Wednesday, December 24, 2008

December Sunset in New Mexico

I wanted to share this photo of one of our fabulous sunsets in New Mexico.

David took this shot on his way home to El Paso last week.

Enjoy your holidays.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Received in an Email

...and worth passing along.

Arlington National Cemetary

Know the line has held, your job is done.

Rest easy, sleep well.

Others have taken up where you fell, the line has held.

Peace, peace, and farewell...

You may be interested to know that these wreaths--some 5,000--are donated by the Worcester Wreath Co. of Harrington , Maine. The owner, Merrill Worcester, not only provides the wreaths, but covers the trucking expense as well. He's done this since 1992.

Most years, groups of Maine school kids combine an educational trip to DC with this event to help out.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

In the Cold...but not the Dark

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." --Charles Dickens

Yup, that pretty much sums up 2008 for me.

On the worst of times side of the equation, my mother was hospitalized in January and passed away in early February. It was a very difficult time for me and my family. Our water well went out this spring, something we've been struggling with (and applying liberal amounts of paycheck to) ever since. That event was followed by a nearly two-day power failure (tosses most of her refrigerator and freezer contents into the trash) a belly-side up hot water heater, then refrigerator (experiences deja vu and tosses most of her refrigerator and freezer contents out again)...and the latest, right in the middle of a winter snow storm....the furnace dies! Brrrr! The repairman was here and has been off on a six hour quest to find parts. *bites nails* But I'm trying to look at the bright side. At least we have electricity-- *knocks on wood*--and I have time to type up a post. Hello!

On the bright side of 2008, I completed and started marketing my first SFR novel this spring, and have since been working on my next two. The current downturn in the industry has convinced me that this is a good time to focus on finishing them. Then when the industry is back on the upswing, I plan to blitz all three.

Two of my IPs (Barbara Elsborg and Dawn Jackson) had a remarkable year. Barbara has now had nine of her novels accepted, three e-published to date, and published a short story as well. Dawn just had two shorts published in December. Arlene and I are still plugging away, but the successes of our peers has been a real motivater.

So that's my 2008 in a nutshell. Or is it an Eight Ball? Hmmm... How was your year?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Friday Five (2008 Top Five Reads)

Yes, a little late, but for my Friday Five (last week's) I'm posting my 2008 Five--my five top reads during 2008 (all SFR except for one stand-out Fantasy I couldn't leave off the list).

And here they are, in order of appearance. (Remember, Christmas is coming. Support the industry by buying some of these great books for your friends.)

1. THE OUTBACK STARS by Sandra McDonald. A fascinating blend of compelling characters, fantastic world building, intrigue, suspense, Australian mythology and an alien-constructed mystery. The author is a former officer in the US Navy and her experiences lend true realism to the culture of a really big ship. Inspiring and with characters I bonded with and related to. The Romeo and Juliet-esque romance made me root for this couple to overcome the impossible obstacles confronting them. Terry Myell is one of my all-time favorite SFR heroes. This book was a Compton Crook nominee and selected for the top spot of Spacefreighters Lounge Dom Perignon (all time great SFR) list.

2. ARMED & MAGICAL by Lisa Shearin. Yes, there it is. The non-SFR on my Top Five SFR list comes in at number 2. Fantasies don't tend to intrigue me, but book 2 in the Raine Benares series is addicting. The characters, situations and world building are fabulously fun, and the steamy-but-unresolved (so far) love triangle is spellbinding. This very non-typical Fantasy is fresh and full of surprises. This recommended read comes with one qualifier--read book one first! (MAGIC LOST, TROUBLE FOUND).

