Rocket Ride, Redux

My short-short story, “Rocket Ride: a Short Day’s Journey Into Space,” saw its second publication (slightly updated) last weekend, in the travel section of the Dallas Morning News (sans title). It’s a fun little piece that I wrote originally on commission from the Boston Herald travel editor, at a time when the Ansari X-Prize deadline was looming. Now, that prize has been won—which was why I had to update the story slightly.

Funny how these things happen. I’ve probably earned more per word, and per hour, on this story than on any other piece of fiction I’ve written. (Which tells you that, by and large, fiction doesn’t pay all that well.) I wrote it while on vacation at my in-laws in Puerto Rico, sitting under a cork tree.

Oops. I see you need to be registered to get to that link I put up above. Odd, I viewed the story just fine by following links to the travel section. Oh well, you can see the same story on my web site, if you’re interested. The pre-updated version, at the moment. Until I get around to uploading the changes.

Writing Progress

While doing all this home renovation, I have been trying to keep the writing projects in motion.

The page proofs for Battlestar Galactica: the Miniseries have arrived, so it’s time to go through the novel one more time. Advance reading copies are probably being printed as I speak, for the sales department and chain buyers, etc. Still awaiting word, though, on actual approval by the studio.

Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to return to work on Sunborn, the fourth book of The Chaos Chronicles. As usual, when I return to my own work after some time away, my eyes react to the sight of my manuscript like Teflon to water. It’s maybe a little worse this time, because this first draft has more than its share of problems. Oy. Does it. I’ve got my work cut out for me, rewriting and taming this book. I may need that chain saw again.

Home Renovations & Homeschool R Us

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Since last I logged on, I’ve mostly been trying to keep up with cascading home renovation chores. That, and being on call for homeschool duties. (Both girls are taking online courses through the Virtual High School. One is taking algebra to catch up on some ground lost last year, and maybe get ahead. The other is taking a chemistry review as prep for an environmental science course next year. And I am being forced to remember things about both subjects that I haven’t thought about in many years.)

But the renovation—aughh. Started with a kitchen floor needing to be replaced. Then a sink cabinet. Then something else, and another. The first parts we paid people to do, but we’ve been working on our own since February. And now the kitchen is almost done—but the hallway wall plaster is disintegrating, and we have company coming with small children, so that has to be repaired. And…oh, the list goes on.

Taking my frustrations outside last weekend, I tried to take down a mulberry tree that’s been plaguing me for years, growing right up against the corner of our garage. I’ve never used a chain saw before, but I rented one and had at the tree. I should have saved my money. That soft-wooded tree defeated the chain saw. It has so much liquid inside it that I couldn’t get more than a couple of inches into the wood before the saw just spun and smoked and skidded over the wet wood. I couldn’t believe it. I still don’t believe it. Out there the tree still stands, with a wedge sort of cut out of it. It looks like it was attacked by a beaver with bad dentures. Hand saw next. Either that, or I swallow my pride and pay someone to remove it.

Hal’s Worlds

Hal Clement was a towering figure in hard science fiction, probably best known for his seminal novel, Mission of Gravity, recently reissued as part of Heavy Planet: The Classic Mesklin Stories. I was awed by his work when I read it as a young adult, and I still point to Mission of Gravity as a classic example of SF world-building in the truest sense of the word. Hal’s real name was Harry C. Stubbs, and his life experiences ranged from World War II bomber pilot to high school science teacher. He lived in the Boston area, where he had more friends than wildflowers in a meadow. Not long after his death a couple of years ago, a particularly close-knit group of his friends, a writing group called “Hal’s Pals,” put forth the idea of a memorial anthology which would include essays about people’s memories of Hal, as well as short stories in the Hal Clement tradition.

That book is now a reality. Called Hal’s Worlds, it has just been released by Wildside Press in trade paperback. I’m happy to have been asked to contribute a piece, and so it includes a short essay I wrote on my personal interactions with Hal. I held the book in my hands at Readercon, but don’t yet have a copy of my own. It’s a fine-looking volume, with quite a lineup of writers who wanted to offer a tribute to Hal. You can buy a copy directly from the web site of Wildside Press.

All author and editor royalties from the book are being donated to two charities selected by Hal’s widow.

Byron Preiss (1953-2005)

Science fiction publisher/editor/writer/packager/entrepreneur Byron Preiss died in a car accident last Saturday, while driving to his synagogue in New York. He was a significant figure in the SF publishing world (and not only SF—he published in many areas). I learned of his death from my agent, who said, “It is shocking beyond belief and the entire publishing community is stunned. Although Byron was controversial in many ways, he was a friend, and he left a wife and two young children.”

