The Longevity Thesis Book Video

Saturday, November 8, 2008

World Fantasy Convention 2008

The big weekend has finally come and gone, the great coup for Calgary and Canadian genre publishing, the World Fantasy Convention. Needless to say, I had a great time. How could I not, with so many wonderful people there? The venue was the Hyatt Regency in downtown Calgary, and while the hotel was very nice, getting there by car was a nightmare -- I had to wind my way around the C-Train, several incomprehensible one-way streets, construction, and believe it or not, a movie set. I'm still trying to find out which movie it was.

Thursday, October 30th:
This was the first day of the con. EDGE had hosted a pre-con party the night before, featuring a band called "The Plaid Tongued Devils", but I had worked all day, was feeling a bit under the weather, and chose not to attend in favour of being fully "on" for the actual event. When I picked up my badge and banquet ticket at the reservation desk, they also gave me a little red chip, which I was instructed to take to "the book room" across the hall. On surrendering the chip to the book room attendants, I was given a large bag full of promotional books. It was pretty heavy, and in my estimation, worth the price of entry! I had intended to listen in to some of the panels, but got so caught up chatting with friends I hadn't seen in a few years that it fell by the way side. I also went through the dealers' room and found my publisher, Gwen Gades at the Hades Publications booth. We ended up going out for supper with some other writerly types and by the time we got back, it was a bit late and the day had caught up with me, so I sat in on a reading by children's author Simon Rose, and decided to leave after that.

Friday, October 31st:
I attended many panels this day, and they were truly excellent. TOR publisher Tom Doherty spoke about how he formed his business, artists discussed how to craft soft backgrounds, David Morrell and David Drake spoke about violence in fantasy, and Barbara Hambly, Patricia McKillip, Irene Radford and David Keck talked about Medieval Mysteries. Stephen R. Donaldson was supposed to be on the "violence" panel, but for some reason did not attend any of his panels or readings. Despite that, I felt this was one of the best panels, as horror writer David Morrell has a fantastic sense of humor, and David Drake, a Viet Nam vet, had plenty to say about how his life experiences affect his writing. He was bluntly honest and impressed me greatly. David Keck (another David!) must be one of the funniest and most inventive people on the planet. If the writing thing doesn't work out for him, he could easily pursue a career in stand-up comedy.
Gwen treated us to dinner at a local chinese restaurant, then the evening was left open for the "Autograph Reception". I had assumed this was only for the big names, but it was actually for anyone who had signed up as an author, editor or publisher. So when I was finished running around getting autographs from my favourite authors, I managed to get in on the action myself - I signed and sold one book. Well, I might have had more success if I set up shop earlier, but getting Barbara Hambly to sign my copies of her books might have been a once in a lifetime sort of thing. This was the only part of the conference where Stephen R. Donaldson was sighted!

Saturday, November 1st:
I went to a few panels and readings on Saturday, but spent most of the day at the EDGE/DMP booth. Gwen and I officially signed the contract for my second book, currently called Wicked Initiations, which is the prequel to The Longevity Thesis. I was interviewed for the EDGEcast, had a signing "appearance" (no one came so I just chatted with Anita Hades - don't schedule these things too close to lunch!!) and then went upstairs for a multi-author book launch put on by EDGE and DMP. They served lots of gooey chocolate.

Sunday, November 2nd:
This was banquet day, when the World Fantasy Awards were presented. Tad Williams was the MC, and he gave this absolutely hilarious speech describing the history of fantasy writing. He changed everything to say all had evolved from cavemen situated in the North American continent, specifically the US, and tried to convince us that fantasy has never been written by any non-American ever. According to him, apparent Canadian fantasy writers are actually "geographically confused Americans", and Guy Gavriel Kay does not actually exist. The event was over by 3:30, so I spent the rest of the afternoon in the pub with some other writers, gossiping and discussing business. Good times.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

New Story Posted

Hi Peeples,

I've got a new short story posted at novel-storm.org, under Short Stories, Sci-Fi. It's called Jonas of Shotz. If you happen to take a look, feedback would be welcome.

Enjoy!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Novel Storm

As a new novelist, I'm always looking for ways to promote myself as a writer, and one way to reach new readers is through distributing short stories in places where my target audience will hopefully see them.

I've been finding that it's much harder to get a short story accepted than an entire novel! In reality, all I need from my short stories, is for them to be seen. I really don't need the $20 - 50 that most magazines pay, I don't need to be spending as much in postage, and the rejection letters are disheartening to say the least.

The readers who do manage to find my short works are very encouraging.

