My 2012 Hugo Vote: Semiprozine

I’ve had a chance to peruse the five periodicals that have been nominated for the Best Semiprozine Hugo Award. First, what’s a semiprozine?

A “semiprozine” is defined for the Hugo Award as a magazine that meets at least two of five criteria: 1) that the magazine had an average press run of at least one thousand copies per issue, 2) that it paid its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication, 3) that it provided at least half the income of any one person, 4) that it had at least fifteen percent of its total space occupied by advertising, and 5) that it announced itself to be a semiprozine. Additionally, it had to have produced at least four issues, with at least one issue published during the previous year.

The nominees are:

  • Apex Magazine edited by Catherynne M. Valente, Lynne M. Thomas, and Jason Sizemore
  • Interzone edited by Andy Cox
  • Lightspeed edited by John Joseph Adams
  • Locus edited by Liza Groen Trombi, Kirsten Gong-Wong, et al.
  • New York Review of Science Fiction edited by David G. Hartwell, Kevin J. Maroney, Kris Dikeman, and Avram Grumer

I’ve been reading Locus for years (since I discovered it in college, in fact). It’s a great magazine about the science fiction and fantasy fields, and a 29-time winner of the award. I like it better than the New York Review of Science Fiction, which I had never read before but which was certainly a surprisingly strong publication.

Lightspeed was an entertaining publication, but not quite up to the standards of Apex Magazine or Interzone, both of which were very strong with regard to fiction. Ultimately, I’m giving my vote to Interzone for its excellent fiction, superb professionalism and ancillary elements such as book reviews and DVD reviews.

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My 2012 Hugo Vote: Best Novelette

Next up, with the voting deadline looming, is my vote for the Best Novelette. The five nominated stories were:

  • “The Copenhagen Interpretation” by Paul Cornell
  • “Fields of Gold” by Rachel Swirsky
  • “Ray of Light” by Brad R. Torgersen
  • “Six Months, Three Days” by Charlie Jane Anders
  • “What We Found” by Geoff Ryman

“The Copenhagen Interpretation” postulates a high-tech future based upon Newtonian physics, in which the Theory of Relativity was never discovered. It’s interesting and pulls on the “lost love” heart strings very nicely, but centers around a protagonist that I didn’t like very much and had a downbeat ending. I’d like to see more work by the author, Paul Cornell, but the story isn’t getting my vote.

Rachel Swirsky’s “Fields of Gold” is a bittersweet story about the after-life, in which it turns out that the dead are very social, attend lots of parties and, sometimes, have the opportunity to confront their own killers and make personal changes in their “lives.”

Brad Torgerson’s “Ray of Light” postulates a future in which aliens, for unknown reasons, have caused a terrible Ice Age by blocking most of the sunlight that would normally have hit the Earth. As a result, a new generation has been born that lives under the sea near thermal vents and has never seen the light of the sun. The story has some emotional resonance, but the alien factor seems like a distraction…better to have had a natural cause for the Ice Age.

What would happen if two clairvoyants dated? Particularly if their powers differed slightly, e.g. – one can see a range of futures and the choices that would cause them to occur, and the other sees only one future because his power to see also reduces the choices available. This is the premise of Charlie Jane Ander’s “Six Months, Three Days.” It’s amusing, and sweet but, while I certainly enjoyed it, it didn’t resonate with me in the way that I expect of a Hugo winner.

Geoff Ryman’s “What We Found” is story about a family of brothers growing up in Nigeria, and a discovery that spells the end of science as we know it. Another interesting story, with an ending that really leaves you thinking about the ramifications.

So, five stories, all worthy, but none of them a stunning classic. I’m giving my vote to “Fields of Gold” by Rachel Swirsky. I liked her vision of the after-life, the interplay between now-deceased family members, the confrontation between the protagonist and the wife that killed him, as well as the theme of lost love and childhood regained.

