Friday, April 24, 2015


I have this game I’ve been playing when my brain is fried and I need a break. I thought it was a ‘time management’ game; others have called it a ‘sim’ game. Whatever. It amuses me.
In this game, I am an outsider, washed up on some island. It is my job (apparently) to organize the natives to build houses, grow food, and such things. When I get a village on that island to a certain size, I take a few of the natives on a raft to another island, to start a village there. Communication and trade between the villages flourishes, and there always seems to be some new quest for me to take on.
All the natives are men, and they all look exactly alike. I add to a village’s population by having a hut or house built, and when it is done, another native comes running in to live in it. When I have them build a house that will hold 2 people, they are 2 men. Are there no women on these islands?
Yes, there are, at least on the original island, but let me talk about them later.
After I’d had a few huts built, and they were growing crops, they wanted some amusement; a bar, cafeteria and a hot tub. They wanted bonfires to keep the evil spirits away, benches to sit on, and paved streets. And then... an altar of emotions. I could not imagine what that was, but I had them build it.
And that’s where the women appeared. The altar of emotions seems to be a cross between a brothel and wedding chapel. When a man feels lonely, he goes there to see his girl friend (all of whom look exactly alike), although one quest was to perform 10 wedding ceremonies. And then it dawned on me that each time a man went to see his girl friend, he left money for the village coffers. So... what did that make the women? Because they never appear anyplace other than the altar of emotions.
That does not sit well with me.
But it is just a game, and we can’t expect the designer to make it lifelike.
I like this game because I enjoy imagining colonies in their first few years of existence on another planet. Was it a planned colony or a shipwreck? How many people are there, and what skills do they have? Do they actually have the equipment they need, or do they start out with a basic campfire and have to create or re-create any technology they remember? Are there any intelligent natives? Dangerous predators?
I have one colony I’ve ‘designed’ a number of times over the years. Usually because I lost my previous plans, or realized they would need plumbers, or doctors, or something I had forgotten. I get lost in the details of that colony for days or weeks. However, I don’t need all those details to write stories about that colony. Kind of like the game; keep it simple for the reader.

Real life, of course, is far more complicated. And somehow, far less entertaining.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Waste Not, Want Not

Years ago, people started talking ‘disposable’. We became a ‘disposable’ culture, in that whenever something didn’t work anymore, we were expected to toss it and get a new one. Shall we blame NASA for that mentality? After all, every time they sent someone or something into space, they had to build a whole new rocket, new capsule, and who knew what.
I hate to blame NASA. I believe in NASA, although I sometimes chaff at how slow their progress can be.
I don’t want to blame NASA, so I blame business. It’s a conspiracy, you know. Business figures that if they sell you something you want and need, but which quickly ceases to work, you’d be back to buy another. And then another.
How long does a ball point pen work? I’m not talking about expensive pens, I’m talking about the cheap ones you buy in packages of 10 or 30, that your workplace buys by the cratefull. They don’t last long. When was the last time you put an ink refill in one? You probably don’t; you just toss it and pull out a new one. They’re cheap, and you don’t even think about it, do you?
Well, pause right now and think about the hundreds, thousands, millions of dead ball point pens taking up space in landfills. Think about what remains of each one; a drop or two of ink, a tiny bit of metal, and the rest is plastic.
One or two million drops of ink would, I assume, eventually lose its ‘moisture’ into the surrounding compost, the color components forming bits of color. Millions of bits of metal would corrode at some point, possibly forming a metallic ‘lode’ for future people to dig up and use.
But what about the plastic? What’s the half-life of plastic? What does it form, if and when it finally breaks down? From what I’ve gathered, most plastics don’t break down in landfills. Some break down when exposed to sunlight for days on end, but when they do, they form nasty toxins. There are newer, ‘biodegradable’ plastics, but they don’t degrade well in landfills, either; they degrade in compost where heat is present. So, millions of plastic pens are thrown into landfills where they will probably remain dead pens for a heck of a long time. If they do manage to degrade, they will form toxins to sicken any plants or animals that ingest them.

