Saturday, August 24, 2019

Space Opera in Real Life

( Image credit: PHL@UPR Arecibo (, ESA/Hubble, NASA.)

This morning I came across a science news story suggesting that some extrasolar planets could not only support life, but might do so even better than our own lively, teeming Earth.


Not surprised? After all, distant planets that support not only life, but human life, have been a staple of science fiction ever since astronomers ruined Martian canals and Venusian tropical rain forests for science fiction writers. But the notion has now progressed from wishful thinking to, well, possible-if-not-settled science. In my lifetime.

In 1989 astronomers said the the observed changes in velocity of Gamma Cephei were "consistent" with the existence of an orbiting planet. But "consistent with" is a long way from "definitely exists," and other events of 1989 overshadowed this weak evidence for most of us. (For the infants among us: we were busy watching the Soviet Union crumbling and the Berlin Wall coming down.)

Indirect detection methods strongly suggested (some people say, confirmed) the existence of a handful of other planets, but I think it was ten years before anyone saw one (transiting its parent star) and longer still before one was directly imaged. And that was a gas giant -- not a friendly neighborhood for life, or at least for any kind of life that we would recognize.

Many more extrasolar planets have been discovered since then. We've been able to make spectral analyses of some planets' atmospheres, and at least one was believed to contain an organic molecule. That would have been, oh, ten years ago? Around the same time, optical telescopes were able to image a few planets directly. As I recall, none of them were places you'd want to live, but they fueled speculation that such places might exist outside the solar system.

Many more planets have been discovered since then, some believed to fall within the habitable zone of their stars, some believed to have water.

So this paper isn't exactly a scientific breakthrough; at most, it represents the culmination of a lengthy process of deduction and discovery that has taken place over the last 30 years. But I'm excited. Space Opera lives! The Evil Space Princess and the Genocidal Warlord have somewhere to set their feet!

Now all we have to do is conquer that pesky little problem of traveling faster than the speed of light.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

How to get on my personal blacklist

I spend too much time browsing the Internet.
Oh, wait, maybe it's not 'too much time.' How else would I run across videos of historical costume, or D-day imagined as in the Bayeux Tapestry, or the truly wonderful Regency dance site that I plan to feature in an upcoming post? Anyway, what else was I going to do with that time? Another set of knee exercises, whispers Conscience. Another inept swipe at marketing your books. Half an hour agonizing over a blurb for the next book...

Oh, go away, Conscience.

Anyway, as a consequence of all this browsing, naturally I've bookmarked sites. Lots and lots of sites. Lots and lots and lots of... oh, all right, Conscience. I promise to spend half an hour organizing my Regency research bookmarks. Soon.

A lot of these sites are other people's blogs, bookmarked for reasons like:

"Blogger A usually has some amusing snarky comment on the day's news."
"Blogger B has well-thought-out essays on topics that interest me, and what's more, she keeps her commenters civil."
"I like Blogger C's books so much that I'll read every word she writes, even when she chooses to write about her cats again."
"Blogger D's fiber art is so glorious that it makes me drool over the keyboard."

I don't officially "follow" many blogs because I don't like the notifications cluttering up my email, so mostly I check out Bloggers A, B, C and D by running through my bookmarks on a particular topic. And on periodic sweeps through the tangled mess of bookmarks, I delete or remove to Subfolder Purgatory sites that I realize I no longer visit with anticipation - in fact, I don't need the bookmarks any longer, because the only time I visit these blogs is when somebody else I'm reading posts a link to them. And half the time what has turned me off looking at a blog is not a Great Big Problem, just a minor irritant. These are some of the most frequent ones:

It's too hard to read. And I don't mean that the writing style goes beyond sixth grade English, I mean the format hurts my eyes. The blogger has chosen to put white words on a black background, or to use a pale gray font on a white background, and those words would have to be glorious indeed to persuade me to get a headache by squinting at them.

The unchanging header picture is so big that I have to scroll way down just to find out if the latest topic is something I'm interested in. No matter how beautiful your header picture is, try to bear in mind that I get to see it every time I visit your blog and I'm really more interested in what you've written lately.

Only posts every six months, if that. If the content is interesting enough, I don't need daily postings to make me keep taking a look; I don't check out many sites on a daily basis anyway. But there's a limit.

Those three little things cause more bookmark deletions than any content-based issues. Although I will add these things:

The eternal blog war. "Soandso said I said X, but he's a dirty rotten liar because I really said Y, and here's my clever response pointing out what an idiot he is, and look what a stupid thing he said after that..." Sigh. How about you and soandso go over to the infants' corner and work it out without dragging me in? If I've found your posts on other topics sufficiently interesting, I may check back in a few months to see if you've come back up out of that rabbit hole yet. Or I may not.

