Camp NaNoWriMo: Red Soil II

It’s just a few days to July, and I’ll be using Camp NaNoWriMo to jump-start a first draft of the sequel to Red Soil Through Our Fingers. Having moved from Boston to a much lower-stress pace of life in Virginia a couple of months ago, I’m now through the post-move transition and ready to draft some fiction again! Incidentally, Camp Nano was what led to the initial draft of Red Soil as well, so it’s fitting that the sequel will begin its life the same way. I’m also excited that several members of my writing group are joining in, plus some friends of ours as well!

Here’s my working “back cover” premise:

Yoo Sun-Hee has been left in charge of Hellas-Dao, a Mars colony caught in a power struggle that now ripples across the solar system. Surrounded by enemies and unsure of her allies, she must somehow defend the colony against all comers and navigate a path to freedom. Meanwhile, the thousands of colonists under Sun-Hee’s watch don’t see eye-to-eye on the best course for the future. As governments and mega-corporations battle for supremacy of interplanetary space, those living on the red soil of Mars descend into infighting and faction. A single spark could set off violence that will destroy the colony — or its hopes — from within.

Questions I’d like to explore:

  • How do we construct a functional society from factions that vehemently disagree over fundamental values, to the point of active hatred and violence? Is separation the only/best choice?
  • When loyalty to principle conflicts with loyalty to those we love, how do we decide which takes precedence?
  • When is it morally permissible to disobey legitimate orders or reveal secret information you promised not to reveal? (Thinking about Ed Snowden, Reality Winner, et al here.)
  • What is the line between freedom fighter and terrorist, and who gets to decide? Is the difference truly just in the eye of the beholder? Are there ends so important that they justify morally questionable — or even reprehensible — means? (This is a touchy one… I’m by no means intending to justify terrorism, and I do believe there are both hard lines and gray areas. I find the broader question interesting though, from a social, political, historical, and not mention contemporary perspective.)
  • If we truly had an opportunity to “reset” a government/society and shed generations of precedent, what would we build?

I’m excited to begin!

If you still haven’t ever picked up a copy of Book 1, Red Soil Through Our Fingers will be FREE at Smashwords from July 1 to July 31 as part of their annual July Summer/Winter sale.

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Podcast Interview at Arjun’s Arrow

The podcast Arjun’s Arrow has set the following principles for itself:

  • provide a message through the grassroots
  • spread information through education
  • revive the human spirit through knowledge of self

I was honored to be the second-ever interview guest of Arjun Collins, host of Arjun’s Arrow, a good friend, and former colleague. Check out this audio interview of me about Red Soil Through Our Fingers.  We had a great conversation about economic exploitation, engineered environments, genetically engineered crops, the need for a strong public space policy, and how the exploration of space can help us develop technology for sustainable living here on Earth.

Post a comment and subscribe (either here or on Arjun’s Arrow) and I hope you enjoy the dialogue.

Haven’t yet picked up your copy of the novel? Learn more and order your copy now.

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Why Space?

A few weeks ago, Icame across an article in the Houston Press about Buzz Aldrin and Mars. Headline: “Buzz Aldrin Says NASA Should Ditch the ISS and Make the Mars Jump“. Aldrin’s statement is hardly anything he hasn’t said before,  but any debate about NASA’s next steps needs to start by discussing a more fundamental question: Why should we go into space at all?

Category 1: Human Spaceflight

Aldrin would probably say something along the lines of “because we as humans are born explorers, and it is the greatest challenge of all to venture out into the great vastness of space.” Human space exploration of the solar system and beyond as the goal of spaceflight has a sizeable contingent of supporters, and plenty of lofty rhetoric to match (think JFK’s famous Moon Speech). Inspirational appeals to our sense of adventure and wonder aside, it is practically true that doing the hardest things we can imagine results in incidental gains in scientific understanding, technological development, national morale/prestige, etc.

