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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!

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

 

 

Good news and bad news

The good news is, the Kickstarter for Among the Wild Cybers (and Bud Sparhawk’s Shattered Dreams) has already surpassed its minimum funding goal in less than a week. Now comes the pursuit of the stretch goals, which will unlock a number of exciting benefits for the patrons who donate — and will also help me and Bud get monetary advances for our books, so that would be great.

Meanwhile, I have good reason to believe that my work situation is finally going to start improving significantly within the next few months, though I can’t say anything more about that yet.

 

The bad news is that, though I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel, I don’t have quite enough fuel to make it there. I’m flat broke, folks, more so than I realized I was until I checked my bank balances this morning. All the good things on the horizon are still too far away to help me with my immediate financial crisis. At the moment, I don’t have enough to pay the next month’s rent and other critical bills. I’m doing what I can to remedy that. I’m looking for jobs, I’m submitting stories, I’m even trying to sell my bicycle that I hardly ever ride anymore. But I can’t be sure I’ll make enough money in time, so I need to ask for any donations my readers are willing to give. I know this has become a familiar refrain from me lately, but it’s never been more urgent. It’s incredibly frustrating that my career slowdown has gone on this long, that so many things I’d expected to pay off by now have been delayed this long. Now they’re finally on the verge of paying off, but just a month or so too late. It’s ironic and scary to see myself so close to the finish line but not know how I’m going to make it the last few steps. I really hope you, my readers, can dig deep and help me out one more time. It doesn’t have to be much. My activity stats show I tend to get around 200 hits on this site per day. If every one of you donated just $4-5 each, it could be enough.

If nothing else, I still have a number of autographed books available for purchase. Here’s the current list of books I have available, their quantities, and the price per copy (in US dollars):

Mass-market paperbacks: $8

  • Star Trek: TOS — The Face of the Unknown (5 copies)
  • ST: Enterprise — Rise of the Federation: Tower of Babel (4 copies)
  • ST: ENT — Rise of the Federation: Uncertain Logic (5 copies)
  • ST: ENT — Rise of the Federation: Live by the Code (5 copies)
  • ST: ENT — Rise of the Federation: Patterns of Interference (9 copies)
  • ST: Department of Temporal Investigations — Forgotten History (5 4 copies)
  • ST: Ex Machina (1 copy)
  • ST: TNG: The Buried Age (1 copy)
  • ST:TNG: Greater Than the Sum (1 copy)
  • ST: Titan: Over a Torrent Sea (1 copy)

Hardcovers: $20 (20% off!)

  • Only Superhuman (21 20 copies)

Trade paperbacks: $16

  • Star Trek: Mirror Universe — Shards and Shadows (6 copies)
  • ST: Myriad Universes — Infinity’s Prism (2 copies)
  • ST: Mere Anarchy (2 copies)
  • ST: The Next Generation — The Sky’s the Limit (2 copies)

Trade paperbacks: $14

  • ST: Deep Space Nine — Prophecy and Change (1 copy)
  • ST: Voyager — Distant Shores (2 copies)

I’ll try to keep this list updated with regard to availability, but if you have doubts (particularly with the single copies), query first. For buyers in the US, add $2.50 postage per book for MMPBs, or $4.00 postage for trades/hardcovers.  For buyers outside the US, pay the book price and I’ll bill you for postage separately once I determine the amount.

If you have a PayPal account of your own, please pay through that instead of a credit card.  PayPal charges a fee for credit card use, so if you do use a credit card, I have to ask for an additional $0.25 per mass-market paperback or an additional $0.50 per trade paperback or hardcover.

Please share this post and spread the word, both for the Kickstarter and for my book sale and call for donations.