Friday, March 29, 2019

Windows into the Past: Fossils and Star Relics

Here's a collection of recent science stories that deepen our understanding of the past, both here on Earth and in the heavens.

'Treasure trove' of dinosaur footprints found in southern England

More than 85 well-preserved dinosaur footprints -- made by at least seven different species -- have been uncovered in East Sussex, representing the most diverse and detailed collection of these trace fossils from the Cretaceous Period found in the UK to date. The footprints date from the Lower Cretaceous epoch, between 145 and 100 million years ago, with prints from herbivores including IguanodonAnkylosaurus, a species of stegosaur, and possible examples from the sauropod group (which included Diplodocus and Brontosaurus); as well as meat-eating theropods.

An international team of palaeontologists, which includes the University of Bristol, has discovered that the flying reptiles, pterosaurs, actually had four kinds of feathers, and these are shared with dinosaurs -- pushing back the origin of feathers by some 70 million years. Pterosaurs are the flying reptiles that lived side by side with dinosaurs, 230 to 66 million years ago. It has long been known that pterosaurs had some sort of furry covering often called 'pycnofibres', and it was presumed that it was fundamentally different to feathers of dinosaurs and birds.

Fossil from the Big Bang discovered

Rare relic is one of only three fossil clouds known in the universe

A relic cloud of gas, orphaned after the Big Bang, has been discovered in the distant universe by astronomers using the world's most powerful optical telescope, the W. M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea, Hawaii. "Everywhere we look, the gas in the universe is polluted by waste heavy elements from exploding stars," says Robert. "But this particular cloud seems pristine, unpolluted by stars even 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang."

Our Earth is an aqua-planet, and is the only planet in our solar system where the presence of water on the planet surface has been confirmed. We are, however, not yet sure how our Earth acquired water. Recent studies have shown that other celestial bodies in our solar system have, or used to have, water in some form. Asteroids are considered to be one of the candidates that brought water to Earth. Note that the liquid water is not flowing on the surface of asteroids, but water is retained in asteroids as hydrated minerals, which were produced by chemical reactions of water and anhydrous rocks that occurred inside the asteroids, that is, aqueous alteration. Hydrated minerals are stable even above the sublimation temperature of water ice. Thus, by looking for hydrated minerals, we can investigate whether asteroids have water.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Monday, March 25, 2019

Citadels of Darkover Author Interview: Leslie Fish

Coming in May 2019
Strongholds of rock . . . fortresses of the spirit . . . a planet set apart . . .

Citadels can be psychic, emotional, and cultural as well as military, and the wonderfully imaginative contributors to this volume have taken the basic idea and spun out stories in different and often unexpected directions.

Pre-order it at:

Here I chat with contributor Leslie Fish:

Deborah J. Ross: How did you become a writer?
Leslie Fish: I've always been an avid reader and storyteller, famous in summer camp for my long list of memorized "ghost stories".  The next step was inventing my own stories, and then writing them down.  

DJR: What authors inspired you?
LF: Wow, where do I start?  H. P. Lovecraft, Robert Bloch, the Sci-Fi greats: Bradbury, Bradley, Brackett, Asimov, Heinlein, Sturgeon, Ellison, and too many more to count. 

DJR: Were there any pivotal moments in your literary journey?
LF: My first professionally published story, a crime-tale with a twist, published in a short-lived pulp crime magazine.  Once I knew I could actually publish my stories, there was no stopping me.  And then there was the great assist I got from C. J. Cherryh, who invited me to write in her "Merovingian Nights" series.  And of course my invitation to come romp in the "Darkover" universe.  I treasure them all.  

DJR: Tell us about your introduction to Darkover.
LF: While I was in college I spent my time studying, protesting, attending folkmusic concerts, and reading Science Fiction books, which I mostly found at the corner bookstore down the street from my dorm.  One day I went in to search the paper-back book kiosk and came across a new one: an Ace Double with "The Planet Savers" on one side and "The Sword of Aldones" on the other.  One read, and I was hooked forevermore.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Book Reviews: Masquerading as Science Fiction?

Dreams Before the Start of Time, by Anne Charnock (2017, 47North); and The Rift, by Nina Allan (2017, Titan).

Spoiler Alert...

