It’s The Final Countdown… To Book Three!

After many posts about random science and technology news, it’s nice to get back to writing about writing, i.e. The Original Point of This Blog. Excitingly, we’re into the business end of the creation of my third novel, Causal Nexus!

I sent a reasonably polished draft to my beta readers a week before the holidays, and after two months of this…

Impatient bunny.

…the feedback arrived!

Pro writer tip: don’t give a draft to beta readers a week before the holidays and expect to receive prompt feedback. You won’t.

The happy news was that I appear to have written a solid, entertaining story with compelling characters that flows well. (Their words, honest.) Hurrah!

Happy bunny.

I had a chunky slate of minor changes to make, to tighten language, clarify points, and improve flow, but overall I couldn’t have been happier at the positive reception.

Thus it was with great enthusiasm that last night I submitted my revised draft to my editor, the charming and eagle-eyed Misti Wolanski (http://mistiwolanski.com/), who I also worked with on Ascension Point and Venus Rising. The typical cliche would be to say that Misti has forgotten more about the English language than I’ve ever learned, but as far as I can tell she hasn’t forgotten anything. On top of that, she’s also deeply versed in science fiction and fantasy, being both an author and avid reader of those genres herself.

I should receive her first edit in 4-6 weeks or so, then we’ll have two to three rounds of back and forth to polish the novel into sparkling, publishable shape. If the process goes as it did for the first two books, we’re looking at a May publication date.

Watch this space!

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Falcon Heavy: The Biggest Thing Since Saturn V

Regardless of how many you’ve seen before, there’s always something magical about watching a launch–and even more so when it’s this damn big.

SpaceX successfully launched what is now the world’s most powerful rocket Tuesday, a towering behemoth known as the Falcon Heavy that tore through the sky with the thundering force of 18 747 jetliners.

Lifting off at 3:45 p.m. from the same launchpad that sent the crew of Apollo 11 to the moon, the rocket sent up a mountain-sized plume of smoke and a rattling roar across Florida’s Space Coast, where thousands gathered to watch. The mission represented the first test of the massive rocket, powered by 27 engines in three, first-stage boosters that are essentially strapped together.

Well done, Starman.

Full write up at WaPo here.

Salamander? Wolverine, More Like

Boffins have discovered that the secret to Logan-esque regeneration may be in having an absolutely huge… genome. Meet the axolotl!

It has 32 billion base pairs, which makes it ten times the size of the human genome, and the largest genome ever sequenced.

Badass. What does this baby do?

It has the remarkable capacity to regrow amputated limbs complete with bones, muscles and nerves; to heal wounds without producing scar tissue; and even to regenerate damaged internal organs.

This salamander can heal a crushed spinal cord and have it function just like it did before it was damaged.

You don’t say? Who does that remind me of…

Well done boffins! Hopefully we’re now one step closer to a whole range of exciting medical advancements.

Keep on regenerating, little wolverine salamander! Just watch out for Hulks.

Ooh, It’s Been a While. Also: STAR WARS

Hey gang. Apologies for the recent silence, but it’s been a hectic week or so: I’m getting ready for a month-long trip back to the UK for work shenanigans and family fun, so lots to do.

But hey: IT’S STAR WARS WEEKEND. Tickets have been booked for months, so Mrs. Dan and I will be seeing The Last Jedi in glorious IMAX on Saturday at noon. Then a mere six hours later I’ll be jetting eastward to the motherland.

Based on what I know of my readership, I’m pretty confident that if you’re reading this you’ll also be seeing the movie this weekend. Altogether now:

Catch you soon!

Some Elk are Shy, and Evolution Is Quicker Than You Think

Some fascinating articles on the animal kingdom in the New York Times recently.

First, a delightful story about elks and magpies helping each other out, at ‘Shy Elk and Bold Birds Become Partners in the Wilderness‘. But only the nice, shy elk, not the bold curmudgeonly ones!

They get along, so to speak, because the elk needs grooming and the magpie is looking for dinner. But they may have never entered into this partnership if it weren’t for their particular personalities…

Robert Found, now a wildlife biologist for Parks Canada, discovered over years of observing their personalities that bold elk stayed, while shy elk migrated. But he noticed something else in the process of completing his research: As elk laid down to rest at the end of the day, magpies approached.

There appeared to be a pattern: elk of some personality types aggressively rejected magpies. Others didn’t. “Sometimes the magpies will walk around right on the head and the face of the elk,” Dr. Found said.

Also, ‘Things Looked Bleak Until These Birds Rapidly Evolved Bigger Beaks’

The population of North American snail kites — birds that use curved beaks and long claws to dine on small apple snails in the Florida Everglades — had been dwindling for years, from 3,500 in 2000 to just 700 in 2007. Things began to look particularly bleak in 2004, when a portion of the Everglades was invaded by a species of larger snail that the birds had historically struggled to eat. Ornithologists assumed the shift would hasten the snail kite’s decline.

