Friday, July 30, 2010

Is Anybody Out There? and 50 Years of SETI

Henry Thomas stars in Steven Spielberg's E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
(courtesy of Universal/Everett)

The Daily Galaxy (@dailygalaxy) posted an article online on June 20, 2010, entitled "Invisible Extraterrestrials? World Leading Physicist Says 'They Could Exist in Forms We Can't Conceive.'" The physicist to whom the article refers is Lord Martin Rees, president of Britain's Royal Society and astronomer to the Queen of England. Earlier, in May, Lord Rees hosted a National Science Academy Conference -- "The Detection of Extra-terrestrial Life and the Consequences for Science and Society" -- at which he stated that he believes the existence of extraterrestrial life may be beyond human understanding. To quote Rees directly:
"They could be staring us in the face and we just don’t recognize them. The problem is that we’re looking for something very much like us, assuming that they at least have something like the same mathematics and technology.

"I suspect there could be life and intelligence out there in forms we can’t conceive. Just as a chimpanzee can’t understand quantum theory, it could be there are aspects of reality that are beyond the capacity of our brains."
Also participating in this conference was noted SETI-founder Frank Drake (of the Drake equation fame), who presented an interesting theory on how the "digital revolution" is making humanity invisible to aliens by cutting [to the vanishing point] the transmission of analog TV and radio signals into space.

The article goes on to define three propositions to explain why "there is no direct and/or widely apparent evidence that extraterrestrial life exists." If you're intrigued with all of this, then by all means please read the entire Daily Galaxy article, including the Comments section, in which a reader suggests a fourth proposition.

Last week, while visiting "the mom" in a medical rehab facility (see blog post dated Friday, July 23, 2010), I managed to steal away for a few hours to meet my friend -- and author -- Bruce McAllister for dinner. The last time we got together (during the Thanksgiving holiday last year), the anthology Is Anybody Out There? was still a work in process. But now that it has been published, I was able to chat with Bruce about the many reviews, in addition to the Readercon book launch. Then, a few days ago, on July 27, Bruce sent me an email with only a lone link attached -- to a TIME online piece entitled "Listening for Aliens: What Would E.T. Do?"

The article focuses on the work of Gregory Benford, professor of physics at the University of California at Irvine and an award-winning science fiction writer, his twin brother James, and James' son Dominic. The Benfords have been rethinking the SETI project, which now marks its 50th year.

After exhaustive analysis, the Benfords believe that aliens who want to be detected would most likely send out short, powerful bursts every so often rather than continuous transmissions. Unfortunately, these "Benford beacons" would be easy to miss if scientists weren't listening right at that exact time.  The article concludes with an extrapolation:

"Of course, all the new work [on SETI] may be unnecessary, since it's just possible we've spotted E.T. already. Several times over the past 50 years, searchers have picked up radio signals that flashed once or twice, then disappeared. The best known of these is called the 'Wow' signal, because that's what an astronomer who picked it up wrote on a printout from a radio telescope at Ohio State University in the 1970s. SETI searchers went back to the star in question immediately, but heard nothing. It may well be, suggests Benford, that we detected extraterrestrials more than three decades ago — and because we weren't taking into account what E.T. would do, failed to confirm it."
All this is great stuff: food for thought, grist for the mill, and confirmation that we -- all the contributors -- done a good thing with the publication of Is Anybody Out There? to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the SETI project.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Readercon Recap

As I wrote in a previous blog post, Readercon 21 was the official book launch for my anthology Is Anybody Out There? which I co-edited with Nick Gevers for Daw Books.

When I saw the programming schedule for the convention I became quite apprehensive: the book launch was scheduled for 2:00 p.m. on Friday, July 9. I repeat: a Friday afternoon -- a workday, following a three-day holiday weekend. When I shared my concern earlier that Friday with contributing author Paul Di Filippo, he essentially told me to have faith: he said the Thursday evening panels were well attended and Fridays have historically been well-attended at Readercon as well.

