Archive for August, 2012

Robber Barons

“What the hell?”

We’ve had bees for a summer now, so I’m used to seeing them in the yard. Even a lot of them in the yard. End of the night when they’re all coming home. After their hives were toppled by a branch during the derecho. This was different. The sun was setting, right at a perfect angle to illuminate the entire yard with nearly sideways beams of light, catching each bee and turning them into golden streaks. So many golden streaks. They filled the back like a galaxy.

Something was very wrong.

The right hive, the domain of Queen Victoria, had two full bee beards, one around the entrance, and one clinging to the out cover. Bees would occasionally drop off, straight to the ground. We thought at first they may be swarming, dissatisfied with the hive, the amount of space they had, the queen herself, there’s any number of reasons why a hive of bees will split and become two, an odd reproduction. Mitosis on a massive scale. Suited up, we examined a few clumps of bees, carefully looking for the old queen ready to take her faithful retinue off to form a new colony, leaving her successor behind.

The bees weren’t swarming. They were fighting. Each little battle was one-on-one combat as bee grappled with bee. The whole of the hive was at war, and there was only one reason for that sort of whole scale combat. The hive was under attack.

Bees will rob bees. If one hive comes across another and perceives weakness, decides that it’s easier to fight off other bees than to collect their own pollen and nectar, then the process will begin. We’d taken every listed precaution against the possibility. Wire screens across entrances which made it harder to fly in and right back out with honey. Keeping the bees fed so they’ll be healthy. Sometimes it still happens. We opened up the hive, and it was heartbreaking. Frame after frame of drawn out comb, all completely empty. By the time the robbing started, by the time we saw bees flying everywhere and fighting it out, it was already too late for anyone to do anything. Us, the hive, it was all over.

Soon we’ll have one hive. The robbed hive won’t make it through the winter, there’s no way it can store enough honey and pollen between now and then. The process is easy enough. Lay down a sheet of newspaper across the top of the healthy hive, cut a tiny slit so pheromones can pass back and forth, then stack on the supers of the robbed hive. Give it a week, and the bees will acclimate to each other, chew through the paper, and two hives will be one.

The only problem is Queen Victoria. A hive can only have one queen. She either has to be segregated with a few workers, or disposed of. I was glib about regicide while learning about beekeeping, but we’ve hit the first time where that’s an option. It feels silly actually giving a damn about an insect. Not bees in general, not our hives, but one specific bee who we’ve seen perhaps three times total.

So who robbed the hive? It’s impossible to know. I actually hope it was our other hive. First because it means they now have all the resources of both hives, and that’s not lost honey and pollen. Second because the alternative is an aggressor robbing hive somewhere in a three-mile radius of our house that could come back for our other hive. It’ll be bad enough losing one, losing both would be a real blow to our beekeeping spirits.

We always prepared ourselves to lose a hive, perhaps even both. Beekeeping isn’t easy, and even our mentors who have been in the hobby for years don’t have a 100% success rate on their hives. But it was a little brutal to actually witness, if not the actual death of the hive, at least the fatal blow being struck. Hopefully the combined hive will be healthy enough to overwinter, and come spring we’ll have all the wood ware to start a second hive, whether swarmed off the surviving hive or a newly created package or nuc.

This may put a serious delay in my dreams of fully homemade mead, however.

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Ace Double Review F-149

I first bought Ace Doubles from a library sale, where they were clearly donated by a single collector. Later I bought a lot from eBay, all signed with the same name. Both of these collections shared F-149 in common with its fantastic covers. So, I figured I should read it.

King of the Fourth Planet

The god-king, the man-wolf, and the I-machine

John Rolf fled his own guilt when he abandoned the corruption of Earth for a life of meditation on the many levels of Mars’ mountain, ruled as tradition had it by a king with amazing powers. In this serene climate, Rolf perfect an invention that would explore the human mind–and thereby unearthed a menace that threatened to annihilate the ancient Martian culture.

