Friday, December 15, 2017

Marsupial Lions, Dinosaur Ticks, and Other Wonders

This ancient marsupial lion had an early version of ‘bolt-cutter’ teeth


Actual lions evolved on a different fork in the mammal genealogical tree, but Australia’s marsupial lions got their feline nickname from the size and slicing teeth of the first species named, in 1859. Thylacoleo carnifex was about as big as a lion. And its formidable teeth could cut flesh. But unlike other pointy-toothed predators, marsupial lions evolved a horizontal cutting edge. A bottom tooth stretched back along the jawline on each side, its slicer edge as long as four regular teeth. An upper tooth extended too, giving this marsupial lion a bite like a “bolt cutter,” Gillespie says.

Auroral glory from Norway. 


The setting is a summit of the Austnesfjorden fjord close to the town of Svolvear on the Lofoten islands in northern Norway. The time was early 2014. Although our Sun is nearing Solar Minimum and hence showing relatively little surface activity, holes in the upper corona have provided some nice auroral displays over the last few months.

Dinosaur tail discovered trapped in amber



Fragments of dinosaur-era bird wings have been found preserved in amber before but this is the first time part of a mummified dinosaur skeleton has been discovered, McKellar said.
The tail section belongs to a young coelurosaurian -- from the same group of dinosaurs as the predatory velociraptors and the tyrannosaurus.



Dinosaur parasites trapped in 100-million-year-old amber tell blood-sucking story



Fossilized ticks discovered trapped and preserved in amber show that these parasites sucked the blood of feathered dinosaurs almost 100 million years ago, according to a new article published in Nature Communications.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Today's Wisdom from Middle Earth


"Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens"

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Monday, December 4, 2017

Holiday Ebook Giveaways

Tis the season to be enjoying free ebooks and an introduction to the great offerings at Book View Cafe.

For the month of December only, I'm offering free copies of my short story collections. You can choose the format (mobi, epub) and they're DRM-free, so you can switch reading devices; they're yours forever. Contact me at the email below and I'll send you a coupon to download the collection of your choice. Follow the instructions to side-load to your ereader.


Transfusion and Other Tales of Hope

From the ancient Indus Valley to post-apocalyptic California come fourteen tales of love, redemption, and hope…and occasional humor.
The vampire has known only evil since he was made, until an unlikely friendship reconnects him with life… Two women mourning two dead mothers tread the boundaries between grief and obsession… A ghoulish spirit haunts a refugee in Renaissance Venice… A healer discovers a dying man with the heart of a dragon on her doorstep… Two boys travel back in time to discover the true nature of Tyrannosaurus rex… A mother vampire, struggling to raise two vampire children in Hollywood, encounters her biggest challenge yet: the PTA.

A short fantasy potpourri of dragons and toads, horses and thieves, mothers and daughters, and lovers and villains, with an occasional salamander.
A magical pearl turns a young girl into warrior without pity… A dragon bound to an amulet of amber seeks the aid of a forest wizard… A bitter, crippled fairy plots revenge on her captors… A vampire stalks back alleys, seeking to turn the tables on those who prey on women… The hapless apprentice to a sorceress gets her wish fulfilled… The Arabian Nights meets Hamlet, with a feminine twist. 



Across the Azkhantian steppe, warrior women ride to battle against foes both human and supernatural. From the world of The Seven-Petaled Shield come four fantasy tales, originally published in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword & Sorceress.
Prophecy links a mother and daughter in an unbreakable bond... A young woman defies tradition to become a shaman... When twins are magically divided, the survivor searches for the other half of her soul... A warrior woman discovers that to wield a magical blade dishonorably carries a heavy price.
This collection includes a previously-unpublished Introduction and a sneak peek at The Seven-Petaled Shield.

Contact me at mail@deborahjross dot com

Friday, December 1, 2017

Holiday Book Giveaways

'Tis the season when my thoughts turn in gratitude to you, my devoted readers. Your response to my work has buoyed me through many a crisis of confidence, and I continue to be awed by the way shared stories enrich and heal all our lives.

This year, I'm trying something new in addition to the usual selection of free copies of my books. As usual, postage reimbursement would be appreciated but is not required. Use the Donate button at the very bottom left It's wayyyy down there, so keep scrolling).


