Thursday, September 30, 2010

Aussiecon 4 - The Climate Change Panels (Part 2)

Hi all,
I attended four climate change sessions at Aussiecon 4, two of them I wrote about in my last Aussiecon post.
Designer Planet: Averting Climate Change with Geoengineering.
This session was conducted solo by science fiction author Gregory Benford. He is also an astrophysicist in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of California, Irvine. I have read a number of his novels including the excellent 1980 Nebula Award winner Timescape.
During the talk he gave out his email address so people could request further information, I did so. He emailed back a number of articles including two which comprised much of what he said during his talk, and an excellent article Prozac for the Planet by Christopher Cokinos, about a geoengineering conference which he attended.
Gregory Benford started by telling us that greenhouse gases make up 388 parts per million of the atmosphere, and that is increasing by 3ppm per year. (Currently world attempts focus on keeping it below 450 ppm, which would cause an expected 2 degrees Celsius average global temperature increase).
He says after us pumping 200 years of CO2 into the atmosphere, a ½ metre rise in oceans is inevitable.
He said that no economist he knew thought we could replace our current energy sources with renewables in less than 50 years, so we have to find other means of fighting global warming. He seemed very doubtful about the planet’s governments getting their act together and reducing our greenhouse gas output to anything near what was required.
He dismissed space based reflection of sunlight back into space as it would cost about three trillion dollars.
One surprising point he mentioned is that while tropical countries clear their rain forests, the temperate nations have been growing more trees, with tree coverage rebounding in the US after 1950.
He thought about half the US CO2 emissions could be captured if the US grew tree crops on economically marginal croplands. In the short term this would work, but we would soon run out of land. Soaking up the world’s present CO2 increase would take tree planting over a country the size of Australia. But trees absorb more sunlight than grasslands, so they might increase warming in the long run.
This left other advanced technological paths to global climate stability.
· Renewable energy, but it has a high capital cost.
· Burying crops in oceans
· Magnesium carbonate bricks
· Pumping liquid CO2 to the bottom of the ocean
He said that 4-6 pg of CO2 accumulates every year. He estimates that the cost of removing that CO2 10 trillion dollars per year
He had had conducted an experiment on one way of reducing the level of CO2 in the atmosphere. Many crops leave an unused residue of 30% of the crop. This residue could be bundled together and floated down rivers on barges and then dropped into the ocean, below the ocean’s thermocline so the carbon it released stayed in the oceans for at least a thousand years. This method could account for about 13% of the total US carbon emissions in 1990. Acidification of the oceans is occurring in the top km, so the bundles would be sank much further down.
He said this method operated at a 92% efficiency. Whereas turning crops into ethanol only had a 32% efficiency.
He then suggested a way of geoengineering the planet to reflect sunlight back into space. He said we could compensate for the effect of all the greenhouse gases since the industrial revolution if we reflected one percent of the sun’s light. This would solve the greenhouse effect for many decades.
The best way to reflect the sun’s rays would be by spreading dust or droplets of sulfuric acid into the stratosphere. Tiny particles stay aloft for several years. According to his notes “the amount of droplets or dust needed is at most ten times smaller than the amount already blown into the atmosphere by natural processes.”
But there are possible side effects such as the ozone layer being affected.
So he suggested an experiment should be conducted over the Arctic. He thought this might gain ground because the US, like Russia, hides its subs under the Arctic, so the military might be agreeable to an experiment that prevented the sea ice from melting. He said that the KC10 extender plane, airforce mid-air refuelling jets, that are just about to be retired, could be used to spread the dust. He suggested it would cost about 2-3 billion dollars to screen the Arctic for a year.
“Ken Caldiera, who holds the chair at the Carnegie Institute at Stanford University has modelled the idea of Arctic cooling…his preliminary findings show that a full scale program of adding aerosols at stratospheric levels could restore the Arctic within a few years.”
More sea ice means less dark sea and more reflection of sunlight.
I was not too sure what would happen after a successful experiment. I got the impression that cooling the Arctic substantially, might slow global warming over the entire planet. But, as Gregory said, we can’t just keep pumping aerosols into the stratosphere to combat a continual increase in greenhouse gases, the oceans would become more acid, and a disaster could happen if the aerosols failed, leading to a sudden increase in temperatures. He sees the spraying of aerosols into the stratosphere as a measure to stall climate change and give us more time to reduce the output of greenhouse gases.
I left the session a bit more hopeful for civilisation, as geoengineering the planet might be a solution to our political unwillingness to do anything substantial about climate change.
Climate Change: Possible Futures for Planet Earth.
Authors Kim Stanley Robinson and Sean McMullen, moderator Grace Duncan, an exhausted science communicator Tiki Swain and environmental scientist Jonathon Cowie.
I had heard much of what Jonathon Cowie and Kim Stanley Robinson had to say in previous sessions on climate change. Jonathon reiterated some of the science, Kim, stressed the need to use all possible greenhouse gas reduction methods, like reverting to sailing ships and using a combination of organic and genetically engineered food production.
Sean McMullen stressed that we had to change our values, to use less energy. He had gone from living in a 17 room mansion to a two bedroom flat. He hoped there would be less food wastage. He felt the soft underbelly of reducing greenhouse gases was reducing waste.
Tiki hoped there would be more emphasis on the sharing of resources, ie, the sharing of farm machinery between farmers.
Personally, I think we should try everything including nuclear power, genetic engineering, banning air travel in favour of large sailing ships and teleconferencing, and geoengineering, and start implementing it now.
I grow a lot of my own veggies and fruit. We installed a solar hot water panel last year. This year we got rid of the old gas heater and installed a thermostatically controlled one. Not only did doing the above decrease my greenhouse gas output but it saves us money. Energy prices are only going to keep on going up. I don’t own a car and walk everywhere, even though I live in the country. Walking gives me time to think, about writing, about climate change, about the future of humanity.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