The discovery confronted Rolf with the crisis of his loyalty and his past. To defy Earth, to save Mars?

Yet only the KING OF THE FOURTH PLANET would have the power to do so–and everyone believed the king to be a myth.

I love stories of an inhabited Mars, and I’ve made no secret about that. Why I waited so long to pull out a book that has “…of the Fourth Planet” I’m not sure, especially one that’s clearly about men in white fright wigs plugging into machines to fight ghost soldiers. On the fourth planet!

This novel serves as a sort of origin story for the classic science fiction trope of a civilization evolving beyond the need of their physical bodies. In his attempt to build a mind-reading machine, John Rolf instead builds a machine that completely divorces his awareness from his body. The result is a book that has an excuse to break a lot of recent writing rules. It slips from third person limited to third person omniscient, and at the same time starts a lot of head hopping. Largely because Rolf spends several chapters being omniscient and hopping from head to head through both the human and Martian citizens of the fourth planet.

Mars is always different in these books, always some form of metaphor. In John Carter they’re noble savages needing a savior. In War of the Worlds they’re savage invaders. In King, they’re a highly stratified people, both figuratively and literally as the higher and more civilized Martians live on successively higher tiers of the great holy mountain of Mars, with the vast plains suited only to the basest among them. These lowest plains are also largely the homes of humans on Mars, with Rolf being the rare exception allowed to live on the fourth of seven tiers and even visit the fifth on occasion.

So what happens when you’ve got a self-stratified Martian population who are willing to peacefully work to secure positions for themselves and descendents at higher levels of the mountains? Humans come and dick it all up. Sure enough, the primary drama revolves around a human-led uprising from the lower levels, where it’s made quite clear the citizens of the first and second levels are fighting out of fear of the humans than out of a legitimate desire to overturn the hierarchy. This mixes in with two plot points clearly intended to be twists. First is Rolf himself creating the voluntary sex slavery that lets young women (including his daughter) come to Mars as “secretaries.” Second is the inevitable twist that the most obviously “non-obvious” member of Martian society is the King.

That I enjoyed the story in spite of these telegraphed twists is a testament to the writing and plotting. Rolf isn’t the typical pulp hero I’ve read. No, the typical pulp hero is the one at the bottom of the mountain couching an insurgent uprising in terms of egalitarianism while keeping a private harem back at the ship. Things are, perhaps, a little pat. The book certainly falls in the good-not-great territory, and I’m not going to bust out a five rating, but it lived up to the fun of the cover admirably.

4 out of 5 I-machines.

Cosmic Checkmate

10,000 worlds against one.

“I’ll beat you the second game,” was the Earthman’s challenge to the planet Velda–whose culture was indeed based on a complicated super-chess of skill and concentration. A Human and a Veldian could meet over a game board, but was there any other ground for understanding?

For the code of Velda was strange and savage, based on a concept of honor no Earthman could comprehend. The men were warriors and the women were–mysteries.

One world was challenging a galaxy, as one man was challenging that world. And in the contest for a universe, would there be a second game?

Some of my favorite mysteries are ones I don’t recognize as mysteries until the solution is spread out in front of me. There’s no murder to solve, no theft to uncover, no kidnapping to correct. Instead there’s one human risking his life by visiting the hostile world of Velda and learning the complex board game at the heart of the society. To that, I must give the book some credit for degree of difficulty. Much of the drama surrounds an entirely fictional game which, as Quidditch proves, is not the easiest plot point. This is done by using mostly chess terminology.

The mystery hidden in the book is how best for humanity, in spite of its presence on 10,000 worlds across the galaxy, to combat the threat posed by the relatively small planet of Velda. As with any good mystery, all elements of the solution are hidden in the pages of the book. Nothing is hidden, save that the book is written in the standard mystery format, and there are no cheats.

