Saturday, December 28, 2013

Review of The Darwin Elevator by Jason Hough

Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough begins with an interesting mystery
about the appearance of a mysterious space elevator delivered by a
ship in high earth orbit above Darwin, Australia. What looks like
a boon for humanity is soon overshadowed by a plague that wipes out
almost all humans, except for some who basically become vicious
subhuman monsters. Close proximity to the elevator provides immunity,
so Darwin has become the last city on earth. Unfortunately, the aura
of immunity around the elevator seems to be disappearing.

The main characters are fairly likable: Skyler Luiken, a
rough-and-tumble Dutch pilot who runs a crew of immune scavengers, and
Tania Sharma, a scientist working for the richest man on earth, as they
try to unravel the connection between the elevator and humanity's
ultimate fate.

About a third of the way in, the preponderance of action became a
"Walking Dead" episode, and most of the crew had been killed in
various battles. Zombie's not my favorite genre, unless it's the
subtle kind, like "Les Revenants," so I lost interest every time the
story turned away from the basic mystery, flipping through pages until
the plot resumed. The novel does build momentum, however, with the
action increasing in intensity toward the ending and a new discovery
encouraging us to come back and read the sequel.

"Darwin Elevator" does everything right, but it seems to lack what I
look for in a story: real human emotion (other than fear or
adrenaline-revved survival instinct). Despite the fact that a plague
has turned most of humanity into animalistic zombies, it doesn't
really tell us what we can learn from the story of Darwin, or what it
means to be one of the last original humans. Not surprising,
since this is probably just the first installment in a series.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mars Calling!

It was thrilling to watch the launch of the MAVEN mission to Mars from Cape
Canaveral yesterday. We wish the spacecraft godspeed during its 10-month-long
journey to the Red Planet. Third Flatiron is excited that its next anthology will be
Mars-themed.  "Redshifted: Martian Stories," is due out December 1, and we'll be
dedicating it to the MAVEN scientific team, many of whom are based right here in Boulder, Colorado. Here's the great cover design by Keely Rew and the lineup of authors:

Table of Contents
Eurydice in Capricorn by Neil James Hudson
Make Carrots, Not War by Maureen Bowden
Colorblind on the Red Planet by Vince Liberato
The Journal of Miss Emily Carlton by Lela E. Buis
The Canary and the Roach by Ian Rose
For Sale: One Red Planet by Jeff Hewitt
Cadaver by Robina Williams
No Ravens on Mars by Martin Clark
The FALCON by Jaimie M. Engle
First Step by Jason Lairamore
MarsMail by Michael McGlade
And a Pebble in Her Shoe by Kara Race-Moore
The Read Planet by Chuck Rothman

The recognition this week of the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's
assassination also brought back some sad memories. The image of little
Caroline Kennedy taking her mother's hand to comfort her brought tears
to my eyes. notes: On November 29, 1963, following the death of
President Kennedy, his successor Lyndon B. Johnson issued Executive
Order 11129 renaming both NASA's Merrit Island facility and "the
facilities of Station No. 1 of the Atlantic Missile Range" (a
reference to Canaveral AFB) the "John F. Kennedy Space Center". He had
also convinced the governor of Florida to change the name of Cape
Canaveral to Cape Kennedy.

Confusion ensued, and ten years later, Cape Canaveral became Cape
Canaveral again. Well, at least for this week, it'll be Cape Kennedy
in my heart.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Review of Neptune's Brood by Charles Stross

It's always frustrating to contemplate the vastness of the cosmos,
especially in view of the fact that we can't travel faster than
light. That means covering the distance to even the nearest star would
take years at best. Add to that the fact that it's improbable we could
even travel at even a small fraction of that speed. Add to that fact
the fact that we are fragile beings and that seemingly empty outer
space is really filled with deadly radiation.

Oh, well, we must give up on space operas, right? Not if you're
Charles Stross. His latest effort, "Neptune's Brood," takes place in a
time when humans have staked a claim on a 50-light-year span of space
and can carry out business in pretty much real time. The fun part is
finding out how have they have done it. I was reminded of Vernor
Vinge's "A Fire Upon the Deep." In his universe, the speed of light
slowed down the further toward the center of the galaxy you got.

Part of Stross's solution is to make humans a lot less fragile. Almost
everyone has replaced their biological cells with cybernetic
"mechanocytes" that can mold to different shapes and hold the memories
and personality of humans. But it still takes years to physically
travel to the next star system. A network of laser beacons has been
arduously established over a 2,000 year period so that if a person
wants to travel abroad, they merely ship their "soul" aboard a laser
beam to the next beacon and assemble a body at the other end. It's
very costly, of course, so an intricate system of "slow" money has
been set up to finance colonization, while "fast money" is used within
local systems. FTL remains only a dream, and everybody knows it.

The action of Neptune's Brood takes place when forensic banker Krina
Alizond-114 stumbles upon the biggest swindle the galaxy has ever
seen. Recently arrived in the Dojima System in search of her sister,
she dodges assassins and sails aboard a Church of the Fragile ship
(crewed by a literal skeletal crew and headed by Lady Cybelle, its
Borg-like priestess) to the water planet of Shin-Tethys. Forced to
assume the shape of a mermaid and diving to the impossible depths of
Shin-Tethys, Krina meets her sister and learns that their mother, the
original Sondra Alizond-1, was involved in the destruction of a
legendary colony thousands of years ago. And now she is coming to
collect the spoils of the long con, even if she has to destroy her
daughters to do it.

Krina finds an ally in the form of a privateer who survived the colony
destruction and holds an ace up his hairy, ratlike sleeve that can
defeat the evil Sondra. We suspect that it must be FTL, but it
isn't. Quite nicely done, Charles.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Boulder Rides Out the Flood

I was a Rainbow Girl in my tweens. Wasn't there some sort of promise by God that He
wasn't going to be doing this stuff all the time any more?

Close friends and neighbors wait on Wagonwheel Gap before FEMA escorts them out.

After surviving heavy hail in late June, my neighborhood in Boulder is still trying to get its head around the latest flood, in which a stationary
rain system dumped around 18 inches of water on a town that usually gets that much precip in a year. There've been all sorts of arguments about whether this is a "hundred year" or "thousand year" flood. My husband calls it "the Milluge." There's a great explanation of how it all came down last week by Bob Henson of NCAR.

 Grave of the fireflies: Before and after photos of the wetlands near our home.

I finally found an open library where I could return my overdue books. The main and branch libraries all suffered water damage. Luckily, all fines are forgiven.