Here's one comment from "Terry", who read "From Alpha to Omega" on MySpace:

"That was very cute and fun Jennifer, and I liked the ideas in it. Well done."

And this is from "Damon", who read "Karmic Intrusions" on Novel Storm:

"I enjoyed your story very much. Interesting concept, the sci fi with a micky spillaine detective type feel to it's narative quality. I haven't read a first person story in quite some time and it felt like I was listening to you tell the story. You are a very talented story teller and I look forward to reading more...very well done."

While I do care what editors and critics think of my work (very much so!) the readers are the ones I really enjoy connecting with.

Novel Storm is the mind-child of Matt Townsend, who invites other writers on the home page of his website with the following passage:

"Have you written a complete Novel, Childrens Book, Short Story, Poem or Script? Would you like others to be able to read it?

Have your creative talent displayed in an online virtual book and made available for people to read, turning the pages just as they would a physical book. This will surely create a fantastic buzz about your literary work in the forums. You can earn money from your posts and as always there is the prospect of having your work published. Some areas of the Novel-storm site are absolutely free; others may require a small nominal charge to become involved in a project.

Upload your submission now."

For short stories and poetry, there is no charge for uploading, but for illustrations and novel chapters, there is a submission fee of £2.50, however, "Novel-Storm will endeavour to present completed novels to chosen publishing companies in an effort to get the books published. In the event of a publication, 80% of the profit derived from the sale of the published novel will be distributed between the contributing authors and illustrators as advised by Novel-Storm in advance. The remaining 20% is retained by Novel-Storm." More information is available by clicking on the "Terms and Conditions" link at the bottom of the page.

I asked Matt what the traffic was like on his site, to which he replied, "
We are 1 month old and have had over 340,000 hits to date." Not bad for getting my name out there as a writer.

Considering the ease of publication, and friendliness of the administrator and effectiveness of Novel Storm as a promotional site, I think I know where my future short stories are going!

Friday, June 20, 2008

From Alpha to Omega

One of the most beautiful things in the universe, is the universe itself. It's a dynamic thing, a body in motion, at the same time silent, volatile, vibrant and peaceful. For the twelfth time, Ricca Lipski woke from stasis to regard the silent burning gases that were stars and nebulae, and bask in their cool irradiation while waiting for his body to come up to the right temperature. He wouldn't be able to make this journey more than another two times; he was getting too old and heavy. Using Greene's String-Slice Travel, the trip was shortened to a phenomenal 5 gigaparsecs each way, from one end of the "coiled spine" of the universe to the other, and he had been making it ever since he had been old enough to finally leave the university with his own fellowship. His mission in life was to measure the rates and directions of the expansion of the universe. The continual trips from one end of the "spine" to the other were to re-measure these points over time, which allowed him to make corrections to his calculations, so that he could painstakingly piece together a map the universe in four dimensions. He was hoping that he could extrapolate from his data, the position of all mass in the universe at time zero, essentially providing the final evidence that the "Big Bang" theory was either true or a pile of bunk. It probably wouldn't earn him a Nobel Laureate, but it might get him published in Science. The concept of the universe having a coiled spine was his own, and his theory essentially stated that either one end of the spine or the other, called the Alpha and Omega points, respectively, had to be the centre of the universe, the initial position of the primordial bolus of matter that had exploded in the Big Bang, as these were the only two non-moving regions in all of existence. Once he had completed collecting his data between these two points, he could finalize his map and present his model of the origin of the universe. The initial concept had gotten him his doctorate, but Omnus was the only journal willing to accept the speculative manuscript without the completed model. Not bad for a start, but it wasn't really his idea of a serious publication.

His body hit 35°C and he began shivering. This was the unpleasant part, but it only lasted as long as it took for the freighter to dock momentarily with the hotel port and eject his stasis pod into the waiting arms of the concierge.

The hotel staff were exceedingly friendly and saw him to his room with an excess of inappropriate patting and smiling. It was funny, he mused, when he was young and gawky, the ladies wouldn't come near him, and now that he was growing portly . . . well, perhaps now they saw him as harmless. Or a complete quack. He had been interviewed by the National Enquirer just before he had gone into stasis, and forgetting himself once they got him going on his subject, had given one of the best lectures of his life. He had earned a standing ovation from the reporter, and regretted not having delivered that speech to the Discovery Channel instead.

It was when he was dressing for supper that he first noticed the cracks. Branching upwards from his waist, he saw a deep red fissure running up his right side and towards his back. He was completely shocked. He hadn't felt a thing, and it didn't hurt now. Not convinced that it was actually there, he ran his fingers over it, and was dismayed when the edge of the crack erupted into a series of blebs that protruded from under the skin.

