Intelligent Fish, or Why I’m a Science Fiction Writer, Not a Scientist

Europa

I recently went to a lecture on Jupiter’s Moon Europa by Dr. Don Blankenship of the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics. He is part of a team designing a radar system to explore beneath the ice that covers Europa to see what lies below. (The lecture is available as a webcast).

It was fascinating stuff. He explained how use of radar to study beneath the surface in Antarctica and other frozen places on Earth have helped scientists develop the tools so that they know how to use it for Europa. He commented on the competing theories over how thick the ice cover is on Europa. And he told us how much Europa has in common with Earth: seas (albeit frozen ones), a rocky interior, a magnetic core. Because of these similarities, some scientists are speculating that life might have developed in all the ferment under Europa’s ice.

But then he said any results from the radar expedition — the one that will tell us enough about Europa so that we can decide whether to send landers or even a cryobot to burrow beneath the surface — are 20 years off, assuming we get started very soon. It will take 12 years to build the orbiting device that will operate the radar, at least five years for a ship to get it to Europa, and some time to get it up and running, plus some fudge factor.

20 years just to get the basic facts. 40 or 50 years to actually go beneath the surface and see what’s there. By the time anyone figures out if there’s life on Europa, I won’t be around to see it and neither will Blankenship.

I had a sudden epiphany at that point: That’s why I’m not a scientist. Continue reading

Share

A Long Way Up or Sarah Visits Tintagel

From Sarah’s Travel Journal:

Want to get down my impressions of Tintagel before going through what all I went through to get here.

Tintagel Island and the headland are awe-inspiring. The cliffs nearest the sea are black where the sea pounds them and tan above, and the sea does shake the ground. In at least one place, a waterfall makes a whitel tail for the stream that runs down beside the path.

To get to the island, you walk down a steep ravine, which is a lovely, green walk with that water-fall stream running beside the path, but this seems counter-intutive, because when you get down to the bottom and the beach (and the tea shop), to get to the castle/ruins, you have to climb all the way back up, and then some. Quite a bit of then some.

The climb up is scary. The only thing thing that makes the climb down less scary is knowing you got up there. It’s winding and it’s steep and some of the stairs have been there for a _really_ long time. I’ve seen grooves worn in stone steps before, but never whole basins.


The sea…

BTW, I’m writing this over dinner, and I’d like to state for the record, the butter is better out here. The lovely, thick, vegetable soup is really good too.

Anyway, I was suposed to be rhapsodizing about the sea. The sea is a brighter blue-green here than I expected and it wasn’t even a really sunny day. It pounds the cliffs so you can feel the vibrations through the stone. There are caves and fissures filled with spray and on the way down I heard a boom like a cannon shot that was the echo of a wave hitting one cave.

I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to be able to make the climb. I was pretty shaken by my unscheduled roaming around the Cornish countryside and frankly, it was so narrow and so steep and so high, it scared me, more than a little.

But up I went anyway, and I’m glad I did. I’ve never been in such a place and the pictures can’t capture the feel of the wind and the water and the gulls and birds below you, the jumbles of stone at the foot of the cliffs and the constant rush of the water. You get above the smell of the sea at the caste and fortress, but not above the sound of it.

It is really easy to see why someone would build a fortress there.  Like the Edinburgh Rock, there is only one way in, and that way is daunting. Not only that, but you could see anybody coming a mile away. Literally. When you stand on the headland above the castle, you have a perfect view of the sea, and the rolling green downs that rise above the village, over which any army would have to come.

To sit there, with the wind battering so hard at your back that you didn’t want to get too close to the cliff’s-edge, with the sea battering below and streatcing around, watching the scudding clouds making shadows on the grass and stone below the nearest drop-off, seeing a seagull held absolutely motioonless by the wind, and thinking of the things of legend, is wondrous.

The ruins have their own facination. It’s not just on complex. Buildings accreated in the nooks and crannies of that island like barnacles from the sixth century on up through the nineteenth.

