My favorite pictures from 2017

It's a little past the beginning of the year, but I was thinking about how I spent a lot of time in 2017 not just writing, but taking pictures. The Verge has an incredible creative director, James Bareham, and he's been an enormous source of inspiration and guidance in the last year. 

One of the things that we've worked on doing at the site is a lot of our own photography of events or products. As a result, I've taken pictures at conventions, of books, events, and other random things over the last year, and I think as I've grown as a writer, I've gotten better as a photographer as well. Here's some of my favorite images from the last year. 


I took this picture of Adam Savage at San Diego Comic-Con back in July. He used to host Mythbusters, but since that show has ended, he's one of the people behind Tested, and does a lot of geeking out about costumes and cosplaying. This year, he did a trip out to the con floor in something he calls "Adam Incognito," wearing one of the screen-used costumes from Alien: Covenant


I didn't write an article about these guys, but I couldn't resist snapping a picture of a trio of members from the 501st Legion's Imperial Sands Garrison at San Diego Comic-Con in July. I built one of these costumes, and it's one of my favorites. These guys looked awesome. 


On the last day of San Diego Comic-Con, I started looking for Wonder Woman costumers, to chat with them about the popularity and appeal of the costumes. I photographed a couple, but Vanessa Perez of Florida stood out. She absolutely looked the part, and did a fantastic job assembling her costume. 


One of the big things that I ended up doing this year was photography for my book reviews. I spoke with James about what the look should be, and we came up with a pretty standard formula for reviews: the book, surrounded by a notebook, pen, tea, and other small items that were thematically congruent to the story. This review for The Fortress at the End of Time was the first of these photographs. 

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While we had a standard formula for book covers, I started to play around with it. The late Michael Crichton came out with a book this year, Dragon Teeth, about paleontologists in the wild west. It felt appropriate to make it look as though the book was buried. My colleagues thought at first that it was a stock image provided by the publisher. It's a pity the book wasn't all that great. 


NK Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy came to an end this year with The Stone Sky, and it is absolutely one of my favorite fantasy trilogies of all time. Jemisin invests a lot of time with rock and geology in this one (which I appreciated, having studied geology in college), and for the review, I wanted to do something a little different. Fortunately, I live in a town that's known for its granite production, and finding a suitable rock to photograph these against wasn't hard. I love how the lighting, colors, and positioning of these came out for this shot of all three covers of the trilogy. 


I didn't write the review for Annalee Newitz's debut novel Autonomous for The Verge (my review is here) but I did shoot the cover image. The book is all about pharmaceuticals in the future, so it seemed appropriate to scatter some random pills around in addition to the teacup and notebook.  


I've come to really love The Folio Society's special editions of science fiction books. They released a pair of Philip K. Dick novels tête-bêche style: A Scanner Darkly, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It's a really beautiful edition, and I love how the colors look here. 


The Women's March took place in January, and there was one in Montpelier, Vermont. I took my camera out and got some images of the crowds, including this fantastic trio of puppets from the Bread and Puppet theater. 


With the Nintendo Switch hitting stores in March, I was inspired to go back to the first game system I ever owned: the Nintendo Gameboy. I still have my original one, but the screen isn't working properly. I ended up picking up a new (to me) one that worked perfectly, and went through The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, and how it was important to me as a kid. It helped spark my love of fantasy, and I really like how this picture came out. 


I attended New York Comic Con in October last year, and one of the neat exhibitions was Audible's promotion for Andy Weir's latest book, Artemis. The museum parts were okay, but the real showstopper was a replica Moon, at 1:500,000 scale. It's really impressive, because it's the closest that I'll likely get to the Moon, and seeing it up close (even a replica) like this was breathtaking. I ended up taking this shot with my phone, and it came out really nicely. 


This picture never made it onto The Verge, but I felt like it captured the chaotic nature of New York Comic Con. 


Not everything I took went to The Verge. I snapped this picture in December of the marquee of Montpelier's Capitol Theater when we went to go see The Last Jedi. It's got a filter on it, Silvertone, and the balance between light and shadows came out really, really well.  


My brother Dan called me out last fall to help him split some wood at his house with a mechanical splitter. I wasn't doing anything that day, and it made for a good afternoon. I snagged this picture (thank you, portrait mode) while he was cutting up a log. 


I have a ton of pictures of Bram, but we don't, for some reason, take a lot of family pictures. This was taken when we took a couple of days to drive down to Pennsylvania this summer. We stopped at Fort Ticonderoga, and paused for a family selfie. 


Another rare family self-portrait. This was taken in Maine, when we got away for a couple of days to visit the beach. This was on our last day before we headed out, walking along the waves. 


The shed behind my house, with some minor color filtering. I have hopes that I'll winterize it this year and turn it into an office. 

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It's always a rare moment when you get your child to sit still for just long enough to get a good picture of him. 


The majestic Tiki, in the yard. 


This was one of my joys this year: I constructed a costume of Link from Breath of the Wild for Bram last Halloween, and we ended up going up into the woods behind the house to take some pictures of him, as though he was in Hyrule. 

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Arthur, hanging out in the sun. 


A goofy one of Bram, while we were camping with my brother and sister. I can't remember what I said to him, but he made a funny face. 


A good picture of Tiki, just before we went out for a walk. This one graced my phone's lock screen for a good while. 

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Merlin, at his derpiness. He's a wonderful, affectionate cat, and this picture sums him up nicely. 

There's probably other pictures that I've taken that I'm forgetting or overlooking, but these are what popped out at me from 2017. For the most part, I took the ones for The Verge (the watermarked ones are property of the site), with my Nikon D40, my entry-level DSLR. The others I took with my iPhone 8 Plus, which I bought expressly for the portrait mode. 

The Last Jedi


I liked it. But unlike The Force Awakens or Rogue One, where I had this visceral love for each, this one left me sitting going "huh."

That's not a bad thing. I've maintained that Star Wars fans hate changes, and in both instances, Lucasfilm made a couple of really good strategic decisions when they relaunched the franchise: give people what they want, before doing anything too radical with the story. J.J. Abrams was great as a get-the-films-out-of-the-gate sort of guy, because he's so steeped in nostalgia, but Rian Johnson is a much better visual storyteller, and what we got was a film that really pushed the limits of what we expected a Star Wars film to be. People were understandably nervous about new Star Wars movies after The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith.

I wrote a bit for The Verge about why it was good that we didn't get answers we wanted about Snoke or Rey's parents, which essentially boils down to 'Johnson was permitted to create a story unencumbered by the questions Abrams lined up,' and I really appreciate that he was able to take and mold Star Wars the way he wanted to, which surprised me: LFL has, after all, fired three of its directors, and extensively reshot two of its films. We've seen this with Marvel and other franchises: series that get bogged down with a lot of baggage, which puts the storyteller into a corner.

The more I think about the film, the more I like it: there's a lot to dig into in the script, visually it's stunning, and there's a lot of pushback against the tropes that define the franchise. There are, of course, things that I'll nitpick at, like the notion that the First Order will waste 16 hours chasing a Resistance fleet. Finn and Rose never quite mesh, and their storyline is a bit of a waste. Phasma was wasted again. But there's brilliant parts too: the stunning lightsaber fight in Snoke's throne room, Yoda's lesson that failure is the greatest teacher (which is on par with his other musings), and other bits, like the Porgs.

It's a smart film, and if this is the direction that the franchise is going in, I'm really excited to see what's in store next.

The West Wing Marathon

Every time we have a Presidential election, I find myself drawn back to a favorite show: The West Wing. I've found that it's a nice reprieve from the ongoing presidential primaries, debates and mud-slinging, but I also find that I've been approaching the show in different ways each time.

The first time I really sat down to watch was shortly before the 2008 presidential election, and again in the 2012 general: it certainly informed how I look at politics and the general political process, understanding that there's a whole shadow world in which the country is run through a continual stream of negotiation, bargaining and trading, all in the name of getting things done.

Since I last tuned in, things have changed. Washington is gridlocked, but so too are each side of the political spectrum: everyone is unwilling to engage with one another, which makes the show a quaint fantasy of when things were better.