3. SHADES OF DARK by Linnea Sinclair. The continuing saga of Chaz and Sully did not disappoint, and though there was plenty of action and tense battle scenes, it was the psychological journey and interaction between the two main characters that really hooked me. The love scenes--as much mental as physical--were particularly well done, and the obstacles the couple are forced to confront are monumental and life-changing. The author takes moral dilemma to a whole new level in this sequel to GABRIEL'S GHOST. She also managed to make me a big fan of a character I didn't care for in the first book, Admiral Philip Guthrie (Chaz's ex-husband) who plays a pivotal role in this novel and will be the main character in the next in the series, HOPE'S FOLLY which will be released in 2009.

4. BARRAYARAN by Lois McMaster Bujold. I'm embarrassed to admit that prior to 2008, I had never read a book by this iconic SFR author. This certainly won't be the last. BARRAYARAN's gutsy and intimidation-immune main characters are faced with political schemes, assassination attempts, ominous threats and physical jeopardy in a society in turmoil after the death of their emperor. Cordelia, the heroine, never waivers from her goal of saving something very precious to her, though she knows it could cost her her life or her marriage to regent Aral Vorkosigan. The world building is remarkable, and the science fiction elements are worked into the human saga in a seamless and believable way. This book is now available as Part II of CORDELIA'S HONOR, which includes the first book in the series, SHARDS OF HONOR. I hope to read many more books in the continuing Vorkosigan series. BARRAYARAN is a Hugo Award winner.

5. CONTACT by Susan Grant. A satisfying tale of a woman who must assume the role of leader in a crisis, in a future where she may be one of the last survivors of humankind. The author draws on her knowledge as a 747 pilot in this "what if..." tale of alien abduction and first contact with an alien culture. The slow build to boiling point of attraction and trust between the two main characters was particularly well done.

All of these books come with my hearty recommendations as great reads, even if you're not a Science Fiction Romance fan. Click the titles above for links to Amazon to read more or order, with the exception of BARRAYARAN which is linked through CORDELIA'S HONOR.

I'm looking forward with great anticipation to some of the upcoming releases for 2009. I'll try to do a separate post on my much anticipated TBR additions in the near future.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Space Savvy

Gemini 5: When Space Gives You Lemons...

Not all Gemini missions are a resounding success. Gemini 5 launches on August 21, 1965 after an aborted countdown on August 19, and splashes down a week later on August 29. It is the first mission to last more than a week in space. The motto Cooper wants on the mission patch is "Eight Days or Bust" but his request is denied because of concerns the mission might fall short of its goal. The flight duration is 7 Days, 22 hours, 55 min, 14 seconds and with it, Gemini 5 takes the flight time record from the Soviet Union.

Astronauts Charles Conrad, Jr. (pilot) and C. Gordon "Gordo" Cooper (commander) make up the crew. Gemini 5 completes 120 orbits with objectives to tests fuel cells for electrical power and evaluate guidance and navigation systems to set the stage for future missions involving rendezvous and docking. In addition, 17 experiments are undertaken. An accident involving freeze-dried shrimp results in the cabin being filled with small, floating pink objects.

Gemini 5 fails to meet its objective to rendezvous with a rendezvous evaluation pod (REP) when problems develop with the fuel cell that preclude the attempt due to a decision to power down the cells. An experiment to photograph a nearby object can't be carried out after the REP rendezvous is canceled. The astronauts now must endure extreme boredom in order to achieve the flight time duration record.

A secondary objective to demonstrate controlled reentry guidance is not achieved when incorrect navigation coordinates transmit to the spacecraft computer from the ground. As a result, the craft overshoots its landing zone by 89 miles.

Maybe Gemini 5's motto should have been "Murphy On Board."

Right: Charles Conrad on board the Gemini 5. NASA photo credits.

[Series to be continued...]

Friday, December 5, 2008

Dom Perignon Selections

I'm about to launch my Dom Perignon side bar for the Spacefreighters Lounge Best SFR of all time.

What does Dom Perignon have to do with great SFR? Here's my earlier article to explain:


Tuesday, September 30, 2008
In Search of Dom Perignon

This is for all the Science Fiction Romance aficionados, and I’m addressing both writers and readers. We’re the mavericks of publishing world, brewers and consumers of a fiction hybrid that’s neither science fiction per se nor romance by definition. It’s both. It’s neither. And it’s something above and beyond.