What makes science fiction a genre? Is it the bells and whistles, the FTL space ships, the futuristic technology? Is it the ability to travel in time or across vast regions of space? Does it involve interactions with alien species, either for the first time or as a matter of course? Or is it simply because the author or the publisher says so? I will not dignify the argument put forth by “litr’ary” types that science fiction is an inherently inferior form of literature. Clearly, they haven’t been reading the superbly imaginative, elegantly crafted work of the last couple of

Following the principle of showing instead of telling, I refer you to the discussions surrounding The Time Traveler’s Wife (by Audrey Niffenegger, Harcourt, 2003). With due respect to my colleagues who might disagree, I thought the only people who considered this novel science fiction were those outside the genre. Yes, the man of the romantic pair bops about from one time period to another (losing his clothing along the way), but that did not make it science fiction in my eyes. I could accept it as romance. The focus, as in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, is the (romantic) relationship between two people. (Although Outlander involves time travel, very few readers I know would classify it as science fiction rather than fantasy or romance.) For me, the aspect that put The Time Traveler’s Wife firmly outside science fiction was the failure to develop the implications of time travel for society. How has this one man’s ability changed the world? What are the moral and political consequences of his actions? Why isn’t he found out and his abilities exploited? How can the “fabric” of time continue linearly with such repeated “tears”?

In other words, science fiction doesn’t just present nifty ideas in a vacuum – it focuses on how those ideas and gadgets and twists of fate have larger effects on the natural and human world. Perhaps back in the age of pulp magazines, a fun gimmick was sufficient to sustain a story with flimsy plotting, cardboard characters, and mediocre prose, but that hasn’t been true for a long time now.

This, too, is why I believe Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale falls squarely in the science fiction genre. Atwood herself refused to consider her dystopian world as science fiction, calling it instead “speculative fiction.” I think that’s a distinction without a difference. One critic (readily identifiable as ignorant of the field by his use of “sci-fi”) wrote, “Sci-fi sells us fantasies. Margaret Atwood’s classic novel is all about the danger of fantasy.” To those of us who are actually conversant with science fiction, the reverse is true, and is a powerful argument for The Handmaid’s Tale belonging on the same shelf as other brilliantly written feminist dystopian science fiction.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Book View Cafe Book Blast

To show our appreciation for all the readers who have stuck with us through our move to a new server, we at Book View Cafe are holding the BVC Book Blast. This week, and this week only, every book in the bookstore is 20 percent off.
You don’t have to do anything to get the discount; it will happen automatically at checkout. So use this time to browse through the authors on the bookstore page and try something new. Or pick up one of our anthologies and read work by a bunch of BVC writers.
This sale won’t last long, so take advantage and fill up your e-readers
Here's my Author Page with my books... and also check out the anthologies I've edited...

Monday, March 18, 2019

Citadels of Darkover Author Interviews: Jane M. H. Bigelow

Coming in May 2019
Strongholds of rock . . . fortresses of the spirit . . . a planet set apart . . .

Citadels can be psychic, emotional, and cultural as well as military, and the wonderfully imaginative contributors to this volume have taken the basic idea and spun out stories in different and often unexpected directions. 

I asked contributor  Jane M. H. Bigelow about her story:

Deborah J. Ross: What inspired your story in Citadels of Darkover?

Jane M. H. Bigelow: One of the essential conflicts in Darkover's long history is between the power and the dangers of laran. But what if not using your gift is as dangerous as using it? 

"Fire Storm" was one of several ideas that I considered writing for Citadels of Darkover. As our own fire season here in the western U.S. filled the sky with smoke most days, I found that it was the one that really drew me. 

It also let me explore a part of Darkovan history that I'd never written in before: the Ages of Chaos. I've always enjoyed reading about those turbulent times, but somehow not found a story of my own for them. As stories often do, it turned out differently than I had originally planned.

Not much has changed in my bio. After having a rather medical year, we are both well. I have still not finished my paranormal suspense novel, The Body Under the Bed, and have resorted to going around telling everybody that I will have a complete and coherent draft by the end of the year.  This may work almost as well as having an anthology deadline for getting me to finish the work! I can't let my crit group down. The cats are fine and furry, and the garden's doing well.

