SpaceX Lands a Rocket the Way God Intended!

SpaceX_launch-landing

Straight down, on a tail of fire, that’s how. Anyone who’s read science fiction of the 1950s (Tom Corbett: Space Cadet being a particularly fine example), or seen Destination Moon—or, come to think of it, watched any Apollo landing on the Moon, knows that.

After several attempts, and several failures, SpaceX succeeded with a nighttime launch on December 21, hurling a satellite into orbit, and sending the first stage back to make a soft landing at Starbase Canaveral. It’s not just for show, though the sight was a beautiful one. The purpose is to bring down the cost of space travel by making it possible to reuse these rockets, instead of letting them burn up in the atmosphere or slam down in the ocean.

This is a remarkable achievement for SpaceX, and another step toward more affordable space travel.

Great photos at theverge.com

SpaceX_landing2

and a comparison of this achievement with the recent landing of the New Shepherd rocket from Blue Origin. (Hint: New Shepherd was an outstanding achievement, but this one went higher, faster, harder—and launched an actual satellite in the bargain.)

 

Schrödinger’s Sasquan—Part 3

It takes a good sense of humor to attend a worldcon. Last year, at Loncon, we procrastinated too long in getting a place to stay, and we wound up camping on a sailboat moored somewhere off the Thames. This year, we put in for a room early, and requested a room on a quiet floor of the main con hotel. (No more schlepping an hour each way to get to the con for us!) What did we get? A room two doors down from the con hospitality suite, open 24 hours a day!

To our surprise, it worked out okay. The soundproofing was good, and we were rarely bothered by the noise. And when we got the munchies around midnight, we just had to throw on some pants and shoes and go down the hall.

If there’s one thing (most) science fiction fans have in abundance, it’s a sense of humor. When I saw this T-shirt at Sasquan (just weeks after my attendance at the Schrödinger Sessions for SF writers), I knew I had to have it.

Wanted: Schrödinger’s Cat

After Sasquan, we visited relatives in the Puget Sound region, and got a further look at the extreme drought conditions currently afflicting the U.S. Northwest. The grass is brown, and even many bushes are brown. Here’s picture of a rhododendron that’s surely alive… and dead… all at the same time. (Not unlike some con-goers I saw early Sunday morning.)

Schrödinger’s Rhodo 

One personal highlight of the con was at last meeting my friend Ann, who for years has been helping me format my ebooks—yes, those same ebooks I’ve been flogging (not too relentlessly, I hope) for almost as long as I’ve been writing this blog. Ann lives in Washington, and all this time our communication has been by email. She’s a fan who offered to help, because it’s fun! (!!!) At last, we met face-to-face, and Allysen and I got to take her out to dinner, as a very small thank-you for all the work she’s done for us. (But was I smart enough to take a picture? Noooo…)

Finally, here’s some of the quirky fan art that accompanied Sasquan. I love fan art.

Artist: Fan GoH Brad Foster
Artist: Ray VanTilburg

And that’s my roundup of the 2015 Worldcon!

Sad Sad Puppies Affair—Sasquan Roundup, Part 2

During the lead-up to the worldcon and the Hugo Awards, there was a good deal of commotion about the attempt by the Sad Puppies coalition (consisting largely, but not entirely, of conservative white male writers), joined by the more toxic Rabid Puppies, to hijack the awards and stuff the final ballot with their choices of candidate works. I say “attempted,” but in fact they managed to overwhelm several of the major categories. (You might have heard about it on NPR, or read about it on Slate.com, or seen it elsewhere on the net, where it seemed to be ubiquitous. Personally, I tried to avoid spending much time reading about it, because life is short and mean-spirited drama is long.) If you’re unfamiliar with the controversy, those links will bring you up to speed. The bottom line: A group of conservative-to-rabid voters organized to game the awards this year. In response, a couple of thousand more convention registrants than usual showed up to vote, in defense of an open awards process.