Distinct from human space exploration is human space settlement. For some human spaceflight advocates, the goal is not exploration for its own sake, but toward the goal of eventually spreading human settlement from our planet to orbit, the Moon, other planets, and maybe even someday to other star systems. If this is your truly  primary goal, your favored missions are likely to be different from those in the exploration camp. For example, building a permanent human city in Low-Earth Orbit is a far more practical and useful goal than a Mars colony in context, for a number of reasons. There’s the proximity to Earth, for starters, which would allow for far lower mission risk and cost for an equivalent-size settlement, and we’d be able to learn vast amounts of useful information about living well in space before venturing out further.

Category 2: Space Science

But detractors of the first philosophy tend to claim that the incidental advances we get out of human spaceflight are just that: incidental, and nowhere near worth the enormous expenditure required for human spaceflight. If we really want scientific understanding of space and our solar system, then robotic and uncrewed systems can get the job done for orders of magnitude less money. They don’t need oxygen, water, food, and pressure, for starters, and moreover they don’t need to come back.  Purists of this camp see multi-billion-dollar, rocket programs like the Space Launch System (SLS) as astronomical wastes of money, noting (correctly) that the bulk of the cost of such systems goes into making them human-rated. Instead, why not  take all that money and double or triple the number of robotic probes we send out to explore the universe on our behalf?

Category 3: Earth Science

The two camps described above tend to generate the most noise in space policy debates, and it’s tempting to think of them as ends of a linear continuum. However, a third major category of answers to the “Why Space?” question focuses closer to home. Space-based systems are essential to understanding, protecting, and improving life on Earth. Satellites help us understand a whole gamut of Earth-based knowledge, including climate change, weather and storm monitoring, atmospheric and ocean science, forestry land use, navigational and communication systems (such as GPS and the Internet), and even tools that enable sustainable and productive farming and fishing.

So which one should we choose?

As all three of these categories contain worthy pursuits in their own respects, it shouldn’t be surprising that NASA does all of them. (I should add that NASA also does significant and valuable aeronautical research that improves aviation and atmospheric flight around the world, but as this post is entitled “Why Space?”, I am setting this portion of NASA’s portfolio aside.)

It’s no secret that NASA is underfunded, given its wide mandate. NASA’s $19B budget is relatively small by federal standards, coming in at only around half of one percent of total federal spending. The perennial debates over where its missions should be going and what else it should be doing can devolve into fighting over scraps to preserve stability in legacy programs, and the tens of thousands of highly-educated jobs that these programs support.  These debates often miss the big picture.

While few people are arguing that NASA should pursue one of these aims to the exclusion of the others (Buzz Aldrin comes pretty close), the divides in the space community reveal a fundamental disconnect about what people find valuable, if anything, about going into space at all. This mismatch of values means we’ll continuously be talking past each other when it comes to deciding the “best” allocation of NASA’s portfolio. I think a good, public, and reasoned debate over the value proposition of each path would be a healthy thing for the agency, the space community, and the nation.

 

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My Boskone 54 Schedule

I’m honored to announce that I’ll be appearing as a panelist again at Boskone 54! The con will be held February 17-19, 2017. Below is my panelist and reading schedule.

Inspiring the Next Generation of STEM Leaders Through YA Fiction, Saturday 10:00 – 11:00, Harbor II (Westin): Science fiction has inspired countless young people to become astronauts, engineers, and scientists. We’ll discuss current science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) topics in YA fiction — and our favorite must-reads from today’s authors. Panelists: Christine Taylor-Butler, Rob Greene, Brenda Noiseux (M), N.A. Ratnayake

Immersive Technology, Saturday 13:00 – 14:00, Marina 3 (Westin): The first computers took up entire rooms; we had to invent whole new languages so we could “talk” to them. Now we control mobile phones through hand gestures. Will virtual or augmented reality become common in our daily lives? Will the next phase be a direct human/computer connection? Will we lose ourselves within our technology? Panelists: Dan Moren , Daniel P. Dern, N.A. Ratnayake (M), Karl Schroeder, Flourish Klink

Earth 2.0: Manned Space Flight in the 21st Century, Saturday 15:00 – 16:00, Burroughs (Westin): From SpaceX orbital jaunts to interstellar travel, the practical boundaries of 21st-century manned space exploration are expanding with each new technical advance. What space flight possibilities have we got in the works today? What more might we achieve in the not-so-distant future? How about a little later out? What are our chances of reaching any of the potential New Earths? Panelists: Ian Randal Strock, Jordin T. Kare, Janet Catherine Johnston, N.A. Ratnayake, Allen M. Steele (M)