Jane M. H. Bigelow had her first professional publication in Free Amazons of Darkover. Since then, she has published a fantasy novel, Talisman, as well as short stories and short nonfiction on such topics as gardening in Ancient Egypt. Her short story, "The Golden Ruse" appeared in Luxor: Gods, Grit and Glory. She is currently on a mystery set in 17th century France. Jane is a retired reference librarian, a job which encouraged her to go on being curious about everything and exposed her to a rich variety of people. She lives in Denver, CO with her husband and two spoiled cats.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Short Book Reviews: Teddy Roosevelt's Secret Agency in World War I

Black Chamber, by S. M. Stirling (Ace)

S. M. Stirling has been writing alternate history for a long time now, and he handles the genre with ease and panache. This book is no exception; he’s created a perfectly believable world in which Theodore Roosevelt regains the presidency and is in office on the brink of World War I. Roosevelt’s enthusiasms have already shaped much of American culture and institutions, including a flowering of invention and his top-secret spy-and-assassin agency, the Black Chamber. Posing as an agent of the Partido Nacional Revolucionario (the resistance movement bent on freeing Mexico from American domination) Agent Luz O'Malley Aróstegui goes undercover in Europe to infiltrate the mobilizing German forces. The contrafactual history and subsequent changes are perhaps the most interesting aspects of the story, yet all this is but a background for what is essentially a spy thriller featuring a female James Bond. There’s sex (with and without romance), tension, and page upon page upon page of exciting action.

This raises my central concern about The Black Chamber. Is it a story set in an alternate Europe, as Germany is gearing up for war with chemical weapons? Does it focus on the unfolding differences that arose from Theodore Roosevelt’s re-election? Or is it essentially a spy thriller – and one in which a woman perpetuates the roles of male spy characters in literature – that could just as easily have taken place in the real world?

The writing is strong and the action scenes and step-by-step, tension-laden revelations are skillfully handled. My reservations are two-fold, as above. I had difficulty with those aspects of Luz that mirrored the most offensively sexist characteristics in male-dominated spy thrillers. Her internal monologues felt immature and insecure as well as insensitive. She didn’t seem to have any genuine relationships until Irish revolutionary and love interest Ciara Whelan came onstage.

Secondly, I found the long, detailed descriptions of action (such as page after page, step-by-agonizing-step portrayal of Luz climbing a wall) quickly went from interesting to tedious. Action often came to a screeching halt for long expository passages of technology, history, or geography. But the biggest problem was that I didn’t find the story hefty enough for its length. It felt to me like a novella stretched out to a fairly long novel. This is obviously a personal taste issue, and fans of Stirling (of which there are many!) will likely see this as a strength and The Black Chamber as a worthy addition to his bibliography.

The usual disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book, but no one bribed me to say anything about it. Although chocolates might be nice.

Short Book Reviews: A Brilliantly Inventive Fantasy Based on Industrial Magic

Foundryside, by Robert Jackson Bennett (Crown)

I just loved this fantasy adventure, with its compelling heroine and system of “industrialized magic.” The world is an oppressive portrayal of social inequality of the Industrial Revolution. Great families wall themselves up in “campos” and live lives of luxury while the rest of the city suffers pollution and dire poverty. Myths from the past provide tantalizing, terrifying hints of how the entire system of magic came into being.

Young Sancia managed to escape the slave plantations to eke out a living as a thief in the less savory neighborhoods of a great city. She’s able to “listen” to physical materials: “The wall spoke to her. The wall told her of foundry smoke, of hot rains, of creeping moss, of the tiny footfalls of the thousands of ants…” Sancia’s magic aids her in her marginal living, but is dwarfed by the real magic of the city: sigils that are “instructions written upon mindless objects that convinced them to disobey reality in select ways,” such as altering their gravity or adhesion to other objects.

Then Sancia opens a box she has been sent to steal and discovers a sentient key, “Clef,” who can persuade any lock to open, and her world changes forever. She’s not the only one after Clef – her employer will stop at nothing to gain control over the key. But who is her employer and what is that person’s greater plan? Mystery piles on action and personal growth, not only of Sancia herself but other characters. The world and its people are in precarious flux, inwardly and outwardly.

