Friday, October 27, 2017

Short Book Reviews: AI and Woman Explore Common Humanity

A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers (Harper Voyager, 2017). Despite being a sequel to A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, this story stands beautifully on its own. Through alternating flashback and present points of view, two characters embark upon very different journeys with the same question: what does it mean to be a person? 

Sidra was once Lovelace, an AI controlling a space ship. Now she finds herself in an artificial body that in most ways mimics that of a human woman. She’s cut off from the multiple audio and visual inputs that have defined her world, besieged by physical sensations and social expectations, and at risk of exposure. 

Her guide and companion, Pepper, has a troubled and traumatic past as a cloned child-slave. Chance and luck freed her, then ten years old, from a factory where she sorted and repaired trashed equipment, then led her to a buried spaceship, whose AI provided her with the only loving parenting she had known. Pepper’s past struggles beautifully mirror and inform Sidra’s present quest. 

Sympathetic characters, fascinating alien cultures, nicely paced action, and understated depth mark this as a book to savor and re-read.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Monday, October 23, 2017

Crossroads of Darkover Story Lineup

Here's the lineup for the next Darkover anthology, which I have edited. Release date is May 2, 2018:

The Short, Inglorious War, by Rebecca Fox

A Study in Sixes, by Gabrielle Harbowy

A Plague of Aunts, by Jane M. H. Bigelow

Quevrailleth’s Sister, by Leslie Fish

The Cobbler to His Last, Rosemary Edghill and India Edghill

Night of Masks, by Diana L. Paxson

The Song of Star Girl, by Marella Sands

The Raptor Matrix, by Evey Brett

Trust, by Jenna Rhodes

A Game of Kings, by Shariann Lewitt

Wind-Born, by Pat MacEwen

Snowquake, by Robin Wayne Bailey

Tricky Things, by Robin Rowland and Deborah J. Ross

Crème de la Crème, by Deborah Millitello

Friday, October 20, 2017

Short Book Reviews: Murder Mystery in a City Without Night

A Man of Shadows by Jeff Noon, Angry Robot, 2017. 

From the first page, I loved this surreal, hallucinatory world. The story centers on a city where eternal day is created by artificial lightning: every space is saturated with brilliance, and the entire society depends upon those with the never-ending task of replacing light bulbs as they burn out. Without natural night and day, the usual measurement of time becomes meaningless, giving the city’s inhabitants the choice of living by many calendars; some are the products of commerce (“Business Standard Time”) but others are whimsical and capricious. Sometimes it’s all a person can do to keep with the necessary changes to their wristwatch. Not surprisingly, many suffer disorders of time due to constant disruption of the body’s internal rhythms. The luscious prose and bizarre imagery perfectly reflect the disorientation of the characters.

Outside the city lies a treacherous region of Dusk, transversable only by special trains, and beyond it, Nocturna. (A few asides refer to regions outside the city’s influence, where crows grow and cows graze in unaltered days and nights, so we know the entire planet has not succumbed to artificial divisions of day and night.) Mysterious mists swirl through Dusk, and those who venture into them emerge changed or not at all. Not surprisingly, Dayzone is far from idyllic, beset by not only light-sickness but a serial killer and kidnappings. The protagonist, a private detective named Nyquist, is drawn into this dark side of light when he takes on the case of the missing daughter of a wealthy, powerful man. His search reveals not only dangerous connections but his own unresolved past.

Innovative world-building enhanced by a surreal and highly literate prose style offer both a challenge and a reward to the reader. My only complaint was that Nyquist is so perennially sleep-deprived, and the text is so reminiscent of the way thought fractures under disruptions of the normal circadian rhythm, that I kept wanting to curl up and nap. Recommended , especially for those who enjoy a hefty dose of weird in their fiction. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

[personal] Fire Update

Hello everyone -- sorry to be absent yesterday. We lost DSL/phone/internet due to the Bear Fire. Back online now. The fire's about 6 miles from us, but not moving in this direction, so no evacuation order for this neighborhood. It's incredibly smokey, though, in addition to what blew south from the Santa Rosa fires. At last count 6 firefighters have been injured and a bunch of homes destroyed. You can see from the image how rugged the terrain is. They're guessing the total acreage will be around 500. On the plus side, rain is forecast for tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Horse Fodder and Other Incredibly Cool Science Stuff

Grazing horses on better pastures

Annual grasses offer options during summer slump

Sudangrass and sorghum-sudangrass showed the greatest yields and regrew the most after grazing. Siberian millet was the lowest yielding grass. Horses most preferred the annual cool-season ryegrass, but among the warm-season grasses, they highly preferred teff and sudangrass. All of the grasses were found to supply adequate nutrition for horses. 