Well. There’s one cheat. In a book where the pacing was a few hours per chapter for the majority, the pacing suddenly becomes weeks, months, or even years per chapter for the conclusion. This is all really a protracted epilogue showing the results of the solution in action. Also, some might consider it a cheat that humans and Veldians can interbreed, a trope that I know isn’t popular, at least it does provide one of the puzzle pieces that come together for the solution. No throwaway details here, Ace Doubles, they’re short and they need to get shit done. I do have one of the yellow spined “mystery” doubles, and I might actually give it a try if this is the pacing they use.

As to this, hiding a mystery, implementing a game, and being damned readable in the progress?

4 out of 5 Veldian-Human hybrids.

I haven’t been posting averages, but anyone following my reviews will note this is the highest average rating I’ve given a double. It didn’t contain my favorite individual story, but it’s been my favorite pairing. For now, at least.

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What I’m Not Doing

Haven’t posted as much lately as usual, and this one is only a quick one to update what I’m certainly not up to. I an unquestionably not writing a story about mermaid hunters on the moon one tweet at a time with Unleaded co-host Day Al-Mohamed. Because that’s entirely too silly of a concept to even consider. And if I were, it certainly wouldn’t start here and go on for over a dozen tweets now. And I especially won’t be collecting them into a post when it gets too awkward to continue on Twitter and try to keep the story going in replies.

Just so you know.

None of that is happening.

Anything you see that suggests otherwise is likely just a delusion.

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History and Historiography

I’ve talked about my recent obsession with world history a few times over the last month. I’ve wrapped up the Columbia University world history to 1500CE course on YouTube, I’ve worked my way through The Great Courses offering “Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations” ($10 sale price, bought before I realized how much learning there is for free), and even as I type this I’m listening to an episode of BBC’s “A History of the World in 100 Objects.” I’ve recently added five podcasts to my iPod, in almost their entirety:

  • The History of Rome
  • In Our Time Archive: History
  • Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History
  • Norman Centuries
  • 12 Byzantine Rulers

In total this represents probably a week’s worth of history. Oh, not the amount of history I could listen to in a week, not a week of commutes or a 40-hour workweek. A solid non-stop week of history, in the range of 150-170 hours. It’s about learning things that I never knew before, but through it all I realize that it’s not so much history that has fascinated me. It’s historiography.

I was aware that historiography was a thing, the word laid somewhere in my brain thanks to course catalogs back in college, but it came back up while listening to the Columbia University course linked above. Taught by Dr. Richard Bulliet, one of the authors of the textbook being used in the class, it was equal parts world history and explanation of the choices made when created the text, and that fascinated me. Then the word surfaced, and I went to make sure I understood its meaning. Simplified, it’s the history of history. It’s all the questions about how we approach history, how we teach it, how we understand it.

In the first episode of the 100 Objects BBC series, presenter Neil MacGregor made it clear that the title of the show is “A History of the World” not “The History of the World.”  The latter would likely require more time than it took to make the history to begin with. Really, the notion that what I learned in school was only a world history is what brought me on this path. I learned a history of the world called Western Civilization, which generally goes Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Dark Ages, Renaissance, Columbus then sort of peters out because the semester ends. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this world history, just incomplete. Yes, it’s a little provincial, but it tells a story. Something that Dr. Bulliet makes clear is difficult to craft when it comes to a more broad-based world history. In the end even his history, or the broader history of Crash Course, leaves out some core elements. Japan and the Vikings become rumors. Native groups outside Africa, Asia, and Europe only show up when contacted.

There’s a lot of world history.

History is, at its heart, a story. A narrative. Historiography asks how do we craft that narrative? Do we track Western thought through its origins through to its exportation to the New World? Do we talk about a series of great men as they mold and shape their world? Do we approach history as a clash of civilizations? I’ve taken a break from my series about world building the earth, but if we are to look at our planet as a story setting, and approach questions of “why are things they way they are?” as a world building question, then historiography is how we decide on our plot, and look at how other people have approached their plots.

And that might be where my fascination lies.