Purchase The Seven-Petaled Shield and I'll send you the next two volumes (Shannivar and The Heir of Khored). Send me a copy of the receipt or an image of the book (or cover on your ereader) at my email below, as well as the address to send the books (and any inscription).  If you already have all 3, I adore you! I'll give you a free copy of the ebook companion short story collection, Azkhantian Tales.



Autographed bookplates. Email me with your address and how many you'd like.




Books:

Hastur Lord (hardback)
Zandru's Forge (hardback)
A Flame in Hali (paperback or hardback)








I also have a few review copies of the hardback edition of Thunderlord. While you are not obligated to post a review, that's the general idea and would be much appreciated.



More specials will follow next year. Stay tuned!


Contact me at mail@deborahjross dot com

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Today's Wisdom from Middle Earth

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.” 
 
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Monday, November 27, 2017

Auntie Deborah Holds Forth on Writing Topics

Q: Can I learn to write novels from movies? If so, which movies?

A: Rather than specific movies, watch those director’s commentaries in which the process of story construction is discussed. For example, in the extended DVD editions of The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson and the writers talk about the decisions they made in adapting the books for film; these segments are filled with insights into how stories work (on film) that also apply to prose narrative.

My second suggestion is to read some of the excellent books on screenplay writing, paying particular attention to the 3-act structure and the way tension is created, built, and resolved. With only dialog and action as tools, the script writer has to use both to excellent advantage, something we novelists could learn much from.


Q: Do you write stories longhand or on the computer, and why?

A: I do most of my drafting on computer (used to be typewriter, back in the day) because I want to write quickly. I don’t care if it’s rough, I just want to get the basic elements of the story down. To promote the free flow of ideas, I need to get my internal critic offline. Longhand comes in when I’m stuck or revising and then the slower pace helps me to focus on nuance and detail. Then I want and need all my critical faculties; I’m usually either trouble-shooting, adding layers of resonance and depth, or filling in crucial gaps.

In the past, I wrote extensively in notebooks by hand when I wasn’t at home — waiting for appointments, while my kids were in gym class, at the airport, etc.; this was in the days before laptops/netbooks/tablets. Now it’s just as easy to stick my Chromebook in a bag and go; it’s light enough to carry easily. The increased productivity from keyboard vs paper makes it worthwhile.

Very occasionally I’ll switch to dictation (Google Voice, which usually drives me a bit nuts because it doesn’t learn), especially for dialog, but I find the differences difficult. It’s an added if less desirable tool to help me through those stuck places.


Q: I'm too upset to write. Help!

A: Running away to a world inside our minds has long been a strategy for writers. In fact, daydreaming as children was how many of us got started as storytellers. So one way to look at your question is to just let yourself escape and pay attention to what gives you comfort, hope, and courage. That’s where the passion in your story will be.

Another aspect, one I have struggled with, is how to focus enough to write when in the midst of a crisis. Again, the strategy is to do what you can, even if it’s not the project at hand. Have faith that as you allow the story to lead you through survival and recovery, you will regain the ability to concentrate. You may find, however, that coping with those life problems changes what you want to write. If you have a contract or commitment to produce something that no longer speaks to you, you will have to behave like an adult professional and renegotiate. But if your book is “on spec,” it’s entirely possible that the best story for you to work on is one that emerges from your struggles, not something initially conceived before those problems descended upon you.


Q: What are the essential elements of a fantasy novel?

A: A fantasy universe requires the same essential elements in any good story: vivid world-building, characters that are complex and fascinating, a sympathetic protagonist with a worthy goal who faces both internal and external obstacles, and so forth. The difference between mainstream (or science fiction) is that fantasy as a genre allows you to bend the laws of physics as we know them. Whether that means a well-thought-out system of magic, the existence of elves or unicorns or any other mythical being, or any other element, it must be an integral part not only of the world but of the plot. It doesn’t help to have a dragon as your fantastical element if it never puts in an appearance, or a vampire that exists only in stories.

Sometimes stories get marketed as fantasy when they are in reality perfectly non-magical stories set in an alternate-medieval world. Fantasy does not necessarily mean medieval! Some of the best fantasy literature takes place in modern settings (or future, or Renaissance…). And let’s not forget the wealth of cultures that are not Western European! There’s a whole world of folklore and history, not to mention fascinating characters and traditions, out there.

