Monday, October 31, 2011

Who R We Really?--The SF vs. Romance vs. SFR Debate


There have been several discussions recently on Skiffy Rommer blogs and sites about SF merging into the mainstream and where does that leave SFR?  Is SFR really a different species than SF, or will SFR be pulled into the slipstream along with the general genre?

I used to think of SFR as it's own distinct hybrid. Lately, I've been rethinking the whole SF/SFR differential.

What is SFR? 

It's character-driven SF with equal parts relational elements and plausible--or at least basic physics with liberal imagination applied--science.

Often the relational elements are interwoven with, affected or influenced by the tech or cultural elements. How does that make it different than Star Trek, Star Wars, Avatar or other popular SF fair?  Well....the simple answer is SFR always has to meet the romance rule--a happy resolution to the relationship. Not so in mainstream SF, although SF certainly can have a HEA.

So the question is, is there really a boundary? Have we created an invisible line that doesn't really exist for most readers? Are there fundamental differences between SFR and mainstream SF that relegate it to a different sector of the universe? 

I don't think so, Tim.

I think the only difference is the appeal to the audience, and let's face it the SF fan base now has a healthy dose of romance-friendly readers (thank you, Avatar). So maybe we've been wrong.  Maybe it's not a whole 'nother animal?

If SF is growing more R-acceptable, then edges of the genre have begun to blurr.

What if we simply erase the theoretical line in the sand? 

But...Then What do we Call it?

Does it need a label or have we outgrown the need?

Several years ago, members of the community had a lengthy discussion on The Galaxy Express about what we should call our fave reading and writing matter (you can read the discussions here and again here). At that time, the community was splintered between many nomikers including science fiction romance, speculative romance, futuristic romance, space opera, romantic sci-fi, plain ol' Sci Fi, etc., etc., etc. We made a more or less collective decision to name it, call it, and label it as Science Fiction Romance/Sci-Fi Romance/SFR to consolidate the many tags and help avoid confusion. It made absolute sense at the time.

That was then. This is now.

With the new standing of SF and high tech in modern culture (Have you heard? Geek is the new black), maybe it's time to throw the splinter-group idea to the solar winds.

SFR is SF. The only distinction is the sector of the audience we're targeting.
A subspecies is still part of the collective gene pool, so a subgenre is still a part of the collective genre pool. Right?

I rest my case.  :)  Do we have any rebuttals?

Laurie's Journal: Happy Halloween!

Laurie's Journal

Happy Halloween! It's the day to celebrate goblins, ghoulies, space aliens and things that go bump in the night.

To get you in the spirit, we posted a couple of fun videos and sidetrips over the weekend for our Spacefreighters Halloween Weekend Creepfest...

Ping Back
Donna - I loved reading your tribute to Stephen King. What better Halloween topic for a writer's blog than to showcase the King of Chills.

I was also inspired by some of his work, especially the more SF-related stories, but Cujo still scares the bejeezus out of me.

I have two thank yous to send Sharon's way.  First for redesigning our blog banner to fit the entire page.  Wow, looks awesome.  And second...

Sharon suggested joining Google+ and I'm so glad I did!  DL Jackson invited me awhile back and my first reaction was to dig in my heels and say, "OMG, not another social networking site!"  But this one really is different!

It loses all the down side of Facebook and lets me control who sees my posts by creating my own "circles" of contacts.  Have a picnic shot you only want to share with Family?  You can do that. A bit of writerly angst to share with your Brigader pals? Presto! Something you want to share with everyone?  You can do that, too, with just a click of your mouse.

There's no need to create a separate author page.  And it's so easy to find what you're looking for (which has been a big negative for me with the FB set-up).

Although G+ is still in its fledgling state, I found quite a few contacts already enjoying the benefits. (Over a dozen in the first three minutes.  Over 80 as of this writing.) And I've been listening to the buzz.  G+ is a boon to SF writers. G+ is the next big thing? Hmm, could be. Will G+ make Facebook obsolete? Ask me again in six months.

Meanwhile, enjoy this humorous commentary from YouTube. (And then jump on the bandwagon and join us!)

And here's another discovery.  This is an amazing research tool!


Open the web site.  Click the circle for any town shown and instantly see the Front Page of the newspaper.  I could spend hours reading with this. (Must. Be. Disciplined.) There's also a link to archived articles on a variety of topics (Steve Jobs, 9/11, Libya, etc.)

This one gets added to our side bar.

Great Quotes

Science fiction is not and has never been about the buttons. 
It has always been about who pushes them.

--From a SF Signal Post Guest Post by Mark Tiedemann It's Not About the Buttons

I have to thank Sharon for pointing me to that quote, too.  For me, it's the perfect summary of what I love about SF/R. And who's pushing those buttons, and why, leaves open a whole universe of ideas and plot twists.  

Have a funtastic All Hallow's Eve

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween Weekend Creepfest

On the opposite end of the creepy spectrum, this is simply amazing (and amusing).

Dolphins playing with vortex bubble rings--a naturally-occuring phenomenon in physics.

Halloween Weekend Creepfest

A Black Widow?  A Zombie Star?  Hell?  In Space?  YES!

Don't miss National Geographic's tribute to cosmic creepiness:

Halloween Weekend Creepfest

From National Air and Space Museum Magazine--and giving a whole new meaning to "Fear of Flying"-- here's: 

A Tour of Haunted Air Fields

Photo from National Air and Space Magazine article

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Halloween Weekend Creepfest

Have We Been Answered?