"I need a doctor!" he called, and began to curse the freighter captain for not having frozen him properly.

Forty-five minutes later, in the infirmary, the fissure was still in his side, but the blebs had retracted. The doctor tried again to seal the rupture in his skin, and finally, at her wits end, used an old fashioned needle and thread to sew it shut. Ricca lay there on his good side, with one arm lifted over his head, listening to the doctor mutter over and over again, "I don't understand why it doesn't bleed!" That, thought Ricca, was completely irrelevant. The doctor should be putting her efforts into understanding how it had happened in the first place, so that she'd make a good expert witness at the freighter captain's trial.

The stitches pulled a bit, but otherwise were not uncomfortable and did not stop Ricca from enjoying his dinner. It turned out that the concierge was his great-great grand nephew, who had planned a surprise 250th birthday party for him (he had been frozen for 185 of those years), and sprung it on him once he had escaped from the doctor. There were many bottles of champagne, many balloons, and many polite people who seemed truly appreciative of the series of mini-lectures he delivered between refills of his glass. It was nice to still have family around, especially at the Alpha end of the spine, since he would most likely finish his travels at this end and settle here to write up his findings.

"So tell me, uncle," said the concierge, whose name was also Ricca, "which way is the universe expanding? Towards the Alpha end, or the Omega end?"

"I really don't know just yet. And it may be that the universe is not expanding infinitely, but expands and contracts rhythmically in a sine wave pattern, not moving continuously in one direction. This was difficult to measure for the longest time until cryogenics and light speed travel became a practical reality. But now, I think I'm really close. You know, it seems strange, but either this contraction cycle is approximately 13 years, or the universe really is expanding in only one direction, and just swirling by the Omega point. Each time I am here, the universe seems to be expanding. Each time I am at Omega, the universe seems to be contracting. Or perhaps my perception is biased, and what I'm really witnessing is the universe flowing around the Omega point, which perhaps creates an eddy, like a motionless rock in a stream. It just looks like a contraction. Oh! Once I have this model put together, it will be so much clearer."

Young Ricca grinned appreciatively, genuinely enjoying himself. "Perhaps, uncle, you have named the endpoints of the spine more aptly than you intended. Perhaps Alpha is the beginning of the universe, and Omega is the end. All matter is flowing from one to the other."

Ricca was momentarily flabbergasted. "How can that be?" he asked finally. "We'd see an increase in the mass of New Portugal, as it sits right next to the Omega point. Or it would be showered constantly with incoming meteorites, or something. It hasn't been observed!"

Young Ricca smiled and nodded considerately. "Of course. I'm only a poet, not a scientist. I think of things differently."

At the end of the party, Ricca returned to his rooms and was feeling quite tired, even after having slept for the last 13 years. He went straight to bed without giving much thought to his evening routine, rationalizing that he could take care of it in the morning. His dreams were filled with accolades and brown nosing as he presented his completed model to the Intergalactic Coalition for the Study of Quantum Mechanics (ICSQM). And then he saw it. In his dream, he held up the holoimage of the 4 dimensional model, turned it in his hands, played it back and forth through time, and watched, fascinated, as the flow of the universe moved past the limits of his data, showing him the origin of the universe . . . and then the end of it. And then he was distracted, as the butt-kissing president of ICSQM came to shake his hand in front of all the news media, and handed him a book.

"What is it?" Ricca asked in his dream.

"Your biography," was the answer. On the cover of the book was Ricca's name, and the exact date of his birth, followed by the exact date of his death.

He woke and sat up in a cold sweat.

In the dark of the hotel room, Ricca counted on his fingers the number of years of life his dream predicted he had left and came up with the number 13.

"Oh, you're being silly," he told himself. There were more important images in the dream, and he prodded his memory for the model he had seen ever so clearly. He replayed it in his mind, moving backwards in time, and then suddenly, when it reached the end of his data, he forgot what he had dreamt. Annoyed at the lapse and his own morbid fascination, he replayed the dream the other way, almost terrified that he would remember how he had seen the universe end. He reached the end of his data . . . and forgot. What had he seen?? It had been almost like a convoluted funnel, turning inwards on itself, folding inside out, but then what???

"Ah well," he sighed, and lay down again. Two more trips and then he would find out the proper way, with real data. The stitches along his side were a bit itchy, but he supposed that meant the crack was healing. If it went away quickly enough, he might not even bother suing the freighter captain.