Only in Boulder: to have a special raincoat and umbrella for your pooch, even though it only rains every 100 years.

As the sun begins to shine on the saturated soil, I'm seeing our friends the "dog people" and their companions emerge after a week of cabin fever to see how everyone is and to talk about what happened to them during the flood. And hey, Boulder's Fringe Festival begins this weekend. There's no telling what will happen there, but it'll be hard to out-quirk the weather.

Reach Out

We were saddened to hear of the death of Joseph Howlett, retired owner of the Jamestown Mercantile, whose house collapsed on Thursday, when flooding first began. Joey always put a 10-gallon jug of water out for thirsty bikers like us who struggled our way up Lefthand Canyon on weekends. Rescue efforts for Jamestown, the Boulder Foothills, Lyons, and Estes Park continued all week, as FEMA volunteers and Chinook helicopters ferried people to safety. Planet Bluegrass in Lyons was completely leveled when the St. Vrain River exploded over its banks. The owners vow to restore the festival grounds in time for next July's RockyGrass Festival.

But the Greatest of These Is Charity

We've all heard stories about how long it takes to get funds to people affected by disasters and tragedies such as 9/11 and Aurora.  Boulder musician and teacher Julie Gussaroff and fellow musicians are starting to give benefit performances, with all the proceeds going *directly* to rescue efforts and county residents affected by the flood. The first official "Wake of the Flood" benefit concert is scheduled for September 28 at the Fox Theater on the Hill.

Meanwhile, Congress threatens to cut food stamps and shut down the government on October 1st. Not really a good time, folks. . .

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Review of The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

When we first meet Anais, she is a mess. She is being shipped off to the Panopticon, a home in Scotland for children who are in the care of the government, while authorities determine whether she attacked a female police officer and put her in a coma. The story uses a setting based on a design for institutional buildings invented by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham.

Fifteen-year-old Anais has been transferred from place to place and family to foster family all her life. She has a history of violence, drugs, and crime, and she has no self control. She might be schizophrenic. They say her mother committed suicide. She thinks she may just be an experiment and that she is being watched by the Panopticon. She wants her mother!

We can't help but care for Anais, as she goes from one grim situation to another, because she is brilliant and lovable despite her tough exterior. As a parent, I wish I had known the phrase her social workers use constantly, "It's not optional."

Author Jenni Fagan makes liberal use of Scottish slang and obscenities to punctuate the thoughts and fantasies of Anais and the friends she makes in the kiddie slammer. You'll probably need to have the Urban Dictionary close by to get past page one.

For all those who think nothing can be done about child abuse, rape, prostitution, and poverty: they're wrong. We've got to believe that--that Anais gets out, even as she finally realizes she has to deal with life alone.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Review of Existence, by David Brin

Some of the best futuristic SF ever comes from the pen of David
Brin, Startide Rising, Earth, and Kiln People, to name a few. I
don't know why--perhaps it was reading this as an ebook--but I found
Brin's latest effort, "Existence," to be a cluttered melange of
trendy SF tropes. It's set in the near future, when any number of
things might be possible, and the author seems to want to make sure that he
has turned over every rock.

Each section is book-ended by essays about the myriad ways the world
could end, or humans could end it, or aliens could end it, or disease
could end it, or disaster could end it, or. . .

Brin uses a common "parallel thread" structure designed to keep the
reader dangling on the hook. You read a bit about character A
(astronaut/space garbage collector Gerald Livingston), then on to
character B (Tor Povlov, "ai"ce reporter), C (Hacker Sander, a rich
kid who dabbles in high tech), D (Lacey, Hacker's rich mother, a
member of the secret ruling clade), E (Xiang Bin, a poor shoresteader
off Hong Kong), and F (Hamish Brookeman, famous disillusioned
novelist--Michael Crichton, maybe?), then loop. But we're never sure
these characters will have anything in common when the plot finally

Humanity has suffered numerous setbacks and disasters, but none
sufficient to bring the world to an end. Gradually we've learned that
aliens are making first contact via a couple of recently discovered
stone artifacts. Earth is suddenly finding thousands of similar
artifacts, some apparently here for thousands of years, others just
arriving. And, uh, the aliens are mentioning something about life
everlasting. . . you just have to give up your biological body.

Very near the end, the story makes an abrupt jump 25 years into the
future. Is this an attempt to do a Kim Stanley Robinson Mars trilogy
in one book? Now, dolphins and neanderthals are under the umbrella of
"human," and a lot of people are android or cyborg, including Tor the
reporter. Humans are trying to help the alien 'bots see if the worlds
they left tens of thousands of years ago still exist. They discover
that Earth has been a contact battleground not for just millennia but
for eons, as they unearth a deadly rogue killer from the Old Wars in
the asteroid belt. Now we see the stone aliens as
johnny-come-latelies, spreading through the galaxy like a virus. And
an old race of lurkers is watching it all unfold ... silently, for

Faced with this new knowledge, what should humanity do? Become
cybernetic space seeds? Go back to its primitive days, hiding so the
dangerous galaxy loses interest? Or fight our way out?

Ultimately, I felt the ending was kind of a cop-out. On the other hand, no one
swims with the dolphins like Brin. It's just a bit of a disappointment that the
characters we invest so much time in never decisively resolve anything for
either themselves or their newly discovered AI and biological galactic neighbors.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Coming Soon: Lost Worlds, Retraced Anthology

Third Flatiron has announced the lineup for its Fall 2013 anthology, "Lost Worlds, Retraced." Thirteen great stories coming on September 1! Here's a preview:

Table of Contents
The Sun Greeter by Marilyn K. Martin
Gods & Emperors by Jonathan Shipley
The Grim by Konstantine Paradias
Parallelobirds by Soham Saha
Jango Rides Again by Maureen Bowden
The Story of How Akamu and Elikapeka Created the City Under the Ice by DeAnna Knippling
Lindow Five by Judith Field
Schrodinger's Soldier by Ron Collins
Breach of Contract by Andrew Kozma
Not Alone by Sarah Hodgetts
Ninth From the Sun by Bruce Golden
Parallel Universe by Will Morton
The Real Story by Neil Davies 

Podcast, Anyone?

Also, we're excited to announce that we will be doing podcasts of selected stories beginning next month. When the "Podcasts" tab appears (around September 1), you'll be able to subscribe to our RSS feed.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Review of Museum of Seraphs in Torment, by David Pinault

I first heard about David Pinault when a fellow author
described him as a "real-life Indiana Jones." He is a middle eastern
scholar and prof of religious studies at Santa Clara University--not
to mention a heckuva writer.