Halloween is the perfect time to focus on the unexplained, the creepy, the mysterious, the unknown...

This video always gives me goosebumps. Is it possible the radio message we sent into space has been answered in a very surprising and unanticipated way?

The placement and complexity of the images certainly raises some eerie questions about its origins. Or is it simply the product of ingenious and mischievous Earth-bound pranksters having a bit of fun at our expense?

What do you believe?

Friday, October 28, 2011


As we approach All Hallow’s Eve, when the barrier between the land of the living and the realm of the dead thins to a porous shroud, it’s only natural that ghosts and goblins, demons and witches, vampires and werewolves should dominate our dreams. This holiday, above all others, allows our imaginations free reign, in an attempt to conquer our fear of the unknown. By constructing an elaborate world of the supernatural (or by simply describing it, if you prefer), we can manage that fear of the dark that has been with us since childhood.

The darkness that can be found within the human soul is much harder to banish with the use of scary costumes and fake blood. Master storyteller Stephen King has always understood this. It’s the human element that has elevated his work above the easily-dismissed label of “genre fiction” to art that speaks to the heart of his readers. His characters—from the tortured teenager in Carrie, the alternately struggling, guilt-ridden, alcoholic, or grieving writers in The Dark Half, The Tommyknockers, The Shining and Bag of Bones, and the obsessed fan in Misery, to the many kids on the cusp of adulthood (“The Body”, It) and small town sheriff heroes (too many titles to count)—are real people struggling with issues we can all understand.

In the Afterword to his latest bestseller, King says that he writes about “ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.” Yes, I suppose you could call the descent of a forcefield over your town “extraordinary circumstances” (Under The Dome). That King could use this premise as the basis of more than 1000 pages of riveting fiction about how people act under pressure is phenomenal. No monsters with weird, glowing eyes or fangs. Just the people with live with every day, seen at their worst—and best.

Of course, King has evolved over the years. There were more of those “real” monsters in the early days—It is an example—more of the clearly supernatural. Yet even then, the people in those stories stood out—the gang of misfit kids fighting that evil clown, the grieving father finally realizing sometimes it’s best if they don’t come back in Pet Sematary. Guilt. Redemption. Deep stuff for a mere “horror” writer.

In King’s latest bestseller, a collection of short stories entitled Full Dark, No Stars, there are no monsters except the ones we carry with us, hidden beneath the faces we show to our neighbors and friends. In each of the four stories, King shows us just how it should be done, taking a relatively simple premise and extending it to its logical conclusion. Without flinching. How greed destroys a man and two families in rural Nebraska in “1922”. How an unassuming writer of cozy mysteries finds her true self in her reaction to violation and near-murder in “Big Driver”. How envy leads a man to make the deal of a lifetime—and seemingly get away with it—in “Fair Extension”. How a woman comes to recognize the rotten foundation of her partnership in “A Good Marriage”.

Writing at short story length is a challenge for the best writer. You have to build the story quickly, scope out the characters in full in a few words, condense the three acts of the drama to a few short pages. But though he can be wordy at novel length, King shines in a brief character sketch, whether in a novel or a short story. In two paragraphs, he can make you see, hear, smell and know that character intimately. And he is a master of the other elements of the writer’s art at this length. It’s no wonder that short stories like “The Body” (which became STAND BY ME) and “Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption” were so successfully adapted to the big screen.

The world’s greatest “horror” writer has a lot to teach those of us struggling to make a name for ourselves in the rocky territory of “genre fiction”, whether we target the romance audience, the science fiction audience or both. King quite obviously writes character-driven fiction, though his characters most often find themselves in horrific situations. His audience has found him, and it’s much broader than the "slasher" fans who read hardcore horror fiction.

Yes, Stephen King is a phenomenon not likely to be repeated. (Would that I had just one drop of that juice!) But just as he has not allowed himself to be pigeon-holed, neither should we force ourselves into categories that don’t fit us in a false hope of acceptance.

Happy Halloween! Donna

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Where the Imagination Goes...

It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's a DRAGON!!!!

Yes, it is the fire-breathing kind...though not the beastie of myth and legend.

Dragon, the first privately-owned prototype passenger space capsule built by SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies) has arrived in Florida. A December 19th launch is currently planned from Kennedy Space Center for the Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 booster that may soon be delivering astronauts to the International Space Station. 

This will be the Falcon 9's third launch--but the second for the Dragon. The capsule will be put into orbit to test its manuevering systems and will dock with the ISS via the assistance of a robot arm, and return to Earth about three weeks later, if all goes well.

The advantage of our space program going private? How about an $800 million price tag for developing the project compared to an estimated $2.4 to $7.2 billion for traditional government contracts, according to the SpaceX Vice President Ken Bowersox (as quoted in the Reuters article below).

One small step for giant leap for private industry in space.

Read more:
Reuters Article
SpaceX Dragon Overview
SpaceX Announces Plans to Launch Fully Reusable Rocket

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Adventures in Social Media: Is Google+ a boon for new SF/F authors?

