Monday, March 19, 2018

Trilogy of Topics--Hawking, Water and PiSA3

Today, I have three different topics to blog about. It's been a busy week!

RIP Stephen Hawking

Renown scientist Stephen Hawking died the morning of March 13, 2018 in his Cambridge home. His death came some 55 years after he was diagnosed with a motor neuron disease (ALS) in 1963...and given two years to live. What he accomplished in all those "borrowed years" was nothing short of spectacular.

In that five-and-a-half decade span, he was confined to a wheelchair, lost his ability to speak, wrote 15 books -- including A Brief History of Time, which sold more than 10 million copies -- co-authored a series of children's books with his daughter, guest starred in television series including Star Trek, The Big Bang Theory and as an animated character in The Simpsons, married twice, had three children, and made inestimable contributions to science and physics.

I had the utmost respect for Dr. Hawking, and even wrote a mention of his name into one of my as yet unpublished novels. His loss is a huge blow to science and the universe.

You can read more on this Thursday blog by Greta van der Rol: Unintended Consequences

Rest with the Stars, Stephen Hawking.

The Shape of Water Mini-Review

I'm actually a little stunned by the general lack of buzz in the SFR community about a Science Fiction Romance film nominated for -- and receiving -- an Oscar for Best Picture (plus three other awards). So I had to wonder if the film was actually a true SFR, or if it had been given that tag by the misinformed. Did it really have the required HEA or HFN?

Indeed it did!

Was it a satisfying romance that I could connect to on a very deep level?

Sadly, no.

Upon viewing the film, I'm sorry to say I wasn't entirely thrilled with the story. Although the relationship was sweet and included a couple of sexytimes scenes -- implied or otherwise -- I think it lacked any true chemistry between the mute female lead, Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) and the River God/river monster hero (Doug Jones), who's origins in nature and/or science were never explained.

Pluses were the richly detailed very late 50s/early 60s setting, a lavishly noir art-deco-in-decline that provided a wonderful, moody backdrop. But I think it tried too hard to make certain statements, which only served to turn some of the characters, one in particular, into a comic book caricatures. The villain was sadly one-dimensional and completely unsympathetic instead of being portrayed as a well-rounded antagonist with understandable drives and goals. One particular sex scene involving the villain seemed unnecessary and gratuitous, introducing a trivial, implied thread that the film failed to carry through on.

I also thought the reaction of the heroine's close friend, Zelda, to the discovery about her unusual sex life was way too understated and a bit unbelievable. It seemed such a monumental revelation warranted more than just a low chuckle and joking retort, and the abilities of outstanding actress Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures) were certainly wasted in this scene.

So sadly, The Shape of Water is not, in my humble opinion, going to be another Avatar in terms of defining what great SFR can be to the general public. It's probably worth a watch, but don't expect it to shake your universe.

I can't comment on the book as I haven't read it, but may check it out to see if it delivers a better emotional experience than the movie.

My rating: Not a definite "Go," but more of a "Watch it if you have time and are so inclined."

P.S. Can I also add that a much better use of your viewing time might be to see the deeply moving Only the Brave -- a thought-provoking and inspiring motion picture (though not SFR or a romance) -- which I blogged about at length last week.

Pets in Space 3 in Coming!

On Friday, the first big announcement of 2018 from the Pets in Space 3 team came out on the SFR Brigade blog. You can read the full announcement by clicking the link in the last sentence, but I wanted to focus on a few exciting tidbits.

First of all, the title! The 2018 edition will be titled:

Embrace the Passion: Pets in Space 3

The Pets in Space 3 collection will feature eleven authors (one less than last year but two more than the original anthology), and several are new to the PISA projects. Among them, you may recognize some well-known names in Science Fiction Romance. Here's the 2018 roster:

 S.E. Smith
Anna Hackett
Ruby Lionsdrake
Veronica Scott
Pauline Baird Jones
Carol Van Natta
Tiffany Roberts
Alexis Glynn Latner
E D Walker
JC Hay
Kyndra Hatch
The authors in bold text are first time contributors to a Pets in Space collection. Only four of the authors, S. E. Smith, Veronica Scott, Pauline Baird Jones and Alexis Glynn Latner will be veterans of all three releases.

