Monday, December 3, 2012

Pushing for a Pushcart

Third Flatiron published some great stories this year. So, we
wanted to spread the word by entering some of our best stories in the
Pushcart Prize competition. The Pushcart Prize is an annual
anthology of the best from small publishers.

Congratulations to the following nominees:

Spring 2012 Anthology: Over the Brink: Tales of Environmental Disaster
Tempest Kings by William Highsmith
Chameleon's Cry by Tim Myers
Essence of Bat by Robina Williams

Fall 2012 Anthology: A High Shrill Thump: War Stories
Angel by K. R. Cairns
A Childproof War by Lon Prater

Winter 2012 Anthology: Origins: Colliding Causalities
Seascape Zero by John Davies

We wish our nominees the best of luck and thank them for letting us
publish their wonderful work.

Origins Anthology Is Out!

They say there's a kernel of truth in every bit of outlandish lore.
But when the heart of a thing has been lost, perhaps an archeological
expedition is in order. You are free to join us, but time travel may
be required. Follow these gifted storytellers as they search for the
origins of social repression, Gods and myths, Bigfoot, alien
abductors, rational thought, androids, and, of course, dairy products.

Origins: Colliding Causalities

The Missing Link, Janett L. Grady
Hollow Man Dances, James Beamon
How to Locate and Capture Time Travelers: A Memo, Alex Shvartsman
Five Tips for Abducting a Human Without Being Caught, Draft One, Sarina Dorie
What the Meteor Meant, Neil James Hudson
At War Again, L. Lambert Lawson
Revelations, Soham Saha
Question and Answer, Cathy Bryant
Beginning of All Things, Ahimsa Kerp
Seascape Zero, John Davies
The Origin of Dairy Products, Larry Lefkowitz
Carmilla's Mask, Jordan Ashley Moore
Of Men and Gods, T. A. Branom

Available on Smashwords and Amazon. Coming soon to other online
distributors, including iTunes, Sony, and Barnes and Noble.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Laissez-faire Editing

I used to work for the Geological Society of America, editing their Bulletin and
Geology Magazine, where we copy-edited all the submissions according to a strict
style guide. That, combined with the tendency of misspelled words to jump off
the page at me, made it fairly easy to become an editor. However, I'm
what you might call a "laissez-faire" editor. It means I might
correct an egregious typo or two, but I prefer to let writers say what
they are trying to say.

I find basically nothing wrong with "It was a dark and stormy night,"
aside from it being a cliche.

When at a later phase of my career I became a writer, everyone told me
that "you're either a writer or an editor." That is, each requires a totally different
personality. I didn't really find this to be the case. Of course,
in-depth editing might mean patching up structural difficulties or
rewriting passages for clarity. If it comes down to that, I'd rather
not do it for another writer. As a writer, I've had to learn how to
string sentences together, organize them into a coherent whole, and
make sure they are logical. So, I expect this from other writers too.

I am happy to say that I've encountered a number of good writers for
the upcoming "Origins: Colliding Causalities" anthology, and I'll
mostly be keeping my grubby paws off the following
masterpieces. Congratulations to you all!

Origins: Colliding Causalities Lineup


The Missing Link, Janett L. Grady
Hollow Man Dances, James Beamon
How to Locate and Capture Time Travelers: A Memo, Alex Shvartsman
Five Tips for Abducting a Human Without Being Caught, Draft One, Sarina Dorie
What the Meteor Meant, Neil James Hudson
At War Again, L. Lambert Lawson
Revelations, Soham Saha
Question and Answer, Cathy Bryant
Beginning of All Things, Ahimsa Kerp
Seascape Zero, John Davies
The Origin of Dairy Products, Larry Lefkowitz
Carmilla's Mask, Jordan Ashley Moore
Of Men and Gods, T. A. Branom

Look for this issue December 1, 2012! We'll be rolling it out on
Smashwords and Amazon first, followed by iTunes, Barnes and Noble, and
other distributors.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Q&A with David L. Felts of SFReader

We recently got the chance for a Q&A with David L. Felts,
owner/webmaster for
He's recently redesigned the
community forums at SRFReader. Our thanks to Dave for sharing his
insights with us.

