Saturday, June 25, 2016

[links] Zombie Genes and Other Wonders

In the midst of much craziness in the political world, here are a few treasures to remind us this is also a fascinating, awesomely beautiful place.

Hundreds of Genes Spring Back to Life in the Days After Death

The majority of these zombie genes were not random in terms of function. Each of them play an important role when an animal experiences some kind of trauma or illness. For example, some genes that were ramped up are responsible for stimulating inflammation and the immune system as well as for countering stress. Some genetic activity, like a gene that’s responsible for embryonic development, baffled the scientists. Noble suspects that this gene becomes active because the cellular environment in dead bodies must somehow resemble those found in embryos.

Importantly, several genes that promote cancer also became active. This may explain why many organ donor recipients develop cancer. This tidbit of information could help scientists develop better methods of organ preservation prior to transplantation.

Some of History's Most Beautiful Combs Were Made for Lice Removal

“Most ancient combs are double-sided and have more teeth on one side than the other,” wrote Mumcuoglu and Zias. “The user would straighten his or her hair with the side that had the fewer teeth and then whisk away lice and louse eggs with the finer and more numerous teeth on the other side of the comb.”

Is 'when we eat' as important as 'what we eat'?
Eating inconsistently may affect our internal body clock or 'circadian rhythms' which typically follow a 24-hour cycle. Many nutritionally related metabolic processes in the body follow a circadian pattern such as appetite, digestion and the metabolism of fat, cholesterol and glucose. Food intake can influence our internal clocks, particularly in organs such as the liver and intestine, whilst our central clock is also regulated by the dark/light cycle which in turn can affect food intake. Chrono-nutrition involves studying the impact of nutrition on metabolic processes and how these may be influenced by and also alter circadian patterns through nutrient intake (ir)regularity, frequency and clock time.

99m-year-old lizard trapped in amber could give clue to 'lost ecosystem'

Scientists believe the chameleon-like creature was an infant when it was trapped in a gush of sticky resin while darting through a tropical forest in what is now Myanmar. The creature’s entire body, including its eyes and colorful scales, was unusually well-preserved, Stanley said. The other reptiles trapped in the amber, including a gecko and an arctic lizard, were also largely intact.

And finally, splendor from the heavens: three bright nebulae in the constellation Sagittarius.


Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit - The Morning After

Dear friends in the U.K., I send you condolences and hugs. Prompted by Cliff Winnig, here is a quote from one of your many great writers:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
 "So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Orlando Heavy on My Heart

“Where were you when you heard?” In my life, that question has referred to so many terrible events. The earliest one I remember was the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I was in high school and was old enough to have vivid memories of walking down the corridor, not yet knowing what had happened but knowing it was something dreadful, the hushed voices, and most of all, the expression on the face of my favorite teacher as he told us the news. I recalled this while driving my younger daughter to her own high school and turning on the radio to hear, “The second tower is down!” To each generation, I thought. Columbine, Charleston, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, the Oklahoma City bombing, the list goes on.

My older daughter and I were returning from our college reunion when we stopped for lunch and I glanced at the newspaper rack and saw the news about the Orlando shooting. That same sense of surreal horror swept over me. Both of us had the thought that the world, our world anyway, would never be the same. In trying to grapple with events like this one or the others mentioned above, I find myself looking for events in my own life. That’s a thing we primates do, we put things into personal context.

I am intimately familiar with my own journey through the brutal murder of my mother, but that is not a good analogy. Her death, as devastating as it was, was an individual, one-on-one act of violence. Nobody blamed her or in any way implied she was somehow responsible for what happened to her. Closer emotionally are the stories my father used to tell of his boyhood in a small village in the Ukraine just after the Russian Revolution, when Cossacks would ride into town, line up all the Jewish boys, and shoot them. Today we find such acts heinous; nobody says the Jews deserved what they got at Auschwitz.

Yet that is exactly what some public figures have been saying about the young men and women who were having a night of dancing off the stress of their lives at Pulse. That is one of the ways in which this shooting stands apart from the others.

I found that as the days roll past, my distress at the Orlando shooting increased rather than diminishing. I kept having the thought, Except for not knowing many folks who go to night clubs, that could have been someone I love. That same daughter I was traveling with is part of the LGBT community. So are my other daughter and her wife. So is my sister and her partner. So are so many people I love.

That could have been my child or my sister or my brother or my best friend. That could have been me.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Juliette Wade's "Dive Into Worldbuilding" Show Now Has a Patreon

Deborah, thank you for inviting me to post at your blog!

