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I just got back from a visit to Detroit for my Aunt Shirley’s birthday, and got to see her, Uncle Harry, cousin Cynthia who’s staying with them to help out after their respective hospitalizations, and cousins Barbara and Mark who came in for the birthday too. I spent a nice few days there, had some very nice meals including some baked oatmeal that provided several breakfasts, and a vegetarian chili that ended up being only black-bean chili rather than three-bean (because the other beans took longer to cook than expected) but was still pretty good. I helped make the chili, in fact, which was kind of fun. I also got to go for a couple of nice walks in the sunny (but chilly) weather with Uncle Harry, who’s 90 years old and recovering from a bike-riding accident, but still quite active.

The drive up on Monday was pretty uneventful, except that it was the occasion on which I drank my first ever full cup of coffee. I’ve found that tea wasn’t always adequate to deal with fatigue on the road, so I decided I’d better try the hard stuff. But I’ve never liked the smell or taste of coffee, so I was hesitant. Partly on the advice of my new apartment manager (who used to work at Starbucks), I decided to try a pumpkin spice cappuccino (which I was pleasantly surprised to find in an I-75 rest area vending machine), since I love pumpkin. It was actually pretty good, and it kept me comfortably alert rather than anxiously buzzed. I was concerned I might run into some rain on the way up, but it turned out to be mild flurries instead, which are easy to drive through. I never thought I’d be grateful for sub-freezing temperatures.

Also, this was my first long drive with my new bifocals. At first, I wasn’t sure they were working well at a distance; I was concerned that the variable focus was making it hard for me to home in on the right part of the lens to see something clearly. So I tried switching to my old glasses as a backup. But they didn’t make it any easier to focus at a distance, and I realized that the problem was more with my eyes than with the frames. I guess they just have trouble acclimating to focusing at a distance after being indoors for a while, or something. Also, the old lenses made it harder to see the dashboard or my phone GPS. So I switched back to the bifocals, and they turned out to work just fine in the long run (or, well, long drive) and then afterward. So I’m much more at ease with them now. (Well, mostly — see below.)

My drive home yesterday was more troubled. I had a cup of instant coffee before leaving, but I found the taste unpleasant even with a lot of sugar and milk. Just as I was about to set out, I thought I’d left something behind and went back into the house, only to find it was in my jacket pocket. I was able to get underway okay, and I fortunately timed it so that I managed to stay just behind the storm front that was passing through the area. (It was diagonal, from southwest to northeast, and as it moved eastward, it cleared up progressively from north to south.) But about 15 miles north of the Michigan-Ohio border, I reached up to adjust my glasses with my left hand, and the left side of the frame just popped open and the left lens fell out. Thank goodness that’s my bad eye, which my brain largely ignores anyway, and it didn’t really make much difference to my vision. I kept driving for a while, expecting to find a rest area soon where I could stop and assess the situation, but apparently the rest area on that part of I-75 is only on the northbound side. So eventually I just pulled off the freeway in Toledo and found a parking lot, then looked up the nearest LensCrafters on my phone to get directions. I had to go back north on 75 a couple of miles before diverting to 475 to get to the mall. So they got me fixed up; apparently a screw had just come loose, and they put in a new one and made sure the screws were good and tight. Just the latest of the troubles I’ve been having with this new pair of glasses — and just when I’d finally gotten comfortable with them.

So my glasses didn’t bother me anymore after that, but I realized I was running low on gas. At the next rest stop, I used the app on my phone to find the cheapest gas along 75, but apparently it’s not a perfect app, since when I got there, I found only a deteriorating ruin that may have once been a gas station. Since it would’ve been too much trouble to reprogram my GPS while in motion, I got a little lost trying to get back to the freeway. Fortunately there were a lot of other gas stations in the immediate vicinity, and I found one at the next exit that was only a cent or two higher per gallon than the one I’d aimed for — plus it was next to an Arby’s, so I got a sandwich to have for dinner later. So things seemed to be back on track.