Q: Hi, Dave. You ran your own independent science fiction publishing
house, Maelstrom, and are now the owner/webmaster for We'd like to learn from your experiences as a publisher,
writer, and promoter of science fiction and fantasy writing.  Let's
start with your experiences at Maelstrom.

Q. What kind of fiction did you publish at Maelstrom? (Short stories,
novellas, novels, etc.?)

A. I published short fiction, with a fairly firm 5,000 word limit,
although I do think I had one or two that went a bit over.

Q. Did you publish hardcopy or electronic, or both?

A. Maelstrom was a hardcopy magazine. Hardcopy only. This was back in
the late 90s, and being published in the Internet didn’t have much
legitimacy yet. I don’t think SFWA even considered Internet
publication to qualify as “publication,” regardless of pay rate.

Q. How did you get stories, art, and book reviews?

A. I only accepted snail mail submissions. The only artwork was the cover.

Q. Were/are you a member of SFWA? Was Maelstrom an SFWA-professional
approved publication? If so, what are the advantages of SFWA

A. Maelstrom didn’t pay professional rate and was considered a
“semi-pro” magazine. I was a member of the SFWA, but as a writer, not
a publisher.

Q. How would you compare and contrast professional versus
semiprofessional markets? Any advice for aspiring writers and

A. I’m afraid I haven’t kept up much with the state of the market, but
I do know there are far fewer professional level publications these
days, and also that the pay rate required to be considered a
professional has gone from 3 cents per word to 5. There are, however,
a lot more Internet and electronic opportunities for writers. I think
the market is slowly but surely shifting away from big publishing
houses and big releases. I’ve read stories of writers doing well for
themselves publishing their own work in electronic format, like for
the Kindle. We’re definitely moving toward the market establishing its
own definition of quality, and not the agents and traditional
publishers. From that perspective, I encourage new writers to forgo the
whole submit to the slush pile process that’s been the standard for so
long. Write and learn how to format what you write for Kindle and
other electronic platforms.

Q. How long was Maelstrom in business?

A. I ran the magazine for 2 years.

Q. Why did you decide to close Maelstrom?

A. It took a lot of time and not a small amount of money, I was
changing careers, and I figured 8 issues was good enough.

Q. Did you make money? Any advice on how to make a living as a writer
or publisher?

A. No, Maelstrom could have been considered a hobby. As sure, while it
did cost money to run, it was cheaper than having a hobby involving
radio controlled cars for example.

Q. Did you or any of your authors win any awards?

A. I think one of the stories I published earned an honorable mention
Datlow’s Year’s Best, but I couldn't tell you what it was any longer.

Q. What were a few of your favorite experiences as a publisher?

A. I enjoyed getting a story that, in my opinion, was almost there,
and being able to provide feedback that authors thought made their
work better. I know how exciting it is to get a story selected for
publication, so telling an author I wanted their story was always fun.

Q. If Maelstrom was hardcopy-only, did you ever consider reincarnation
as an e-publisher? Do you retain any rights to some or all of the
stories Maelstrom published? What would be the pros and cons or other

A. I’ve considered dipping my toe into fiction publishing again, but
it wouldn’t be hardcopy or another iteration of Maelstrom. It would
be an online effort. For Maelstrom, I purchased First Publication
Rights, so all those stories still belong to their authors.

Q. Let's talk about

Q. It must have been a big change from being a publisher to running an
SF review/forums website. When did you start SFReader, and what is its

A. SFReader came about as a result of my desire to teach myself web
programming. I liked to read, and I wanted to program, so I figured
I’d build a site that posted book reviews from a database. I began
building SFReader in 2001 and got it online in early 2002. By the end
if it, I’d learned Classic ASP (Active Server Pages) and the basic of
database programming and design.

Q. You recently conducted a major redesign of's forums. There
are a number of science fiction/fantasy forums out
there. What are some features that you feel will make the new stand out (types of forums, etc.)?

A. I’m trying to brand SFReader as a destination for fans, writers,
and publishers of Speculative Fiction. As the electronic publishing
landscape continues to expand, there will be a big advantage to
writers who engage their fans directly. I’m hope SFReader can be one
of those avenues. My main goal, however, is to simply support a genre
I love and provide a place for like-minded people to hang out.