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My 2012 Hugo Vote: Best Short Story

The Hugo Awards are given by the World Science Fiction Society to commemorate the best science fiction and fantasy published during any given year. I’m eligible to vote this year, and I’ve had a chance to read all of the entries for Best Short Story. The nominated works are:

  • “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld, April 2011)
  • “The Homecoming” by Mike Resnick (Asimov’s, April/May 2011)
  • “Movement” by Nancy Fulda (Asimov’s, March 2011)
  • “The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March/April 2011)
  • “Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue” by John Scalzi (Tor.com)

All of the stories were quite interesting. My favorite title was certainly Scalzi’s story: “Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue,” which appears to be, quite literally, the prologue to the first book in a planned fantasy trilogy. The story itself I found amusing, but not quite something to which I’d give an award. On the other hand, I’ll buy his new book when it comes out, so it’s not a total loss for John Scalzi. He gets the $9.99 alternate prize.

The story, “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” was my least favorite story. It was sort of a parable, using empire-building wasps and enslaved bees to provide perspectives on various issues. I enjoyed it, but it just wasn’t my kind of story.

Three stories really resonated with me. Nancy Fulda’s story, “Movement,” provided a sweet and touching perspective of an autistic child’s mind. Resnick’s “The Homecoming” brought together an aging father, an estranged son and a mother deep in the throes of Alzheimer’s. It hit close to home for me, because a few years ago my own father suffered similar effects when a heart arrhythmia left him severely brain-damaged. Finally, Ken Liu’s story, “The Paper Menagerie,” was a peculiar and effective fantasy and coming-of-age story about a son, his parents and his Chinese heritage.

I’ll give my vote to “The Paper Menagerie.” I really liked the ending, and I can’t keep the images of happily cavorting, magically animated origami animals out of my head.

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Table Topics: Book Author Tour

One of my favorite parts of a Toastmasters meeting is the Table Topics, which help attendees with their extemporaneous speaking skills. One member, designated the Table Topics Master, comes to the podium and selects random attendees to answer questions. Each selected victim then has to stand up and give a one to two minute talk on the given topic.

A Table Topics session can range from just a simple list of questions to something considerably more elaborate. I love being the Table Topics Master, and my sessions are always on the more elaborate side. Here’s an example of one of my Table Topics sessions, entitled “Book Author Tour.”

The Setup

As Table Topics Master, I come up to the podium to address the audience. I pause for a moment to heighten the tension. By now, of course, my club is well aware of my penchant for elaborate and often challenging Table Topics sessions. I then reveal the setup for the Table Topics, taking on the persona of a radio announcer:

“This is WDOV News Radio from Dover, Delaware. Folks, it’s been a slow news day, but fortunately we have some extra special guests in our studio today. Hydra Publishing is in town for a book tour, so we’ve decided to bring their authors into the studio to talk about their books.”

The Reveal

Since my Table Topics sessions tend to be more complex than just a simple list of questions, I often need to explain “the rules” to the audience. In this case, I step to the side to symbolically step away from the persona of the radio announcer. In a different, less bombastic tone of voice, I explain how the session is going to work:

“Here’s how this is all going to work. I’m the radio announcer and I’m going to ask you to talk about ‘your book.’ I will provide you with the title of the book you’re going to talk about. Now, I want you to know in advance, none of these titles are made-up. They’re all real. I found them all online.”

The Questions

I step back to my previous position. Now, once again in character as a radio announcer, I ask members to speak about their book, varying the format of the questions as much as I can. “<insert name of victim>, I must confess that I was really intrigued by the title of your book, <insert title here>. Can you describe your book to our listeners?”

Here are the book titles:

  • I Miss My Man, But My Aim is Getting Better (a mystery)
  • Hack: How I Stopped Worrying About What To Do With My Life and Started Driving a Yellow Cab
  • Why Geese Don’t Get Obese
  • The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing
  • The Wonderful World of Waste Management (juvenile fiction)
  • The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification
  • Godzilla: A Biography of the World’s Most Famous Monster

The Closing

During this Table Topics session, we’ve all been in character as either the radio announcer or an author. It just seems proper that I should wrap it up in character as well:

“I’d like to thank the authors of Hydra Publishing for being on our show today. I hope our listeners have enjoyed hearing about these books as much as I have.”

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A Little Inspiration: Immersive User Interface

Talk about a comprehensive, immersive user interface. This is the user interface for the controls of the alien spaceship in the summer movie, Prometheus, from director Ridley Scott.