The ragged remains of arches, walls, towers, and cellars are to be found on every outcropping flat enough and big enough to hold a human building. But it was the land itself, the stone and sea and sky that caught me the most. It was them that made me understand how this became a land of legend. There is nowhere else on this island of legends like this place.

The cliffs, BTW, do not drop off smoothly.

They drop in a series of steps and overhands and with the noise of the wind and the water someone could be six feet below you, and you’d never know it. I was startled a couple of times on the way down by the sudden appearance of people when I thought I was alone.

Share

You Say It’s Your Birthday?

By Christie Golden

I am not a big believer in coincidence. So when, a couple weeks ago, I was told that my blog day would be on November 21, I blinked, grinned, and realized I’d gotten a birthday present. That’s right. Today is my birthday.

I know adults, and especially women, aren’t supposed to make a big deal about birthdays. Those are for children. Adults—well, after a certain point, you get the “Over the Hill” birthday cards, jokes about how it will need a force of nature to blow out all those candles on your cake, and so on. When we’re kids, it’s a big deal—cake, presents, parties galore. Now, though, hey, yeah, just another day.

When I was young, as November 21 was often so close to Thanksgiving, and my family drove from Michigan to Florida to see my grandmother for the holiday, my birthday kinda got lost. My chocolate cake (and yes, my grandmother made an amazing one) was fantastic, but it had buddies instead of sitting alone in glorious birthday cake splendor: cookies, pumpkin, and pecan pies flanked it. All those of you out there who celebrate your birthdays on December 25 or thereabouts, I know you feel my pain and then some.

Too, it was a particularly interesting November 21. It was November 21, 1963. We all know what happened the following day. If you don’t know, Google the date. For years, my mother tells me, she was unable to celebrate my birthday on the actual date. (And now you know how old I am, and you know that I don’t care that you know. I don’t look it, I don’t feel it, and I most certainly don’t act it.)

I’m not sure when the transition began, but at some point in my early adulthood, I began to reclaim my birthday. I started writing it on the calendar. I told all my friends in advance. My husband never forgets my birthday because it is nigh impossible to forget it. I told perfect strangers, “Today is my birthday!” And you know what? Everyone seemed pleased. “Well, happy birthday!” they would say, and the smile was almost always genuine. Because birthdays are fun, and we’ve forgotten that, and it’s kinda nice to be reminded of it.

Egotistical? Maybe. I honestly don’t think so. I think everyone should be as delighted about their birthdays. We are living in a rather grim time economically. Everyone has challenges and difficulties. And of course we can’t take the day off, sit back, eat cake till we’re sick and reap in a towering pile of presents any more. (Disclaimer—if you can pull this off, more power to you, but I can’t.) It’s not about presents, or cards. It’s about acknowledgement, and mainly self-acknowledgement. It’s about taking a day to say “Hey…X number of years ago, I entered this world. And that’s a pretty darn wonderful thing.”

So…yeah…45 years ago, I entered this world. And that’s a pretty darn wonderful thing.

Reclaim your birthday. Write it on a calendar. Circle it with a big red marker. Put it in your Google calendar. Tell friends and co-workers and remind family members. Most importantly, tell yourself. You’re in this world. You matter.

And let me be the first to wish you, whatever day it falls on…”Happy Birthday!”

Share

Is John Howe Psychic?

In 1997, when I received my contributor’s copy of Elf Magic, an anthology that included my short story “Kind Hunter,” I was delighted with the cover illustration by John Howe. It matched my main character perfectly, and I came to think of it as having been drawn from my story. (Note, I don’t know if Mr. Howe even read the anthology, so this is merely my assumption.)

Recently I was looking through some photographs of a vacation we took near Ruidoso, New Mexico, some years ago. My husband pointed out the similarity between this photo of me sitting on an interesting tree and the Elf Magic cover.

Wow! Could Mr. Howe have somehow received a psychic impression of this image, and used it in his design? Granted, I don’t have a bow, and the tree doesn’t have a face (unless you count Ginger, hanging out under the curved trunk, as a woodland spirit). Even so, the two images are intriguingly similar.

I love this sort of thing!

