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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Just Gotta Share...

Occasionally in my wanderings about the internet (and "netting" tidbits off a Google search for "Science Fiction Romance") I stumble across an article on another site that's just too good not to link.

Such is the case with Seven Dubious Methods of Avoiding Pregnancy in Science Fiction. It's smart, fun, thought-provoking and good for more than a laugh or two. Be sure not to miss yet another classic from io9!

http://io9.com/5020446/seven-dubious-methods-of-avoiding-pregnancy-in-science-fiction

Saturday, June 28, 2008

On Going AWOL

Um, I prefer the term "Impromptu Sabbatical."

I apologize for my disappearance. It happens from time to time. Such is the life of a military budget director. There's these eeeeevil enigmas called deadlines, emergencies and budget cycles that drag me away from writing and blogging when they rear their serpentine heads. *sigh* I may pull these disappearing acts from now until September. Bear with me.

At any rate, I have made some writing progress, and even managed to cross two big titles off my Leaning Tower of TBR(TM), namely DEAD BEAT by Jim Butcher and THE OUTBACK STARS by Sandra McDonald.

Reviews? Well, let me first explain that I do not write reviews unless 1) I really like a novel and 2) the novel inspires me. So that said, yes, expect two lengthy reviews done in my usual offbeat style. :) I hope to post them in the near future.

And I will do my best to get back to a regular schedule of posting.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Once Again, a Dream Denied

There's a reason it's a dream. There's a reason it's called the Test of Champions. There's a reason it's one of the most sought after, and most elusive, titles in sports.

Big Brown--the "sure thing," the dominant athlete who many felt was entitled to and deserved the Triple Crown win, fell short of the goal. Jockey Kent Desormeaux simply did not have the horse he had in the Derby and Preakness. After Big Brown tried to run over the horse ahead of him early in the race, he was eased when he failed to respond in the early stretch run. In the Derby and Preakness, this is the point where the horse exploded in a power drive that left the field in his dust. Not today. Today he sputtered and lagged. Desormeaux is a professional and he knew something was wrong. So Big Brown's jock saved him for another day, another race...or maybe another career.

The good news is Big Brown is apparently uninjured. We'll know more in the next 48 hours about what went wrong physically...or not. My gut feeling is the extreme heat was a factor. Horses are like people, some handle intense heat and humidity better than others, and the temperatures set at Belmont Park today broke records. Other think his quarter crack might have contributed to his downfall, or his being taken off steroids in April to prove that he was superior even without them backfired in a big way. A lot of questions are being asked. They may never be answered. The point has been driven home once again; there is no sure thing in horseracing. And there will be no Triple Crown winner again this year.

So what's next for Big Brown? Hard to say. It depends a lot on any findings in the next day or so. If it appears it was just "one of those things" then the owners and trainer may huddle and decide whether to campaign their horse to prove this race was a fluke, and that he deserves to be recognized as a stallion who can command a six figure stud fee. If there's any indication of a health problem or injury, at an estimated worth of $50-$75 million and a lucrative stud career on the horizon, Big Brown will most likely be retired.

That's horseracing.

Thanks for your attention while I deviated from my usual Science Fiction Romance theme. Now back to our regularly scheduled program.

On the Threshold of a Dream

I don't often stray from my sci-fi romance theme on this blog, but today I will. Today, history may be made in a sport that runs a close second to my love of writing--my love of the Thoroughbred and horseracing.

Big Brown is posed to become the first Triple Crown winner in thirty years. Thirty years! Let me put that in perspective. Not since the three horse run in the 1970s--Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed--has the sport seen a winner of the grueling trio of races called the Triple Crown. If Big Brown wins today, we may not see another TC champion in our lifetime. The Belmont Stakes is the great equalizer in this challenge. It's a mile-and-a-half--probably the longest race most of these horses will run in their careers. It's a tough race to ride for the jockeys--move too soon and you've lost the race, move too late and the outcome is the same. Big Brown's trainer is so confident in his horse he doesn't think it matters when Big Brown makes his move, he'll be there first at the wire. Absolute confidence in your horse is a great thing, but it takes a little more to accomplish what Big Brown is attempting today. It takes ability, heart, courage, stamina, luck--and maybe just a little magic, too.

