Friday, December 25, 2009

Should SF Die?

(Cross-posted from the Shine website.)

There’s been a lot of musing about the fate of science fiction, lately. To be clear, I’ll be discussing *written SF* here (predominantly), not SF in movies, comics, video games or other media. To summarise (and this is far from complete, but I hope it touches upon the main points):

  • According to Ashok Banker, SF is morally and ethically bankrupt (to put it mildly: his interview at the World SF News Blog has been deleted on his request, because some idiot stalker is now threatening not only him, but his family and friends, as well);
My viewpoint is that SF is becoming increasingly irrelevant, and that lack of relevance can be attributed to developments and trends already mentioned in the points above, and SF’s unwillingness to really engage with the here-and-now. That doesn’t mean that SF needs to die (actually, a slow marginalisation into an increasingly neglected and despised niche-cum-ghetto is probably a fate worse than death), but it does mean that SF needs to change, and that it needs to become much more inclusive of the alien (and I mean alien in ‘humans-can-be-aliens-to-each-other’ sense) and proactive, meaning it should not just shout ‘FIRE! FIRE!’ (and do almost nothing but), but both man the fire trucks *and* think of ways to prevent more fires.

That’s the short version: allow me to expand on it below the cut.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


Apologies — to the two or three people still follwoing this blog — for the lack of updates: the Shine anthology and other projects are eating up all my time. All the action (well, as far as I am concerned) is over there.

So a short recap:

In my ongoing efforts to promote Shine, an anthology of near-future, optimistic SF (to be released by Solaris Books in April 2010), I have started a competition. Goal of this competition: guess the end sentence of 16 fragments of the stories appearing in Shine, plus the authors: SHINE COMPETITION!

Prizes: too good to be true!

Rules: short and straightforward!

It's a fun way of experiencing parts of the stories, and get into the writers' minds.

Also, in order to promote Shine and optimistic SF in general, I have started a webzine called Daybreak Magazine. DayBreak Magazine will feature an new story every two weeks. So far four have already been published:

Finally, for those who like their fiction *extremely* short, my Twitterzine @outshine containing optimistic SF tweets (and music reviews by Paul Graham Raven, movie reviews by Lucius Shephard, and comics reviews by David Alexander MacDonald) has been running from January 2009 onwards.

These three venues -- the Shine blog, Daybreak Magazine and @outshine -- are updated, very frequently and often.

(Shine cover art by Vincent Chong)

The moment I have more time I hope to post some more personal stuff over here, such as Con reports from both Anticipation and World Fantasy in San José.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Travel Schedule, Part 2

In week 32, I will be attending Anticipation, the Montréal WorldCon.

My travel plans and preliminary schedule are as follows:

Flight to Montréal:Departure: Tuesday August 4 @ 15.20 hrs. with flight KL 0671;
  • Arrival: Tuesday August 4 @ 16.35 hrs (flying time approx. 7.15 hrs.)

After clearing customs & immigration I'll be heading to the Best Western Europa for a full week (there was a CAN$ 80 per night special if I booked a full week, so why not...;-).

This gives me the Tuesday night and the Wednesday daytime for preparations, especially -- I hope -- to do some shopping for a special event.

Also, an 'unofficial' event: Pubcrawling with the Pros.

Last year, Jim Minz had the luminous idea to do a Microbrew Pubcrawl in Denver (actually two: one on the Wednesday before, and one on the Sunday afternoon). As it happened, only two people showed up on the Wednesday (Jim and me), but we had a great time, and tasted some great beers. Sunday we redid it with a nice group (Jim Minz, Jeremy Lassen, John Picacio, Chris Roberson, Allison Baker, John Picacio, Diana Rowland, Christian Dunn, George Mann, Mark Newton and a few others whom I can't recall right now) to great acclaim.

Montreal supposedly has Belgian type beers, so I think a repeat is in order.

So, the way things look right now, there will be two pubcrawls:

  1. Wednesday evening August 5 from 8 PM onwards: where I will be waiting in the bar of the Hotel Delta Centre-Ville for the estimable Mr. Jim Minz to arrive, after which we set off;

  2. Monday afternoon August 10 from 1 PM onwards: we gather in Le Fourquet Fourchette restaurant (which is located right in the Palais des Congrés), and from there we will set off;

Since we expect that the group on the Monday will be much larger, the Monday pubcrawl will be less extensive (we'll concentrate on a group of brewpubs which are within crawling distance) than the Wednesday evening one.

