting, that’s exactly what he did: he shut it down. He paid all creditors. He returned all rights for all stories he had “bought” but not yet published. He closed it down owing nothing to anyone, and keeping his promise to his wife. Digital survived, selling back issues and a few small novel projects, but the magazine was gone. He handled the whole thing honorably, and I never hesitated to tell people: Digital was my first pro sale, and Michael is a good man.

Then a little over a year ago, things changed, and Michael came up with a new business model to revive Digital Science Fiction: reprints only, published as online shorts, then collected into anthologies. It seems to be going better. Digital has been producing a lot of works.

But, oh, reprint only except for one thing: Michael went back to every one of the authors who had sold him stories that he had had to return and said, “If first rights for that story are still available, I would still like to pay you and print it.” He didn’t have to do that, but it was the honorable thing to do. These authors went through a sadly common experience: the thrill of selling a story, then the disappointment of the market closing before the check arrived and the story appeared. It’s a sad thing, but it happens. Only this time, Michael made it up to them.

So that’s three different actions that convinced me that Michael Wills is an honorable publisher: the author-friendly contracts, the promise kept to his wife, and going back to buy the stories he hadn’t been able to buy before. I trust this man, and I recommend this market.

Oh, and if he happens to reopen for originals, I’ll add three more words to my reasons to submit to Digital: Christine Clukey Reece, who edited the original anthologies, and who I hope will edit future original works for Digital. She was my first pro editor, and I didn’t know what to expect. She suggested only five changes: a couple of paragraph breaks added, a break removed, and a couple of word changes. And every single one of her changes made my protagonist’s voice sound more like the voice in my head. She picked up on what I was trying to do, and she found the places where I had failed to do it. Christine kinda spoiled me for future editors, and I will happily work with her in the future if I get the chance.

The Daily Blog Schedule

One way I hope to make it easier to maintain The Daily Blog schedule is to plan out my topics in advance. So here’s my plan for the next week:

Story Saturday. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.

Science Sunday. Near Earth Objects.

Market Monday. Digital Science Fiction.

Talking Tuesday. Introduction to dictation.

Work-in-Progress Wednesday. Today I Am Paul, the novel.

Thinking Thursday. Random thoughts.

Friend Friday. Joshua Sky.

The Daily (insert laugh here) blog

I need to do more blogging. I really do. It’s good mental exercise, and it’s also a good way to connect with people.

But blogging for me is hit and miss (and miss, and miss, and miss…). I’ll have nothing to blog about, so I’ll skip a day. And then another. And then…

So I’m going to try something different. I’ll post general news and such when it comes up, but I’m also going to try for The Daily Blog, a rotating set of blog topics. These will be writing prompts to give me something to write about even if nothing else comes up.

So here’s the schedule for The Daily Blog:

  • Science Sunday. Science news and how it might be useful in a story.
  • Market Monday. A look at different markets for fiction and non-fiction.
  • Talking Tuesday. I do a lot of story dictation. I get a lot of questions about it. Here’s my chance to answer some of them.
  • Work-in-Progress Wednesday. A discussion about whatever I’m currently writing.
  • Thinking Thursday. Random thoughts.
  • Friend Friday. A chance to talk about the work of my friends.
  • Story Saturday. A discussion about whatever I’m currently reading, watching, listening to, or playing.

Can I keep to this schedule? Probably not. But it gives me a goal to shoot for.

Science Fiction Authors Visit the Cosmosphere

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Page 1

HUTCHINSON—08/12/2016—A group of Science Fiction authors will take a break from the World Science Fiction Convention meeting in Kansas City next week to travel to the Cosmosphere for a book signing and tour on Tuesday, August 16th.

Trip organizer and author Martin L. Shoemaker said he has been eager to get the group to the Cosmosphere.

“I have visited the Cosmosphere three times before,” Shoemaker said, “That’s why I’ve been so eager to organize this trip: it is my favorite space museum, period. The collection is good, and the thematic presentation is absolutely superb! I always feel like I’m taking a walking tour of the Space Race.”

Several of the authors will hold a book signing at 1 p.m.  The authors and their works are as follows:

Rosemary Claire Smith. Smith’s latest story is in the April 2016 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact: “Diamond Jim and the Dinosaurs”. Coming up will be a guest editorial in the November Analog: On the Money.

C Stuart Hardwick. Hardwick is a past winner of Writers of the Future. His latest story is “Dreams of the Rocket Men”, a tribute to the pioneers of rocketry in the current issue of Analog.

Daniel J. Davis, Steve Pantazis, and Martin L. Shoemaker were all 2014 winners of Writers of the Future. Daniel’s latest story is “The God Emperor of Lassie Point”, appearing in the anthology Alien Artifacts from Zombies Need Brains Publishing. Steve’s latest story, “The Devil Walks into a Bar”, appears in the current issue of Galaxy’s Edge magazine. Martin’s story “Today I Am Paul” (from Clarkesworld magazine) was nominated for a Nebula award and has appeared in Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-third Annual Edition, The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume One, The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, and eight international translations.

For more information about the book signing, contact Janet Fisher, group sales manager, at 620.665.9340.

The Cosmosphere International SciEd Center & Space Museum is located at 1100 North Plum in Hutchinson, KS. Its collection includes U.S. space artifacts second only to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, and the largest collection of Russian space artifacts outside of Moscow. This unique collection allows the Cosmosphere to tell the story of the Space Race better than any museum in the world while offering fully immersive education experiences that meet the Next Generation Science Standards and introduce students to the power of wondering—asking the critical questions that lead to discovery.   The Cosmosphere also features the Carey Digital Dome Theater offering documentary showings daily and recently-released feature films on weekends and a newly renovated Planetarium.

