First Light on the New Camera

I’ve been wanting to step up to a full frame DSLR for a while now, so this week I went ahead and ordered the Nikon D750 (for you Nikon geeks out there, I thought about getting the D810 instead but the D750 has nearly the same set of features for a lot less money, minus some extra resolution I would likely not take advantage of anyway). Right out of the box I decided to snap a few photos. Unfortunately I didn’t switch it over from JPEG to RAW before getting the first few pictures, but even so, what came out of the camera was pretty enough. Here are a couple of shots from this very first set.

So far, so good.

In case you’re wondering what will become of the D5100, it’s now the property of Athena, who has shown interest in and talent for photography. I’m sure she will put it to good use.


Reader Request Week 2016 #4: Autonomous Cars

jlightfield asks:

Autonomous cars, do they change how you will work in 10 years?

Do they change how I work? No, because I work from home, on a computer, which means I don’t have to go anywhere else to work. A car is generally not involved in my workflow at all.

Which is not to say I can’t wait for autonomous/self-driving cars. Are you kidding? These things will be the best thing ever for me. Why? Let me count the ways:

1. There are two types of people: Those who enjoy driving, and those who enjoy being at places where driving has to happen to get to them. I am in the latter group. Driving, as an activity, doesn’t interest me in the slightest. I drive because I have to go somewhere, not because I enjoy driving to get somewhere. That being the case, a self-driving car takes the part of driving I like the least — the actual driving — and gives it to the car to do.

2. Which means I will have more time to do the things I like to do, i.e., loiter on the Internet, listen to music, maybe do a little writing, talk to other passengers in the car. This will make the drive-time more enjoyable.

3. I get road ragey when I’m driving but not when I’m a passenger, so self-driving cars would make the transportation experience a hell of a lot less anger-inducing for me.

4. Other people on the road are idiots, so self-driving cars being used generally would vastly reduce the number of stupid people behind a wheel that I would have to deal with.

5. I’m getting older, and eventually I’ll get old enough that no matter what I’m likely to be a danger to others on the road. Self-driving cars will still allow me autonomy without endangering others when I drive.

6. Also, come on, let’s face it, I’m already not the world’s greatest driver. The nation’s roads are likely to be marginally safer even now if I’m not the one behind the wheel.

7. Nap while the car drives to my destination? Don’t mind if I do!

8. I don’t drink alcohol, but for those friends of mine who do, the idea that they could get home safely without endangering themselves or others is a nice thought.

And so on.

Now, I do realize that there are legitimate privacy and security concerns that will need to be addressed before full automation comes to cars — we don’t want our cars broadcasting where we’re going to all of the world, and it would do no good to have cars that are crackable so someone can hijack them with us in them. There are also practical issues like who is liable in a crash involving an automated car, whether or not a human always needs to be alert to take over driving, and other such things. All excellent points to consider.

But even so: self-driving cars where is mine I want mine now now now now. It’s fair to say I want a self-driving car more than I want, like, colonies on the moon. Colonies on the moon are nice, but a self-driving car is going to be great for my life now.

Although, again, won’t change how I work at all. Sorry.

(There’s still time to ask questions for 2016’s Reader Request Week — get your requests in here.)


Reader Request Week #3: How, and If, I Will Be Remembered

Steve asks:

Have you ever wondered how you will be remembered by the “science fiction community”? How future critics will use you in comparison to future authors……about the legacy you have left behind you when you have gone……if you will be lost among the hundreds of authors, as many from the 50’s have been…..? No offense……but even great authors have no books reprinted….etc etc…..

Well, one, after I’m dead I don’t think I’ll be worried about how I’m remembered, by the science fiction community or anyone else, because I’ll be dead, which I suspect means I’ll be beyond caring about anything. This is a strangely comforting thought: So long, universe! It’s your problem now! So there’s that.

Prior to my incipient oblivion, which is to say for the next 40 to 50 years, I don’t worry too much about not being remembered. One, presumably I will continue to produce work for the next 25 or 30 years at least — writing is a career where one can have some longevity — so I’m likely to continue to be in the stream of commerce and notability in my field. Two, I have enough status in the field thanks to existing work, sales and awards that my inevitable decline into irrelevance might be managed as a gentle descending glidepath rather than a precipitous cliff fall.

