Our baby boy is doing fine, breathing on his own since this afternoon. He's still on the NICU of course, and needs round the clock care and monitoring.

Combined with my wife's recovery from the C-section, blogging activity will be intermittent to nonexistant. Writing fiction not planned for the next few weeks.
Total exhaustion of the mind has sapped away the creative drive. Let's hope it comes back soon.

Oh yes. Got a rejection from Futurismic, but couldn't care less in these circumstances!

Yesterday my wife gave birth to our third child, a baby boy called Nand. Those of you who know me a little better know that this is not all good news. She was only 30 weeks pregnant, so he was forced onto this planet a full two months early. Things are looking okay at the moment but we'll be living from moment to moment for the coming eight weeks or so...

Expect very light blogging until then.

Feel quite good tonight. Saw my grandmother in the hospital today, she was a little better than I'd feared, which was nice.
Also, I went running for the first time in months. Only about 3km I think, but for a first not bad; and as I've got a whole lot of winter fat to get rid of, that's just going to be the beginning. I definitely feel a lot more energetic already. I used to swim competitively until I was about 22, but since then I've gone down from 20+ hours of training per week to absolutely zero.

The challenge now is to build at least two or three hours back into my (kind of busy) daily routine. I work full time, have two kids with a third on the way and I like to spend lots of time with them and the love of my life, my newly PhD'ed wife, and I want to become a published SFF writer. Add in some exercise and well, we're looking at a preferred day/night cycle of the kind found on... Pluto. Well, maybe that's a little over the top (6 Earth days if for some reason you find this interesting, as I do) but still. Too much to do. And that's leaving my graphic & webdesign freelancing out of the picture. Arrgh!

Anyway. Pondering whether I should start a weight/exercise log here as well, but who'd want to know about that?

>>Excellent article on the BBC News site: Can science fiction keep up with modern times?
They asked this pertinent question to some of my All-Time-Favorite SF Authors; Nay, SF Authors I Adore and Wellnigh Worship in My Fanboydom: Ken MacLeod and Iain (M.) Banks. Also answering the question are Paul Cornell and Ian Watson. It's a bit short but nice to see these guys interviewed on a single page!

From the Spacewriter's Ramblings, this beautiful picture: Sand Dunes on Mars. The pictures the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been sending back have stunning in their high-resolutional brilliance. The HIRISE instrument in particular, which generates 3D images, has produced classic images that make you feel as though you're almost there. Of course, you're still at least 56 million km away (probably a lot more these days as this was the closest we got to Mars in 60,000 years or so, and that was in 2003).

Not much writing or blogging getting done these past few days. There's a simple reason: real life has stepped up and swept me to highs and lows both:

  • my lovely wife defended her Ph.D. dissertation Monday night, so there was quite a build-up to that. She did great of course, and I'm now happily married to a doctor - albeit not a medical one :-)

  • at the same time my grandmother took a turn for the worse. She's in hospital now, we'll see how she recovers. As she's suffering from oncoming dementia, it's difficult to tell how well she will cope.

  • the day job is extremely busy and demanding.

Still, some links for the day:

>> Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing spotted a story about a group of eighteen-year-olds who sent a helium balloon 100,000ft up (just over 30km), right to the edge of outer space; their simple craft had a basic Nikon digital camera which survived the drop (at its extreme height the balloon popped because of the too-low air pressure) and brought home amazing pictures of its rise over the Barcelona area, up into space, and back down again.
Did some digging of my own and the full story with lots of pics and info is here: Meteotek 08 (this is the students' project blog in Catalan).

>> Mind-boggling wordage to be seen over at Jay Lake's. He's updated his bibliography. He has sold 240(!) short stories and written 8 novels so far. Blimey.

Bad Astronomy has a post on science coverage by the media, science education (all in the USA) and how it relates to the sorry state of scientific understanding displayed by many citizens. The research and articles cover the US situation only, but I'm afraid it applies to much of Western Europe as well; although perhaps just a little less so.

The post links to an study (PDF here) that illustrates just how bad the situation is. Some striking things that popped up: in many media outlets, pseudo-science hogwash gets the same attention as real science (e.g. in evolution vs intelligent design series, or in the many "docufiction" series produced by Hollywood for news channels). Not surprising that people start believing idiotic theories if they hear about them on tv every day.