Long after I’m dead and gone, all those ball point pens I’ve thrown away will be out there, forming toxins. That is not the kind of legacy I wanted.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Personal Appearances

These days, it is the responsibility of the author to do most - if not all - of the marketing for their book. One way to do that is to make ‘personal appearances’ - talks, readings, book signings, that sort of thing. For authors who write science fiction, fantasy or something fairly close to those genres, much of those activities can be done at science fiction conventions.
1) You can participate on ‘panels’, either alone or with other speakers. Panels are discussions or talks on a particular subject, and the marketing involved includes mentioning your (most recent or most known) work when you introduce yourself. 2) Readings are falling out of favor with some sf conventions, but others will still give you a time slot. 3) Most sf conventions have a ‘freebie’ table, where you can place fliers about your work. 4) The author or a group of authors can rent a table in the dealer’s room, where they can sell copies of their books. 5) Autograph sessions can be organized at that dealer’s table. 6) Get out there and mix with people! The more people have met you and had a conversation with you, the more they are likely to buy a copy of your work.
My first appearance this convention season is Willycon, held April 10-12. Held at the college in Wayne, Nebraska, it is the smallest convention we attend each year, but it is a good way of ‘easing’ back into the convention scene after a long winter of hibernation. John and I have been going since the convention got started, and a number of former students are now friends with us on facebook.
I like Willycon because I am not always at my best after that long hibernation, so a small convention lets me get my groove on, so to speak. I always take some fliers for the freebie table, and participate in at least one panel or workshop. This year, as lack-of-planning will have it, I am having a stubborn tooth root surgically removed the day before Willycon, so I have deliberately limited myself to one panel, but it will be fun!
“Well, this is it; We’re all going to die!” will be an audience-participation-expected panel, where we will compile a list of all the various ways humans (or at least most of them) could be wiped off the face of the Earth.
John Lars Shoberg has a few panels that he is giving, including the ‘flip side’ of my panel, which he calls “Surviving the Apocalypse”, or something similar. After I and my audience come up with a list of dooms, he and his audience will figure out how humans could survive each awful fate.

Hope to see you there, or at one of the other conventions we’ll be attending this year. More info on those other conventions in the future.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Names for Pluto

If you’ve kept track of the various space trips we’ve sent machines on, you are aware that New Horizons is approaching Pluto. Of course, that was launched some 9 years ago, and some of us have trouble remembering what we had for breakfast. But I saw an article in January of this year that the New Horizons was ‘waking up,’ getting ready for the closest fly-by of Pluto ever. So I’ve kept my eyes open for updates on that.
In the meantime, I’ve discovered that Pluto has not just 1, but 5 moons! I’ve known about Charon for a long time, and it’s almost as large as Pluto. But the others are mere specks in comparison, and are named Nix, Hydra, Kerberos and Styx. I think I see a pattern in these names.
Recently, I saw an article asking people to submit and vote on names for when they start creating maps of Pluto’s and Charon’s surfaces, once New Horizons sends back photos taken close enough to show geological features. I hope they pick some good ones. I don’t want Pluto and Charon saddled with names like ‘Tom’s Mountain Range’ and ‘Smith’s Canyon’.
Again, they are looking for names for geological features. They don’t expect to find cities, villages or roads. Nor are they likely to find rivers, lakes or oceans... although I suppose there is some possibility that something may have frozen into long strings or blobs that might bear some resemblance to waterways. Mars has its ‘canals’, and now the bed of an ancient ocean. Even the moon has areas called oceans and seas, though it’s not likely any water ever sat in them.
So, do start coming up with names to propose for mountains, crevices, plateaus, craters and so on. The naming campaign is being promoted by SETI. You can propose names - and vote - at through April 7, which is only a few days away. The International Astronomical Union will decide which names will actually be used.

I wonder why there’s such a hurry to get a list generated? New Horizons’ closest approach won’t be until July of this year, the pictures won’t arrive here until after that, and then the maps will be begun. So, what would be your guess? A year from now, will that map be done and all the features named?