Three, you know what, if until I die I have friends and family and people I care about and who care about me, even if I were forgotten by the science fiction public while I were alive, I would probably be fine. I had a nice run in there, and there are worse things than to be forgotten.

In any event, the question is not whether I or my work will be forgotten, but when. Why? Because nearly every writer is forgotten, as is their work, given enough time. A couple get cosmically lucky in terms of their cultural legacies — Shakespeare is the go-to example in English — But between 1616 (Shakespeare’s death) and today, 400 years later, hundreds of thousands of published authors in English alone (if not millions) have slipped out of history. Their work may exist, in libraries or rare volumes or in archives like Project Gutenberg, but no one reads them, save the occasional academic desperate for a serviceable thesis. When you know that the vast majority of those who write, and the vast majority of what is written, tumble down history’s hole, you have a pretty good idea of what your eventual fate will be.

You don’t even have to be dead for it to happen. The large majority of my published work prior to 2005 is “out of print” — either officially out of print in terms of publication, or accessible only through specialized archives, digital or otherwise. I have a publishing history that goes back to 1991 (or 1987 if you want to throw in my college newspaper), which includes thousands of film and music reviews, hundreds of columns, dozens of newspaper and magazine features and several books, all published before 2005. Unless you already have a physical copy of any of these, you are unlikely to see any of them, ever. For that matter, the first four years of this blog — 1998 through 2002 — are not on the current iteration of the site; they’re accessible through the Internet Archive, but there’s no real indication anyone visits that. Other things I’ve written on other sites on the Internet are likewise inaccessible, though closed sites, reorganized sites, link rot and other such things.

Again: The majority of everything I’ve ever written — things that had audiences of hundreds of thousands of people when they were printed — has already effectively vanished from history, when I’m 46 years old and still actively writing. Is this a horrifying tragedy? Well, no, not really. I mean, if you really want to find my Fresno Bee review of, say, the long-forgotten 1993 Wesley Snipes thriller Boiling Point, then knock yourself out. But I guarantee you that if you do find it, you will not marvel at its genius. The review doesn’t necessarily deserve to be forgotten, but it doesn’t make a very good argument to be remembered, either. A lot of my “lost” writing is like that.

But in time even my good writing is likely to slip out of the public consciousness, even in specialized fields like science fiction. Look, new science fiction readers have heard of Asimov and Clarke and Heinlein — the chances they’ve read them, or at least read anything more than their one or two “greatest hits,” is increasingly slim, and will get slimmer the more time passes. This may outrage some folks who think you can’t truly appreciate the genre unless you take a survey class in it, but the average reader doesn’t care about that. They’re not going to go all the way back to Jules Verne or even Larry Niven just to have sufficient historical perspective in the genre to read the latest book by James S.A. Corey, or Ann Leckie or by me. 40 years from now, new readers aren’t going to read our stuff as a prerequisite to read whatever is new and exciting in the genre then.

And that’s fine. I’ve frequently said that I’m not interested in writing for the ages, since I won’t be there and the ages will take care of themselves in any event. I’m writing for people now, who will enjoy the work now, and also and not entirely coincidentally, pay me for my work now, so I don’t have to do anything else for a living. Will it last? You got me. I suspect I’ll still be remembered fifty years now because people who are reading me now will still be alive then. A hundred years from now I may be remembered for one book. If I’m remembered two hundred years from now, I’d be impressed as hell with myself, if I weren’t already dead for probably 150 years.

(Incidentally, the book of mine that already exists that I suspect I’d be best remembered for in 100 years? Redshirts. It’s not my “obituary book,” the book that’ll show up in the opening graph of stories about my death; that will be Old Man’s War. But I suspect it’s the one that will age the best, in part because it’s specifically about its time and therefore resistant to going “out of date” in terms of technology and prediction (particularly of social mores) the way science fiction can do; in part because it functions as both story and metastory, commentary and metacommentary, which means it’ll be interesting to teach, and being taught is important for the longevity of a work; and in part because it’s funny and easy to read. Will I be right? Well, on the slim chance anyone’s reading this in 2116: You tell me. Or tell my corpse; again, I’m probably long dead.)

