Monday, January 26, 2009

Video Tour Of The International Space Station


Just follow the link above for the first part, and then check out the links to the right of the YouTube page to continue the tour in this multi-part video. Some very cool stuff, definitely worth watching. Learn the reality of life on the final frontier.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Baen Books Mega Fail

So today I get this email from Baen Books:

January 7, 2009

Dear Author,

Thank you for showing us your novel, The Shattered Sky. Unfortunately it does not seem right for us.

Reader's comment: Very interesting premise. Well written,this one will find a home somewhere.

While due to the volume of submissions and the press of business it is impossible for us comment in greater depth,please do not take this rejection as being necessarily areflection on your work; we can accept fewer than one percent of the manuscripts submitted to us. Best of luck in another market.


The Editors
Baen Books

- - -

No big deal, just a fairly standard rejection letter, something you have to expect often as a writer.

EXCEPT I sent them that manuscript in May, 2007!

Why the HELL did it take them 20 months to reply? What, they only have one old guy in the mountains reading the slush pile part time, and they send him the manuscripts by yearly mule train?

I have been working as a writer since the mid-90s, and have been published professionally dozens of times. I am a published novelist, abeit not a rich or famous one (yet). Its not like I don't know how things are supposed to work in this business. In publishing, 3 months (90 days) is considered the standard turnaround time for submissions. Six months is considered acceptable but unprofessional.

When I submitted the manuscript, Baen Books said their turnaround time was 9 months. Kind of lengthy, but at least they were up front with it, I thought. So what the heck, I sent the book in, and also I sent standard queries at the 9 months and 1 year mark. When I got no reply, I basically just wrote them off. Rude bastards, I thought, but oh well.

But somehow, this pisses me of even more than getting no reply, because this just smacks of complete incompetence. This was an e-mail submission. It basically means that my submission, along with probably hundreds if not thousands of others, were just sitting in a computer file for a year and a half until someone at Baen deigned to unseal their lips from the posterior of some celebrity author and finally look at them.

And worse yet, Baen has a 'no simultaneous submissions' policy, which means they don't want you to submit your novel to anyone else while they look at it. I hope no one actually took that seriously, because that means that a potential sale to a REAL publisher could be delayed for almost two years while editor Turtle McSlow of Slothdom at Baen apparently went into hibernation.

Imagine waiting 20 months for someone to reply to your job resume, or to your college application, or to let you know your grade for a class, because that's what this is like. A complete and total breakdown of professional respect and courtesy on the part of Baen toward any prospective writer.

If Baen thinks we're so disposable, then do the same with them. Avoid working with them if possible. Go to a publisher that respects you and your work, not one that lets it, and any potential opportunities it could earn you, rot in their computer files for over a year and a half.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Beanstalk Disaster Animation

Broken Beanstalk Animation

What happens if a Space Elevator snaps?

Though still science fiction, more an more enthusiasts and experts are pushing for serious research into the technology. Reaching right from the surface of Earth to over 22,300 miles into space, a Space Elevator could provide a railroad track right into orbit and beyond for pennies a pound.

But being such a huge structure, the inevitable question pops up of what would happen if something went disastrously wrong and its snapped somewhere along its length. The animation in the link above demonstrates a number of possibilities--the elevator cable snapping at its base, at its orbital counterweight, and several points in between.

There are a couple of surprises, as Blaise Gessend, the creator of the animation points out in the accompanying article, primarily that as the earth-anchored end falls back toward the planet, the free end of the cable experiences such tremendous sheer forces as it whips around the curve of Earth parts of it are likely to tear off and going flying back out into space.

Beanstalks collapsing have been used in science fiction before, particularly in the novel Mercury by Ben Bova, and I have myself contemplated the idea to drive an as yet tenuous story, so this is very interesting indeed to me. It certainly opens one's eyes to the astonishing physics such a megastructure could entail.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Thoughts On Ares, Constellation, and Beyond

Article Link (from the International Herald Tribune): The Fight Over NASA's Future

Apparently there is a bunch of growing tensions between Michael Griffin, the current head of NASA and a Bush appointee, and the incoming Obama administration. The two apparent bones of contention are whether Griffin will keep his job, and the future of the ARES rocket program. More detailed info is in the linked article, above.

First, I can't say I've been a fan of just about any of Bush's science policies. But one of the (very) few things I think he did right was re-focus the country's space efforts back into manned exploration. After the ISS was completed, it was the next logical step anyway.

Griffin, however, had it exactly wrong when he said the US space policy was misguided post-Apollo. Not at all. What NASA did was outline a long-term approach to exploring the solar system, first by sending out probes and robotic emissaries as scouts, and at the same time building a kind of 'step ladder' of outposts and waystations for human explorers into the Great Dark. I've heard this plan occasionally called NASA's 'Grand Architecture' for space exploration.

The shuttle was the first component; intended to haul heavy loads cheaply into iorbit for construction of the first of these outpsosts, which later became the ISS. Both systems in turn would help build the later generation of stations, including an outpost at the Earth-Moon L-1 point to facilitate future lunar exploration, outposts at L-4 and L-5, and more into the future.

It was a measured, smart man's plan that unfortunately came to maturity in a stupid man's political climate. Most people don't realize that rockets, re-entry capsule, and other such hardware are only part of the equation of human space exploration. The other is building long-enduring, human-friendly habitats away from Earth, a capability we are still very much struggling with. The presence of these stations and outposts would basically allow for a permanent supply chain of needed resources to anywhere human explorers would go in the near future.

Unfortunately, money for very complex rocket science is controlled by populist anti-intellectual luddites, aka Congress, and NASA found itself making many compromises just to hold onto its funding. As a result, the general mission for both the Shuttle and the ISS have been diluted to the point that NASA's old 'Grand Architecture' scheme is all but unrecognizable today.

Griffin, perhaps justifiably in the light of this, wants to return to an Apollo-style overall plan, which I guess could be called the 'Space Direct' scheme. If you want to go anywhere in the solar system, you launch directly from Earth, no waystations (theoretically) needed. This is the whole point of his baby, the Constellation program.

However, Griffin has gone about trying to achieve this in what is reportedly a very hard-headed, politically-charged, and heavy-handed way, very typical for a Bush appointee. Details can be found in the article. This is why I think he should be scuppered; he'll butt heads too many times with the Obama administration, and nothing will get done. The Constellation program should continue, even the embattled ARES I rocket, but perhaps following an independent review to see what could be done better.

One thing I would like to see happen is extending shuttle flights until the Orion capsules can start flying crews itself. The US should NOT go without manned spaceflight capability, dependent on other countries, for half a decade as Griffin wanted to happen. We have the shuttles, they're flight-worthy and useful still, so let's use them. Yes, two shuttles met with disaster. But then again, so did two Apollo missions (Apollo 1 and 13.) And the Russians, who we were supposed to be dependent on from 2010 to 2015, have had a far worse safety record with space flight (well over 100 casualties--that we know of.)

I do want to see the Constellation program succeed, but I think it inevitable some changes are going to have to be made, and I really don't think Griffin should remain as part of the equation.