Except the coffee wasn’t working this time — perhaps it wasn’t strong enough, or perhaps I was just more fatigued this time. I stopped at a rest area and looked for some iced tea to have with my sandwich, but the vending machines had none. So I got some hot tea instead, but they were out of lids, so I had to carry it very carefully. Also, I’d put on my heavy coat over the lighter jacket I wore in the car, but I realized the zipper had come undone and the slider was stuck right up at the neck, and I had trouble getting it undone. And it wouldn’t zip up again without coming unfastened. So that coat may have finally given up the ghost. Lucky that it’s starting to warm up now and I hopefully won’t need to replace it immediately.

Anyway, the tea didn’t help — I was still feeling fatigued. But I didn’t want to just load up on more caffeine, since maybe it wasn’t helping as much as I’d hoped. Instead, at the next rest area, I just lay back in my seat and closed my eyes for ten minutes and did some slow, meditative breathing while listening to music on the CD player (Batman: The Animated Series: “Shadow of the Bat, Part 1″ by Shirley Walker). And I kept up the breathing and the music once I resumed driving. It actually helped clear up my fatigue quite well. (Although listening to the car player while parked made me realize how badly the speakers have deteriorated. Maybe I should’ve listened on my phone instead, but I’m not comfortable driving while wearing earbuds, in case I miss an important sound.)

All these delays meant, though, that I wasn’t successful in getting home before sunset. Still, it was only twilight by the time I finally got home. Oh, and I almost left my phone charger cord in the car, but I remembered it before I was halfway to my apartment, and I went back to get it.

So it could’ve been worse. I’ve had worse drives, in fact — much worse. A lot of little things went wrong, but I managed to cope with them all pretty quickly. So I guess I should focus on that.

Oh, yes, and one other thing: The day before I left just happened to be exactly one (February-length) month after I started writing Rise of the Federation Book 4, and exactly three months before my deadline. So my goal was to be a quarter of the way through my target by then, or 25,000 words. I’d gotten 80 percent of the way there two weeks before, but I’d needed to divert to work on Hub Space and then do a lot of planning and foundation-laying for the next part I had to write, so I wasn’t sure I’d get those last 5,000 words in before my trip. But on Sunday night, I decided that I just wanted to get the scene done and out of the way, so I sat down and worked through it and ended up with a word count of 25,003 words. Deadline met! Another instance of a narrowly averted problem. And while I didn’t get much writing done during my trip, I did get the next scene started, at least, and I know what comes next.

Oh, and I took a few copies of Uncertain Logic along and shared them with my family, a day before the official on-sale date. One of the perks of being related to me. (The other main one being having to endure a lot of bad puns.)

HUB SPACE is now available!

I’m pleased to announce that Hub Space: Tales from the Greater Galaxy has just gone on sale! That’s right, one advantage of e-publishing is that it takes hardly any time at all to get a finished book out to the public. Here’s the cover and blurb:

Hub Space: Tales from the Greater Galaxy

Cover by David Dodd

The Hub is the most important place in the galaxy — the single point through which all interstellar travel must pass. Yet no one in the galaxy understands how it works. David LaMacchia, an unimportant man from an unimportant planet called Earth, is determined to change that. He’s got no qualifications and no skills. His only friends are a cynical, sharp-tongued space pilot named Nashira Wing and a smugly philanthropic alien named Rynyan, and they both think he’s crazy. On top of that, the powers that profit from the Hub might just be trying to kill him. Still… that won’t stop David from trying to prove that humanity can make a difference to the greater galaxy.

Now the tales of the Hub from the pages of Analog are collected for the first time in one volume, newly revised and expanded! Includes “The Hub of the Matter,” “Home is Where the Hub Is,” and “Make Hub, Not War,” plus exclusive bonus material!

Considering that the cover is assembled from stock images, I’m quite pleased with how it turned out. It evokes the character dynamic of Vladimir Bondar’s art from the Russian edition of “The Hub of the Matter,” while coming closer to how I envisioned David and Nashira’s appearance. Too bad there wasn’t any stock art of a leonine humanoid alien with a feathery mane.

Hub Space is priced at $3.99 US and can be purchased from the following vendors:

Barnes & Noble

Amazon

Smashwords

iTunes

Update: Kobo

JUSTICE LEAGUE: THRONE OF ATLANTIS review (spoilers)

Justice League: Throne of Atlantis is the third movie in the New 52-based continuity that the DC Universe Animated Original Movie line has adopted in the past couple of years. As I remarked before, I really disliked the first one, Justice League: War, and found the second, Son of Batman, to be better but still deeply flawed and excessively violent. So I wasn’t expecting much from ToA, and wasn’t even sure I wanted to see it at all. Fortunately, it’s a great improvement on the previous JL installment, even while being a direct continuation of it.