Q. How can authors/publishers get reviews on your site?

A. The guidelines for getting reviewed are available on the site: If you want to
write reviews, simply join and post them. I always keep an eye out for
well done member reviews. When I find one, I promote it to the front
page of the site. If you want to be a reviewer, contact me through the
site and I’ll get you in touch with Mike Griffiths, SFReader’s review
editor. “Official” SFReader reviewers don’t get paid, but they do get
free books!

Q. You are a writer yourself. How do you decide what markets to submit
to? Why did you decide to submit a story to Third Flatiron, a
fledgling e-publisher?

A. Alas, I’m afraid I don’t write any more. I have a largish inventory
of “trunk” stories though. When I see an opportunity that might match
one of my stories, I pull it out and try it. The theme of the Flatiron
war anthology matched a tale I thought was pretty good, so I sent it
off. I was very pleased to get an acceptance and the chance to tell my
tale to a few eager readers. But I haven’t written anything new in
quite some time now.

A. I got into writing because I had stories to tell. I wasn’t one of
those writers writing for myself; I was writing for others, and the
frustration of not being able to reach them began to outweigh the
enjoyment I got from writing. I felt like the proverbial story teller
perched on the log by the fire spinning my yarns to nothing but the
empty night. So I left it behind.

A. With the rapid changes in the industry and the new opportunities
presented by electronic publishing, it might be I could find an
audience now, so that is in the back of my mind.

Q. Thanks for talking with us Dave, and best of luck with the new
features of!

Thursday, September 20, 2012


After an exciting month visiting doctors for regular checkups, being
called back for not-so-regular checkups, and generally freaking out, I
got the unwelcome opportunity to think about my mortality. Nothing
like a medical scare (and the accompanying expense) to bring you back
to the realization that life is a gift that can be taken away at any
time, so you had better appreciate what you've got today.

Since I love science and science fiction, it is no coincidence that
one of my first SF stories, "Good Bloodlines" in Sorcery and the Far Frontier
featured a heroine whose android enhancements made her
stronger and faster than ordinary humans. It's commonplace for
characters in today's SF stories to have nanobots running around in
their blood systems, fixing anything that goes haywire with the
biological body.

But, it's been good to return to work on promoting my science fiction
publishing business, Third Flatiron. We're proud to announce that "A High Shrill
Thump: War Stories" is now out.

Readership for the first issue so far has been low, and I'd like to get sales
above 100 copies per issue so that I can pay
some royalties to the many excellent writers who have contributed to
the first year. They've helped get us off the ground, after all.

In the e-publishing world, as in the hardcopy world, word of mouth and
good reviews can make or break a book. With a hardcopy book, it can
take years if you are not one of the Big 6 publishers. But with
self-publishing, indie publishers might expect to speed this process
up. It's hard to be patient, however, and it's still going to take a
lot of hard work. I've signed up with many fan forums, and now am
investigating book bloggers. I'll be spending more hours on the
Internet finding and contacting the ones who look honest and popular
and who review books by indie publishers at no charge.

Some blogs are technically considered "fanzines." Of the ones I've
sampled, they feature articles on a variety of science fiction and
fantasy issues, conventions, and other activities. They have become a
major category in the annual Hugo Awards, so they are definitely an active
community. Most don't seem to do reviews, but I've found some who do.
Notable is the Hugo winner, SF Signal, edited by John DeNardo, which
has a huge backlog of reviews to do, but at least they do them.

An especially interesting fanzine is Journey Planet, who this spring
published a special Bladerunner issue. It was fascinating to read the
contributors' praise of Bladerunner's seminal role in making androids
an everyday concept in SF movies, as well as Bladerunner's roots in the world
of pulp fiction film "noir."  I have seen the theatrical version, the
director's cut, and okay now I have Ridley Scott's "Final Cut" version
sitting in my to-view pile.

I'm currently reading Robert Sawyer's "Mindscan," about a rich man
with a deadly brain condition having his consciousness transferred to
a sturdier android body. Asimov did a great job of portraying the
dilemma of giving robots autonomy, but the dilemma increases the
closer the robot is to human, or when it used to be human. Is it still
human? I'll be curious how life works out for Sawyer's androidicized

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Reviewing Game

As I work my way down the checklist to publishing success, I've
encountered some suggestions that straddle the line of ethical. One is
using artificial (marketing) means of increasing web hits, such as
Amazon's KDP Select Program, which gives Amazon exclusive distribution
rights. In return, they promote your book via such tools as free
giveaways. It may increase your web hits, but there's no guarantee
readers will buy the book.