This is not a world in which I would like to live, yet almost from the beginning, I cared about Sancia and the people she encounters, especially Clef, who realizes that he more he uses his power to help his only friend, Sancia, the less of his personality survives. The story built as stakes were raised higher and higher. The magic was an intrinsic part of the world-building, with its own logically consistent rules and its own cost. Highly recommended.

The usual disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book, but no one bribed me to say anything about it. Although chocolates might be nice.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Citadels of Darkover Author Interview: Steven Harper

Coming in May 2019
Strongholds of rock . . . fortresses of the spirit . . . a planet set apart . . .

Citadels can be psychic, emotional, and cultural as well as military, and the wonderfully imaginative contributors to this volume have taken the basic idea and spun out stories in different and often unexpected directions.

Pre-order it at:

Here I chat with contributor Steven Harper:

Deborah J. Ross: How did you become a writer?
Steven Harper: I started writing when I was nine years old because the library didn't have any of the kinds of books I wanted to read.  I set out to write them myself.  That's still how I operate!

DJR: Were there any pivotal moments in your literary journey?
SH: I made my first pro sale when I was thirteen.  That was pretty pivotal!  I wrote a letter to the editor of The Mother Earth News, which was a major international magazine at the time.  I included my age with my signature, and the editor wrote back to say he could see that I could write and that I could type.  Apparently both were equally important.  If I wanted, I could query him about writing an actual article.  I was raising rabbits at the time, so I wrote a query letter on that topic.  When he wrote back to say he'd like to see the entire article, I was ecstatic--jumping and shouting all the way back from the mailbox.  It took me a month to write the article, and the editor finally sent an acceptance letter.  I remember finding it in the mailbox and reading it with a, "Well, that's nice" frame of mind, and I didn't understand why my parents were so thrilled.  I had somehow gotten the idea that the go-ahead on the query was the actual sale.  I didn't know back then that the getting the go-ahead on a query was actually the easy part.  Selling the piece is the hard part!

DJR: Tell us about your introduction to Darkover.
SH: I didn't come to Darkover through the novels, believe it or not.  I came to it through the anthologies.  I read maybe two or three of the anthologies before I got around to looking up the original books.  As a result, Darkover in my mind is always a place for short stories.  It may be why I come with story-length ideas for the place.

DJR: What about the world drew you in?
SH: I've always been drawn to men with red hair.  Make of that what you like.  So a world ruled by redheaded men sounds pretty awesome to me!

Friday, March 8, 2019

Very Short Book Reviews: Penric Rescues a Lady

The Prisoner of Limnos, A Fantasy Novella in the World of the Five Gods, by Lois McMaster Bujold (Subterranean)

Penric is back! Still attempting to court Nikys, the widow he fell in love with in Mira’s Last Dance. Still kind and courageous and inwardly torn and immensely gifted. This time, Nikys’s mother has been taken hostage in a complicated political maneuver, and it’s up to her and Penric (and Desdemona, his inward-dwelling chaos demon, and all of Desdemona’s many previous hosts) to rescue the lady. Another superb tale set in the world of the Five Gods.

The usual disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book, but no one bribed me to say anything about it. Although chocolates might be nice.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Today's Moment of Art

Snow at Louveciennes (c. 1870), Camille Pissarro (1830-1903)

Monday, March 4, 2019

Citadels of Darkover Author Interview: Evey Brett

Coming in May 2019
Strongholds of rock . . . fortresses of the spirit . . . a planet set apart . . .

Citadels can be psychic, emotional, and cultural as well as military, and the wonderfully imaginative contributors to this volume have taken the basic idea and spun out stories in different and often unexpected directions.

Pre-order it at:

Here I chat with contributor Evey Brett:

Deborah J. Ross: How did you become a writer?
Evey Brett: I was a music major in college, and toward the end I got to a point where I couldn’t play a whole note without freaking out and needed a creative outlet, one that wasn’t noisy. I’d always liked writing stories and had written several as a kid and teen, so writing stories as an adult came easily enough. I started with some fan fiction and realized I could never sell it, so I started going to the library and picking up books on writing so I could learn to write in an original world. I took some classes at a community college, got accepted into the Clarion writer’s workshop, and my career picked up from there.