I had flown the JetBlue red-eye direct from San Jose to Boston, leaving at 9:10 p.m. Thursday evening and arriving in Boston around 5:30 a.m. Friday -- a five-and-a-half-hour flight, but the loss of an entire night. By the time I arrived at the Marriott and checked in, it was nearly 7:00 a.m. Shortly after arriving, I made my way to the convention area, and posted flyers that I had printed to advertise the book launch. I taped these to a couple con tabletops, spread them across the tops of three hallway console tables, and placed the remaining flyers in the freebie handouts section. I knew that con attendees would arrive Friday afternoon -- and most likely head straight for the dealers room; I wanted to catch their attention in time for the event.

I arrived at the meeting room for the book launch about fifteen minutes early. A panel was still in session, so at the 1:55 p.m. mark I opened the door and gave the panelists the "time" sign. With me in the hallway were a dozen other people whom I assumed --  hoped! -- were also waiting for the book launch. And if all twelve actually attended the launch, then I would be satisfied.

Well, by the time the event actually started, there were more than fifty people in the audience -- and standing room only. (I did a quick headcount and stopped after fifty, though there were still others in the audience.) What was even more rewarding to me, as the organizer and moderator of this event, was the fact that only one person walked out of the panel (at about the fifteen-minute mark) before it ended.

In addition to me and author Paul Di Filippo, contributing authors Yves Meynard and James Morrow were also present.1

Friday, July 23, 2010

Implanted Memories

I put off a new blog post following my attendance at Readercon because I was waiting for a review of my co-edited anthology Is Anybody Out There? (with Nick Gevers, from Daw Books) to be posted on  But, alas, the review was delayed for various reasons according to the reviewer, and by the time it was posted, I had a flight booked on Southwest Airlines for Southern California. My mother, now 87 years old, had her left knee replaced 18 years ago and it decided to dislocate on the Friday morning that I arrived in Boston for Readercon. She's now in a hospital rehab and we learn this morning whether or not the knee will need to be replaced yet again. [Update: it won't, at least for now.] So I arrived in SoCal to keep her company and to see what assistance I could provide (like contacting her friends, checking her mail, paying bills, banking, watering plants, etc.).

And here I sit in a Starbucks, with a two-buck cup of coffee, taking advantage of the free wifi.

I realize that this blog has always been dedicated to the art of editing, and publishing, and authors and their books, but please indulge me for now.

I've been staying in my mother's house these past few days, a house that we purchased in Anaheim when I was 15 years old. It's a long walk -- but as a kid you don't mind -- from Disneyland where I used to hang out on Saturday nights when there was always a band, lots of dancing -- and girls. As I unpacked my suitcase to hang my shirts up in the closet, I noticed on a shelf all the family photograph albums. A couple evenings later I decided to look through one of those albums and found the photograph included here. [Note: I just realized I have no way to scan and upload this pic at this time, so even though I'm writing this blog now -- it's just after 8:00 a.m. Friday morning -- I won't be able to post it until after I arrive home; if not Saturday evening, then Sunday. Sigh....]

Yes, 'tis I in this photograph. I'm guessing I'm around 3 years old. Unfortunately the photo isn't dated; in fact, none of the photos I found are dated, which is truly sad. The photo was taken at the first house my parents owned, in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, in an area of the city called "Tenth Ward." Sounds ominous, doesn't it. A bricked alleyway can be seen on the other side of the fence on which I cling. And the building that you see on the other side of the alleyway is a bakery. My mother has told me this story so many times that it is now one of my memories, as if I remember the dialogue and events myself, in my own mind. I'm sure all of you have such "implanted memories" from your parents, or grandparents, possibly even friends.

The story goes that my grandfather came by the house one afternoon (more in a bit about my grandparents), and when I saw him I started swearing -- most famously, repeating the words "son of a bitch." My grandfather became outraged and accused my mother (his daughter) and father (it was a weekday, and my father was at work) of teaching me such words. She insisted that neither she nor Al (my father, obviously) spoke these words in front of the children (I had a sister who was 5 years older). Her worst transgression was saying the word "hell" on occasion. Well, my mother's insistence barely appeased my grandfather. As the story goes, a few days later, my mother and grandfather were with me in the backyard, when to their surprise they heard -- emanating from one of the open bakery windows -- a voice shouting: "You son of a bitch, if you don't do it this way I'm gonna...." And of course, you guessed it, as soon as they heard that shout, I started repeating the words "son of a bitch, son of a bitch" over and over again.