The discussion on Bad Astronomy was sparked by the terrible results of a national survey commissioned by the California Academy of Sciences (phone survey of 1,000 people in December 2008). The lowdown:

  • Only 53% of adults know how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun.

  • Only 59% of adults know that the earliest humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time.

  • Only 47% of adults can roughly approximate the percent of the Earth's surface that is covered with water. (the survey allowed answers between 65-75% as okay)

  • Only 21% of adults answered all three questions correctly.

Quite stunning to see this. 41% of Americans think humans and dinosaurs coexisted? Oh my.

As I noted above, I would think, or hope rather, that the situation here in Belgium is better. Then again, on second thoughts, it might not be. We don't get pelted with conservative Christian ID propaganda, and science is not considered as "evil" or "anti-religious" by most of our religious tendencies. On the other hand, evolution is vehemently disavowed by our large Muslim minority, and recent debates on evolution have shown that that is likely to become a problem in the future.

I can only try to stimulate my own kids to question their environment, to probe it in an inquisitive and rational manner. So far that seems to be working quite well, as evidenced by my four-year-old's constant questions that I find myself almost unable to answer... How is steel made? How does electricity work? What am I made of? Why is electricity dangerous? Where do the photos go once we've printed them, are they in the computer still?
And so on. Challenging, for sure, but also good fun trying to come up with answers that are understandable at his age, but not too "bad science-ish".

Via - I first got this off Jay Lake's link salad.

Wired has a nice round-up of their top ten annoying geek partner habits.

I guess that as an SFF afficionado, an ex-RPG player and because I work in an IT company, I qualify as a "geek"... but do I have the annoying habits?

1. Punning.
Hmm. Not so much, I think.

2. Using Klingon or other such lingo's.

3. Celebrate holidays in weird freaky ways
No. Dress-up cons are my idea of hell.

4. Dissecting movies
Erm, well, yes maybe a little. But not at home, I think, just with some of my like-minded friends.

5. Wear geeky t-shirts

6. Require extra room in house for geeky stuff
Oh yes. There's the old RPG books I can't get rid of. There's computers, SF book collection, some comic books. Guilty as charged!

7. Geeky toys

8. Looking up info while the discussion is still in progress
Yes, I've been known to do that. I pride myself on my Google-Fu!

9.Need to watch TV shows ASAP.

10. Geeky home projects.

So all in all, only two and a half out of ten. Not a great score. Mild geekiness only? What's your score?

Finally got around to some wordage tonight. Nothing dramatic, but an important five hundred words nevertheless - as they're the opening scene of a new short piece. Tentative title Galton's Dreams.


Frozen in fearful panic, I could only stare as the intruder swung through the opening in the fractured panes of glass, and stepped crunching onto the shard-littered corridor. She straightened and only then spotted me in the doorway ahead. The figure was a she, that much was clear, and the sharpest edge of the fear ebbed away as I realized the girl was alone. No police squad in sight.

We were both absolutely still, studying each other. It was difficult to make out her features; she wore a dark training suit and the moonlight slashing through the broken window was the only illumination. It leeched all the color from her face, and the sharp shadows cast across her narrow face gave her a ghostly aspect. Then she turned her head a little and the shadows shifted favorably - No, it could not be.

Destination: Future is the title of an upcoming anthology by Hadley Rille books. They're looking for submissions in the SF field, pay 3 cents a word plus royalties if the book earns its expenses back.

Note to self: write and submit to this one. No excuses this time.

Leeched off Scalzi's scrumptious Whatever blog, but it's an image that is just too good not to repost!

Article on the student protest here at the Chicago Maroon. What happened was about a hundred students taking to the streets as a reaction to a few Westboro Baptist wingnuts protesters. The Westboro Baptist Church seems to think Obama is some kind of devil, as they were deriding the University for employing him in their Law school. Duh.