As the title indicates, it’s mainly the story of how Arthur Curry discovers his birthright as Aquaman and battles with his half-brother, the evil Orm (Ocean Master), for the rule of Atlantis, with Orm trying to engineer a war with the surface world as a means to gain power. But it’s also a continuation of the story of the Justice League coming together, its disparate members learning to work together and commit more to the team. The character work is thus rather better this time out. The action still tends to be bloodier than I like, but at least there’s more character exploration going on between and during the action. There are some pretty good moments in the script by Heath Corson.

Although there are a couple of bits that don’t make much sense at all — spoiler alert. One, when Queen Atlanna (Aquaman’s mother) realizes that Orm and Black Manta are attempting to overthrow her, she stands with her back to Orm while speechifying, leaving herself totally open to being stabbed. Now, maybe I misread the scene and she thought that only Manta was involved, still trusting her son, but I don’t think that was the case. The other, more serious logic problem is toward the climax, when Orm is sending a tsunami to wipe out Metropolis and Gotham and the heroes fear there’s nothing they can do to stop it. Now, first off, between them, Superman, Shazam, Green Lantern, and the Flash should be able to stop a tsunami in its tracks. But that’s not the real problem. The real problem is that, just as the tidal wave is cresting and about to smash into Metropolis, Orm stops it in its tracks, then parts it Moses-style to reveal… a bunch of infantry soldiers who invade the city on foot. I’m sorry? That tidal wave could’ve done a hundred times as much damage to the city as that entire army, a hundred times faster, without a single Atlantean life being at risk. Orm had a weapon of mass destruction at his disposal. But he didn’t use it, and instead launched a far smaller, conventional attack that was much easier for the heroes to fight back against. The whole tidal-wave thing was a total fakeout. That’s just lame.

Although it’s in continuity with War, a number of the voices have been recast. Returning are Jason O’Mara as Batman, Sean Astin as Shazam, Christopher Gorham as the Flash, Shemar Moore as Cyborg, and George Newbern (Superman from the Justice League/JL Unlimited TV series) in a small role as Steve Trevor. But Alan Tudyk has been replaced as Superman by Jerry O’Connell (who was Captain Marvel/Shazam in JLU), Justin Kirk has been replaced by Nathan Fillion in his fourth DC Universe iteration of Hal Jordan (fifth if you count Robot Chicken), and best of all, Wonder Woman is now Rosario Dawson (who was Artemis in the DCU Wonder Woman movie), taking over from Michelle Monaghan, who was simply awful in the role in JL: War. Fillion and Dawson are improvements, but I’m not sure about O’Connell. I wasn’t too impressed with Tudyk as Superman in JLW, but that’s probably because he had so little to work with. I wouldn’t have minded hearing him get another shot with better material. (And honestly, Dawson is kind of mediocre as Wonder Woman, but better mediocre than dreadful.)

The new characters are pretty well-cast. Arthur/Aquaman is Matt Lanter, Anakin Skywalker from Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Roman from The CW’s Star-Crossed. His ally and future queen Mera is Sumalee Montano, who was Katana in Beware the Batman. And Orm is Sam Witwer — aka Crashdown from Battlestar Galactica, Davis/Doomsday from Smallville, Darth Maul from The Clone Wars, and soon to be Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars: Rebels. This is a great choice, because Witwer is a fantastic voice actor, bringing a lot of operatic menace to his villain roles. Harry Lennix is Black Manta, Sirena Irwin (Mera from Batman: The Brave and the Bold) is Atlanna, and Juliet Landau has a minor role as Lois Lane, who’s quite marginalized due to the decision to pair Superman up with Wonder Woman in this continuity.