So my grandfather walked over to the bakery, asked to speak to the workers. He told them to shout some obscenities by the open window, and then watch the reaction from the little boy across the alley!

At least everyone learned the true source of the naughty words!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

June Links & Things

You have hopefully noticed my More Red Ink header change -- a new logo. At BayCon over Memorial Day weekend, I participated on a panel with Lee Moyer, an illustrator and graphic designer. We chatted briefly before the end of the con, and exchanged business cards -- at which point I admitted that I needed a new business card (referring, as I was, to the schlocky design on my existing card). To make a long story short, Lee designed a new biz card for me, and with some tweaking on his part, I was able to use the basic logo design for the header on my blog. That BayCon panel, by the way, was entitled "Judging a Cover by Its Book."

Also, I have added two new pages to the blog, you'll see them just above the start of this post. One is "Is Anybody Out There?" which lists all of the blog posts that specifically pertain to this anthology, including the six stories I posted in their entirety. The second page is entitled "Authors and Their Books" and lists all of my author-specific blog posts.

I should note here, too, that I just completed reading a book entitled Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age by Steve Knopper (Free Press, 2009). This book should be mandatory reading for executives and upper management in the (New York specifically) book publishing, marketing, and distribution businesses.

Here are my links and such for the month of June. I've listed them here, with additional detail and comment. You can receive these links in real time by following me on Twitter: @martyhalpern.

  • The final volume in Matthew Hughes's trilogy of Henghis Hapthorn tales -- Hespira -- has finally been published by Night Shade Books. The first two titles in the series, Majestrum and The Spiral Labyrinth, were published in 2006 and 2007 respectively. Hapthorn is a discriminator (investigator) by profession, and to appreciate Hughes's characterization and world building, imagine if Jack Vance had written the Sherlock Holmes stories, and Holmes' investigations took him to other planets. Wonderful stuff. Hapthorn uses intellect and reason to solve crimes and resolve issues, but in The Spiral Labyrinth we learned that "sympathetic association" (magic) was slowly becoming the dominant force, and Hapthorn was doing his best to survive in a changing world in which he did not fit. Mark Rose at Bookgasm reviewed Hespira earlier this month: "In this tale, Hapthorn accidentally stumbles into a woman who has lost all of her memories. She has no idea who she is, nor any thoughts about her past or future. Hapthorn, though decidedly not interested in her in a romantic way, feels obligated to protect her somehow and, in turn, find out her identity. What follows is a picaresque adventure as he slowly ferrets out certain details that help him discover her origins, all of which of course leads him and his companions into grave danger.... Hughes has the panache to put all of this across to the reader without it seeming made up along the way. There is much to like here in this series, and here's hope that more books are on the way." [Note: I edited the Tales of Henghis Hapthorn series by Matthew Hughes for Night Shade Books.]
  • When I read a character name like "Henghis Hapthorn" I tend to wonder how the author came up with this name. There are some great character names in the sf/fantasy genre: Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker, Leto Atreides, and Gandalf, to name just four that immediately come to mind. So I was pleased to see a blog post by RasoirJ entitled "Much in a Name." After listing a group of well-known character names, Ras writes: "The characters listed here do have something in common, though. Their names fit, and very nicely indeed. Admittedly, there's a certain circularity in my argument. It's hard to say whether Jake Barnes seems so right for the character because we're exceedingly familiar with the great novel in which he appears, The Sun Also Rises, or whether the name Jake Barnes is a small but crucial element in the interwoven artistry of a great novel." Ras goes on to break down the name "Jake Barnes" to determine how Hemingway may have come up with the name. Other sections in this article include: discussions on "It's easy to go too far with a name" and "How is a writer to come up with good names?" (via @AdviceToWriters)