History is such a broad narrative that there are endless right answers on how to approach it. And endless wrong answers. Each of the right answers has its weaknesses, but each provides a different angle that can fill in the gaps. As a crafter of stories, it’s fascinating to see how many approaches there are to stories I once thought set in stone. Or how many other stories were going on at the same time.  Or how stories I thought unrelated to each other share some characters I’d never noticed. It turns history from a single narrative into this weird shared-universe anthology, only with considerably more disagreement between authors about the underlying canon.

Of course, the easiest way to explore historiography is exposure to multiple histories. So I continue on. Back and forth, looking at broad themes and tight focuses. What can I say? It’s actually kinda fun.

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Books as Arts and Crafts

Even as a devoted fan of The Soup, I never expected to type the name “Lauren Conrad” in this blog. And yet, here goes. Did you see what Lauren Conrad did? If you didn’t, here it is. At least for the time being. The original video is gone, and I don’t know if copies will last.

After the video posted, the internet had a minor conniption fit about it. It’s been pulled apart by the Huffington Post, Gawker, Jezebel, Slate, and even the LA Times. In case the video embedded above gets pulled down, Lauren Conrad, formerly of The Hills and more recently published author under the TeenHarper umbrella, suggests a craft project that involves cutting the spines off books (in this case, Lemony Snicket books) and gluing them to the side of a box. What about the rest of the book? She recommends “You can also keep the pages you’re cutting out for a project later on. I have a wall in my office where I’ve taped a bunch of book pages up there.” Or, I suppose, you can store them in the box.

Decorating with books isn’t anything new. A local used book store that I love to pieces has a side business called Books By The Foot, which sells…books by the foot. For the purpose of filling bookshelves, largely with an eye to the decorative appeal to them. They’re sold by binding variety, color, or size. These are books intended to be looked at, not necessarily read. More destructive to the books are projects like this, books with their covers removed and stacked with their spines inward. Go to your local Restoration Hardware, or almost any other hip furniture store, and you’ll find books with the covers and spines removed, tied back together by twine, and placed into bell jars.

I’m also not going to pretend that hundreds, if not thousands of books aren’t destroyed on a daily basis through the process of remaindering. There’s something visceral about watching the process. Which is where a lot of the negative reaction came from. It doesn’t help that she targeted a series of books that the internet loves. That I love. Look, I thought the series fell apart near the end, I know I’m not alone in that opinion, but these are still books that I intend to have a complete set of when my daughter is the right age for them, that I will gladly read and re-read to her. So, yeah, it hurts to see them cut apart, especially in a video that ends with the request to “share with us the books you’re reading now.”

Why? So you can cut them apart, too?

So, alright, books as a decorative element are nothing new, destroying books is nothing new, destroying books to use them as a decorative element isn’t new. Yes, it hurts to watch them actually cut apart, especially by a former reality TV star.

And I understand wanting to use books as a decorative element. I love my Ace Doubles, and the other bits of classic pulp science fiction I’ve bought over the years, but right now this is how I have them displayed:

Only…less blurry in person. If you’ll notice they’re all on bookshelves, which means the spines are sticking out. Leaving aside Lauren Conrad’s decorating tips, the spines are the least interesting part of most book covers. I’m not going to say there’s no design to book spines, but what I love about these books is the covers. It’s why I wrote an entire post about one of the cover artists. It would be easy to mount some in a shadowbox and hang them on the wall to display to covers, without destroying the books. But I love reading the books, too. I wouldn’t want them not to be accessible. Doubles offer another problem by having two covers to potentially display. Some I have a clear favorite, but how can you choose between covers like the ones to the left and right. Those are flip sides of the same book.

Ace Doubles. Damn hard to find a way to fully display them in a way that isn’t destructive to the book. Don’t worry, I’m not going to start cutting them apart, it just means I’m always looking for some solution.

