Daily Archives: October 23, 2008

Metatropolis Review at Tor.com + Metatropolis Site

Notable SF editor and writer John Joseph Adams takes a listen to Metatropolis and says some very nice things about it at Tor.com:

METAtropolis is one of the best anthologies I’ve read in a long time. The worldbuilding was fantastic… all of stories all examine the ecology and economics of the future, which seems eerily prescient considering the current “economic apocalypse” the U.S. is currently going through (a term actually mentioned in one of the stories).

Where the anthology succeeds best is its vivid and believable depiction of one possible future. You probably wouldn’t want to live in any of the cities depicted in METAtropolis, but you’ll surely have a blast going for a visit.

Excellent. Since JJA is a notable anthologist himself, this is all very kind of him to say.

Now, disclosures: As you all know, I blog for Tor.com myself (although not so much in the last couple of weeks as I’ve been migrating this site and catching up on work). Also, Tor Books is my publisher and also publishes the other co-writers of Metatropolis. That said, Metatropolis is not a Tor project (it was released by Audible.com), and I’ve read enough JJS to know he’d take a plank to something if he felt it needed a planking, and the Tor.com would let him use its space to do it. So while I’m naturally biased on the subject, I think it’s a fair review.

Also, Audible.com had put up a ginchy Flash-based site for the project, with lots of bells and whistles, including audio excerpts and screensavers. Head over and waste some time there.

Putting LosCon on Your Radar

Just a reminder to various and sundry that I am going to be the Guest of Honor at this year’s LosCon, the Los Angeles regional science fiction convention, which takes place November 28 – 30, which is the weekend following Thanksgiving. I am hugely honored and excited, because as you all know I grew up in the LA area, so this is going to be a fun way of having a homecoming. I’m also excited for another reason, and to understand why, I’ll recount to you the conversation I had with the LosCon folks about being the Guest of Honor:

LosCon Folks: So, we’d like you to be the Guest of Honor for LosCon 35.

Me: Will you furnish me with an endless supply of In-N-Out Double-Doubles, to be presented to me by my very own burger caddy, who will instantly appear with an Animal-Style Double-Double when I do but snap my increasingly greasy fingers?

LosCon Folks: Uh… sure.

Me: Then I shall attend!

You think I’m joking about this, but I’m totally not. If I haven’t gained 60 pounds over that weekend via cheeseburger overload, I’ll have failed. And you know how I dislike failure.

In any event, I can assure you that aside from the spectacle of my constant burger consumption, this is going to be a really excellent convention –the other Guests of Honor are Gary A. Lippincott and Michael Siladi — and it’ll also be my last public appearance for 2008. So if you miss it, then you December is likely to be a long, sad, depressing slog toward the darkness, for which the holiday season, far from being a respite, will only compound the raven black of your depression. Not to oversell the appearance, or anything. But seriously, we’re going to have an almost absurd amount of fun, and you should be there. Because you k now how much you like fun.

If you are thinking of going, here’s the online registration form. Hope to see you in five weeks.

The Big Idea: Phil Plait

The End of the World As We Know It: It’s coming! With big sharp nasty teeth! It’ll do you a treat, mate! Well yes, you say, but which end of the world? Because there are so many on the way — including some that are based on actual science, which is to say, they could happen without the intervention of a supernatural being.

Dr. Phil Plait, aka “The Bad Astronomer” (because he’s made a career out of debunking bad assumptions about astronomy) entertainingly lays out some of these for you in his brand-new book Death From the Skies!, detailing scenarios like death by solar flares, black holes and — yes — even alien attack, laying out the real science behind the horrible, awful, terrible endgame scenarios for the entire planet. It’s probably the most fun you can have learning about The End of All Things.

But what possessed Plait to start thinking about the end of it all in the first place? Here he is to tell you.

PHIL PLAIT:

So a few years ago I was talking with my agent over ideas for my next book. We had batted around a few thoughts, mostly things that would be really fun for me to write and for the reader to read, and trying to condense these ideas down into the fabled “elevator pitch” (something you could sell to a publisher/TV exec in the length of time of an elevator ride).

I came up with cosmic catastrophes. I had studied supernovae for my thesis — phenomenally cool and violent events — and was at the time working on a space mission that detected gamma-ray bursts, explosions so violent that they make the sweatiest Fundamentalist vision of Armageddon look like a pleasant breakfast at IHOP.