(My epic fantasy trilogy, The Seven-Petaled Shield, was based on the conflict between the Romans and Scythians, with added cultures derived from the nomadic horse peoples of Central Asia, the Phoenicians, and the ancient kingdom of Judea. Each of these has its own relationship to the land/sea, and its own magic derived from that bond.)


Q: How do you know where to end a chapter?

A: My chapter divisions arise naturally from the story itself. Just as the entire novel has an inciting event rising tension, reversals, climax, etc., so does each scene, although of course the resolution of tension is partial if at all, so that it builds over the course of the entire book. A chapter may contain one or more scenes, but has the same overall “arc” of drama. Some may lend themselves naturally to a twist or cliff-hanger at the end, but this is not a good thing to do consistently (you will aggravate your reader!) The end of the chapter, like the end of the scene, can be a transition, “a lick and a promise” of more adventures to come.

When writing a rough draft, I set up one chapter per file, with a numbering system that indicates also which draft it is. I don’t combine them into one “novel-length” file until I’m ready to sent it out (either to a beta reader or my editor). (Example: 1NOVEL.03}

Occasionally, when revising I will divide chapters as I add and develop material, and even less occasionally I will combine them if I find myself ruthlessly pruning “flab.” I don’t try to make them the same length within a book or from one project to the next. They are the length they need to be.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Very Cool Astronomy and Physics Stuff for November

The Beauty of Ice



On November 14, Operation IceBridge scientist John Sonntag took this photograph of ice in the Weddell Sea, a part of the Southern Ocean off the Antarctic Peninsula. The geometric shapes are due to a phenomenon known as “finger rafting,” which occurs when two floes of thin ice collide. As a result of the collision, blocks of ice slide above and below each other in a pattern that resembles a zipper or interlocking fingers. Brine expelled from the ice forms a solution that acts as a lubricant. For finger rafting to occur, it’s critical that the ice be thin—calculations suggest no more than 8 inches, or 20 centimeters. Any thicker and the ice loses its flexibility. Without flexibility, thicker ice floes that collide can result in a big pile up known as “ridging.”


A streak of lightning in the skies over Japan has generated positrons — the antimatter equivalents of electrons — and radioactive carbon-14, confirming a theoretical prediction, according to a paper published in Nature on 22 November.


NASA — After more than 13 years at Saturn, and with its fate sealed, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft bid farewell to the Saturnian system by firing the shutters of its wide-angle camera and capturing this last, full mosaic of Saturn and its rings two days before the spacecraft’s dramatic plunge into the planet’s atmosphere.


How the Earth stops high-energy neutrinos in their tracks

For the first time, a science experiment has measured Earth's ability to absorb neutrinos -- the smaller-than-an-atom particles that zoom throughout space and through us by the trillions every second at nearly the speed of light.


Monday, November 20, 2017

The Saga of the Prius

Once upon a time, O Reader, hybrid cars were new and wonderful, the best of both worlds, a stylish way to reduce our dependence on foreign petroleum and thereby prevent wars and save the planet. If there were issues with the manufacture and disposal of the hybrid batteries, or the way the extra battery weight chewed up tires and suspension systems, no one got very excited. The cars got in the range of 50 miles per gallon and had these nifty dashboard screens that allowed you to track your mileage.

The most immediate drawback was how expensive they were, even the bare-bones models. I accepted that I’d never be able to afford one. And sighed. And kept driving my battered old Mazda Protégé. But fate had other ideas. A friend and her partner needed to liquidate various assets in order to study with their guru in India for a year, so I bought her year-old red Prius, a 2004. It came loaded with all kinds of extras I never would have selected for myself, like a sound system that played both CDs and cassette tapes, a GPS, and Bluetooth. I plastered the back bumper with bumper stickers, thereby making it mine.

Thus began a long and (mostly) happy adventure. I played a lot of music in that car. The CD changer held 6 disks, which turned out to be exactly right for listening to the extended version of the music to all 3 The Hobbit movies, which contributed in a major way to my sanity during the last Presidential election and its aftermath. The GPS helped me get un-lost countless times, especially after I figured out the reason it kept taking me the looooong scenic route was that the “Allow Freeways” option was off. I never used the Bluetooth.