You could think about it this way. Fine wine is blended from grapes and a few select ingredients. When it becomes wine it becomes something new. Something different. Something more sophisticated. The blending of elements turns it into a thing apart and removed from its origins. It has variety. It can be light, dark, subtle, bold, sweet, surprising.

Thus, my analogy: SciFiRom is a blend that takes romance to new heights and grounds science fiction in the dynamics of human emotion.

So taking my analogy a step further, today I begin my search for the Dom Perignon--the finest champagne--of Science Fiction Romance. I’m looking for novels that represents a perfect blend of sparkling technology, delicious world building and/or captivating human emotions. I have a couple of nominees in mind already, but I’d like to get recommendations from other SciFiRom fans.

So send me your nominations for the best Science Fiction Romance novels in the comments below or email Lgreen2162 AT aol DOT com. (Sorry for the encryption, but I’m on a crusade against spammers.) I’ll start building my Dom Perignon wine cellar of SciFiRom excellence soon.

To qualify, the stories must incorporate realistic scientific details along with imaginative world building and a wonderful romantic tale. These novels are recommended reading for anyone with a love of the genre as well as those who are new to it.

My first three nominees to the Spacefreighters Lounge Dom Perignon Wine Cellar are:

THE OUTBACK STARS by Sandra McDonald
Compton Award finalist
A fascinating blend of military culture, realistic world-building, Australian mythology and characters in turmoil. Sergeant Terry Myell and Lieutenant JoDenny Scott are two battered survivors of their troubled pasts who meet aboard the Aral Sea, a massive ship that travels the mysterious Alcheringa system to other colonized planets. Doomed by the strict codes of military non-fraternization their attraction seems hopeless, until they step into an ancient alien artifact and trigger a transport system that will change the future of mankind.

GAMES OF COMMAND by Linnea Sinclair
2007 PEARL Award Winner and RITA Award finalist
Captain Tasha "Sass" Sebastian and human-cyborg Admiral Brandon Kel-Paten were once enemies and officers in rival fleets. They have crossed paths as adversaries many times before, but now are forced to serve together as part of a new and very fragile alliance. Sass fears for her career if the hardened and disapproving admiral discovers her secret past, but is shaken when she learns Kel-Paten has a secret of his own--he has overridden his emotional inhibitors and fallen in love with her.

BARRAYARAN by Lois McMaster Bujold
Hugo Award winner
Former Captain Cordelia Naismith set the market as a strong but very female heroine who has abandoned her world to become Lady Vorkosigan to a man from an enemy civilization who was once her captor. When her spouse is chosen as Regent to the next emperor, events take a hellish turn that will propell Cordelia on a dangerous quest against vicious enemies and that could threaten her life and the bonds of her marriage. (Also available as part of CORDELIA'S HONOR, which combines the beginning of Cordelia and Aral Vorkosigan's story in SHARDS OF HONOR with BARRAYAR in one book.)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Top Science Fiction Films?

Moviefone has posted their picks of the top 25 Science Fiction films of all time. Here's their list:

25. 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' (1977)
24. 'Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan' (1982)
23. 'It Came From Outer Space' (1953)
22. 'Galaxy Quest' (1999)
21. 'Robocop' (1982)
20. 'Tron' (1982)
19. '12 Monkeys' (1995)
18. 'Soylent Green' (1973)
17. 'Brazil' (1985)
16. '2001: Space Odyssey' (1968)
15. 'Planet of the Apes' (1968)
14. 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' (1978)
13. 'E.T.' (1982)
12. 'Metropolis' (1927)
11. 'Terminator' (1984)
10. 'Forbidden Planet' (1956)
9. 'Alien' (1979)
8. 'The Thing' (1982)
7. 'Terminator 2: Judgement Day' (1991)
6. 'The Matrix' (1999)
5. 'The Day the Earth Stood Still' (1951)
4. 'Star Wars - A New Hope' (1977)
3. 'Aliens' (1986)
2. 'Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back' (1980)
1. 'Blade Runner' (1982)

