Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Preparing for ConQuesT 49!

Will you be in Kansas City this weekend? 
Memorial Day Weekend is the perennial date for my "home" science fiction convention, ConQuesT--put on each year by the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society, of which I am the Communications Officer.



The Art Show
I'll be showing new work at the ConQuesT 49 Art Show: on Friday, look for the first two of my new Gerberas & Gold series, which will pair up as this week's Image(s) of Interest. I'm not showing them in this post because (1) They're debuting at ConQuesT 49, so convention Art Show-goers get to see them first, and (2) my mats aren't in yet.

In all, I've reserved three panels this year, for a total of 12 pieces of fantasy paper sculpture.

Here's a glimpse of maybe a quarter of the 2014 ConQuesT Art Show.
Here's a section of the 2015 ConQuesT Art Show.

As a member of the KaCSFFS Executive Board I'm technically on the Concom (Convention Committee), but I was much more "hands-on" as a Concom member when I was the Art Show Director, 2011-2013. In more recent years, that joy has fallen to the much more efficient Mikah McCullough, who has expanded the show and dramatically streamlined the money-handling. I'm happy to say our Art Show is one of the largest and most diverse in the region.

My Panelist Schedule 
I also will be busy participating on (and sometimes moderating) a number of panels, as well as a reading from my to-be-published-later-this-year novel, What's Bred in the Bone

If you'd like to see any of these panel topics turned into a blog post (or a series of several), I'd love to know. Please Leave a comment about it in the form below the post!

With fellow panelists Jonathan Brazee, Paula Smith, and Mike Substelny on a panel at NorthAmericon '17, in pre-hurricane Puerto Rico.

Friday May 25

  • 5-5:50 p.m. (Benton meeting room) For Your Listening Pleasure - An Exploration of SF and Fantasy movie scores.


Saturday May 26

  • Noon to 12:25 p.m. (Northrup meeting room) I'll read from What's Bred in the Bone - One or more scenes from my soon-to-be-released space opera/solarpunk/mystery, whose protagonist is a large, genetically- and cybernetically-enhanced police dog named Rex.
  • 3-3:50 p.m.* (Fremont meeting room) Where You Least Expect It - SF and Fantasy can be found in unexpected places, including classic literature (Milton, Shakespeare, and many others). Since I'm the moderator, I may take us into Art History as well.
  • 4-4:50 p.m.* (Empire C Ballroom) Author Speed Dating - I'll be one of nine authors on hand to tell attendees about my book, and to answer questions.
  • 5-5:50 p.m.* (Benton meeting room) What Science Fiction Got Wrong - science fiction writers are often rightly celebrated for having predicted future trends and breakthroughs long before they happened. But what about the things they got wrong--sometimes glaringly wrong, now that we're viewing them in retrospect?
  • 9-9:50 p.m. (Fremont meeting room) Bad Touch: Sex and Violence - We'll explore how these topics are presented in the media, what messages they send, and how changing attitudes shift the way we look at some of the classics--as well as more recent work.

*Yes, they ARE back-to-back-to-back: I like a challenge (but don't stand between me and the Ladies' Room at 5:50!).

Sunday May 27 

  • 11-11:50 a.m. (Empire B Ballroom) Philosophy Fun - Must one be virtuous to be courageous? What's more important, knowledge or imagination? We'll ponder these and other questions as they pertain to our favorite stories, games, characters, and our lives in the "real world," too. I'm the moderator for this one, and I promise to come loaded with provocative questions.

At a 2015 ConQuesT panel with Kristina Hiner, NeNe Thomas, Bradley Denton, and Barabara E. Hill.
IMAGES: Many thanks to ConQuesT 49 and The KaCSFFS Blog, for the ConQuesT 49 header; to The ConQuesT Art Show, for the photos from the 2014 and 2015 displays; and to Tyrell E. Gephardt, for the photos of a couple of the panels of which I've been a part. 

Monday, May 21, 2018

Emulating nature's patterns

The Artdog Quote of the Week


When we seek to become creative in harmony with nature, we are wise to seek the wisdom embodied in nature's patterns. Fallow periods, seedtime and harvest all are indispensable parts of the cycle. Don't skip any.

IMAGE: Many thanks to The Daily Quotes, for this unattributed quote-image.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Surf on, little dude! (And GOOD LUCK!)

The Artdog Image of Interest 
This week's Image comes with a story. But first, please take a moment to contemplate it.

Sewage Surfer © Justin Hofman / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

I first saw this image in an article in the Washington Post last year. I immediately wanted to use it for an Image of Interest. But there's a prominent copyright notice on the image--so I knew I couldn't use it without permission (yes, fellow bloggers, that IS a thing!).