This is horseracing, and part of the excitement of this day is that anything can happen. It isn't over until the horses hit the finish line and no inquiries are filed to affect the outcome of the race. It's not over until the horses return safe and healthy to their barns--a lesson many learned when the fabulous and ill-fated Eight Belles ran a valiant second to Big Brown, but did not return to her stall after the Kentucky Derby. :(

There have been several horses that have come ohhhh so close. Smarty Jones, who just got nipped in the final strides of the Belmont stakes by Birdstone. Smarty Jones would have become only the second undefeated Triple Crown winner (after Seattle Slew) if he had won that day. (Big Brown could receive that honor today.) Funny Cide was considered a shoe-in when he returned to his home track, where he had a huge advantage, after winning the first two legs of the Crown. It was not meant to be. Except for a bad trip in the Kentucky Derby where he still ran third, Afleet Alex might have done it. He showed the world what he was made of when he overcame being tripped by another horse who swerved into his path and nearly fell in the stretch of the Preakness only to pick himself up and win convincingly. That was a true miracle, and some believe that he had an angel on his shoulder that day in the form of a little girl named Alex who died from cancer, and who's cause the racehorse hitched his star to in promoting the Alex Lemonade Stand charity for cancer research. Risen Star, son of the immortal Secretariat, had a terrible trip in the Derby but hit the wire accelerating. Had the race been another few strides longer he would have overtaken the leader. He went on to win the Preakness, and then finished the Belmont by the second largest margin in history, second only to his sire. Many believed (and I was one of them) that Barbaro would have swept the Triple Crown in superior style. Fate had other plans for this great athlete, who may now be remembered longer and with even greater affection for his spirit and for the huge advances he brought to veterinary medicine because of his tragic battle for life after shattering his hind leg a few strides into the Preakness.

What are Big Brown's chances today? Big. Rumor has it there is a palpable feeling in the air--the atmosphere crackles with electricity around the barn where this horse is stabled. Some say he carries a presence--a command presence--that hints at his true greatness. Some believe he will be the next Secretariat, the next Seattle Slew, the next horse to become a household name and a standard by which all who come after him will be judged. In another few hours, we'll know if that feeling is fact or fantasy. Big Brown is most certainly on the threshold of a dream, but will he cross that threshold and become one of our greatest racing legends today?

The Triple Crown is not just about making history, it's also about shattered dreams. Only one horse can win, which leaves a lot of horses, owners and trainers to brood their misfortune when the race is over. I'd like to acknowledge one horse who lost that dream late in the game--Casino Drive. This wonderful competitor was possibly Big Brown's greatest rival in the Belmont. He is a half brother to Rags to Riches, the filly that beat Curlin to win the Belmont in 2007. He came all the way from Japan pointed toward and trained especially for this one race, this one moment in time. Casino Drive was scratched this morning due to a problem with one of his hind feet, a possible stone bruise. All that planning, hope and effort ended in a heartbreaking decision. Casino Drive will not have his chance to make history. The positive note--if there is one for his connections--is that his injury is not life threatening or career ending, and he will run another day. He's scheduled to return to Japan, but we may hear from him again. Perhaps in the Breeders Cup this fall? [Edited to add: Casino Drive. I love the sound of that. I think I just came up with the name of the drive system in my next novel. :) ]

So hats off and best wishes to Big Brown, his connections and his fans. Will racing history be made today? Well, this is horseracing. Though I have every confidence that "this is the horse, this is the year"--ask me again in about six hours. :)

Oh, and hats off to The Moody Blues for the use of one of their wonderful song titles as my article title today. :)

Friday, June 6, 2008

Another one for the Leaning Tower

GRIMSPACE by Ann Aquirre is another addition to my towering TBR stack.

I've heard a lot of good things about this one.

Check out Ann's blog here: http://www.annaguirre.com/blog/

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Sci-Fi 101: Sidereal Time

Star Time Versus Sun Time

Here’s an exercise:
Go outside at night.
Find an object such as a light pole or post and pick a star it points to.
Note the time.
Look again the very next night at about the same time.
The star will arrive about four minutes earlier than it did the night before.

Here’s the question: If it takes the Earth 23 hours and 56 minutes to turn on its axis, why is a day 24 hours long?

Because if we followed the 23 hours, 56 minute day, “noon” would eventually be in the middle of the night, so we don’t follow sidereal or “star time”. We follow “solar time” or sun time.