Then next morning, he was delighted to find that young Ricca had arranged access to the Astronet Processor, which had been improved greatly during his last stasis sleep. He uploaded all of his data to the processor and began to construct his model, based on what he had so far. Astronet had several marvelous programs, including internal extrapolation functions, that allowed him to correct several of his vectors, and predict the best points of measurement for his next journey. Finally, he plugged in the last of the predictive algorithms, and with great relish, clicked on the function that would construct a graphical representation of the universe (making certain assumptions about the missing data). It did indeed look like a convoluted funnel that turned inwards on itself at the narrowed, farmost end (the Omega point), but the actual shape was difficult to discern. He removed the 4th dimension, and the model became a "snapshot" that was no longer in motion. Then he "sliced" through the 3-D construct to have a look at a cross section. The first horrifying realisation, was that he had completely miscalculated the location of the Omega point. He had been off by fifty three parsecs. How could he have been so wrong? He irrationally hoped that the National Enquirer would accept his apologies for having given them incorrect information. Ricca corrected the location, then clicked on the "linearize" function, to straighten out the structure and allow him to see what it looked like in only two dimensions. The structure was entirely too simplified and didn't make any sense. Keeping it linearized, he re-layered the 3rd dimension, and then stared at the graphic in disbelief. The second horrifying realisation, was that the Omega point wasn't the end of the universe at all. In fact it wasn't even the end of the coiled spine. He had a sudden creepy-crawling feeling ice its way over his skin, as he thought about having to retract his thesis. Don't be silly, he told himself. It was just a prediction, and still publishable. The modification of the theory will just show that I've made progress. What was the Omega point then? From the linear image, the universe appeared to be a long tube, with regularly spaced, periodic bulges, and the Omega point was like a constriction, that in four dimensions, would force the tube to convolute and fold into another set of directions, and then it would continue on with its periodic bulging. The predictive algorithms made it seem very likely that there were more than one set of Alpha and Omega points, each set demarcating discrete portions of the universe, and acting as anchors to seemingly hold the entire universe in place. Wondering why he had never found these points before, and where they might lie in the universe, he marked his original Alpha and Omega points with bright green, the others in bright red, and allowed the structure to fold back into its natural convolutions. He then set the whole thing in motion. The coiled spine reappeared, and the other points were nowhere in sight. Ricca sighed in exasperation and reset the model so that it would start at the beginning of his data, and move forwards only. The universe expanded, seemingly flowing in various directions, all eventually turning towards Omega. Then the entire universe imploded at point Omega and all matter clumped into one mass.

"What?" exclaimed Ricca angrily. The model was no longer moving, and he thought that the program had crashed. He hit a few keys, and the message popped up: "Continue simulation?" He clicked "Continue" and waited. After a few moments, the mass exploded, just like the Big Bang, and the universe re-expanded into a little bubble.

"Oh, this is entirely wrong!" He ran his hands over his face, and then pulled back in a fright. Had he felt cracks on the right side of his face? "Ricca!" he called his nephew. "Ricca, what's happened to my face?" The concierge came at once and took his uncle to the doctor. Neither one of them turned to see that on the graphic simulation, the debris of the universe had moved aside to reveal a bright red dot at the point of the explosion's origin, and after a few moments, as the universe unfolded a bit further, a second red dot winked into existence, right at the proper location to form a coiled spine between itself and its partner. All matter in the predicted universe was expanding outwards from Alpha2, and through convoluted, non-linear motions, was moving towards Omega2. Then it cycled again, imploding at Omega2 and re-expanding at Alpha3. A little while later, the housekeeping staff sympathetically shut down the simulation and logged off Astronet.

In the clinic, young Ricca was trying to soothe his apoplectic uncle who was inventing several methods of freighter captain torture and dismemberment. Instead of stitching the cracks shut, the doctor had filled them in with temporary synthetic tissue (unfortunately she only had it in purple), and had ordered Ricca to stay put until she had determined the cause of his rupturing skin, and why it did not bleed.

"Please be calm, uncle. You don't know whose fault it is, if anyone's. Your health is the most important thing now. Don't think of things that make you angry."

Ricca sat up again and pushed aside his nephew's arms. "I need to make sure my probes are recording properly. I don't have time to sit around here! In a few weeks I'll have to make my next journey back to Omega."

"You're too close to your work, uncle. It's affecting you badly. Take a step back from it, and I'm sure you'll be fine."

Ricca stood tried to ignore that last statement. Of course he was close to his work. That was his whole life! That was what he was, right down to the very core of his being. He was prevented from leaving by the doctor, who had just returned from her lab.