I didn’t really know Byron personally—I think I met him only once or twice. But recently he brought out a new edition of my novel From a Changeling Star under his iBooks imprint, and he was planning to do the same with Down the Stream of Stars. Years earlier, I wrote my novel Roger Zelazny’s Alien Speedway: Clypsis under the aegis of Byron Preiss Visual Productions. It was a quick project that turned out to be great fun in much the way the Battlestar Galactica novel was, and a project that brought me new readers and more fan mail than I’d gotten from all my other books combined. I had had hopes that he would one day reissue it through iBooks.

Byron had a wife and two daughters, just as I do. One of them was 16 years old—the same age as my older daughter, as of two days ago. That’s what hit me the hardest.

There’s a fuller tribute to him at


I’ll be at Readercon off and on this weekend. Readercon is one of the best conventions for people who really love written SF and are interested in hearing serious discussion of SF as literature. That doesn’t mean it’s above silliness, mind you. One of the major events is the Kirk Poland Memorial Bad Prose Competition, which is a combination of total silliness and an appreciation of the finer points of style (bad style). If you’re in or near the Boston area, check it out (click the link above for more info).

I’m on a panel tonight (Friday) on the Hal’s World memorial anthology, a tribute to the late great Hal Clement. I’m autographing Saturday at noon. And moderating a panel Sunday at 1 p.m., called “If This Goes On.”

See you there!

Cosmic Whack-a-Mole

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By any standard, the great thumping whack delivered by the Deep Impact probe on Comet Tempel 1 has to be considered pretty cool. I haven’t seen any video yet, but for full coverage of the mission, along with the “Top 10” still photos of the event, I suggest a side trip to I can’t add anything useful to what they’ve said there, other than to wave people into the auditorium.

The impact does put me in mind, though, of John Bandicut’s (and Charlie’s!) game of cosmic billiards in the first book of my Chaos Chronicles: Neptune Crossing. In that case, they were out to demolish an errant comet that threatened Earth—and using the same nifty alien technology that got them to the comet, convert the energy from the impact into a spatial translation that zipped our friends off to Shipworld, out at the edge of the galaxy. We’re not to that point in our technology yet, alas. But maybe someone like the quarx Charlie will come along and help us out one of these days.

Go see that coverage now.

Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia — at Boston’s Publick Theater

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The other night I went with my daughter’s drama workshop group to see the opening performance of Arcadia, by Tom Stoppard, at an outdoor theater in Boston called the Publick Theater. It was a wonderful performance of a witty and funny play, with two parallel plots set in the same English country house two hundred years apart, involving Fermat’s Last Theorem, the thermodynamics of steam engines, a literary detective story, a possible murder involving Lord Byron, and naturally, sex. It’s one of those plays that you have to work hard to keep up with—but it’s a pleasure, because it’s so much fun. I hope to see it again during its run, to catch all the details I missed the first time around. Terrific cast.

For any of you who are in the Boston area, I strongly recommend it. Arcadia is playing now, and off and on through the summer. (See the Publick Theater web site.)

Re: Ideas

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I came across this the other day, and thought it apropos:

“My stories run up and bite me on the leg—I respond by writing down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off.” —Ray Bradbury

Questions About Writing #7: Will You Write It For Me?

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This one pops up every once in a while—in fact, it happened again not long ago. Someone emailed me saying, I’ve worked out this great idea for a story. Would you like to write it for me?

Well, actually, no. I wouldn’t.

The polite explanation of why I wouldn’t, to which I always refer correspondents, is on my web site at

It used to surprise me when people did this. I’m not surprised anymore, but I still find it very odd that someone who has an idea he or she is proud of or finds compelling would even want to turn it over to a complete stranger—even if the stranger were willing. Of course, most people who propose this think they’ll hand the idea to you, you’ll do all the work, and then split the vast earnings fifty-fifty. Right. (Of course, they probably also guess that writing is a lucrative business. Anyone want to take a second guess?)

Like most writers, I have files full of ideas for stories, things I might get to someday if inspiration strikes, and if I live long enough. Given that writing is very hard work, and very iffy in terms of financial payback, why would I want to take time away from my own stories to write yours?

Unless you’re offering to front the money, of course. And that’s why writers are willing to set aside some time to do things like write movie novelizations or spin-off novels (set in the same universe as a movie or TV show). It’s because there’s a certain amount of guaranteed income, because it’s fun if you enjoyed the original, and because it’s almost certain to sell well and be really good advertising for your own books. It’s not like everyone who reads your Star Wars or Star Trek (or Galactica) novel is going to run right out and buy your other books—but some of them will. And you’ve gained a lot of visibility.

But back to he-who-would-have-his-story-written… my bottom-line response is, don’t you want to write it yourself? It’s your idea, your passion. Don’t just talk about it, get in there and do it! Give it your voice, your personality. That’s what writing is all about. Yes?

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