An avenue that appears more promising, at least in my view, is
reviews. The idea is that good reviews will bring in readers. I
recently joined Goodreads and am working to learn their model of word-
of-mouth to get more readership.

But again, even reviewing is subject to abuse. You can always get your
mother and your best friends to write glowing reviews, and no one's
the wiser. But surely that will backfire if a reader buys a book that
turns out to be crappy.

However, I'm trying to take the high road and am encouraging unbiased
reviews of our issues at Third Flatiron. I'm happy to share a free copy
to people who agree to write a review, either on Third Flatiron,
Smashwords, or Amazon.

One of the authors in our first issue, "Over the Brink: Tales of Environmental Disaster,"
Rich Larson, has recently published an electronic collection of his short stories
on Amazon, "Datafall: Collected Speculative Fiction." I've agreed to
read his stories and review them. I already know that Rich is a
talented writer, so I don't fear that there will be any need for

War Issue Lineup

Congratulations to the following authors, who will feature in our
upcoming issue, "A High Shrill Thump: War Stories" appearing online
everywhere on September 1, 2012.

David L. Felts, The Man Who Couldn't Die
Gustavo Bondoni, Comrade at Arms
K. R. Cairns, Angel
John Harrower, The Rocketeer
James S. Dorr, Refugees
David G. Turner, The Home Front
Jack Skelter, The Fixer
Lon Prater, A Childproof War
Michael Trudeau, The Frontline Is Everywhere
Tom Sheehan, Half a Century Later at a Mid-Earth Pub
Brenda Kezar, Homeland Security
Nick Johnson, In the Blink of an Eye
David J. Williams, I Think I Won

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Introducing David J. Williams

The first issue from Third Flatiron Anthologies is out, and we've already sold a few copies. I took out an ad on the current issue of Musa's Penumbra ezine, so I hope their readers will swing by to check us out.

I was a bit surprised when I put the issue out on Smashwords that it took so long to migrate over to their distribution sites (more than three weeks). The test I had done earlier seemed to indicate they worked much faster than that. Another unpleasant surprise was finding that they don't distribute to Amazon. They claimed they are "making progress" toward that.

So, I ended up creating my own .mobi-formatted version of "Over the Brink: Tales of Environmental Disaster," joining Amazon's Kindle publishing group, and putting it out there myself. On the plus side, I now have experience in converting to multiple e-formats, including epub and mobi, so that will free me to use whatever distributor I like in the future. I've noticed some other competitors to Smashwords on the rise.

Meanwhile, I have now begun reading the submissions for the upcoming 'War" issue, with the working title, "A High Shrill Thump."

At first, submissions dribbled in slowly, but toward the June 30 deadline, a lot more stories arrived, so I think readers will receive a good selection. (Why would writers procrastinate like that, do you suppose?) It has also helped to join a few forums, such as, where I am meeting some authors who I hope will appear in our anthologies. They have even kindly set up an area under their forum on Book, Magazine, and eZine Publishers to showcase Third Flatiron.

I am holding a spot in the war issue for a special writer. His name was David J. Williams, and he was my brother. The J. stood for Joseph. Joe always wanted to write science fiction and left behind some drafts of his stories. One, called "I Think I Won," is an excellent story on the horrors of war. It  also holds up surprisingly well to the test of time, considering that it was written in the early 1970s. I can divine hints of Ellison and Stephen King peeking out through the prose. Joe had a big vocabulary and a satirical descriptive technique, and he applied them skillfully in this story set at Cheyenne Mountain, the NORAD center near Colorado Springs.

Joe never managed to get published, but I feel honored that one of his stories will at last appear in a professional publication. The yellowing pages are now preserved in the digital universe.
Buy "A High Shrill Thump: War Stories" on Amazon.

Friday, June 1, 2012

My First Issue

Well, it's finally out. Some details still have to fall in place, but I say a cautious "Woo hoo!"