I understand why, as a bibliophile, it hurts to watch that video. I also understand, as a bibliophile, the aesthetic appeal of books.This isn’t meant to be one of those death-of-print-books articles, but I can’t help but wonder if changes in technology will change the ways we present books. They’ve already become a collection of decorative elements that just happen to be held together into one package. While Lauren Conrad, or her handlers, saw the controversy spurred by her video and took it down, these sorts of crafts projects exist, and many more books are destroyed on a daily basis without any reason behind them. Perhaps, just perhaps, what Conrad did isn’t nearly so bad from than angle. At least some pleasure will come from it. Could those books have been donated to any number of organizations that would provide them for children to read? Certainly. But in the grand scheme of book destruction, one box with Lemony Snicket spines is a drop in the bucket.

That’s not a defense. I don’t like it. I’m certainly not going to do it. It’s an acknowledgement that we book readers are entering a similar phase with our favorite medium that music lovers did. Records are routinely made unplayable in the name of interior design and decoration, and we hardly blink at that. It’s not the death of the book, it’s not the death of reading. It’s just the future of physical media, which I suspect will be increasingly repurposed. I’m not saying don’t care. Caring is fantastic, and I hope that someone has responded to the video above by donating copies of Lemony Snicket books, or other books, to places where they’ll be read. It’s sad. Books will never die as a thing, but this is a clear sign that they aren’t what they once were, a step along a transition. It’ll be a tough one, but it’s unavoidable. All we can do is love our books.

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How To Tell The Future

Today I came across this article, posted by fellow CVS member Linda Adams on Twitter. It’s a quick look at where forward looking science fiction got things right when predicting what was then the future, but is now the present.

Those who have followed me for awhile, especially those in my writers group, know of a novel on my back burner called Capsule. The novel takes place in the 2080s, and so I made predictions about  the course of history and technology over the next seven decades. Occasionally, Capsule alpha readers send me articles that make it sound like I knew what I was talking about.

I say this not to pat myself on the back and claim any great ability to predict future trends. Instead, I’m here to say if I can do it, anyone can do it. So here are my tips on how to be the author seen as a predictive sage in some future present. This is going to involve a little more “in my unpublished novel I…” than any one post should contain, but hang with me, there is a point to be made.

Tip #1: Follow the trends. This is why I follow coverage of Apple and Microsoft keynotes with such interest, why I read sites like Gizmodo, Engadget, and io9. When it came to crafting the world of Capsule, the trick wasn’t prediction it was extrapolation. Choose one or two areas of technology that have the potential of being the next big thing then make them even bigger than that. When I started Capsule, augmented reality was just starting, now with Google Glasses inching towards the market, implants that interrupt the optical nerve to put augmented reality directly into your vision seem 5% less weird.

Tip #2: Look for the concept products. It’s not just car manufacturers that come out with concepts that will likely never be reality. None of the concept cars from the 1970s are on the road today, and likely none of the concept tech goods that are proposed in drawings and videos will ever make the market. These are fantastic jumping off points for technology. The Nokia 888 concept, for example, became the origin point for wrist wrapped computers in Capsule.

Tip #3: Exaggerate the annoying. Future based science fiction, when really executed properly, is about the period it’s written in, not the period it’s written about. So find those elements of modern life you want to highlight, and blow them out of modern proportion. Within Capsule that meant a continued thread about technology that brings far flung people together creates walls between people much closer at hands.

Tip #4: Rely on psychology. Alright, this is actually the point of this blog post. Predicting the near future is a skill that is similar to psychic cold reading. Which is to say it’s not a skill at all, but a carefully crafted magic trick intended to fool the audience. In either instance, the underlying requirement of the trick is the trust of the audience, bringing them into a narrative that they want to participate in, even as a rational portion of the brain may understand it to be a fiction. If they like you enough, they’ll remember only your hits, not your misses.

