Monday, February 26, 2018

And the Flame is Extinquished...

Good Monday Morning!

This will be a very short post because I've got a ton of "Life Happening" at the moment, but I wanted to reflect a little on the 2018 Olympics which just wrapped.
It's so refreshing to see a large group of peers come together from all over the world, to compete in their particular sport (or multiple sports, in the case of a few amazing athletes), represent their countries, and strive to do their best. It's a once in a lifetime experience for them, but it's a once in a lifetime experience for us as spectators, too. Every four years, the Winter Olympics has its special moments, its delightful surprises, its rising stars and its previous champions making another--or a final--bid for the record books.


For me, the opening ceremonies is always such a wondrous thing to experience--a showcase and education about the culture and history of the sponsoring country, along with the expectation and anticipation of the games, themselves. The lighting of the torch. The parade of the athletes. The flags. The fireworks. And this year, for the first time, the drone show!

It's really difficult to watch the spectacle and not feel hope, wonder, and a sense of peace. That seems all too rare in this "politics-in-your-face- 24-hours-a-day-everyday" world.

I particularly appreciated that in our current climate, the commentary was, for the most part, politics-free (yes, there were a few exceptions) and remained focused on the event itself with the skill and artistry and, well, athleticism, taking the center stage. As it should.

I loved seeing competing athletes from different countries offer bear hugs and fist bumps to each other, whether it was for a major success or a heartbreaking failure. And especially when the person they were congratulating had just bested their score.

Because they recognize that this isn't just about them. 

And yes, again, there were a few exceptions. But these exceptions were never the rule.

It's always refreshing to witness a newly minted award-recipient take the podium and have their moment in the sun without pushing their particular political philosophy in a statement that incites or angers their audience.

Thank you! This is as it should be. Let such magical moments unite us, instead of seeking to further divide us.

I always get emotional when the torch goes dark. For this game, it was extinguished by a virtual furry of snowflakes. And now we return to our lives and our troubles and our fears and our worries.

The Winter Olympics are over, and for the next four years a new mix of athletes will set their sites on the future, strive for their goals, work everyday to do better, and envision what might be.

Maybe we can all learn from their example.

Have a great week!


Friday, February 23, 2018

THINK WE'D REACT WELL TO NEWS OF ET?



I came across a bit of research lately fromArizona State University that predicts humans would react positively if we were suddenly to encounter extraterrestrial life.

According to findings of a study ASU Assistant Professor of Psychology Michael Varnum, "If we came face to face with life outside of Earth, we would actually be pretty upbeat about it." Of course, what Varnum told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science February 16 in Austin, Texas, flies in the face of the majority of Hollywood movies, most hard SF novels and one hundred percent of video games. Only a few SFR novelists would agree with him, I think.

Varnum’s research considered newspaper articles reporting on the 2017 discovery of Earth-like exoplanets in the “Goldilocks Zone,” the public speculation as to the possible existence of a Dyson sphere around Tabby’s Star in 2015, and news of possibly fossilized extraterrestrial Martian microbes discovered in 1996. In all the articles, the study found, the language used to describe the events was much more positive than negative.

In a second part of the study, Varnum asked 500 participants to predict their own and humanity’s theoretical reaction to the announcement that extraterrestrial microbes had actually been found. Again, Varnum found the predicted response to be overwhelmingly positive.

"I would have some excitement about the news," one study participant said. "It would be exciting even if it was a primitive form."

Hmm. Why do I think this study paints far too rosy a picture of human nature? Seems to me we can’t even conquer our fear of each other, much less of the unknown extraterrestrial alien. Then, too, this image of the classic 1951 SF film THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL is indelibly etched in my mind:



Our ambivalence toward both the Other and the Wonders of Science was eloquently expressed even in the very first science fiction novel, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, by Mary Woolstonecraft Shelley. I’ve been renewing my acquaintance with that most complex and evocative work through a new series on Netflix (my new favorite channel!), TheFrankenstein Chronicles. 

The series stars Sean Bean (LORD OF THE RINGS, Game of Thrones) as a detective of the Thames River Police, charged with solving the murder of eight children stitched together in a gruesome parody of surgery just as Parliament is taking up a new bill governing the practice of medicine in 1827. The new bill would restrict the practice of medicine only to “surgeons” (those who have been to anatomical medical school), and would limit the source of bodies for anatomical study to the dead of poorhouses and prisons. 