This is the first time the DC Universe movies have reached three installments in a single continuity — unless you count Batman: Year One and their 2-part The Dark Knight Returns as a common reality, but I’m not sure that flies in either the comics or the movies. (Maybe this even counts as a fourth installment, since The Flashpoint Paradox was based on the comics storyline that created the New 52. But there’s been nothing in the movies themselves to link that one to this new series, and not even any voices in common until now, with Fillion reprising GL and Steve Blum reprising Lex Luthor in the post-credits teaser.) Anyway, using continuity has given the DCU filmmakers opportunities they didn’t have in the previous standalone films, the chance to develop the characters and relationships over time and establish arcs and running gags. I appreciated the sense of continuity and growth that the links to JLW provided, even though I hated JLW itself. I’m hopeful that as the line continues, the chance to develop the world and the characters more fully will continue to enrich it, making sure we never get anything as superficial and dumb as JLW ever again.

Categories: Reviews Tags: , , ,

UNCERTAIN LOGIC is here!

Bifocals, take two

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had some trouble adjusting to my new progressive bifocals, which I thought were just issues with getting used to something new. The in-focus reading area seemed too narrow, and if I tilted my head back at all while watching TV, it went out of focus and I had to push the glasses lower down on my nose, which changed the focus a little and made my eyes sore. I kept meaning to go in to the store and ask about these issues, but the terrible winter weather kept me indoors most of the time.

And being indoors so long meant that it took me a while to realize that the new glasses just weren’t focusing that well on anything more than about 6 feet away. I could watch TV okay from my couch, but when I tried watching a show on my computer monitor while doing the dishes in the kitchen (I can see the monitor from there if I open the doors on the double-sided cabinet in between), it was out of focus. Finally, this past Sunday, I went out to my car (where I was keeping my old glasses as a backup) and did a one-to-one comparison, and there was no doubt: I had better distance vision with my old glasses than the new ones. Something had gone wrong.

So I went back in to the store on Monday and had them double-check my prescription, since I’m still under warranty. They got me in for a second session with the optometrist, and she found that the distance prescription she calculated this time was different from what it had been before, about halfway between the old glasses and the first bifocals. I’m not sure why it was different, but I had been wondering if the problem with my sleep mask being too tight — which I only realized the morning of my initial visit to the optometrist — had caused some lingering aftereffect on my vision, throwing off the prescription.

Also, the clerk in the glasses store (to which the optometrist’s office is attached) helped me figure out that the bridge supports had been in too far, so the glasses were sitting too high on my nose and so I wasn’t getting the best use of the focal areas. Adjusting that seemed to help with my reading, and once I got the new distance prescription, it seemed to work for that as well.

Although I still had to wait a lot more than an hour for my new lenses. Last time, it was because they broke the frames and had to send out for a replacement. This time, it was because they happened to have just begun doing a lengthy process of maintenance on their lens-grinding gizmo. So once more, I had to go home and then come back the next day, and that’s a pretty long drive. (I started going to this optometrist/store back when I lived closer to the area.) But once I got them at last, they seemed to be a definite improvement. I could no longer discern any significant difference between my new and old (pre-bifocal) glasses where distance vision was concerned, and the reading part still seemed better now that the glasses were a bit lower on my face. And I had no trouble driving with them or grocery-shopping with them. I may still have some adjustment issues, but so far they seem to be working better than before. I still need to be careful not to tilt my head back too much when watching TV (and I should probably just raise my screens higher), but it’s better than it was. Hopefully this will be the last time I’ll need to go back there for a good while.

Categories: Uncategorized

Dawn probe reaches Ceres orbit!

Or as I like to call it, a Ceres circuit. Ba-dum-bum!

But Ceres-ly, folks…

This morning, at about 1239 GMT (or 7:39 AM where I am), the Dawn space probe successfully entered orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres. The NASA press release is here:

Nasa Spacecraft Becomes First to Orbit a Dwarf Planet

Unfortunately, Dawn is currently on the dark side of Ceres, and is orbiting slowly enough that it won’t come around to the light side until mid-April. So the best we get for a photo at the moment is this one from March 1:

Ceres March 1 2015

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

 

This is historic as the first orbit of a dwarf planet (the New Horizons probe later this year will only fly by Pluto, I believe) and the first time a probe has orbited two different bodies. And it’s significant to me since it means Dawn has now visited both of the Main Belt protoplanets featured in Only Superhuman, first Vesta back in 2011 and now Ceres. With Vesta, the timing was right to let me incorporate a bit of what Dawn discovered into the novel during the revision process — but with Ceres I just have to hope nothing contradicts what I wrote. My main description of Ceres in the book was as follows:

The sunlit side of the dwarf planet was a dusty gray, except for the bright glints where craters or mining operations had exposed fresh ice beneath.