When presented with how prescient Snow Crash feels to a reader twenty years later, Neal Stephenson is quick to point out just how much he got wrong, such as his prediction that some virtual real estate would be far more valuable than the rest. Star Trek has its cell phones, though far later than in reality. It also had a third world war happen in 1990s when eugenically created super men took over the world and plunged it briefly into a new age of feudalism. Blade Runner correctly posited we’d one day have umbrellas with light up canes, but where are my damned replicants and Los Angeles ziggurats? We don’t focus on those misses, however. We focus on the hits. Even in a project that exists only as two thirds of a rough draft, people remember only the hits.

So the real trick to predicting the future in your science fiction? Extrapolate, exaggerate, but then tell a compelling story. Make the reader want to read the whole book, so they’ll see all your predictions. It improves the chances of them finding the one thing you accidentally got right, and that’s the detail that will stick with them.

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An Excerpt

This is just a little silliness inspired by some tweets from Andrew Shaffer. I really have no other explanation.

Read the rest of this entry »

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An Open Letter

Dear NBC,

I know I’ve been doing a lot of complaining about your Olympic coverage on Twitter, so I wanted to take the opportunity to take a deep breath and compose my thoughts in a longer than 140 character chunk, and while I’m not being actively disappointed in your coverage. Oh yes, I am disappointed, do not question that. But that’s me getting ahead of myself.

I’d like to start by saying I understand the time shifting of events to prime time. I’ll go one further and say I even appreciate it. I am unable to watch streaming event videos during the day, the only events I get to see live fall in those few minutes between when I get up in the morning and when I go to work, and those last few events of the day still on when I get home. Last night, for example, the only event I could really see live was the USA/Canada women’s soccer match, and even then I turned in late in the second period of AET. This morning I got to see a little bit of the triathlon and two heats of track running.

I love the Olympics, and I would be sad if these were the only events I could watch. And so I watch the prime time coverage to catch up on the day. I’ll even try my damnedest to go into the events unspoiled as to their outcomes. So, yes, please provide time shifted events during prime time. But please…stop being so bad at it.

The current model of the Olympics prime time broadcast has hardly changed from the Olympics I remember watching as a kid, which is a shame because so much about the rest of the world has. I appreciate that you now offer so much more coverage than just the prime time digest, I believe you when you say broadcast more hours of coverage the first weekend of the London Games than during the entirety of the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. But then I see little facts that disturb me. Like how the only two countries that didn’t show the final of the men’s 100m dash on live television were the United States and North Korea. I understand it’s one of the most anticipated events in the whole of the Olympics, but that’s not an excuse to sit on the coverage until the 10pm hour of the prime time broadcast. Especially when every sports, and most non-sports, news sites have the result of the race plastered on their front pages seconds after the race is over.

Oh yes, the spoilers. You don’t seem to understand that these other news organizations are downright giddy to spoil results of events you’re embargoing until prime time. And they should be, because you’re giving them such a fantastic opportunity to scoop your own coverage, and because they’re news organizations, and these results are news. I expect spoilers from them…I don’t expect them from you.

I’ve had to train myself to go directly to the TV Schedule page if I want to see what’s on when I get home, because inevitably the front page of NBCOlympics has the results of the big events you’re planning to show that night. It’s possible to provide these results online without making it so clear that you don’t care about those viewers, like me, who would like to go into the evening at least a little ignorant of what we’re about to see. We’ve also seen two examples during the games of Today Show promos running during the prime time broadcast that spoil the results of events that have yet to air in prime time. Most egregiously promising Missy Franklin’s thoughts on winning her first gold medal three minutes before she won it.

Like I said, I understand time shifting. I rely on time shifting. But why do you insist on being so bad at it? Airing the 100m final live when it happened on one of your coverage networks would not have affected my tuning in during prime time.