Citrus fruit peel: Potential alternative to mosquito control discovered

The essential oils were extracted in large amounts from the peel of a fruit similar to an orange, which is available throughout many countries in the world. With such ease of access and productions of the oils, it could potentially be used in areas which have little or no access to an alternative.
Believed to be the first ever example of such an experiment, it was found that the essentials oils were highly effective in mosquitocidal activity on the larvae, leading researchers to conclude it could be used as an eco-friendly alternative in mosquitoes control programs.

Bizarre Dwarf Planet Haumea Has Rings

"We started to see something weird in the light curve," Santos Sanz said. The light dimmed just before and after Haumea passed in front of the star, as if something else were obscuring it. "I remember that José Luis, from the first [moments], said, 'OK, this could be a ring,'" Santos Sanz said. Months of scrutiny bore out the scientists' initial suspicions: The results suggest that Haumea's equator is encircled by a 43-mile-wide (70 km) ring of debris located about 620 miles (1,000 km) from the dwarf planet's surface.

Ancient Mars Likely Had Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vents

"Ancient, deep-water hydrothermal deposits in Eridania basin represent a new category of astrobiological target on Mars," researchers said in the statement. "Eridania seafloor deposits are not only of interest for Mars exploration, they represent a window into early Earth."

Friday, October 13, 2017

Short Book Reviews: A Magical Bed and Breakfast, with Occasional Werewolf

The Innkeeper Chronicles, Volume One, by Ilona Andrews, Subterranean Press, 2017. (Clean Sweep, Sweep in Peace, One Fell Sweep).

This husband and wife writing team, using her name, Ilona Andrews, obviously had a terrifically good time with their free, serialized urban fantasy “Innkeeper” novels. 

A charming young innkeeper, Dina Demille (from the innkeeper family of the same name), is like any other innkeeper bonded to her sentient and extremely powerful and magical inn, Gertrude Hunt. Scattered over Earth, these inns provide neutral havens for interstellar creatures. Dina is dedicated to the safety and comfort of her guests, many of whom would otherwise be at each other’s throats. Predictably, events and blood-thirsty, revenge-driven and otherwise unlaw-abiding forces collude to interrupt that peace. 

Although blessed with supernatural powers within the inn’s grounds, Dina becomes ordinary the farther she gets from home. To meet the various threats, she therefore acquires allies and (sometimes would-be lovers) in the form of sexy werewolves and equally sexy vampires, but the real charm of these stories lies in her courage and resourcefulness, coupled with a not inconsiderable thread of whimsy. 

Humor, romance, and suspense are nicely balanced against each other, and the central characters are so appealing, I was sad when I finished the last page. (Not to be too sad: the Innkeeper website assures me there will be more! Check it out here:

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Martian Sand and Other Wonders

"The mantle of the Earth is made mostly of a mineral called olivine, and the assumption is usually that all planets are like the Earth," said Jay Melosh, Distinguished Professor of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at Purdue University, who led the study. "But when we look at the spectral signature of rocks exposed deep below the moon's surface, we don't see olivine; we see orthopyroxene."
Around 4 billion years ago, an asteroid collided with the moon and created the largest and deepest impact on the moon: the South Pole-Aitken basin. The collision exposed lunar mantle in the basin and splashed up material onto the far side of the moon.

Discovered in images from the Context Camera, this region exhibits dark material that is being eroded from dark layers in the bedrock of a semicircular depression near the boundary of the Southern highlands and the Northern lowlands. Downslope lineations support the notion that these dark sediments are derived locally, and did not accumulate here by coincidence because of the winds.
Sand grains can also roll along the ground as they are blown by the wind, and they are also jostled by other sand gains that are similarly flying across the surface. All of these repeated impacts tend to wear down the sand grains, smoothing them into a more spherical shape and breaking off small fragments that supply the vast dust deposits of Mars. This process (known as comminution) ultimately destroys sand grains and limits the length of time that the particles exist. The fact that we see active sand dunes on Mars today requires that sand particles must be resupplied to replace the grains that are lost over time. Where are the modern day sources of sand on Mars?

Best Way to Recognize Emotions in Others: Listen

Across all five experiments, individuals who only listened without observing were able, on average, to identify more accurately the emotions being experienced by others. The one exception was when subjects listened to the computerized voices, which resulted in the worst accuracy of all.

Jupiter and Two of Its Biggest Moons

Io and Europa are two of Jupiter's four Galilean moons, which are so named because famed Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei discovered them back in 1610. (The other two Galilean satellites are Callisto and Ganymede.) Io is the most volcanic object in the solar system, and astrobiologists regard the ocean-harboring Europa as one of the best bets to host life beyond Earth. 