The anthology will again support the wonderful by donating 10% of the first month's profits to the organization. In the last two years, the PISA collections (which I did take part in) have donated $4,400 to the charity! Hero Dogs raises and trains service dogs and provides them free of charge to U.S. Veterans. (My special project during the 2016 and 2017 Pets in Space editions was in "adopting" one of these dogs, Hero Dog Mitch, and making separate contributions to his training. Mitch successfully graduated the program on November 5, 2017 and was paired with a U.S. Coast Guard veteran.)

But there's one more thing I wanted to tell you about. Right now, the group is offering a FREE coloring book as a thank you for subscribing to their newsletter. This link to the subscription page will also take you to the Pet in Space website which has more information about the anthology.

In closing, I want to mention that it's almost that day again -- the annual announcement of the RITA and Golden Heart Finalists for 2018.

This is a major event for hundreds of aspiring and published authors when they anxiously await the phone call or email telling them they are a finalist, and have a shot at one of the two most prestigious awards in the Romance industry.

I remember a couple of years where I took the day off from work, cleared my schedule and waited, ears tuned to the phone for "the call" to come in. Happily, I got those calls in two out of three years I entered -- and twice in 2011! -- and they each began a whirlwind, runaway-train experience known as the Golden Heart Awards, and the formation of my two GH classes--the 2011 Starcatchers and the 2012 Firebirds. I'll never forget those crazy, heady times!

From the RWA website:

March 21, 2018
E-mails and phone calls to notify finalists will commence.
Release of official finalist list on RWA's website by 2 p.m. CT.

If you're entered this year--good for you, best wishes, much luck!

And finally, today marks a big anniversary! It's hard to believe the SFR Brigade is now eight years old! When I originally started the group, I was hoping there were at least 50 other writers and authors of science fiction romance out there. In the first 30 days we acquired over 100 members!

Today, the Facebook group numbers over 1,230 members and the Fanpage has over 1,700 likes. The spirit of the Brigade seems alive and well. Happy Eighth Anniversary, Brigaders.

Have a great announcement and anniversary week!

Friday, March 16, 2018


And now for some news from the world of Technology Beyond Good Sense.
According to George Dvorsky at Futurism, scientists at MIT and 21st Century Medicine have developed a new mammalian brain preservation technique that makes it possible to save the information stored within the structure of the brain—memories, for example, or sensory data—after the death of brain tissue. The technique, called Aldehyde-Stabilized Cryopreservation (ASC), has so far been tested on rabbits and pigs, and is promising enough to have earned its developers a research grant which would help them take the first steps toward long-term human brain biostasis.

Though the scientists hasten to add that they are nowhere near that point now, but results of their studies have been independently verified and published in the scientific journal Cryobiology. One of the scientists, Robert McIntyre of MIT, has gone so far as to establish a private company with the stated goal of developing a technology

to preserve your brain well enough to keep all its memories intact: from that great chapter of your favorite book to the feeling of cold winter air, baking an apple pie, or having dinner with your friends and family. We believe that within the current century it will be feasible to digitize this information and use it to recreate your consciousness.

Am I the only one who finds this a little creepy? Especially when you learn the ASC technique doesn’t actually preserve the brain itself, but turns the thing into a kind of “plasticized object,” an object, we can only hope, retains the relevant information contained in the grey matter it, um, replaces during the cryogenic process.

Dvorsky puts it this way: 

For those of you thinking this is a path towards immortality, you may be in for a profound disappointment. Technical hurdles aside, the ASC approach doesn’t guarantee a continuity of consciousness. As mentioned, [euthanasia to preserve the brain before death by terminal illness} is a form of destructive preservation, where biological matter is basically transmutated into a temporary storage device. While your memories and personality stand a chance of revival, your seat of consciousness will likely be obliterated for all time. Brain preservation in this manner is thus a form of suicide, but with knowledge that a digital “copy” of you may live to see another day.