“Kind Hunter” was my first take on the idea that eventually inspired my new fantasy series about the Ælven and their estranged and tormented kindred, the alben. (The story has a contemporary setting; the novels are its ancient history.) The series will debut in March 2009 with The Betrayal, but you can read “Kind Hunter” now at BookViewCafe.



–Pati Nagle

http://patinagle.com

Share

Back In the Saddle Again — Returning to Writing Fiction After a BIG Pause

By Katharine Eliska Kimbriel

Anyone else inundated by Plaxo, etc. birthday reminders for individuals you’ve never heard of, much less met? Are your spam filters and virus checkers constantly fighting each other and locking up your computer? Are you on your third cell phone in one year, and they all have totally different interfaces?

On the other hand—do you enjoy carrying around your entire WIP and its support files on something the size of a lapel pin? As far as you’re concerned, does new tech rock? How do you feel about monitors and laptops that really are portable (as opposed to the monitor and computer of the Apple IIIc, for example)?

Welcome to the future that we used to warn people about. I’m finally back to writing, and technology is slowing me down.

I can’t blame the technology for everything. Sure, they’ve over-engineered WORD to the point that I’m thinking about Open Office, Apple, or Scriveners. But I can still find basic formatting if I look hard enough. Nothing will convince me that using italics in a manuscript is a good idea, because often you can’t recognize italics when they gallop past. Underlining says: “Put this in Italics” to everyone who happens by.

Then there are the files of synopses and early chapters of those works that were overwhelmed by Life. Are they looking a bit like Urdu right now as opposed to English manuscripts? (Unless Urdu is your preferred writing language. Could things be looking like English—or Mandarin—instead of Urdu?) Some of them I realize I not only recognize, but the story has progressed in my mind. Others are definitely in Urdu, which is not optimal for someone whose first language is English. They mean something, but not what I originally thought they meant. Heck, in one book the protagonist is now sharing that role with several others.

Think of it this way—if you drop the ball for too long, and years flow by—there’s a stranger staring back through the monitor at you, a person with different life experiences and priorities and beliefs. You’re asking her to go back into the minds of people she stopped visiting with regularly. . .stopped seeing a long time ago, in many cases.

And you may still have around your neck the dregs of whatever stopped the muse from kick-starting you going, whether it’s health, or finances, or family combined with one or more of those—real issues that leap into your face every time you turn around.

It’s not that you can’t go back and visit those characters—in fact, if you’re lucky, once your characters see you’re serious about everything, they’ll fall all over themselves to give you an update. Sometimes the problem is how to slow them down so book-sized chunks can be cut from their volumes of stories.

Or at least it’s one of the problems for me.

I have a reminder for all of us. I learned it from writer Barbara Burnett Smith, who was not only a fine mystery writer, but also a speechwriter and coach, and a corporate trainer in how to write good presentations and learn not to panic.

Barbara taught me many things during our time spent together, but one of her greatest gifts arrived posthumously. I had gone back to the house after the funeral, to be with others who loved her, to help support her devastated husband, to try and close the circle on a friendship. Her books were set up for her corporate friends to see, and her training partner had spliced together a few of her classes, to show the writers that side of her we knew little about.

I’d seen her training work before, but not the particular tape playing when I walked into the den. So I sat down to watch her do something she was phenomenal at—being a cheerleader and personal coach for the people who came to learn from her how to give good presentations.

It was near the end of her class, and she had paper up to draw large arrows, graphs and circles upon, showing everyone how far they’d come since the first morning. But the thing that got my attention was this: She told them that she knew they were afraid that they would lose all this skill they had just honed and polished. That they were certain that when they needed to do that presentation in a week—or a month—or six months down the line, they’d freeze and make fools of themselves.

“Not a chance. It’s like riding a bicycle.” Once you learn to ride that bicycle, you never forget. Your skills may have fallen from a ten to an eight or even a seven or six—but you don’t go back to zero. When you get back on one, after years have passed, you may need to ride a block to get your rhythm back, and another to get your body angle in the sweet spot for optimal comfort and speed. But you’re on the bicycle, and you’re on your way. A ten is well within your reach.