When Google+ launched, I thought the same thing most of you probably did...NOT ANOTHER ONE! I pay attention in writers workshops. I know how important social media is for author promotion. I have a Twitter account. A Facebook author page. When I'm writing as I should be, they languish. When I'm distracted, they enable. Creating a Google+ profile seemed likely to exacerbate both situations.

But then I read a pair of posts by SF/F author Amy Sundberg on the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America blog. (Check her out - she also has a great post on Twitterquette today.)

Amy wrote about benefits/drawbacks of Facebook and Google+ for authors. She suggests a Facebook presence is more critical for established authors. But for new authors - especially SF/F authors - Google+ presents a rare opportunity.

If you are an sf/f writer, being active on Google+ right now is a no brainer, because guess what? Your fans make up a large portion of the current user base. Google+ is known to be particularly popular with the high-tech crowd, many of whom enjoy science fiction and fantasy. So the potential for building your fan base is very good. 

Who knew? This was enough of a nudge for me to give it half an hour of what is typically my "wine down" time. You can get a skeleton up even faster than that, but I wanted to launch with at least a little bit of content.

Folks familiar with FB probably will have no trouble setting up a profile. There are some key differences, such as Circles and Hangouts, that I haven't completely grokked.

But I *really* like that they prompt you to categorize your connections as friends, family, acquaintances, and/or people you are "following" (equivalent to "likes" in Facebook). You can create your own categories too, such as "fans." Makes for some pretty robust (and intuitive) control over content sharing.

(boo! click me)
Though I have created a public profile (because I want readers to be able to find me), I can post pictures of my daughter, for example, and check only the box for Family when it prompts me to share. (Or, go to a specific "circle" by clicking the button next to it in the left-hand column, and post to that circle directly.) You can do the same with anything you post. If someone tries to share something you originally shared to a limited group, they get a polite little suggestion from Google to be considerate when sharing it further. Or if you want complete control, you can actually lock the post so no one else can share it.

From my perspective, anyway, this completely gets around the FB need to have an author page in addition to my profile, which has always been clunky and confusing to me. I am not two different people! Okay, maybe that's debatable, but you see my point.

A pretty small difference that is big to ME is the fact you can edit something after posting. No need to delete and repost. Because I have certainly committed some embarrassing grammatical and spelling fouls in FB posts.

It *is* a little quiet over in Google-land right now. I have looked for some of my favorite bands, for example, and none have profiles yet. Most of my friends and writing colleagues don't have profiles. But if Google+ catches on (and/or continued Facebook updates and privacy concerns drive off some of their users), it's only a matter of time. I did find SFR cohort Lisa Paitz Spindler over there, and my paranormal/sf/f author pal Skyler White.

I consider myself still in beta with Google+, so I'll report back in a week or two. Meantime, if you decide to give it a go, consider adding me to your circles and we'll see if we can silence those crickets.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Where the Imagination Goes...

The Technology of the Small

"Dust" inspired postage-stamped sized satellites carried into space on the Endeavor and may one day travel to Saturn and beyond.

Nano-technology--or microscopic technology--has been a premise in many SFR novels, but what about the techonology of the merely small? Thousands of marble-sized probes could be launched into space by a single rocket and sent to planets, asteroids, comets or other bodies to gather data. Might we one day send one to the nearest star?  The nearest known planet outside the Solar System? Into a Black Hole?

What other ideas does the Technology of the Small inspire for you?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Donna’s Journal

Action! Actions we've taken as writers. Where are we? What are we doing?

I just have time for a quick note this week. (Thank goodness Laurie and Sharon are back full force.) Homework for my online course is still keeping me busy, I spent last weekend out of town and, oh, yeah, I’m still plugging away on the first draft of Fools Rush In.

The deadline for the RWA 2012 Golden Heart submissions is November 15, a mere three weeks away. Believe it or not, the decision to enter the contest is not a given for me this year. I’m thinking hard about it, seeing as how Unchained Memory has had two shots at it already and Trouble in Mind may have hidden problems that could keep it out of the running. Laurie is lobbying heavily for me to go for it (thanks for the vote of confidence, partner!), but we’ll see what she says after she reads the ms. for TIM, which is in her hands as we speak!

Ping Pong
We respond to our co-bloggers . . .

Laurie’s post about the superfast interstellar Internet came at a good time for me—just as I was trying to figure out how my Fools Rush In heroine, Rayna, could send a message from my hero’s ship in deep space to another Rescue agent on the planet she had hoped to reach. I really wanted to have them speak in real time—that would have made for the most dramatic impact—but “real” science wouldn’t let me do it. Oh, for the days of TREK fanfic, when I could have just relied on good ole subspace radio, whatever that was! Even with relays, you’d still be limited by the speed of light, so talking back and forth is pretty much out. I settled on sending message “packets” via photon burst, relayed in the same way the ships are by jumps through stable quantum nodes. You’d have to wait for the replies though. Snail mail for the stars.

This little problem is one of many that is making me realize I’m not quite cut out for space-faring SFR. I do much better when the aliens come to me—that is, when my humans control the field of battle here on Earth and the aliens are on hostile territory, have to bring their tech with them and so on. Life onboard the Shadowhawk is feeling very constrained right now, and I can’t wait to get my protagonists dirtside. They won’t be on Earth, but at least they’ll have a little more elbow room and the dramatic possibilities (aside from battles between ships, of course) will expand correspondingly.