This sure is a far cry from the rather conventional controls we saw in the original Star Trek series. Think about the possibilities inherent in being surrounded by a three-dimensional holographic system of configurable controls. Or the havoc that could be caused by the uninitiated.

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The Apple Falls Down: Perspectives on Global Warming

On April 11, 2012, I presented an 11+ minute talk on global warming to the Ashburn Toastmasters Club. I recorded the video using video equipment borrowed from RubyNation and then edited it using Final Cut Pro. The final video is now available on YouTube, but it’s also embedded below for your convenience.

 

If you would prefer to just scan the content of the video, a transcript appears below:


 

I read something online that made me very angry. There’s a company out there…an organization called the Heartland Institute. They go around collecting money from conservatives, and from local companies … and they give that money to school systems to meet the educational needs that each school has.

I don’t have a problem with that. The problem I have is that they have an agenda.

Their agenda is to reduce the coverage of global warming, and to make it seem less important.

They do this by inserting words into the curriculum. Phrases like “the Earth is allegedly warming.” Or “some scientists think the Earth is warming.” Or my favorite – “the theory of global warming.”

This makes me angry because I’ve done some research, and I feel that global warming is probably the largest crisis the human species has ever faced.

It doesn’t look like much now, but it’s going to get a lot worse. And when I see an organization like the Heartland Institute actively taking actions that I think could hamper our capability to fight against global warming, it makes me very angry.

Now, I understand that global warming is a pretty complicated issue. It’s hard to wrap your head around global warming. Especially since there’s no smoking gun.

You can look at New Orleans after Katrina and say “My God! We’ve got to do something! People are going to die if we don’t help them!”

But right now, all we have is a couple of Pacific Islands that have disappeared. And a couple thousand natives have been displaced.

There’s no smoking gun right now.

It’s also clear to me that global warming is not going to go away. There’s no magic solution to it. And any solution we do have is going to come smack-dab from that tumultuous area where science intersects with politics.

So what I’d like to do tonight, I’d like to talk to you about global warming, and politics, and science, and apple trees, and maybe even the Titanic. And I’m going to try to do all this in something less than 30 minutes or so.

Politics

First, there’s one story that, to me, captures the essence of politics. Ronald Reagan, when he was a governor of California, took a stance on an issue. It doesn’t really matter what the issue was anymore, but he was so confident in his stance that he announced to his opponents and to his constituents that “My feet are set in concrete on this issue. I will not change my mind.”

As you might expect, a political battle ensued, and over the next couple of months … he lost.

He ended up in a situation where he needed to reverse the stance he’d taken. But that would have meant ceding victory to his opponents. He didn’t really want to do that.

So he held a press conference. In the early stages of a press conference, there’s always a little bit of fiddling with the equipment. And so he’s fiddling with the microphone, and this crackling sound goes out over the sound system. And people are looking at him … he’s the governor of California … they’re looking at him like: “My God! Is he deranged? What is he doing?”

And he stands there confidently, and says, “Ladies and gentlemen, the sound you just heard was concrete cracking around my feet. I have decided to reverse my opinion on this issue.”

That was all the media talked about for the next two weeks. His opponents, they weren’t even given an interview. Simply by virtue of showmanship, he may have lost that battle but he won the war against his opponents.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican or a Libertarian or anything else, that story to me is the essence of politics.

Politics is about showmanship, spin control, the perception of the truth (not necessarily the actual truth).

Science

Now, over here, we have science. In science, I’m not saying that the scientific field doesn’t have its politics, and there’s certainly feuding professors and things like that. But at the end of the day, science is about finding the truth.

And no matter what kind of noise comes from the scientific community, at some point … the truth will come out.

If there’s one thing, for me, that represents the essence of science, I’d like you to consider the lowly apple tree.

I’d like you to imagine for a minute that there’s an apple tree right here. Nice green leaves. Luscious red apples. After a moment, one of those apples falls to the ground.

Now, we all know that apples fall down out of trees. Our ancestors knew that. The Roman Empire knew that apples fell out of trees. Our caveman ancestors knew that apples fall down out of trees.