My relationship with the exterior of the car was less harmonious. Suffice it to say that if you so much as tapped the bumper covers, they dented. I left the dent in the hood made by a deer that jumped out in front of me but didn’t kill me, as a reminder. But the years and miles rolled by, with roads trips to college reunions, family vacations, and so forth. When my younger daughter asked to borrow it for a series of interviews for residencies in family medicine, I handed over the keys.

A few days later, I got a message from her, saying that a warning light of the terrifying variety had appeared, the car was parked in a safe place nearby, but that she couldn’t get it started. After conferring with our friendly local walking-distance mechanic, my husband and I made our way to the poor Prius, AAA card in hand. Exploiting our special relationship, I was able to start it and drive it to the nearest hybrid specialist.

The news was not good. The hybrid battery, which was now 13 years old and which we expected to fail any time, was fine. The culprit was most likely the computer, which was located behind the dashboard, which would take YikesThatManyDollars to just open up and look at, and YikesEvenMoreDollars to repair if indeed that was the problem. And then we’d still be facing the demise of the hybrid battery and the pressing need for new front tires before the winter’s storms.

We took a deep breath and called the folks who cart your car away for charity. Here I am at the garage, saying goodbye.


Now we were down to my husband’s van, a 2002 Mazda MPV that has carted dogs in their crates, loads of garden tools, plants, lumber, lots of people on its 7 seats, and such like over the years. The door locks are cranky, it does have a functioning radio and single-CD player, and it gets less than 20 mpg. Fortunately, we don’t drive it a lot, but now we would be putting more miles on it. I embarked upon a courtship phase by buying a bunch of Andrea Boccelli CDs at the local thrift store and playing them to woo the van. The van purred at me in response.

I called my daughter to let her know the outcome with the Prius. Without missing a beat, she said, “Mom, remember the car you bought for me [when I started San Jose State]? I was going to sell it in May [when I graduate from medical school in CT]. I’ll drive it home and give it to you.” She went on to say it wasn’t in perfect condition but the engine had always run well. I wasn’t listening too carefully at that point. The universe in the form of my loving, generous daughter was giving us a car.

Interestingly, it’s one thing for us to have bought the car, a Toyota Corolla (great gas mileage, yay!) for her. I expected to do stuff like that as a parent, especially when it was important to enable her to commute “over the hill” and finish her four-year degree. I feel overwhelmed with gratitude, though, when the generosity goes the other way. Guess I’d better start getting used to it.


I wonder what kind of music the Corolla likes?

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Squash Harvest. 2017


Every year we grow winter squashes of various sorts for food. I specify food rather than decoration because the output of a small plot of land in nutrients and calories from winter squashes is extremely good. They’re not only delicious (and beautiful) but are low in sodium and fat, and provide an array of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Growing them is fairly easy, although the vines have a tendency to wander and take over.
Midsummer 2017

Autumn 2017


Like summer squashes, winter squashes hybridize and so it’s best to either grow only one variety or start them from commercially obtained seed or seedlings every year. At least, that’s the theory. We often end up with “mystery squashes.” (“Wait! I don’t remember planting that – what is it?”) Our current theories are: (a) these are truly hybrids from last year’s crops; (b) they are hybrids from the seeds that entered our garden through compost scraps. The latter used to be more true when we got vegetable trimmings from the local health food store. My husband tells me we use “cold” composting (worms) rather than the “hot” method, so seeds will survive.

Boer White squash


Buttercup, one of our favorites




Mystery squash, perhaps a hybrid of delicata and acorn. We got two and have devoured one. The shell is quite hard, as it often is with hybrids, but the flesh was delicious.The seeds will go to a friend who runs a seed-saver business.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Friday, November 3, 2017

Short Book Reviews: How Many Clones in a Murder?

Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty (Orbit, 2017). A crew on a generational space ship wakes – or rather, their clones do, a standard procedure that usually involves downloading stored memories for continuity. The one remaining crew, the captain, is near-death, there is blood everywhere, and none of the clones can remember what happened. In an added twist, all of them are criminals whose paths have crossed in the past and who have reason to hate each other. 