Anybody who wishes to join us, feel free to drop me an email at .

At Thursday the WordCon takes off, and -- so far -- I have the following items scheduled:--> Thursday August 6:

When: Thu 2:00 PM

Location: P-511A

Session ID: 345

Title: Translation Challenges

Description: What are the artistic and professional challenges faced by translators? How do they tackle translating between languages whosegrammars are incompatible?

Language: English

Track: Literature in English

Moderator: Kari Sperring

Duration: 1:30 hrs:min

All Participants: Jetse de Vries, Kari Sperring, Rani Graff, TomClegg, Fabio Fernandes, Eileen Gunn.

NB: Fábio Fernandes is still listed as a participant, but unfortunately he will not make it. Too bad: I was looking forward to meeting him, as well.


When: Thu 5:00 PM

Location: P-518A

Session ID: 549

Title: Putting the World into Worldcon

Description: Our information about SF outside the English language isoften provided by (mediated by) Anglophone experts who have been tothe foreign land in question and brought back what interests them.Here, instead, we gather experts from SF/fantasy traditions outsideEnglish to tell us what we should look out for.

Language: English

Track: Literature in English

Moderator: Jetse de Vries

Duration: 1:30 hrs:min

All Participants: Aliza Ben Moha, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, Jetse de Vries, Stefan Krzywicki, Tara Oakes, Tore A. Hřie

NB: a handy map for the locations (which is available on the Anticipation website):

Furthermore, on Thursday evening -- as things stand now -- I will be having dinner with a few very good friends: Adam Rakunas and Daryl Gregory and his family in Au Pied de Cochon.

--> Friday August 7:

When: Fri 3:30 PM

Location: P-523A

Session ID: 1008

Title: Anatomy for Writers, Heroes and Tavern Brawlers.

Description: Author, karate instructor, fencer and first aid officerSean McMullen provides a tour of how the human body can and cannot bedamaged. Want to know where a hero can be punched without any effect?Worried about his vascular dilation? Curious about the real-lifeversion of Mr Spock's nerve pinch? Not sure whether a really longsword fight is three hours or seven seconds? Wondering why readers arelaughing because your hero has microsecond reactions? Come along andfind out in complete safety.
Language: English

Track: The Light Programme

Moderator: Sean McMullen

Duration: 1:30 hrs:min
All Participants: Jetse de Vries, Sean McMullen, Darlene Marshall, Kirsten Britain

NOTE: this should be great fun: I will be the wild barbarian who gets his arse kicked by the Master. Or maybe, maybe the unwashed barbarian can pull a quick one...


When: Friday 7.00 PM

Location: Room 2231, Party Level, Hotel Delta Centre-Ville

Session ID: C2H5OH

Title: Angry Robot Launch Party.

Description: Launch party for new HarperCollins imprint Angry Robot. With introduction speech by Neil Gaiman. Drinks, drinks, drinks & snacks arranged by your Moderator who has a reputation (Interzone party, LACon IV; Pyr party, Denvention) to uphold. Wine aficionados will be attended to by connoissuer Adam Rakunas; beer lovers will be helped by The Flying Dutchman; there will even be soft drinks and mineral water for teetotallers. This is the party to be on the Friday night: don't miss it!

Language: English/Français/others/

Track: The Party Floor

Moderators: Jetse de Vries, Adam Rakunas (wine master)

Hosts: Marc Gasoigne & Lee Harris (Publishers/Editors)

Duration: ??:?? hrs:min (depending on when your 'Moderator' decides to call it quits, or when the booze runs out, or when the suite needs to be vacated: whichever comes first...;-)

Special Guests: Neil Gaiman & Mystery Guest, various Angry Robot authors

Note that Neil Gaiman, as Guest of Honour, has a very full schedule, so will make an appearance at 7 PM and give a short speech. If you want to see him, be early!

All Participants: everybody is invited!

Be often, drink early! (Or was it the other way around?)

--> Saturday August 8:

When: Sat 12:30 PM

Location: P-521A

Session ID: 1625

Title: Jetse de Vries--Kaffeeklatsch

Description: A chance to ask those burning questions.

Language: English

Track: Kaffeeklatsch

Moderator: (I'll be there: don't worry)

Duration: 1:00 hrs:min

All Participants: Jetse de Vries & all who wish to show up. Come by & ask anything you want!