Watching this time around, the notion that this show is a quaint fantasy is even more apparent. You could easily tell when there wasn't a woman present in the writer's room, something that's even more painfully apparent when you look at the relationship between Josh Lyman and Donna Moss. The first two times I watched the show, I felt like their story was a fun romantic one. This time, I could see how painful it was for Donna, and found myself rooting for her all the more when she walked out of the offices at the end of Season 5. I was angry when she decided to go back.

This is a show for men, about men doing the important things men should be doing -that seems to be the mode that it was stuck in throughout the time Aaron Sorkin was running the show; it wasn't until he left that we see women appearing more prominently in the sidelines and forefront. Toby Zeigler indignantly shouting (which is always fun to watch) gave way to C.J. Craig getting things done. The show became better for that, I think.

One thing that did impress me was at how the show managed to completely miss the ramifications of race in Santos' presidential run. It missed the run to the right that the Republican Party has taken in the last eight years as Vinick portrayed a classical Eisenhower-style candidate (God, I would love to see someone like him run. Sadly, Jon Huntsman isn't running). It did prefigure some things: the Healthcare debate, and a couple of other things, which are still dead on almost a decade off the air.

I can't help but think that NBC should reboot the show, picking up as the Obama Santos administration leaves office. It would be interesting to see the show deal with the modern political environment, from women to race to climate change to terrorism to the media, trying to make sense of it all. It would be a bit more interesting than watching CNN.

Can We Talk About Serial's Second Season?

Like many people, I got hooked on Serial about halfway through the first season when I had heard a bunch of ads for it on NPR, and diligently listened to the rest of the season as Sarah Koenig, worked her way through the story.

I just finished listening to Serial's second season, and I'm surprised that there hasn't been the same level of cultural obsession with it. It seems like everyone was talking and buzzing about how Season 1 would end; this time, it feels like it's been overlooked.

I really like long-form journalism: stories that really require you to sit down and read through, not because they're in depth or well researched (although that helps), but because it helps me think better. When done right, they explore something that I probably would never think about on a normal day, but find that they have ramifications that impact how I see things.

I was let down by Serial's first season, to be honest. The story reached an abrupt halt, with Koenig stumbling over whether she believed his story or not. It was a fun ride, but it ran into the limitations of covering something that's unresolved: you get to catch everyone up, but when you hit the present, you can't really report too much more on it.

Part of the reason for this, I think, is that Serial was set up as this sort of narrative storytelling experiment that felt as though it had a beginning middle and end: it didn't, although they're now updating Adnan Syed's case bit by bit as new developments happen.

I think that's why I didn't pick up on Serial's second season until it was over. The focus this time around was on a surprisingly high-profile case:Bowe Bergdahl, the US soldier who walked away from his OP on June 30th. I listened to the first episode, found it interesting, but didn't really look into it again until recently.

I went to a military school (as a civilian), and studied military history, and since then, I've become friends with a number of people who work in and around the military. Bergdahl's case has been a source of discussion across most of them, and I remember the initial news of his recovery and the backlash against him - many weren't happy about it.

I listened through Season 2 in the last couple of weeks, and what's struck me is the podcast's (and how longform journalism) can really take the time to tease out the story: that's exactly what's done here. This is journalism at its best: taking the time to really cover a story, from the initial impact of the soldiers sent out on patrol to the larger geo-political problems that his capture caused in the general war effort. When all is said and done, it's an incredible story, one that clarified and at points, reinforced some of my thoughts on the matter, all the while providing some context. I had fallen in the 'He's suffered enough' camp before listening, and now, I'm not sure that I believe that.

I think the subject matter here worked quite a bit more than Syed's story: Bergdahl's story wasn't so much about whether or not he should be prosecuted: it was more to understand why and what happened. Unlike Syed's case, there's a good resolution to it, with his current legal situation an additional chapter.

Along they way, they explore some interesting, and important topics, none of which are easy: what is the value of human life in war? It's an easy thing to abstractly think about, but listening to the various people talk about the decisions that they made during the entire story, it's clear that this is a complicated situation, and the Serial team did a good job pulling it together. Already, I'm really eager to see what they'll talk about for their next season, which will apparently be launching sometime this spring.

On a personal level, the podcast has become this really aspirational thing for me, as a journalist. I like researching and writing in depth articles - the Expanse and Star Wars ones from last year were certainly influenced by the type of reporting done there, and there's other topics that I've been seeing with new eyes after listening to this (and seeking out and reading other stories as well), and motivated to write and research accordingly.

2014 Award Eligibility Post!


The Science Fiction awards season is upon us, and I have something that I can actively promote: War Stories: New Military Science Fiction!

War Stories has 23 short works in it. Of those, two (Graves, by Joe Haldeman and War 3.01, by Keith Brooke) are ineligible, as they're reprints.

The anthology as a whole can be nominated for a Locus Award for Best Anthology.

The following stories can be nominated for Best Short Story in the Hugo and Nebula categories:

    • War Dog, Mike Barretta
    • The Radio, Susan Jane Bigelow
    • Valkyrie, Maurice Broaddus
    • Contractual Obligation, James Cambias
    • Where We Would End a War, Brett Cox
    • Non­Standard Deviation, Richard Dansky
    • Always the Stars and the Void Between, Nerine Dorman
    • One Million Lira, Thoraiya Dyer
    • The Wasp Keepers, Mark Jacobsen
    • Mission. Suit. Self, Jake Kerr
    • Ghost Girl, Rich Larson
    • Black Butterfly, T.C McCarthy
    • Warhosts, Yoon Ha Lee
    • In The Loop, Ken Liu
    • Invincible, Jay Posey
    • Enemy States, Karin Lowachee (Read it here)
    • In Loco, Carlos Orsi
    • All You Need, Mike Sizemore
    • Coming Home, Janine Spendlove

The following stories can be nominated for the Best Novelette category:

  • Light and Shadow, Linda Nagata
  • Suits, James Sutter

Galen Dara, for her cover art and interior illustrations is eligible for the following awards:

  • Hugo Award, Best Professional Artist/Fan Artist
  • Chesley Award, Best Cover Illustration, Paperback Book
  • Chesley Award, Best Interior Illustration

I do hope to see some of these stories on the awards ballot. You can read Karin's story on Apex Magazine (and I highly recommend this story - it's fantastic!). This book was a real treat to edit and put together, and I'm very, very proud of what is in it.

Personally, I'm not eligible for Best Editor, Short Form, because I don't have 4 editing credits under my belt. However, I am eligible for a couple of things:

    • Best Short Story: Fragmented, Galaxy's Edge Magazine, May/June issue.
    • Best Related Work: History of Science Fiction column. I'm guessing that this column in general can be nominated, or individual pieces. It's really a collective work, however.

Up to this point, the following columns have come out in the 2014 calendar year:

There's a couple of additional columns coming this year, and they can be included as well.

After all that, there's a couple of other places to consider: Lightspeed Magazine and Galaxy's Edge Magazine, which should be eligible for Best Semiprozine, and John Joseph Adams for Best Editor, Short Form. I'd also recommend looking into the works of Usman Malik, Ken Liu and Jaym Gates, each of whom have published this year.

When it comes to novels, Annihilation/Authority/Acceptance (Jeff Vandermeer), The Emperor's Blades (Brian Staveley), Breach Zone (Myke Cole), The Martian (Andy Weir), Defenders (Will McIntosh), The Three (Sarah Lotz), Cibola Burn (James S.A. Corey), Rooms (Lauren Oliver) and Ancillary Sword (Ann Leckie) were all some of the best books that I picked up over 2014 (plus a couple of others that I'm currently reading.

I look forward to seeing what's on the ballots this year!

Bram's Snowfall

10525394_760440574531_4517909754736159301_o Bram, at 17 months, after seeing the first snowfall of the year.

It snowed last night.

I think this is the first time he's realized that everything can change around him: he ran from window to window this morning exclaiming and pointing out the window at the snow-covered yard and trees. The house was cool, and he protested when we changed him into warmer clothes. Megan and I hauled out his yellow, heavier jacket, and warm fleece pants, tied up his shoes and brought him outside to play in the yard while I let the dog out.

