Friday, August 29, 2008

Lawyers, Fun, and Money


So when I was in Denver I found myself reading to lawyers.

Yes. Lawyers.

Aaron Hughes, a lawyer who happens also to be a fan, invited me to his firm during lunchtime for pizza and a reading. I had nothing better to do at that hour,

I walked into the board room of this upscale law firm high in its glass tower, and the place was full of lawyers and their various assistants. There was an incredible view from the long glass wall. I had a slice of pizza and a soft drink, and then I sat down at the long, long table and read "Daddy's World."

No one yawned. I was really paying attention and none of them did. They laughed at the funny parts. They seemed disturbed by the disturbing parts. The people who were parents laughed in rueful recognition of the behavior of the juvenile protagonists. They all applauded at the end. They told me they liked the story a lot.

Now, none of these folks (with the exception of Aaron) would ever be seen in the science fiction section of the bookstore. Yet here they are enjoying science fiction.

Which confirms me in my long-held suspicion that 90% of my rightful audience lives outside the science fiction world. But how do I reach them? How do I get them to walk into that strange, forbidding section of the bo0kstore and pick up my books with the space ships and the sworsman on the covers? Because, y'know, they'd like those, too.

I really want to do more outreach, but I can't just walk into law firms at random.

Where is this vast audience? How do I reach them?

Ideas are hereby solicited.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Better Than The Olympics


I was never one of those fancy-dancy martial artists. I never did "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee." I was more "punch like a piledriver, kick like an ox." Instead of dancing around, I'd just make some subtle adjustments and then--- hey, it's steamrolling time, baby!

Every so often I'd have to spar with one of those welterweights who danced around and never came close just cuz, y'know, I outweighed him by eighty pounds or something.

So that's one reason why I find this video so satisfying.

video

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bubonicon

This weekend I'll be at Bubonicon 40, Albuquerque's very own science fiction convention.

Bubonicon's been going on for forty years, and (god help me) I've been attending for most of those years. It was a small local con at the beginning, and now it's a medium-sized regional con. And I've got to appreciate it a lot more as the years have gone along.

Because Bubonicon is still about the books. In a time when conventions are becoming ever more about the media, Bubonicon is still devoted to print on paper.

And wow, does this regional con have authors. Aside from GoH David Weber and Toastmaster Daniel Abraham (and artist Bob Eggleton), Bubonicon will feature Mario Acevedo, Doug Beason, Richard Berthold, Ben Bova, Suzy M. Charnas, Douglas W. Clark, Yvonne Coats, Dr. Larry Crumpler, Terry England, Gordon Garb, Steven Gould, Sally Gwylan, Betsy James, Andy Kuhn, Anne & Jeff Lambert, Jane Lindskold, Emily Mah, George RR Martin, Victor Milan, John J. Miller, Laura J. Mixon, Pati Nagle, Richard E. Peck, John Pelan, Scott Phillips, John Maddox Roberts, Joan Spicci Saberhagen, Debbie Lynn Smith, Melinda Snodgrass, S.M. Stirling, David Lee Summers, Eldon Thompson, Ian Tregillis, Robert Vardeman, Carrie Vaughn, Jerry Weinberg and yours truly.

I mean, like, whew, man.

And yes, Bubonicon is named after the Black Death, along with its mascot Perry Rodent. New Mexico used t0 be America's biggest reservoir of the plague, with a couple dozen cases every year. Thanks to a ruthless policy of destroying wild mammals in cities (and possibly the fact that the number of citizens regularly eating squirrels for food has declined), cases of plague in the state are now reduced to a couple every year.

Which means your chances of getting buboes are very tiny, and there's no reason not to come to the convention.

Right?

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Incarnated

Clonepod has uploaded a podcast of my story Incarnation Day. And they've put a very nice illo on it.

You have to listen to a certain amount of chatter beforehand, but the reader is pretty darn good. Check it out.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I'll Be the Judge of That!

Concept Sci-Fi is running a fiction writing contest. You must write a science fiction story that is exactly 150 words long, excluding the title. The story must actually have a story, it can't be just pretty words on paper.

150 words isn't going to take a huge chunk out of your day, so why not enter? You could win a gift certificate to Amazon worth twenty whole pounds stirling.

And--- did I forget to mention?--- I'll be the judge of who wins.

Prepare, mortals, to submit to me!