When: Sat 3:30 PM

Location: P-516AB

Session ID: 586

Title: How to Pitch Your Novel ... And How Not to

Description: You're an aspiring writer, you've run into an editor oragent in a bar. After buying them a drink, what's the next thing to do? Talk about your just-completed novel? Thrust the printout into their hands? Or ... something else? Some advice from those who know.

Language: English

Track: Literature in English

Moderator: Cathy Petrini

Duration: 1:30 hrs:min

All Participants: Cathy Petrini, Jetse de Vries, Mike Resnick, Sean Wallace, Ginjer Buchanan

--> Sunday August 9:

When: Sun 10:00 AM

Location: P-511CF

Session ID: 87

Title: When the Oil Runs Out

Description: Oil is a limited resource but is the basis of much ofour energy usage. What are we going to do as it becomes more expensiveand eventually runs out? Turn your bicycle into a dynamo to power yourphone or laptop?

Language: English

Track: Science and Space

Moderator: Jetse de Vries

Duration: 1:00 hrs:min

All Participants: Chuck Cady, Jetse de Vries, Paul Kincaid, MichčleLaframboise, Richard Lynch, Paolo Bacigalupi.


When: Sun 12:00 PM

Location: Other

Session ID: 1527

Title: Jetse de Vries Signing

Description: Jetse de Vries Signing ehrm ... something.

Language: English

Track: Autographs


Duration: 12:30 hrs:min (this is what it literally says in the email I received from programming: I'll just assume that it's a typo and it'll take 00.30 hrs:min. Or they've mistaken me for J.K. Rowling...;-)

All Participants: Jetse de Vries

NOTE: from 8.00 PM onwards you have the Hugo Awards Ceremony, followed by the Hugo Losers Party (actually Hugo Nominees Party, but as a four-time loser 'Losers Party' just sounds better) and various other parties.

NB: I understand from Jim Minz that the Baen party will also be on the Sunday night. There will be -- as ever -- no lack of booze.


-->Monday August 10:

The second pubcrawl.

Gasthering time: 1.00 PM

Gathering spot: Le Fourquet Fourchette restaurant (which is located right in the Palais des Congrés).

As Jim has something scheduled at 6.00 PM, we intend to return before that time.

It's also much better to do this before the Dead Dog party, as then you can actually taste the great beers Montréal has to offer. After that it's Dead Dog time, and all will be well...;-)

Then I'll be flying back home on Tuesday August 11:

Flight from Montréal:

  • Departure: Tuesday August 11 @ 18.25 hrs. with flight KL 0671;
  • Arrival: Wednesday August 12 @ 07.05 hrs (flying time approx. 6.40 hrs.)

No rest for the wicked, as then I need to finalise the Shine ToC, and reminisce about SF plans for the future. Next Con will be World Fantasy in San Jose.

A Travel Schedule, part 1

In week 30, I will be visiting China in order to witness the July 22 total solar eclipse (which is the longest of this century!).

My itinerary is as follows:

Flight to Shanghai:
  • Departure: Saturday July 18 @ 18.20 hrs. with flight KL 0895
  • Arrival: Sunday July 18 @ 10.55 hrs. (flying time approx. 10.35 hrs.)
As I understand from one of my colleagues at work, China is taking the swine flu (or Mexican flu) pandemic very seriously, and people will be scanned -- on the forehead -- with an infrared scanner in the plane, after it has landed (obviously) and before it is allowed to go to the gate. See the picture.

So I'm mentally preparing for an extra two hours on the ground before we can disembark.

Then it's off to the Crowne Plaza Century Park Hotel, where I will stay for two nights. I'll probably visit our company's Shanghai local headquarters on Monday.

Then on Tuesday, I'm travelling onward to Wuhan's Hangkou station by train (and a bullet train at that):

  • July 21 -- Shanghai to Hangkou -- D3006 -- depart 14.06 hrs. -- arrive 18.59 hrs.

In Wuhan I've booked the Yushang Business Hotel, as my fellow eclipse enthusiasts will be staying there, as well.

My eclipse friends have booked an organised trip through the geology department of the University of Utrecht, which lasts three weeks. I didn't book that trip because I will be going to Anticipation -- the Montréal WorldCon -- a week later, and I only have so many days off, and my budget only goes so far.

Anyway, reunion with friends on the Tuesday night, and then the next morning, on July 22, I hope to join the group when they set off, on 6 a.m., for a good location about 25 kilometres north of Wuhan. Climatologically speaking, this should be one of the best spots (with the lowest chance of cloud cover, which is still 61%, so it's going to be ) to observe the total solar eclipse.