Okay, wow. You can replicate your personality and memories, but not your actual consciousness? And where, exactly, does that consciousness reside? Certainly not in the brain tissue, if I remember my Sunday school lessons correctly. (And I think Buddha, Muhammed, the Taoists, priests and shamans of multiple faiths and even some wiccans would agree with those lessons.) And what good is retaining your memories and personality, if your consciousness is somewhere else?

Of course, plot bunnies are hopping all over my consciousness at this point. The simplest and most obvious use of this technology would be military (or should I say military intelligence). Your spy dies in the field? No problem! Just “download” his brain to get that vital information! Combine this tech with cloning and you’ve got any number of copies of James Bond—all dispensable.

A frightening idea. And, now one that is ultimately possible.

Cheers, Donna

Information for this post taken from “New Brain Preservation Techniques could be a Path to Mind Uploading, by George Dvorsky, Futurism, March 14, 2018,

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Unintended consequences

Renowned astophysicist Stephen Hawking has died. At 76, he exceeded his life expectancy by over fifty years, having been diagnosed with ALS, a rare form of motor neuron disease, at age 21. I'm sure all of us have seen this small, hunched person contorted into a motorised wheelchair, giving his speeches through a disembodied computer voice.

I guess to me Stephen Hawking is the epitome of the triumph of mind over body - and, indeed, a cautionary tale. He's one of the greats of science, up there with Newton, Galileo, and Einstein.

He was much more than a theoretical physicist, though. He appeared on the Big Bang Theory, Star Trek, the Simpsons, and other popular shows, as well as giving academic lectures. It has been said he enjoyed his position as a famous scientist - but maybe he did these shows as much to make science accesible to people like me as anything else. Perhaps also to make a point that people with physical disabilities are not necessarily stupid. I like to think so.

I mourn his passing. But please let me share this wonderful piece of (pointed) humour. Do watch right to the end - you won't be sorry. Oh - and put your coffee down, first. You don't want it on your screen or your keyboard.

Professor Hawking actually had some influence on my science fiction, and how I think about some of the ways scientists delve into matters we don't know enough about. It's the eternal theme of SF, isn't it? Unintended consequences, such as taking  an alien life form on board the Nostromo.

Specifically, in my case, I wondered about manipulation of the human genome. Don't misunderstand - genetic modifications can often be very sensible if the intention is to eliminate a disease. But it's a delicate balance and there is still, always, a risk that taking something away might release something else, or take away more than just the disease. Just think. If a decision had been made to abort a foetus because it would develop motor neuron disease humanity would have lost an oustanding brain. Of course, if there's a specific gene for motor neuron and it had been elminated in vitro, Professor Hawkins would have had a much more comfortable life. But would he have had that amazing brain? It's a messy, grey area with so many 'what ifs'.

In one of my earliest books, Morgan's Choice, Morgan Selwood, who is a human cyborg, is discussing life and things with alien Admiral Ravindra. He and his people are gentically modified humans with some of our 'faults' specifically eliminated. Ravindra has found some sexually explicit images on Morgan's starship and is quizzing her about them.