Bram continually astounds me with every single day. I've described to friends and family how his mind seems to be unpacking and growing since birth, and it's continued at a pace that astonishes me. He picks up on instructions, words, moods, quickly, imitating things that I do or say. His vocabulary grows every day, and he's starting to have opinions on how he goes about doing things: he can be stubborn and temperamental. Most of all, he's funny. He's a genuinely cheerful and happy child - he laughs readily when he finds something funny - antlers placed on the dog's head, or a funny hat, and does things that he knows are funny to him, and us.

Sometimes, that funny thing is born out of a sheer fascination and curiosity with his surroundings: taking in the sheer joy of something utterly new and wonderful. Watching that uninhibited joy in every day moments is something wonderful in a time of every day routine.

To a 17 months old, a first snowfall is magical.

Bram: Year 1

IMG_1566 A year ago today, I held my son in my arms for the first time. Bram's birth was one of those moments that struck me hard: I remember gasping and crying in joy when I first saw him: after months of a conceptual baby, there he was, in the flesh. It's easy, looking back at just how pivotal that moment is: one moment, I'm just this guy. The next, I'm a father. With that moment, everything changes.

Becoming a father has been an extraordinary experience. Megan has mentioned, more than once, that we've lucked out and had a good baby. Bram is an astonishing little boy. The degree to which he's unpacked and unfolded his mind from his fragile, 7.3 lbs body to the, durable, walking 25lb child that he's become never ceases to blow my mind a little each time I think about it. He went from staring to smiling to squeaking to shrieking to cooing to babbling to talking. The twisting turned into rolling over, then to pulling himself across the floor, to the army crawl, to proper crawling and pulling himself up to stand. That turned from tentative first steps to full out waddle-running across the room.

Throughout it all, there's a burning curiosity and the beginnings of a fierce independence. He looks and examines things, imitates our actions and slowly, is learning how the world around him works. It's impossible to remember a time when I learned so much so quickly, and I'm surprised at just how fast it happens: often just days from seeing or trying something before he masters it. Doors hold a particular fascinationfor him, as does Merlin, although he learned that cats have claws and don't like to be cornered. The cat has also learned that the male human is fiercely protective of the tiny human.

I find myself thinking about things in ways that I'd never have considered before. I look into the future to try and think about what type of world Bram will inherit, sometimes terrified at what I see, sometimes optimistic.

The last year has brought so many changes. It's exhausting, trying to keep up with Bram, or to wake up early in the morning or late at night. My heart absolutely breaks when he's sad or in pain, while it soars when he laughs without restraint. He's a strange child, and it's interesting to see how he's developing his own ways of doing things.

He's barely 12 months old and I can't wait to see what he does next.

The New SyFy Channel

the-expanse-series SyFy is headed to space, and it seems as though they're serious. Last week, they announced a 10-episode pickup of The Expanse, a series that will adapt (presumably) the first book from James S.A. Corey, . In the wake of the announcement, I've seen a lot of complaints from fans, noting SyFy's general track record with shows. Despite the last five years of distancing themselves from harder SF stories, this falls in line with the direction the channel is trying to lurch itself towards, shaking off their reputation for something better. It's about time, too.

The Expanse is a good move for SyFy and the announcement that they've picked up the TV show fills me with quite a bit of optimism for the direction of the channel's future. Over the last couple of years, the channel has been talking quite a bit about returning to space, with news over the last couple of years of shows such as adaptations of Larry Niven's novel Ringworld and Sir Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End and shows such as Ascension and Defiance. So far, only Defiance (after a really long development period) has aired, and then, to tepid reviews and ratings. But, it's a start, and shows that the channel is starting to think about bigger, more serious projects.

In the mid-2000s, the show was indisputably one of the better outlets for speculative fiction on the small screen: long-running shows such as Stargate SG-1 and its spinoff, Stargate: Atlantis collectively ran for fifteen seasons, while Farscape and Battlestar Galactica, two very ambitious space dramas, had fairly good runs before being cancelled. With the cancellation of Ronald D. Moore's Galactica in 2009, the channel seemed to get nervous about shows set in space. Galactica's ratings had nosed down over the last two seasons (most likely due to some of the narrative stunts they took), and its follow-up successor, Caprica, set decades before, never found its voice or ratings, and was cancelled a year later. A third follow-up, Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome, died a slow death as SyFy executives waddled on the decision to release it to the web or to television. Ultimately, it was burned off on YouTube, effectively ending the franchise for the channel. A third Stargate entry, Stargate: Universe, a grown up, broody and excellent entry never quite captured the same attraction as its predecessors, and ended with a frustrating cliffhanger at the end of Season 2.

SyFy pivoted, perhaps seeing the successes rival networks enjoyed with shows such as True Blood, and went in an urban fantasy and Sci-Fi lite direction. It's not really any surprise: the darker stuff hadn't really succeeded, and shows such as Eureka had done really well. Alphas, Warehouse 13, Lost Girl, Bitten and Being Human have all been developed, and dominated the network's offerings since 2009, alternatively earning praise from fans who enjoyed that type of story, and derided by those who missed the shows set in space.

All the while, SyFy expanded their offerings into reality TV, as well as the frequently-derided WWE on Wednesday nights. Often, their placement on the schedule has been explained as money makers for the channel (or, laughably, that it's a type of fantasy in and of itself), which in turn support the programming of the other scripted shows. I don't know that I've ever met anyone who's actually watched WWE on the channel.

Meanwhile, a revolution in scripted television erupted from various premium and network channels. TNT's Falling Skies, Fox's Fringe, CBS's Person of Interest, AMC's The Walking Dead, and HBO's Game of Thrones all came out, as well as show such as Awake, Under the Dome, Terra Nova, Revolution, Agents of SHIELD, Almost Human, Arrow, Orphan Black and Outcasts, to name a couple, while in non-Science fiction offerings, there's Once Upon a Time, Grimm, Supernatural, Sleepy Hollow, American Horror Story, Vampire Diaries, and others. Science Fiction TV, once largely limited to the SyFy channel, found new homes. While not all have been successful, it shows that there's a new appetite for speculative works on the small screen, and that such shows can not only do well, but do really well. SyFy, while it's had some success with their current offerings, hasn't had any hits on the same scale. They easily could have, with the right mindset.

Major projects such as The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones aren't easy projects to bring to television: they're big, elaborate, and cover subject material that's far from the material that SyFy was putting out between 2003-2008. They're ambitious (and I'll throw Person of Interest in there, too, as an example of what network channels *can* also do.) and have received a disproportionate amount of praise from critics and fans alike, all the while seeing their ratings go up as viewers keep watching.

It's clearly a balancing act: Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead take on popular properties and subject matter, all the while they're fairly well written and scripted. Others miss out: Awake, while fantastic, never caught on. Terra Nova was silly and stupidly expensive. Fringe lasted on critical glee, but wanted for viewers. Others just do really well with the right combination of characters and story, building year after year: Supernatural is well into its tenth year, and has a spin off in the works, while Arrow doesn't seem to be going anywhere but up (and also has a spinoff in the works).

SyFy's clearly got the vision for ambitious projects, but they're held back; from themselves. It's a business, and accordingly, the material they're turning out needs to be successful. However, it's always seemed as though this very risk-adverse mindset percolates down into what's being picked up. They say that you never make the shot that you don't take, and the channel has been on a course where they're only taking shots where the basket is five feet off the floor. Until Defiance, it's seemed that there's no sense of risk to the shows that they've tried, but rather gone back to the well time and time again for material that is proven to run with a certain audience.

In many ways, SyFy pivoted one way, anticipating an audience that they wanted to grasp, only to end up missing an audience that's since moved beyond the SyFy walls. Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, Orphan Black and Doctor Who have become the destination shows that would make a dynamite portfolio for a dedicated genre-channel. Even the ambitious Defiance feels like it's a compromise, existing only due to the momentum that a $100 million show causes. They've got a season 2, but the show won't take off until the show becomes something a bit more interesting. Shows such as Helix have demonstrated that they're ready to bring back some serious scripted drama.

Recently, SyFy seems to have realized something was up, and has been shaking off like a wet dog. VP Mark Stern, who oversaw the Battlestar-Defiance years at SyFy, and who's been replaced by Bill McGoldrick. McGoldrick shift earlier this year has come with a lot of talk about bringing SyFy back. In an interview with Adweek, he noted that they've realized that scripted drama is what the channel's reputation lives and dies by. The current reputation? Wounded from reality TV and crappy films. But, with the rise of shows such as Game of Thrones, they're starting to see serious offers for new shows, one of which was apparently The Expanse.

