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Yes, I’m going to Shore Leave this year

My second piece of writing news today: I can now confirm that I will be attending Shore Leave in Hunt Valley, Maryland as usual this year. The SF/fantasy convention will be held from July 6-8, 2018 at its usual venue, which is under new ownership yet again and is now called Delta Hotels Baltimore Hunt Valley.

https://www.shore-leave.com/

The plan is to debut Among the Wild Cybers at the convention, a process I’ll talk more about once I figure out just what it entails. This will be the first time I’ve debuted an original book at Shore Leave. I’m hoping there will be print copies of Hub Space available as well, but I’m not certain yet.

Hub Space cover

Oh, and there’ll be some actor guy named Shatner there too. I think I’ve seen him in one or two things…

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There be WILD CYBERS here!

No, I’m not under attack by rogue robots — rather, my author copies of Among the Wild Cybers: Tales Beyond the Superhuman have just arrived.

Among the Wild Cybers in box

Among the Wild Cybers in stack

They’re thinner than I expected for a nearly 80,000-word book, but I guess that’s because of the trade-paperback format. But here they are, and it’s not much longer before the rest of you can get them too (Kickstarter backers first).

Here’s my brag shelf of all my original fiction to date, such as it is:

CLB brag shelf

Minus Hub Space, which I haven’t yet obtained a print copy of. But hey, the shelf is finally starting to grow a bit, and there’s a good chance that it’ll be growing more before long. For now, though, Only Superhuman and Among the Wild Cybers contain my complete published works to date in my primary original universe (plus “No Dominion”). So it’s nice to see them side by side. (I put ATWC first both for height reasons — I don’t want it between two shorter mass-market paperbacks — and because I generally shelve anthologies/collections before novels, a habit I picked up when I worked at the university library.)

And we’re now ridiculously close to unlocking “Abductive Reasoning” for Kickstarter backers — one to three more pledges should do it:

Only 11 days left!

My good deed for the day (with help)

I was just out for a walk at the local park, processing some good news I received yesterday and the extent to which it will improve my current financial situation (markedly but not completely, and I can’t say anything more yet). On my way out of the park, I noticed something anomalous about a young, recently planted tree, maybe close to twice my height. It and several others had those cylindrical wire-mesh cages around the trunks, the sort of thing that I guess are there to keep the flimsy saplings from blowing over or being knocked over or whatever. But someone had apparently lifted the wire cage up around its branches, and it was stuck there. It was probably someone’s drunken prank, judging from the beer bottle lying by the base of the tree. After a moment’s thought, I decided I couldn’t leave the poor tree in that condition, so I tried to see if I could work the cage free of the branches and lower it back down without hurting any of the branches too much. It proved tricky, though, with too many places where it was hooked in. I noticed that there was a seam in the cage where one end was hooked to the other, and I realized that if I could undo the hooks, I could unwrap the cage and then re-wrap it around the base.

But the cage was just a bit too high on the tree for me to reach the top hook, and I’d need to start at the top for best results. So I was on the verge of giving up when I noticed a jogger, apparently a college student from the bookstore logo on his sweatshirt, and asked him to give me a hand. I explained the situation and suggested that we could work together to unhook the seam, but he was convinced it would be simpler just to lift the whole thing up and over. So we gave that a try (after he threw away the beer bottle), and it turned out we were underestimating the height of the tree, or overestimating our own. We’d just made matters worse, making the whole thing more top-heavy and more likely to topple the tree.

At this point, I remembered that I’d seen some loose chairs in another part of the park, evidently left there by some recent visitors. So I hurried over to get one while the jogger held the cage up. Once I got back, he stood on the chair (my balance isn’t great these days — I got dizzy just looking up while trying to free the cage) and eventually managed to lift and rotate the cage free of the branches, with a little gentle bending of the upper portion of the tree on my part. Then it was just a matter of unhooking the freed cage and wrapping it back around the trunk where it belonged. I thanked the jogger, we talked a bit about our respective past experiences with other people’s tree vandalism, and we went our separate ways.

So this was our good deed for the day: straightening up someone else’s mesh.

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WILD CYBERS Kickstarter — two weeks left!

Time is running out, folks. There are now only two weeks left to pledge to the eSpec Books Epic Science Fiction Adventures Kickstarter for my Among the Wild Cybers story collection and Bud Sparhawk’s new novel Shattered Dreams. We’re now less than $120 short of the second stretch goal, which will unlock a DRM-free digital copy of my recent Analog short story “Abductive Reasoning” for all backers at the $5 level and above. Meanwhile, Bud Sparhawk has just provided two new special pledge levels: For a pledge of $50 or more, five lucky pledgers will receive print and digital copies of Shattered Dreams and a limited-edition Bud Sparhawk trading card, and for $70 or more, five pledgers will receive all of that plus a pair of uniform patches for military divisions within Bud’s fictional universe, I guess for cosplayers and the like.

And remember, there are still more bonus stories to be unlocked for every additional $500 pledged! Only two weeks to go!

Memory RNA after all?

Today I’m experiencing that common occupational hazard for the science fiction writer: Learning that a new scientific discovery has rendered something I wrote obsolete.

I’ll let Tamara Craig, the narrator of my 2010 story “No Dominion” from DayBreak Magazine, explain:

Nearly a century ago, an experiment with flatworms seemed to show that memory was stored in RNA and could be transferred from one organism to another. But the experiment had been an unrepeatable fluke — pardon the pun — and later research showed that memory worked in a completely different way, unfortunately for the science fiction writers who’d embraced memory RNA as a plot device.

(This passage is trimmed down a bit in the version soon to be reprinted in Among the Wild Cybers: Tales Beyond the Superhuman, since that collection’s editor thought the references to SF writers were a bit too meta and distracting.)