(NB: this is the one from last year in Novosibirsk.)

Here's the interactive map of the July 22, 2009 solar eclipse (courtesy of NASA). The centre line of totality goes straight over the Wuhan Tianhe Airport, and the place where we will -- probably, as I don't know the exact location -- be has the following data re. the total eclipse:

Lat.: 30.7837° N; Long.: 114.3165° E

Total Solar Eclipse; Duration of Totality: 5m29.1s Magnitude: 1.037

Event ----------------------- Date ------- Time (UT) - Alt -- Azi

Partial eclipse start(C1) : 2009/07/22 00:15:01.4 032.4° 084.3°

Total eclipse start (C2) : -2009/07/22 01:24:02.4 047.2° 092.9°

Maximum eclipse : --------2009/07/22 01:26:46.4 047.8° 093.3°

Total eclipse end (C3) : --2009/07/22 01:29:31.5 048.4° 093.7°

Partial eclipse end (C4) : 2009/07/22 02:46:17.5 064.6° 108.3°

Since this is all in UT (Universal Time, then -- according to the Time Zone Converter -- we need to add 8 hours for CHina time, so totality will start at 09.24.02 hrs local time, and end at 09.29.31 local time.

Or, in solar eclipse geek parlance: First Contact @ 08.15.01 local time; Second Contact @ 09.24.02; Third Contact @ 09.29.31; and Fourth Contact @ 10.46.17.

After which we will return to Wuhan and then either celebrate a successful observation, or drown our sorrows if the event was obscured by clouds. There will be beer, nevertheless.

Then the Uni of Utrecht groep will fly onwards to Guilin in the evening: I will stay one more night in Wuhan. The enxt day I'll be going back to Shanghai:

  • July 23 -- Hangkou to Shanghai -- D3016 -- depart 11.23 hrs. -- arrive 16.16 hrs.

Of course, I could have taken a flight from Shanghai to Wuhan and back, but I hope to see a bit more of China in the train, and a five hour train trip is just about the right length. Another, although unplanned, advantage is that the Yushang Business Hotel in Wuhan is literally a stone's throw away from the Hangkou railway station. This is a lucky coincidence (I would've booked the same hotel as where my eclips friends would be staying, irrespective of location in Wuhan).

Then, on Thursday late afternoon I'm back in Shanghai.

The Friday morning and afternoon are free for sightseeing: in the evening the plan is to have dinner and drinks (plenty of drinks) with a couple of Dutch expatriates, who know the good places in Shanghai.

Then Saturday -- with or without hangover -- is the trip back home:

Flight from Shanghai:

  • Departure: Saturday July 25 @ 12.50 hrs. with flight KL 0896
  • Arrival: Saturday July 25 @ 18.55 hrs. (flying time approx. 11.45 hrs.)

Which then gives me the Sunday to recover as I am expected back on the day job on the Monday. Then one week of work, and onwards to Montréal (of which more in the next post). Last year, I had only two days between returning from Novosibirsk and travelling onwards to Denvention. Now, it's ten days, so maybe I'll be more coherent on the first day in Canada...;-).

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Miscellaneous Writing Updatery

With all the things I'm doing for the Shine anthology, my own SF writing gets buried under (much in the same manner as it did when I was still part of the Interzone team).

I do have two new stories ready, but I either run them through the critiquing gamut, or let them age a bit (like wine or cheese), before I send them out. So this update is about reprints.

For one, “Cultural Clashes in Cádiz” – originally in The Amityville House of Pancakes, vol. 1 (officially out of print, although you can snag up a hardcopy [used and even a ‘new’ one] at Amazon US – I notice that the ‘new’ one goes for $36.99 and the used from $6.52 and up – Amazon UK – where one ‘new’ one goes for £8.95 [the other for £51.94, which is insane] and the used for £40.71, what the heck? – Amazon Canada – ‘new’ one for C$62.24, used ones from C$25.95 through C$66.56 , which is also madness – while Clarkesworld Books discounts it to $9.00 [the shop's only temporarily re-opened, and you have to buy for $35 minimum], Shocklines has it for $13.95, and the Genremall has it for $13.35. Finally, an electronic version at Fictionwise) – and now reprinted in A Mosque Among the Stars (hardcopy via ZC Books, kindle edition via Amazon US), is getting some decidedly good reviews:

  • Annie at Annieworld was somewhat confused by it at first, thrown off by the name Leonard, but eventually “So the real reason for the actions of Leonard caught me by surprise and I loved it. It is probably one of the best stories.” (of the anthology);
  • Berrien C Henderson, the self avowed geek, wrote in his LJ review of A Mosque Among the Stars: “My hands-down favorite was the time-travel adventure, “Cultural Clashes in Cadiz,” by Jetse de Vries. He handles multiple settings and points of view quite well and weaves them together for a satisfying conclusion with a bit of a twist I thought I would’ve seen coming and didn’t, so my hat’s off to Jetse for the pleasant surprise.”;
  • And Francesca Forrest – on LJ as Asakiyume Mita – was also very complinetary (while pointing out errors-cum-characteristics: “The language in this one is over the top, sometimes hilariously anachronistic”) in her LJ review: “The story is full of heart. It’s exuberant, hilarious, and underneath it all, moving.”;

However, before my head swells to dangerous proportions, there are also reviews that either don’t mention it (SF Gospel’s Gabriel McKee’s review [maybe it was one of the problematic ones: “There’s a thread running through the anthology, and it’s tough to tell how problematic it is. Many of the stories deal with terrorism, war, and the clash of civilizations.”, however “The important thing, and what the editors have striven for, is that these stories address the questions of terrorism and war without demonizing the innocent along with the guilty. It’s an important message, and this anthology delivers it well. ”], or Susie Hawes at Ghostposts [“The rest of the stories are wonderfully written, with tight plotting, sympathetic characterization and close attention to internal logic. The settings are descriptive. The suspense is chilling.”], or ‘ilm al-insaan’s review [where it was probably one of the problematic ones, as well: “My problems with the volume included a definite sense that readers are still encountering the “Islamic” aspects from the position of outsiders, Western, non-Muslim outsiders. The authors are primarily non-Muslim, and there was a tendency in some of the stories to exoticize the Muslim Other.”), or that don’t like it (I honestly couldn't find one in the A Mosque Among the Stars reviews, although there were a few in the Amityville House of Pancakes, vol 1 reviews).

While “Cultural Clashes in Cádiz” is enjoying its second wind, “Random Acts of Cosmic Whimsy” has just had its third publication, albeit as a translation in the latest issue of Galaxies magazine. The story's first appearance was in DeathGrip: Exit Laughing under the title “The Ultimate Coincidence” (after which Hellbound Books, the publishers, immediately called it a day. The anthology is for sale at Shocklines for $3, though), back in November, 2005.

Then a rewritten and retitled version called “Random Acts of Cosmic Whimsy” appeared in FLURB #6 in September 2008. The translated version of that version has just appeared in Galaxies (according to the Table of Contents it’s French title is “Exemples aléatoires de fantaisie cosmique”, which is something like “Random Examples of Cosmic Imagination”, if Babelfish is on the money). And my name’s on the cover, so I’m quite chuffed.

And there’s another appearance in the works – at least, I hope that’s still the case – on which more if and when it appears.

Finally, “Transcendence Express” is heading for its fourth appearance (first as lead story in HUB #2, the last print version of the magazine: there’s a dangerous pattern appearing here; then as an electronic incarantion in HUB #44 [no direct link yet as content is moved over from the old HUB website]; and Escape Pod podcast EP #122) in The Apex Book of World SF, edited by Lavie Tidhar, and planned for a September 1 2009, but already available as a pre-order.

Also in this case there was a fifth appearance planned, but since it’s been very quiet about that one, I suspect it fell through. Anyway, so far I can’t complain.

(Note: edited to correct that Berrien Henderson is a he, not a she)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Prologues in SF

This is actually an answer to the "A Bit Previous" post by Neil Williamson, which was triggered by a Twitter discussion after Gareth Lyn Powell made the seemingly innocuous remark "I can haz prologue".

The general sentiment, it seems, is against the (use of the) prologue. Here's my defense of it:

As I already mentioned on Twitter, prologues are like highly dominant spices in a dish: they can work if used with mastery and restraint, and if they add someting essential to the whole.

Three types (from the top of my head):

1) Essential pre-info dumping.

In this, a previous event that — like the famed ‘wings of the butterfly’ — sets off a much larger event. The much larger event is the novel, the much smaller event that initiated the storm is the prologue.

Example: Schild’s Ladder by Greg Egan. Part one of that book is nothing but a prologue; that is: the experiment that triggered a Universe-wide change of reality. The experiment in the prologue is about probing reality at its deepest core — like Fermilab and Cern are doing, but then on a much grander scale. This experiment focusses immense energies at a very small scale, and triggers a change of the ‘normal’ vacuum state, something the researcher in the prologue didn’t expect.