Third Flatiron Publishing presents "Over the Brink," a new digital anthology of science fiction stories by an international group of award-winning and emerging writers, who offer their visionary takes on the theme of environmental disaster. Contributors include Colleen Anderson, Kurt Bachard, Thomas Canfield, Linda A.B. Davis, William Highsmith, Rich Larson, Curtis James McConnell, Mark Mills, Tim Myers, Khristo Poshtakov, Ian Rose, Ken Staley, and Robina Williams. These expert storytellers show us a broken world that is at once guilty and innocent, leaving us to ponder the aftermath.

It's been really fun editing this issue. The authors are all great (read: very patient with my first fumbling efforts). The stories are great too. The issue comprises a tasty baker's dozen short stories about the possible consequences of fooling Mother Nature. These tales are sometimes heart-breaking, sometimes way out or hilarious, but always mind-expanding. It's an honor to include them in my first issue. To say nothing of the fine cover by Keely Rew.

I Hope People Will Buy It

Over the Brink is available for online reading in multiple ebook formats, including Epub (for iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo), .mobi (Kindle), HTML, PDF, plain text, RTF, and Palm.

Download from (Free samples available. Full book price: $2.99 USD).

Download from (Kindle edition).

I'm still waiting for premium distribution status from Smashwords, but when that happens (soon), the book will also be available from the iTunes Store, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

I'm getting ahead of myself for sure, but someday I hope to graduate to the big leagues (professional publisher status with the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America). Maybe SF is making a big resurgence. Have you seen the latest issue of The New Yorker? It's a special SF issue.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

You've Got to Read Couch

I've had a favorite book for 30 years, and that's "Vanity Fair," by
William Makepeace Thackeray. It pretty much says it all. So, I've had
little call to push books by other authors, beyond simply recommending
them to a few friends.

But now, I am on a mission to introduce as many people as I can to a
wonderful little fantasy called "Couch" (2008), by Benjamin
Parzybok. Take heed, all you geeks. Couch is an all-too-short glimpse
into the depths of geek soul.

As the book opens, three apartment mates in Portland, Oregon, are
sitting on a big orange couch, toking up and generally being
slackers. One is a computer hacker who has made something of a
reputation but who has gotten busted and now can't find a job. Another
is a streetwise hustler, and a third is a new-agey hippie.

The building gets flooded out, and the landlord sees this as an
opportunity to tear it down and build upscale lofts. Our three
roommates get kicked out, and the landlord says, "and take that ugly
couch with you."

Thus begins an epic and often hilarious journey as the three try
repeatedly to give the couch away and part ways with one another. But
no one will take the couch, and the couch gets heavier if they go in
certain directions. After a while, it's evident that the couch has
magic powers, and they have no choice but to go where it makes them
go, even if that means carrying the damn thing into the ocean.

As the journey lengthens, our hippie character, Tree, seems prescient,
and guides his reluctant buddies, saying "I think it wants us to go
here..." which eventually gets them fished out of the sea onto a
trawler bound for South America. When Tree falls overboard, though, we
grieve and suddenly wonder if the couch is good or evil.

Our remaining characters seem inevitably to be drawn into a mysterious
quest, fighting off villains after the couch, and we're pulled into a
mystical world far from the one we live in daily.

The geek character, Thom, searches for the meaning of this adventure
and shows amazing depth and growth that make us want to believe this
could really happen. As a geek myself, I spend a lot of time on the
couch, living a fantasy life to balance out the overly rational and
logical life I lead. Erik, who starts out as a petty thief, shows
great heroism and ultimately saves the day, much even to his own
surprise. And when we again see the reborn Tree, we rejoice.

I've bought two copies so far, and I lend them out to whomever will
take them. If you liked "Lord of the Rings," but prefer a bit of
modern irony, angst, and uncertainty, this is your ticket. I don't know
how a book so small could dig so deep. Even Thackeray would have loved
this one. Get it from Small Beer Press or Amazon.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Hit the Road, Boehner

Our latest Republican-versus-Democrat kerfuffle has got me riled
again. And this time I've had enough. Again.

President Obama came to Boulder this week to push for continued
reduction of the interest rate on student loans. The Republicans (John
Boehner) said they support that, but that the money to pay for the
subsidy should come from a "slush fund" of the Obama Health Care bill,
as he calls the Affordable Health Care Act.

The fund in question also has a name. It's called the Prevention and
Health Fund. It goes for women's health care, such as mammograms,
screening, and preventive care.

What the hell?

