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8 Rules for Writing Great Science Fiction

Steal This Pitch: 8 Unstoppable Rules For Writing Killer Short Stories

World-building should be quick and merciless. In a novel, you can spend ten pages explaining how the 29th Galactic Congress established a Peacekeeping Force to regulate the use of interstitial jumpgates, and this Peacekeeping Force evolved over the course of a century to include A.I.s in its command structure, etc. etc. In a short story, you really need to hang your scenery as fast as possible. My friend and mentor d.g.k. goldberg always cited the Heinlein line: "The door dilated," which tells you a lot about the surroundings in three words. Little oblique references to stuff your characters take for granted can go a long way.

Make us believe there's a world beyond your characters' surroundings. Even though you can't spend tons of time on world-building, you have to include enough little touches to make us believe there's stuff we're not seeing. It's like the difference between the fake house-fronts in a cowboy movie and actual houses. We should glimpse little bits of your universe, that don't necessarily relate to your characters' obsessions.

Fuck your characters up. A little. Just like with worldbuilding, you can't necessarily devote pages to your characters' childhoods and what kind of underwear they wear under their boiler suits. Unless your story is really a character study with a bit of a science fiction plot. I used to have a worksheet that included spaces to fill in in info about each character's favorite music, hatiest color, etc. etc. Never filled those out. If I'd tried to force myself to come up with a favorite color for every character, I would have given up writing. But do try to spend a bit of time giving all of your characters some baggage, just enough to make them interesting. Most science fiction readers are interested in characters who solve problems and think positively, but that doesn't mean they can't have some damage.

Spitzer resigning

'Deeply sorry,' Spitzer to step down by Monday - CNN.com

"I am deeply sorry that I did not live up to what was expected of me," he said in a brief news conference announcing his intention to resign, effective Monday. "I will try once again outside of politics to serve the common good."

With his wife, Silda, at his side, he added, "Our greatest glory consists not in never falling but in rising every time we fall."

The announcement came as the New York governor faces allegations -- but no charges -- that he is tied to an international prostitution ring ensnared in a federal probe.

Spitzer's lawyers were in discussions Wednesday with the U.S. attorney's office in New York, trying to negotiate a plea deal to avoid prosecution, a source with knowledge of the discussions said.

Steven Pinker on profanity

3quarksdaily

The problem with the "1000 true fans" idea

Whatever -- The Problem With 1,000 True Fans

The reason the “1,000 True Fan” formulation sets folks on fire is pretty obvious: It seems like it’s a reasonably realistic goal. All but the most deluded of artistic types realize that massive, earth-shaking fame (and the riches that come with it) is extraordinarily rare to achieve, and that along with talent one needs a heaping helping of luck to get there. But 1,000 people — well, that seems doable on work alone. Plus now creative folks have lower cost and opportunity barriers for production and distribution, the Internet makes it easy to reach infinitely more folks, and so on and so forth. 1,000 people is a high school worth of people. It seems reasonable that you could be famous to a high school’s worth of people, especially when those thousand people are spread out among the 300 million people in the US/1 billion people in the world who have Internet access.

Speaking as someone who is arguably at a 1KTF level of notoriety, I certainly think it’s possible to gather a cabal of personal fandom to you and then ride them to a comfortably middle-class living. That said, it’s not what I do, and I don’t think it’s as easy a task as some folks seem to be hoping it will be, either in the acquisition of or the maintenance of that trusty band of true believers. Nor do I think the reward will be what one expects.

Why not? Well, I’m glad you asked.

March 11, 2008

18 things you forgot about the run-up to the war

The Iraq Follies

1) The day before the invasion, Bill O'Reilly said, "If the Americans go in and overthrow Saddam Hussein and it's clean, he has nothing, I will apologize to the nation; I will not trust the Bush administration again, all right?"

2) Phil Donahue lost his show at MSNBC, he later claimed, because he did not wave the flag enough. A leaked NBC memo confirmed Donahue's suspicion, noting that the host "presents a difficult public face for NBC in a time of war.... At the same time our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity."

3) After the fall of Baghdad, MSNBC's Chris Matthews declared, "We're all neocons now."

4) The same day, Joe Scarborough, also on MSNBC, said, "I'm waiting to hear the words 'I was wrong' from some of the world's most elite journalists, politicians, and Hollywood types."

5) The New York Times' Thomas Friedman wrote, "As far as I am concerned, we do not need to find any weapons of mass destruction to justify this war.... Mr. Bush doesn't owe the world any explanation for missing chemical weapons."