The Year in Astronomy and Physics, Saturday 16:00 – 17:00, Burroughs (Westin): An annual roundup of the latest research and discoveries in two sciences that matter. Our experts will share what’s new and interesting, cutting-edge and speculative. From planets to particles, and beyond! Panelists: Mark L. Olson (M), Jeff Hecht, N.A. Ratnayake, Janet Catherine Johnston

Reading by N.A. Ratnayake: Sunday 13:30 – 14:00, Independence (Westin)

And there’s a lot more nerdery to be found in the Boskone Program. Hope to see you there!

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Panel Postmortem: Is Optimism Just Nostalgia in Disguise?

This post is the first in what I intend to be several recaps of some of the most thought-provoking moments during this weekend’s Arisia science fiction and fantasy convention.

First of all, I have to thank Andrea Hairston. As a panelist and audience member, moderators have consistently been the most significant factor affecting the experience of con panel. Andrea was our fearless leader during this panel and I think we all owe her thanks for her energetic and positive management of the conversation.

Panel Description: Is Optimism Just Nostalgia in Disguise? – Marina 2, Literature, Sun 11:30 AM: We are hearing, after a long sojourn in dystopia and postapocalypse, that optimistic SF is making a comeback. Is it really the case or is the optimism of yesterday just another type of nostalgia? When climate change, postantibiotic medicine, and resource depletion are major factors in our lives (topics that are not always as well addressed in optimistic SF), is there a way to temper our optimism and inspire those who might be able to face these problems? Panelists: Andrea Hairston (mod), N.A. Ratnayake, Matthew Kressel, T.X. Watson, M.J. Cunniff

I was happy that the conversation could begin with every panelist answering the titular question in the negative: no, optimism is not just nostalgia in disguise. We had different perspectives as to why and how to move forward, but it was great to have that connecting thread. I won’t (and really can’t) give a transcript or summary of the conversation as it happened, but here are some of my key conclusions that I took away.

[SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t yet seen Star Wars: Rogue One, skip the section “Positive Stories in Negative Spaces.”]

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My Arisia 2017 Schedule

I’m excited to be returning as a panelist to Arisia 2017, New England’s largest and most diverse sci-fi and fantasy convention! Arisia is coming up in just a few weeks (January 13-16, 2017)… Grab a membership soon, because the rates go up after December 31.

My panelist schedule is below, and besides these I plan to attend many more in Science, Writing, and Literature.

  • What Are the New Questions SFF Should be Asking? – Burroughs, Literature, Fri 5:30 PM: Speculative fiction needs to speculate, as changes in the world pile up thick and fast. News of these new developments – scientific, political, cultural, and personal – reaches a broad audience, sometimes even before the developments have actually developed. Does SF have space to speculate? Should we try to keep pace with the way the world changes? Is that possible? What new questions should we ask?
    Panelists: Dr. Pamela Gay (mod), N.A. Ratnayake, John Sundman, Steve E. Popkes, N.S. Dolkhart
  • How To Use Real Science In Your SciFantasy Story –  Alcott, Writing, Fri 10:00 PM: How can you use *real* science in your science fiction and fantasy stories? What is fringe science? Where do you dig it up? Where does STEM fit into your worldbuilding? And how do you adapt boring JSTOR studies to high-stakes action on a space-battleship or a magic kingdom? Our STEM panelists will teach you how to sprinkle a little science fairy dust to make even the most audacious story sound scientifically plausible.
    Panelists: Deborah Kaminski (mod), Timothy Goyette, N.A. Ratnayake, Ian Randall Stock, Stephen R. Wilk
  • The Intersection of Art and Science – Adams, Science, Sat 10:00 AM: Astronomical imagery, mathematical music, negative-space theorizing, gaming into data-structures. Panelists will discuss how they integrate their scientific careers into their artistic ventures, and vice versa.
    Panelists: Shelley Marsh (mod), N.A. Ratnayake, John Sundman, Sarah Smith, Drew Van Zandt
  • What We Know from Juno – Marina 3, Science, Sat 11:30 AM: Juno is a NASA space probe currently orbiting the planet Jupiter. For 20 months the probe will gather a wealth of new information including more details about the planet’s atmospheric composition and core density. Come find out what we’ve learned so far.
    Panelists: Jeff Hecht (mod), N.A. Ratnayake, Dr. Pamela Gay, Dan Brian
  • Is Optimism Just Nostalgia in Disguise? – Marina 2, Literature, Sun 11:30 AM: We are hearing, after a long sojourn in dystopia and postapocalypse, that optimistic SF is making a comeback. Is it really the case or is the optimism of yesterday just another type of nostalgia? When climate change, postantibiotic medicine, and resource depletion are major factors in our lives (topics that are not always as well addressed in optimistic SF), is there a way to temper our optimism and inspire those who might be able to face these problems?
    Panelists: Andrea Hairston (mod), N.A. Ratnayake, Matthew Kressel, T.X. Watson, M.J. Cunniff