If there's a show that'll demonstrate that the channel is serious about bringing back 'proper' science fiction, it's Leviathan Wakes. The show has just about everything: spacecraft, epic world-building, military science fiction, conspiracies, and a huge cast of interesting and diverse characters. It's large, hits all of the right notes, and it comes with a built in audience of readers who've made the books hits. The first novel was nominated for the Hugo Award, and along with a bunch of shorter entries in the series, an additional three novels were ordered after the first three. The fourth book in the series, Cibola Burn, hits this summer, this time as a more expensive hardcover novel (as opposed to trade paperback, like its preceding three books.)

Moreover, SyFy seems to realize that story's paramount. Rather than putting together a pilot and worrying about ordering a full, 22-episode season, they've committed to a run of ten episodes - enough time to tell the story, but not so much that they'll have to really stretch their special effects budget. In addition to The Expanse, SyFy has recently announced a limited 12 Monkeys series and Ascension, a limited series about a group of colonists, all the while cutting back on the B films.

Most of the complaints genre fans have had about SyFy are true. The channel's shifted direction and gone the safe route, and accordingly, they've really missed out on both the opportunity to do great things, but also hitched themselves to the wrong horse, one that's slowly running down. The Expanse has the potential to be an innovating move that can get the channel restarted with good stories, and can bring back an audience that they really want to attract. Already, shows such as Alphas, Being Human and Warehouse 13 have been wound down and ended, while SyFy is keeping shows like Lost Girl and Haven (which picked up a 2-season, 26 episode order) to have a balanced set of offerings for the foreseeable future. If you're going to shake off a reputation, you've got to start somewhere.

There’s also a level of caution here. I don’t think fans should expect a return to the same SciFi channel that existed in the early 2000s. The landscape has changed, and accordingly, so has viewer tastes and viewing habits. Hopefully, we’ll be seeing a new channel that takes both storytelling and genre seriously, recognizing exactly what makes a good show that’ll not only do well season to season, but help the channel’s reputation and build on its audience year to year, which will mean more excellent projects will be attempted. More importantly, SyFy needs to learn to take risks. Even for projects that aren’t necessarily successful, the effort not only counts, but helps all involved figure out what to do next, in theory making things better in the future.

The Expanse is far from certain: it's an ambitious project to run, and likely expensive. But, I'm optimistic. It's got just about everything that science fiction fans have been asking for, and in an adaptation model that's worked in the past. Let's hope that the show-runners will do the books justice, but more importantly, tell a great story.

Bram in 2091

According to a random longevity calculator that I found on the web, my son, Bram (as a white male, born in Vermont) has a projected lifespan of 78 years, giving him until the year 2091 to live, provided everything remains the same. I'm guessing, given the age of some of my relatives, and the potential for progress in medical science, that there's a good chance that he could live to see 2100 and beyond. By the same measure, someone born in 1913 would live until 1991, or someone born in 1935 would live until 2013. It's an impressive range of time, and it gets me thinking about how things change from one time to another, and what it means. It's a slightly morbid subject, but it's an interesting one to look at. I'm a historian, and recently, I've been reading quite a bit on the development of the 20th Century. Human nature generally gives us a short-term viewpoint for everything around us, and when it comes to imagining what the future holds for us, our art fails us. Science fiction doesn't really have a good track record, despite some notable predictions here and there from Verne and Clarke. SF is more about the present than it is about what the future will really be like.

So, what's Bram's world going to be like over the next eight decades? To get an idea of how things change, it's instructive to look at how much has changed since 1935 for some context.

Between 1935 and 1945, the Great Depression was underway and ending. World War 1 was just about two decades behind everyone, with those veterans now parents and trying to find work. The repercussions from the Great War no longer in the immediate forefront in US policy. Facism was on the rise in the world with Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler in power and actively breaking treaties. The Dust Bowl, a major ecological catastrophe, caused by over farming, loomed in the American Southwest. The WPA was formed by the Roosevelt administration, as well as the Social Security administration. World War 2 rose and broke over a majority of that time, with devastating, transformative consequences for the world. In the science fiction world, the pulps were started up and took off into a run, with the Golden Age starting up.

From 1945 to 1955: The Second World War ended with Hitler's suicide and the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan. The nuclear race started, with a Soviet bomb in 1949. The Korean war started and ended, and the Cold War began. The US was quickly becoming an economic powerhouse in the new world. Golden age of SF was still going strong. Novels were starting to appear, magazines were waning. The Baby boomer generation were around, and getting older.

From 1955 to 1965: Sputnik orbited the planet in 1957, and the first man went into space a couple of years later. The Cold War was still going strong, and the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs showed us that we could go into space. The Vietnam War was starting to brew (US not fully involved yet). John F. Kennedy was killed.

1965-1975: Vietnam War was going strong. Robert Kennedy was killed, as well as Martin Luther King. Counterculture was in full swing, and the Vietnam War reaches its peak and ended. We landed on the Moon, more than once, and launched Skylab in 1973. Computers were starting to appear in colleges.

1975-1985: Iranian revolution happened and began to change some things in the Middle East, while the 1st Persian Gulf War began. Space Shuttle program was in full swing. The Regan administration was elected. Science Fiction shifts from books to movies. Star Wars, Alien, Blade Runner were all released during this time. I was born.

1985-1995: 1st Gulf War, Space Shuttle Challenger, fall of the Soviet Union all happen. Computers begin to enter classrooms, introducing the Internet to students (like myself). We get a computer in our house for the first time. Babylon 5 starts airing.

1995-2005: The internet is here to stay. Terror attacks in New York City and Washington DC shift the political focus in the country. Soviet Communism is a pretty distant memory, with the threat of radicalized islamic groups taking their place. Star Wars is re-released and a new trilogy hits theaters. Firefly is aired and cancelled. Space Shuttle program suffers blow with Columbia's loss. The ISS begins construction in '98.

2005-2013: Social Media sites take over the web, internet communications are intensely monitored. I watch/read (almost) live as a Mars lander hits the surface of the planet. Space X becomes first private company to launch and dock with the ISS. The Space Shuttle program ends. Bram is born into a house that has eight computers (5 of them hand-held) and parents who are both working in a technology-based workplace.

There's a lot of changes in that time.

Born in 2013, Bram will never know a world in which the United States hasn't had an African-American president, where the mobile phone is one of the dominant and most proliferated pieces of technology on the planet, and where he can watch an astronaut fix a space station from his home. He can talk to someone on a video phone with the tap of a couple of buttons. He's growing up in a household with a robot in it.

He's never going to know a world where there's more hours of Star Wars: Clone Wars episodes than there are of the Original Trilogy. He'll never know a household where there isn't something to do with that franchise kicking around. He'll never know a world in which the space shuttle was in operation, but he will know one where private operations are in existence, even flourishing. In all likelihood, he'll see people land on the moon again, as well as seeing manned missions to asteroids, Mars and potentially, the moons of Saturn and Jupiter. He'll see the beginning of a new space program, Orion. He's growing up in a world where he'll never know a World War I veteran.

Politically, while he's growing up in a state that's one of the least diverse in the US, he's part of a generation that's going to be amongst the most diverse in the country - ethnically, sexually, politically. This'll have major implications for policy and the general makeup and attitude of Americans. He's the beneficiary of a world that doesn't have Osama Bin Laden or Saddam Hussein, but there's plenty of other bad people in the world to take their places. He'll see the final years of the war in Afghanistan.

Environmentally, he's going to get the full brunt of global anthropomorphic climate change. If he stays in Vermont, we'll likely still see extreme winters, but as global temperatures rise, the state will most likely see a collapse of its Maple Tree population as it gets too warm for them - no more glorious fall hillsides. Invasive species will decimate other tree species, which makes me wonder if we'll see more evergreens over maples and ashes. Vermont will have its own issues as we see major storms pass over the state - our geography will lend itself to major flooding throughout the fall and spring seasons, and parts of the state will need to be reinforced against it, with more green spaces in flood plains, or total abandonment of some areas.