After a long, angry buildup, many con-goers expected to see blood in the hallways of the convention center. It didn’t happen. David Gerrold, one of two author Guests of Honor (Vonda McIntyre was the other), was a target of some nasty pre-con slurring, and he could have chosen to lash out in his GoH speech. He did not. In fact, he delivered a classy affirmation of his love of science fiction and science fiction fandom (transcript here). His only reference to the whole affair was an expression of gratitude to those (not present) who had helped clarify in his mind what he wanted to say. Connie Willis, who had earlier declined to be a presenter, showed up in mid-program to cheer on the process.

David Gerrold and Tananarive Due MC the Hugos

Awards time came, and in five categories that had been largely or completely taken over by the puppies, the voters chose “No Award,” in a clear repudiation of the hijack attempt. You can see the final results here, including the categories voted “no award.” My congratulations to the winners! But it was not a victory without price.

While I stand firmly with the rejection of the gaming effort of the SPs, I feel for those writers and editors who were hurt by the whole affair. Some innocent writers and editors were unwillingly associated with the puppies slate, because the SPs happened to like their work. Other worthy individuals were kept off the final ballot because of the stuffing. Still, the winning novel, The Three Body Problem, by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu), got its place on the ballot because another author withdrew his work after receiving support from the stuffers.

Some say that the Hugo Awards as an institution were strengthened by the voters’ repudiation of the attempt to game the system, and I hope that turns out to be true. But it’s hard to say that there were winners in the affected categories. Those writers who were shut out may get another chance, another year, and then again they may not. Either way, it has to hurt.

For perhaps the most thorough summary of the matter, I recommend this article from Wired, which includes coverage of “supplementary awards,” the Alfies, created and handed out with great cheer by Game of Thrones’ George R.R. Martin. In all, I have to agree with his summation, that vindication of the process came with considerable regret.

If you’d like to watch the entire proceedings, you can stream the Hugo Awards video here:

Worldcon, Spokane, and Wildfire Smoke

We’re enjoying the start of Sasquan, the 2015 World Science Fiction Convention (aka worldcon) in lovely Spokane, Washington. The Spokane (rhymes with can) Convention Center is located right next to the aptly named Spokane River, with a beautiful riverside park. We’ve already seen a number of friends, and I listened to a great talk by a Vatican astronomer on astronomical models that were almost right, but not quite—usually because the astronomers of the time didn’t make the leap from the data they had to imagining the right questions to ask.

The air, however, is a bit thick here. Washington state and neighboring Canada have a lot of wildfires going, and it makes for uncomfortable breathing at times—and eerily red sunsets. My phone camera failed to catch the effect, so I don’t have a good picture. But here’s a map of the fires currently going, and you can see that the U.S. Northwest and Canada are getting the brunt of it. But the smoke is actually carrying all the way across the U.S. on the jetstream.

http://www.smokeybear.com/wildfire-map.asp

On our drive from Seattle to Spokane, we stopped off to see the Grand Coulee Dam, and I talked to a U.S. Forest Service guy who had also stopped to see the dam. He was on his way to a fire. I asked what his role was. He said he manages a group of helicopters that takes firefighters in to rappel down close to fires in hopes of cutting them off before they can spread. Gottta hand it to those guys!

Meanwhile, if you’re attending the con, I hope you’ll stop by one of my events and say hello. Today (Thursday) I’m on a panel about Book View Cafe, an author collaborative. Saturday I’m autographing, and also participating on a panel on Space Opera.

Pluto! And Charon!

Charon and Pluto, seen from New Horizons

Today’s the day! NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will whiz past Pluto at a distance of only 7800 miles today—in fact, by the time you read this, will already have made the flyby! This little spacecraft has sent us some amazing pictures of Pluto and Charon, and if everything goes right, they will only get better. The spacecraft will be out of contact with Earth during the flyby, the better to frantically shoot pictures and hoover up as much data as it can during the brief encounter. That data will be sent back at a very slow bit-rate, because of the distance, and will take over a year to be transmitted in its entirety!

I’ve always felt that Pluto, way out in the dark of farthest interplanetary space, was one of our most fascinating planets. And yes, the astronomers have agreed now that it’s a dwarf planet—but to me, it will always be our ninth planet.