However, once a quantum of the vacuum turns into ‘novo-vacuum’, this releases enough energy to transform nearby vacua as well, and a chain reaction ensues: reality changing from state 1 to state 2 at about half the speed of light.

The researcher and her team don’t survive the experiment (are simply transformed/absorbed by the novo-vacuum), so can’t be used as a flashback/infodump latter on in the story.

The rest of the novel is about how the novo-vaccuum expands from the initial site of the experiment — a sphere expanding at half lightspeed — and how some people eventually find that — while it transforms ‘normal’ space, ‘eating up’ planets settled by humans — this might not be a bad thing after all, as they discover that the novo-vacuum might be *richer* than normal space. However, for deeper emotional richness and involvement it is essential that the reader knows that the onruishing novo-vacuum is not a freak event, but something initiated by scientific curiosity, giving the novel a richer moral ambiguity.

Schild’s Ladder is probably the most extreme hard SF novel ever written, and possibly the one’s that least understood. I consider it Egan’s absolute masterpiece, the most extreme extrapolation of hard SF to date.

And it wouldn’t have worked without the prologue (even if it’s called ‘part 1′: it stands completely apart from the rest of the novel, so is the perfect definition of a prologue).

2) Superb scene-setting without giving anything essential away (that almost the antidote of example 1).

This is even harder to do: the only example that comes to mind right now (and I’m almost certain that next week or next month, when this discussion is forgotten, several better ones will come up) is Ian McDonald’s Brasyl.

I know, Our Lady of Production Values is presented as a first chapter rather than a prologue, but its first three ’slices of Brazil’ — present, future and past — work phenomenally well as three separate prologues into the complex multiverse that is ‘Brasyl’.

(Warning: music analogy coming): It’s akin to the way that ‘Prelude to Madness’ — which is a very heavy version of the Grieg original — is used as an prelude (musical prologue) of Savatage’s “Hall of the Mountain King” (which is the original title — albeit in Norwegian — of Grieg’s composition. It sets the stage for the main song, the whole atmosphere while also, in a way, is quite different from it. It paves the way without giving too much away, and both the prelude and the main song are more than the sum of the separate parts.

3) Both an essential pre-info dump that does give something essential away *and* a superb scene-setting that doesn’t give everything away.

This one is the hardest to do.

For this, check out The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. This is probably one of the most perfect prologues ever written: the protagonist tells how — when he was still very young — he was taken into the ‘Cemetery of Forgotten Books’ by his father, and had to make a life-changing choice by selecting one book (which was, obviously, The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax). This foreshadows everything while giving almost nothing away. It makes you want to read this, no matter what. And the novel delivers in spades.

Maybe it’s more like an overture (warning: musical analogy coming up) than a prelude: it contains the seeds of everything to come while not telling the whole story. Like the ‘Overture’ of 2112 by Rush.

I know that anybody can give countless examples of prologues that are total failures, and I gladly concede that the utmost majority are.

However, that is the same as saying that 'stream-of-consciousness’ writing can never work. Indeed, it almost never does. However, you have novels like ‘Ulysses’ and ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ (the obvious English-language examples: there are Russian & French predecessors and many international and English-language successors to this style of writing).

In science, the single successful experiment leads to a new, breakthrough theory that eventually gets general acknowledgement (and acknowledges the necessity of the failed experiments, as well, as these showed how it shouldn’t be done). In SF writing though, it seems that more often than not people prefer to discard the rare but spectacularly successful experiments on the basis of all the failed ones.

That, I am arguing, is fatally wrong and will help make SF irrelevant.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

EasterCon: LX 2009

I will be attending EasterCon in Bradford. I hope to see many of you there: both the ones I already know, and new people (happy to meet you!).