The Wonder Years without narration is 95% people staring at each other

The Wonder Years Without Narration

Evolution’s Most Effective Killer: Snake Venom

Evolution’s Most Effective Killer: Snake Venom | Popular Science

In general, scientists agree on how snakes’ venom glands evolved, but that’s not the case for the poisons themselves. Some scientists think that venom is composed of modified proteins from the snakes’ spit that already functioned to break down and digest the prey. Some also believe that the ability to produce poison has evolved independently among the different species of snakes.

But Australian researcher Bryan Fry, one of the world’s leading experts on venomous snakes, has another theory. He has discovered, with the help of DNA analysis, that the vast majority of the proteins and enzymes found in venoms closely resemble substances found in other parts of the snakes’ bodies—substances, for example, that have a function in the liver, or in the digestive organs or some other system. The genes that control the production of these substances in other organs somehow became activated in the salivary glands, where they produce substances that, once modified and refined, are able to help kill the snakes’ prey in an increasingly effective manner.

Panasonic releasing armored TVs to protect against Wii remotes

TVs reinforced for those smashing Wii games - tech - 11 March 2008 - New Scientist Tech

To make its TV sets less vulnerable, Panasonic is planning to use high-strength CRT glass across its range of flat-screen TVs. In a demonstration for New Scientist at a seminar in Valencia, Spain, Panasonic hung a 250-gram steel ball on the end of a cord and let it swing 40 centimetres onto a screen to simulate an impact equivalent to the Wii remote being thrown hard at the screen from across a room.

Even after a wince-inducing 1000 strikes on the same spot, the glass remained intact and unmarked. By contrast, a conventional flat screen cracked after a single strike, exposing its electronic innards to the atmosphere and stopping it working.

The idea will be useful beyond Wii users. "Even if people don't have a Wii, children throw TV remotes at screens," says Michael Price of Panasonic.

Things I Will Do If I Am Ever the Vampire

Things I Will Do If I Am Ever the Vampire

1. I will not pick off friends, family or neighbors of the Hero one at a time. This annoys the Hero and drives him into action. They'll still be there when he is dead.

2. There are thousands of sick people who want to be vampires. Why pick someone who doesn't?

3. The Hero will come armed with holy water, a cross and a stake. I will come armed with a 5.56 mm assault rifle and grenades. If the Hero has to cross open ground, there is no better way to reach out and touch someone than with a sniper rifle.

4. When biting women to make them slaves, I will bite them in out-of-the-way locations such as the inside of the thigh, the lower part of the breast or other location not requiring painfully obvious alteration of clothing or ridiculous accessories to conceal.

5. I will equip my home with a marvelous device called a burglar alarm with an automatic dialer. It will be difficult for the Hero to kill me while under arrest for attempted breaking and entering.

. . .

21 Love Songs: A Tribute to the Magnetic Fields

21 Love Songs: A Tribute To The Magnetic Fields | CLLCT

50 people go blind looking for Virgin Mary on the sun

DNA - India - 50 people looking for solar image of Mary lose sight - Daily News & Analysis

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: At least 50 people in Kottayam district have reportedly lost their vision after gazing at the sun looking for an image of Virgin Mary.

Though alarmed health authorities have installed a signboard to counter the rumour that a solar image of Virgin Mary appeared to the believers, curious onlookers, including foreign travellers, have been thronging the venue of the ‘miracle’.

St Joseph’s ENT and Eye Hospital in Kanjirappally alone has recorded 48 cases of vision loss due to photochemical burns on the retina. “All our patients have similar history and symptoms. The damage is to the macula, the most sensitive part of retina. They have developed photochemical, not thermal, burns after continuously gazing at the sun,” Dr Annamma James Isaac, the hospital’s ophthalmologist, said.

The hospital has been receiving patients with these abnormal symptoms since Friday. When the doctors found a pattern in the case sheets, they reported it to the district medical officer.

Florida considering mail-in Mulligan primary

Consensus nears for mail-in primary in Florida - Los Angeles Times

But the disqualification of Florida and Michigan has created a headache for the Democratic party due to the unexpected closeness of the race between Obama and Clinton. Officials from both states are trying to figure out how best to resolve the issue before the national convention in August.

DNC Chairman Howard Dean said a mail-in primary is "actually a very good process."

"Every voter gets a ballot in the mail," the former Vermont governor said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "It's comprehensive, you get to vote if you're in Iraq or in a nursing home. It's not a bad way to do this."