Computer-wise, he's never going to know a time without a computer. A mobile phone that was pure imagination in 1935 took his first picture minutes after he was born, and he sees us work and watch things on our home computers. He's entering an age when the television isn't supreme: we don't have live TV in the house at all. Moore's Law will probably end, but computers will grow increasingly faster. Almost half of the world's population will have access to the internet.

Bram will be 10 in 2023. Countries such as China, India and Brazil will likely be major world powers alongside the US, and we'll likely see major space efforts to reach the Moon and Mars during this time. Bram's schooling will probably have a lot to do with computers and online classrooms. We'll probably see autonomous cars and aircraft more often, but not everywhere. The ISS will be decommissioned and will be deorbited over the Pacific Ocean. The veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will be in their 30s/40s/50s, and the conflicts will start to pass into history. They'll likely become precursors to other major conflicts in the region as it continues to stabilize after the Arab Spring a decade earlier. The US will be composed of a far different ethnic makeup, and there'll likely be some grumbling about that. I'm guessing that women will become a more dominant part of the workplace, while transgendered and non-CIS folks will be far more accepted than they are now. The 99942 Apophis will pass by us, but won't impact. I'll be 38.

Bram will be 20 in 2032. The world population will be at least 8 billion people. io9 predicts that we'll have some form of AI, computers everywhere, major effects from climate change (and mitigation projects), 3D printed organs, and more space travel and settlement. Bram will probably be in college or about to leave. His job likely doesn't and can't exist right now. 99942 Apophis could impact the planet. I'll be 48. The last remaining World War II veterans will have died.

Bram will be 30 in 2043. Bram will have some form of job that's unheard of now. Global climate change will bring up major storms, and will likely be the cause of conflicts as the global population shifts around. Africa will see some major growth, if not before. I'll be 58, and maybe, I'll be a grandfather.

Bram will be 40 in 2053. The world's population will be at least 9 billion people, putting a huge strain on resources, provided that economics and infrastructure are insufficient. We might very well see the construction of a space elevator. I'll be 68 - Maybe I'll be retired, if such a thing still exists.

Bram will be 50 in 2063. Lunar mining operations might be around, and a good chunk of our energy will come from renewable energy. I'll be 78, my projected life-span, if nothing else changes. Megan will probably outlive me.

Bram will be 60 in 2073. Space and international travel might be pretty easy to go do, but still expensive. I could be 88.

Bram will be 70 in 2083. China will likely be the major global power on the planet. We might be able to live on the Moon. I could be 98.

Bram will be 80 in 2093, the end of his projected lifespan - he might go far past that. The planet might be completely converted to renewable energy by this point. The world will be completely different from now, ecologically, politically, socially. The last veterans of the Iraq / Afghanistan wars will be few in number. I'll be 108. Who knows what science fiction will bring at that point?

The point to all of this isn't to be predictive: it's to think about how much things will have changed. It's easy to imagine our lives right now with things like space travel, 3D printed organs and computers controlling everything, but the ramifications on how that affects everything is much harder to predict. Very few people in the 1800s had any idea of what the world a century later would look like, and the same is exactly the same now. It's a nebulous point in time, but there's one major point to keep in mind: things will change, and we can't - and shouldn't - expect to build a world that's a mirror of our own. My world isn't and never will be Bram's - he'll have is own.

One of the major takeaways from this is that he's likely going to lead a very different life from the one I've lived, something that's relatively new in human history: up through the industrial revolution and even deep into the 20th Century, families often followed similar paths: sons would take their occupation from that of their father, and so forth. The shift is even more jarring when it comes to female employment. My father works in business and geology; I work as a freelance writer and educational administrator for a job that simply didn't exist when I was born, or largely in the last two decades (online education is still a young field). Bram will probably do something completely different, and in a field that simply doesn't exist yet. More than just employment, though; the lessons, habits and personality that he picks up from Megan and myself will come with him, and it's something that remains at the back of my mind. Hopefully, we'll impart habits of generosity, friendliness and curiosity to him, and hopefully, those will be traits that will aid him throughout his life.

If things go well, Bram might be among the first generations of people who could easily leave the planet and go somewhere else. He'll be the recipient of technologies that will fundamentally change how humans live and interact with one another, and will continue to accelerate our development moving forward. Interestingly, while we can make some scientific predictions (I'd bet that most of them will come faster than we expect), I can't get a good idea of most of the geopolitical ones.

These are all guesses. Looking at science fiction, it's clear that their guesses for the future were sometimes correct, but more often wildly off target. There's things that we know, barring something major and unforeseen: global climate change will be a factor in life. The prevalence of technology will continue. People will act like jerks to one another, and there'll be a lot more of us.

I hope that we'll see some of those things come to fruition, and that we'll be fortunate enough to live to see them. Those predictions? Science fiction, especially as you get further and further away. Looking back at the past, they'll likely marvel at just how much they've changed in their own generation.


2013 was a rush. So many things happened that have never happened to me before, all positive.

Bram was born in May, and his entry into our family is one of those things that I can't quite describe. He's a beautiful, wonderful child. He's happy, and lights up whenever one of us enter the room. He's clocked in at 7 months already (where does the time go?), and one of the delights has been watching him unpack from day 1. It's a cliché to say that they do something new every day, and it's largely true. He's gone from a small, helpless human to a larger, slightly less helpless human in that time. He's curious, excited, constantly learning and changing. It's been an adventure, and I can't wait to see what happens next.

War Stories was signed and announced in May, and successfully Kickstarted in October-November. That was a nail-biting rush. We've got an outstanding group of authors, some brilliant stories, and quite a bit of work ahead of us. Fortunately, it's exciting work, and I'm looking forward to seeing this hit bookshelves in the near future.

I made my first professional short fiction sale in September - Fragmented, to Galaxy's Edge Magazine. This was a huge milestone for me, something that I've wanted to do since high school. Every author makes their first sale, and my head still reels when I realize I made that step. Now, I need to make it happen again.

My column for Kirkus has been going strong, and I'm far happier with the work that I did in 2013 than I did in 2012 (not that there was anything wrong with 2012's columns - I just found my footing, background and gained some experience). I found some outstanding people to write about, discovered a number of excellent stories. Even cooler, there's a publisher, Jurassic London, who's excited enough about the column (they called it essential reading!) to turn it into a proper book, which I'm beyond excited about.

On top of all that, I read a number of outstanding books. Ancillary Justice, The Violent Century, In Meat We Trust, The Shining Girls, Love Minus Eighty, Abaddon's Gate, NOS4A2, Ocean at the End of the Laneand a couple of others. It was a good year to loose one's self in a book.

On the other hand, it's been an interesting year for being in the SF/F community - lots of drama. I found that it's too easy to get outraged at what others are doing and how easy it is to be pushed along by others. I found it equally easy to cut and limit their influence into my thinking. My twitter feed is much quieter, and I'm less stressed about the things I enjoy. There's still issues in various places, and I'm making some changes for 2014, but I feel like I'll be happier for them.

What's coming in 2014? War Stories drops (hopefully in May/June). My story will be published somewhere. I'm going to try and spend more time writing and less time worrying what others think of what's going on. And, enjoying spending time with a growing infant/toddler.

Meet Bram

Little Bram was born this morning at 10:18am, and I'm now a father. Achievement unlocked, I guess. Abraham Charles Liptak is 7 lbs, 3 oz, 20 inches long and 100 % cute. He has features from Megan and myself, and so far, he's been fairly quiet: some fussing, a little crying, but mostly, sleeping and holding onto my fingers. He's one of the newest members of the human race, along with three others born last night and this morning here.

He's a wonder to behold, and I've seen that said more than once when it comes to describing one's newborn offspring, and as clichéd as it sounds, I've spent more time just staring and marveling at how utterly beautiful he is. For the last 9 months, I've realized in a conceptual sense that this is a life-changing event in my life, and it wasn't until I first saw him that the full impact of that meant really hit home, in a wave of emotion that left me breathless.

It was a long night: almost 24 hours in all, from beginning to end, and I'm happy that that's over. Megan did an insane job these last nine months, and she's gone through something utterly terrifying to me, and what she's gone through is nothing short of incredible. I'm sitting here, in the hospital room as the two sleep, and I can't think of anything else in the world that I love more.

