Vonda N. McIntyre, 1948-2019

The science fiction world lost another giant with the passing of Vonda N. McIntyre on April 1, and I lost a friend and colleague. Vonda was probably best known for her Nebula and Hugo Award-winning novel, Dreamsnake, which was feminist and compassionate and insightful, and also heartbreakingly beautiful. But she wrote lots of other books, as well, including several Star Trek novels, and The Moon and the Sun, filmed in 2014 as The King’s Daughter with Pierce Brosnan and William Hurt, but not yet released. Vonda died two months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and she finished writing her last novel, Curve of the World, just days before leaving us.

Though I had met Vonda once or twice before, we first really got to know each other at the Launchpad Astronomy Workshop, where we were classmates in the first session, in 2007. A few years later, when I was going it mostly alone publishing my backlist in ebook form, she invited me to apply for membership in Book View Café, the writer-coop of which she was a founding member and one of the most active volunteers. That’s where I really saw her tireless efforts helping others. We worked together on picky ebook-formatting questions, and on customer support, a job that I took over from her. We only met in person on one more occasion, I think—at Sasquan, the SF Worldcon in Spokane, in 2015, where she was Co-Guest of Honor. But with the magic of the internet and BVC, she felt like an essential part of my book-publishing community. I miss her already.

For more complete tributes to her life and career, see the Guardian and New York Times obituaries.

Here’s something Vonda would have loved to see, if only she’d been with us a little longer, the first picture of a black hole:

I like to think she’s somewhere right now, smiling at that, perhaps having gone to visit M87 in person!

Playing Timpani on the Fourth of July!

Here’s a picture of my daughter Lexi and her friend Connor trying out our new timpani (kettle drums) during our Fourth of July cookout. New timpani? In the back yard? Does this require a little explanation?

Last Sunday, Allysen was scanning our town email list, and she came across an unusual item: Things being discarded during clean-out of old school building, including this, that, and two kettle drums. “Do we want kettle drums?” she asked me. “Why not?” I said, and we hopped into the trusty Ranger to go take a look. Sure enough, two old but serviceable-looking copper kettle drums were beside the dumpster. Soon thereafter, they were in our back yard.

I played snare and bass drum (and clarinet) in my high school marching band, but I haven’t played any kind of drum since then. Maybe it’s not too late! These didn’t come with any sticks or mallets, so I popped into our neighborhood drum store. The owner, having worked with the schools, knew all about these drums. He said they were good ones (if in need of some repair to the base of one), and he made a call to confirm for me that they had indeed been put out for anyone to take. He was sold out of mallets, unfortunately, but the local guitar store had some that would do for now.

And so, for the Fourth of July, I called upon our guests to hum the melody of the theme to 2001, while I expertly (?) played the prominent timpani part: Boom boom boom boom boom boom boom boom. Maybe a new career for me?

Next challenge: See if we can fit them through the door into the basement!

Larry Predicts a Red Nova in 2022

I was just reading in Astronomy Magazine that astronomers have predicted that a binary pair of stars will merge into one in 2022, and set off an explosion called a red nova, similar to this image of V838 Monocerotis, from the Hubble space telescope. It’ll be as bright as the North Star, and last for up to six months. That’s a pretty striking prediction, and not the sort of prediction astronomers usually make. (More here.) But here’s the thing…

I was most of the way through the article when I went, Wait—who? I scrolled back up to read again, who’s being quoted here. I wasn’t seeing things—it’s Lawrence Molnar of Calvin College in Michigan. Way to go, Larry! Larry Molnar and his wife Cindy are friends from way back, having lived right above us for several years right after Allysen and I got married. We went to the same church; we exchanged babysitting. He was my first consultant on the question of how one could theoretically set off a supernova (From a Changeling Star), and he introduced me to other consultants at Center for Astrophysics at Harvard. We also made a snow dog together (modeled on Sam, our first border collie mix), back in the 1980s.

Larry, Snow-Sam, Jeff

This is cool. I’m going to be watching, Larry, to see if it happens on time.

Curly and Moe were not mentioned as participants in the study.*

*Sorry. That’s the only part of this post that’s an April Fools joke. The rest is real.