If you come here to read about Deborah's work, I have a suspicion that you enjoy good worldbuilding. Deborah is an expert at it, and it's also one of my favorite things to do. I've been privileged to talk with her about it on many occasions, including when I hosted her on my show, Dive into Worldbuilding. Dive into Worldbuilding is a live weekly discussion of language and culture topics for worldbuilders. Once or twice a month, I have a guest author come and talk about their work. The best example I can show you is Deborah herself, when she came to talk about her fascinating series, The Seven-Petaled Shield.

The transcript is here.

We focused in particular on the cultural models she'd chosen for the different coexisting societies in the series, and on the way she decided to work with many different languages that not all the characters could speak.

On the other weeks of the month, we come together to discuss a wide variety of topics such as colors, economics, language differences, bathrooms, cities, body modification, and many others.

Starting today, I'm expanding what I'm able to do with the show by starting a Patreon and creating the Dive into Worldbuilding workshop. The funds raised by the Patreon will support me in my running of the show and my research on panel topics; they will also allow me to pay my guest authors for their valuable insights and time.

[Deborah adds: This is an excellent thing!}

Where the workshop and the Patreon intersect is in the rewards I'm offering for patrons. At each level, patrons receive things like worldbuilding prompts, research links, a peek into my worldbuilding journal, the ability to ask me worldbuilding questions, an in-depth analysis of your work, or even a personal consultation. Essentially, becoming a patron means you're signing up to participate in the workshop at whatever level you prefer.

If you're looking to dive deeper into your worldbuilding, join us!

Monday, June 6, 2016

A Few Short Fiction Reviews (AKA Authors to Watch)

Once upon a time, I tried to keep current with short fiction, but have failed miserably in recent years. Therefore, when the urge to read these stories strikes, I seize the moment. Recently, I dove into a pile of unread sf/f magazines, most of them freebies from the Nebula Awards weekend, World Fantasy Con, and similar events.

Why should you bother to read reviews of short fiction, that most evanescent form, gone once the magazines have been pulled from their racks to make room for the next issue? (Setting aside online magazines, which number among their virtues the ability to keep back issues available indefinitely, and the ease with which authors can now publish collections of their work.) The answer is author discoverability. Reading short fiction is a great way to find new authors, with relatively little investment in time and the price of an entire book.

Back in the dawn of time, when I began writing professionally, conventional wisdom stated that the way to begin a career was with short fiction, crafting one’s literary skills and building an audience in preparation for that first novel sale. For some, this advice worked well, but for others, it turned out to be nonsense. Some authors are natural novelists; that’s the size story their brains come up with. They can on occasion “write short,” but it’s not their preferred length. The other pitfall was for the magazine editors. They’d discover a new author, delight in publishing increasingly ambitious stories, and then have the source dry up when the author switched to novels and no longer had time for short fiction (or at the same level of production). Magazines remain the point of professional entry for many writers, and because established writers do continue to write short fiction, they’re still a great place to find new authors to love.

Here are some of my favorites, presented in reverse-chronological but idiosyncratic fashion. I’ve picked one or two stories from each magazine that stood out for me. Others were marvelous and well-received, so their omission should not be taken as criticism.

Analog, July/August 2014. “Mind Locker,” by Juliette Wade. Wade is a rising star in the field, blending superb world-building, thoughtful treatment of issues, and some of the best alien races I’ve read recently. “Mind Locker” is a weird blend of near-future dystopia, VR zombies, mind-linked communities of outcasts, and a bunch of other nifty stuff. One of the things I like best about Wade’s work is how much she trusts the reader to figure things out.

Asimov’s, June 2014. “Ormond and Chase,” by Ian Creasey. Since my husband is an avid gardener, this tale of botanical genetic modification was especially amusing, especially creating plant dummies of the entire government. Come to think of it, I am not entirely sure that hasn’t already happened. “Murder in the Cathedral ” by Lavie Tidhar. The story begins, “The year is 1888 and in London the Lizard-Queen Victoria reigns supreme… Meanwhile in France, sentient machines joined by humans form the Quiet Consort, maintaining French independence…” Steampunk and lizards, how delicious!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

THUNDERLORD cover reveal

Here's the cover for Thunderlord, to be released from DAW in August. The art is by the wonderful Matt Stawicki, who did the paintings for The Children of Kings and The Seven-Petaled Shield trilogy. (And yes, the resonances with Stormqueen! are deliberate -- this is a sequel.)

You can pre-order it from Amazon or Barnes & Noble in ebook and hardcover formats.