Forget Covid. Forget politics. Go outside tonight if you have any kind of clear sky and a view to the southeast and southwest—even if it’s between the trees and buildings. To the southeast, Mars and the Moon are about to fall into a dangerous, non-distancing embrace. They are spectacular together, with or without city light pollution. And to the southwest, Jupiter and Saturn continue to dance brightly (well, Jupiter is bright, Saturn is less so) at arm’s length.
I saw them all while walking the dogs (I couldn’t even see any stars), and was thrown right back to the 1950s and early 1960s, when the solar system was a simpler place, and we just knew that in another fifty years, we’d be able to head down to the Atom City Spaceport and hop on a luxury space-liner to any of those places. Those were the days! The Golden Era of Space Travel (as it should have been)!
Back some years ago, when Tor published the first edition of my Star Rigger novel Eternity’s End, they commissioned cover art from Stephen Youll, one of the leading artists in the SF field. Stephen had a great vision for the book, and the Tor cover looked like this:
Later, when I brought out my own ebook edition, I had a much smaller budget. I bought some stock art I liked and enlisted writer/artist Pat Ryan to put it all together for me. I was quite pleased with the result, which looked like this:
I used that cover for many years, and it served me well. But I never forgot the original, which I loved for the way it popped off the page, and also actually reflected the story inside. As I started to think about a new paper edition of the book, I also thought about that painting. I got in touch with the artist, and Stephen was excited at the chance to have the art used again. He cut me a deal, and I proudly took a high-res jpg of the art to Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, who’s been doing my cover layouts. She outdid herself in the type design and gave me this new ebook and print book cover, and this week I have released it into world! (Click on it to see it full size.)
And if you’d like to see the full, glorious, wraparound art, without any text, here it is (click image to biggify).
Retreat, Day 4. I’m feeling a bit more like my old self, don’t cha know. And I have, in fact, figured out a couple of important key points about the new story that had been eluding me. Which I think will help make it a story worth telling. I think.
Here are a few more pix. Yesterday, I biked the 6.5 miles to this railroad lift bridge, which was great. Then I biked back, into a stiff wind, which just about put me 6 feet under.
Today, I repeated the trip, except I drove to a park only 1.5 miles from the bridge, and rollerbladed the rest of the way. And then bladed back (into the wind, of course), which just about kilt me.
I must either stop doing this or get into better shape. I rewarded myself with a gentle stroll along the Sandwich board walk down to the bay. After first passing this sign.
Okay, here I am at the actual shore.
I have to admit, I feel a little guilty enjoying myself like this, knowing what folks out west are going through. Oh well, tomorrow I head home!
Even before the pandemic hit, I was having trouble getting traction on the new book. Lots of notes, more than a few false starts. Feeling like a blind badger trying to find its way through unfamiliar territory. Since we entered Covid-world, it’s only gotten worse. I’m sure you all have your own reasons why it’s hard to get things done these days. Add to that a degree of discouragement over how hard it’s been to get Reefs / Crucible of Time noticed within the SF readership, and the result has been a creative malaise that I’ve found very difficult to shake.
Allysen to the rescue. The moment certain outside stressors let up enough to allow it to happen, she seized the proverbial bull by the you-know-whats and made the call to get me a retreat-spot on Cape Cod. Sending me kicking and screaming, that sort of thing.
And now I’m here in Sandwich, near the sea, land of great bicycling and even greater seafood. I’m loving it. Her instructions were explicit: “If you can write, that’s great. But you are not going there to get writing done. You are going there to shed all this and find yourself again. You are going to rediscover what it means to you to write a book, and why you want to do it.”
So, here I am. Too soon to be sure, but from preliminary signs, I think it might be working. (And I did write a bit last night.)
Here are some pix from the motel and the Cape Cod Canal bike trail.
Dragon Con Virtual is underway this weekend! As a scheduled program participant for the torpedoed-by-pandemic real-life con, I was asked to shoot a two-minute video greeting about why I love science fiction and Dragon Con. It’s probably up on their site somewhere, but blast if I know where, so I’m posting it here.
In the course of shooting the video, an imp appeared in the corner of my screen during one take. Where’d she come from?? It wasn’t my best take, but the imp was too charming not to keep. So here’s the Outtake—with Imp:
It all started with Allysen looking at the shelf space my movie collection was taking up. Collecting movies and, to a lesser extent, TV shows, has been a hobby of mine for over twenty years now—especially since we got a Panasonic DVD Recorder back around the turn of the century. (That was motivated in part by the space taken up by the VHS tapes I was recording off cable; we knew DVDs were far more compact.) So now I have all these big binders full of DVDs I’ve burned, and that’s not counting all the commercial DVDs in their plastic cases.
“I know it’s your hobby and you love it, but can’t you put all those movies on a big hard drive or something? Then we could put books on those shelves,” intoned Allysen thoughtfully and a little beseechingly.
“Not that simple,” responded I instantly and a touch defensively. “How would I then play the movies on our TV?”
“Oh,” mused Allysen, frowning in pensive thought. “I never thought of that.” And she went off with a flip of her hair to do whatever women do.
(Actually she gave a heartfelt sigh and said, “Never mind,” and went off to ponder some other intractable household problem.)
