Putting the life back in science fiction

Anne McCaffrey and Lynn Margulis, RIP
November 23, 2011, 8:40 pm
Filed under: fall, fantasy, Real Science Content, science fiction

Sad news today. Two grand ladies who had a strong influence on me have passed away. I can’t say that I knew them, although I heard both of them speak.

Anne McCaffrey died at her home in Ireland. She is, of course, known for her Pern novels, and I didn’t realize until I saw her obituary that The White Dragon was the first science fiction novel to make it onto the New York Times bestseller list.

Lynn Margulis, winner of the National Medal of Science, died at her home in Massachusetts. She’s best known for demonstrating that eukaryotic cells derived from serial endosymbiosis, the fusing of several prokaryotic cells to form the organelles of the eukaryote (and yes, I’m keeping it simple). I don’t think she was the first person to consider this idea, but she certainly was the one who demonstrated it and popularized the concept.

A copy of Dragonflight was the first book I ever had autographed, and I still have it. As a child in a house with a cat named Smaug, you can guess that I ran into dragons early, but I was drawing Michael Whelan-style dragons as soon as I saw the cover of The White Dragon in my parents’ hands. I’ve had a fondness for dragons ever since.

As for Dr. Margulis, she and I both went to the same school, albeit decades apart, and her books (particularly The First Four Billion Years, which I read for fun as an undergrad) introduced me to the concept of symbiosis, something which ultimately became the topic of my PhD research.

Oddly enough, the first book I wrote, Scion of the Zodiac, is in part about symbiosis, and in part about dragons. Thinking about it, perhaps I should have dedicated it to the two of them.

The world is a better place from their lives and their work, and they will be missed.


It’s NaNoWriMo time!
October 27, 2011, 5:55 pm
Filed under: fall, writing | Tags: ,

Just a quick note. For a while, I’ve done the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge. If you’ve ever wanted to write a novel, this is the time and way to do it. Go to http://www.nanowrimo.org/ and get involved.

What is NaNoWriMo? Simply a race to write 50,000 words by November 30. That’s 50,000 words of anything. At the end, you call it a novel, upload the file to get your word count verified, and you can scratch “write a novel” off your life-list. You don’t win anything, it’s simply for self-satisfaction and the true sense of accomplishment when you get it done.

Of course it will be unreadable, but that’s not really the point. Think of this as a marathon brainstorm to get ideas out of your head, into a space where you can do something with them. I’ve started my last two novels that way, and it’s a great way to get in the habit of writing 1667.67 words per day. On average. In my case, those 50,000 words have included things like brainstorming, outlining, background research, character descriptions, and actual novel.

Right now, I’m working on the sequel to Ghosts of Deep Time, and I’m behind where I want to be. There’s this pesky little 2.5 billion year gap I need to fill in. Cretaceous or Triassic? The sequel (The Archean Dragon) won’t be done December 1st, but I’ll have 2.5 billion years of something better than what I have now, and I’ll have the novel done (hopefully) a month or two thereafter.

Anyone else joining in? Spread the word. It’s free, it’s fulfilling, and it teaches you things about yourself that you never knew, like the fact that you can write 50,000 words in a month, even though Thanksgiving is in November too. I even recommend it for grad students attempting to finish their theses and dissertations, although in the life sciences, you do NOT need 50,000 words to graduate. It just feels that way. Use those 44,000 extra words to express how you feel about your thesis and your life in epic detail.

Good luck to all who enter.

Hot hot hot!
September 30, 2010, 12:36 am
Filed under: fall, livable future, science fiction, Worldbuilding, writing

We’ve had a cool year here in southern California (the tragedy, fog at the beaches. What will the tourists do?). This week we’ve finally gotten hit by some reasonably hot, clear days, and wow, it does feel like global warming is back on again.

Great time to go back to the future. How are we going to survive all this change?

I don’t have any answers, but for this time travel work, I’ve been reading about so many mountain buildings, great volcanoes, mass extinctions, ice ages, new evolutionary lines, grass taking over, dogs and cats living together (well, miacids living together before the two lineages split), learning how many times evolution can reinvent a sabertooth (answer: more than 4. And Counting)…. It’s made me a little, well, jaundiced about today’s problems.

I just want to throw up my hands and say, “Meh, I think we’ll manage somehow.” That’s the pleasure of the long view. I’d hate to live through what our ancestors survived, but somehow, enough of them lived that we’re here.

That’s one thing that inspires my conservation efforts. As I tell people, straight-faced, in California, people lived off native plants and animals for something like 10,000 years, give or take. Therefore, we know it can be done sustainably. Conversely, we’re having trouble with this little suburbanization experiment a few decades after we started. This strongly suggests that we should be conserving native plants and animals as an emergency back up, just in case we were wrong in assuming that importing water, power, and food was a good way to live here. We need something for the few survivors to fall back on, after the apocalypse.

For some reason, this doesn’t make me so popular with more ardent conservationists. I’m not sure why.

Oh well. What’s the future look like for you, in the hot days of autumn? Maybe we’ll start cycling through boom-bust civilizations every 2000 years, a la Niven and Pournelle’s Moties?