He's barely 12 hours old, and I already can't wait to introduce him to the world. I'm excited at the possibilities that the future holds. It's going to be an adventure, I think.

DIY Dinner

I was struck with a thought a couple of years ago at the grocery store: this stuff is expensive. I was looking at frozen pizza, an emergency staple that got shoved to the back of the freezer and was used too often. My second thought was: I can make this myself, and I would bet that it won't taste like cardboard.

Since then, I've worked on making my own pizza: it's simple enough, and takes only a little longer to make. 3 cups of flour, some yeast, salt and a cup of hot water, and I've got dough that makes a pizza easily twice the size. I'll grate my own cheese (a mix of Hunter Sharp cheddar, mozzaralla and some oregano) and recently, mix up my own sauce, and together, it's something that's quite good. More than that, it's somewhat more rewarding to put on the table for dinner. I'll still get a frozen pizza or order out every now and again for when I'm either really busy or just plain tired of cooking, but that's become a rarer occurrance.

Back in college, I made my own bread: a superb loaf that was ridiculously simple to make. Since then, I've been finding that the foods that I regularly consume that comes in a package are something that are not only easier to replicate than I previously thought, but generally taste quite a bit better, but give me quite a bit more flexibility on just how I want it to taste. I've taken to experimenting with my food a bit more than I used to, coming up with some interesting things.

A recent notable example is chicken nuggets. I've had mixed experiences with buying a bag of them: some come out fine, but they have a tendency to burn under the right conditions, and a couple of times, they've made me ill. Looking around online, I've found that it's reasonablely simple to make them: strips of chicken with a coating of egg, flour and spices. The result was quite good, even if their manufacture was a bit hair-raising (I hadn't fried anything in oil before). Where I'm stuck with what I've got with a bag of them, putting together every ingredient allows me do to more than simply throw them into a heating mechanism.

I'm enjoying this DIY approach to cooking, for a couple of reasons. The first is that it's simply cheaper to purchase the raw ingredients and assemble them accordingly. A frozen pizza costs anywhere from 4-8 dollars. From scratch, it's considerably less: Three cups out of a 50 pound bag of flour is about 3%, or 30 cents for what I paid for it. Sauce (from a jar) is about $4, and cheeses are around $8. That comes out to $12.30? Half that, because what I make is about twice the size, and we're down to $6.15. But, The sauce and cheese can be made into at least 3 pizzas. $2.05 for a dinner is something that I'm more than happy with. To order out costs at least ten times that amount, and I generally get a better deal.

The other major reason is the ingredients label. Here's what I pulled offline for a Red Baron 4 Cheese Pizza (admittedly, this is a decent brand):


There's a lot there that I don't recognize, and that seems to be the case with most of the products that I'll pick up off the self. Admittedly, I don't know much about some of the components, but if I go the distance to making my own sauce and crust, I know exactly what's going into what I'm making. Some things, like Cheese, is outside of my control, but I tend to go with local companies with a good reputation for quality.

This extends to meals beyond pizza. Chicken Tika Masala is a dish that I've made from largely from scratch, as well as bread, salsa, hot chocolate, various types of chicken, hamburgers, and a couple of others. While there are things that I largely won't be able to make on my own - due to constraints from not owning livestock or poultry, what I can control is most of what goes into the meal.

Breaking one's food down to it's rough component parts has been a rewarding experience thus far. The food tastes better (although there's the points where I screw it up - which does happen), it's largely cheaper, and it's something that I've made myself. A year or two ago, it never would have occurred to me to try and figure out just how to go about making something like Chicken nuggets. I suspect that there's a certain DIY mindset that's bled over from my work in the 501st Legion, playing with Legos as a kid and other things like that, and it's something that I think should be ingrained more firmly with the public at large. We place an enormous amount of trust in persons unseen, and while I certainly don't believe in conspiracy theories (that requires a guided intention), I think that it's far easier to simply not expend extra effort when it's seemingly redundant.

So, while you browse your local supermarket next, think about what you're buying.

Before and Away


2011 had its moments. I did some excellent troops with the 501st, read some awesome books and generally got to geek out about some neat things. Started work with Lightspeed Magazine, and published my first article with Armchair General, submitted another couple for publication, which will happen in the next couple of months / at some point in 2012. Went to Belgium, worked on an awesome bit of research. Got married to a wonderful girl.

I'll skip over the down points. Suffice to say, there were some very difficult points that tested my will and resolve in a lot of ways. Take the bad, learn, and move forward.

2012 looks to be an interesting year. Our wedding is coming up (for the rest of the family), work with freelance publications is beginning to pick up, and I've got some cool plans coming up for the first part of 2012.

This year, I'm going to:

  • Continue work on large project. Finish large project. Begin next step of large project.
  • Begin, research, write and collaborate with Megan on a cool historical project.
  • Write, submit, and repeat.
  • Learn, move forward, and continue.
  • Conceptualize, plot, plan and outline the next large project.

The Aftermath

This past weekend, I was able to volunteer in both Waterbury and Moretown, two towns that are struggling with the floods. The aftermath was heartbreaking. My hometown was inundated with upwards of 7 feet of flood waters in places, and many other communities around the state were under water, with roads flooded, houses swept away, and businesses destroyed.

On Saturday, I drove a group of Norwich University students out to Waterbury, where they worked on one of the streets hardest hit by the rising waters, which took out a number of places in the downtown areas of town, including one of my favorite Pubs, the Alchemist, and a number of state administrative buildings. While I'd seen a number of pictures, videos and driven up and down several roads up and down the Northfield area, nothing prepared me for what I saw in Waterbury: houses with their entire contents in the front lawn, silt baking on their surfaces. Mud and dust filled the air: everyone wore a mask, gloves, heavy boots, and clothes smeared with grime. The scene changed as I drove back out of the village, and onto the interstate: everything was green and untouched.

Sunday marked a work day. I'd driven through the day before, over patched up dirt roads, and into town. The scene was even more striking. Descending into the village, we passed a sign: "All routes in and out of town closed." Moretown was covered in a fine layer of dust, kicked up from the cars that passed up and down Rt. 100 B. Driving through town, we saw where the bridge into town had been washed out at one end, over a narrow chasm of rock that was still saw the Mad River rushing below it. Megan and I signed in, and helped wash one man's house before moving on to another, which had seen a couple of feet of water in the main parts of the house. Tearing up the floorboards, I was struck by two things: no matter how secure we see, nature can really disrupt our everyday lives, and that I was tearing up a gorgeous hardwood floor, and the home's owner was smiling. It was astonishing.

A pack of volunteers had converged on the house: groups of two were pulling up the floor, sweeping up the dust and river muck that had collected under it, and pulled out the nails. Bathroom tiles shattered, sheetrock was removed, pipes stripped out, as we sweated in the dust. It was a rewarding couple of hours of work: by the end of the couple of hours, the floor had been removed, swept and free of nails, while others outside were salvaging what they could of the wood we pulled up and out. Fortunately, they seem to have had flood insurance.

The attitude of Vermonters in the aftermath of the flood has been the most remarkable thing to have come out of the disaster. Everywhere, people were enthusiastic, ready to work, ready to volunteer, and ready to rebuild. Despite the dust, the mud, the destroyed roads, washed out riverbanks, bridges and fields, the people of Vermont have shown that they’re resilient, tough and as a whole, strong. While disasters such as these are horrifying in the damage, they’re welcome in only that they can demonstrate the unity that they invoke from the community. Their roads and homes might be broken, but not the people.

Random Things

The iPad 2 was unveiled the other day by a skeletal Steve Jobs. It looks neat, and it's clearly designed to entice the next crop of people who held off on the first one. Faster, slightly different shape, new cover, etc. They've got a good product, and I suspect that anyone who's waited a little while will be happy that they did.

That being said, I'm not planning on upgrading mine for, well, ever. It's a fantastic product (and I'm decidedly not an Apple fanboy) that I've gotten a lot of use out of since I got mine 8 months ago. I do a lot of writing on mine, and I've been happy that it's an all around general computer that does pretty much everything I want it to. I don't do a lot of web browsing on it, but when I have, I've generally been pleased. (My one complaint is Safari's insistence on updating every single open tab when there's a couple open. It's annoying). Writing is fantastic, and as predicted, I've gotten better at writing on the screen. Moreover, I use the calendar a LOT. Since I take the thing everywhere, I've gotten into the habit of writing down dates, something that I've typically never done, and it's nice to have a reminder when I need to be somewhere.