"Dr. Lipski, you've got a very unusual condition," she said. "I've never heard or seen anything like it. The strange blistering that you described when the cracks first appeared, it hasn't disappeared at all, just internalized. Here, you can see it on your body scan." The doctor pressed a key on her wristband and a hologram of Ricca's insides shot out from projectors in the wall. Indeed, several bulges were seen across the simulated peritoneum and muscle walls of the abdomen. "They appear to be migrating from your right side to your left. I would like to try magnetic resonance to prevent this from getting worse."

"What would that do?" Ricca asked.

The doctor looked sheepish as she replied, "Well, essentially I want to try to push everything back into place. I think I can do this with magnetic forces. I know it's a bit alternative, but it's worth a shot."

After twenty minutes in the magnetic chamber, Ricca's wounds began to bleed. He called this out to the doctor, who seemed pleased.

"That's a good sign that things are no longer being pulled to the left," she called back.

After forty minutes, the temporary tissue patch had been pushed out of place, and the stitches on his side no longer pulled. It took only a few minutes more for the doctor to seal up the cracks by conventional means. She seemed both relieved and satisfied as she released him.

Three weeks later, his data and new calculations carefully stored in his media case, Ricca bade a teary farewell to his nephew. The next time they would meet the concierge would be in his late fifties, and the relationship would necessarily be different. He didn't tell his nephew this, but before getting into his stasis chamber (first class this time), he had fired off a message to his lawyer to begin proceedings against the freighter captain. Hopefully, there would be a settlement waiting for him the next time he was at the Alpha point, and he could buy his nephew some new suits.

Upon arrival at New Portugal, 13 years later, Ricca's stasis chamber was automatically re-routed to the secondary destination, Arbitan, three parsecs away. The transport captain duly logged the vital signs of his passenger before sending him off, and other than noting that the metabolic activity was a bit higher than it should be, there were no abnormalities.

Arbitan was a pacifist colony, and while they tried to keep their technology up to date, they felt a bit backwards in terms of worldliness, and thus were confused when they thawed out Ricca's stasis chamber and attempted to wake him up. The window plate was frosted up from the inside, which prevented them from seeing through it. A passenger was there all right, all the sensors said so, but there was a strange vacuum inside that made it difficult to lift the lid. Worried that he might suffocate, they pierced the gasket and equalized the pressure before manually overriding the locking mechanism. The chamber seemed empty except for a thin rod of some strange, compact material. They were about to contact the transport captain, and ask what he had meant to ship in this chamber, when the rod suddenly unfolded, and expanded from left to right into a human being: male, thin, about 25 or 26 and completely speechless. He didn't seem to know who or where he was. The documentation didn't help, it obviously had gotten switched. There was no way this boy could be Dr. R. Lipski, unfrozen age of 65. They ran the recording logs on the freezer which spat out a hologram outlined in green light, of a rather portly, older gentleman going through the freezing process. Over the course of the 13 year journey, cracks appeared along his right side, and his entire body pulled all the way to the left, the movement of pixels on the hologram seeming to flow through an invisible funnel, until they formed the thin rod they had seen on opening the casket. The simulation continued, showing that after the vacuum had been released, the pixels reappeared, and flowed outward from whatever unseen dimension they had been in, now moving towards the right until the new body had been formed.

"Well, I've never seen that before," commented the Arbitan mayor. "Must be some kind of new shipping technology that rejuvenates you as you sleep. We don't have anything like that! I expect we'll be needing to get our systems updated again."

"Orlan!" said his wife. "You've just been through an update. Remember the doctor told you not to become your work. It'll be the death of you!"

"Sweetheart," the mayor responded, "sometimes my work makes me feel like a new man."

THE END

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Best Free Software for Protecting your Computer

Annoying as it is, having the larger corporations become more and more protectionist about their products is resulting in the beefing up the open source communities, rather than having the effect of getting the consumers to open up their wallets wider. It seems that making the Nerd Community grow ever more disillusioned is a good thing for the planet, and Collective Humanity thanks them, as they offer the fruits of their labours for free, undermining the efforts of the software giants and their money generating monsters. (Yes, I am referring to Vista, and BTW, I think the new copyright protection law will have the same effect in the entertainment industry, which could turn out very nicely for us small time content producers who would like to have all the disillusioned folks come our way. PLEASE download my stuff. I won't come after you for it!)