My writing week 3 (38)

Hi all,

I was reading a blog post by Joe Konrath who has written a book called the Newbie's Guide to Publishing and has a blog of the same name (he also has five or so novels in a detective thriller series). He makes a good argument from the author's side for charging $2.99 for an ebook, but I am not so sure about his argument from the consumers side. You can argue all you like about what price a consumer is willing to pay and what price ebooks will eventually be, but those arguments have to be backed up with what is happening in the publishing world.

People who have read some of my blog posts and comments on other people's blogs about ebooks would know that I am not very hopeful about the short term future of the publishing industry. They would also know that I reckon the price of the average ebook in the near future will be zero. People who read this blog would also know that about once a month I visit Amazon's bestselling Kindle ebook list to see what prices were charged for the top 100 bestsellers, something I have neglected to do for six weeks as I have been busy writing for Divine online magazine and I went to Aussiecon, but just a few minutes ago I went and had a look.

The story so far, in the beginning about a third of the ebooks in the top 100 were priced a $2, about half a dozen were free, about 12 were $2.01 - $4, with the majority being about $7 to $12. This situation remained relatively stable for about six months. About 10 weeks ago things drastically changed. There were now no $2 ebooks, with that third of the top 100 now being taken up by free ebooks. There were also less ebooks in the $2.01 to $6 range. The same prices were evident when I had a look six weeks ago.

Today I found that there were five ebooks priced at $2.99, so perhaps some authors have quickly taken Joe's advice. There were also 15 ebooks priced from $4 to $9.99 and 29 ebooks priced over $10. That leaves 51 ebooks, all free. So the trend from the data suggests that most ebooks will be eventually be free. Interestingly, one of the free ebooks, coming in at number 96, was The Communist Manifesto.

I know I am only looking at the top 100 kindle ebooks. One day when I get time I might try to go through the top thousand. And the situation might be different at the Book Depository, Barnes and Noble or ibooks. But if they are following the same trends as Kindle, it looks like I might have reached the right conclusion. Whether any of my reasoning is correct is another matter.

I have been feeling tired lately due to illness, but feel like I am finally over it. This morning I swam a lot faster in the pool and did not fall asleep repeatedly while reading the newspapers (I do most of my reading lying on the couch or bed). So I hope to do a lot more writing this week of the novella, which I only wrote a 500 words of last week. I also want to write another Divine article this week.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Aussiecon 4 - The Climate Change Panels (Part 1)

Hi all,

I attended four panels on climate change at Aussiecon. Kim Stanley Robinson appeared on three of them. He appeared to be a committed environmentalist who hopes that humanity, and Americans in particular, will change their behaviour to solve the problems of climate change.