Which brings me to the old question of what label to slap on what we write. That question is intimately tied to the question of who we think will want to read our stuff. And that is at the heart of our “problem” when it comes to selling ourselves to agents, editors and new readers alike. I decided a while back to make a concerted effort to sell to the romance audience, rather than the hardcore science fiction audience. Why? For one thing I, myself, had nearly stopped reading new SF because it lacked any appreciation for character development, never mind anything so Earth-bound as romance. And as soon as I picked up my first “time-travel” romance, I realized I’d been writing romance all along in my TREK fanfic—structurally, emotionally, and in every other way.

Romance is primarily character-driven. Science fiction is primarily idea-driven. As a writer you have to decide if your story is mostly driven by its characters or its ideas. If it’s the former, and those characters happen to be in love, then you’d do better to abide by the rules of the romance genre and work to sell your book to that audience, whether it has aliens in it or not.

I’m not convinced the hardcore SF audience wants character-driven stories at all, no matter what kind of sex those characters are having. The primarily male SF audience wants the technological world-building, the scientific details, the ideas that can make your brain hurt. They want writing that is evocative, but rarely emotional. Those guys would never in a million years agree that Anne McCaffery or Diane Gabaldon belong in a list of science fiction anything.

That said, I think there is an audience out there for character-driven stories—romances—that also have a science fiction element to them. I just think we have a better chance of opening minds among the romance readers—who have already embraced vampires, werewolves, demons, angels, cowboys, the entire male population of Regency England, the guys next door, cops, private eyes, doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs (well, maybe not lawyers)—as heroes. Why not aliens, starship captains, space pirates, alien hunters and so on? Fanfic readers have certainly embraced them for years and remain, I believe, an untapped resource for SFR writers.

At least, I have to believe it’s possible. I’m just not right-brained enough to compete with Vernor Vinge and the boys.

Cheers, Donna

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Will the kids be driving landspeeders?

Quantum levitation. It just SOUNDS cool. All they're missing is a teeny Luke Skywalker action figure.

Read about how this works here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Where the Imagination Goes...

Super Fast Interplanetary Internet

Does interplanetary internet sound like science fiction of the future? You might be surprised. Read on.

Right now, the Surrey Satellite Technology is beaming super-fast terrestrial internet into space to control 14 satellites. That's a really exciting idea, but possibilities for the future are even more inspiring.

Vint Cerf, the computer scientist who invented the internet is now applying his expertise to applications in outer space. In a article he said: "It's very early days yet, but...[we believe] that all space-faring nations could use them in order to grow an interplanetary backbone, in order to support both manned and robotic space exploration."

But how is this possible?  Unlike Earth to orbiting satellites, planets don't remain in the same proximity, they travel on huge orbits and are at times on opposite sides of the sun so the signals must cover enormous distances. So how can this be achieved? 

According to the article "The new interplanetary internet system will relay the signal to spacecraft spread across the solar system in bite-sized chunks, speeding up the time it takes to send data back to earth."

That's exciting enough. But it gets better.

Super fast interstellar internet might one day be used to explore nearby stars. Cerf said, "To do that, we're going to need a network of sensors that literally span the solar system and can pick up this weak signal that's coming back from a robot near Alpha Centauri. It's like everything else: engineering turning science fiction into reality."

Surrey Satellite Technology is already speeding up communications to Mars exploratory missions, and later this year they plan to launch seven new satellites that will be connected to the interplanetary internet system.

Just think of the possibilities in SFR where interspace communications are necessary! Have you used a similar idea in your work?

Read the entire article, dated October 9, 2011

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Laurie's Journal

Mission Success

I've got something very exciting to share with you this week, something I stumbled across by accident on Saturday.

Let me set it up for you.

My third novel is actually an old manuscript that I'm working to extensively revise and update. About five years ago I had a male critique partner compare it to Edgar Rice Burrough's The Princess of Mars. Wow. I was floored! 

This weekend we went to see Contagion (good movie and very tense) and the previews included a trailer that looks absolutely amazing. It's called John Carter. I leaned over to David during the previews and said, "OMG, it reminds me of Draxis!" When I got home, I started researching the movie and got all tingly and goosebumpy when I discovered John Carter (of Mars) is actually the 3-D screen adaption of Edgar Rice Burrough's The Princess of Mars. 

Holy Phobos, Batman!

Although the premise and world-building of Draxis is quite different (modern day heroine, distant planet), the similarities are, well...tingly and goosebumpy exciting.

Take a look for yourself and let me know what you think.

You can read more about John Carter here and here.

Is it just me?  Or does this send a little chill up the spine of all Science Fiction Romance writers and authors out there? 

Time to Call a Spade a Spade?

There's been a lot of discussion of late about the direction of SFR. Heather Massey's article If SF is Mainstream, Where's Sci-Fi Romance?  In August, NPR's Your Picks; Top 100 SF, Fantasy Books included Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight (#33) and Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga (#59) actually a series that began with Shards of Honor/Cordelia's Honor, and Diane Gabaldon's The Outlander Series (#89). All three are widely considered SFR (or SFR blend) by the SFR camp, and there may be many books on that list that also qualify. (I've often argued the case for John Scalzi's Old Man's War series (#74) as being SF with Romantic Elements). So is there really a profound distinction between SF and SFR?