For the longest time, I used to recommend SpyBot Search and Destroy for eliminating unwanted spyware, adware, tracking cookies, and those sorts of things. While I think the work the originator is doing will generate him tonnes of good karma, there are two major problems with SpyBot these days: (1) Look alike programs that totally bugger up your system if you install them thinking you actually got SpyBot and (2) I'm very sorry to say this, but it just doesn't work that well anymore. I ran three different programs this morning, looking for whatever crap was slowing down my machine, and unfortunately, SpyBot performed the poorest -- it reported finding nothing, while AdAware (I just get the freebie, not the "Plus") and the AVG Free version 8.0 virus scanner found a whole mess of things. After clean up, my machine boots in about 1/3 the time it took before.

I also found that AdAware and AVG ran a lot faster, and are much more aggressive with their updates. In retrospect, I'll probably just use the last two from now on.

Unrelated to malicious code, I also have to mention the Open Office productivity suite, which is completely free, and does everything you would need Microsoft Office for, AND convert files into PDF format without having to purchase the Adobe plug in. Kudos to the community which produced that beauty as well.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Need Some Extra Cash?



I don't think American Comedians need to worry about losing their jobs to Canucks:

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Perfect Nominee for Sainthood


I think Prime Minister Harper should consider some special award for Mrs. Fearnall. You go, girl! Don't let anyone stop you! You are saving lives and there are many, many more of us behind you than against you.

http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2008/06/05/shaved-head.html#socialcomments

http://toronto.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20080605/cancer_fired_080605/20080605/?hub=TorontoNewHome

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Adult Food Allergies

Food allergies and related irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be the most devastating things a person can experience in a lifetime. This is especially bad if you don't actually know what you're allergic to. Imagine being afraid to eat, yet still being tremendously hungry. Symptoms of food allergies usually include bloating and diarrhea, which can develop to such a great extent that it pervades into every aspect of your life and has a negative impact on work and social activities, as well as your health.

In my case, I thought I had lead poisoning or something. All my life, I had been able to eat just about anything without any problems. After graduating and moving to another city and buying a condo, all in the space of a year, some pretty nasty things started happening. First of all, I was chronically fatigued. Having just finished a PhD, I didn't find this unusual, attributing it to merely the effects of staying up late to read journals, and ignored it. I then began to develop IBS, but again, chalked it up to stress and figured I could live around it and that it would eventually clear up. I started paying attention when I got chest pains, frequent heart palpitations, blackouts and my hair began to fall out rapidly. That, of all things, finally made me go to the doctor, where I was diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia.

As can be seen on many anemia forums, taking iron supplements doesn't really work, and can worsen IBS. Also, elemental iron can build up in liver-damaging deposits. I wondered why this had happened to me so late in life and so suddenly, when it would have made more sense if it had been a chronic problem, or developed slowly over time.

I was determined to grow my hair back! Not to mention, kick my gut problems so that I would no longer be afraid to eat at a restaurant or go to a conference where I wasn't 100% certain of where the washrooms were. I am now a firm believer in dietary "cures" for problems such as these. Through controlling my diet, and keeping a food journal, I was able to identify which foods were making me worse, and avoid them, giving my gut time to heal. After it did heal, I'm happy to report that I can eat several of the things I had to avoid before, and the anemia is completely gone. In hindsight, here's what I think happened:

1) Incomplete digestion - This happened for two reasons. Stress can trigger the adrenergic responses of the autonomic nervous system, which is the "fight" side of the "fight or flight" response. This suppresses the "vegetative" side of things which includes digestion, specifically secretion of the enzymes needed for digestion. Secondly, because I was constantly in a rush, I would eat in a hurry and not chew properly. Chewing mechanically separates food, increasing the available surface area for digestive enzymes to work, and the motion of chewing sends signals to the pancreas, stomach and liver to begin secreting more enzymes. Prolonged time in the mouth also gives the salivary amylase time to initiate digestion of carbohydrates and starches.

2) Initial gut inflammation - I attribute this one entirely to stress. When there is something wrong with the body, the immune system kicks into high gear so that it can find the problem and repair it. This makes epithelial (skin) barriers leaky, to facilitate the movement of white blood cells through the body's tissues, as they hunt for the problem. The intestine is continuous with the outside skin, and therefore is also protected by a layer of epithelium that separates the body core (blood, bones, etc) from what is inside the gut (food, bacteria, etc).