From our modern point of view this would seem to be a progressive move, but in those days, midwives, herbalists and physicians who had learned their trade by apprenticing also provided health care to both rich and poor. “Surgery,” on the other hand, was performed without anesthesia (ether wasn’t used until 1842) or even simple hygiene. Remember, this is before germ theory, and conditions in hospitals were a nightmare. (Lister and Pasteur wouldn’t come along for another 50 years.)

But the biggest controversy over the Anatomy Act centered on the source of bodies for the medical schools. Religious people in those days believed that they would literally rise from their graves on Judgment Day to meet their Maker. In order for this to happen, they had to be intact at death. Thus, the idea of autopsy for any purpose was anathema. All very well for a criminal to serve the purpose of science—he or she had earned Hell. But for a pauper to be cut up (and be denied Heaven) simply because he had died in the poorhouse?

This is the cultural background for The Frankenstein Chronicles, and, coincidentally, for the publication and scandal of Shelley’s Frankenstein in 1818. No wonder her book caused such a sensation! The thought of a creature made up of bits and pieces of dead bodies, then re-animated, truly would have been an abomination in that time. And we all know the reaction to that:


Our modern-day misgivings about gene-splicing, genetically-modified organisms, cloning and stem cells derive from these earlier horrified reactions to the idea that humans would dare to interfere with the course of Nature in defiance of God. (Or, as I once saw on the side of a bush taxi in West Africa, Man No Be God.)  We may think of ourselves as more evolved nowadays, but those more primitive instincts still lurk in our psyches.

Just as we harbor a primitive fear of the unknown, the Other that an Extraterrestrial would represent. Stephen Hawking, arguably the smartest man on Earth, says we are right to be afraid; any alien that makes it here from deep space will be so much further advanced than we are that it will consider us as insignificant as ants. You know what happens then.


Cheers, Donna

*Information for this post taken from "Humans Will Actually React Pretty Well to News of Alien Life," Science Daily, February 16, 2018.



Thursday, February 22, 2018

At least I've thought of a title




It's been a busy week on the writing front. When I'm working on a book I try to aim at one thousand words a day. I'm retired, so it's not a huge ask, but I find I need quite a bit of thinking time before I put the words on the page. I've been known to stand in my backyard, glass of wine in hand, rehearsing the dialogue for the next day. The lorikeets don't seem to  mind – as long as they get their apple juice.

When I get on a roll I might make fifteen hundred words, so I was pretty chuffed to make over two thousand the other day. We're getting there!

I'm in the middle part of the book, where the story can sag if you're not careful. But this is a crime mystery as much as a character study, so I've gone down the track of finding out more about Toreni as she investigates in her own special way. The team is staying in a guest house, and Toreni takes the chance to find out what she can from the proprietor. She uses the fact that she has been stereotyped into a box where she doesn't quite fit.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Toreni went in search of Suri Isshak as soon as they returned to the guest house. Following her nose, she found the woman in a kitchen smelling of roasting meat and herbs, and knocked on the door jamb.
Isshak looked up from stirring the contents of a large bowl on a central bench. "Oh hello. Is there a problem?"
"Not at all, Suri. It's just that Sunil told us you're a great cook?"
Isshak beamed, accentuating the creases around her eyes and mouth. "He's a nice lad. I like to cook."
Toreni took a step into the room. "So do I. I wonder if I could watch you cook this evening's meal? Maybe help?"
Isshak stopped her action mid-stir. "You cook? Really?"
If I had a credit for every time… Toreni smiled. "Yes, I do. I used to do the cooking for my squad when I served in Fleet, and I do all the cooking on our ship. I'm always looking for new ways with food, especially if you're using local products."
"I am. I'm cooking fish tonight, baked with tubers and greens. And I'm slow roasting a haunch of mountain goat. I'm making bread to serve with the food. As you can see."
Toreni stepped into a well-organized room equipped with plenty of cupboards and shelves, as well as ample bench space. Pots and pans hung from hooks, and a knife block stood in a corner. Isshak worked at an island bench in the middle, with easy access to the large hob and wall oven. A pot steamed on a burner. "It's a great kitchen."
"Yes." The other woman continued stirring, lifting and moving the contents of the bowl. "I had a lot of say in the design."
"You're making bread?"
She chuckled. "It's not made with grain. We use ground tubers and some seeds. It has a heavy consistency, but it's lovely with spread."
Toreni leaned over to watch. The mass was coming together. Isshak paused to add a little more warm water from a jug.
"You have to be careful not to let it get too wet, but it shouldn't be too dry, either."
Something whistled from the stove. Isshak tutted. "I need to season that."
"I'll stir for you," Toreni said.
The other woman smiled her gratitude. "Thanks. Keep it moving." Isshak bustled over to the pot on the stove. "It's been a while since I had so many guests at once."
"What happens with this dough? Rolls? Loaves?"
"Loaves." She looked at Toreni over her shoulder. "Could you do that for me?"
"Sure. Trays?"
Isshak pointed. "That cupboard."
Toreni took out a tray and shaped small loaves from the dense ingredients, setting them out in rows on the baking tray, then showed them to the other woman.
"Great. In the oven for most of an hour. Um… I didn't catch your name?"
Ah. They were getting somewhere. "Toreni. And yours?"
"Silva."
In the space of an hour Toreni had heard all about Silva's husband, who was out catching fish. Their son was killed in the war against the Yogina. Silva hadn't wanted him to go, but he insisted, serving with a marine unit. She would never recover from his loss, but Sunil had stayed here for over a year, now, becoming almost an adopted son. She'd started the guest house to alleviate boredom, and enjoyed the guests coming in and out.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