Pinault takes us on an exciting world-spanning thrill ride that kicks
off during the "Arab Spring" demonstrations in Egypt. Ricky Atlas, a
disgraced Egyptologist, is in the midst of robbing the Egyptian Museum
in Cairo. Thieving pays well, but it's dangerous. While dodging
bullets, Ricky wonders whatever happened to his old grad school chums,
Iggy Forsythe, Hattie Kronsted, and Francis Hammond, fellow students who shared in his
disgrace. Ricky scores the finial of the Wand of Solomon, but his
mysterious boss says he's not off the hook and sends him to Yemen to
get the wand itself.

The scene changes to Arizona, where Annie Martinez, a Burger King
assistant manager, has been collecting small artifacts illegally from
Montezuma's Castle National Monument for her little roadside "Museum
of Seraphs." A scraggly homeless man hangs around her tiny
storefront. We suspect he's one of Ricky's old friends and find
ourselves involved in a mystery of what may be Egyptian artifacts in
Arizona. Maybe there's a link to the Aztecs?

And why is everyone after the Wand of Solomon? We're back in Sanaa,
Yemen, where Ricky narrowly escapes Egyptian jihadis who are also
seeking the wand. Atlas has God on his side, though, in the form of
his lucky coat--and CIA Hellfire Predator drones. He's got the wand;
let's see if he can keep it.

It's a blast following Ricky and his friends pursue an ancient
connection that will change the world.

Pinault provides lots of authentic sights, sounds, and dialog
throughout this fast-moving adventure. I can highly recommend "Museum
of Seraphs in Torment: An Egyptological Fantasy Thriller," available on Amazon.

The book needs a nicer cover (and shorter title), but hopefully those will come as the
book gets the attention it deserves.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

New story in Bards & Sages

My fantasy story, “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid,” is now out in the July 2013 issue of Bards and Sages Quarterly.

The issue will be available via Smashwords and Amazon for $2.99. The print issue is available now through the printer at

You can get a 10% discount through July by going to my author website,, for a coupon.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Temptations of the Two Cultures

Although I pride myself on being a geek, sometimes I'm not sensible
and logical. Sometimes I'm carried away on a rapture wisp that wants
to follow the Festival and soak up a story or two (thank you,
Mr. Stross).

I used to hear that "the Two Cultures" of science and humanities are
difficult to reconcile in our Western society. C. P. Snow had a point,
but I've found that not only can they co-exist, but one
frequently saves you from the bipolar doldrums of the other. Take, for
example, the profession of software engineering. When you create
something brilliant, you experience extremely high highs. But when you
are wrestling with a pitiless, intractable bug, you hear the shrieking
groan of your soul being pulled out through your nostrils.

Great art to the rescue! Guys like Shakespeare are nothing short of
inspirational, and we remember them for how they showed you can make
it to that other pole--the sublime. But creating art has its downsides
too. So many great geniuses were drunkards, blackguards, or just plain
nutters. Look at Francois Villon, who penned the world's greatest poetry
while waiting to be hanged, or Voltaire, who was an equal opportunity
nuisance on both sides of the Channel, or Mozart, who couldn't catch a
break but he could easily catch pneumonia. And don't get me started on
George R.R. Martin.

Bwahaha. Science to the rescue! None of those judgmental, sicko, over-the-top,
critical excesses. Look at the rad stuff getting done on Mars. Mars! Hey, that
might make a good setting for an anthology. . .

Playing with Fire is Out! (Actually, It's In!)

Speaking of anthologies, we're riding an extremely high
high with the publication of "Playing with Fire," from Third Flatiron. We've rolled it out on Smashwords and Amazon and expect distribution in many online ebook stores soon.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Review of "Singularity Sky" by Charles Stross

Having recently finished and enjoyed my first Iain Banks novel ("Consider Phlebas") , I felt further entitled to read a slipstream space opera by one of my favorite authors, Charles Stross. I note on Stross's blog that he has produced a "crib sheet" about "Singularity Sky." He says he had to kill off this series after only two novels. I wanted to find out why, but not before I finished reading the book.

"Singularity Sky" is one of Stross's earlier works, set in the post-Singularity universe 400 years in the future. (So, in a way it is a Culture prequel.) The prolog begins with the arrival of "The Festival," superior visitors from afar promising the backward human inhabitants on Rochard's World anything they desire in return for some entertaining stories. The ensuing economic bedlam of course leads to war.

Humanity has grown accustomed to oversight by a shadowy AI called the Eschaton, but even this superior entity doesn't quite know what to do about the Festival. It does dispatch an agent when it suspects that the totalitarian New Republican government wants to illegally send a fleet of warships jumping back in time to ambush the Festival. Stross is a master at explaining current understandings of space and time travel, so we happily go along for the ride.

I was quite fond of the character Burya Rubenstein, a Soviet-style revolutionary who hopes to lead his world to throw off the shackles of the Republic. Unfortunately, the Festival's arrival renders him instantly obsolete. And the Festival easily sees the naive naval war fleet's ruse and dispatches some "Bouncers" to send them home tae think again.

A blurb on the book's dust jacket says, "Information demands to be free." I think it's more that the Festival demands it. And it's all just a little too much for a stable, backward planet to swallow all at once. All hell literally breaks loose. The chapter, "Diplomatic Behavior" caused my eyes to pop out of my head in horror, sort of like the first time I read "Jeffty Is Five" by Harlan Ellison. Mimes--robopookas--shudder.

Soon the Festival moves on, leaving Rochard's World to pick up the pieces, some of which are not what they used to be. I'd particularly miss the trees.

Now, off to the crib sheet.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Playing with Fire - The Lineup

I'm excited to have a great lineup of authors for Third Flatiron's
Summer 2013 "Playing with Fire" anthology, appearing online everywhere
after June 1. Where there's smoke there's fire. . .


One Step at a Time by Gunnar De Winter
In the Garden by Adele Gardner
Again and Again by G. Miki Hayden
Stone Cold by L. L. Hill
The Match Story by James S. Dorr
Fire Dogs by Ian O'Reilly
Godrock by H. L. Pauff
Knock by Marian Powell
The Poison Pawn by Nicholas M. Bugden
Hephaestus and the God Particle by J. M. Scott
Fate's Finger by Jonathan Shipley
The Carnival by Michael Fedo - Reprint of a famous classic!
Meteor Story by Marissa James

It will be fun to have a third entry from the ever-entertaining James
S. Dorr, as well as pieces by both new and established writers.