I realized that this was her second gift to me. When I was ill, she had told me I was still a writer. I was just on a sabbatical. And now, she was assuring me that I still knew what to do—I just needed a few spins around the block before I headed for market. The helmets and toe clamps may have changed, but they still have the same functions.

Fads and fashions have morphed, and different parts of the genre are grabbing attention, nominations and money. But I’m still a writer, and I still tell a great story.

I simply have to recognize that the way I plan stories, write stories, and rewrite stories may have changed.

There’s one thing I can guarantee hasn’t changed.

I still love to tell stories.

 

Share

About the Gryphon

The Fire Gryphon as Seen in Magickal TextIt is a curious, yet little-known fact that the greedy reputation of the magickal Gryphon is entirely unfounded in fact.  Gryphons do not consume precious gems, jewels, gold and suchlike for purely selfish purposes.  While in the days of Elder Magick, it is true that a number of the lesser Gryphons were kept by their masters as guardians of hoards both great and small, this was a cruel practice in opposition of the magnificent creature’s genuine nature.

Innocent of worldly concerns:  such is the true nature of the Gryphon.  Ask a Gryphon for any bit of his hoard, and he might consider for a moment providing something of lesser value — a chicken egg, perhaps, or a nicely-rounded rock.  However, press one’s case to the Gryphon justly, and he will whole-heartedly cough up a pearl so large that you could not hold it in the palm of your hand.

Indeed, if you were to find a magickal book lying around — oh, say in the back of a cabinet, or propping up a vase of fresh umbrel flowers — you might find just such a sight as you see here, leaping out at you from the page.

Consider carefully then, for if you possess the proper magickal implements and can read the words there writ, you might find yourself the master of not just an ordinary Gryphon, but one of the highest order:  a grand and terrible Fire Gryphon.

Prickly creatures these, but well worth the acquaintance, should you ever happen to meet up with one of them.  It is today of the Fire Gryphon that we speak. 

Have you ever seen a large horse, of the sort that pull great wagons of hay or barrels of honeyed ale?  As tall as such a horse is at the shoulder, the Fire Gryphon is half-again taller when full-grown.  His wings once spread, would seat four grown men comfortably — although, to be truthful, it is unlikely that even a very large Fire Gryphon could take flight for long, burdened with so many riders.  Generally, the Fire Gryphon’s eyes are golden, and even those of the green-eyed, northern variety, possess a piercing gaze.  It was often told in days of Elder Magick that those who looked in the eyes of a Fire Gryphon could not lie or avert their gaze, until said Gryphon chose to release them.

Many are the Fire Gryphons of legend:  we may remember today the names of Altrus the Brave, Rollo the Wise, and – well, it is true that most Gryphons were not greedy, but there were exceptions – of course, the golden-feathered Phlogiston the Greedy.  Phlogiston, I’m afraid, really did consume the entire fortune of Mencius, Heptarch of Virgos in a single sitting.  However, it is not true that Phlogiston exploded from the pressure of gems, gold and other precious items in his belly — that is one of the more egregious of the old Mage’s tales.  The result of this gruesome excess was merely that Phlogiston could not lift his bloated form more than five feet off the ground, thus making him an easy target for Mencius’ conjurers, who promptly administered the proper spells and herbs to make the greedy Gryphon return the hoard to its rightful master.

It has been long years, of course, since such creatures as Phlogiston, Rollo and Altrus (whose feathers really were sky-blue – to see him in flight was quite an experience!) ranged free across the skies of the wide world. 

Yet still, dear readers, there are magickal texts out there in the Wide World, and there still exist some few magickal implements.  So, should you be poking about in old cupboards or in your aged uncle’s sea-chest, or perhaps browsing the tables in one of the markets, and you come across a curious old silver bowl, or a small paper packet filled with oddly-smelling, rose-colored dust, or perhaps, an old blue book with a tattered cover, it might be you to bring a magnificent Fire Gryphon back to life, to once more fly free and wild across the high mountains into adventures once again.

I am, dear readers, your friend — Lalume.  Sometimes, perhaps, they called me the Magnificent.  But that was a very long time ago, and in a land very far away.

Share