A few years ago there was a big discussion on The Galaxy Express about what we should call our subgenre. Futuristic Romance? Romantic SF? Speculative Romance? The decision at that time was to call a spade a spade. It is what it is--Science Fiction Romance. I admit I was probably one of the more vocal ones supporting that argument. But now...I'm having second thoughts.

There seems to be an oxymoron quality to Science Fiction Romance.  Case in point, a discussion with one of my new coworkers.

She: "So I hear you're a writer?"
Me:  "Yes, I am."
"What do you write?"
"Science Fiction Romance."
"Oh."  Disappointed look. "I don't like those."
"Have you ever read one?"
"Not really sure."
"Have you ever seen the movie Avatar?"
"Oh, many times. Loved it! I love Science Fiction."
"Avatar is Science Fiction Romance."
*lightbulb look* "Oh!"

There seems to be a definite disconnect between Science Fiction (which is perceived as coming into its own as mainstream in recent months) and Science Fiction Romance with readers. Maybe we really should call a spade a spade. Science Fiction Romance is Science Fiction. If the "Romance" part in the subgenre title is turning off readers, even though they love the romantic elements in the story, maybe we should just call it Science Fiction and introduce the romantic element through the blurb? In fact, would we be too cheeky to call it Modern Science Fiction?

Hmm, where does that leave SFR Brigade? Do we go so far as to re-invent the organization and the logo as SF Brigade?

Let me know your thoughts.

Laurie's Link Round-Up

Amazon Expands into SF Publishing 
Click to read more about Amazon's 47North imprint's 15-book launch.

Much ado about Margaret Atwood and "Slip Stream SF":

Wall Street Journal's The Future of SF by Tom Shippey Author Examines the Role of Science Fiction by Margaret Atwood

Thought(s) for the Day

(Borrowed from fellow Starcatcher Kimberly Kincaid's Facebook post.)


Friday, October 14, 2011

Donna’s Journal

Actions we've taken as writers. Where are we? What are we doing?

The Elements of RWA online course I’m taking, "Weapons for Writers", has been keeping me very busy this week. Course instructors Piper Rome and Mark Pfeiffer have been serving up plenty of great information on research sites and the “warrior” mindset to use in our writing.

The focus this week has been primarily on improvised and commercially-available weapons other than guns or knives (things like batons, for example). This has been pretty familiar territory for me as a long-time martial artist, but it is interesting to discover how your training (or lack of it) tends to skew your writing without your even being aware of it.

As an empty-hand fighter, I don’t usually think of putting a weapon of any kind in my hero/heroine’s hands. Fists are thrown first. If that bad guy gets really tough, then we might grab something and clobber him with it. I do use guns (and a “stunner”) in both Unchained Memory and Trouble in Mind, but only as a threat in one and only because my heroine is an FBI agent in the second. Guess I needed this course, huh?

The course has been a challenge, too, because it’s required a fair amount of “homework”. I had to write a fight scene overnight (ironically, between teaching my karate class on Tuesday night and my tai chi class on Wednesday afternoon). I’m not really used to ripping out my fiction that fast—I’m afraid it was a little rough! Anyway, it’s been fun.

Contest Results

I got word this week from the Colorado Romance Writers that my novel Trouble in Mind had placed third in the Paranormal category in their 2011 Heart of the Rockies contest. I had been tied for third in the scoring going into the final round, which was judged by agent Laura Bradford of the Bradford Agency. This makes two third-place showings for the second novel of my Interstellar Rescue series. Not sure what is holding TIM back, beyond the presence of aliens in the story, which gives a lot of agents and editors pause. I’d like to say I have another story in the pipeline that doesn’t include them, but, alas, more Rescue stories just keep presenting themselves. And as my idol Linda Howard once told me, you just have to follow the story.

So far it’s a lonely road, but maybe someday I’ll find a brave agent or editor who’s willing to walk it with me.

Cheers, Donna

Inspiring Quotes

"Those who can imagine the future, and show it to others, have far greater influence than those who simply govern the present."

-Combatko (commenter on the PopSci online science magazine Science Fiction Writer Envisions How Smart Algorhythms Could Streamline the US Tax Code.)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

3 in a row for Laurie's #3

Just wanted to take a moment to congratulate co-blogger Laurie Green! After finaling with not 1 but 2 novels for RWA's Golden Heart Award in 2011, she started on the contest circuit with her third novel, PROJECT PYRAMID. PP has just finaled in its third contest!

3. First Coast Romance Writers The Beacon

1. Land of Enchantment RWA Rebecca (In this one she finaled along with co-blogger Donna Frelick. Congrats, ladies!)

Good luck in the final round! 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Where the Imagination Goes...

The prototype "3-D Printer" can copy virtually three dimensions.  Just think of the applications for space colonies, research stations or exploratory vessels. No need to stock spare parts, you could simply "3-D Print" a new one.  (I bet the Apollo 13 astronauts would have loved to have one aboard.  Maybe they'd have been able to make their Moon landing.)

Yeah, they call it a 3-D Printer.  I call it a Replicator. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

50 Amazing Facts About Astronomy

Since we started a trend last week with Why it Shouldn't Happen in a Galaxy Far, Far Away I thought I'd follow up with a video that's chock full of fascinating astromical facts.