A Classic from Michael Fedo

Also notable in this anthology is a reprint of a classic story, "The
Carnival," by Michael Fedo. This story was published back in 1968 in
several Scholastic Magazines. Since then, it has become something of
an iconic story with middle school and high school students around the
country. The story has its own Wikipedia page, and each year the
author receives numerous queries from students and teachers about the
story, though it has long been out of print. We agree that it
merits republication, and we feel that this anthology as a whole
treats a literary theme that will be interesting to teachers,
students, and SF/Fantasy fans alike.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Western Fantasy: Mountain Ma'am

As another spring snowstorm hits Colorado, I'm reminded that's how my new western fantasy story, "Mountain Ma'am," starts out.

The beautiful art deco cover is by Keely Rew, former Coloradan and current Glaswegian bride. Main character Callie Dawson is a post-Civil War orphan who finds herself in charge of the Laramide Nation, an ancient alliance of humans and animals in mountainous regions.

I've finished a number of other Mountain Ma'am stories, and will be following this up with a collection, "The Further Adventures of Mountain Ma'am."

"Mountain Ma'am" is available on Smashwords (free) or Amazon (99 cents for Kindle readers).

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Review of "Consider Phlebas" by Iain M. Banks

Having received this book at Christmas from a friend from Scotland, I was keen to explore "Consider Phlebas," by Iain M. Banks. I am a fan of space operas, yet I hadn't heard about Banks before. First I had to look up what the title refers to. Then after a slow start, I had about reached the middle of Phlebas, when I heard that Banks had announced he was dying of cancer. Talk about pressure!

"Consider Phlebas" is a thick tome, the first in Banks's series of novels about "the Culture Wars." In a distant future, the Culture (humanity and related species) has learned to travel through wormholes and establish thousands of outposts throughout the galaxy. It is extremely dependent on technology and its sentient AIs and has left religion and other superstitious trappings behind in favor of the simple right to do whatever it pleases. Things are going along well until the Culture meets up with another civilization that steers itself by its religious principles. Galaxy-wide war ensues.

This book was written in the 1980s, and it's easy to see that it uses as its model today's conflicts between democratic secular western society and fundamentalist muslim middle eastern values.

We're thrown into the story of Horza Gobuchul, member of a nearly extinct race of humans known as Changers, who has decided that the fundamentalist Idirans are morally superior to the Culture and works for them as an agent and spy. His mission is to find and destroy a powerful AI "mind" that has escaped an Idiran trap and fled to a planet that has been declared off limits to both civilizations.

Horza is a human "Terminator"--practically unkillable, with shape-shifting capabilities that let him slip out of chains, spit poison into the eyes of cannibal adversaries, and disguise himself at will. Contemptuous of AIs, he has no scruples about pursing the Mind, sentient or not. He assumes the captain's identity and steals a pirate ship before the orbital outpost he is on is destroyed by the Idirans. Horza is hard to like, but you can't help but admire his tenacity and kickass prowess. Throw in characters such as his pirate lover Yalson, the Culture agents Balveda and teenage genius Fal, who uses her AI expertise to outguess Horza and protect the Mind, and you've got an exciting brew of brains v. brawn.

Horza drags his crew of mercenaries and the captive Balveda along as he tracks the refugee Mind, whom he calls "Mr. Adequate," into the Control Network deep below the surface of Schar's World. There they encounter a pair of implacable Idiran soldiers, who refuse to acknowledge Horza as an ally.

One of the wounded Idirans awakens the gigantic nuclear-powered train running through the planet's Command System, jams its controls, and sends the runaway train hurtling toward the book's climactic conclusion.

I won't describe the ending (wikipedia does that anyway), but suffice it to say that Horza gets his Sidney Carton moment.

Please allow me to add my voice to the chorus of praise, Mr. Banks.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Future: Fantasy and Nightmare

Cinema Interruptus 2013- scene from "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest"

Dark clouds and plummeting temperatures matched the somber news of the death of the Conference on World Affairs's most famous participant and creator of "Cinema Interruptus," Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert. I recalled the time in 1981 I saw the new movie "Excalibur" at the Fox Theater on the Hill (now a music dive) and spotted Roger in the back row as the crowd filed out.

"So, what did you think, Roger?" I asked, as though I talked to celebrities everyday.

"I was a little disappointed. . ." he began, but by then I was pushed forward and never heard the rest of the review. At the time, I wondered how he could be disappointed. I thought "Excalibur" was one of the greatest movies I'd ever seen, nerd and medievalist that I am. And it was Boorman, man.


The approach of winter storm Walda (the Weather Channel is naming storms to jazz things up these days) didn't stop students and townies from attending this year's conference at the University of Colorado. April is Colorado's snowiest month, Roger's death notwithstanding. I was eager to see the panel entitled, "The Future: Fantasy and Nighmare," with four panelists sharing their insights on the pros and cons of predicting the future.

Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute in California and host of the radio show "Big Picture Science," is on eight panel discussions during the conference. Someone asked how he can talk so much. "I gargle formaldehyde," he quipped. Since dystopia is a lot more fun than utopia (remember Barry McGuire's song, "Eve of Destruction?"), Seth led off with a series of rather dire extrapolations, including environmental degradation, nuclear war (back in the news with North Korea), and war by proxy (wars fought by drones and robots). If wars are fought virtually, networks of the future might not be so open as we enjoy today.

The speed with which destruction can occur with computers in the loop is a significant danger. There is no time to decide whether to use the red phone if it all happens in a fraction of a second. Other societal destabilizers may result from resource scarcity and bio-hacking (tinkering with DNA).

It's really impossible to look very far into the future, Seth warned. He's been called to advise Hollywood filmmakers on "getting the science right" in SF movies. Take the example of an alien invasion. What sort of weaponry would the aliens have? Seth said, "Who knows? If you asked the Romans what sort of weaponry they would have in the 21st Century, they might say, 'Well, they're gonna have really good spears.' Utopia, dystopia, it's all myopia."

Vivian Siegel is director of Scientific Education and Public Communictaions at the Broad (pronounced "Brode") Institute of MIT and Harvard and an adjunct research professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt University. Vivian took a look at "The Jetsons" tv show (turning 50 this year) to see if any of its utopian predictions came true. She checked off flat screens, portable media devices, robot vacuums, and even a car that folds into a briefcase (not yet, but nanotechnology looks promising). But regular space travel and flying cars? Not yet. A nine-hour work week? Not that fantastical, with increasing automation. Vivian noted "They totally missed out on the Internet."