None of this isn’t to say I wouldn’t be happy, in an existential sense, to have my work, and therefore me, remembered 100 or 200 years (or more!) into the future. I’m not going to live forever and any personal immortality I will earn will be through what I write. I think it might be nice for any future descendants of mine to brag to their friends that the book they’ve been assigned in class is from their great-great-great-grandfather (or granduncle, or whatever). I think it’d be fun to have people argue about whether I still have relevant things to say or should be considered “of my time.” It’d be nice to be remembered for being a writer, hopefully positively, when I’m gone.

I’m just not staying up nights worrying if it will happen. If it does, great. If not, I’m having a hell of a lot of fun now, and enjoying the small serving of notability I get today, for doing what I do. It won’t last; it never does. On this side of the grave or the other, I’ll likely to be forgotten, and no matter what the sun will eat the earth five billion years from now anyway and eventually the entire universe will proton decay out of existence, so, you know. Be ready for that.

In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy what I have today, with the people I have with me now. Seems the best thing to do.

(There’s still time to ask questions for 2016’s Reader Request Week — get your requests in here.)

Big Idea

The Big Idea: Susan Jane Bigelow

The real world can sometimes get you down. But if you’re a writer, at least, you can use that as an opportunity to imagine another world. At a low point, Susan Jane Bigelow did just that — and her novel Broken was the result. Here she is to tell you about it.


Hope is a fragile thing, especially when times are bad. It’s easy to get lost in cynicism, to dwell on the awfulness of people and governments and systems, and resign ourselves to whatever fate is in store for us. After all, if we don’t get our hopes up, they can’t be dashed… and sometimes, hope feels so far away that it’s hard even to imagine we could ever feel it again.

In 2004, after failing at my job as a high school teacher, getting a new job for a lot less money, and watching what felt like political disaster unfold when John Kerry lost to George W. Bush, I wrote a book about hope to make myself feel better.

That book, Broken, turned into a four-book series. And really, at its heart the Extrahuman Union series is about is trying to find that narrow thread of hope to carry us through the darkest times.

I suppose it is also about superheroes in space. That’s important too.

The world of this book is teetering on the brink of disaster. The grip of a fascist government is tightening around everyone, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it. Earth and the dozens of colony worlds that make up the Confederation are falling into a long, long darkness.

Only Michael Forward can see a way through. Michael is just a kid, but he’s been saddled with extrahuman powers that let him see the possible futures of everyone he looks at. He knows how bad things are going to get, but he also knows that there’s a slender path through the darkness that leads to a better future for everyone. All he has to do is find it.

For that, though, he needs the help of Silverwyng, a former member of the Extrahuman Union who started living on the streets of 22nd Century New York after she lost the ability to fly, and who now goes by the name “Broken.” Broken has no hope. Everything she loved about her life is gone, and she is nothing but a mess of fury, despair, and cynicism when Michael finally tracks her down.

This is the story of how she helps Michael Forward and the orphan baby Ian, but it’s also the story of how Broken comes back to life. It’s the story of how she remembers who she was, and starts to have faith in herself and in the idea that she could have a future.

Broken is the first chapter of her story, to be continued in the forthcoming books Sky Ranger, The Spark, and Extrahumans.

And yes, I wrote it to make myself feel better about politics. But I also wrote it because one of my fundamental beliefs is that things can and will always get better, no matter how bad it seems now. Fate is cruel and life is hard, but faith in humanity and hope for the future are worth hanging on to.

This is not an easy thing to write. There’s a fine line to walk between hopelessness and corny, and it’s very tempting to swerve to one side or the other. The first draft of this book, which was written for NaNoWriMo 2004, was a lot darker than the final product. There was a lot more death and despair. You’re lucky I cut out the part where Broken eats a dead cat. You’re welcome.

As for why I chose to use super-powered people, well… they’re cool! But they’re also symbols of hope, in a way, especially some of the better ones. Implicit in a lot of superhero narrative is the idea that no matter how bad things may get, the day will always be saved.

I still believe that it will be. And I hope that Broken succeeds in conveying that!


Broken: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Kobo

Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

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