So far, so good, I’d say, given the other photo we got recently:

Ceres bright spots

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Scientists are speculating that those bright spots might be exposed ice, or maybe salt. Although you know what they kinda look like to me?

The on switch.

More news as it develops…

I grieve with thee

February 27, 2015 4 comments

The New York Times has reported that Leonard Nimoy has died at the age of 83.

I was afraid of this when I heard the news about his hospitalization the other day, but I’d hoped it was a false alarm. Still, it’s not surprising, given his health in recent years. But it is entirely logical to be saddened, and to shed tears for a man who left such a profound mark on the world.

Spock was one of my first childhood role models, and certainly the most influential, for better or worse. When I was seven — about two years after discovering Star Trek — I lost my mother, and in response to that grief, I tried to become like Spock and suppress my emotions. It backfired; without a healthy release valve, my emotions erupted vehemently and often, and I felt more like Dr. Banner from The Incredible Hulk than like Mr. Spock. But in 1979, when Star Trek: The Motion Picture came out and Spock had the epiphany that emotion was valuable and necessary as an integrated part of the psyche, I came to much the same realization — perhaps as a result of Spock’s — and learned to be more at peace with my own emotions.

I also tried to emulate Spock’s intelligence, the way he contributed and was appreciated for being a source of knowledge. (The Professor on Gilligan’s Island also influenced me in this way.) But real life didn’t turn out like fiction; rather than being appreciated for my efforts to inform and contribute, I was seen as a showoff or a know-it-all. Some people appreciated my contributions in the helpful spirit in which I intended them, but to this day, there are others who mistake it for condescension.

So one could argue that modeling myself on Spock hasn’t always worked out so great for me. But that doesn’t matter — his influence is simply part of who I am, and part of his example was learning to accept who you are even when you don’t fit in or are misunderstood. His example of logical, educated thought and scientific curiosity has guided me throughout my life, enriching my understanding of the world and helping me keep learning, questioning, and thinking. The principles of peace and diversity he embodied have shaped my values and helped me feel more empathy and connection to others.

This is the legacy that Leonard Nimoy has left us. He took a character that another actor might have treated as a joke or a caricature and brought immense sincerity, thoughtfulness, and sensitivity to his performance, giving Star Trek a weight and meaning it might not have had without him. He always treated his role and his audience with respect, and we were drawn to him in turn, and this was key to making Star Trek such an enduring phenomenon, a universe that felt real and solid and inspired us to believe in a better, smarter future even when the show was at its silliest. And as Star Trek matured and Spock aged, Nimoy made him evolve. After his (and my) epiphany in TMP, he let Spock grow more balanced, more self-assured, more at peace with his logic and his emotion, showing us that there was no real conflict between the two. He showed us that synthesis between opposing views is a better, more rewarding response than opposition — a lesson that we are in desperate need of today. And when Star Trek was reinvented with a new cast, continuity, and attitude, he stayed true to that principle, coming out of retirement to give the new incarnation his blessing, befriend his successor and protege in the role of Spock, and show once again that it’s better to unite than divide.

And to think there was a time when Nimoy almost gave up playing Spock. Hard to imagine now, when he’s been such an integral thread tying the whole franchise together. He was there from the very beginning, he was there for the animated series and the films, he crossed over to The Next Generation, and he carried his character through to the new incarnation and into a new universe. The story of Spock is the story of Star Trek. And for all that his character prized logic over passion, Nimoy has always been its heart.

I’m sad that Nimoy didn’t make it to see the 50th anniversary next year. But I suppose he’s already had his own 50th, since the anniversary of “The Cage” was last year. Still, it won’t be the same without him.

I’m glad, though, that next month will see the release of my new book Rise of the Federation: Uncertain Logic, a novel that focuses heavily on Vulcan civilization and Spock’s grandparents. Spock himself is decades away from being born in the timeframe of the novel, but no one can write about Vulcans without being heavily influenced by Nimoy’s work. I feel it will be a fitting tribute.

I’m crying now. It’s the only logical thing to do.

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