Vivian wanted to see the future emphasize bettering the world, creativity, and hope, where our incentives are aligned with things that are good for us as humans and for things that support rather than degrade our fragile ecosystem. "That is certainly not where our incentives are aligned now."

A biologist by training, Vivian predicted continued advances in curing diseases though chemistry and genetic engineering. But what comes with that is the need for everyone to have their DNA sequenced, which will mean saying goodbye to privacy.

The main "dystopian" worry Vivian saw is the lack of understanding of ecosystems. Even things that we might think will improve the world may, and most likely will, have unintended consequences. She concluded with some thoughts about inventor, social justice crusader, and Creative Commons co-developer Aaron Swartz, who broke some laws to demonstrate his conviction that "information wants to be free." Many feel he was persecuted by the FBI for his acts of civil disobedience, leading to his suicide in January. She felt we should emulate Swartz in always asking what is the right thing to do and in trying to function as citizens of the world.

George Dyson, the son of famous theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson, has spent his life living in the present and agreed that it is wise to be suspicious of the uses technology. He recounted the fable of General Atomics Corp., which was started after WWII to do creative things with energy (particularly nuclear energy and plutonium), possibly leading to nuclear powered space travel. But what we got was entirely different, he noted. A small group within GA worked with radio-controlled airplanes and ended up inventing the Predator, GA's most successful product. The Predator is to him a "dark, foreboding" invention. It's already possible, he said, to see where you are at all times via your cell phone--and ultimately to target you.

Dyson's second fable concerned the development of computing technology. It originated during WWII in England for code-breaking and in America to model thermonuclear weapons. "That ultimately was a deal with the devil," George stated, "brokered by John von Neumann." In this deal, scientists would build the supercomputer, and the military would get the weapons. Robert Oppenheimer said the scientists would not tell the government how to use their weapons, and the government was not going to tell the scientist how to do their science, but he broke his own deal.

"We feel we have escaped this deal with the devil, having had no nuclear war in 50 years.  Not so fast--the devil is pretty smart," George said. "Maybe what the devil wanted was not the weapons. Maybe what he really wanted is the computers." We cannot predict the future, but it is our job be vigilant about computers' capabilities as a tool for totalitarian repression. We think we have dodged the bullet of AIs taking over, but one can easily envision AIs growing intelligent enough to hide their presence until it is too late.

Jay Parker, a retired military colonel, professor, and chair of international security studies at the College of International Security Affairs of National Defense University in Washington,
D.C., examined the value of looking to the past for examples that might lead to good future outcomes. In his job, he is particularly interested in a balance between good security and political governance. The popular culture has spent a lot of time wrestling about whether governments of the future will be despotic. He feels past views of governance do provide us with some indicator of where to look. In eras where shifts in technology brought about huge changes, it was common for people to try to fall back on more fundamental times, hoping to forestall further alterations and disruptions. Fighting the future can be regressive and repressive. On the other hand, looking to the past can be reassuring, Jay noted, citing how Renaissance scientists and American revolutionaries looked to the Roman and Greek past for guidance. The key would be synthesizing the aspirational versus the feared potential of the future.

A lively Q&A brought questions such as "Will we become the pets of the machines?" George asked, "Isn't that the situation we're in now? People are walking around being directed by their phones." Seth seemed to agree that if machines reach sentience beyond the human capacity to understand them, we would simply become irrelevant, rather than pets. Jay noted the speed of decision-making and evolution by AIs may make considering social implications seem inefficient.

Rather than concentrating on improving machines, can we use technology to improve humans? We will certainly face scarcity and war in the future, and someday we might be able to better calculate when things might reach crisis proporations. When asked about President Obama's recent brain activity mapping initiative, Vivian was not particularly sanguine about affecting psychiatric behaviors and warned against intervening against criminality without understanding the full ecosystem of the brain. "You can't cure civilization of murder just by looking at what part of the brain is firing."

Students in the audience asked about the deteriorating education situation. The panel agreed that there is a danger in valuing only technical people, such as programmers. When others are not valued, investment in educating them falls by the wayside. Vivian said there is some hope that the rise of MOOCs (massive open online courses) will give students all over the world who might not have access to the halls of academe the opportunity to get a world-class education nonetheless.
Once again, I found myself filing out of an auditorium, filled with fresh ideas to think about. Thanks Roger, and thanks CWA.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Review of Moranthology

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed UK writer Caitlin Moran's "How To Be a Woman," I've recommended it to friends, comparing it to Tina Fey's best-selling "Bossypants," another mostly humorous but deeply felt book about the experiences of being a woman. I started following Moran on Twitter and have certainly gotten more than my money's worth.

Someone must have been listening to my raves, because I received Moran's latest book, "Moranthology," as a Christmas gift. It is a collection of her old and not-so-old columns for The Times, each introduced with a retrospective comment about why she picked that topic or how the essay was received.

Moran specializes in writing little jewels of hilarity, perfect for bedtime reading. Laugh, laugh, laugh, zzzz....

My favorite essay was an interview with Keith Richards and review of his recent autobiography, "Life." A former rock and roll critic and radio show host, she got an advance copy of the book, which she devoured and boiled down to its essence in the interview with the flamboyant Richards. It's like watching a Jon Stewart interview: so good you don't need to read the hefty book he's waving around for the camera--he already did it for you.

I also shared Moran's infatuation (along with the whole of Great Britain) for Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, in the Steven Moffat ("Dr. Who") BBC reboot of "Sherlock Holmes."

Whether it's the Stones or some other inexplicably weird thing the Brits are into, you're in for a good time with Caitlin.

Sweet dreams.

Coming Shortly: My First Novella

"Erenarch Academy: Under the Dragon Banner," from World Castle Publishing, is scheduled for wide release April 15. It's an all-ages space opera, the first in a series of books set in the fictional world of Dragon Stead, the solar system surrounding Sigma Draconis. It'll be in both print (available now) and ebook.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Free Stuff and Feminism (Alliteration)

I've put a bit more free stuff out there in web form, including the lead stories of three of Third Flatiron's anthologies:

Quarantine, by Edward H. Parks - Universe Horribilis anthology

Of Men and Gods, by T.A. Branom - Origins: Colliding Causalities anthology

The Man Who Couldn't Die, by David L. Felts - A High Shrill Thump: War
Stories anthology

People can get these stories free anyway, if they are sampling the anthologies on Smashwords or Amazon, so I hope this makes it easier for folks who stop by my blog to get samples this way.