Being a SciFi afficianado, I'm baffled at both the order and some of the picks. It Came From Outer Space before Wrath of Kahn? And that's the only showing for any of the many Star Trek films. A Voyage Home, et al getting bumped by the likes of Soylent Green and Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Puhlease! Blade Runner in the top spot? What was the basis for that? Added points for dark depressing futuristic noir films? (Yeah, I'm on a rant. Can you tell?) Well, at least they didn't include Plan 9 from Outer Space.

2001 was an excellent film right up until the acid trip what-the-hell-is-this-supposed-to-mean ending. But 2010? Awesome, sound science and a great story. (If you haven't seen it, run, don't walk to your nearest video rental store and grab a copy. Really has it all--science, politics, human emotion, a heart-stopping flaming slingshot maneuver around Jupiter and the ending-- though it might seem far-fetched is based on Jupiter's elemental makeup. This actually could have happened under certain circumstances. (No spoilers, but I'm tempted.)

I must confess I haven't seen Metropolis, which they describe as an early icon [*makes note to rent this one someday*] or Brazil, which sounds like Sci Fi in all its glorious weirdness. But 12 Monkeys I have seen and didn't care for the anticlimatic ending or the minimal sci fi elements.

And hello...where's Serenity? Somebody really missed the boat here...okay, the ship. The Firefly feature length film certainly was better than about twenty-one (not that I'm counting) of the these so-called "Top 25."

The Abyss? Another great that was completely overlooked. Not only did it have wonderful SF elements, it took place on an underwater deep sea oil rig and included a terrifying nuclear sub crash and absolutely wondrous underwater footage.

And Contact? Destined to be a classic. Not just because Carl Sagan wrote it, but because it dealt with some truly astronomical questions vs. the human political machine and the satirical spin on the aliens-among-us extremists. Not to mention gorgeous visuals and through-provoking questions about what we believe.

Not one of my favorites, but it seems Starship Troopers at least deserves a spot somewhere on that list.

What do you think? Did they get it right? Did they have it all wrong? Any other classics that were missed?

What does my list look like? I'll only pick my top fifteen, since I haven't seen all of these (just most of them).

15. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
14. E.T.
13. Star Trek: The Voyage Home
12. Star Trek: Wrath of Khan
11. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
10. Contact
9. Original Star Wars (A New Hope)
8. The Abyss
7. Terminator
6. Alien
5. Serenity (Firefly movie)
4. Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back
3. Terminator 2: Judgement Day
2. 2010: Space Odyssey Two
1. Aliens

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Space Saavy

Gemini 4: America's First Sky Walker

The next space flights will push the envelope on what is possible in space. NASA wants a man to walk in space--outside the protective bounds of his spacecraft. Rookie astronaut Ed White is selected to make the first attempt at an EVA or Extra Vehicular Activity. His partner will be Jim McDivitt. The two men are friends and have known each other since attending University of Michigan and test pilot school together. They are known as the Gemini Twins.

Before the EVA can be attempted, astronauts have to learn what effects weightlessness will have on the human body. Since weightless conditions are difficult to simulate, a specially adapted aircraft, nicknamed The Vomit Comet, allows the astronauts to experience up to thirty seconds of weightlessness. During repeated flights, they test movement, carry out tasks and find ways to get from place-to-place under zero G conditions.

The next question that must be answered: How will the human body react to free-floating in space traveling at 17,500 in Earth orbit? No one knows. Can a man mentally and physically function in zero gravity? No one knows that either. The astronaut's suit will be the difference between life and death in a place where the temperature can fluctuate from +250 degrees Fahrenheit in the sun to -250 degrees in the shade. The greatest concern of all is the vacuum in outer space. If a suit fails, rips or tears, the differences in pressure will kill an astronaut in seconds when liquids within his body vaporize. The suit has to have systems that will keep the astronaut alive in these conditions. The risks are, quite literally, astronomical.