Skillfully handled action and discovery of information lead to one plot twist after another. I especially liked how my initial assumptions about each character were turned inside out in a way that gave them depth and humanity, even the ship’s AI. 

Exceptionally well-done science fiction mystery.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

A Grand Age of Astronomical Discovery

This is an amazing age of astronomical discovery. Not that long ago we could only speculate on the existence of planets around other stars, not to mention exploring those in our own system. We didn't know Jupiter had auroras or any of the many, many amazing discoveries of the last decades. Once we were limited to what our eyes and cameras could detect through the thickness of our terrestrial atmosphere. The Hubble Space Telescope launched our instruments beyond that blurring layer, and other telescopes, both on Earth and in orbit, expanded our view to include other parts of the EM spectrum. We have X-ray and infrared telescopes, and color enhancement by computers. Space probes like the Pioneers, Voyager, Spirit and Opportunity, Cassini-Huygens, Juno, and New Horizons have vastly expanded our understanding of the solar system. Who knows what wonders lie yet to be explored?

Here are a few tidbits in recent news:




In the past, auroras have been spotted around Jupiter’s poles by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and by the Hubble Space Telescope. Investigating this phenomena and the mechanisms behind it has also been one of the goals of the Juno mission, which is currently in an ideal position to study Jupiter’s poles. With every orbit the probe makes, it passes from one of Jupiter’s poles to the other – a maneuver known as a perijove. Full article here.




Using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have discovered that the brightest galaxies within galaxy clusters “wobble” relative to the cluster’s centre of mass. This unexpected result is inconsistent with predictions made by the current standard model of dark matter. With further analysis it may provide insights into the nature of dark matter, perhaps even indicating that new physics is at work. Full article here.





Using an innovative new telescope array, an international team of researchers has discovered a distant gas giant roughly the size of Jupiter around a star half the size of ours. It’s considered the largest planet in proportion to its companion star.
Bayliss and Wheatley spotted the hot Jupiter using the Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) instrument, a wide-field observing facility composed of several telescopes at the European Southern Observatory’s Paranal Observatory in Northern Chile. This state-of-the-art facility is operated by the Universities of Warwick, Leicester, Cambridge, Queen’s University Belfast, Observatoire de Genève, DLR Berlin, and Universidad de Chile. Full article here:





Friday, October 27, 2017

Short Book Reviews: AI and Woman Explore Common Humanity

A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers (Harper Voyager, 2017). Despite being a sequel to A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, this story stands beautifully on its own. Through alternating flashback and present points of view, two characters embark upon very different journeys with the same question: what does it mean to be a person? 

Sidra was once Lovelace, an AI controlling a space ship. Now she finds herself in an artificial body that in most ways mimics that of a human woman. She’s cut off from the multiple audio and visual inputs that have defined her world, besieged by physical sensations and social expectations, and at risk of exposure. 

Her guide and companion, Pepper, has a troubled and traumatic past as a cloned child-slave. Chance and luck freed her, then ten years old, from a factory where she sorted and repaired trashed equipment, then led her to a buried spaceship, whose AI provided her with the only loving parenting she had known. Pepper’s past struggles beautifully mirror and inform Sidra’s present quest. 

Sympathetic characters, fascinating alien cultures, nicely paced action, and understated depth mark this as a book to savor and re-read.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Crossroads of Darkover Story Lineup



Here's the lineup for the next Darkover anthology, which I have edited. Release date is May 2, 2018:



The Short, Inglorious War, by Rebecca Fox

A Study in Sixes, by Gabrielle Harbowy

A Plague of Aunts, by Jane M. H. Bigelow

Quevrailleth’s Sister, by Leslie Fish

The Cobbler to His Last, Rosemary Edghill and India Edghill

Night of Masks, by Diana L. Paxson

The Song of Star Girl, by Marella Sands

The Raptor Matrix, by Evey Brett

Trust, by Jenna Rhodes

A Game of Kings, by Shariann Lewitt

Wind-Born, by Pat MacEwen

Snowquake, by Robin Wayne Bailey

Tricky Things, by Robin Rowland and Deborah J. Ross

Crème de la Crème, by Deborah Millitello

Friday, October 20, 2017

Short Book Reviews: Murder Mystery in a City Without Night

A Man of Shadows by Jeff Noon, Angry Robot, 2017. 