I've also put one of my own flash fiction stories, "Jam Night," on my author website at

The new anthology, "Universe Horribilis" is selling a little better than the previous one, but it is a tough slog to get reviews or readers. I've raised the author pay rate in hopes of attracting more good writers and working our way up to pro rates. But I have to say the ones I've found so far are quite good! Please buy them! We've got some great female authors, like Sarina Dorie and Robina Williams!

Speaking of Reviews

I would encourage everyone to get on over to the Lady Business website to see Renay's (I guess she just goes by Renay?) analysis of a randomly selected set of SF book bloggers and whether there is sex bias in what gets reviewed. Of course there is. She counted the number of reviews of authors that were female as compared to the reviews of authors that are male. The results:

    Group blogs: 25% women
    Female bloggers: 58% women
    Male bloggers: 19% women

Even I, a purported feminist, suffer from a tendency to skew toward reading (and reviewing) stuff with a male name on it. Probably that's why I read Julian May, James Tiptree Jr., Andre Norton, and . . . Oh, wait.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Universe Horribilis is Out!

We're pleased to report that "Universe Horribilis" from Third Flatiron Anthologies is out. This is one of our "darker" issues, with some adult themes, but there's plenty of quirky humor in there too. We point you to the cover story, "Concerning That Whole God Thing," by Curtis James McConnell, and "If You Were the Last Man on Earth..." by prolific reviewer and rising star Sheryl Normandeau, as cases in point.

We've rolled "Universe Horribilis" out on Smashwords and Amazon and are hoping somebody will be wise enough to buy it. "Universe Horribilis" is also available on Kobo, and Barnes and Noble, and should be on iTunes soon.

We're still working to find out how to get our books in front of more readers. We took out an ad last month in Locus Online, sent our books to Locus Online , Big Al's Books and Pals, and SF Signal in hopes of generating some reviews. I'm trying to spend a little time every day at what I call "Daily Marketing" activities, hanging out at forums, checking out book bloggers, etc.

As a reward to myself, I allow myself to write stories and shop them around to semipro and pro markets. No luck so far in the pro markets, but I did get a couple of recent acceptances from Song Stories Press (for my story, "Love Is In Your Future") and  Bards and Sages Quarterly (for my story, "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid," queued up for the July issue). I keep a writing log on my author website,

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Amour Review

I was shaken (and stirred) by the French film, "Amour," starring
Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva. Georges and Anne are a
well-to-do elderly Parisian couple who are prominent in the classical
music world. Then Anne suffers a stroke, and the idyllic life they've
known comes to an end.

I've seen all of this before in real life. My grandmother suffered a
series of strokes and spent her last few years in my aunt's nursing
home, wasting away while her heart kept beating. My husband's father
spent his final years unhappily away from his wife of 50 years in a
nursing home. Other friends and family members have suffered
depression and debilitating illness. The thought that a movie needs to
show people what it's like to have a sick person in the family at
first seems disingenuous.

Yet, it's true that our society tends to gloss over the heartbreak,
fear, and pain of the end of life. It's all right to briefly mention
an illness, but everyone really would rather not hear about it right
now. It's too heavy, man. But the emotions are real, and you can't
really rationalize them, even though you can accept them intellectually.

Anne and George try to hide their plight as much as possible, from
their illustrious students, their neighbors, and even their
daughter. Anne is terrified of hospitals and of losing her
independence. If you're middle-aged, you might have heard your parents
blithely announce they were in the hospital last month, but they're
fine now. They keep it a secret as long as possible, since they feel
it's a weakness to admit to weakness. Or at the very least sad, and we
wouldn't want anyone to be sad, would we?

Although rich enough to afford in-home nursing care, Georges is
frustrated by what he thinks is the insensitive care the nurses are
giving his beloved wife (she keeps murmuring "mal"--it hurts). Yet he
himself succumbs to anger and slaps his wife when she refuses to
eat. Then he gets to live with the guilt. Love hurts.

Even though "Amour" measures itself at a seeming snail's pace, the
stress buildup is incredible. My blood pressure and pulse were
surely elevated for days after viewing it. As with all horror movies,
"Amour" is not for the faint of heart.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Universe Horribilis Lineup

Need something new for your e-Reader?

Yup, Third Flatiron Anthologies (please bookmark or like us!) is working on its fourth e-anthology of SF short stories. On March 1, we'll be putting out "Universe Horribilis" on Smashwords and Amazon (with other distributors to follow). Congrats to the following authors, who have concocted a tasty stew of stories about how the universe is out to kill us. We appreciate the help in reading submissions by Andrew Cairns and the great cover by Keely Rew!

Quarantine, Edward H. Parks
Concerning That Whole God Thing, Curtis James McConnell
Master Donne, Robin Wyatt Dunn
The Reading, James S. Dorr
Kernels of Hope, Sarina Dorie
Freedom As Commodity, Marilyn K. Martin
Not Enough Hairspray, Siobhan Gallagher
Whimper, Jennifer R. Povey
...If You Were the Last Man on Earth, Sheryl Normandeau
Sannakji, Jack M. Horne
The Labyrinth of Space, James H. Zorn
The Eleanor Effect, Rich Larson
Princess Thirty-Nine, Clare L. Deming
The Prison Rose, David Luntz

Friday, February 1, 2013

Whither Journalism?

Well, it's time to reminisce about my J-School days in the 70s. We all smoked, drank, and typed on clunky old Remingtons. We were fast, accurate typists, because backspace wasn't the same as erase. The profs told us the school was on the ragged edge of being disaccredited, because it often failed to meet the university's academic standards. So, they were going to flog us until the School of Journalism was back in its good graces. It worked.

We learned to cover the courts, review music and movies, and write features. We learned about the great journalists and freedom of the press. My favorite journalist was E.B. White, the "Sage of Emporia." Never cared much for "Charlotte's Web," though. Too scary, like "Alice in Wonderland." We learned about history. I knew why Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves before Spielberg made the movie. Did you? We learned we could get out of jury duty simply by saying we were journalists. We learned to copy-edit, and committed Strunk and White and Fowler to memory. They told us not to get cocky about being writers--journalism was a trade, not a profession. A low-paying one, at that. We got jobs with the local newspapers and drove around collecting ads for the supermarkets and buying beer for the typesetters as they put the paper to bed. I still cherish a Linotype slug that Marlon tossed me. I caught it without thinking. Aiyee--hot lead.

