Scientists at the Argonne National Laboratory have designed a new material that speeds up the conversion of greenhouse gas CO2 into methanol fuel. Best of all, the catalyst's primary ingredient isn't something rare and expensive (e.g. platinum). It's copper.
In case you hadn't already seen it, this is the video of Benedict Cumberbatch performing Smaug in the motion capture studio. I love these 4+ minutes far more than the movie itself. And to me, it encapsulates some of the things I like about Cumberbatch as an actor, and about many British actors in general (at least, the ones who make it over the pond in a significant way):
1. He doesn't hold back. It doesn't matter that he's playing a dragon, in a fantasy, in a motion capture leotard - he gives it the same energy and
Amazon.com has bestseller categories for every type of book. The categories follow the BISAC system (Book Industry Subject and Category, if you were wondering). Anyway, in the Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Humorous Bestseller list, guess who is #18?
That's right! It's The Wrong Sword.
Granted, it's a smallish category. But that still means I am on the SAME AMAZON FRONT PAGE as books by Ben Aaronovitch, Diana Wynne Jones, Neil Gaiman, and - yes! - Terry Pratchett. (When you're up there with the Brits in Humorous Fantasy, you're automatically in the Big Leagues.)
And since most browsing shoppers only check out the first page of these lists, being #18 out of #20 is a Big Deal.
In Isaac Asimov's The Caves of Steel, most of the nutritional needs of the vast population of Earth is met with specially-engineered fungi and yeast. It's a not-uncommon trope elsewhere in SF, too - Vernor Vinge uses it in A Deepness in the Sky, for instance, when he mentions the "bactries" the starfarers use to concoct organic materials.
The info dump is the classic danger for any writer of speculative fiction. You've put so much thought and effort into creating a world unlike our own...how are you going to convey that world to your readers, so that they can understand your story? If you tell too little, maybe they'll be lost, and give up. But tell too much, and their eyes glaze over. All too often, the new writer dumps dozens of pages of exposition onto the reader before ever getting to the story itself, and is subsequently savaged by his or her writers group.
That's the classic mistake. The info dump.
Needless to say, many of the Grand Masters of science fiction were also Grand Masters of exposition. They found dozens of sneaky, clever ways of getting the information into the story, and a few kludges too.
The book proof of The Wrong Sword is on its way; it will be here by Monday. I may make one or two changes. Then it will be available in all its dead-tree glory alongside the electronic version on Amazon and elsewhere.
There's a lot to be said for physicality. There were certain cover-art questions that I couldn't answer based on files on a screen.
SQUICK WARNING - I don't usually cover gross stuff here. But this question managed to send little spider feet across my forehead, so if "brain abnormalities" squick you out, move along.
There's a condition called hydrocephalus - water on the brain - in which the sufferer's brain development leads to much of the brain's cells being replaced with fluid. And yet, some patients still displayed normal intelligence, leading one researcher to wonder if we really need our brains to think!
This neuroscience entry suggests that, yes, Amelia, we DO need our brains to think, and here's why. And there are pictures. So, squick. But really, really interesting.
Dog Day Afternoon - the archetypal movie of the 1970s. What does it have to do with Orion, the archetypal hunter of 1070 BC?
Dog days, that's what.
Those crazy, stinking, sultry, too-hot-to-move, too-humid-to-breathe days in July and August when you just want to throw yourself at an iceberg and marry it; when living in New York or Chicago or Rome is its own special kind of Heck on Earth, and the entire world seems to smell of garbage bags that haven't been picked up yet.
They're called dog days for a reason - they coincide with the rising of Sirius, the "dog star," the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major ("Big Dog," for you il-Latinates). Canis Major is the dog that accompanies the constellation of Orion, the Hunter.
People have been making the connection between Sirius and nasty weather at least since Homer and The Iliad:
Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky On summer nights, star of stars, Orion's Dog they call it, brightest Of all, but an evil portent, bringing heat And fevers to suffering humanity.
[The Iliad, 22:33-37, Lombardo translation]
Heat, pestilence, and madness. The old newspaper reporters' "silly season," indeed. So let's be careful out there!
Like science fiction? Like Isaac Asimov? Like podcasts?
Turns out that the BBC produced a radio drama of Asimov's classic Foundation trilogy - and now it's available on the Internet Archive! Listen to it here.
Maybe you remember the travel posters that NASA developed for some of its more interesting exoplanet finds? (I mentioned 'em here.) Well, they've done another one. I really like it - Dance, Dance, Revolution!
Today (I've discovered) is the Gaelic holiday of Lughnasadh, originally celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man, and marking the start of the harvest season or "first fruits." (In case you were wondering, the other three seasonal holidays are Samhain, Beltane, and Imbolc.) And judging by my Meetup.com list of things in New York today, there are at least 12 witches, Wiccans, or Neo-pagans in Manhattan who are celebrating. To them I say enjoy the bilberries, and have a bracing climb up the mountain.