I personally don't have that much faith in our solving of climate change, due to a misleading media run by greedy billionaires who could care less about the world when they are dead.

I think we will only start to act when it is too late. A lot of people forget, or don't know, that greenhouse gases we are pumping out today, will stay in the atmosphere for centuries, so when climate change is at its worst, it will stay that way for centuries. That is unless science comes up with an answer. A lot of people hope science will come up with an answer. One of the panels questioned this hope, another provided this hope.

Destroying the Future to Save the Planet: The Environmental Politics of SF/F.

The panelists included: Kim Stanley Robinson, John Clute (science fiction reviewer and critic), Jonathon Cowie (environmental scientist), Glenda Lake (fantasy novelist), and Tom Moylan
(Glucksman Professor of Contemporary Writing and Director of the Ralahine Center for Utopian Studies, University of Limerick) as moderator.

Kim Stanley Robinson stressed our need to live more environmentally friendly lives.

John Clute's idea that science fiction might mislead us into to thinking that science can come up with a answer to climate change dominated this session. He blamed this on
Robert A Heinlein, who as an engineer lived to solve problems, so his stories and novels usually had science solving a problem.

Jonathon Cowie, said that 26% of
UK physics graduates decided to do physics because of science fiction. If they read Heinlein then they would probably believe science offers a solution to climate change.

The panellists believed we are approaching a tipping point -
Cowie mentioned UK chief scientist John Beddington's perfect storm of food, water and energy shortages in 2030.

So perhaps after 2030, a world in turmoil will no longer be able to afford to fight climate change.
Climate Change and Utopia

A solo Kim Stanley Robinson presented his ideas on climate change and science fiction utopias.

He disagreed with the concept of sustainable development, which he thought was humanity saying: let’s just continue to live like we have, but get away with it.

He has a garden and solar panels.

He wishes they had a preferential voting system in the
US so environmental parties would get a look in at the elections.

He mentioned that one-third of humanity's food comes from the oceans, but greenhouse gases are raising its PH level which might kill the bottom of the food chain.

He thinks we are in a Wylie E. Coyote moment of having just run off the edge of the cliff, with a legs still pumping as we see the drop (climate change) below.

He believes it is still possible to get to a carbon neutral state, but it would take some severe action. Nuclear power has to be used as a bridging technology. Genetic engineering might also be part of the solution, for example, rice that can survive two month floods instead of the previous two week floods. He's against notions of purity, i.e., that the solution has to be pure and contain no nuclear power, no genetic engineering.

On science fiction, he mentioned how science fiction writers now concentrate on dystopias, whereas decades ago they were trying to image the perfect society. He reckons it is much easier to write dystopias then think up utopias

He feels that there might be topic saturation about global warming in the news, so many readers might not want to read about it in science fiction (this had alarm bells ringing in my head).
Overall the panellists in these two panels doubted that science fiction would provide an answer to global warming.

I have still yet to read all of Gregory Benford's additional notes on his talk, so I have decided to split the climate change panels into two posts. Hopefully I will have the second post up early next week.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

My writing week 3 (37)

Hi all,

Lots of news this week. First, Divine online magazine sent me a contract for a article a month for the next 12 months. The pay rate is quite good, so I had no hesitation in signing and returning the contract. They then contacted me about the training day on 8th of October, offering me accommodation for the night before and night after, which I gratefully accepted.

A couple of weeks ago they sent me an email suggesting I write an article that introduced myself. I wrote that last week, concentrating on my interest in science fiction. I included a mention of Aussiecon 4, and in particular the panels on global warming. Hopefully this article will be accepted as my first paying assignment for the magazine. I already have two sample articles up on their website.

I sent an email to Gregory Benford requesting more information about his talk of geo-engineering the Arctic as a stop-gap measure to give us more time to reduce greenhouse gases. He gracious sent me back an email with his ideas, another article and his powerpoint presentation attached. I will write more about his talk in my next post about Aussiecon that concentrates on four climate change panels.

I spent a bit of time last week networking on Goodreads and LinkedIn joining some writing groups. I also now have a flickr account with a few recent photos of floods and aussiecon on it.

I even spent a bit of time on my novella this week. Mostly adding in a bit of description after my trip down to Aussiecon took me through the area that the story is set in.