I agree with college prof Jerry Lanson, who says, "The challenge of easing
the debt burden can't be left to colleges or the taxpayers. At a time when banks are
giving their customers savings interest worth nickels and dimes, there's no
excuse for them to be raking in interest above the national inflation

We just bailed out the banks. They don't deserve any more of our money.

Furthermore, I don't think we should be giving students big loans
(regardless of interest rate, unless it's zero) when they haven't yet
earned a credit rating. To get a credit rating, you need to get a small loan and/or pay off a credit bill in a time. It shows you are a responsible borrower.

Originally the banks were given a blank check. Students could borrow
ever-larger amounts needed because college rates were skyrocketing, and if
they defaulted, say, by declaring bankruptcy, the government would
back the loans.

Understandably, that didn't work, so the laws for bankruptcy were
tightened. So now students are caught between a rock and a hard
place. They face paying off their loans for their whole working life.

Sure, it seems worth borrowing money to get a college education. It
has been shown that a college-educated worker earns much more over his
or her lifetime than someone with only a high school diploma.

But hundreds of thousands of dollars? When I went to college, I was
dirt poor, my single mother lived below the poverty level, and I
couldn't get credit from Sears to buy a portable typewriter. (I
boycotted Sears and Discover for many years for this reason.)

I still managed to get a college education. I worked, I got
scholarships, I got grants, and I got a loan. That loan was the
National Student Defense Loan. It had a very low interest rate, and
within five years, I was able to pay it off.

The truth is, the government has been backing away for a long time
from both higher education and health care. The University of Colorado
only gets 5% of its budget from the state. A lot of people think
higher education is an entitlement, like health care, and that you
should be able to go to school as high as you can go.

Unfortunately, our government does not agree with this. Our taxpayers
don't want to foot the bill. So, we are falling behind the rest of the
world in terms of well educated, well paid workers.

It has been easy to spot this trend, so when I had a child, I began
saving money so she could go to college. We paid for her education in
full. No free ride. No entitlement.

I know the days are gone where a student can work during the summer
and pay for a year's tuition. But the motivated student needs to suss
out a plan for getting a higher education. If you can't get into
Harvard, move your sights down. If you can't get into the University
of Michigan, move your sights down. By living at home or getting a
roommate and going to a community college for two years, you can cut
college costs in half. Working at Victoria's Secret is crappy, but
finite. Once you actually get a degree and a good job, nobody cares
where you went to college anyway.

It's time to cut off the banks from this cash cow, and it's time to
stop trying to rob Peter (us women) to pay Paul.

Hit the road, Jack.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Life in the Far Future

One of the joys of living in Boulder, Colorado, is the annual
Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado every

The conference, started by sociology professor Howard Higman in the
late 1940s, attracts equal numbers of students and gray-haired members
of the community. Invited speakers participate for a week in dozens of
panels on a wide range of topics including politics, the arts, and

In the panel on "Life in the Far Future," three scientists and a
storyteller presented their fanciful--and mostly hopeful--visions of
what the future might hold for humans and life in general.

As a science fiction writer and publisher, I couldn't think of a
better way to spend an hour and a half. I grabbed a spot in the
audience, put my chin in my hand, and became all ears.

Joseph McInerney, a genetics professor and biology educator, pointed
out that there is one thing all species go through: extinction. Of
course, the sun will become a red giant in a few billion years and
destroy the inner planets, but that isn't imminent, so he talked about
some other more near-term possibilities. He said one might be the end
of racism. The human genome is so distributed now that there are no
actual racial dividing lines. At some point in the future, the concept
of race or "other" may simply become moot, if we're lucky.

Vivian Siegel, director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, had
browsed a bit on the Futurist web site the evening before, and tossed
out some SF-type visions of the future, including putting diverse bits
of life and embryos into capsules and shooting them into space,
possibly to colonize other planets in the very far distant future (she
acknowledges the improbability of FTL travel. Sorry, space opera
fans!). A student asked how a human embryo could be raised in a vacuum
without the presence of other humans. (Shades of Superman!) It became
evident that "life" here refers to species other than human, for
example, microorganisms. Microorganisms far outnumber humans,
McInerney pointed out, so we will have to devise ways to coexist with
them in a beneficial way. An audience participant pointed out there
could be ethical issues, such as polluting some other planet or
bringing in a deadly foreign species that would wipe out local life.