It wasn't that hard to find Justin Hofman's website, which came complete with "contact me" information, so I emailed him. He responded promptly and graciously, with permission and best wishes, but also with the proviso that the photo had been chosen as a finalist for the 2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, so therefore I also must abide by their rules for posting it. I have earnestly tried to abide by all of the provisions.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London. There's a whole, wonderful catalogue of other great photos included in that show, too, and I can enthusiastically endorse the value of viewing them all.

Better yet, if you're in London before the end of July 2018, they're all still on display! Wildlife Photographer of the Year also provided me with an informative caption for this photo:

Sewage surfer
Justin Hofman, USA
Finalist 2017, The Wildlife Photojournalist Award: Single Image

Seahorses hitch rides on the currents by grabbing floating objects such as seaweed with their delicate prehensile tails. Justin watched with delight as this tiny estuary seahorse ‘almost hopped’ from one bit of bouncing natural debris to the next, bobbing around near the surface on a reef near Sumbawa Island, Indonesia. But as the tide started to come in, the mood changed. The water contained more and more decidedly unnatural objects – mainly bits of plastic – and a film of sewage sludge covered the surface, all sluicing towards the shore.

The seahorse let go of a piece of seagrass and seized a long, wispy piece of clear plastic. As a brisk wind at the surface picked up, making conditions bumpier, the seahorse took advantage of something that offered a more stable raft: a waterlogged plastic cottonbud. Not having a macro lens for the shot ended up being fortuitous, both because of the strengthening current and because it meant that Justin decided to frame the whole scene, sewage bits and all. As Justin, the seahorse and the cottonbud spun through the ocean together, waves splashed into Justin’s snorkel. The next day, he fell ill. Indonesia has the world’s highest levels of marine biodiversity but is second only to China as a contributor to marine plastic debris – debris forecast to outweigh fish in the ocean by 2050. On the other hand, Indonesia has pledged to reduce by 70 per cent the amount of waste it discharges into the ocean.

Sony Alpha 7R II + 16–35mm f4 lens; 1/60 sec at f16; ISO 320; Nauticam housing + Zen 230mm Nauticam N120 Superdome; two Sea & Sea strobes with electronic sync.

IMAGE: Many, many thanks to Justin Hofman and to Wildlife Photographer of the Year, developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London, for the use of this image!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wayfinding in an unknown world

I've been thinking about maps, recently, for a number of reasons. I participated in a stimulating panel discussion about them last February at Capricon 38, in which we discussed historical maps, as well as the vital necessity of maps to writers engaged in worldbuilding. From the opening credits for Game of Thrones to nearly every video game in use today, maps are key to unlocking fictional worlds.


"Game of Thrones" Main Titles from Elastic on Vimeo.

I've been busily engaged in developing and and refining maps, drawings, and models of Rana Station, the eight-toroid habitat space station where my XK9 novels are set, for several years. If I don't have a clear sense of how the terraced hillsides of my characters' home Borough on Wheel Two look, or where things are in relation to each other, how will my readers ever have a clue?

I'm still working on a post about my Ranan maps--also still working on refining the maps themselves! They'll be a subject for a future post. No, today I just want to share some of my favorite maps from other creators' worlds, and talk about how necessary they are.

Tolkien's Middle Earth: so many classic places! What would a quest novel be without a map?

Not everyone likes maps, or finds them relatable. This boggles my mind, but it's true. I know perfectly wonderful people who relate to maps about as well as I relate to trigonometry (math-challenged artist, here, which really blows when I'm trying to get "space stuff" right! This means, however, that I always try to triple-check my numbers, and have better mathematicians "check my work.").

But for a writer--not even specifically the writer of science fiction and fantasy; I mean almost ANY writer--you need to know where things are in your fictional world, how far away they are from each other, and what they look like.

Some of my all-time favorite, Ultimate Awesome maps are the ones found in the Deborah Crombie mystery novels. Laura Hartman Maestro creates them, and while they are based on real places in the real world (where Deb really goes in person, to do her painstaking research), they also incorporate places mentioned in the story, as well as animals and sometimes humans from the story, as well.

Laura Hartman Maestro's map for the Deborah Crombie contemporary mystery novel Garden of Lamentations.

My friend Diana J. Bailey (wife of the fantasy and sf author Robin Wayne Bailey) is a retired EPA hydrologist who frequently gives map critiques to fantasy and sf writers. She has a whole, exasperated spiel about how too many people haven't figured out that tributaries run DOWNHILL.

The Mississippi River and its major tributaries: we don't often appreciate the strategic and economic importance this navigable river system had to the development of the United States, but my friend Diana Bailey makes a strong, eloquent case.