From the first page, I loved this surreal, hallucinatory world. The story centers on a city where eternal day is created by artificial lightning: every space is saturated with brilliance, and the entire society depends upon those with the never-ending task of replacing light bulbs as they burn out. Without natural night and day, the usual measurement of time becomes meaningless, giving the city’s inhabitants the choice of living by many calendars; some are the products of commerce (“Business Standard Time”) but others are whimsical and capricious. Sometimes it’s all a person can do to keep with the necessary changes to their wristwatch. Not surprisingly, many suffer disorders of time due to constant disruption of the body’s internal rhythms. The luscious prose and bizarre imagery perfectly reflect the disorientation of the characters.

Outside the city lies a treacherous region of Dusk, transversable only by special trains, and beyond it, Nocturna. (A few asides refer to regions outside the city’s influence, where crows grow and cows graze in unaltered days and nights, so we know the entire planet has not succumbed to artificial divisions of day and night.) Mysterious mists swirl through Dusk, and those who venture into them emerge changed or not at all. Not surprisingly, Dayzone is far from idyllic, beset by not only light-sickness but a serial killer and kidnappings. The protagonist, a private detective named Nyquist, is drawn into this dark side of light when he takes on the case of the missing daughter of a wealthy, powerful man. His search reveals not only dangerous connections but his own unresolved past.


Innovative world-building enhanced by a surreal and highly literate prose style offer both a challenge and a reward to the reader. My only complaint was that Nyquist is so perennially sleep-deprived, and the text is so reminiscent of the way thought fractures under disruptions of the normal circadian rhythm, that I kept wanting to curl up and nap. Recommended , especially for those who enjoy a hefty dose of weird in their fiction. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

[personal] Fire Update



Hello everyone -- sorry to be absent yesterday. We lost DSL/phone/internet due to the Bear Fire. Back online now. The fire's about 6 miles from us, but not moving in this direction, so no evacuation order for this neighborhood. It's incredibly smokey, though, in addition to what blew south from the Santa Rosa fires. At last count 6 firefighters have been injured and a bunch of homes destroyed. You can see from the image how rugged the terrain is. They're guessing the total acreage will be around 500. On the plus side, rain is forecast for tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Horse Fodder and Other Incredibly Cool Science Stuff

Grazing horses on better pastures

Annual grasses offer options during summer slump



Sudangrass and sorghum-sudangrass showed the greatest yields and regrew the most after grazing. Siberian millet was the lowest yielding grass. Horses most preferred the annual cool-season ryegrass, but among the warm-season grasses, they highly preferred teff and sudangrass. All of the grasses were found to supply adequate nutrition for horses. 


Citrus fruit peel: Potential alternative to mosquito control discovered



The essential oils were extracted in large amounts from the peel of a fruit similar to an orange, which is available throughout many countries in the world. With such ease of access and productions of the oils, it could potentially be used in areas which have little or no access to an alternative.
Believed to be the first ever example of such an experiment, it was found that the essentials oils were highly effective in mosquitocidal activity on the larvae, leading researchers to conclude it could be used as an eco-friendly alternative in mosquitoes control programs.


Bizarre Dwarf Planet Haumea Has Rings


"We started to see something weird in the light curve," Santos Sanz said. The light dimmed just before and after Haumea passed in front of the star, as if something else were obscuring it. "I remember that José Luis, from the first [moments], said, 'OK, this could be a ring,'" Santos Sanz said. Months of scrutiny bore out the scientists' initial suspicions: The results suggest that Haumea's equator is encircled by a 43-mile-wide (70 km) ring of debris located about 620 miles (1,000 km) from the dwarf planet's surface.


Ancient Mars Likely Had Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vents


"Ancient, deep-water hydrothermal deposits in Eridania basin represent a new category of astrobiological target on Mars," researchers said in the statement. "Eridania seafloor deposits are not only of interest for Mars exploration, they represent a window into early Earth."