As I thought more about it, I realized I had (wait for it… wait for it…) A Big Idea. Why not write about them all? Everything that could wipe out life on Earth? Asteroid impacts. Massive solar flares. Wandering black holes, colliding galaxies, ramming an interstellar dust cloud. Hell, maybe even alien invasions!

Why not? Books had been written on these before, of course, but never all of them in one place, and not with an eye towards our modern understanding of them. And who doesn’t love an epic disaster movie?

Writing it turned out to be interesting for me. My first book, Bad Astronomy, was about astronomical misconceptions. I had written about many of them on my website, so the amount of research I had to do for the book wasn’t so bad. I had already done most of the heavy lifting in that case.

But this new one was different. I knew something about asteroid impacts, but a little bit of research showed me I was woefully unprepared to write about solar flares!

Don’t even get me started on evaporating black holes.

But it’s not what you know – as they say, whoever they are – it’s who you know. Or whom. Whatever. Happily, I have lots of astronomy-based friends, and started making an irritant of myself to them.

“How does the magnetic field tangling under the Sun’s surface make a flare and not a coronal mass ejection?”

“What happens, exactly, if you try to smash an asteroid with another asteroid?”

“So the meson flux from the gamma-ray pulse is bad, but how deep into the crust does it penetrate?”

I discovered that this book was requiring questions that were getting a little weird. Worse, I realized that even stuff I thought I knew, I didn’t know well enough to describe in detail. In one humiliating moment, I had to call a friend, an expert on gamma-ray bursts and a fairly high NASA muckety-muck, and admit to him I didn’t understand exactly how the formation of a black hole drives two titanic and incredibly destructive beams of matter and energy away from it.

He said that’s OK, no one really does.

I felt better.

In the end, I relied heavily on the advice of my stable of experts, and probably still got some things wrong. I’m pretty sure I made some small errors in the solar flare chapter (man, that stuff is tough!), but hopefully they’re minimal. As a science writer, that’s really the best you can hope for.

One chapter I really enjoyed writing was on alien invasions. I actually had to talk my agent into letting me write it (though my editor was interested to see what I could come up with, and gave me a shot). Stretching the topic just a bit, I wrote about viruses and bacteria from space – and discovered I had no clue why some bacteria make us sick. Do *you* know why? *Honestly*? It’s because they exude toxins that affect us. Bacterial warfare is really chemical warfare! And I learned that writing an astronomy book. Go figure.

And after many years of bull sessions with friends and lying awake at night wondering why aliens have never contacted us – and they haven’t; no apologies to the UFO people – I finally got my shot to write about aliens sending out interstellar probes loaded with von Neumann machines. These metal bugs are designed to eat planets, replicate, and send out more probes. You can wipe out all life in a galaxy in a few million years, and never have to leave the comfort of your couch! It’s a xenophobic alien’s paradise.

Fun for the scifi fan in me, too.

And all the time I was writing the book, I was mindful of the seriousness of it. People might freak out; I’ve had emails from people who were terrified after I’d written about supernovae, magnetar pulses, and wandering planets. So I made sure I did two things: even while describing devastating events I made parts of it light-hearted, and I made damn sure to explain the likelihood – or really the unlikelihood – of getting nailed by these things. You’re more likely to die on an amusement park ride than by an asteroid impact. The odds of a black hole passing through the solar system and gobbling down the Earth are so low that it’s a good bet it won’t happen for thousands of times the age of the Universe.

And the Sun won’t expand into a red giant for 6 billion years. Sure, it’ll happen. But it won’t happen to you.

So I had a lot of fun researching Death from the Skies!, writing it, and even reading it to myself while looking for grammar errors in the proofs. I don’t know if the behind-the-scenes stories are obvious to the reader or not, but I know them (and come to think of it, you know a few now too). But I hope that some of the fun leaked through, and even though I kill the reader, time and again, over and over, all through the book, I hope it’s a good ride.

Death From the Skies! Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s

Read the “Bad Astronomy” blog here.

They’re Not Mad, Just Misunderstood. Also, Mad

Over at AMC, I’m interviewing a mad scientist, who is outraged — outraged – by the insensitive portrayals of his ilk in film. It makes him so mad, he might have to unleash his laser-equipped robot hordes! And, well. Wouldn’t you? If you were a mad scientist, that is. Which you’re not. Hopefully.

As ever, head on over, and if you have something to say on the topic, or want to share your favorite example of a mad scientist in the movies, be sure to leave a comment. We like comments. That’s how we know we’re loved.