She also likes to point out how essential it is to understand that land-forms and water flow dictate patterns of travel, which influence commerce, which influences society, and defines "what is a strategic location?" for any given fictional world. One of her pet peeves (mine, too, and I know we're not alone) is a fictional world that doesn't make geological sense.

Water is a crucial resource, as my friends in Yemen will tell you from bitter experience. It defines where people (and all lifeforms) gravitate. Geography and landforms also create barriers and/or passages for travel. No matter what stage of development your world has achieved, it almost certainly has a history. It almost certainly has an economy. And it almost certainly has had some of those elements molded and adjusted by geography.

Writers fail to learn about this, or fail to use it in their worldbuilding, at their peril.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Vimeo and Elastic for the Game of Thrones Main Titles sequence from 2011; to Gizmodo's io9 for the Tolkein map of Middle Earth, to Deborah Crombie's "The Maps" page for the Garden of Lamentations map by Laura Hartman Maestro; and to Mondo Trudeau's guide to World Geography Class at Caddo Magnet High School, for the map of the Mississippi and its tributaries. I appreciate you ALL!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Full-immersion is good

The Artdog Quote of the Week


The quotes this month have been selected on the theme of being creative in harmony with nature. This quote from Christi Krug offers an important aspect of that goal-seeking.

IMAGE: Many thanks to Goluputtar, for this image and quote from Christi Krug.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Practically the definition of "extinct," but . . . maybe not forever?

The Artdog Image of Interest: 
Image 4 of a series of four by John James Audubon


Passenger Pigeon (Columba Migratoria), 1838, by John James Audubon.
Note the scientific name is now Ectopistes migratorius.

The demise of the Passenger Pigeon is one of the most extensively-documented extinctions I've ever seen. All three of the other bird species I've highlighted in this series are carefully listed as "Extinct or Critically Endangered."

Not the Passenger Pigeon. We know to the day--and possibly to the hour--when the last Passenger Pigeon, a female named Martha, died in the Cincinnati Zoo (September 1, 1914, reportedly at 1 p.m.).



Only a few decades earlier, Passenger Pigeons had numbered in the billions, if not trillions. The species was hunted commercially along the train lines, and helped to feed both the masses of low-income immigrants flooding into American cities in the East, and to leave its mark on American haut cuisine, as well.

In their heyday, Passenger Pigeons would swoop into an area not unlike a locust swarm, darkening the sky. They would decimate the local crops, and cover everything with their excrement, according to contemporary reports. They also reportedly were incredibly noisy birds, with the sounds of their flocks described in various ways, but the bottom line was always "deafening."



When flocks were gargantuan, it was hard to miss. By the time their numbers had begun to diminish, commercial hunting had become so entrenched there was little effort to slow the slaughter (kind of reminds me of commercial overfishing today). Perhaps there was another aspect of human nature in the mix, as well:



Logic? Compassion? Thinking about consequences? What??

As with the Eskimo Curlew, which also were delicious and once migrated in large flocks that seemed inexhaustible at the time, Passenger Pigeons were brought down by more than commercial hunting alone--although that would have done the job soon enough. They also suffered habitat loss when blight and deforestation deprived them of their preferred chestnut trees, and--perhaps counter-intuitively, they didn't reproduce as fast or abundantly as many flocking species. Their nesting colonies were massive, and not suitable for just any location.

If there is any bright spot in the sad history of the Passenger Pigeon, it is in the sobering effect the species' loss--even in the face of their earlier billions--had on observers' understanding that NO, even the vast resources of the "American Wilderness" were not infinite.

It may be hard to tell in this old photo, but that is a veritable mountain of bison skulls, piled up in a time when warm buffalo robes were in demand and herds were thought to be infinite (note there also was an undeniable and EXPLICIT element of genocide in the destruction of the American Bison, since it was a foundational staple of Plains Indian life).

The demise of the Passenger Pigeon is often linked to the rise in interest in conserving the American Bison (buffalo), another species that once had been hunted for sport and whose massive herds were once expected to be inexhaustible. These were among the first stirrings of what have evolved into the conservation movements of today.

Revive & Restore's illustration of hoped-for "Gradations of Success" in the "De-Extinction" of the Passenger Pigeon. The bird images in this illustration are derived from artwork by Tim Hough.

There has recently arisen one more potential "bright spot." More than 100 years after Martha the Last Passenger Pigeon died, there is a serious effort underway to use cellular engineering procedures to bring about the "de-extinction" of the species. The objective, which is described at length on the Revive & Restore website, is to recreate--by 2022--birds that are genetically so similar to the original Passenger Pigeon DNA (which has been sequenced several times) as to be biologically the same species, although derived from band-tailed pigeons.