Plus, game developers are starting to get in on the platform, and there have been some very cool games over the past couple of months that I've gotten hooked on. There's the obligitory Angry Birds obsession, and I've found two other games lately, Battleheart and Canabalt, that I've really enjoyed. Battleheart is a fun cross between World of Warcraft and D&D, which appeals to my geek sensibilities, and Canabalt is a game that's stupidly simple, and stupidly addicting (running and jumping over gaps on a roof).

I've been reading more books on the device as well, mainly late at night, when I don't want to turn on a light and keep Megan up. It's not something that I read a lot - I'm currently reviewing Embedded, by Dan Abnett for SF Signal, and between late night reading sessions, I typically pull out my other book, Kraken, which I've got in hardcopy.

I also haven't upgraded my iPad since I got it - it's still on the original iOS system, which I'm content with. I'm not particularly won over by the introduction of folders, or the removal of the lock switch (which I really like having). It was fine when I got it, and I'm still pleased with the purchase.

I've had the pleasure of writing for the website Blastr a number of times over the past couple of months (the articles that I've written are linked in the 'Writing' tab here), coming up with lists on all sorts of things when it comes to science fiction. It's fun to relate what we love to read and watch to current events or to pick apart a franchise for things, and while it's not particularly smart writing, it's fun writing, and I'm really enjoying delving into a topic and finding a wide range of things.

By far, my favorite one to write thus far has been the '83 Crazy Differences Between Fringe’s Alternative Universe and Ours' piece, which allowed me to look at one of my favorite shows, Fringe. There have been a couple of things added, and if the show goes on, I'm sure that we'll be able to add an update to it at some point.

Lists by themselves are meaningless, I think: the usual top ten or top one hundred lists of the 'best' and 'favorite' types are always so contingent on people's individual tastes - and they fall into either the list of safe choices, where few people can argue about the selections, or a bunch of obscure or other ones that gets people arguing about everything that wasn't on the list. It's frustrating to read comments, I'm finding, because people either don't read the article and think about it, or read it and ignore what you're trying to put forward.

Such is life. I've got a couple of lists that I'm working on, and I’m excited about what's to come.

Last year, a friend of mine and I started up a website called Geek Mountain State (a play off of Green Mountain State), designed as a catch all for all things geek in Vermont. So far, it's been quite a lot of fun to write for. The idea for the site goes back to 2009, when I was driving out to Middlebury for a talk by author P.W. Singer, who wrote a book called Wired For War, (I wrote a review for the book for io9, here, and interviewed Mr. Singer, here.) an examination of robotics in the battlefield. It struck me that there were probably more talks like that around the state. Over a year and a half later, I've heard more and more about all types of science and technology news, commentary on the future, politics, geeky events and things along those lines throughout the state, and after speaking with a friend of mine, we decided that the idea had merit, and we decided to launch a blog, along with a Twitter and Facebook feed, to capture these sorts of things happening around the state.

Looking at almost 30 other websites, we've been able to update a daily list of events happening throughout the state that relate to geek interests, either in the typical geek interest levels, such as science and technology, but also gaming and book signings, while we prowl through Flickr and online for photos of niche things that catch our interest: ruins, wind farms, bookstores, and quite a lot more, along with blurbs and links to articles that fall under the same heading, as well as short pieces that I'll put together.

The site's not quite where I want it yet - I'd love to see a larger audience (it's certainly growing though), and eventually, our own domain that we can maintain ourselves. We've got some ideas that we'll implement as time goes on - I'd love to begin interviewing people in all walks of geek life, get some more original articles, new writers, and monetize the site on a local level, for local businesses, but some of that is pretty far down the line. Eventually, I'd love to get to the point where we can solicit and commission local science fiction and fantasy (and pay people to do it!), but I don't know how to get there yet. Personally, I'd love to see an anthology of local speculative fiction, by local people - that would be beyond cool.

This year, I'm thankful... have a have the means to support myself. be able to put food on the table. have the means to enjoy my time. ...for the books that I have read. ...for Blake Charlton, David Forbes, Paul Thompson, Paolo Bacigalupi, N.K. Jemisin, Karin Lowachee, Charles Yu, Neil Gaiman, Ian McDonald, Joe Hill, John Joseph Adams, Christie Yant, Aidian Moher, John Denardo, Brit Mandelo, Annalee Newitz, Charlie Jane Anders, and John Scalzi. ...for io9, SF Signal, and Blastr. ...for The Walking Dead, Stargate Universe, Caprica, Castle, House and Fringe. ...for my family being close by. ...for the road cone that by brother left on top of my car as a prank. ...for the internet's rage to correct things that are wrong. ...that I haven't been attacked because of my race, religion or by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. car works. ...the City of Montpelier and its three bookshops that I regularly visit. ...the libraries in the area, and the librarians I've worked with. ...the stories that I've found of Norwich alumni in Belgium. ...for the sacrifices that they made. ...the students and people who I work with who actually take responsiblity for their lives. ...for my the strides that I've taken with my writing. ...for the gigs that I've gotten. ...for my education, and how it's changed my outlook on the world.

...most of all, for Megan. I would give up everything above for her.

A Stranger's Gift

I have one particular addiction: books. There's very little that I don't like about them, from an orderly line of them occupying a shelf, the heft and weight, to their universal format that allows them to be accessed by everyone. (That sounds like a dig against eBooks, but it's not). Inevitably, when I am drawn to a bookstore, I end up with a couple volumes that caught my eye under my arm as I leave the store. This happen earlier today after a late lunch when Megan and I wandered back home. A local store, The Book Garden, is holding a sale for their used books, buy one, get another free. I've picked through the store pretty well, and I'm always happy to see that they've got a replenished collection every time that I go in. This particular trip, I found that they had a pair of Harry Potter novels, The Sorcerer's Stone and The Deathly Hollows, neither of which I had, and both in hardcover. I've bee working to get all of the book for my own collection (in hardcover), and used bookstores usually have a couple of them, I picked up the pair, intending on adding them to my collection (with just a couple of others (Books 4 and 6) left to pick up after that before I had the entire set.

The books bagged, We walked home along Barre St, where we came across a trio of children playing on the sidewalk. The three of them were bundled up against the cold, but looked like they were having fun. They spread out across the sidewalk and a demanded a password to cross, giggling. Megan guessed Cat (or Kat, they said it began with K) and I guessed people for mine, and they allowed us to pass. One little girl said that she could read the sign on the side of the truck parked across the road, and read it for me.

Impulsively, I asked them if they liked to read. Her dark face lit up with a wide grin and nodded. I pulled one of the books out of my bag, The Sorcerer's Stone and handed it to them, asking if they wanted it. They took it out of my hand and look even more excited, and ran inside. I overheard the brother tell his mother that a 'nice man gave us Harry Potter!' as we walked by their apartment's door. I hope that the mother's reaction wasn't that her children had just been given a book by a stranger, and throw it away or forbid them to read it, but accept it in the spirit that it was given: impulsively, with the intention that they will read a fun children's story, one that I greatly enjoyed as a youngster. Their excitement was tangible, and he way that their faces lit up gives me some hope that the book will be enjoyed (maybe in a couple of years, or hours).

Books, I think, should be given out more freely, and their use encouraged in the instances when that's not possible. It's certainly something that I'd like to do more, and I wonder if i should start picking up books that would appeal to children and find some way to distribute them to those in need. Reading is important, essential, and some of the stories that I've heard from family members and significant others about the abilities of children in the school systems, I'm worried about some of them. Hopefully, I've inspired a couple of kids that reading can be, well, magical, interesting, and exciting.

A Couple Random Things

This past weekend was the Wizard World Boston comic convention, held at the Hynes Convention Center in downtown Boston, something that the New England Garrison has been planning for almost a year now. This has been quite the year for conventions for the group. We were at the Boston and Granite City Comic Cons earlier this year, then Celebration 5, and now this one, with SupermegaFest coming up.