"Look, same sex couples are tolerated in our society—where I come from, at least. It’s common in the Fleet. Boys locked together in an airtight cylinder, you know? Sure, there are women in the Fleet, but the men outnumber them, just as in your fleet, and some of the women prefer each other’s company, too. I had a friend at the Fleet Academy who was like that. When I first met her she carefully checked to see if I’d be interested in… her way of doing things. I wasn’t and after we got past that, we became friends. I was curious, though, because like you I find it all a bit odd. I looked up what information I could.
"A few centuries ago, there was a debate going on about what changes could be made to the human…" she wondered what the Manesa equivalent of ‘genome’ would be and gave up, "…to improve the species."
"You could do that?" interrupted Ravindra, eyebrows arched. But the look in his eyes signaled skepticism.
"Yes, we could—can. I take it you can’t?"
He frowned, stared at her as if he was trying to see into her soul. "Not that I know of." He waved his hand in a circular motion. "Continue."
"They started by making changes to the human genome to eliminate disease. The scientists isolated the genes they thought were responsible for certain conditions and modified them. They did a lot of that. That’s a good thing, sure. But, hey, it doesn’t always work quite so easily. You eliminate one thing and it affects something else where there was no obvious relationship. That was a problem for the same sex thing. The people who are that way don’t see it as an issue, and they weren’t happy at seeing their preferences called a disease. Eventually, after a lot of discussion it was agreed that the human structure would not be altered any further, but that children could be tested in the womb so that potential diseases could be eliminated in vitro. They say that humanity has adapted and changed and survived over the millennia and that if we play with our structure, we’ll jeopardize that resilience. Having said that, there are lots of Coalition planets where testing isn’t done at all."
"And yet you have been heavily modified, have you not?"
Oh, yes. Heavily modified. Even before she was born. "That’s because of the Cyber Wars."
"Which you will, of course, explain."
"The Cyber Wars ended about two thousand years ago. Humanity was on the verge of extinction. A problem with smart machines, you see."
"Like you?"
She bristled. "I am not a machine." Although he wouldn’t be the first person who thought so. "I… people like me… are a result of the Cyber Wars. Before the war, machines were being used to do all sorts of work that people used to do. It was cheap. Machines don’t need food, they don’t go on strike, make demands, want holidays. They took over in more and more jobs: working the fields, tending children, making goods for sale, designing things, building them and so on and so on. Running spaceships, controlling transit systems, buildings, you name it. The machines became smarter and smarter. Eventually, so the story goes, on the more advanced planets, they took over and flesh and blood people became inferior beings."
"And people like you took over."
"No. Shut up and listen." Uh-oh. Not the smartest thing to say, but it was what she would have said at home. She shot a lightning glance at him. One eyebrow lifted but he said nothing.
"What happened was that people were forced into poverty because machines did all the work. Those people rebelled and fought back against the machines and destroyed them. Millions, billions died just on the advanced planets. But that wasn’t the end of it. The smart machines had kept everything going so when they were destroyed there was disease and starvation on top of all the deaths that had happened already. Nobody knew how to keep the ordinary machines going anymore. Then people started killing each other in a struggle to survive. It became a self- perpetuating thing. Somebody got a disease on planet A and moved to planet B to start a new life, bringing the disease along for the ride. Or tribe A killed tribe B for the food they’d grown. Eventually, the survivors stopped fighting and started again. And the survivors, needless to say, were the primitive people on the backward worlds who knew how to farm."

Somewhere out in space, humanity’s past is about to catch up with its future.

When Morgan Selwood’s spaceship is stranded in unknown space she is relieved to be rescued by humanoid aliens. But her unusual appearance and her extraordinary technical abilities mean that everybody wants a piece of her. Who’s it to be? Autocratic Admiral Ravindra, who press-gangs her to help against a shadowy threat from the stars, or the freedom fighters who think she’s a legend reincarnated, returned to help them throw off the yoke of oppression?

Morgan doesn’t much care which it is until the uprising and the atrocities start. While civil war rages across the planet the shadowy threat from the stars emerges as an implacable killer bent on destroying all intelligent life. Morgan will need every bit of her superhuman, bio-engineered intelligence to save the man she has come to love and his people from annihilation. And spare a little to save herself.

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Hosted by 5 Science Fiction Romance authors with 8 RWA Golden Heart finals and a RITA final between them. We aim to entertain with spirited commentary on the past, present, and future of SFR, hot topics, and our take on Science Fiction and SFR books, television, movies and culture.