Here are the details.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Meet Norbert


This is Norbert the NORAD bear, who I purchased in the gift shop at Cheyenne Mountain.
Norbert had the time of his life at Worldcon, where I took him to several parties, and where many attractive ladies wearing fuzzy ears on their heads wanted to kiss him.
Norad contains the launch codes that will bring about the end of the world.
Isn't he cute?

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As Seen On TV






So here we are at Cheyenne Mountain, NORAD's once-super-secret underground headquarters.

While some people were innocently enjoying the Denver Worldcon, or leaving their bleached bones in the cavernous convention center after foolishly trying to hike to the dealer's room without bringing their own supplies of food and water, we--- a select few of your favorite science fiction writers--- were exploring this glorious epitome of 1960s Cold War Technology.

The tour was arranged for us by writer Jeff Carlson and Colonel Brian Lihani, who happens--- along with his wife Christine--- to be a science fiction reader. (Sometimes SF will make you friends in high places.)

After divesting yourself of cameras and cellphones and other electronic apparatus, you enter through the famous tunnel, which is U-shaped and very long and comes out elsewhere on the mountain. From thence you go through a kind of airlock between two blast doors, of which you see one in the photo above. The door is two and a half feet thick, made of solid steel, and is balanced so as to be able to be closed by a single person if the electronics are, for some suspicious reason, not working. As you can see in the nifty photo, the back of the door features numerous shiny steel bolts that are slammed into place by hydraulic rams. Only one bolt is rammed home at a time, and the bolt seems to be chosen randomly. This action, as Howard Waldrop would say, is "really neat."

If the electronics are out, you can manually pump up the pneumatics by jerking a big stick back and forth, but my guess is that it takes a long time and you might have a heart attack before the last bolt goes home.

During the Cold War, one of the two blast doors was kept closed at all times. Now they both stand open unless it's, like, 9/11 and an airplane goes missing over Colorado Springs, which actually happened. (The aircraft wasn't taken by terrorists, it had a communication failure.)

There is a third blast door farther down the tunnel, where it's used to bring supplies into the facility.

The command post is set in a 5.5-acre artificial cavern blasted out of the mountain in the early Sixties. Most supervillains would set up all their gear right in the cavern, but NORAD wasn't like that--- they built big steel buildings inside the cavern, some of them three storeys tall. The buildings are made of hull-grade Navy steel, and the Navy also did the pipes for fuel, water, and electricity according to Navy standards, which are very explicit about what is in which pipe and in what direction the material is supposed to flow. (The Air Force did the electronics themselves, apparently.)

The steel buildings sit on enormous one-ton steel springs--- you can see them--- so that if for some unfortunate reason the mountain is rocking and/or rolling, the buildings will remain stable. (You can see these springs in places. They look surprisingly like you'd expect big steel springs to look.) There are also flexible gangways between the buildings, so they can sproing in different directions if necessary.

Inside, the buildings are relentlessly mundane. Bare walls that haven't been painted recently, functional furniture, exposed pipes, safety notices and reminders to support the troops. It was like a shabby academic building from the same period, but without the corkboards and the notices from academic journals.

I very much enjoyed the email, labeled SECRET, that had been taped to a wall for anyone to read.

We didn't get to see the Command Center. We had been cleared to go in, but we were revoked at the last minute because NORAD needed their headquarters right then more than we did. Possibly there was an exercise going on, but I suspect the Russians had just invaded Georgia, and we needed to know who else they might be shooting at.

I saw a picture of the Command Center, though. It looked as relentlessly mundane as everything else--- rather than the cool NASA-looking set in War Games, it was just a buncha desks with a buncha computers and flatscreen monitors.

They really need to hire an interior decorator to give it some style. I'd like to suggest Doctor Evil.

He could also add a red button labeled, "Press Button to Destroy Planet."

We got to look at the huge reservoir of cooling water, so big that you navigate it by rowboat, and sealed from the facility by a proper Navy bulkhead. There's a duck floating in the water, but why it's there is a long story and really not worth telling.

We also got to see the generator room, with six huge diesel generators that can provide power to the whole facility. (When they're not closed off, they just draw power from the grid, like everyone else.) The diesels are about twelve feet tall and are all, for some reason, labeled Enterprise.

