Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Rendezvous and Docking: A Guide for Non Rocket Scientists

My latest article is now online at Baen Books: Rendezvous and Docking (Part 1): A Guide for Non Rocket Scientists.

How do you convince two spacecraft, travelling some 18,000 mph, hundreds of miles in space, to nuzzle together as gently as a bumblebee alighting on a nectar-laden hibiscus?

If you’re curious, or insomniatic, check it out. You’ll even learn how to win the first Zero-Gravity Super Bowl!

But be warned: it’s not called “rocket science” for nothing.

How it's done!

How it’s done!

It's not as easy as it looks

It’s not as easy as it looks

Worldcon 2011: Meet famous authors! See world-class artwork! Draw women in their underwear!

I just attended my second Worldcon: the annual gathering of science fiction and fantasy geekionados from around the world. It gave me a chance to energize my writing capacitors, finally get out of Seattle and into some warm weather, and, in a couple of cases, renew old friendships. The underwear thing was just a bonus.

Uh, this lake isn

My friend Kyle and I arrived after a grueling, but beautiful, 14-hour drive through four states. Since Kyle is an I.T. expert and I’m a “rocket scientist,” plus we had two GPS systems, we got lost only a couple of times, finally rolling into Reno, NV late Thursday night.

Day 1: Lines and buyers and bras, oh my!

Friday morning, we hit the beautiful Atlantis casino and hotel to start our Worldcon experience. If you’ve never attended a science fiction convention, they’re a blend of discussion panels, dealer rooms, art shows, and people wearing costumes ranging from accurate movie reproductions to outfits that would have gotten you thrown out of Sodom or Gommorah.

I hit panels on Understanding Publication (“Always read your final contract!”), Social Media (“Facebook is the high fructose corn syrup of social media”–Cory Doctorow), and The Solar System and SF, where I re-united with author Allen Steele. (At Worldcon 54 in Los Angeles, Allen critiqued one of my short stories with the words, “Gird your loins…” Despite everything he said over the next few minutes, he seemed to think there was some hope for me and took me under his Hugo-winning wing. He¬†introduced me to Gregory Benford, David Brin, and others, stunning me by saying, with a perfectly straight face, “In a few years, he may be on the Hugo stage with us”–an observation that demonstrates why Allen is so successful at writing fiction.)

The pros ponder the future of SF

I also attended the Many Sides of Hard Science Fiction, where I got into a bit of a debate with panelists who believe science fiction has an obligation to depress our youth into Prozac addiction. I disagreed, stating that SF should occasionally inspire people to achieve a better world–and entertain them in the process. I’m not sure I changed any minds, but I did get a chance to talk to Toni Weisskopf of Baen Books who offered to read the first chapters of my recently-completed hard SF novel, Miner Misfortunes.

Finally, I hit the Space Opera panel, to be reunited with another friend from the 90’s convention scene, Lizzy Shannon, who is now a published novelist, whereas I am not. That’s fine. Really. I’m happy for her. I am.

Well, it IS a Fantasy convention...

I then walked through the Dealer’s Room and Art Show exhibits, which featured lots of cool stuff to buy with my dwindling resources. Nearby, a girl stood around in her underwear while guys attempted to draw her. I’m not sure what that had to do with Science Fiction, but I guess it does kinda fall in the Fantasy category. While there, a flashmob celebration broke out to support author Jay Lake in his battle against cancer. Although it was dubbed “World Jay Day,” another attendee suggested a better moniker might have been “Jay Pride Day.” I got to re-unite with another writing acquaintance, Patrick Swenson, publisher/editor of Fairwood Press.

World Jay Day

Friday night, Kyle and I attended the Masquerade (i.e., the costume contest) which featured many amazing outfits and a spectacular wardrobe malfunction. (Sorry, no pictures.) For laughtime entertainment, we witnessed the SF version of the British Game Show Just a Minute, hosted by the very funny Paul Cornell. Contestants must speak for a full minute “without hesitation, deviation, or repetition” on a variety of topics. Contestants were John Dowd, Lauren Beukes, Bill Willingham,¬†and winner Seanan McGuire.

Afterwards, I got to stuff myself into the Science Fiction Writers of America (SWFA) suite and chat with my friend, Nebula-award winner Jerry Oltion and his lovely wife, Kathy, where we discussed the joys and hazards of writing, space flight, and SF conventions. Jerry and I once served on the same panel, “Dude, Where’s My Flying Car”–and we’re still wondering. It would have beat the hell out of a 14-hour drive in a Honda Civic.

Day 2: Things go from good to better

Saturday was a day to enjoy the convention, rather than sniff after agents and editors. I hit an enjoyable and informative panel on the Craft of Writing Short Fiction, with Connie Willis and Jay Lake, and a panel called A Glimpse at Underwear in Speculative Literature and Film (really). This included some of my favorite clips from some of my favorite films (e.g., Sigourney Weaver crawling into her spacesuit in Alien). Another highlight was a lovely young lady in attendance who wore a skirt that is illegal in most southern States. (Again sorry, no picture. I mean, really sorry.)

When geekdom goes funky

I bought a copy of my friend Lizzy’s book, Time Twist, at the dealer room, as well as presents for my wife and kids, then we headed over to the Hugo Awards, hosted by Jay Lake and Ken Scholes, who consistently worried us with threats of musical performances. (A threat they eventually made good on, but it wasn’t as painful as expected.)

I won’t list the Hugo winners, with one exception, since you can see them here or watch the video. The highlights of the evening (for me) were Robert Silverberg’s painfully hilarious introduction for the Best Novella award and my friend Allen Steele’s win for Best Novelette for his superb story, “The Emperor of Mars.” I’ve attended two Worldcons, and Allen’s won Hugos at both; therefore, I like to think I’m a good-luck charm. Of course, I like to think a lot of things.

And the Hugo goes to . . .

The night was capped when I ran into Allen afterwards and we had a delightful talk about writing, working at NASA, and the joys of trying to carry a bomb-shaped metal award onto an airliner.

Another short night’s sleep, and an uneventful 14-hour drive home, made possible by the fine folks in the pharmaceutical industry.


Next year’s Worldcon is in Chicago, not far from my home crib in Indiana. If I go, I hope it’ll be as a SFWA member, rather than a hanger-on. And if Allen’s nominated again, maybe I’ll find out if I really am his good luck charm.

Meanwhile, back to finishing revision 3 of Miner and getting it into submission. Maybe if the cover features a girl in her underwear . . .

(Addendum: my complete set of Worldcon/Hugo pix can be found here.)