3) Immune response to food - In order for the immune system to "see" foreign proteins, which they are programmed to destroy, the protein must either carry an archetypal pattern which the white blood cells immediately recognise (usually these proteins are bacterial in origin) or it must be presented to the white blood cells by another cell -- a process called "antigen presentation". A fully digested protein is converted into peptides that are three or four amino acids (the basic units of proteins) in length. Peptides need to be at least 7 to 12 amino acids long to fit in the presentation molecule (MHC molecules) that cells use to "show" foreign proteins to immune cells. If improper digestion is occurring, more larger peptides may be around to be "shown" to leukocytes which will subsequently react to them, leading to more gut inflammation. In an attempt to remove the offending substance, the gut will increase its contractile motions, leading to much unpleasantness and discomfort. The leakiness of the gut just makes the whole problem worse, as normally undigested food should just pass through the bowel with minor discomfort. Since there is increased permeability, there is greater opportunity for contact between the food and the immune cells.

4) Chronic gut inflammation - We have to eat, so the gut is continuously exposed to offending substances. Because the gut is continually trying to purge, absorption of nutrients goes way down, leading to problems like iron deficiency anemia.

5) The fix - Food journaling is where you write down everything you eat and how you felt afterwards. This really helps identify what to avoid. Chewing properly is also essential, and I believe the most important step in solving the problem. No alcohol, since it can strip the epithelium and make it even leakier. No working while eating. Focusing on the food also helps with your body gearing up to digest things properly. Absolutely strict adherence to a hypoallergenic diet for at least 6 months -- this gives your gut time to heal and restore the epithelial barrier, as well give your B-Cells time to settle down into memory cells, which is their less active state. Lots of fibre, which is broken down to butyric acid by bacteria in your gut. Although controversial, butyric acid is believed to force epithelial polarity, which is a state in which the barrier function is intact. Food rotation. Don't eat the same thing every day, since that would increase the probability of your immune system "seeing" it. If the food causes a little bit of inflammation, you might not notice it, but the leakiness has started, which may lead to a bigger problem.

6) The good news - Once the epithelial barrier is reestablished, it's again possible to eat foods that you reacted to previously, since they will pass through the gut without getting into the underlying tissue where the immune cells are lying in wait. If the immune cells don't see the peptides (now properly digested thanks to slower chewing and not reading scientific journals during supper time!) there is no inflammation, no diarrhea, and proper absorption of nutrients, such as iron. Yay! My hair has grown back, my resting heart rate has returned to normal -- abolishing chest pains, and I am no longer afraid to eat at restaurants or go to conferences.

7) Extra info - The trick to growing back hair after a nasty bout of anemia is to get your blood back. Iron is only one component, and if you were short of that, you were probably short of a couple other things, like vitamins B6, B7 (biotin), B12 and folic acid. I know, I know, biotin is in practically everything we eat, but if you're not absorbing it well, it's still a problem. If you have to take iron, Floradix has the least impact on the gut and doesn't taste too bad. However, if you want to avoid iron deposits in vital organs, using a cast iron skillet, eating lots of leafy greens, and combining your iron foods with a mild acid, like orange juice, works pretty good. Also, it's recommended to avoid calcium for two hours before and after eating iron containing foods, since the two elements can compete for absorption. Supplements can help in the initial stages, but like I said, I think dietary sources are best for long term management of the condition.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Adventures in Tarot

I've heard from some friends that tarot cards are evil. I really don't see how this is so, as they are simply dead tree products, the same as a phone book. I side with the explanation that they simply allow a conversation to go on between a person and whatever unseen entities might have something to say. I figure that since the entities may be there whether I can see them or not, believe in them or not, or might be entirely a figment of my imagination, it makes absolutely no difference whether I speak to them or not. Thus it doesn't make sense to me to get worked up about tarot either way. No matter what I say or do, it changes nothing. So by way of introduction, I'm presenting the idea that if you're interested in them, great, if not, that's OK but be advised that I'm going to be blathering on about it for the rest of this post.

In terms of who or what you might end up talking to when using tarot, I think that's entirely dependent on which direction you throw out your question. Several tarot users simply ask "The Universe". Others use "Angel Cards" to ensure they only speak with the Divine. There are also cards with Jesus on them, or Elvis if that's more your thing. Still others make secular use of the cards, setting them up as a focal point for their own thoughts during meditation, thus carrying on a conversation with themselves. The selection of the deck probably has a lot to do with the sort of answers that come to you. For example, if one were to select the "Harmonious" tarot, you'd have equivalent thoughts when sending out the question. Likewise for the "Necronomicon" cards.

The basic idea behind tarot is that the images, colours and symbols on each card are meant to suggest an idea to the reader. These ideas are interpreted to form an answer to a question. That alone makes the practice very loosey-goosey and open to several explanations. May as well pick the one that suits you best.