So I had a reasonably productive week. It helped that I got over my Aussiecon cold in record time - less than a week.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Aussiecon 4 - Young Adult Panels.

Hi all,

At Aussiecon 4 I attended three panels specifically targeted at writers of young adult fiction.

Border Crossing: YA Authors Writing for Adults.
Panelists: Cory Doctorow (Canadian sci-fi novelist), Alison Goodman (Australian fantasy novelist) Marianne De Pierres (Australian sci-fi novelist) and Bec Kavanagh as moderator

It seems that whether a book is classified as YA or adult is very much up to the publisher with Cory having the same novel rejected by a YA bookseller in one country and published as adult, but published as YA in another country.

They said you have to write at a different level of assumed knowledge for the YA reader, but Cory wrote with google in mind: if a teenager wanted to know more about
something he could just look it up.

Cory makes his young people in the novels sound intelligent as the readership is aspirational and wanting to be intelligent. He reckons kids are a lot older now than we remember them being, more critical and articulate.

The panel talked about the differences between writing YA fiction and adult fiction. Three areas of contention came up: sex, violence and swearing.

Alison said she tried not to be to coy about sex in her YA novels, writing more about the emotional aspects of sex rather than the physical act.

Cory felt that graphic violence was okay in YA because it is outside the reader's normal experience, it is fantasy to the reader. Alison thought violence should be appropriate to the emotional context of the story.

Cory, American book clubs won't choose books with the word fuck in them.

Cory said that in the US young adults are 20% of the market but read 80% of the books - perhaps due to their high discretionary time and money.

Alison said that young adult book sales could be increasing because adults are reading more young of it.

Cory felt that it was a self perpetuating myth that boys don't read, ie, publishers don't publish books for boys, no books to read, boys don't read.

Wrought From the Very Living Rock: World Building in YA Fiction.DM Cornish (Aust fantasy novelist), Lara Morgan (Aust fantasy and Sci-fi novelist) Juliet Mariller (Aust/NZ historical fantasy novelist) and Bec Kavanagh as moderator

They began by discussing where their inspiration for the worlds they built came from. DM said Mervyn Peake, the Illiad and LOTR. He only used technology up to the time of the Battle of Waterloo in his worlds.

Lara: Greek and Roman history, her jungles were inspired by Borneo's which she visited. Her sci-fi novel was influenced by climate change and Star Wars. Juliet: the forest in New Zealand where she grew up. She said that Dunedin in NZ is very Scottish.

They each had different ways of building their worlds. Juliet did a lot of research before she started writing, Lara created the world as she wrote, whereas DM invented a world with no intention of writing and only started writing about that world after being persuaded by a publisher.

Juliet warned that uncanny elements in novels must be believable.

Juliet's characters spoke in a very neutral way, no ancient dialogue. Lara made up some words, she felt you have to use them sparingly. David tried to be consistent, no dragons in his world so no dragonflies, he called them emperorflies instead.

Lara tried to include remembrance of some sense moment as a trigger point during her novels. She also used a consistent pattern to name characters.

Nuts and Bolts: Editing YA Fiction
Sarah Hazelton, Zoe Walton (both editors at Random House Aust) Amanda Pillar (editor Morrigan Books) Rani Graff (Israeli editor and publisher).

Angels are the new vampires, in case you were wondering. Dystopias are also very popular.

They liked novels with the potential for a series, as teenagers were passionate readers of them.

Sarah took particular note of the level of assumed knowledge in the novel.

They said it was hard to market a book with 1st or 2nd year university students as the main characters because 16-18 year olds were more likely to be reading books with adult characters in them.

Hard sci-fi very hare to sell as YA in Australia.

When asked if YA novels should be fast paced they mentioned that Stephanie Meyer's books are very slow paced.

They also confirmed what I already felt, that some of the most cutting edge science fiction is published in YA.

So I am off to write a slow paced YA trilogy where Angels cause an apocalypse of violence, stopped only when there second in command falls for an intelligent sixteen year old female.


Monday, September 13, 2010

My writing week 3 (36) - More on Aussiecon

Hi all,

I caught a cold at Aussiecon: my brain must have been too busy processing information from the 18 panels I attended to direct my immune system. I tried to write this post yesterday, but my brain was too busy directing my immune system to stop me accidentally deleting it half way through.