Hmm, I know there's gotta be a story or six in there somewhere.  What do you think?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Factoids: Fate of the Shuttles

In April 2011, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden made decisions concerning the fate of our retired shuttle fleet. Here's the plan for our historic orbiters:
  • Discovery will go to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in northern Virginia
  • The final landing spot for Atlantis will be Florida’s Kennedy Space Center
  • Endeavor is off to the California Science Center in Los Angeles
In addition, Enterprise, the test shuttle that never actually flew in space, was awarded to New York City’s Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. However, plans to display the shuttle in a parking lot near a strip club have raised concerns about the fate of the shuttle (that arguable carries the most recognized name in SF). Read more here.

Friday, October 7, 2011


Occasionally—not very often, mind you, but once in a long while—you can find yourself sitting in front of the television set with your mouth hanging open in amazement. Some viewers might even call it shock. Or horror. As in what we were treated to in FX Network’s “American Horror Story” debut this week.

This series, starring Dylan McDermott (“The Practice”, “Dark Blue”) and Connie Britton (“Friday Night Lights”) as a psychiatrist and his wife trying to overcome a tragedy in their lives by moving from Boston to a creepy mansion in L.A., is not for everyone. It earns its TV-MA rating with plenty of sex, nudity and bloody violence. The shudder factor is sky-high: baby body parts in jars in a moldering basement; a developmentally-challenged girl who seems to have a connection to the house, who keeps predicting that everyone in it will die horribly; a well-past-her-prime housekeeper that only the psychiatrist sees as a voluptuous seductress; a teenage psych patient who spouts venom in his sessions with the doctor one minute and finds his way to the doctor’s daughter’s room the next.

Of course, the haunted mansion/family with issues schtick is nothing new, and the producers in some way recognize this with the title of their series. Still their willingness to delve into the emotional heart of the characters—which may be where the true horror lies—is what makes this story different.

Fortunately for all of us, the show rests on the shoulders of some spectacular acting talent—not only Emmy winners McDermott and Britton, but also, in her first television role, Jessica Lange. Lange, who we are used to seeing as the heroine, is a decidedly icky next-door neighbor, a transformation she accomplishes not by makeup (she looks every inch the slightly faded Southern belle the woman professes to be), but by nuances of expression and behavior. (Britton’s character, a tough Easterner, hates her on sight.)

The scenes between Britton and Lange are topped only by the ones between Britton and McDermott, as the couple driven apart by a miscarriage and his infidelity over a year ago struggle to find a way back to each other. Predictably, the house isn’t helping. He’s suddenly sleep-walking. She’s having, ahem, hallucinations that may or may not involve him. Then there’s the housekeeper that keeps trying to seduce him. Ewww. Oh, and the teenage daughter who’s involved with the psycho is getting in trouble in school. And did I mention this is just the first episode?

For those who take their paranormal mixed more with action than with psychology, the WB’s “Supernatural” premiered last week. When last we left our heroes, demon-fighting brothers Sam and Dean Winchester and their mentor Bobby were facing off against angel Castiel, who had just promoted himself to, um, God. One can forgive Cas for this flawed thinking, since in all the seasons of this show, we’ve seen Lucifer, Death, all manner of demons, angels and archangels, but we’ve never seen the Big Guy. Even the denizens of Heaven believe He’s taken a powder, leaving them to their own devices. The result was a civil war Above and near-Apocalypse Below, which Cas ended by absorbing souls from Hell and kicking bad angel ass.

Problem is, of course, Cas absorbed some Really Bad Things along with all those souls. End result? He explodes and releases those Really Bad Things into the world. Giving our boys something to do again.

Yeah, I know. This show requires a MAJOR suspension of belief. But the dialogue is snappy and the boys are cute. The angst thing is wearing thin, both for Sam and for Dean, if you ask me, but I’m not 16.

Finally, if you’re looking for “mundane” science fiction as only J.J. Abrams can do it, you’ll be checking out the new season of “Fringe” on Fox. The only problem is you won’t be seeing much of Joshua Jackson, the actor who plays Peter Bishop, as Peter’s character sacrificed himself to build the “bridge” between alternate universes that allowed both to survive at the end of last season. Now it is as if Peter never existed, and no one remembers him. Characters on both sides of the bridge are forced to cooperate with each other on cases, including both Olivia and “Fauxlivia”, who hate each other’s guts. And “our” universe’s version of Lincoln Lee has come to work for the Fringe unit with Olivia and Walter.

The show’s producers aren’t saying when or how Peter will make a reappearance beyond the spooky flashes in reflections and TV’s that have been driving Walter crazy. They do say they are paying Joshua Jackson too much to sit at home on the couch. One would think, too, they wouldn’t want to mess with a formula that has made the show successful—that romantic chemistry between Olivia and Peter and the prickly but loving relationship between Peter and his wildly eccentric father, Walter.

Donna’s Journal

Action! Actions we've taken as writers. Where are we? What are we doing?

I’ve been enjoying an RWA online class called Weapons for Writers organized by Wendy “Piper” Rome and Mark Pfeiffer, designed to give those of us who must put weapons in the hands of our characters some idea of what we might be talking about. Piper is a former attorney and an expert in weapons and self-defense who writes romantic suspense. Mark is a former Navy Chief Petty Officer responsible for shipboard counter-terrorism and was also a high-level competitive rifle shooter.