We also got to look at the control room for the diesels, and that really was a trip into our collective pop culture past, like something from Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. There are lots of old 1960s dial gauges next to LED gauges next to plasma gauges, all dating from various refits. (The personnel seem to prefer the old dial gauges.)

If something Really Bad happens, Cheyenne Mountain has a thirty-day supply of MREs and a more or less infinite supply of fresh water coming from an 800,000 gallon-per-day spring. There are, however, no beds--- if the mountain is sealed off, personnel will have to sleep on the floor. Which, come to think of it, is probably a better place to sleep than the people outside.

Because I know you're going to ask, let me just say that they did in fact once have a door that read, SG-1 AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY, but they had to take the sign down because, y'know, stupid people thought it was real.

Since the end of the Cold War, most of NORAD's command functions have been moved to nearby Peterson AFB, but Cheyenne Mountain remains a principal backup facility, and it's crewed 24/7.

By the way, the facility has a convenience store, where you can buy soft drinks, snacks, and souvenirs. The Pepsi sign is at least thirty years old, and features a logo that Pepsi doesn't use any more.

You can also buy postcards, all of the tunnel entrance. I urged them to add a logo saying, "Greetings From the Free World's Secret Underground Headquarters," but they probably won't listen.

I bought a shotglass and a teddy bear, which between them should get me through any emergency.

After the tour, we went to Kevin Anderson's nearby not-so-secret headquarters for BBQ. Kevin's place, which is built to resemble a castle, is also worth a tour.

All told, it was a day of extraordinary hospitality. Thanks to everyone involved.

And now--- to the shotglass!

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Cyberwar. Or Not.

Russia's ground invasion of Georgia shows a ponderous but effective use of Soviet-era military planning--- the whole move had been planned weeks if not months ahead of time, was executed with a vastly superior force, and resulted in the Georgian army being swiftly destroyed and its navy sunk at its moorings.

What the media seems not to have noticed was that the invasion was preceded by a state-of-the-art cyber attack on Georgian information systems, intended to paralyze any possible reaction. The Georgian defense net was thoroughly penetrated and rendered ineffective. There was also a huge cybernetic disinformation campaign in which prepackaged, pre-invented Georgian "atrocities" were detailed, along with Russia's justification for invasion.

(Over on the Global Guerillas blog, John Robb makes the claim that Russia and its foreign policy has been captured by its energy industry. While I'm more inclined to think the reverse is true, it's interesting that all Russia's recent thuggish actions were in reaction to a perceived threat to their energy monopoly.)

In the meantime, the Air Force's effort at establishing a cyberwar net, poor old Cyber Command, has been ordered to stand down--- yet another body-blow to a service reeling from the fallout over bungled contracts, missing thermonuclear weapons, the sacking of generals and of the Secretary of the Air Force, fights over UAVs and the F-22.

Cyber Command was a hard sell to begin with. No one could quite define its mission, there were questions as to whether their efforts were duplicated elsewhere, and the effectiveness of top-down military command structures in fighting flexible Russian and Chinese cyber mafias and their botnets was certainly in question.

This action doesn't mean that Cyber Command is dead, just that its mission and existence is being re-evaluated. This clearly needed doing, but in the meantime we'd better hope that Western information systems can be protected by existing systems--- or, better yet, by brilliant patriotic American hackers and cybercriminals.

[Meanwhile, over on Slate, Evgeny Morozov tells us how he became a volunteer in the Russian cyber army.]


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Another Splendid Review


Fantasy Book Critic has published a splendid review of Implied Spaces.
Allow me to quote some of the highlights:
"I am happy to say that the book exceeded my expectations and is a fun, impossible-to-put-down romp bristling with ingenious ideas and speculations…
"Even though “Implied Spaces” is only 265 pages long, the novel has a lot going on including action, romance, various strange planets, post singular war—which is short and brutal—intrigue, mystery and suspense. And after every layer is peeled away and we finally believe there is no more, the book hits us with even more surprises . . . “Implied Spaces” is science fiction at its very best—one of the Top 5 SF novels that I’ve read this year—and it reminded me again why I love the genre so much. Highly, highly recommended… "

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

The News


So here I was at the Worldcon, okay? And every so often, while I was dressing in my hotel room, I'd check CNN or MSNBC or see what was going on in the world.

And the number one headline:

John Edwards Admits Adultery!!!!!

At least half the newscast was taken up with this, and interviews with Edwards and sundry.