In fact, when I was a kid, a favorite science fiction novel was called Secret of the Ninth Planet, by Donald A. Wollheim (who later went on to found DAW Books). It involved a kid traveling on an emergency expedition to visit all the planets of the solar system, to learn why the sun was getting dimmer. They found out, all right—it was a bunch of crummy, scum-sucking aliens, who had planted special antennae on each planet, to somehow draw off power from the sun for the aliens’ nefarious purposes. It took cleverness, grit, and maybe a few nukes, but we took care of that. I read that story at least a dozen or two dozen times when I was at a certain age.

You can download this science fiction classic from Project Gutenberg.

Oh, and you can follow the real-life Pluto mission here on space.com or here at NASA. Don’t miss it!

My Five-Minute Essay on Hello Horatio

Hello Horatio is a brand-new website featuring a lot of short essays on this or that, with the common thread being an interest in saying something personal about the deeper meanings of life, and generally sharing our stories. The name Horatio comes from the line in Hamlet: “There is more in heaven and earth, Horatio, than is dreamt of in your philosophy.”

The unstated (at least so far) goal of the site is to encourage open conversations among people of faith, of different faiths, of secular faith, or of no faith at all—in short, to quit worrying about how we label ourselves or each other, and to share what we think about things that matter. I chose to share why I find science fiction to be such an important way of thinking about life and my place in it. It’s called “A Fine View of the Universe,” and here’s how it starts…

“A few years ago, a new remake of an old TV show hit the airwaves and created quite a stir. The show was Battlestar Galactica, and its arrival in the form of a four-hour miniseries signaled a creative breakthrough…” [read more]

I was a little startled to see that my daughter also has a piece just up, called “A Car Accident Rescued Me from My Wrong Life.” It starts…

“I’m so glad I got hit by a car…” [read more]

Surely that should get your attention. Take a look at some of the other essays while you’re there. They’re all short, and pretty interesting.

Back By Popular Demand: The Rapture Effect!

Even if the popular demand is just from me the marketing department at Starstream Publications, we prove once again that we listen to our customers. My standalone novel, The Rapture Effect, is once more available in ebook format, this time from my own imprint and Book View Café!

Here’s the blurb:

War between the stars. It was started by an AI, and few humans even knew there was a war at all. But now people are dying, not just robots and aliens—and the AI wants it to stop. But a war is easier to start than to stop, and the computer can’t alter its course without outside help. When the Gnostic Control System searches for conspirators, it chooses its friends carefully…

  • Pali: a public relations director, who broods far too much on her unfulfilled ambitions.
  • Ramo: a flamboyant senso-dancer and sculptor, who prefers a musical jamdam to serious conversation.
  • Sage: an awkward systems designer, for whom the AI rapture-field is realer than life.
  • And three of the alien Ell: Harybdartt, who would rather die with dignity than betray his people; Lingrhetta, who tries to unravel the meaning of human dance and music, pain and love; and Moramaharta, the binder, who must persuade his fellow decision-makers to risk everything for the sake of a fragile bridge of understanding across the stars.

A thought-provoking novel of the not-too-distant future, from the Nebula-nominated author of Eternity’s End and The Chaos Chronicles.

The Rapture Effect is a lively dance of ideas—first contact, interstellar war, artificial intelligence, alien culture—and it moves at a rapid pace, from Earth through cyberspace to the Horsehead Nebula, and various points between. It’s well-worth the trip ticket.” —Roger Zelazny

Art by David B. Mattingly, cover design by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff

Here’s a little glimpse inside:

Q. Then the . . . war . . . is being fought by . . . AI-units?
A. Yes.
Q. And who is the enemy?
A. Unknown. An alien race.
Q. You mean our first contact with an alien race is a war? A secret war?
A. Yes.
Q. Who manufactures the AI-units?
A. The Company.
Q. Who is conducting the war?
A. The Company.
Q. Who knows about this?
A. The Company, the government, and you.