I'm still undecided about a title. Operation Shar Burk was wrong on a lot of counts, but at least the action starts at Shar Burk space station. Mystery of the Ice Warriors will do for now - although it dos sound a bit Enid Blyton.

And I haven't seen The Last Jedi yet, either.

And to finish, here's a lorikeet. Okay, two lorikeets. Best caption I got for this one was "What do you mean the dog ate your homework?"





Friday, February 16, 2018

NETFLIX'S SENSE8 A DIVERSE SF WONDER


For someone whose business is the future, I can be a bit of a Luddite, slow to adopt new technologies until they’ve proven their usefulness. I resisted Facebook and Twitter until dragged kicking and screaming onboard. I still carry a flip phone. And I had tried and given up Netflix a few years back, before binge watching was a thing.

But just recently I had a chance to rethink Netflix,and I was pleasantly surprised. For one thing the streaming service came without the fits and starts I expected here in my rural area. Anything I watch from my satellite on-demand service must always be downloaded, recorded and watched later because of buffering problems, but not so Netflix. All was smooth sailing, so I immediately became a binging fiend for the show I selected as my first Netflix affliction: Sense8

This SF series, created by Babylon 5 producer J. Michael Straczynski and The Wachowskis (THE MATRIX), and starring Naveen Andrews (Lost) and Daryl Hannah (yes, that Daryl Hannah), follows eight characters in different parts of the world who are psychically linked. Before they can figure out why they are suddenly in each other’s heads, they find themselves pursued by an evil scientist and his corporate sponsors, who want only to exploit or destroy them.


In addition to the overall arc, each of the characters has his or her own fully-developed story—the gay actor in Robert Rodriguez-style action films in Mexico City; the German gangster in Berlin; the Indian biochemist in an arranged marriage to her boss in Mumbai; the Icelandic rock DJ grieving the loss of her husband and stillborn child in London; the Chicago cop who sees “ghosts;” the Nairobi bus driver who loves Jean-Claude Van Damme; the transgender computer whiz in San Francisco; the martial artist going to prison for her brother’s crimes in Seoul. Story segments are filmed separately in each of the key cities, giving the show a color and diversity not seen in many series. And an openness, too. This is not a series for viewers who may be shy about sex.

In one episode, a character is listening to an author speak at a book signing. He argues that today’s generation has access to information about the lives of hundreds of people around the world, whereas our parents knew about only a fraction of that number. Sense8 is a perfect example of the author’s point. Here are eight characters, living in eight completely different parts of the world, and I am able to follow their fictional lives in dramatic detail in my living room every night. What a wonder! Yes, the show itself is science fiction—these eight people can “head-hop” to visit each other wherever they live—but so can I! That’s what I love about it.

There is a scientific explanation for what is going on that allows these characters to be connected. I’m not sure yet whether I think it’s a good one or not. But I won’t spoil things for you if you plan to watch the series. I would only recommend that you do watch. It’s well worth giving up your Luddite ways to get this kind of return.

Cheers, Donna


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Hosted by 5 Science Fiction Romance authors with 8 RWA Golden Heart finals and a RITA final between them. We aim to entertain with spirited commentary on the past, present, and future of SFR, hot topics, and our take on Science Fiction and SFR books, television, movies and culture.