Anti-Semitism. One instance - just ONE - of cleverly referring to somebody with {{{ }}} around his name, and the bookmark to your blog is forever expunged from my list. Wiped with a cloth, if necessary. Or with BleachBit. Whatever works.

Shooting mosquitos with cannonballs. It's easy to write snarky reviews of beginning writers' books. Sometimes it's the only way to discharge the irritation built up by trying to read something so laced with technical problems that you were tempted to throw that expensive Kindle at the wall. But it's not nice to indulge in long screeds, however witty, at the expense of a newbie whom you call out by name and book title. Either discuss the general problem without pointing at the particular book, or keep your review to a short comment along the lines of "didn't appeal to me because..."

There are, doubtless, other irritants that drive me away from a blog, but that's probably enough kvetching for one day. All I really started out to say was:

Don't make me read white text on black.
Don't make me read tiny little gray letters on white.
Don't make me scroll past a massive unchanging header image.

Three modest requests, folks.

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Regency version, from the skin out

I must have been half asleep or had my brain turned off for the last post, because when I did wake up it took approximately 30 seconds to find a Regency-era equivalent of that last video I posted, the one about getting dressed in the 1830's:

You'll notice there are fewer layers here. This walking dress with a redingote buttoned over it still seems like a lot to wear from my perspective (i.e., gently baking in a Texas August) but if I cast my mind back to chilly spring days in England without central heating, I don't think it would be too much. As for the diaphanous ball gowns like the one pictured at the top of this post, I sometimes wonder why Regency beauties didn't all die of pneumonia! Consider that drawers had yet to be introduced; ladies tended to reduce the petticoats under the ball dress to a minimum; and that some very "fast" ladies were reputed to dampen those petticoats the better to show off their figures... Yeah. Pneumonia. I'd never have made it in that society.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Getting dressed in the 1830's

I just happened across this wonderful video:

Getting Dressed in the 1830's

It's a bit later than the period I'm writing just now -- Regency ladies didn't wear so many underclothes, in fact their lack of petticoats was sometimes quite shocking -- but still interesting, particularly for the demonstration of the part played by the lady's maid.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Tiny snippets

Once again, I've selected bits of text and dialogue to highlight on Pinterest. Here are a few of them:

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Distinctly Familiar!

Didn't it used to be conventional wisdom that you don't release books in July or August, because everybody's going on vacation and not reading? Doesn't seem to be the case with indie publications, for which I am everlastingly grateful. First Pam Uphoff and now Alma Boykin have substantially improved these long hot summer afternoons with the kind of light reading I like best.
Distinctly Familiar is Boykin's sixth entry in the Familiar series - and by the way, a tip of my hat to her in the stroke of genius that has supplied her with so many excellent titles since the first in the series, Familiar Tales. She hooked me with one line in that first collection: "After the third water-shifting class got nearly eaten by Monsters from the Unseen Depths, the publisher finally issued corrections." And the winning blend of folklore, intriguing characters, and a slightly but beautifully skewed version on the modern world has continued unbroken through the present volume - at least as far as I've gotten with it! This collection starts with an eerie view of magic on the North Sea that's reminiscent of Theodor Storm, continues with a solidly built antique sewing machine (no plastic here!) that may or may not be haunted, and... well, read it for yourself. Enjoy! Meanwhile, having frivoled away the morning, I shall get back to introducing the blend of mismatched lovers and misunderstood magic in the sequel to Salt Magic. I'm saving the last "Familiar" story to read as a reward for pushing my own story another couple of thousand words down the road.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Why we can't discuss politics like sensible people

This is an excerpt from recent correspondence with a friend whom I had previously thought of as a reasonable liberal -- someone with whom I could disagree and discuss our differences reasonably. I now believe I was dead wrong about that. I'm not about to violate her privacy or bore you with the entire text of our rather lengthy email interchange, so you're free to decide that this excerpt is "deceptively edited" to make her look bad because, you know, I'm a racist just like Trump.

She: "There is plenty of evidence that Trump is a racist!"
Me: "Oh? What's the evidence?"
She: “This "prove it!" thing seems to come from a place of confrontation rather than one of trying to understand the other.”

Game, set, match. I do not enter into debate with people who hold themselves free from citing evidence they've just claimed exists, nor with people who respond to a civil question by impugning my motives. "I don't have to answer that because you're just being nasty," sounds to me like the ultimate Get out of Debate Free card. I won't play that game.

You know, I don't mind if somebody says, "The totality of Trump's actions and statements leave me with the impression that he's a racist, but I'm not going to try to make a case to prove that."

That leaves an opening for a reasonable response like, "OK, that's not the impression I have, but you're entitled to your own opinions."

This "evidence" thing goes beyond that, though. It jumps from a legitimate "this is my impression" into the territory of "This is objectively true and provable so you have to accept it!"

Isn't there a phrase for that? Something like, oh, help me out here... Jumping the shark?
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