DJR: Were there any pivotal moments in your literary journey?
EB: There are a few. I went to a very good writer’s program at a community college in San Diego, and was a little stunned when one of the teachers told me my story was good. That gave me the confidence to keep writing. There was going to Clarion, of course, and I believe it was the next summer when WesterCon came to San Diego and I met Deborah J. Ross, and we bonded over Darkover, and I’m so glad I was able to write three stories in a world that meant so much to me.

DJR: Tell us about your introduction to Darkover.
EB: Back in 2002 when I was just out of college, I got a job working retail at a now-extinct Foley's department store in a mall. There was a Waldenbooks right across from the store, so I'd often go get a book and settle down in a comfy chair somewhere in the mall to eat my lunch and read. One day I was looking for a new book and picked up The Fall of Neskaya, and I was hooked. Fortunately for me (and the bookstore) they had several other Darkover novels as well.

DJR: What about the world drew you in?
EB: I'm a sucker for stories with telepaths and damaged characters. I'd gone through a number of Mercedes Lackey's books, so finding Darkover gave me a whole new world with a sizeable canon to explore. Having just read the back of The Fall of Neskaya, I'd still pick it up to read because it's got everything I want--telepaths, power, gifts, a tormented character with a secret he can't reveal.

Lace and Blade 5 Author Interview: Lawrence Watt-Evans

From lands distant or nearby, familiar or utterly strange, historical or imaginary, from ancient times to the Belle Époque comes a treasury of luscious, elegant, romantic fantasy. Come with us on a journey through time and across boundaries, inspired by the longings of the heart and the courage residing in even the meekest person.

The release date is Valentine's Day 2019, but you can pre-order it now:

Print: here (Amazon) or here (Barnes & Noble)

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself. How did you come to be a writer?
Lawrence Watt-Evans: I became a writer because after a writing assignment my second-grade teacher said I might be one someday, and when I got home that day and told my parents I thought I might like being a writer, it became the only occupation they ever tried to talk me out of pursuing.
My parents convinced me that it wasn’t a likely way to make a living, though, so even though I kept writing I figured it would just be a hobby — until my stories started selling, and I couldn’t find a decent day job. I wound up making my living as a writer for thirty-some years.

DJR: What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 5?
LWE: I don’t really know what inspired “An Interrupted Betrothal,” exactly. I’d been thinking about how little say women have traditionally had in who they marry, and it grew from that.

DJR: What authors have most influenced your writing?
LWE: I’ve been influenced by dozens of authors, from the most famous (e.g., J.R.R. Tolkien) to the most obscure (e.g., C.L. Hales), but the ones who probably contributed the most to my stories for Lace and Blade would include Baroness D’Orczy and Rafael Sabatini.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Writer's Round Table: Pros Give Advice on Writer's Block IV

Writer Bobbie Bolig writes poignantly about what it's like to be blocked. I asked some pro writer friends for words of encouragement. Here's my own story:  

For much of my early career, I used to joke that I couldn't afford writer's block. I began writing 

Cemetery, New Orleans, 2012
professionally when my first child was a baby and I learned to use very small amounts of time. This involved "pre-writing," going over the next scene in my mind (while doing stuff like washing the dishes) until I knew exactly how I wanted it to go. Then when I'd get a few minutes at the typewriter (no home computers yet), I'd write like mad. I always had a backlog of scenes and stories and whole books, screaming at me to be written. The bottleneck was the time in which to work on them.

I kept writing through all sorts of life events, some happy, others really awful and traumatic. Like many other writers, I used my work as escape, as solace, as a way of working through difficult situations and complex feelings. I shrouded myself with a sense of invulnerability: I could write my way through anything life threw at me!

Unfortunately, I was wrong.

I hit an immovable wall. My mother had been raped and murdered when my younger daughter was but a wee babe. The DA accepted a plea bargain and so, 9 years later, the perpetrator had his first parole hearing. I put on my psychological armor, marched into San Quentin, and spoke at that hearing. A year later, I found myself in a full-blown post-traumatic crisis. I kept having waking nightmares of both terror and revenge. I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep, and I couldn't stop crying.

Also, I couldn't write fiction. Stream-of-consciousness journaling helped me get through the darkest days, but the creation of an actual story was beyond me. That creative paralysis added another dimension to the meltdown. If I couldn't write, who was I? Where were my secret worlds, my journeys of spirit and heart where people healed and things got better? Gone...and I didn't know if I'd ever get them back.