In the Discovery documentary When We Left Earth, astronaut Jim McDivitt says, "The suit was designed to keep us alive. It was risky and we accepted the risk. We didn't become astronauts to play it safe." The EVA is originally planned for the Gemini 6 mission.

But NASA is stunned to learn the Soviet space program has just achieved an EVA ahead of the Americans. This ups the stakes for NASA and a decision is made for Gemini 4 to perform the EVA. If White's EVA is successful, it will move the space program much closer to its goal of reaching the Moon and help the USA keep up with the Russians.

The astronauts train for the EVA in secrecy, often at night and in isolated conditions. Only a handful of people realize what America is about to attempt. NASA announces the space walk will be part of the mission just a few days before the launch. Many, including some of the astronauts, wonder if NASA is moving too fast and putting the astronauts lives in jeopardy. A problem during the EVA could set back the space program and end all chance at reaching the Moon before 1970.

Gemini 4 will be the longest spaceflight to date and the EVA the most dangerous fete ever attempted by the space program. A tracking station verifies all safety criteria were being met and NASA gives Ed White the go ahead to begin his spacewalk. After the astronauts get the hatch open, Ed White leaves his seat and exits the open hatch of the Gemini 4 capsule into space, attached to the capsule via a lifeline. He is now traveling free of the craft, 200 miles above the Earth at over 17,000 mph. Both astonauts know if the suit or the lifeline fails, White will be lost. There is no procedure in place to retrieve him if something goes wrong. As if to demonstrate the danger, a glove floats out of the capsule and drifts away.

Ed White walks in space for 36 minutes. During the experience he says, "This is the greatest experience. It's just tremendous." White is so overwhelmed by his experience he is reluctant to return to the capsule and has to be ordered to return by mission control and McDivitt. As night approaches, they are concerned about the extremes in temperature change on his suit. He makes it back before nightfall.

This first space walk undertaken by Ed White of Gemini 4 becomes a major highlight of the space program and pushes the American space program even closer to its goal of reaching the Moon.

Right: Actual photo of Ed White during Gemini 4 EVA. Photo credit NASA.

[Series to be continued...]

Monday, December 1, 2008

Space Savvy

The Gemini Program Begins with a Bang

Soon after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, Eric Sevareid, a CBS news reporter said that his legacy was his attitude and contagious spirit that all things are possible for Americans if only we have the vision and will. In a speech at Rice University on September 12, 1962, President Kennedy sets a goal to put a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth before the end of the decade. At this point in time, the USA has a total of 20 minutes of spaceflight experience. This nearly inconceivable challenge is considered courageous and historic by some, arrogant and fool-hardy by others.

But NASA and the nation takes JFK's words to heart. The next step after the Mercury program is to graduate to the Gemini program and two-man capsules. The Mercury missions proved spaceflight was possible for human beings. Gemini will teach man how to fly to the Moon.
On September 17, 1962, a second group of astronauts arrive, four from the Air Force, two from the Navy, and two civilians. They are called The New Nine and several will become famous: Jim Lovell, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin among them. Rivalry between the astronauts is intense. Each wants to be first to step on the surface of the Moon.

John Young, one of the New Nine, and Gus Grissom of the original Mercury Seven are the first two astronauts paired for a Gemini mission. Their comaraderie and enthusiasm gives them a reputation among their peers of being a sort of 'dynamic duo.'

But there's a problem...

A more powerful rocket is needed to launch a two man capsule into space. The Air Force is developing the new Titan missiles but having difficulties adapting missile rockets to a manned Gemini vehicle. The Titans are initially a disaster (see YouTube video). One out of every five fails catastrophically. Astronauts watch as the rockets explode on the launchpad again and again. The odds aren't good enough to risk propelling a manned mission into space.