Friday, October 13, 2017

Short Book Reviews: A Magical Bed and Breakfast, with Occasional Werewolf

The Innkeeper Chronicles, Volume One, by Ilona Andrews, Subterranean Press, 2017. (Clean Sweep, Sweep in Peace, One Fell Sweep).


This husband and wife writing team, using her name, Ilona Andrews, obviously had a terrifically good time with their free, serialized urban fantasy “Innkeeper” novels. 

A charming young innkeeper, Dina Demille (from the innkeeper family of the same name), is like any other innkeeper bonded to her sentient and extremely powerful and magical inn, Gertrude Hunt. Scattered over Earth, these inns provide neutral havens for interstellar creatures. Dina is dedicated to the safety and comfort of her guests, many of whom would otherwise be at each other’s throats. Predictably, events and blood-thirsty, revenge-driven and otherwise unlaw-abiding forces collude to interrupt that peace. 

Although blessed with supernatural powers within the inn’s grounds, Dina becomes ordinary the farther she gets from home. To meet the various threats, she therefore acquires allies and (sometimes would-be lovers) in the form of sexy werewolves and equally sexy vampires, but the real charm of these stories lies in her courage and resourcefulness, coupled with a not inconsiderable thread of whimsy. 

Humor, romance, and suspense are nicely balanced against each other, and the central characters are so appealing, I was sad when I finished the last page. (Not to be too sad: the Innkeeper website assures me there will be more! Check it out here: http://innkeeper.ilona-andrews.com/)

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Martian Sand and Other Wonders




"The mantle of the Earth is made mostly of a mineral called olivine, and the assumption is usually that all planets are like the Earth," said Jay Melosh, Distinguished Professor of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at Purdue University, who led the study. "But when we look at the spectral signature of rocks exposed deep below the moon's surface, we don't see olivine; we see orthopyroxene."
Around 4 billion years ago, an asteroid collided with the moon and created the largest and deepest impact on the moon: the South Pole-Aitken basin. The collision exposed lunar mantle in the basin and splashed up material onto the far side of the moon.




Discovered in images from the Context Camera, this region exhibits dark material that is being eroded from dark layers in the bedrock of a semicircular depression near the boundary of the Southern highlands and the Northern lowlands. Downslope lineations support the notion that these dark sediments are derived locally, and did not accumulate here by coincidence because of the winds.
Sand grains can also roll along the ground as they are blown by the wind, and they are also jostled by other sand gains that are similarly flying across the surface. All of these repeated impacts tend to wear down the sand grains, smoothing them into a more spherical shape and breaking off small fragments that supply the vast dust deposits of Mars. This process (known as comminution) ultimately destroys sand grains and limits the length of time that the particles exist. The fact that we see active sand dunes on Mars today requires that sand particles must be resupplied to replace the grains that are lost over time. Where are the modern day sources of sand on Mars?

Best Way to Recognize Emotions in Others: Listen



Across all five experiments, individuals who only listened without observing were able, on average, to identify more accurately the emotions being experienced by others. The one exception was when subjects listened to the computerized voices, which resulted in the worst accuracy of all.

Jupiter and Two of Its Biggest Moons


Io and Europa are two of Jupiter's four Galilean moons, which are so named because famed Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei discovered them back in 1610. (The other two Galilean satellites are Callisto and Ganymede.) Io is the most volcanic object in the solar system, and astrobiologists regard the ocean-harboring Europa as one of the best bets to host life beyond Earth. 


Unusual Mountain Ahuna Mons on Asteroid Ceres


Ahuna Mons is the largest mountain on the largest known asteroid in our Solar System, Ceres, which orbits our Sun in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Ahuna Mons, though, is like nothing that humanity has ever seen before. For one thing, its slopes are garnished not with old craters but young vertical streaks. One hypothesis holds that Ahuna Mons is an ice volcano that formed shortly after a large impact on the opposite side of the dwarf planet loosened up the terrain through focused seismic waves. The bright streaks may be high in reflective salt, and therefore similar to other recently surfaced material such as visible in Ceres' famous bright spots.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

"Famous Local Author"

Our county celebrates "Open Studios Tours," which are just that: a time when artists hold open house, displaying their paintings, sculptures, jewelry, and so forth, chatting with the folks who drop by, guided by distinctive fluorescent-green signs. Some days during the season it seems as if everyone is either at an event or on their way to or from one.