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On the Finances of Self-Publishing

Almost exactly two years ago today, I finished the first draft of Red Soil Through Our Fingers. As I talk to friends and family about my novel, I’ve encountered a recurring set of misconceptions around the finances of self-publishing a novel, especially an ebook. I admit I knew nothing about how book publishing worked before embarking on this adventure and having to learn about e-publishing the long way, so I am hardly surprised that few people seem to be aware of the costs.

I’ve also run into a few aspiring writers who seem to think self-publishing an ebook means they simply get to make their total sales number times their chosen list price. Spoiler: That’s really, really far from the truth.

So here’s me being transparent about my journey as a new and (hopefully?) rising science fiction author.

Some background: Prior to publishing Red Soil Through Our Fingers in January 15, 2016, I had published two short stories in professional paid markets. Red Soil was my first novel of any kind, and my first self-publication. The novel is ebook only — there is no print version — and I sell it through two major networks: Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, and the Smashwords network (which includes most every other ebook retailer you’ve ever heard of besides Amazon, such as Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo, etc). The novel was priced at $0.99 as a pre-order through December and the first half of January, then released on January 15th at a list price of $2.99.

Also, it should go without saying that self-publishing involves a staggering number of diverse factors. I don’t claim that my experience is universal in any sense, nor that I’ve made the most optimal decisions. I’m on a learning curve myself, and I only hope that revealing some of the backstage data can provide some useful insight.

Sales

The great news is that 72 people have actually purchased my book to date. Thank you! I appreciate that you took a chance on a new author. If you bought Red Soil Through Our Fingers in the last few months, you are among the first readers ever to support my writing. Whatever that ends up being worth to you, I’m grateful you were able to share in my creative product.

12346589_982958841763352_7543731240419688299_nIn addition, I gave away 155 custom USB drives to beta readers and to fans at the two major science fiction conventions here in New England, Arisia and Boskone. I wanted to be able to hand out the book itself, something more concrete than a business card (which still requires the recipient to go out and buy the book). I also included a interview, a video introduction to the issues, and copies of my two published short stories to make it a commemorative “special edition” token. (People loved the concept, by the way).

So that’s a total of 227 copies of Red Soil Through Our Fingers knowingly distributed over six months. Not bad at all!

In terms of revenue, you might think my book income so far might be 72 sales x $2.99 list price = $215.28. However…34 of the 39 sales through the Smashwords network were free or discounted by 50% through a promo code. Of the 33 Amazon sales, 16 were pre-ordered at the promotional price of $0.99, the rest were purchased at list price.

And let’s not forget fees. Sales directly through Smashwords return 85% of the list price, which is awesome. But most of my sales through the Smashwords platform have actually been through other retailers like the Apple and Barnes & Noble. In these cases, Smashwords takes a much smaller cut, but the retailer also takes their own cut, as much as 35%. Amazon takes 30%, unless I choose to opt-in to KDP Select, which has huge moral and practical costs which I decline to accept.