Believe me I really needed this class. Since I write science fiction suspense romance, much of which takes place on Earth, my characters often have to pick up a gun and use it. But the sum total of my experience with guns was the summer I shot my grandfather’s .22 rifle as a kid. In my house anything with a muzzle also has fur.
Fortunately Piper and Mark have so far been very patient with my questions (“what does 9 mm mean anyway”?) And they have been very welcoming to someone from “outside” strictly defined RS parameters.

When they’re not teaching classes, Piper and Mark hang out at two writers’ forums that may be of interest to anyone doing research on weapons or crime related issues: and .

Cheers, Donna

Thursday, October 6, 2011

There's a line from P2PC:

"Innovation can change the universe."

It certainly changed ours.

Steve Jobs
1955 - 2011
Rest in Peace

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Do you write up or down?

Today I was reading a post on an agency blog (Dystel & Goderich) that so got me going I found myself writing a long comment. My comment kept growing until finally I thought, this really is not a comment, it's a blog post.

The gist of the D&G post was a question (and it refers to ANOTHER post here, so we have a real blog chain going now)...

Is it easier to write when you're happy or sad?

I have been wrestling this issue for months.

I made it to almost 40 "wanting" to be a writer but writing only sporadically. My first real fiction effort (not counting those two doorstops from my 20s) was written during the darkest period of my life. It was therapy for me, as well as inspiration. I wrote it in 6 weeks. (Then spent 2 years unwriting and rewriting it, but that's another story.)

After hyper-analyzing the inside of my own head (because that's what writers do!), I realized that during dark (or even just dull) times writing is an escape for me. It's my own little world I get to control. I make those characters as unhappy as me, and then, because I write romantic stories, I make them blissful.

Reminds me of this great Ray Bradbury quote someone tweeted recently:

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.

Now that is dark. But there have been times in my life I have felt this keenly. For a lighter take on it, remember when you were a kid and stuck your fingers in your ears and closed your eyes and chanted "La, la, la, I can't hear you"? That is how writing helps me cope when my cope meter is on empty.

So I am grateful I had my stories and all those imaginary people to help me through those times. But there's a downside. I struggle to focus on writing during happy times because not only do I not need the escape, I don't want to miss out on any of my real life.

With the new contract, writing is no longer therapy or escape, but a business. I am working hard on that transition, and I think the key will be sticking to a regular writing schedule. Meeting regularly with my new writing business partner, Mac Freedom, who helps keep me honest. Shutting out those voices of doubt that creep into every writer's head once they've been at it long enough to realize what a BIG SCARY MYSTERY it is where all this stuff comes from...But I digress.

What's your story? Do you write up or down? (Non-writers can play too! I suspect this applies to ANY creative endeavor.)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Launch Date for GHOST PLANET!

It's a very big day today on Spacefreighters Lounge! 

One of our own, Sharon Lynn Fisher, announces a release date for GHOST PLANET!

Sharon's two time Golden Heart finalist
science fiction romance novel
is coming from Tor on November 1, 2012!

Congratulations, Sharon!

~ * ~

Monday, October 3, 2011

Why it Shouldn't Happen in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

I've noticed a trend in SFR where the setting is another galaxy. In spite of the poetic Star Wars opener, this disturbs me on many levels. The "fiction" in Science Fiction Romance allows for a universe of ideas and imaginative settings, but there's also that "science" part to consider.

Let me explain why this has become my #1 pet peeve with the subgenre:

Why go there?

The Milky Way Galaxy

Our home galaxy is made up of some 200,000,000,000 stars. That's 200 billion suns. Let me say that again. Two hundred billion. We can be pretty sure a good number of those 200 billion suns have multiple planets and moons and asteroids orbiting them. That's a whole lot of real estate. Why set a story outside those parameters?  Does it make it any more exotic? Or alien? I think not. If anything, it only makes it more implausible.

Why? Time. Distance. And Physics. 

Let's take it in increments.

Distance from the Earth to our Sun

The average distance between the Earth and the Sun is 93 million miles or roughly 149 million kilometers. Because the distances in space are so enormous, this is a standard of measurement refered to as an AU or International Astronomical Unit. Note that this is the "average" distance. Objects in space do not stay in one place so there is no constant point A to point B distance.

So looking down the street in our immediate solar neighborhood:

Distances within our solar system (the planetary system revolving around our single sun):
Earth to Mars:  0.5 AU or 48,600,000 miles
Earth to Jupiter:  4.2 AU or 390,500,000 miles
Earth to Saturn:  8.4 AU or 793,800,000 miles
Earth to Uranus: 18.4 AU or 1,689,800,000 miles
Earth to Nepture: 30.0 AU or 2,701,400,000 miles
Earth to Pluto: 38.53 AU or 3,573,200,000 miles
Earth to the Kiuper Belt:  5,000 to 100,000 AU or 465,000,000,000 to 9,300,000,000,000 mi.

Whew!  Okey-dokey. We're already covering a lot of ground and we've hardly made it off the block. Let's think about a trip to the "next town."

Distance to the Nearest Star

Proxima Centauri, the closest (actually part of a triple sun system called Alpha Centauri), is 39,900,000,000,000 km away or about 26,200,000,000,000 miles. That's about 4.22 light years. We're definitely going to have to pack a lunch.

How Long Would It Take to Get There?

The distance of 4.22 light years means it would take 4.22 years traveling at 186,282 miles per second (mps not mph) to reach it.