I will be on the following programme items:

Friday April 10:

SF music in popular culture : War of the Worlds to Rocky Horror
Fri 19:00 Hawthorn
Persephone Hazard (moderator)
Mike Cobley
Jetse de Vries
Neil Williamson

Sunday April 12:

"Near-future, optimistic SF": "Two impossibilities, or something we can pull off?"
Sun 19:00 Hawthorn
Jetse de Vries (moderator)
Chris Beckett
Jaine Fenn
Charlie Stross
Tony Ballantyne

"Writers, artists and fans discuss their musical inspiration"
Sun 20:00 Sycamore
Persephone Hazard (moderator)
Mike Cobley
Paul McAuley
Jetse de Vries
Alastair Reynolds

E-Books - are they the future? Ebook readers are being sold in high street stores. Has the timefinally come for them to achieve mainstream popularity?
Sun 22:00 Hawthorn
Alex Ingram (moderator)
Mike Scott
Lee Harris
Jetse de Vries

Monday April 13:

Hugo nominations panel: "The nominations for the 2009 Hugo awards have been released - what do we think? What are the surprises, and what are the notable omissions?"
Mon 11:00 Boardroom
Pauline Morgan (moderator)
Mike Scott
Penny Hill
Shana Worthen
Jetse de Vries

So my Sunday evening schedule is quite full, but luckily I will have time enough on Saturday to check out a few book launches (especially the Future Bristol anthology), the BSFA Awards, the Symphony Orchestra, the dealer's room, and other programme items.

There's even a beer tasting Saturday at 21.00!

Hope to see many of you this coming weekend!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ada Lovelace Day: Ingrid Daubechies

In honour of Ada Lovelace Day, I thought that I'd try to highlight a woman in science from my home country, The Netherlands. To be honest, I couldn't think of one, and also couldn't find a high profile one. This may very well be because I don't know enough, or because I didn't search enough, and do please feel free to correct me, as I sincerely would like to know.

So I moved my focus to our southern neighbours, and found a great example of a high profile female scientist: Ingrid Daubechies.

Her accomplishments are staggering: while she's mainly known in the field for her Daubechies wavelets and CDF wavelet (Cohen-Daubechies-Feauveau wavelets, of which one family is famously used in the JPEG 2000 compression), she has a Ph. D. in theoretical physics, was the first female full professor of Mathematics at Princeton -- where, I suppose, she still works today -- and has won a veritable slew of awards:

As wikipedia notes:

In 2000 Daubechies became the first woman to receive the National Academy of
Sciences (NAS) Award in Mathematics, presented every 4 years for excellence in
published mathematical research. The award honored her "for fundamental
discoveries on wavelets and wavelet expansions and for her role in making
wavelets methods a practical basic tool of applied mathematics."

I must apologise for not researching this further: typically, I made the pledge and on the day itself I find myself extremely busy. I may extend this post tomorrow.

UPDATE: there's a saying in Holland that goes: 'It's as if the Devil's playing with it'. Anyway, in a clash of synchronicity -- see me mentioning above that I couldn't come up with clear examples of Dutch women strong in science or technology -- Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant has an article about Suzan de Haan, who is the only female operations manager in charge of a drilling platform in the Dutch part of the North Sea offshore industry.

Article here (in Dutch). I'll translate some parts tomorrow as I'm running out of time today. But hey: I'm proud of Suzan de Haan, as this is a part of technology in which my day job is also closely related (we provide propulsion installations for such platforms), so I know how difficult her job is. Hat's off!

Carousel Gig in the Willem 2

Sunday March 15 the so-called Blisstrain tour had their final gig in de Willem 2 in Den Bosch.

Line up: The Antikaroshi, Ostinato, Bulbul, Beehover and We Insist!. The whole show consisted of the bands playing in a kind of 'carousel': one band would start to play, members of other bands would join in at some points, and near the end of their playing time members of the next band would join in until they took over, and the next band was on. And so on throughout the gig.

Thus, the band I was most interested in seeing -- The Antikaroshi -- started the 'Blisstrain'. Actually, the guitar player/singer of Beehover was joining in as an extra vocalist, sitting on his knees, shouting through a megaphone. May sound strange, but it worked.

After that first song, it was mostly 'pure' Antikaroshi (the violin player of Bulbul joined them during one song, and a guitar player from another band during another: I'm not sure which one): a very good band, and they played most of Crushed Neocons, with verve. Since I wasn't very familiar with them (I bought Crushed Neocons at the gig, and had only listened to some of their songs on their MySpace page), I had some cognitive dissonance. For example, at the gig I heared the one singe line of "Fes" as:

"There are so many drugs around. I need them bad, bad, bad."

While on closer listening at home it's obviously:

"There are so many dogs around. I hear them bark, bark, bark."

I leave further conclusions to the Freudians amongst you. When the drummer of two-piece band Beehover joined in, the end of the Antikaroshi's set was near. I really like them: Fugazi is an obvious influence, although for my money the Antikaroshi are more freestyle, while at the same time more tight. Great musicians.