Oh, and there a transaction fee for processing each sale…

In the aggregate, about 38% of gross revenue was taken as fees for my sales through the Smashwords network as a whole, and about 39% for Amazon. That leaves $40.27 from Amazon, and $21.44 from all other retailers combined, for a total net sales income of $61.71.

(Incidentally, Amazon is currently 46% of total sales and 65% of net revenue… cold hard facts that explain why the evil giant can throw its weight around the publishing industry.)

Accounting for all the free copies I gave away, that’s an average income of twenty-five cents per knowingly distributed copy.

Again, I’m very happy that so many people are getting copies of my book… that’s more than most aspiring writers ever get to see. But if you’re one of those aspiring writers thinking that self-publishing is a quick way to make a few bucks… well. It took two and a half years to write and publish the novel. You do the math if you want to know the hourly rate.

Costs

So what did it cost me to get here? Self-publishing an ebook seems like it would be free to the uninitiated, but the costs can be much higher than one might think (and certainly higher than I expected).

First of all, your book needs an editor. I’m grateful to my network of fellow writers and readers who helped me collaboratively edit successive drafts of my first novel. Otherwise, that service could have cost me several hundred to over a thousand dollars for a novel-length manuscript. I was spared this time… I may not be able to get away with that in the future.

Secondly, a good book needs a good cover. The Smashwords Guides have remarkable data on the difference that a good cover makes in selling a book. But even without looking at the data, you already know… we all judge books by their covers all the time. In fact, when competing for reader eyeballs on a giant Amazon listing of potential books that is literally millions of titles long, a good cover is actually the only hook you have. I paid my cover artist $200 for an original design, a price I believe was fair and well-worth the amazing final result.

Thirdly, there’s marketing once the book is out. Those fancy USB drives? Very cool, but 200 of them at around $3.70 each is almost $750. My hope had been that an investment in interesting, unique handouts would get a lot of people to read and review the book, thus eventually leading to more sales in the long run. As I’ll get to in the next section, that gamble hasn’t paid off… yet. (Though I definitely think they made great thank you gifts to beta readers, and friends and family loved them… but I may not order so many next time.)

Along with the other miscellany I’ve bothered to keep track of, the total cost of publishing and marketing my first ebook novel so far is over $1000.

Reviews

The basic investment of marketing by giving away free copies is the hope that a) readers will be satisfied with the product they received for free, and b) they will then pass on their satisfaction by word of mouth and online reviews, thus eventually yielding many more sales than the initial cost.

So far, it seems that outcome (a) has been met. (Thankfully… seeing as that’s actually more important to me… see Concluding Thoughts below.) Red Soil Through Our Fingers has an average 4.3 /5.0 rating on Amazon, an average 4.0/5.0 rating on GoodReads, and a straight up five stars in the Apple iBook Store. Thank you! I truly appreciate those of you who took the time to write thoughtful reviews, including those with less-than-stellar ratings. Honest reviews help readers decide to take a chance on an unknown author like myself, convey an authentic reaction to the story, and help spread the word about the book.

However… I should note that these ratings come from a total of only fourteen reviews. That means that, despite an average rating that is very positive, only 6% of distributed copies so far have actually resulted in a review.

Now, there could be many reasons for that low percentage, including:

  • Maybe a lot of people who received a copy of the book simply haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. (Likely… I buy books in the moment because they look interesting, but often keep them for months and sometimes years before getting around to actually reading them. Sometimes I even forget about them altogether. I get it.)
  • People have read the book, but forgot, or haven’t gotten around, or perhaps never intend to write a review. (I buy tons of things all the time and just archive the stupid Amazon Marketplace emails asking for reviews the instant I see them. Who wants to take the time right? Well, here I am on the other side, asking you to please write a review.)
  • Reviews for anything tend to be written by people who either loved or hated the reviewed thing in question. Maybe my book is kind of “meh” for most people and they don’t feel motivated to write a review either way. (If this is you, please write a review! Even two and three star reviews help build exposure if honestly and thoughtfully written.)
  • Maybe reviews are just like that. After all, the Divergent series sold 6.8 million copies in 2013 alone, and the three books combined have 53,843 reviews on Amazon, which is only 0.8% of sales. (There’s problems with using those figures, I know, but just looking at a rough cut.)