Some other good quotes from the student signs: "God hates the New Facebook", "Jesus rebuked the fig as an evil abomination" and "God Promises Terrible Vengeance Upon Any Fig-Loving Nation" (both referring to the remarkable Fig Tree incident in the Bible, Mark 11:12–14, in which Jesus curses a fig tree because it is not bearing any fruits - outside the fig season), and of course my favorite "Cthulhu Hates Chordates".

It's nice to see University of Chicago students using christian fundies' tactics right back at them. With the Cthulhu mythos of Lovecraft no less! I'm quite into that at the moment. Got a box full of sixties, seventies and early eighties SF and horror paperbacks from my mom a few weeks ago and I'm currently exploring the Lovecraft volumes in there... Dagon was my latest read.

Tir Na Nog Press has bought Realms of Fantasy and is going to release a first "new" issue in May. Barebones site here.

SFScope has a complete article with some more details, including reactions by new publisher Warren Lapine as well as the editor Shawna McCarthy who will apparently be staying on. Continuity seems guaranteed:

Lapine is not anticipating any changes that will be visible to the public. Realms will continue paying authors the same rates, on acceptance, and leave the editors in place. He hopes to have his first issue out in May. "Our plan is to miss only one issue. The next on the schedule would have been 15 March, and for obvious reasons, that's not going to happen."

Finally some good news from the SFnal magazines...

Some general netleechery:

>>Kepler mission launched successfully.
The Kepler mission will go hunting for exoplanets - planets in other solar systems close (in astronomical terms) to our own.
Why care? Kepler's instruments should allow it to detect tiny planets - Earth-scale - and with the recent flood of exoplanet discoveries, the general expectation is that quite a number of these will be found. Who knows, there might be one or two with just the right combination of orbit distance (temperature), atmosphere, surface composition, to more or less match our own preferred environment. That would be cool, wouldn't it? All we would need would be transport...


>> And talking about transport, there's been some debate following Charlie Stross' predictions about space colonization not being a realistic scenario, because of the many inhibitive factors (cost to lift sufficient mass outside of the earth's gravity well being the main one). Some people keep coming back to "Orion project"-style propulsion as the solution to all these problems.
Sorry, but I for one am not convinced the rapid detonation of nuclear bombs is the great way forward. Rocket launches - even using conventional technology that has been around for over sixty years - go wrong at an astonishing rate. Is it two out of every ten launches that fail? I'm not sure I got that statistic right, but anyway, rockets keep malfunctioning under the extreme conditions that arise when you shoot something out of the atmosphere. And call me a coward, but I'd rather not see a vehicle carrying enough fuel for millions of nuclear explosions blow up in the night sky.


>> Why do Killer Asteriods Fascinate Us So?
To continue on the spacey theme, Discover Magazine (via Jay Lake's link salad) has a story on why asteroids fascinate our collective conscience. I know it is something that worries even my four-and-a-half year old son; it's been something he keeps asking from time ever since learning about the asteroid impact as a possible extinction event for the dinosaurs. From that perspective, I don't think it has anything to do with cultural predilections, but everything with an innate fear of the unpredictable, the unpreventable, "divine intervention"-style events that no one can do anything about.
And who can blame us?

Off to the Ardennes later this afternoon; will most likely be 100% offline until Sunday late afternoon. Let's the weather holds up - with 14 adults and 9 children under 5 it might get a little busy if we have to spend all weekend indoors :-)

A couple of sugary-sweet links for you sweet-tooths out there:

>> The Perfect Job as according to Neil Gaiman
Did I mention that Neil Gaiman is the author of some of my favorite books of all time?
Not only did I have something of a revelation watching Neverwhere on the Beeb when I was what, fourteen or so - the revelation being that fantasy did not have to be all-out in-your-face elves and orcs in order to be deeply interesting; no, he also wrote American Gods and Anansi Boys, two books that are thematically related and that left a deep mark on my soul. Underneath the light-hearted tongue-in-cheekness of Gaiman's writing lies a vein of sparkling insight in the core fabric of real life.
Anyway: Gaiman points us to his favorite job - let's just say it involves Iceland and elves. Hilarious but true...

>> Did Ambrose Pierce invent the emoticon?
On William Gibson's blog - yes, another one of my literary heroes - an interesting snippet about how the emoticon might have been invented as early as... 1912?