Let's get some real space/time perspective on that.

The Galileo probe currently holds the record as the fastest spacecraft to travel through space at 106,000 mph. Using Jupiter's gravity to create a slingshot effect, we might possibly have a spacecraft achieve a velocity of 150,000 mph. (And that's to the nth times slower than 186,000 miles per second.)

Our Voyager I spacecraft, launched in 1977, has been traveling outbound for almost 35 years. It reached Jupiter in 1979, Saturn in 1980 and flew beyond the orbit of Pluto in 1989. It has now been traveling for almost 35 years and hasn't yet reached the Kuiper Belt or the heliosphere that marks the outer bounds of our own solar system, much less interstellar space--the space between solar systems.

Some scientists believe Voyager 1 (and Voyager 2, which is traveling on a different trajectory) will leave our solar system sometime in 2016. Voyager is traveling at about at about 57,600 kph or 35,790 mph. If it took almost 40 years just to reach the edge of our own solar system, much less cover the space to the closest star, think how vast that distance truly is!

So let's pretend we could develop an ion drive that could approach light speed. Just getting to that speed takes time. In fact, it could take about 4,900 years to accelerate to half the speed of light and another 4,900 years to begin decelerating to normal speed when we reach the halfway point to Proxima Centauri. (It takes a lot of time to slow down, too.) That would be 9,800 years or more time than all of recorded human history to get to the nearest star.

Even if we could instantly accelerate to and from light speed, it would still take well over four years just to reach Proxima Centauri traveling at the rate of 186,282 miles per second.

There are about 26 stars that are considered near our own sun (neighboring towns, relatively speaking). Bernard's Star, at 6 light years distant, is the closest star that is thought to have planets of its own.  Procyan B, the farthest of the "near" stars is about 11.5 light years distant. One of the brightest stars, Vega, is about 27 light years away or 6.5 times further than Proxima Centauri.

Whew! And that's only to reach the closest stars. We're nowhere near talking about other galaxies yet.

Distance across the Milky Way Galaxy

Our own galaxy is about 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 km (or about 100,000 light years) across.

Our Sun, which is on one of the arms of our spiral galaxy, takes over 200 million years to circle the Milky Way Galaxy just once

So, if we could instantly achieve light speed coming and going, it would take over four years just to reach the closest star and 100,000 years (5,000 generations!) to fly across our own galaxy.

And we're supposed to go where?

Distance to the Nearest Galaxy--Hello, Andromeda

The distance to the nearest galaxy, Andromeda (also called Messier 31 or M31), is estimated to be between 2 to 2.2 million light years away.

What? You want mile markers?

2.2 million light years
= 186,000 miles per second (rounded)
x 60 seconds/minute x 60 minutes/hour x 24 hours/day
x 365 days/year
= 12,904,531,200,000,000,000 miles distant

By the time we get there--provided we can even attain that proverbial "instant" light speed--chances are we've evolved into something that isn't even human. After all, how old is the human species--scientifically speaking? And that's assuming there are no mechanical failures or accidents along those 2.2 million years since we're beyond the help of the nearest spacecraft repair shop. In fact, since we're aiming for light generated over 2 million years ago and then adding the time for our trip, the galaxy may not even be there when we arrive over 4 million years after the light was generated. Sobering, yes?

And once we arrive, how do we let anyone know? Even sending messages via light, it will take 2.2 million years to reach the folks back home--who have by then probably also evolved or gone extinct.

Other Implausibles

In addition to the problem of spanning unfathomable time and distance, there's also problems with the fabric of intergalactic space.

Galaxies are connected by a denser plasma than the empty spaces of the universe. Galactic medium is mostly composed of ionized hydrogen. It may be up to 100 times denser than that of intergalactic space. Atoms may not behave the same way in intergalactic space due to the absence of energy in the void.

There could also be mysterious forces at play, such as dark matter and dark energy, that work differently outside the influence of a galaxy. No one is sure if propulsion systems, or matter in general (such as that making up the hull of the spacecraft), would behave in the same way if intergalactic space doesn't have the same physical laws.

Wait, What About Warp Drive?

Clearly, if we're going to jaunt about space, we're going to need some sort of Warp Drive (Star Trek), space bending (Dune), or jump gates (Dock Five series--Linnea Sinclair). Even so, the distances we'd have to bridge within our own galaxy are so incredibly vast, why oh why would we ever need or want to cross eternity to another galaxy? What could there possibly be over there that we don't have right here? (Right here, give or take 50,000 light years, that is.)

So why go there indeed? It seems staying within the bounds of our own galaxy makes the science in the Science Fiction Romance much more within the realm of "suspension of disbelief." 

Me? Believe I'll stick around the ol' hometown.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Call for SFR Submissions

Fellow SFR Brigader Misa Buckley has put out a call for submissions of Science Fiction Romance short stories from 5,000 to 10,000 words with the following premise:

Venus Ascendant is a space station situated in the Andromeda Galaxy. With its open-to-all policy, it attracts beings from all over the universe as a destination for R&R, dangerous liaisons and romantic getaways.

The sentient, empathic AI ensures that whoever comes to Venus Ascendant finds exactly what they want and “rooms” can be anything from luxurious boudoirs to sunset-lit beaches to dark BSDM dungeons.

Submissions are due by the end of December.

For more information, beam over to Misa Buckley's blog.