Friday, November 21, 2008

More From Mars - Glaciers!

Glaciers have been spotted on Mars before, but these, perched on the edge of the Hellas Basin, buried under rocky rubble, which is why they haven't evaporated, are huge - the second-largest known source of water on Mars after the polar caps:
"Just one of the features we examined is three times larger than the city of Los Angeles and up to one-half-mile thick. And there are many more. In addition to their scientific value, they could be a source of water to support future exploration of Mars."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Alternate History

The Goldilocks Factor

More good news from space. Planets that sit in the 'not-too-hot not--too-cold' zones around other stars may be more common than we believed. Although Mars is the joker in the pack here - it sits inside the outer edge the Sun's habitable zone, but can't support life in its current state. Which makes it all the more urgent to find out if some kind of life emerged there in its early history, and what went wrong.

Next On Mars

NASA has announced four possible landing sites for the next Mars rover mission, the Mars Science Laboratory. It's all about clay.


Finishing a novel leaves you with something like jetlag. You think you're functioning normally, but your IQ and attention span are seriously out of whack. You go to make a cup of tea, put the cat in the kettle, throw the water out the door, and when you've sorted out that confusion, discover you've made a tasty beverage with a stock cube. Fish stock. Or as Edward Gorey has it in his wonderful The Unstrung Harp, or Mr Earbrass Writes a Novel:
The next day Mr Earbrass is conscious but very little more. He wanders through the house, leaving doors open and empty tea-cups on the floor. From time to time the thought occurs to him that he really ought to go out and dress, and he gets up several minutes later, only to sit down again in the first chair he comes to. The better part of a week will have elapsed before he has recovered enough to do anything more helpful.
After finishing and sending off Gardens of the Sun, I had a week much like that, and then, at the beginning of this month, in muscular commercial author fashion, started on my next project. Alas, I'm not much cop as a muscular commercial author. A few weeks later I find I've written some 20,000 words, which is the length of the piece I promised to deliver, but they're the wrong words in the wrong order, or the right words in the wrong order, or the right words in the right order in the wrong place. And after going nowhere very much the feeble rivulet of plot kind of runs out into the sands of ennui . . . But! This morning I realised what needed to be done, and went for a long walk to work out the finer points, came back and typed up a page of notes and reordered the salvagable bits and pieces and made notes for what's needed to link them together. Of course, now I'm about to fly off to a convention in Holland, but I reckon (if I'm not whistling in the dark) that I have sort of cracked it. All I need to so is write the damned thing, but that's the easy part. I hope.

Via John Joseph Adams at the Fantasy and Science Fiction site, this little test to find out which SF author you are. I'm Octavia Butler, which makes a weird kind of sense.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Edna Sharrow

I recently blogged a six-part illustrated short story, Edna Sharrow, here. I've now archived the story on the web site, under a Creative Commons license. You can find it by clicking the Fiction Archive link and scrolling down to the list of short stories. Or go straight to the first part. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Getting It Right

Hilary Mantell on the problems of word-processing fiction:
I remember how my first published book came together, back in the prehistoric typewriter age; I wrote it in longhand, typed it, then typed it again. This now seems both hideously laborious and pathetically inadequate. Now I pick away endlessly, balancing and rebalancing a paragraph, tuning and retuning it, trying to find some hidden note within it - and worry, a little, whether I'm privileging style over content, and all this tinkering is a substitute for fresh thought.
I haven't written anything of any length in longhand since school - for one thing my handwriting is appalling - but I did type my first novel out, three times (and because I'm not a touch typist I had retype a fair number of pages, because they had too many errors). So I migrated to word processing as soon as I could (1988, I believe: WordPerfect 4.2 on a two-disk system, one with the operating system, the other where you saved the text, because this was before hard drives were readily available on PCs; as it was the beast cost a cool £1000, and the printer another £1000, and this when the first and last new car I bought cost only twice as much).

But I do recognise the urge to endlessly fiddle with sentences and paragraphs and scenes, and often wonder if the thought processes used during composition of something using word-processing are more skittish and much shallower than when I used a typewriter. The work habit was certainly different back in those hunt-and-peck days. I would write three pages and if the last line of the third page of ended in the middle of a sentence I'd write the end of the sentence on a scrap of paper and type it up when beginning the next day. Now, of course, I aim to breast the tape of at least five pages a day, or 2000 words, when producing a first draft, not including all the fiddling and revision that happens before I get up steam. A more organic process than the mechanically linear three-pages-a-day routine, maybe, but as Mantell points out, perhaps a more neurotic one, too.

More from Mantell here...
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