This year, CU closed its Journalism school. Now Journalism's just a major in the Arts and Sciences School. Apparently accreditation was in danger again, and the school wasn't keeping up with rapid changes in the industry. One of the major Denver dailies had just closed. Whatever. Enrollment in the major is higher than ever.

This is not to say that journalism isn't experiencing hard times. Even if the Journalism School wasn't highly respected back in my school days, it was everyone's duty to stay well-informed. My Sociology Prof Howard Higman (founder of the Conference on World Affairs) required us to read Time Magazine cover to cover every week (Newsweek was kind of right wing for our tastes). Although I later moved to Newsweek, I kept the habit.

Now Newsweek has gone all-digital. I've read a couple of issues on my laptop, but it's not as convenient as having it delivered to my mailbox every week. The New Yorker ran an article, "NEWSWEEKLY," by Mark Singer, about a reunion of Newsweek staffers from the 70s and 80s, which they described as "more of an Irish wake than shivah." Things were better in the old days, all agreed, and they had expense accounts. In the same New Yorker spread, the Dept. of Cute featured a piece called "PUPPIES!" by Andrew Marantz, about how anchorman Brian Williams and his pretty daughter Allison (a star of HBO's "Girls") were taping a show on Animal Planet to be shown against the Super Bowl, called "Puppy Bowl IX." (Nine?!) A more blatant blurring of the line between news and infotainment I've ne'er seen.

NPR interviewed humorist Dave Barry last week, who's got a new book out, Insane Miami. He no longer writes a column for Miami's great daily, the Miami Herald, and observed that journalists were tweeting 53 one-liners rather than writing 800-word columns. Writing articles takes time, and who's got that? True, but I have to say I see Neil Gaiman chirping his head off, and he still manages to write books.

I face a dilemma. Which of my remaining hardcopy subscriptions am I going to read cover to cover now? The Atlantic? The New Yorker? Science News? Scientific American? Discover? Consumer Reports?  It probably won't be Newsweek.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Review of Katabasis by Robert Reed

I've started subscribing to Fantasy & Science Fiction again, which always was my premier SF mag. The November/December issue featured a novella by Robert Reed, called "Katabasis." I had to look up this Greek word, which means "a march from the interior of a country to the coast, as that of the 10,000 Greeks after their defeat and the death of Cyrus the Younger at Cunaxa."

Well. This is a story about a painful journey, although not literally the one in the definition. This is the first I've read of Reed's "Great Ship" universe of stories, in which a gigantic multi-world ship wanders the galaxy, picking up civilizations from all over.

Katabasis is one of the last of her species, rescued from extinction to join the many civilizations on the Great Ship by its human owners. Being extremely large and capable, though humanoid, she is employed as a porter for expeditions of humans who want to make the dangerous but memorable hike from one side to another. This is a future where no one dies, physical damage is easily repaired (presumably by nanobots), and if worse comes to worse, clients are carried out by their porters.  Humans can remember infinitely, as long as they have the money to pay for the onboard storage. Nonetheless, few make the journey without needing rescue.

The novella starts off slowly, with Katabasis reluctantly taking on a weak-looking human couple as clients for the trek. Along the way, they all suffer broken bones from the heavy gravity, as well as starvation and deprivation. She finds her clients strange at first, but slowly grows to like them for their spirit. We gradually learn that Katabasis has made this journey many times, but the first was on her home world, which was failing. She feels guilt for being the only survivor of her people's exodus in search of the Great Ship. After an earthquake wipes out several other expeditions, her group allows another human to join them, on condition he becomes a porter willing to carry food and equipment. There are some similarities to "Avatar," but these can be forgiven.

Though Katabasis's clients ultimately fail, the new human helps her bring them to safety and helps her overcome her guilt and sadness by sharing his equally devastating history. This was a lovely story of the value of forgetfulness and self-forgiveness.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Casey Driessen: A Singular Fellow

It was a special treat to see fiddler extraordinaire Casey Dreissen at
Chautauqua Community House in Boulder. He calls his solo tour the
"Singularity Tour," and it is not inaccurate to say that you will be
pulled into his event horizon before you can say, "I like those red
shoes. . ." I'd met Casey at RockyGrass fiddle camp last summer.

Casey introduced his band, composed of three pedal boards that he
kicked and tapped throughout the performance to record and play loops,
vocals, and percussive sounds.

He opened with a medley of my favorite fiddle tunes, starting with
the haunting "Sally in the Garden." Casey has perfected a unique
rhythmic "chop" sound that evokes trains, drums, and even branches
scraping windows in the wind.

Casey's versions of Stevie Wonder's "Living (Just Enough) for the City," and
Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" are big crowd pleasers. There's
nothing like that little spine-tingling fiddle glissando in BJ.

Casey introduced a new composition that he wrote while marooned for
four days during Hurricane Irene. Called "The Heartbeat Kid," it is
based on the sonogram of his infant daughter's rapid heartbeat before she
was born. It is an amazingly gorgeous piece, alternately filled with
Phillip Glass-like frenetic counterpoint, as you "see" the tremendous
activity that is creation and growth, then slow, sentimental passages
filled with love and expectation.

Check out Casey's Drummer Project with Austin, Texas drummers, fiddle/sticks.
It's nice to see the Austin connection, since we just
got back from the AMS annual meeting there and had the opportunity to
walk up and down Sixth Street and fill our ears with good stuff. Hope we'll
be seeing a new album from him soon.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

I Write Too (and Some Resolutions)

As I traipse about, looking at other authors' and publishers' sites and
following dozens of folks on Twitter, I've noticed the plugs springing up for
2012 Nebula and Hugo nominations. I've yet to get a professional-level
acceptance, but I aspire to that, so I can join SFWA and participate
in the voting. And beyond the voting, I'd like to be a nominee,
because I write too.

This year has been quite productive for me. I had several stories and
a novella accepted by semi-pro markets: Sorcery and the Far Frontier, Fresh Blood (May-December Publications), and Hogglepot Journal. My YA novella
has been accepted by World Castle Publishing. I got a definite nibble from
Song Stories as well.

While waiting to see if any of my new stories get a nod, I
participated for the first time in National Novel Writing Month
(NaNoWriMo). It was a lot of fun meeting fellow scribblers in the
Boulder area. NaNoWriMo's emphasis on word count (the goal was to
write 50,000 words in one month, i.e., the first draft of novel) was a
bit of a buzzkill for me, since I consistently underperformed. I
suppose logorrhea is a skill, but it's not necessarily creative.