Oh, and one last thing about the evening broadcasts. We’re tuning in to watch sports. I understand the occasional athlete profile, but the cultural segments where we’re treated to a ten minute retrospective of James Bond (followed, surprise surprise, by a Skyfall trailer) or instructed on the history of Longitude are point in time when you are not actually broadcasting sports. I know those segments have been your stock and trade during Olympic coverage for years, especially when they let you look down your noses at how other countries live, but they are only subtractive. Teaching us about Longitude or 007 can come back just as soon as the Olympics include events in trans-oceanic sailing, or Being James Bond (which I see as some variation on the Modern Pentathlon that would involve Walther PPK marksmanship, evasive driving, and perhaps jetpack races).

I’m not even going to get into the lengthy coverage provided to the 1996 women’s gymnastics all-around final.

I hope you’ve seen the criticism of your handling of these games, and will actually consider some changes for Sochi, Rio, Pyeongchang, and wherever the 2020 games happen. Because you already own broadcast rights to those games, so we American viewers are stuck with you at least through then. Unfortunately, I don’t know what your incentive is. You’ve paid to broadcast games that don’t even have a site yet, so there’s no risk of losing the rights anytime soon. And the prime time broadcast creates a nasty feedback loop. You get great ratings broadcasting the games the way you broadcast them, because what option do we have, so that serves as feedback that people must like them that way, so it’s more of the same every two years. The same events (skating in the winter, diving and gymnastics in the summer), the same format, the same everything.

You have gotten better. I remember Olympics when the prime time broadcast was nearly it. I remember Winter Olympics where you went to no coverage for hours on end to cover NASCAR instead. Using the NBCU family of cable networks was a huge step forward, and I appreciate that there are dedicated pop-up soccer and basketball channels during these games. You’re offering so many events streamed online. I love all of this. But the flagship of the Olympic broadcast is leaking badly, and needs repairs.

Signed,
A loyal, disappointed viewer.

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The Gold Paradox

This is something I’ve been thinking about lately. It’s not really a story, but it’s certainly fictional. I call it the gold paradox.

First, let us assume time travel that lets you travel into the past without creating a new timeline.

If you were to travel into the past intending to stay for any length of time, you would need something that could be used as currency. There are three options. First, you could bring back modern money, which wouldn’t work because no one would accept it. Second, you could bring back archeological coinage from the region and era that you’re traveling to, but outside Roman coinage this creates a supply and demand problem in the modern day. Third, you could bring back a commodity that has been traded as a secondary currency in several ancient societies and civilizations.

So you go for option number three, and you take back gold.

Gold would be the most universal currency for the backwards time traveler. So long as a non-zero number of ancient/pre-modern civilizations are willing to accept it as currency, there will be a non-zero number of backwards time travelers that take it back as a currency.

So let’s track an individual ounce of gold. There’s roughly a 10% chance that an ounce of gold mined in the year 2012 is brought out of the earth in the United States, so that’s where this particular ounce comes from. A time traveler buys that ounce of gold, and heads back in time where he trades it for goods and services in ancient Persia around 425 BCE, leaving the gold behind. The problem arises because that ounce of gold now exist in two places in the year 425 BCE, once in Persia, and once in the ground in the North America where it won’t be mined for another roughly 2500 years. So that gold that you left with the Persians is crafted, melted, and remelted over the course of twenty-five centuries until it eventually becomes part of a Krugerrand in 2012. This bullion is then bought by another backwards time traveler on his way to celebrate the millennium in the Holy Roman Empire (which wasn’t holy, Roman, or an empire). Now in the year 1000 there are three copies of that ounce of gold, one in the ground in North America, one that was in Persia, and one now in modern Germany.

And so on.

This creates a problem, and a paradox. As the number of instances of the same ounce of gold increase in the year 2012, the value of gold drops. Of course, this makes it all the more attractive as a currency for backwards travelers, until the runaway inflation created by these time travelers serves to crash all past commodity markets as well. So the first paradox comes from all commodity markets being destroyed (once gold crashes, we’d move onto silver, copper, diamonds, etc.).

This would also serve to turn most gold into a bootstrap paradox. Gold mining stops in the past for two reasons: 1) there’s less value to the metal and 2) there’s an easier supply of gold coming from those funnily dressed strangers.