What I wrote there was based on memory and was roughly correct. In the late 1950s and early ’60s (“No Dominion” is set in 2059), a researcher named James V. McConnell spent years experimenting with memory in planaria (flatworms), doing things like cutting them up and testing if their regenerated tails retained the memories of their original heads, and — most famously — grinding them up and feeding them to other flatworms. McConnell’s research did seem to show that some learned behavior was passed on by what he proposed to be a form of RNA storing memories created in the flatworm’s brain. It’s true that there was never enough reliable confirmation of his result to establish it as true, and the scientific establishment dismissed McConnell’s findings, although they did inspire a lot of science fiction about RNA memory drips or memory pills as a technique for quick-learning overnight what would normally take months or years. However, it seems that there were some experiments that did appear to replicate the results. There just wasn’t enough consistency to make it definitive.

Apparently, there’s been some renewed experimentation with McConnell’s theory in the past few years, showing promising but uncertain results. What I read about today was a new result, involving snails rather than flatworms:

http://www.sfn.org/Press-Room/News-Release-Archives/2018/Memory-Transferred-Between-Snails

Memories can be transferred between organisms by extracting ribonucleic acid (RNA) from a trained animal and injecting it into an untrained animal, as demonstrated in a study of sea snails published in eNeuro. The research provides new clues in the search for the physical basis of memory.

Long-term memory is thought to be housed within modified connections between brain cells. Recent evidence, however, suggests an alternative explanation: Memory storage may involve changes in gene expression induced by non-coding RNAs.

A more thorough article about the result can be found at the BBC:

‘Memory transplant’ achieved in snails

Now, this doesn’t mean the original memory RNA idea was altogether right. This experiment involved injecting the RNA into the blood of the snails rather than feeding them ground-up snails. And the result probably needs to be repeated more times and studied more fully before it can be definitive. But it does suggest that I was wrong to insist that memory “worked in a completely different way.” It’s possible that memories are stored, not in patterns in the synapses of nerve cells, but in RNA in their nuclei, which has an epigenetic effect on the neurons’ gene expression and therefore their behavior and structure.

Of course, all these results show is that very simple reactions to stimuli can be transferred. There’s no evidence that it would work for something as elaborate as the kind of declarative memory and knowledge that the passage in the story was discussing, or the kind of procedural memory and skills often transferred by memory RNA in fiction (e.g. foreign languages or fighting techniques). Perhaps those kinds of memory are partly synaptic, partly epigenetic. Maybe there’s something else involved. So Tamara’s lines in the story may not be entirely obsolete, just a little inaccurate (forgivable, since she’s a cop, not a scientist).

So I guess it could be worse. It was a minor part of the story anyway. And the actual research itself suggests some interesting possibilities. The articles say that learning more about memory creation and storage — and perhaps memory modification and transfer — could help treat conditions like Alzheimer’s and PTSD. If so, then it’s unfortunate that McConnell’s results weren’t taken more seriously half a century ago.

WILD CYBERS — First stretch goal unlocked!

The Epic Science Fiction Adventures Kickstarter for Among the Wild Cybers (and Bud Sparhawk’s Shattered Dreams) has achieved its first stretch goal of $1200. This means that everyone who pledges $5 or above from this point on will get, in addition to the basic rewards for their pledge, a DRM-free digital copy of Robert Waters’s short story “Los Gatos.”

The next stretch goal reward is a DRM-free digital copy of my short story “Abductive Reasoning” from the Sept/Oct 2017 Analog. Once we reach $1500 in pledges, that story will be unlocked for everyone who pledges $5 and up. This is a nice bonus because it’s my one remaining uncollected story to date, other than the new “Hubpoint of No Return” in the current Analog (and the plan is to collect that along with its two sequels once all three have come out). So if and when we reach that goal, Kickstarter backers will have a more comprehensive and up-to-date collection of my short fiction than Among the Wild Cybers alone had room to provide.

Every additional $500 in pledges beyond that will unlock another short story by one of several authors, including “Forest of a Thousand Lost Souls” by my editor Danielle Ackley-McPhail (at the $2000 level) and “Stone-Cold Whodunit” from my pal Keith R.A. DeCandido’s Super City Police Department series (at the $4500 level). There are still a few bonuses left to reveal beyond that, possibly including something more from me.

So let’s get those pledges up there, folks! Tell your friends! Share and tweet and other social media things! The more pledges we get, the more everyone (well, $5-up) gets in return. Only 23 days left!

Thank you so much!

I want to give my deepest thanks to all the readers who made donations after my plea on Tuesday. Thanks to your exceptional generosity, I’m now confident that I’ll be able to pay my rent for another month, and most of my other bills as well. I’m not entirely out of the woods yet — and it turns out that my “good reason to believe” my writing situation would soon be improving is a bit less of a sure thing than I thought, or at least a bit more distant. Still, your donations have given me time, and enough relative peace of mind, to do my own part and continue looking for work. I’m deeply grateful, and I intend to give you all a shout-out in the acknowledgments of my next book, unless you let me know you’d rather stay anonymous. There may even be some characters named after you in some future book. It’s the least I owe you guys for being there for me when I needed you.

In the meantime, my book sale remains ongoing; consult the previous post for the list of books and the payment info.

To the person in Japan who ordered the copy of Only Superhuman: I still need to receive the international postage cost before I can send the book. I e-mailed you with the amount on Thursday, so please get back to me soon.

Meanwhile, folks, please share the word about the Among the Wild Cybers Kickstarter with anyone you can think of who might be interested. The more pledges we get, the more goodies our backers get, and the more it helps me pay my bills for next month, if not this one. The Kickstarter will remain open until May 30.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/e-specbooks/epic-science-fiction-adventures?ref=card