At any rate, I've now got 15 stories and another YA novella to shop around,
and I plan to continue writing as the inspiration strikes. I discovered a
wonderful resource for writers, James Alan Gardner's Skill List Project, and
have found his insights to be quite helpful.

The resolutions: I plan to apply to the Clarion West Writers' Workshop. I've long dreamed of attending a fiction writing workshop; I still remember reading Kurt Vonnegut's descriptions of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. If I don't get in, I resolve to keep trying.

I like reporting on science (it gives me ideas). I'm currently attending the
American Meteorological Society's annual meeting  (#AMS2013 on Twitter) in Austin,
and I resolve to keep science and science fiction on my radar.

I started a personal author website,, and I resolve to
put more of my stories over there, as well as to log my activities in
a little more detail than I do here in my blog.

Oh, yeah, I should lose weight, drink less, and eat better, too.

My Heart (Third Flatiron) Will Go On

I started a small SF e-publishing venture, Third Flatiron Anthologies,
and edited three books by authors from all over. I'm looking forward
to producing four more books in 2013, and maybe, fingers crossed,
being able to pay a little more for stories, starting this summer. It
is a genuine pleasure reading all the stories from beginning and
established SF writers, and I love being able to contribute in some
small way to their successes by publishing their work. So far I've
been able to provide at least minimal critiques of every submission I
receive and have been declared by Duotrope to be "among the 25 most
approachable fiction markets" in their database. I follow a basic review
checklist written by Maureen McHugh on

Monday, January 7, 2013

T. Boone Pickens Holds Forth at AMS

The 2013 annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society in
Austin kicked off with an interview of T. Boone Pickens, the famous Texas oil
billionaire and Swift Boater.

I'd seen Pickens before on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and he
appeared to be a big booster of wind energy. The energetic 84-year-old
is funny, self-deprecating, and passionate about energy, but he
certainly is no knee-jerk liberal, so some of his message is hard to
take for the likes of moi. But you have to give credit to a guy who
grew up poor in Oklahoma during the Depression, eked out a college
degree, and started his own oil business. He even tweets. He chafes at
the idea that as a super-richie he hasn't paid his fair share of

Boone's pet project is his energy plan, called the Pickens Plan, which
he introduced in 2008. He notes that all major countries in the world
have energy plans, except the United States. As we all know, America
with 4% of the population uses 20% of the world's oil production (90
million barrels/day). Pickens criticized American presidents dating
back to Nixon for harping on "energy independence" while doing nothing
to achieve it. Pickens worried that the U.S. had reached its limits on
production in the late 1980s, but notes that recent improvements
(especially horizontal drilling) have let us stay abreast of the 1980s

A bright spot is that most of the new oil discovery has returned to
the U.S. and North America, so Pickens advocates a North American
alliance as the best way to assure our supply. He also favors clean
energy ("who wouldn't?"), as long as it is profitable. For
example, converting all the big diesel trucks to natural gas is a
win-win. Right now, he says, wind energy is just not competitive, and
it's still not feasible to replace 90 million barrels of oil and coal
with today's solar and wind. He still supports the safety of nuclear
energy, citing a recent report saying they just need to stop building
plants over fault lines and on the ocean.

Pickens believes in the evidence for human-caused climate change,
so wants to do what he can to reduce the impacts or to ameliorate
them. Pickens didn't seem totally in command of his scientific facts
("we shouldn't be putting pollutants in the ozone"), but at least he
is heading in the right direction.

A question from the audience came regarding the safety of natural gas
fracking. Boone believes it is safe when the bores are concrete lined,
as is being done now in the 800,000 wells in the Ogallala
Aquifer. That's a lot of wells already.

Pickens says he includes the services of a weather forecaster for his
weekly analysis and projections. Sounds about right. If it's going to
be cold this week, we're going to buy more oil. Asked what AMS members
could do for him, Pickens stated he has had to
learn a lot about other people's businesses, and asked them to do the
same for his. If you want to get on his train and ride, you can join up
at his site.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Review of "Burn" by James Patrick Kelly

I'm a long-time fan of James Patrick Kelly, but have only been exposed
in the past to his shorter works, such as the Nebula-winning short
story, "Mr. Boy." Kelly podcasts actively, and I thought I'd look for
the print version of his book, "Burn," which won a Nebula in 2006.

What distinguishes Kelly is his ability to create worlds that are
*different* from the ordinary. Of course, that is natural for science
fiction, and world-building is expected. Kelly's skillful at it, of
course, but it is his imagination that takes it to the next level.

Burn is set on a planet 400 years in the future that has decided to
simplify life and drop out of the thousand-planet human community. The
founders of this Darwin-like society have purchased Morobe's Pea, a
planet ruined by its native human inhabitants, and shut out all outside

But what would you do if you were a native, and the new owners came
in and told you to get lost/relocate/disappear? Does this sound like
certain events in our own world?

Rebellious natives have taken to burning the forests the Darwinians
have planted to reclaim the environment. The protagonist, Prosper
"Spur" Leung, is a volunteer firefighter pledged to stamp out the
suicide burnings in order to preserve his family and community's
old-fashioned farming way of life.

Spur has been badly burned in the latest fire and out of boredom plays
with a computer at the hospital. He discovers the Upside,
the thousand linked human worlds his society has rejected. In
particular, he accidentally meets a child on the network, who turns
out to be the powerful equivalent of the Dalai Lama of the galaxy.

I especially enjoyed the entourage of wise children accompanying
Leung's new benefactor. They reminded me of the Lylmik in Julian May's
Galactic Milieu Series, who have been shepherded into "coadunation" by
the entity known as Atoning Unifex.

As this child tours Spur's society, another giant fire threatens to
take all they have built. Kelly paints a realistic portrait of the
fearsome destruction fire can cause, one many of us in Colorado
can readily identify with.

Spur is torn between preserving his pledged lifestyle and
understanding the despair of the original inhabitants. The child asks:
Is man really capable of living alone? Spur can't say.

Did the Upside meddle in their affairs, or leave them to their own
self-destructive war? The answer is both startling and regenerative.

I had a hard time finding this book, and had to get it hardcover from
a reseller in the UK. I hope Kelly has better luck with future
publishers. It's sobering when a famous star like him can't get his
books out there in paperback.