Thinking, “Huh?”

Yeah, so did I. So I decided to unravel this mystery and what it means, because, you know, I might use it in a novel sometime. Here’s what I found out.

The unit of solar time (a day) is the time it takes our Sun to travel 360 degrees around the sky, due to the rotation of the Earth. A day can be broken down into smaller units, as such:

· 1/24 Day = 1 Hour
· 1/60 Hour = 1 Minute
· 1/60 Minute = 1 Second

But the Earth doesn’t actually spin 360 degrees in a Solar Day. Since it’s in orbit around the Sun, it moves about one degree along its orbit for every day (because 360 degrees/365.25 days for a full orbit is equal to approximately one extra degree per day). So, the Earth actually has to spin 361 degrees to make the Sun look like it has traveled 360 degrees around the sky.

In astronomy, what’s important is how long it takes the Earth to spin with respect to the much more distant stars, not our Sun. The Earth’s orbit needs to be removed as a complication of the timescale so the only consideration is how long it takes the Earth to spin 360 degrees with respect to the stars (not the Sun). This is called sidereal time, and the time span is a sidereal day. It’s approximately four minutes shorter than a solar day (because of the additional degree the Earth rotates in a solar day).

A sidereal day is defined as 23 hours, 56 minutes, and sidereal hours, minutes and seconds are the same fraction of a day (see above) as their solar counterparts. A solar second is equal to 1.00278 sidereal seconds. A sidereal clock has 24 hours with no am or pm, starting at 00, but the clock moves at a different rate than the solar clock.

Sidereal time determines where stars are at any given time. Sidereal time divides one full spin of the Earth into 24 sidereal hours. Without getting too far down in the weeds (because, Lord knows, I’d need a machete to hack my way out) the map of the sky is divided into 24 Hours of Right Ascension. Local Sidereal Time (LST) indicates the Right Ascension on the sky that is in the process of crossing the local meridian. If a star has a Right Ascension of 05h 32m 24s, it will be on your meridian at LST=05:32:24.

So why don’t we just use sidereal time instead of solar time for our clocks? Because, as mentioned above, if we did, eventually “noon” would be in the middle of the night or “morning” would be in the evening because it falls short by that one degree. We use solar time as our basis for clocks because this time scale makes more sense for daily life, where the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening.

Interesting things to think about if your genre deals with stars, planets and time.

If you’d like to know more, check out this web site: http://docs.kde.org/kde3/en/kdeedu/kstars/ai-meridian.html

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Leaning Tower of TBR

I've added several books to my TBR list. Here they are in no particular order:

THE OUTBACK STARS by Sandra McDonald
Why? It's a debut novel and it was nominated for the Compton Crook award. Supporting my fellow Skiffy Rommers (SciFiRom writers) is reason enough, but I've read good things about this novel, and a sequel is in the works.

THE HOST by Stephenie Meyer
Why? Two words. Stephenie Meyer. I haven't read anything of hers yet, and the premise of an alien host living in a human body and a "love triangle between only two people" sounds mesmerizing. The Twilight series has been highly acclaimed, but I'm not so much of a YA fan, so I think this will be a great one to start with.

THE MIRRORED HEAVENS by David J. Williams
Why? It's a debut novel and the blurb hooked me. BIG TIME. Tia featured this one on her Fantasy Debut blog (where I pick up a lot of ideas for my TBR tower) and I was intrigued. It sounds like straight Sci Fi, and hard Sci Fi/military at that, but it also smacks of a fascinating read. Here's the blurb so you can judge for yourself: "In the 22nd century, the first wonder of a brave new world is the Phoenix Space Elevator, designed to give mankind greater access to the frontier beyond Earth. Built by the U.S./Pan-Asian Coalition, the Elevator is also a grand symbol of superpower alliance following a second cold war. And it’s just been destroyed." There's more but that was enough to send my fingers flying to the search function at Amazon.

THE CAT STAR CHRONICLES: SLAVE by Cheryl Brooks
By accident, I stumbled on a blog this author had posted on and read the blurb for this novel: I found him in the slave market on Orpheseus Prime... Oh yeah, she had me. Looks like a great read and I'm also curious about similar elements this one may have to my own SciFiRom, P2PC.

* * *

Those already on order from Amazon include:

MOONSTRUCK by Susan Grant
WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL by Donald Maass