I promised some thoughts on Gibson. What has always appealed to me in his work is the absolute minimalism that characterizes his style. Using short, terse sentences, he somehow manages to both drive the plot forward at breakneck speed and to paint an intensely realistic picture of his near-future/future-present environments. And his short blog posts speak of this very same talent: sometimes no more than a few words and a link, sometimes a little worked, they all fit into his piercing analysis of our modern age.

>> John Scalzi on "Unfilmable" movies
Interesting article on books or comics that are (were) thought to be unfilmable, yet have been turned into blockbuster/failed (strike what does not apply) flicks regardless.
I also learned from this post that A Song of Fire and Ice (by George RR Martin, I'm currently reading volume 3) has been optioned by HBO. That sounds interesting!

Just for your and my reference, I submitted The Snow Fell Fast to Futurismic on Monday. I changed some minor things based on some helpful crits on the OWW. It's now out there, on its own feet, living its own life and I had to let it go...

So, some yummy links from the interwebs:

Charles Stross gives us the lowdown on the coming century in his FAQ >> Highly interesting questions are answered in a very straightforward manner. I almost completely concur with Charles' analysis of our near future...

Jay Lake's new novel Escapement is released to the masses in paperback.

"Lively and thought-provoking...Lake effectively anneals steampunk with geo-mechanical magic in an allegorical matrix of empire building and Victorian natural science." --"Publishers Weekly" (starred review) on "Escapement"

I really liked Mainspring, so I'll have to go for Escapement as well. Besides, Jay seems like a great guy judging from his blogodentity; so go out and shop!

Jed Hartman reports on the flood of submissions they're seeing at Strange Horizons >> Is this symptomatic of the collapse of a number of other fiction markets? Is this because they are one of the few "pro" markets who accept electronic submissions, which makes them much more accessible for the novice writer?

Once in a blue moon, you load the front page of the New York Times and you see a headline that makes you feel all happy and fuzzy inside. Perhaps this world will not go careering to its doom after all, mayhap our world leaders will in the end choose for the common good instead of for smallminded self-centred patriotic insanity.

Today was such a day, as the NY Times runs the following headline:
Obama Offered Deal to Russia in Secret Letter

Read and enjoy. Thank God for a Democratic President with brains and basic human values. Let's hope Obama's plans come through and we don't end up in a new Cold War with Russia.

Finally, I think one can only be impressed by the speed and scale of Obama's first acts of government. After little more than a month, he has announced not only huge internal reforms that would have seemed improbable under any other president, but he's also made bold moves on the international diplomatic front.

As to the Rush Limbaughs of this world, who wish Obama to fail: there can be no apology for your stupidity. How can anyone who is half sane object to defusing the time bomb that was the Bush missile defense plan? How can anyone object to better education and health care?
As for Limbaugh, Scalzi has an excellent post on the danger professional mediabigots like Limbaugh pose for the GOP first, and the US democratic system second.
I am beginning to think that lobotomies are part of the GOP initiation rituals...

The SF Site is always a good source for news on the SFF publishing front: they spit out good and in-depth reviews on almost everything that is published in the SFF world, and they've now published their own "best of year" list for 2008.

Read the list here.

I'm sad to say that I have only read one of the ten novels listed on that page. I really must read more... I did read Neil Gaiman's the Graveyard Book. And I really, really loved that. I'm a big Gaiman fan. For me, he's perhaps the best SFF author around today.

As for the other books on the list, I'll have to check a few of those. Scalzi's Zoe's Tale is one I look forward to picking up - I really loved his Old Man's War, and I'm a regular on his blog as well.

Joe Abercrombie sounds interesting; I plan to put his work on my to-read list as well. I'm really enjoying the gritty world of George RR Martin's Song of Fire and Ice series, but I've taken a break on that series (don't want to get over-exposed because that would reduce my enjoying of the series; also he's still working on it so there's no hurry!). Perhaps Abercrombie would be a good fit for that hole in my fantasy reading slot :-)

On a more personal note, I need to finish some last edits on The Snow Fell Fast and Final, and then I'm going to officially call it finished and get on to something new. Something entirely different is playing around in my head, some with lots action, bushfires, and aboriginals. Yummy!