Feargal Lynn, an Irish storyteller, musician, and psychiatric nurse,
entertained us all by enumerating some things he'd like to see the
future bring. One was a cross between a microwave and a bed. You'd
climb into bed, punch in a few numbers in the box above your head, and
in five minutes you'd have a full night's sleep!  He noted the
importance of music, and talked about his Scottish musician friend
Bill Drummond's (of 80s band KLF) crusade to reinvent music, which he
thinks has been ruined by recording. Drummond burned all his records,
and now tours with a 17-member choir called The17.

Growing up on James Bond movies in the 1960s, Lynn noted that Bond had
great gadgets like GPS, pens that shot poison darts, and an Aston
Martin with missiles. But he always had to get out of the car to make
a phone call. He didn't have a cell phone! Lynn said he wished he knew
what the next gadget would be that would change the world so
dramatically for everyone.

A student asked what the panel thought the lasting impact of the
Internet would be. Several agreed that it was to fight tyranny by
removing control of information from despots. Lynn recalled the sad
example of political folk guitarist Victor Jara, whose fingers were
cut off before his murder during the Pinochet regime in Chile.

Douglas Ray, a lab director with DOE's Pacific Northwest Laboratory,
was by far the most gung-ho regarding technology and its benefits. The
panel cited several problems facing society, such as lack of fresh
water, but Ray said we are close to being able to desalinate ocean water
in a more energy-efficient manner. A student expressed concern about
the dangers of genetic engineering. Ray noted that the biological
diversity on Earth contains a wealth of possibly useful species, even
without engineering. For example, following the Deepwater Horizon oil
spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, there was a huge increase in
naturally occurring oil-eating bacteria, which had found a new food
source. Ironically, Ray also was the biggest believer that humanity
might damage the planet so badly that a life-seeding space expedition
like Vivian's might be needed.

One student asked about the future of education. McInerney felt the
U.S. is going backward since the days when Sputnik temporarily moved
science to the education forefront. He helped develop the Biological
Sciences Curriculum Study, which in the 1960s restored the teaching of
evolution in the schools. He feels that today's emphasis on rote
learning and testing is anathema to good teaching, critical thinking,
and creativity.

Feargal Lynn, who has two young daughters, hoped the educational
picture would improve, and quoted Winston Churchill, who said, "You
can always count on Americans to do the right thing--after they've
tried everything else."

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Wherefore Science Fiction?

I remember being surprised when I learned that "wherefore" actually
means "why." So, when Juliet says, "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" she's
asking why did he have to go and be from the feuding clan. Bummer. But
an interesting vocabulary lesson.

I've been thinking of why I would like to concentrate on science
fiction in my new publishing business, Third Flatiron Publishing. It
seems like SF/Fantasy's golden age may have passed. Fewer publishing
houses seem to be out there. Houses like Tor, which used to be minor
players, are just about all you see on the shelves these days. A few
old superstar authors are still around, like George R.R. Martin, but I
don't see any smash hits coming from the likes of Harlan Ellison or
Gene Wolfe. Of course, some have died, like Ray Bradbury, Arthur
C. Clarke, Roger Zelazny, and Kurt Vonnegut.

As a young reader, I was voracious. Books often afforded an escape
from the realities of life and school, and SF in particular appealed
to the nerd in me. I can unqualifiedly recommend SF as a pathway drug
to academic aptitude.

If you want your budding genius child to ace his or her SATs, try some
of these recommendations from scientist and award-winning SF author
David Brin:

Brin has various assorted reasons for liking books on this long list
(for example, "sense-o-wonder"), but to me the salient point is that
this genre builds strong headbones and imparts a vocabulary
nonpareil. (Of course, even I had to keep a dictionary close by to get
through the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.)

Reading literature favored by fellow geeks will also have the advantage of
facilitating better communication with peers:

I recently joined a couple of online fan forums, like Cool Sci-Fi
(, where I posted a question asking what is currently
popular. I only got one reply, which was a speculation that steampunk
is where it's at.