Notwithstanding the obvious decline of my writing skills during the pandemic, I couldn’t let the idea, once broached, go without at least a little research. And soon I discovered Plex, the free media-server software that lets you do just what Allysen said: Put all your movies on a hard drive, and play them on your TV, using your home wifi and Roku or Firestick or whatever you stream with. You can even put them on a home server, and then you don’t even have to have your computer turned on to watch your movies.
Fast forward: We now own a little black box called a Synology server, and in the black box are two big, honking 12TB hard drives, one serving as a backup to the other. I’ve been gradually, over the past couple of months, using the free Handbrake app to rip all my DVDs into mp4 files, and saving them to the server. I’m maybe a third of the way through the DVD collection at this point, and those binders are going one by one down to a spare filing cabinet in the basement.
How did it take me so long to discover Plex? It’s amazing. It helps you organize everything, and pulls in poster art, descriptions, and similar data for each movie. It even cross-references the leading actors in your collection. You can stream your media on your TV, your phone, tablet, laptop—even when you’re away from home. And you can share it with your friends, and host “watch together” movie nights, with your friends streaming simultaneously off your server! That last we haven’t put to the test yet, but we hope to, real soon now. Oh, it can also do the same with your music collection and photos.
While we were at it, we cut the cord from Xfinity, but perhaps that’s a story for another time.
I came back from walking the dogs and saw a wonderful triad of the Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn—in a clear sky (by Boston standards), and right above my driveway. If I’m ever going to bring that beautiful Celestron telescope down from the dining room, I thought, this should be the time. So I limbered up with some back exercises* and lugged it downstairs. What a beautiful view! The Moon was glorious, Jupiter was spectacular, and Saturn was elusive. Finally I found it, though, with its rings tilted at a rakish angle. I texted my family, I phoned them: Get down here!
This is them, taking their turns at the scope.
And here is the worst astronomical picture ever: Jupiter and the Galilean moons, imaged with an Android phone held shakily to the eyepiece. I thought all I’d gotten was a blur. But when I checked later, I was pleased to see a recognizable picture of the planet! (The big blue smudge is an artifact. Either that, or it’s Neptune, photobombing my shot.)
In a world filled with wildfires, hurricanes, pandemic, and walking calamities in high public office, sometimes you just need a little piece of the cosmos to calm you down.
*Not really, but I should have. That thing is heavy.
Generally my posts, if they’re not about things of general or quirky interest, are devoted to telling the world what I’m up to. (Not sure the world cares, but nevertheless…) But the longer this accursed pandemic goes on, and the political surrealism and all the rest of the anxiety about the world, the more I wonder: How are all of you doing?
I’m not a big Facebook participant or I’d probably already know. I don’t tweet or retweet or read tweets, and I don’t light tinders, nor do I gram anything in an instant. I used to like tumbling, but that was when I was young; tumblering now usually means I’ve taken a fall while rollerblading, and am grateful for all the pads I strap on.
Long way of saying, I don’t keep up much with social media, but I do wonder how all my friends and family are. HOW ARE YOU? Please leave a note and let me know!
Cat Rambo is former president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), and an author of considerable note. Instead of writing on my own blog today, I wrote on hers—a fairly detailed piece on audiobooks and how I went about it with my books. I called it “How I Ventured into Audiobooks and Lost My Shirt—Or Maybe Found It.” If audiobooks interest you, and especially if you’re a writer wondering how that whole thing works, why not step over there and take a look. Here’s a teaser:
Audiobooks are the current gold rush in publishing—or so they say, and you know “they” always know what they’re talking about. If you don’t get on the audiobook wagon, you are sure to lose out.
That might or might not be true. But one thing that is true, without a doubt, is that listening to a book narrated aloud is an experience unlike that of silently reading text. An audiobook can make or break a book for the listener. In the hands of a poor narrator, any book can be crushed. But in the hands of a skilled narrator, even humdrum text can take flight, and sparkling text can soar.…[continue reading]
Here we are, in beautiful New Zealand for worldcon! Except, of course, we’re not really, because coronavirus. We’re sitting in our dining room in front of our computers. Virtually, though, we are here! Havin’ a good time—especially when we can navigate the befuddlingly complicated login procedure to get where we’re going. (The price, I guess of running a con on multiple virtual platforms.) We’re learning a new app: Discord. We’re also learning to radically convert time-zones. New Zealand time is 16 hours ahead of us, which means that most of the time, they’re already in tomorrow, while we’re still in today.
Today (my time) was the second day of programming, and I have already been on two of the three panels that I’m participating in, via Zoom. The first was “Staying Closer to Home: Science Fiction in the Solar System,” which I know a little bit about. Just enough to get me into trouble. It was a good panel! The second was “Writers on Writing: The Plot’s the Thing,” which was about, um, plot and character and motivation and story structure, and all that good stuff. It, too, was a good panel! I’ve got one more—on Saturday, America-time—called “Ghosts in the Ships: Sentient Ships in SF and Fantasy.” I hope that one will be good, too. And I’d better do a little research on the subject before showtime.
Wish you could all be here in New Zealand with us! (If you’re sitting at home on your computer, you’re already halfway there.)