Headline number two:

Bernie Mac Dies!!!!
Sad news from the world of entertainment. I liked Mr. Mac. I'm sorry he passed.

Headline number three:

It's the Olympics!!!

Politics, entertainment, sports. The Olympics are big. I understand.

Story number four:

Russia Invades Georgia!!
New Cold War Begins!!
Putin Precisely Copies Hitler's Invasion of Sudentenland!!
Trillions to be Wasted in Military Expenditure Worldwide!!
Millions to Die in Futile Conflict Throughout the World!!
Ukraine is Next!!
Fate of World Imperilled!!

Why exactly is this Number Four in the list of things Americans need to care about?

Was it that all the really stupid news directors are put in charge on the weekend?

Or is it that they think we are really stupid?

Or what?

I really need to understand this. Please explain.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Metal Squirrel

Uusi Seedee, the album by Finnish heavy metal star Pikku-Orava, has hit platinum.

The thing is, he's a squirrel. Really. Check it out.

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First Observation from the Worldcon

Kilts do not make a guy look more masculine. It doesn't matter how hairy his legs are. Kilts make a guy look like a tosser.

The exception is if you're actually Scottish and are in Scotland, and you're a shepherd maybe or in a Highland regiment and are carrying a sword or an assault rifle or some other weapon that you actually know how to use.

Just thought you'd like a reality check.

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Saturday, August 02, 2008

Noor

The Turkish soap opera Noor, with its independent-minded heroine and her romantic, supportive husband, is knocking the Arab world back on its heels.

For the first time, apparently, Arab women are getting an idea of what husbands are supposed to be like. (Passionate, engaged, loving, supportive . . . and, of course, drop-dead gorgeous.)

"The series has not only made Saudi women aware of the failings of their partners, but the advantages engendered by a more liberal, tolerant Islamic society such as Turkey.

"It is eye opening for Saudi women. They haven't seen such a sensitive, passionate, giving personality," explained Dr. Fawzaya Abu Khalid, a writer and women's activist based in Riyadh. For many women, the show has opened a whole new world and a lot of men aren’t happy about it.

"Men feel threatened. It is the first time women have a role model for male beauty and passion and can compare him with their husbands," said Abu Khalid. "It is the first time they found out their husbands are not nice, that they are not being treated the way they should be, and that there is an option outside."

The series bombed in its native Turkey, but once translated into Arabic and distributed through the Middle East, it started setting hearts afire. Husbands are divorcing their wives, naming Noor's fictional husband as co-respondent.

Clerics are denouncing the program, but what can they really say? "Muhammad commands you to treat your wife like shit?" I don't think so.

The last program I remember having this effect over there was Xena: Warrior Princess. All Cairo used to shut down on Friday night--- not because it was the day of prayer, but because Xena was on the tube.

[thanks to Pat Cadigan for the link]

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Friday, August 01, 2008

Sisu

Where have I been all this week? I hear you ask.

The answer, alas, is not as lighthearted as the question. I have spent a week trying to cope with the world's most fucked-up medical system. I have been coping with the sad business of committing my mother to a hospice facility.

My mother was born in 1916, before the American entry into the First World War. She is very weak and suffers from mild senile dementia, but there's no actual diagnosis of what is actually wrong with her. She has a host of small ailments, each of which contribute to her weakness, but the doctors have found no smoking gun.

On Monday she was having difficulty getting on her feet, so I took her to the emergency room. She was lucky in being admitted to the hospital after only 11 hours: I was told that some people stay in the e-room for days waiting for a bed.

After a couple days of evaluation, the consensus was that the hospice was indicated.

I recall looking at the paperwork and thinking to myself, "Not only is this my mother's death warrant, but they're asking me to sign it."

And then I signed it, and later in the day went to my mom's house to clear all the perishables out of the refrigerator.

The hospice wing is as pleasant a hospital wing as a hospital wing is likely to get. The room itself is large and has several armchairs and a couple of couches. There's a spare bed, should I ever decide to spend the night there, or take a nap. There is a kitchen for the families of the patients, with sweets and coffee donated by local businesses, and magazines and videos and jigsaw puzzles. The personnel are uniformly kind and concerned.

Nevertheless I suspect the whole arrangement may not work as expected. My mother may yet walk out of this alive. She is a woman of hidden resources.

She has sisu.