Whatever the case, the numbers are what they are. It would be nice to see more reviews of the book, but that said, I’m very happy that what reviews I have received are overwhelmingly positive.

Concluding Thoughts

From a purely financial perspective, to-date I’m still in the hole $964.61 on self publishing my first novel.

Now, let me state here that I’m not actually trying to make money on my writing. I have a day-job that pays the bills and no intention of either A) trying to write full-time at any point in the near future, or B) giving up writing because it doesn’t make any money. I write as a hobby… because I love making up stories, exploring the intersection of ideas and people, and sharing those discussions with other people, hopefully toward the end goal of making the world a better place.

Though all that said, it certainly would be nice to recoup the cost of producing the thing in the first place, and thus enable the hobby to continue more sustainably. (I estimate that breaking even would need another 850 list-price sales.)

(If you want to help that goal, it’s pretty simple. Buy the book, encourage others to buy the book, and leave reviews everywhere so that people you don’t even know can be persuaded to take a chance on… well, buying the book.)

Obviously, I plan to keep talking about Red Soil and seeing where it goes, even while I work on the next novel (as yet untitled, but look for details on the blog and on Facebook as the ideas take shape!). It was a great personal accomplishment for me, a huge confidence boost to my writing, and of course a serious learning experience. At the end of the day, I’m very glad I did it, and I’m very grateful to all those who helped me reach this milestone.

Here’s to the next writing adventure…

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Summer Writing Plans

The school year is finally over.

I hadn’t written a word of real prose in months. Though I’ve had time to write in the literal sense, it feels as though I can never find time to write. Maybe that’s an excuse. But sometimes I think that teaching strongly forces a mindset antithetical to writing. On average, I work ten to twelve hours per day during the school year. Most of these hours I need to be in a mental space that demands constant attention to a thousand competing concrete tasks. Even in the evenings and on the weekends, I struggle to get back into a mindset of out-of-the-box thinking, imagining the fantastic, and unstructured creativity.

But now that changes! Over the last few days I’ve been trying to emerge from writer hibernation, get my bearings, and choose a project for the summer.

Red Soil Through Our Fingers, released last January, is doing better than I hoped for a first novel. I’m far from breaking even on it financially, but profit certainly isn’t the only metric for a book. I was able to get through the whole writing, revision, and publication process successfully, and get my work out there. About two hundred copies are out in the world by my count, and the few reviews that have come in so far are almost all positive.

I’ve attempted the sequel to Red Soil Through Our Fingers a few times, but it has been difficult to gain traction on it. To be honest, I feel overly constrained by the pre-existing narrative and characters, as well as the very Hard-SF tack of the first novel. I’ve been itching to do something a little more imaginative, with new characters to explore. So I’m tabling Red Soil for now.

I broke ground this week on a new novel, which takes place in a fictional star cluster somewhere in our galaxy. The book is as-yet untitled, of course, but I can say that I want to explore how conflicts between strong, wealthy nations can steamroll over the less-powerful caught in between. I’m also directly facing an element I avoided in Red Soil: religion and its interplay with science and society. I’ll post updates later in the process when I have something concrete to share.

 

 

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Boskone 53 Recap

What a wonderful weekend it was at Boskone! I had the pleasure of serving on five panels, one solo reading, and the Boskone Book Release Party. Below are the weekend’s highlights from my point of view.

My first panel was entitled Earth: We’re Stuck Here!. Moderator James Patrick Kelley led us in a lively discussion that took the contrarian view of spaceflight, with each member of the panel staking out different ground on the sliding scale of spaceflight optimist to pessimist. My own position was (and is) that human spaceflight enthusiasts are often too optimistic or hand-wavy about very real, serious challenges to human expansion beyond Earth’s orbit. My two areas of focus were Biology (encompassing not just radiation, but long term exposure to zero or low-G, birth, development, aging, and death in space, food, ecosystems, etc), and logistics (supply chain, manufacturing, replicability, reliability, etc). However, while I think these challenges will make human spaceflight much more difficult, costly, and time-consuming than many spaceflight enthusiasts think, I do still believe they are surmountable challenges. I remain pragmatically optimistic about the issues.