But it wasn’t until 1687, when a guy named Isaac Newton came along, with his Theory of Gravity and his Three Laws of Motion, that anybody could explain why apples fell down out of trees.

And then about 250 years later, a guy named Einstein comes along and says, “Well, you’re right for most situations, but for those situations that your theory can’t explain, I have my Theory of Relativity that explains those edge cases.”

So it took more than 250 years for the scientific community to really come to grips with why an apple falls out of a tree.

But the fact that an apple falls down … that’s a fact. Theories are explanations of why something happens. But the apple falling down, that is a fact.

Global Warming

Let’s consider global warming for a moment. Global warming is much like an apple falling out of a tree.

In the twentieth century, the sea level rose 20 inches. That can be measured. That’s a fact.

At the end of the twentieth century, the rate at which the sea level rose began to increase. That is measurable. That is a fact.

You can go to Antarctica, and you can measure how fast the ice is melting. It’s melting faster and faster. You can measure that. Those are facts.

Global warming is not a theory. Global warming is a set of facts all pointing in the same direction.

Now, I guarantee you, just like apples falling out of trees, gravity and Special Relativity — scientists are going to be working out the whys of everything having to do with global warming for the next 500 years. Because global warming, you know — your global climate, is a lot more complicated than an apple falling out of a tree.

What’s It Mean For Us?

So, global warming is a fact. What does global warming mean for us?

Right now, it doesn’t mean that much. Sea level has risen about 20 inches. As I said, there’s a few Pacific islands that have been displaced. But scientists are predicting — and this is a moderately conservative estimate — but by 2050 the sea level’s going to rise by another 3 feet. By 2100, it’s going to rise by another 3 to 5 feet beyond that.

And you start considering the impact of that kind of sea level rise on our coastal areas and our resort areas. I mean, let’s not even talk about New Orleans, and Venice, the Netherlands, and Bangkok, which are either already under sea level or very close to it.

A lot of coastal areas are going to be affected. Those coastal areas are very heavily populated, so over the next 80 years or so, you’re going to see about a billion and a half people on the move, being displaced because of global warming.

And I’m only talking about the water effects right now. New Orleans is certainly going to have problems. New York is coastal – it’s actually going to have problems in another 80 years in the way that New Orleans does, with storms and storm surges. You can get storm effects going much further inland. You can get effects like the salinzation of formerly freshwater water supplies because salt water extends further into the mainland whenever a storm occurs.

And that’s just the water. We haven’t really talked about the environmental impacts.

Consider, for example, a coral reef. A coral reef is composed of numerous plants – small plants that represent the foundation of an entire ecosystem. There are animals that eat those plants. There are fish that eat those animals. And we eat some of those top-level fish and shellfish. Coral reefs require sunlight, and are adversely impacted by rising sea levels. So, with global warming, we can have die-backs in all kinds of species.

Also, with rising global temperatures, we can have things like the desertification of central areas of continents, which could impact the United States. So, if you thought the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s, which happened because of a multi-year drought — if you thought that was bad, consider what could happen with increased global temperatures.

So, from my perspective, when it comes to global warming, we’re almost like passengers on the Titanic. The ship has already hit the iceberg. We’re not seeing much in the way of effects yet. The ship is maybe tilting a little bit. But like the Titanic, if we don’t prepare for what’s coming, it’s going to get really ugly really fast. And preparation is going to be key.

Conclusion

And that brings me back to the Heartland Institute because I was very angry at them for hampering our efforts to educate children in what global warming is going to really mean for us. And by doing that, from my perspective, they are compromising, or potentially compromising, our capacity to respond to global warming in the future.

Because I believe, just as the so-called Greatest Generation was defined by World War II, I believe that the next 10 generations or so are going to be defined by how they deal with this global warming crisis.

So the first thing I want you to remember with global warming … the first step in anything like this … is to recognize that global warming is a real problem.

Right now, China and the United States are the top contributors of the green house gases that are generally considered to be instrumental in causing global warming. And in America, only 19% of people even perceive global warming as a problem. That means that to 81% of Americans, it’s just background noise.

So going forward, global warming … it’s a serious issue. It shouldn’t be background noise.

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