This year, my neighbor -- musician and songwriter Karie Hillery -- timed her fall music bash to coincide with the opening weekend. Her place includes a small natural amphitheater, backed by the river and shaded by the redwoods. Besides her own wonderful music and that of her musician friends, she provided space near the entrance for "artists alley." A small collection of us set up shop: a potter advertising her classes (and demonstrating crochet), a mandala artist, a couple displaying lamps made from found objects, a jeweler, a couple of tables with CDs by the performers...and me, the local author.

I re-created the sort of display you might find in "authors alley" at a science fiction convention, a table draped with a beautiful shawl, upon which I arranged as many books as would tastefully fit, everything from the anthology containing my first short story sale (the first volume of Sword and Sorceress) and my first published novel (Jaydium) to Book View Cafe's Nevertheless She Persisted, edited by Mindy Klasky, in which I have a story. I stocked "Autographed Copy" stickers and cards.  Then I set up my laptop and proceeded to demonstrate my work...writing away on the novel-in-progress.




A good time was had by all.

Monday, October 9, 2017

In Troubled Times: Surviving Exhaustion

In previous posts in this series, I’ve written about emotional sobriety, feeling overwhelmed, and finding a personal sanctuary. Now I’d like to talk more about the concrete things we can do to keep our emotional and spiritual balance during the difficult, terrifying, and outrage-evoking recent months.

For me the first step is always admitting that what I have been doing isn’t working. I can get absorbed in one dreadful news story after the other, and with each round I lose more perspective and calm. My adrenaline levels get progressively higher. Sometimes – often! – it seems as if nothing else is happening in my life except reacting to yet another threat to the people, organizations, and principle that are important to me. Old wounds re-open; the ghosts of family tragedies (like the pogroms my father survived as a boy) re-awaken. I fear for my Jewish family and my queer daughters and sister and my trans daughter-in-law, for my black, Muslim, and Hispanic friends. I despair for the future of the entire planet. In other words, I need help.

Sometimes all that’s necessary is for me to admit that matters have gotten out of hand. Then I can scale back on my news consumption enough to think clearly what actions I would like to take. And especially what would be enough for the moment so that I can leave the topic and focus on other aspects of my life – my family, my writing, my local community, the beautiful redwood forest that cloaks the hills outside my windows. Playing classical music on my mother’s piano. Knitting hats for charities in poor areas of the country and world. Cuddling with the cats.

Recently I have noticed how those times of relative sanity come to a screeching halt. There are always new reasons – excuse me, Reasons. Like a hurricane or three. I’ve seen references to “outrage fatigue” but I suspect what is happening is outrage overlap. There isn’t sufficient time in between to return to balance and stay there, catching our breath, before something new and dreadful reels us in.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Short Book Reviews: A Delicious Victorian Mashup Mystery

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter, by Theodora Goss, Saga Press is a delightful amalgam and homage to characters dear to lovers of Victorian-era literature, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Lewis Stevenson, Mary Shelley, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Bram Stoker. 

First of all – Theodora Goss. If you don’t know her breath-takingly wonderful short fiction, drop everything and read some. We’ll wait. Okay, ready to talk about her novel?


We begin with young, well-mannered, brilliant Mary Jekyll – yes, that Jekyll, her father – alone in his old house (except for the ever-faithful housekeeper, Mrs. Poole) and at the end of her financial rope. Chance and the hope of a small bequest brings her into contact with her hellfire and rapscallion adolescent half-sister, Diana Hyde. Before long, the two team up with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, hot on the trail of whoever is murdering young women in the alleys of London and surgically removing various body parts. The mystery brings them into contact with Catherine Moreau (that Moreau, a panther turned woman), Renfield, Justine Frankenstein (who is so gentle, she’s a vegetarian pacifist), and “poison lady” Beatrice Rappaccini, among others. 

The true delight of the novel, however, arises from the interruptions by the characters themselves, often arguing over who should tell which part of the story and how it should be told. At first, we do not know who all these women are, but as the tale unfolds, we see their own experiences and personalities reflected in their sometimes witty, sometimes impudent, but always affectionate squabbles.