 

 

A Review of Thunderbird by Jack McDevitt

 

Thunderbird

A Review of Thunderbird by Jack McDevitt

Note: This book is a sequel to Ancient Shores, a book I thoroughly enjoyed. You don’t have to read that book to understand this one, but I highly recommend that you do. This review will necessarily include spoilers for that book.

I have sometimes said of Jack McDevitt that he likes to write archaeological science fiction: stories where an artifact from the distant past reveals a mystery in the story’s “present” (which might be our distant future). The Alex Benedict books are about a famous treasure hunter in this mold. Many of the Priscilla Hutchins books involve an ancient force that systematically wipes out civilizations, leaving us little to study but ruins.

But while reading Thunderbird, I realized that I wasn’t giving McDevitt broad enough credit: he likes cultural science fiction, exploring the impact of discoveries on a culture. That was true from his very first novel, The Hercules Text, the story of how a message from a distant civilization affects our own.

McDevitt also delights in not answering all the questions. He has said that not answering makes a story more realistic. In real life, we have to live with unanswered questions. Some mysteries must wait for another day.

And both of those ideas were found in Ancient Shores, a book that starts with a North Dakota farmer making a strange discovery: a yacht buried in his fields, fields which were beneath a vast inland sea… ten-thousand years ago. The sailboat has mysterious properties: it isn’t quite the right size and its fittings aren’t quite the right shape for humans; and it is impervious to wear and tear, almost impossible to damage, and hence impossible for anyone to estimate its age. The yacht leads eventually to the discovery of the Roundhouse, a dock on the Sioux-owned cliffs that once overlooked the sea; and in the Roundhouse they find a working gateway to other stars.

That book is classic McDevitt. We see how these discoveries affect both individuals and the culture at large. Some want to explore. Some want to run and hide. Some see danger in how these alien technologies can disrupt the economy and render the world more dangerous. Some see their own fears and must decide to stand up to them or cower in shame. And the Mni Wakan Oyate tribe of the Sioux see the return of an ancient conflict as the U.S. government decides to “solve” the problem by destroying the Roundhouse. Only through the timely intercession of scientists and celebrities is the destruction halted. For now.

It’s a victory, and the book ends on a high note; but… In real life, we have to live with unanswered questions. Where did the Roundhouse come from? How does it work? Can the Sioux keep control, or will the government take over? And what is that strange sentient whirlwind that aids travelers in distress? Some mysteries must wait for another day.

Thunderbird is another day. (Literally. Ancient Shores took place in 1996 or so, the time that book was published. Thunderbird takes place today; but at the same time, Thunderbird takes place immediately after Ancient Shores. There was a brief bit in chapter 1 or 2 where McDevitt sneakily brought the prior book into the present. You would have to really look to notice, but I was watching for it. This book is in the present, with ubiquitous cell phones and Internet and cable news and modern politics.) And answers are forthcoming – as are surprises.

Many of the same characters are involved: U.S. President Matthew Taylor, Sioux Chairman James Walker, scientist April Cannon, and security guard Andrea Hawk. Others have been reduced to cameos, such as Matt Collingwood, the pilot who helped to find the Roundhouse. Tom Lasker, the farmer who found the yacht, is mentioned but never appears.

And there are plenty of new characters, chief among them being Brad Hollister, a radio host and reporter who gets slowly drawn into the missions. The Sioux unexpectedly find themselves with a space program, one more advanced than anyone else on Earth can imagine; and Brad is there to observe it. While other characters are caught up in the diplomacy and politics, Brad is there as a witness, the reader’s eyes and ears to the excitement. He understandably struggles with fear (Would you trust your life to 10,000-year-old technology?) and then shame over that fear. This struggle made it very easy to identify with him. We all want to believe we’ll be brave in the face of danger, but what happens when we’re really tested?

And there are aliens. Yes, in this book, the Sioux and their allies meet aliens: the ape-like Arkons, the not-quite-human Riverwalkers, and the aforementioned sentient windstorm. McDevitt explores each culture (though some deeper than others), and each adds to the mystery of the Roundhouse.

In the end, McDevitt answers many questions, but subtly. The reader, like the characters, has to decide what to believe from the evidence they find. I think that Brad learned who the gate builders were and part of why the gates were built; but there’s enough room to argue about it, and not everyone accepts their answers.

If Brad is right about the gate builders, then the Sioux people have a fascinating future ahead if they can use what they have learned; and yet the ending puts that future out of reach. For now. It’s a more definitive ending than the end of Ancient Shores, but did it answer all the questions? Maybe you missed the part where I said this is a Jack McDevitt book. We have to live with unanswered questions. Some mysteries must wait for another day – and (I hope) another sequel.

My verdict? I was intrigued in many places. I was surprised in all the right parts. I laughed out loud at several scenes. I was frustrated by some of the stupid decisions while still understanding why the characters made them. I enjoyed the characters (particularly Brad and April). The ending satisfied me while still leaving me wanting more. And the epilogue made me smile. I recommend this book to anyone who likes thoughtful science fiction.

Full disclosure: I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Before that, I preordered the Kindle version on the first day it was available, and I have preordered the hardcover so that I can get it autographed.