Unusual Mountain Ahuna Mons on Asteroid Ceres

Ahuna Mons is the largest mountain on the largest known asteroid in our Solar System, Ceres, which orbits our Sun in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Ahuna Mons, though, is like nothing that humanity has ever seen before. For one thing, its slopes are garnished not with old craters but young vertical streaks. One hypothesis holds that Ahuna Mons is an ice volcano that formed shortly after a large impact on the opposite side of the dwarf planet loosened up the terrain through focused seismic waves. The bright streaks may be high in reflective salt, and therefore similar to other recently surfaced material such as visible in Ceres' famous bright spots.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

"Famous Local Author"

Our county celebrates "Open Studios Tours," which are just that: a time when artists hold open house, displaying their paintings, sculptures, jewelry, and so forth, chatting with the folks who drop by, guided by distinctive fluorescent-green signs. Some days during the season it seems as if everyone is either at an event or on their way to or from one.

This year, my neighbor -- musician and songwriter Karie Hillery -- timed her fall music bash to coincide with the opening weekend. Her place includes a small natural amphitheater, backed by the river and shaded by the redwoods. Besides her own wonderful music and that of her musician friends, she provided space near the entrance for "artists alley." A small collection of us set up shop: a potter advertising her classes (and demonstrating crochet), a mandala artist, a couple displaying lamps made from found objects, a jeweler, a couple of tables with CDs by the performers...and me, the local author.

I re-created the sort of display you might find in "authors alley" at a science fiction convention, a table draped with a beautiful shawl, upon which I arranged as many books as would tastefully fit, everything from the anthology containing my first short story sale (the first volume of Sword and Sorceress) and my first published novel (Jaydium) to Book View Cafe's Nevertheless She Persisted, edited by Mindy Klasky, in which I have a story. I stocked "Autographed Copy" stickers and cards.  Then I set up my laptop and proceeded to demonstrate my work...writing away on the novel-in-progress.

A good time was had by all.

Monday, October 9, 2017

In Troubled Times: Surviving Exhaustion

In previous posts in this series, I’ve written about emotional sobriety, feeling overwhelmed, and finding a personal sanctuary. Now I’d like to talk more about the concrete things we can do to keep our emotional and spiritual balance during the difficult, terrifying, and outrage-evoking recent months.

For me the first step is always admitting that what I have been doing isn’t working. I can get absorbed in one dreadful news story after the other, and with each round I lose more perspective and calm. My adrenaline levels get progressively higher. Sometimes – often! – it seems as if nothing else is happening in my life except reacting to yet another threat to the people, organizations, and principle that are important to me. Old wounds re-open; the ghosts of family tragedies (like the pogroms my father survived as a boy) re-awaken. I fear for my Jewish family and my queer daughters and sister and my trans daughter-in-law, for my black, Muslim, and Hispanic friends. I despair for the future of the entire planet. In other words, I need help.

Sometimes all that’s necessary is for me to admit that matters have gotten out of hand. Then I can scale back on my news consumption enough to think clearly what actions I would like to take. And especially what would be enough for the moment so that I can leave the topic and focus on other aspects of my life – my family, my writing, my local community, the beautiful redwood forest that cloaks the hills outside my windows. Playing classical music on my mother’s piano. Knitting hats for charities in poor areas of the country and world. Cuddling with the cats.

Recently I have noticed how those times of relative sanity come to a screeching halt. There are always new reasons – excuse me, Reasons. Like a hurricane or three. I’ve seen references to “outrage fatigue” but I suspect what is happening is outrage overlap. There isn’t sufficient time in between to return to balance and stay there, catching our breath, before something new and dreadful reels us in.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Short Book Reviews: A Delicious Victorian Mashup Mystery

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter, by Theodora Goss, Saga Press is a delightful amalgam and homage to characters dear to lovers of Victorian-era literature, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Lewis Stevenson, Mary Shelley, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Bram Stoker. 

First of all – Theodora Goss. If you don’t know her breath-takingly wonderful short fiction, drop everything and read some. We’ll wait. Okay, ready to talk about her novel?

We begin with young, well-mannered, brilliant Mary Jekyll – yes, that Jekyll, her father – alone in his old house (except for the ever-faithful housekeeper, Mrs. Poole) and at the end of her financial rope. Chance and the hope of a small bequest brings her into contact with her hellfire and rapscallion adolescent half-sister, Diana Hyde. Before long, the two team up with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, hot on the trail of whoever is murdering young women in the alleys of London and surgically removing various body parts. The mystery brings them into contact with Catherine Moreau (that Moreau, a panther turned woman), Renfield, Justine Frankenstein (who is so gentle, she’s a vegetarian pacifist), and “poison lady” Beatrice Rappaccini, among others. 

The true delight of the novel, however, arises from the interruptions by the characters themselves, often arguing over who should tell which part of the story and how it should be told. At first, we do not know who all these women are, but as the tale unfolds, we see their own experiences and personalities reflected in their sometimes witty, sometimes impudent, but always affectionate squabbles.