Beehover was a nice surprise: they're a two piece (and read why on their biography) band, very tight and with a highly distinct sound. The guitar player -- as far as I could see -- uses a five string bass, of which he has stringed only the bottom four strings. The result is a sound that hangs somewhere between bass and guitar: sometimes you hear Lemmy, sometimes Kyuss, sometimes dirty rock'n'roll, sometimes stoner rock.

My friend Vincent and I loved them, and I bought their latest album Heavy Zoo after the gig. Then, instead of the next band, there was an unexpected break -- it must have been unexpected, because the DJ Bidi, who was talking backstage, had to run to get the music started.

Check out pictures of the show, made by the venue's volunteers, here.

After the break Bulbul and Ostinato played, but neither made much of an impression on me. This is mostly a matter of taste: both bands are fine, they're just not for me.

The evening ended with the highly alternative French rockers of We Insist! A weird band whose music was all over the place. The drummer looked like a cross between Phil Lynott and John Holmes, and especially his leopard skin shirt was beyond kitsch.

Maybe by that time I had too much, or my mood had shifted, but I found them a bit too freaky. YMMV, as always.

Apart from the usual merchandise (T-shirts, CDs, etc), Blisstrain provided a USB-stick with footage from the show, recorded that very day. I bought it, and love the idea!

This is the way small venues like Willem 2 and small labels like Exile on Mainstream Records make a difference: memory sticks with footage of the show you just visited, pictures both by volunteers and by visitors (if they supply them) of the same gig after that show: see above): a use of new media to good effect. Much fresher than the old go to the gig, no photos allowed and buy the overpriced merchandise tours of much bigger bands.

That Sunday I spent half the money (than I would have on a show of a 'bigger' band) and got more than twice the fun.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Why Postal Companies Are Going Down the Drain

Warning: rant!

Today I sent off an MS of 60 pages to the USA. Since that weighed over 200 grams, I had to pay 10.45 euros for the privilege. The economy option for post outside the EU has been discarded: it's either the priority rate or nothing. This is insane: I will now endeavor to send MSs only through email (even more than I already did).

Then I wanted to send a small envelope of business mail to the UK. Not only has the economy option for that been dropped, as well, but you must buy a minimum of 5 stamps, as of January 1. I only need one stamp, not five. Also, years ago postage rates would remain the same for years on end. Now the rates are increased every year, so those other four stamps will be useless if I don't use them before the end of the year.

The lady at the post office had already put the 5-stamp package in front of me, expecting I would accept that kind of policy without question. This sort of monopolist shenanigans makes my blood boil, and in turn my stubbornness goes to 11 (on a scale of 10).

So fuck that: I've sent it off with two old stamps I still had who together were worth more than the priority rate. On top of that, I'll scan the signed contract at the day job next Monday, and email it. I will try my damnedest to do as much of my correspondence over email (if possible *all* correspondence).

Thus, large national postal companies (I understand that the Royal Mail and USPS are just as bad) will continue to lose small customers (yes: citizens like you and me) through their insiduous ways of charging outrageously, and will end up mostly servicing large customers that send of mail in bulk, and thus get good discounts.

However, there are already many private companies doing that, and since these offer cut-throat rates (for bulk shipments only: just try to send a single package through a private mail company, and watch the price) in combination with horrible service (and I've seen quite some rants aimed at UPS, DHL and FedEx in the blogosphere), that is the way the national mail companies will go.

And indeed, Dutch TNT Post (already partly privatised) has already announced job cuts for the upcoming five years, even if they continue to make a profit. You see, they have to *continue* to make a profit, as they're not a fully national comany anymore. So they increasingly focus on the commercial market, and keep increasing the prices for small customers.

SF magazines are one of those 'small' customers: sending out a few thousand (let alone a few hundred) is not enough to get a bulk discount. So the postal rates for them go up, considerably, as well. Therefore, SF fiction print magazines are doomed (or more doomed than they already were): mailing costs will go up, and sending the magazines through commercial companies is even more expensive. In the abscence of growing subscription numbers, the only thing left (apart from going fully online) is cutting costs. Therefore Asimov's and Analog have changed size, and F&SF has lowered its publishing frequency. However, if USPS keeps raising its prices -- and they will -- it's a losing battle (and it pains me to say so).

And the national postal companies will become indistinguishable from commercial shippers, with the only difference that they must deliver mail to even the smallest of customers. By boy, will they charge you for it!