And, apparently, I had the quote of the evening.

My next panel was Key Moments in Space Travel. I enjoyed how this panel strove to go beyond the obvious moments of Yuri Gagarin’s first flight and Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. As momentous as these moments were, they are also generally well known. We talked about the early X-15 program, our first forays into space, in which the pilots received their astronaut wings after the fact. I brought up Salyut 1, the first space station of any kind, marking humanity’s first attempt to establish a semi-permanent presence in space. Fellow panelists talked about Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia, and we reflected on the difficulties of spaceflight and the lessons learned from tragedy.  Finally, we looked ahead to what might shape our near future in spaceflight, with countries such as China and India setting out near term goals for their taikonauts and vyomanauts, respectively, as well as private space enterprise.

The panel 100 Years of Relativity kicked off a whirlwind Saturday afternoon of science and spaceflight. We discussed the history of Einstein’s infamous theory of warping spacetime as an explanation for our perception of gravity. We highlighted key observations in history that validated Einstein’s new view of the universe, such as the precession of the perihelion of Mercury, the bending of light rays as they pass near massive objects, gravitational redshift, frame dragging of spacetime around rotating massive objects, time dilation in a gravitational field, gravitational lensing, the existence of black holes, and (quite recently) LIGO’s direct observation of gravitational waves. We also touched on the social impact of General Relativity (Interstellar anyone?) and bit on how theories adapt and change over time.

Next up for me was The Year in Physics and Astronomy, where we discussed exciting new discoveries in two fields that have long had a symbiotic relationship with science fiction. We talked about Kepler 452b, one of the most promising candidates for an Earthlike planet outside of our solar system. Quantum effects observed in photosynthesis, flying a probe through a geyser on Enceladus, the New Horizons and Dawn missions, gravitational waves, pentaquarks, and baby universes being born inside quantum vacuum black holes rounded out a very diverse list of topics.

As Saturday afternoon passed into evening, I gave my first solo reading from my novel Red Soil Through Our Fingers. I proceeded directly to the Boskone 53 Book Party, where I got to meet many readers and fellow authors, several of whom picked up USB editions of the novel. So far, over two hundred copies of Red Soil Through Our Fingers have gone out into the world since the release last month. As people get around to reading and reviewing, I’m anxiously looking forward to seeing what readers think.

My final panel was Phun with Physics. We had a great crowd, doubly so considering that it was a Sunday afternoon panel! We highlighted some of the lesser-known quirky points in the history of Physics, such as early attempts to measure the speed of light, the Magedeberg spheres being used to demonstrate the power of vacuum, weighing and measuring the circumference of the Earth, debunking common misconceptions about Galileo and Archimedes, and looking at the important contributions of non-Western scientists who are often left out of the traditional Physics canon.

I’m delighted to report a major writer milestone: Boskone 53 marked the first time a fan I did not already know has asked for my autograph. It was right after one of my panels, and “Mark” approached the table with a print copy of We See a Different Frontier. He asked if I could sign the title page to my short story Remembering Turinam, which appeared in the anthology two years ago. I was so flabbergasted that I’m not exactly sure what I said or even if I can remember what my first real fan looks like. So Mark, if you’re out there reading this, please drop me a line! Thanks for your support and hopefully what I wrote was coherent.

Lastly, I’d like to congratulate Andrew Owens, a friend and member of my writer group, on a successful first stint as a part of con programming. Andrew was a panelist on multiple panels, moderated one superbly with no advance notice, and even led a solo workshop on Spaceflight in Science Fiction and Reality. Andrew writes for Asking How and Why, a new blog that translates complex science into clear explanations for the educated lay public. He also does some reviews of science fiction and nonfiction.

That’s all until next year Boskone! Thanks for an enlightening time.

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Writing Resources

I recently published my first novel, Red Soil Through Our Fingers, which was a major personal accomplishment. In the aftermath, I’ve been looking back on the process, and trying to determine what practices I should carry forward and try to improve and which practices hindered my progress. In addition to thinking about my overall writing process, I’ve also been reflecting on the resources and supports that helped me start, sustain, and finish my first novel.

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