Generally, I'm not a fan of conventions. I don't like standing around, waiting for people to take pictures of me with them. I never really feel that it's a good use of my time and so forth, but this one had a bunch of options to allow us to really interact with the general public: A Jabba the Hutt puppet that people could pose next to, and a shooting gallery, where we raised around $840 for Autism Speaks, a charity that the NEG works with closely.

The weekend was also Megan's first time at a con, along with the added bonus of getting to see some of the people from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I'm not a huge fan, but she and some of her friends enjoyed it – We inducted James Marsters into the 501st as an honorary member.) Adam West and Burt Ward (Batman and Robin - at $60, they were too expensive to really talk to), Doug Jones' Manager (Jones himself was talking to someone else when I was around) and Christopher Golden, who wrote the book Baltimore, or, the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire, which I coincidentally picked up at the same con.

The opportunity to take part in the shooting gallery was definitely the highlight, because I could act out a bit and be really ridiculous with it. Kids, somewhat unsurprisingly, are really good shots with dart guns, and I was hit in the face and head a lot. Something about a Storm Trooper falling flat on his face seems to get people laughing, so that made it worth it. I've got a couple of pictures here.

I've been doing a bit more reading lately, and I've got a stack of really good books stacked up next to my bed. Paolo Bacigalupi's Pump Six and Other Stories is the book that I'm carrying around at the moment, which is a fantastic collection from a fantastic author, while I'm also reading the aforementioned Baltimore, which is proving to be a really cool read (and with some awesome illustrations from Mike Mignola), Cherie Priest's Dreadnought, which is proving to be fun (but not quite as much fun as her prior book Boneshaker, but better than Clementine), Masked, edited by Lou Anders, which is a fun, but somewhat dense anthology of superhero stories, and Nights of Villjamur, by Mark Charan Newton, which is proving to be a slow read, and unfortunately, not as good as I was led to believe. (It's interesting thus far though). I've got a couple of other books on the horizon that I really want to read before the end of the year: Ian McDonald's The Dervish House and China Mieville's Kraken.

I’m thrilled at this pile of books, and some of the other ones that I’ve read already this year - The City and the City (China Mieville), Pattern Recognition (William Gibson), Stories (edited by Neil Gaiman), Spellbound (Blake Charleton), How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (Charles Yu), Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (N.K. Jemisin, and the River of Gods (Ian McDonald, just to name a few, because I've fallen into company in person and online that have pointed me to some fantastic books and I feel that I've learned and grown as a reader and writer because of them. There's been some duds of reads this year, but overall? I've been pulled into fantastic world after fantastic world.

Still, reading is something that I enjoy, and I've been finding that I really don't enjoy the entire book-blogger environment that I discovered. Too much drama, complaints about how SF/F isn't perceived as a legitimate genre, sucking up to authors and so many reviews a week / month that I can't believe that people can read and retain the contents of dozens of books a year. It's not for me, and I've found that I've got little patience and interest in it. I'll stick with my moderate pace and go from there.

John Scalzi posted up a fascinating essay earlier today, Today I Don't Have To Think About..., which fully and utterly puts one into one's place. After being amongst and listening to a number of coworkers, family members and friends complain about how things are going in their lives and the drama that ensues, this is a really good thing to read, because there are people who are a helluva lot worse off than me in the world. It's hard to remember that sometimes, but it's worth remembering. I've taken the essay and printed it out. One copy went onto my desk’s wall. I’m not sure where the other nine will end up, but they should be read.

Cidering Time

This past weekend, my parents, my brother and sister, along with their significant others, my Uncle Tom and Aunt Jan, myself and girlfriend and our dog gathered at home for what has a yearly tradition: cidering. It's become a time when we all gather (if able - this was the first time that I've been able to make it in a couple of years) and spend the day working to press a large amount of homemade apple cider for the next year.

When my family moved to Moretown in the early 1990s, we build a house on the remains of an old farmstead; the ancient foundation has largely crumbled away to a hole in the ground, but other parts remain: the barbed wire embedded in the trees in the woods, the remains of the fields that makes up our front yard, and a half dozen apple trees that line the road.

For the first decade of our living there, we didn't really pay attention to the trees: they were a curiosity, things that attracted the deer, and provided ammunition for my brother and I. (Armed with a long stick, you can hurl a fist sized apple several hundred feet in any direction) As my parents became satisfied with home improvements, and found that they had more time on their hands for new projects, my father stumbled on the idea of harvesting the apples for cider. Armed with some directions, we gathered that year's crops and armed with a couple of knives and a tiny food processer, we spent a ridiculous amount of time grinding the apples, eventually destroying the mixer. My dad, ever the inventor, put together a frame, a slab of polished granite and a car jack, and created a rudimentary press.

Several years on, the process has become a bit more refined, and takes just an afternoon. This past weekend, people began to arrive early in the morning, where we harvested several bushels of apples in crates and buckets. By the time Megan and I arrived, the next step was largely underway. My sister in law, sister's boyfriend and mother had set around a table with sharp knives and cut the apples into small pieces, loading them into buckets for the processing team.

Without trying to over think the entire weekend, I've come to appreciate the times that we come together for this, even if it's just the immediate family and a couple of others. In the past, family units in the United States were busy groups of people, working on a number of projects collaboratively in order to gain a collective result. Reading over old accounts and stories, it seems that this was a given fact of life, but that seems to be a value that's been lost in modern day society. To get a gallon of cider, all that we have to do here is drive to the grocery store and buy one. I'm not wholly convinced that the effort, time and money put into a gallon on demand is really worth the entire experience of seeing the family coming together and working for something that we'll reap the benefits of over the entire year.

Since destroying a mixer, Dad has sought out ways to better mash up apples, and build a top for the cart: a board with a garbage disposal in it. My uncle took on the apples, dumping them onto the flat surface, and pushing them towards my dad, who forced a steady stream of apples and water through the hole and disposal unit. A bucket, lined with a cloth sack, captured the mash the came out the other end. When the bag was full, we stopped the processor and removed the surface.

My task became the compressor: this method hasn't changed. The sack was then tied off, placed in a plastic bin to capture the juice, and covered with a polished granite slab, which was then pressed down by a car jack underneath a two by four. The pressure forced out the juice, and the tilt of the cart let it flow to the other end. After three rounds of compression, the jack and granite slab was removed, and we collected the newly-pressed apple cider into a large jug, where it's then allowed to settle, and individual containers were filled by my brother and my aunt.

The entire process runs until we're out of apples, and at the end of this weekend, we walked away with something like fifty or so gallons of the stuff, which has since been sealed and frozen. Afterwards, we collect back in the house, where we’ll talk over food and drinks, and generally relax after the day’s efforts.

Over the next year, we'll endure my father asking if we want another couple of gallons, because he'll want to turn off the freezer to conserve electricity over the winter. We'll roll our eyes and take a couple of gallons home at a time, where we'll share it with friends and enjoy it over the next year, until next autumn. In the time between that, we'll pick away at the trees, pruning away branches periodically, while the red frame rests until it's called back into service next year, when the family will gather once again and repeat the whole process. I for one, can’t wait for next year.


I saw the man's body tumble across the roadway this morning when I drove to work. A dark blur, suddenly upright on the sidewalk before he was suddenly in the middle of the roadway, no more than a hundred meters ahead of me in the oncoming lane of traffic. Cars stopped, and somehow, the man was able to pull himself up and back on to the sidewalk, where the owner of a silver pickup truck had stopped, just above the sidewalk. As I drove by, I could see that he was white: I guess hitting a pedestrian with a truck would do that, but the victim was on his feet, and didn't seem to be injured. Traffic resumed as I passed, a sudden interruption in a number of people's days, but fortunately, not for one of those people.
As I waited, just moments later at the stoplight at the intersection of the street, I listened to the radio while trying not to think about what I could have seen. Soldiers from the Vermont National Guard had returned home: families gathered to meet them, and reunite. A wife of a soldier noted that in the audience, there were family members who had lost their loved ones in the conflict abroad, but they had shown up to greet the comrades of those lost. Longer interruptions in people's lives as the demands of the country supersede those of the family, some more significantly than others.
I try not to think about how easily life can be interrupted, and I can't help think about how satisfied I am with the way things have gone over the course of my life. I've yet to face any sort of issues like what I've seen and heard, today and beyond, and I am extremely thankful for that.