There’s also the problem that every time this ounce of gold is taken back and left behind, it increases the overall mass of the earth by one ounce. It’s a little bit of mass at a time, but it adds up under repeated trips.

I talked about this paradox with my wife, and she made an observation. The gold stacks up until the day that time travel is invented, and then it begins to disappear as it is taken into the past to get caught in these loops. It would recreate the gold market, and put the earth on a diet as all the extra mass is lost. Assuming our gravity wasn’t so affected that the moon crashed into the earth or we went careening out of our orbit.

Potential solution to the hyper-inflationary problems: going back with consumable goods. Especially modern produce. Strawberries, pomegranates, modern bananas, kiwifruit. You’d still have the issues that the matter within those fruits existed in some form in the past, so there’s still the problem of increasing the mass of the earth, but at least the commodity markets would be largely unaffected both in the past and the present.

I’m certain there’s a story in here, somewhere. For now, I present it only as mental meanderings.

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State of the Writer: August 2012

SPQR, Baby

2012 Goal: Query Nickajack. We’re on a similar pace as I mentioned this time last month, with a hope that we’ll be ready to step away and let alpha readers at the project by this time next month. Things are not going as quickly as they could, but that’s entirely because we’ve had other things on our mind, what with the baby now due in a little over four weeks. We’ve been working on both for roughly the same length of time, but one is going to be far more insistent on when it makes its debut to the world, so the shifting of priorities is unavoidable.

This morning I reached the end of Act Two in the novella I’ve been writing on the side, mostly during the mornings. I forgot to grab my morning writing total for the month before working on this blog post, but I know it’s lower than last month as I lost the first week of July to power outages and some vacation time. Still, July did see me push past 10,000 morning-written words, and tomorrow should see me cresting 15,000. I’ve averaged around 300 words a morning across all mornings, averaging in several zeroes, and closer to 350 on the mornings I’ve actually written. In the last few days I’ve also surmounted a block I discussed on Unleaded wherein I was only working in the morning. The evenings have seen me working on the novella, and even starting the outline of a new project of currently unknown length.

I am, if I am honest with myself, not being quite so productive a writer as I would like, nor nearly so slothful of a writer as I have at times been. The summer tends to do that to me.

State of the Author’s Beer. I should arrive home today to a shipment from Austin Homebrew featuring their oatmeal stout, which I will combine with Boysenberries to make the infamous Pi Stout. It’s irrationally good. I’m hoping to find some time this weekend to set up the small television in the kitchen and brew while watching the Olympics.

State of the Author’s Bees. After the scare at the beginning of the month, the hives look happy and healthy. They’ve nearly stocked up enough honey for the winter, though a little more certainly wouldn’t hurt. We’re going to thoroughly inspect them this weekend, make sure everything is a hunky dory as it appears. If it is, each might get a new super.

State of the Author’s Education into World History. This isn’t quite enough for its own post, but I’m quite thrilled with the amount of online material I’ve found in my quest to learn a little more about World History. I’m currently working through Richard Bulliet’s Columbia course “History of the World to 1500 CE,” watching Crash Course World History as it updates, and listening to A History of the World in 100 Objects while commuting. In the wings I’ve got Open Yale’s “Early Middle Ages,” and University of Houston’s “The Vikings.” That should keep me going for quite some time. If I still want more, I’ve been looking at another Open Yale course on the American Revolution, and UHouston’s course on the Normans. Big help was finding this page, which compiles free online classes offered by several universities. Phew, that was a lot of links.

That’s me. I hope to finish the first draft of Ghosts of Venus this month, do some good outlining and get started on a project currently called “Untitled of the Fourth Planet,” and see Nickajack through to a point that it’s ready for alpha readers. That’s an ambitious month, but I think we can do it. This week or next I owe my next Ace Double review. Spoiler: it didn’t contain my favorite individual story, but it was probably my favorite combined double.

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