The revival of the Passenger Pigeon? Wonders may never cease.

I apologize that a storm of circumstances prevented me from completing my "Audubon's Believed-Extinct Species" series of Image of Interest posts in April, as originally planned--but I was determined to get this last one included. I hope you found it interesting!

IMAGES: Many thanks to The Audubon Society, for the photo of the John James Audubon painting; to the Smithsonian Channel and YouTube, for the video about Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon; to The Video Project and YouTube, for the trailer for the documenary From Billions to None; to Ars Technica and YouTube, for the video "How Gamers Killed Ultima Online's Virtual Ecology," to Gizmodo and Sarah Zhang for the photo of the mountain of bison skulls; and to Revive & Restore for the optimistic chart depicting their hoped-for "Gradations of Success." We should make a note to check back with them in 2022!

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

My DemiCon 29 Experience

I had a good time at DemiCon 29 this year. It's an intimate convention, about 500 or so attendees, and as with all science fiction convention experiences, each person's reaction may differ. The things I look for in an sf con tend to be networking opportunities, a good Art Show, and interesting panels (to be on, and to attend).

The Iowa Writers' Panel featured readings by (L-R) Rachel Aukes, Lettie Prell, Adam Whitlatch, and Shannon Ryan.
Networking
Since it was a smaller convention, there weren't as many attending writers and artists as one tends to see at larger cons. This can be both good and bad. It's a chance to get to know a few of one's fellow "pros" better because of frequent interaction--but you make a limited number of contacts. Since I get along well with most people, I generally find at least a few people with whom to have a good conversation.

Smaller conventions also are great if you like more interaction with fans. The panel discussions tend to be more interactive, which offers an opportunity for delving deeper into ideas and information a given audience wants to explore. You never know who you may meet, or what areas of unexplored expertise or new ideas they may have.

Christine Mitzuk, the Artist Guest of Honor at DemiCon 29, gave a painting demonstration, and talked about her career.
Art Show
Smaller conventions often have smaller art shows, but DemiCon had a pretty good representation of "the usual mail-in suspects," including Sarah Clemens, Theresa Mather, and David Lee Pancake, as well as attending artists. Smaller conventions are places where local artists and talented beginners can gain a better showcase. The Artist Guest of Honor was Christine Mitzuk. I enjoyed interacting with her at programming events, and having a chance to see her beautiful work.

Sunday's Creative Process panel at DemiCon 29 featured (L-R) Christina Henry, Author Guest of Honor; Jan S. Gephardt; Christine Mitzuk, Artist Guest of Honor; cartoonist and writer Daniel Mohr; and writer/historian Rob Howell. (Photo by Tyrell Gephardt)
Panels 
I would have liked a somewhat wider range of panels, but as I gathered (after the fact), to get a panel scheduled, one of the would-be panelists had to suggest it beforehand. If I'd figured that out sooner, I'd have suggested several more ideas, myself! I'm used to a different system--but never mind. I enjoyed the panels in which I did participate.

I especially enjoyed the readings, though I unfortunately had to miss the readings by Lettie Prell. I did get a chance to hear Adam Whitlatch, Rachel Aukes, and Shannon Ryan. I also had a chance to do a reading--but unfortunately, they scheduled mine opposite the Masquerade (DemiCon is WAY into costumes and cosplay). I had a small but enthusiastic audience of one (and he wasn't even related to me! My son Ty was scheduled for something else opposite my reading).

One highlight was the chance to work on several panels with Rob Howell. I'd met him earlier, and I've been on panels with him before. He brings a sense of humor and a rich depth of knowledge to every discussion.

The Trans-Iowa Canal Company takes a curtain call at the end of their humorous DemiCon 29 Opening Ceremonies performance.
Other highlights 
DemiCon offered a range of other activities besides panels, readings, and the art show. As noted above, there was a Masquerade, there were room parties every night, and Opening Ceremonies, as usual offered a new performance by the Trans-Iowa Canal Company, or TICC, a group of comedic actors who present skits with an sf or fantasy bent.

Assorted visions from DemiCon 29: (L-R) Susan Leabhart, Fan Guest of Honor, with friend; the laser-light show at the Karaoke party Friday night; Something you just don't see every day, a giant pink inflatable flamingo in the hotel lobby.

IMAGES: All photos except the one with Jan in it (which is by Tyrell Gephardt) are by Jan S. Gephardt, taken with permission where applicable. If you wish to re-post them, please don't alter them, but do please give an attribution, and embed a link back to this post. Thanks!