The Haldemans Retire from MIT

Science fiction writer Joe Haldeman and his wonderful wife Gay have retired from part-time teaching at MIT, after thirty years of teaching students the craft of fiction writing (Joe) and the art of writing clear, comprehensible English prose (Gay). Florida residents most of the year—unless you call them Earth residents, because I’ve never known a more well-traveled couple—they’ve been coming to Cambridge every Fall for the last thirty years, and we’ve managed to snag a dinner with them many of those years.

Joe was one of the first professionals I met when I was a new writer entering the science fiction field. At the time, he was all the buzz in the industry because he’d snared a record-setting advance for his novel Mindbridge. He introduced me to Jim Frenkel, who soon became my editor and friend.  Years later, when Joe became seriously ill in the Fall of 2009, I had the privilege of stepping in for him, teaching his SF writing class at MIT for a semester.

Joe and Gay (Jim Kelly referred to them as “Joe-and-Gay, like space-time”) got to watch my kids grow up in time-lapse fashion. My younger daughter Julia once wondered aloud, as a teenager, why her own contemporaries weren’t as much fun as Joe and Gay.

Here are a couple of pix taken at their retirement dinner at MIT, on a balcony overlooking Boston’s beautiful Charles River basin.

Gay and Joe Haldeman, September 2014

Me, Joe, and Jim Kelly
We’re going to miss our annual dinners. But if anyone has earned a happy retirement, it’s Joe and Gay.

3D Printing Now—and Then

I was reading recently about the delivery of the first 3D printer in space to the International Space Station, by the SpaceX Dragon cargo spaceship. You can read all about it here, and it’s pretty cool.

Not long after, I was reading a piece of fiction I’ve had around for a while that included this paragraph:

Igor’s countrymen, though lacking many earth techniques, were far ahead of earth in manufacturing skill. They used a single general type of machine to manufacture almost anything. They fed into it a plan which Igor called for want of a better term the blueprints—it was in fact, a careful scale model of the device to be manufactured; the machine retooled itself and produced the artifact. One of them was, at that moment, moulding the bodies of fighting planes out of plastic, all in one piece and in one operation.

That’s from Robert Heinlein’s “Elsewhen,” first published in 1941. It’s included in the collection Assignment in Eternity.


That man had some vision. 

From a Changeling Star . . . Is Back!

If for some odd reason you’d been monitoring my author page at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Apple these last couple of weeks, you would have seen nine of my books disappear from the listings. No, it’s not the battle between Amazon and Hachette. It’s that I’ve recovered the rights to these books (amicably) from the previous publisher, and I’m preparing my own ebook editions. (Probably paper editions, too, for the ones I have those rights to. But that’s further down the road.)

Well, the first one is making its reappearance. From a Changeling Star is live at the Kindle store, in progress at the Nook store, and set for “pre-order” at the Apple and Kobo stores (where it will release on July 22, same day as at Book View Café). The sequel, Down the Stream of Stars, is not far behind.

Edit: It’s now also available at Nook, iTunes, Kobo, and Book View Cafe!

Beneath the roiling surface of Betelgeuse, scientists anxiously await the one man essential to the success of Starmuse, the greatest engineering project in human history. But on Kantano’s World, Willard Ruskin battles invisible agents for control of his life, his physical form, and even his memories. Drawn into a conflict from which not even death will free him, Ruskin must find a way to reach Betelgeuse before his enemies sabotage Starmuse—and humanity’s future among the stars. A harrowing journey from inside the human cell… to the mind of a dying star.

A stunning blend of hard science fiction with moving characterization, both human and otherwise. Introduces the robot Jeaves, familiar to readers of The Chaos Chronicles. From the Nebula-nominated author of Eternity’s End.

Original print publication by Bantam Spectra. A Locus bestseller.

These other books will be back, in due course: 
Panglor
Star Rigger’s Way
Dragons in the Stars*
Dragon Rigger* 
Seas of Ernathe
The Infinity Link
The Rapture Effect
*These two are still available in the boxed set, Dragon Space. Which is still on sale at the price-buster price of $1.99! Until midnight tonight, July 9, EDT! Go find it! 
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