I have divided the panels I attended at Aussiecon be divided into five categories:

1. Writing Young Adult Fiction
Including the following sessions:

Border Crossing: YA Authors Writing for Adults
Wrought From the Very Living Rock: World Building in YA Fiction
Nuts and Bolts: Editing YA Fiction

2. Climate Change:

Destroying the Future to Save the Planet: The Environmental Politics of SFF
Climate Change and Utopia
Climate Change: Possible Futures for Planet Earth

3. Speculative Fiction Markets
What we Publish
How to Market Short Stories
The Future of Short Fiction

4. The Digital Revolution

Copyright in the 21st Century
Did the Future Just Arrive - ebooks

5. The Future

The Future is Overtaking Us
Who Wants to Live Forever
The Problems with First Contact
The Race to the Red Planet

I also attended the opening ceremony and watched the guest of honour speeches by Shaun Tan and Kim Stanley Robinson.

The Hugo awards (probably the world's most prestigious science fiction awards) took place at the convention and, as I had voted, I had more interest in the winners than usual. I only voted in four categories and picked the winner in three of those categories: Best Short Story, Bridesicle by Will McIntosh; Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form, Moon; and Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form, Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars.

I also voted for the Best Novella which was won by Palimpsest by Charles Stross. I found that novella too complicated with large information dumps constantly throwing me out of the story, and I did not care if the main character survived. It was a real struggle to read. I thought all of the other novellas were better written and more involving, voting for Vishnu at the Cat Circus, by Ian McDonald. But each to their own.

I took a lot of notes while at the panel sessions and will write a little about each in the coming weeks - cold permitting.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

My writing week 3 (35) - Aussiecon

Hi all,

Well I survived Aussiecon. I spent most of my time attending panels as well as the opening ceremony and the guest of honour speeches. I also spent a bit of time in the dealers room searching for books. There was so much to see and listen to.

The panel sessions I saw were mainly on science fiction, writing for young adults, editing and climate change. A lot of those panels included the guest of honour, Kim Stanley Robinson. I had read his novel Red Mars and, after finding he had a great concern for climate change, I will now finish reading the series. He said the series was not so much about terraforming Mars but an allegory about man's treatment of Earth.

I also saw Canadian author Cory Doctorow with his uncomfortable arguments about where the publishing is heading. He is a fan, if not major contributor, to the digital revolution, running the well patronised website Boing Boing. He has also been nominated for three Hugos for mainly young adult science fiction. Although I did not share his enthusiasm for the digital redesign of the publishing industry, I was so impressed with the way he articulated his arguments and for the information he imparted that I felt obliged to buy one on his novels, which I did.

The overseas panelists, like Cory Doctorow, Kim Stanley Robinson, Gregory Bedford, James Scalzi, David D. Levine, and editors Patrick Nielsen Hayden (Tor), and Ginger Buchanan (Ace) where generally very articulate, entertaining and full of information. Only one American female novelist seemed too overbearing to generate convention sales. Sean McMullen was perhaps the best of the Australian writers I saw.

I choose the panel sessions more on topic then presenters, so I missed seeing China Mieville (if he turned up). It was disappointing that Australian authors like Greg Egan and Damien Broderick did not make an appearance. Sean Williams was ill and could not make it. I still have not read the daily update sheets to find out why some panelists didn't appear.

The convention centre is a huge cavernous venue. Aussiecon had access to two large auditoriums, and 20 other rooms, most of which seated 200 or so fans. No attempt had be made to decorate the place and very few fans turned up in costumes. The convention was more for the novel reading science fiction fan than the film or television science fiction fan. So for me, there seemed to be a lack of atmosphere.

The books in the dealers room were about 25% cheaper than what I pay in Wangaratta. I was disappointed not the find any of Adrian Bedford's books other then the one I had already had read. I also had no luck finding one Kim Stanley Robinson mentioned. I did find a collection of short stories by Aussie great George Turner, which was free with the purchase of another book, that took a while to choose.

Overall, I enjoyed the convention, I felt at home there, even though I wasn't wearing black. I was entertained and informed by a lot of open and articulate authors, editors and scientists, and left each day eager to return the next. I wish the convention had gone longer so I could have attended some of the panels I missed.

Over the coming weeks I will be blogging about the individual sessions and the winners of the Hugo's which were announced at the convention (I voted for two of the winners).