Sisu is a quality peculiar to the Finnish people, and can translate (badly) as "fortitude" or "resilience in the face of a merciless and arbitrary Fate." My mother was born of Finnish immigrants, and acquired sisu with her mother's milk.

She is the youngest, and only survivor, of six children. She was born on a prosperous farm in southern Minnesota, but the family sold the farm and moved to a very poor farmstead in Makinen Township, north of Duluth, in order to be near others of the Firstborn.

The Firstborn was the Lutheran cult in which my mother was raised. (Perhaps you have to be Scandinavian to understand about Lutheran cults, but I assure you they exist.) This bunch was known more formally as the Old Apostolic Lutherans, but I believe they are nowadays called Laestadians. They were a sort of Finnish version of the Amish, but without the cool furniture (or the consistency). Listening to the radio was forbidden. So was any music not directly in praise of God. Girls wore braids till married, and a bun thereafter. Women's dresses were forbidden to have waistlines lest they encourage vanity. Men, for the same reason I suppose, were forbidden to wear ties. (That was the only part of the Doctrine I ever got down with.)

The Firstborn didn't have divinity schools or an ordained clergy. They were against education in general, particularly higher education. The local "shepherd of the flock," as my mother scornfully refers to him, was as ignorant and bigoted as the layfolk. She remembers being made to read from the Finnish Bible of 1776, with its heavy Gothic type, and hating it.

She escaped the cult as soon as she was physically able. As a result of her indoctrination, she now has a violent hatred of all religion. In my mother's family, "Christian" is used as an epithet. "He's a real Christian, you know," they'll say, in reference to someone stupid, bigoted, hypocritical, or uptight.

(When I was checking my mom into the hospice, I was asked if she would want to see a priest or minister.

("Only if you want her to cuss at him," I said.)

My mom's father worked as a carpenter until he died when she was eight or nine. He hadn't finished building the family home, and the house remained unfinished until it burned down maybe 25 years later.

Education saved my mother from God and the Firstborn. The children of the family attended a one-room country schoolhouse that took them through the eighth grade. My mother spoke no English until she went to first grade. After graduation, my mom stayed at home for a year, and then heard of a high school opening in the neighboring township of Cherry. There was a New Deal program that paid people a few bucks each month to board high school students, and my mom soon had this arranged. When she graduated from high school--- the only one among her family to do so--- she went to college for a two-year teaching degree, and then returned to northern Minnesota to teach in country schools, again boarding with local families and sleeping on straw mattresses in spare rooms. Among others she taught at the school in the Finnish community of Toimi, now a museum.

She taught through the Second World War, and spent at least one summer working in a defense plant in Detroit. She had the somewhat Freudian job of straddling bomb casings on the assembly line and scraping off the extra drop of paint on the tip.

She had a boyfriend during the war, but he went overseas and jilted her. My father, overseas, had a girlfriend at home who dear-johnned him. Mom and dad knew each other slightly before the war, and became an item after it, and married shortly thereafter. My mom kept teaching until I arrived, and then she was forced to leave.

Elementary school teachers, in those days, were not allowed to get pregnant, even if they were married. If you were found with child, you were driven from the school system, possibly with a scarlet P sewn to your bodice.

My mother then became a housewife, and contributed to my perfect Minnesota childhood. So idyllic was my youth that pretty much everything from the age of 11 or so has been something of a disappointment.

I'm not sure what my mother made of my ambition to become I writer, which was formed quite early--- by age four at the latest. (In those days, I would dictate stories to my parents, who would write them down for me.) Probably her greatest contribution to my life is that she took my intention seriously.

She didn't tell me I was crazy, she sent me to summer school to learn typing.

The year I graduated from college, my father had an aneurysm and became a semi-invalid. My mother devoted herself to his service with her usual ferocity, and managed to keep him alive and reasonably healthy for over twenty years.

Is this sisu? Hell, yes.

After my father's death, she announced she had retired and adopted a life so dull and event-free that it would have driven me crazy within the first week. I had to agree with her, though, that she'd earned it.

And now she's in the hospice, being cared for in much the same way that she cared for my father. Except that she did it all by herself, whereas the hospital needs a whole staff.

She retains her strong personality, though much of the memory is gone. Sisu is a part of her character, and enabled her to escape the bigotry and superstition of her girlhood and out into the wider world.

If she walks out of the hospice, I'll be the only one who isn't surprised. Because I know what sisu can do.

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