OK, fine. I'll buy that, and any of Connie Willis' backward-looking
tomes, for that matter. There's nothing wrong with historical fantasy
or swords and sorcery, as long as it's weird and interesting. But the
era of the space opera seems to have been crushed, as hard science
increasingly drills it into our heads that FTL travel just ain't gonna
happen, baby. Hopefully young Cory Doctorow can hold our hands as we stride
into a brave new world.

With these attitude adjustments in mind, I will try to carry the
banner of speculative fiction (Ellison's term) forward.

With your help, I won't have to change "Wherefore" to "Whither."
Please encourage your kids to read some SF in between video games.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Passion Curriculum

A few days ago, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was on Jon
Stewart's Daily Show. He talked about how Congress had failed to
achieve the requirements of the "No Child Left Behind" Act, and how
states could now seek waivers to NCLB in order to give them more
flexibility to meet high educational standards.

He went on to decry the cutbacks of many programs in the schools, such
as arts and music, language, geography, social sciences, and so
forth. He spoke on behalf of "the Well-Rounded Curriculum."

This made me reflect on my own education and that of my fellow geeks.
Our country is facing a crisis shortage of geeks. At least a million
technical jobs are begging for qualified applicants. But fewer
students feel inclined to study math and science, and they are less
willing to put in the oftentimes long hours of drudgery to excel in a
technical area. They are less resilient and more resigned to failure
if the going gets tough.

In previous posts on this blog, I've identified some actions in the
college and working world where geeks can be encouraged to be more
well-rounded, thus contributing more to society.

But maybe we should back up further, to grade and middle school, to
look at what leads to the successful geek and, better yet, the
well-rounded geek.

Unfortunately, middle school can be hell on earth, both for geeks and
non-geeks alike. Puberty and scholarly rigor both strike
simultaneously. But what doesn't actually kill us makes us stronger,
as the old saying goes.

What middle school should do for us is to teach us how to find our
passions and show us a path toward achieving them. Sampling the
liberal and other arts may sow the seed of a passion.

That passion may open a path that looks impossibily steep when you're
14 years old. Do you like music? A typical musician in the Cincinnati
Orchestra has worked for 15 years to hone his or her skills and
theoretical knowledge of music, an amazingly complex and deep subject.

Just take it one step at a time. Yes, we are coming to realize we are
facing a world where everyone has to become a specialist in a
technical field. And even then there is no guarantee of a good paying
job. But your efforts will pay off in providing you a rich inner life.

This is where being well rounded will save your life. While you work
hard and fight for the job of your dreams, you will have the
resiliency you got from your well-rounded curriculum to get you by. If
you get out of middle school without identifying at least one passion
you can get lost in, your teachers have failed you. You need that
experience in order to be able to identify the next passion in life as
it comes along.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Third Flatiron Publishing: My New Venture

I've recently begun a new publishing venture, Third Flatiron
Publishing, LLC. I plan to publish eBooks of the science
fiction/fantasy genre.

I've long been interested in trying my hand at fiction writing as
well, but this publishing thing is new. As I explored the marketplace
for writing, I discovered that the bar for getting into publishing is
much lower nowadays than when I started out as a writer/editor in the
1970s. Ebooks are the coming thing, and I hope to get on the wave.

It's easier to write a business plan because it's easier to survey the
marketplace via such resources as and It's
easier to set up a "storefront" via such services as, which
offers easy website management tools such as liveSite.

It's easier to distribute online via services such as Yes,
they will take a cut of everything that sells, but they provide
services like formatting for a variety of eReaders, providing free
ISBNs, and distributing to vendors such as Barnes and Noble and iTunes.

I believe that three items will determine the success or failure of
Third Flatiron: content, pricing, and positioning.

Content: I'm thrilled that I am already getting strong content from
writers all over the Internet who are beginning to submit to Third
Flatiron. My first three issues will be SF/Fantasy anthologies. I
should be able to purchase a dozen or so good stories for each

Pricing: I still have a lot to learn in this regard. I fully expect to
lose money at first while I'm still learning. At first I'm going to
pay writers a flat rate, but if they sell well, I'll take my cut but
offer them some royalties.

Positioning: Ditto. This will be the trickiest area, I think. I've
spent my life as a creative writer rather than a business-oriented
publisher, so I will need to learn how to market my writers. I
certainly plan to do what I can. Facebook and blogging ought to help.

So, if you want to write good SF and get paid a little something to do
it, check out our site at