But the number of snail kites in the Everglades grew over the decade following the invasion of the larger snails. The reason, according to a study published Monday in Nature Ecology and Evolution, is that the snail kites have rapidly evolved larger beaks and bodies to handle the bulkier snails.

Wait. One decade?

[Scientists] analyzed 11 years of morphological data they had collected on the birds. Because snail kites can live to the relatively old age of 8, that time period represented fewer than two generations for the birds. Nonetheless, the researchers found that beak and body sizes had grown substantially (about 8 percent on average, and up to 12 percent) in the years since the invasion.

Good news! Perhaps in thirty years humans can rapidly evolve to have webbed feet, to better survive the Waterworld-style post-climate change archipelago of the future. Maybe gills too!

“It’s not as great as it sounds.”

Sunday Roundup

Let’s start with a fun–and super-geeky–rundown of all the military vessels in Babylon 5, over at The Wertzone! I love Babylon 5; it gets a bad rap among some SF fans for being a touch soapy in parts, but the series was remarkable for deeply exploring important themes, its commitment to ambitious, multi-season storylines and character arcs, and an extensive background lore covering thousands of years.

Plus: Vorlons!

Vorlon Heavy Cruiser

The Vorlon heavy cruiser is one of the largest ships in known space, at almost two miles in length. The heavy cruiser is equipped with a massive forward beam weapon, a scaled-up version of that on the transport. This weapon has never been seen to fire at full strength, but is considered to be unsurvivable.

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Ambassador Kosh, looking badass as usual.

How did you get into Star Wars, folks? For me, it was seeing Empire on TV at Christmas when I was about nine years old. And yes, I saw the second movie in the series before the first one, which is absolutely anathema to my current adult self who can’t watch anything he hasn’t seen from the very beginning.

“Who’s that little green man, mum?” “That’s Yoda, Dan.” “Cool!”

NASA photos of Antarctica–get them before it melts! (Sob.)

Jude Law’s going to be in Captain Marvel, which seems…fine? Brie Larson will be ace, though.

Law is playing Mar-Vell, the original Captain Marvel, a mentor to Larson’s character. Also of note, Keanu Reeves was being considered for the role before passing.

While Larson is the lead, Captain Marvel will co-star Ben Mendelsohn as the leader of the Skrulls and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. The film takes places before the events of the first Iron Man and will, at least partially, take place in outer space.

Finally, a lovely and smart review of Iain M. Banks’ 1994 essay A Few Notes on The Culture.

This particular moment in history—when unfettered capitalism, oligarchy, and toxic forms of nationalism all too often tend to be the order of the day—is quite a time to be reading about a socialist post-scarcity interstellar civilization, and one can definitely be forgiven for approaching the novels in a spirit of escapism. But one can also find inspiration in the progressive and optimistic worldview that underpins Banks’s novels, which was neatly summarized by the man himself.

I miss him. Happy Sunday, folks.

STARSLAM ’17

Science!

FiveThirtyEight has a wonderful story about how August 17th was pretty much the biggest day in astronomy history.

On that day, astronomers bore witness to the titanic collision of two neutron stars, the densest things in the universe besides black holes. In the collision’s wake, astronomers answered multiple major questions that have dominated their field for a generation. They solved the origin of gamma-ray bursts, mysterious jets of hardcore radiation that could potentially roast Earth. They glimpsed the forging of heavy metals, like gold and platinum. They measured the rate at which the expansion of the universe is accelerating. They caught light at the same time as gravitational waves, confirmation that waves move at the speed of light.

That’s a big day!

Richard O’Shaughnessy, an astronomer at the Rochester Institute of Technology, describes the discovery as a “Rosetta stone for astronomy.” “What this has done is provide one event that unites all these different threads of astronomy at once,” he said. “Like, all our dreams have come true, and they came true now…”

“It’s a wonderful time, it’s a terrifying time,” O’Shaughnessy said. “I can’t really capture the wonder and the horror and glee and happiness.”

Coincidentally The Wonder and The Horror and Glee and Happiness would be what I’d call a barbershop quartet, if I were in one. Or they were still a thing.

You Beta Be-read It!

If you deciphered my clever pun, you’ll have worked out that Causal Nexus is in the hands of my lovely beta readers! They always provide excellent feedback to strengthen the story, make the characters more interesting and point out those pesky plot holes that it’s easy for the writer themselves to miss after being down in the weeds of the story for so long. I can’t wait!

In the meantime I’ve started the groundwork for Untitled Book #4! Step one is to go back over Ascension Point and Venus Rising, and to compile a list of all the open plot threads that I’ve set up in the series so far, that I may want to pick up and complete in this, the final book in the series. I have a habit of semi-casually tossing little elements into my stories that hint at potential goings-on, so I daresay that I won’t choose to follow up on every single possible plotline that I sketchily set up; but in addition to the exciting new major story arcs I’ve got planned, I am planning to tie off at least the big loose ends from prior books and wrap up key character arcs, and thus generally bring The Unity Sequence to a satisfying close.