Engineers attack the problems and create safeguards and backup systems to make the rockets safer. Finally NASA launches two rockets in a row that don't explode with the unmanned Gemini 1 and Gemini 2 capsules. John Young and Gus Grissom will ride the next into space aboard Gemini 3. Their primary goal? Test the brand new rocket and capsule and return...alive. If anything goes wrong with the launch, Young and Grissom will be killed on live television with millions watching.

In a moment of optimism, Grissom names the Gemini 3 capsule The Molly Brown after the Broadway hit "The Unsinkable Molly Brown." He hopes the name will bring good luck and, if the voyage is successful, won't end with the same fate as his Liberty Bell 7 Mercury capsule which sank before recovery. The Molly Brown was the last NASA vehicle to be named by an astronaut.

The launch aboard the converted ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) goes flawlessly. The rocket stages fall away and the Gemini 3 capsule reaches orbit. Grissom and Young become the first Americans to fly in space together. They make three successful orbits of the earth testing important maneuvers and altitude changes that are essential first steps in reaching the Moon.

With the exception of a contraband corned beef sandwich smuggled aboard by John White (for which the crew was later reprimanded because the crumbs could have played major havoc with the instrumentation onboard), a couple of minor failed experiements and a glitch with the orbital manuevering system thrusters (that would manifest itself again in Gemini 8 as a much larger issue) the flight was without significant problems.

But re-entry is not so perfect. Back on Earth, the recovery task force of 27 ships and 126 aircraft wait while things go amiss. In an interview for the Discovery Channel documentary When We Left Earth, John Young states, "We screwed up on re-entry. When we fired the retro-rockets, we forgot the Earth rotated under us. We forgot to put the rotation of the Earth into the equation."

When the parachutes engaged, the sudden change in orientation in the capsule causes Gus Grissom to crack the plexiglas faceplate of his helmet on a control panel. The Gemini capsule is coming down about 190 miles short of the targeted recovery area. Grissom is able to make up much of this distance during assent, but Gemini 3 still lands about sixty miles off target. The men decide to deviate from standard landing procedures by not opening their capsule's hatch, and by keeping their helmets on for some time after splashdown due to smoke that was present from the thrusters. As the astronauts drift in the Atlantic waiting for rescue, Grissom gets seasick, but both men are recovered safely after an uncomfortable thirty minutes or so.

A large crowd turns out for a ticker tape parade in the cold rain of lower Manhattan to welcome the returning heroes home. The first Gemini flight has been a success and has laid the groundwork for more ambitious missions to come.

Each Gemini mission going forward will involve huge risks and giant leaps in achieving the goal set by President Kennedy. The next Gemini mission will involve another historic first for spaceflight. One of the astronauts will conduct an EVA or Extra Vehicular Activity. For the first time, man will walk in space.

[Series to be continued]

Related Links:

John W. Young, American and International Hero

The Molly Brown (Gemini 3) is on display at Spring Mill Park near Gus Grissom's hometown of Mitchell, Indiana.

More details on Gemini 3 including flight transcripts and chronology.

Official NASA Account of the Mission from On the Shoulders of Titans: A History of Project Gemini, by Barton C. Hacker and Charles C. Alexander is available at the link above. Published as NASA Special Publication-4203 in the NASA History Series, 1977.

Article for, June 17, 2000: Gus Grissom Didn't Sink the Libery Bell 7

Liberty Bell 7 is recovered 38 years after it sank (, July 20, 1999)

The Final Countdown: Rocket Explosions

This is a companion to Gemini 3: The Gemini Program Begins with a Bang.

Our space program wasn't always a glowing success. This YouTube video is a compellation of many of the early catastrophic rocket failures set to the tune of "The Final Countdown." I think it illustrates the extraordinary courage and optimism it required to be an astronaut in our early space program, and still today.