Tarot in General: A deck of tarot cards consists of 22 cards that make up the Major Arcana, which are supposed to represent the stages in or aspects of a person's life, and four sets of Minor Arcana that have fourteen cards each. These sets are called "Cups" which usually deal with emotions, "Wands" that address creativity, "Swords" which are the challenges in life, and "Pentacles" which are associated with financial matters. Traditional tarot decks are based on the classic "Rider-Waite" deck, and follow the same system of symbols, colours and suits. There are many variations to this classic deck, so if you're new to tarot, I would strongly recommend picking up a set that comes with a book written by the author of the cards to help initially with interpretation of the images, since this can change from deck to deck. Apparently, once familiar with the deck, other meanings may come to you. I find that a bit arbitrary, but to each their own.

To do a reading, the cards are shuffled with the left hand, then spread out face down in a single line on a cloth. I don't know why, but the cards are not supposed to touch bare surfaces. A certain number of cards are selected and placed out on a spread. The selection is done according to which cards the reader feels attracted to. The selection of a spread is as important as the cards themselves, as certain ones don't have sufficient content to answer certain questions. A brief review of spreads can be found here.

Manufacturers: Tarot cards are usually very pretty, and I suspect some decks were made only to promote an artist's skills, and are not very useful for performing readings, as they seem to lack much of the usually symbolic and colour-related imagery. Many people collect different decks as a hobby. The main publishers of tarot decks are Lo Scarabeo, Llewellyn and US Games. In my opinion, the Scarabeo decks are the prettiest, but they have this annoying multilingual white border common to all cards that I think takes away from their mystique, and they are printed on rather narrow and thin cardstock. The Llewellyn decks are also on rather thin card stock, but the decks are a bit larger and the themes seem to be very carefully selected. I'll review one of theirs farther down. US Games produces cards that are wider than most tarot decks, and the cards are nice and heavy. They have many decks to choose from, some more appealing than others.

Buying the first Deck: I was at one of those body and spirit expos that have everything from chiropractors to Australian holisitic practitioners that use diggery-dos to blast negative energy from your body, and got it into my head that I would like to have a deck of tarot cards. One of the booths had a wide selection of cards, and the sales lady told me that you should look at several decks, and pick the one that appealed to you visually the most. She herself could not use tarot cards (they didn't work for her), but had to use angel cards instead. I didn't buy a set then, thinking I'd like to take her advice and look around a bit more. Surprisingly, I found a huge selection at Chapters, which had at least as many as the average new age store, and I found I liked the decks a lot more. The other surprise I got, was that it wasn't the images on the cards that attracted me, but rather how they felt in my hand. Out of about twenty sets, three seemed to be candidates: The Llewellyn Tarot, the Revelations Tarot, and the Sharman-Caselli deck. The Llewellyn and Revelations decks were both visually stunning, but I hesitated because of the card thickness, and the fact that I didn't really feel anything when I picked them up. I went with the Sharman-Caselli deck, because although it was all wrapped up and I couldn't handle the cards or get a good look at them, the package felt really solid and comforting in my hand. After I bought it and opened it up, I was appalled. The cards were set into an awkward sort of holder flap attached to the book cover, the backs of the cards were bright fuchsia, and there was a copyright notice on the backs which I thought detracted from the overall tarotiness of the cards.

However -- once I started playing around with them, I concluded that this was a fantastic deck for the following reasons:
1) The artwork is very neutral and straightforward. They denote an idea or message without any sort of bias. There is nothing threatening or creepy about it. The symbols are clear, relatively consistent from card to card and easy to read.
2) The card stock is nice and thick, adding to the durability of the deck.
3) The pink for the backs of the cards was probably deliberately selected, as it seems to infuse the cards with strong positive energy.
4) When holding the deck directly in my hand, the energy feels spherical, heavy, and safe.
5) So far, they seem to read consistently and accurately.
6) Once I cut off the weird card holder flap, it quit hitting me in the hand when flipping through the book, and I ceased being annoyed by it.

The companion book is also very good. The author takes you through one suit at a time and gives sample readings at the end of each chapter. You immediately get a feel for the strengths, limitations and flavour of each type of card before moving on. It also starts to become obvious that in order to get a complete answer, you need the complete deck, and the appropriate spread for the type of question being asked. The author also makes very few judgments on how the deck is to be handled, although I've read elsewhere that rose quartz is supposed to diffuse negative energy, and the cards have to be stored in a certain order, etc, etc, so I suppose all of that is up to the individual user. I did however, once feel a sharp mental poke to say thank you after I had finished and was putting the cards away, so presumably manners are important.

Buying the second Deck: The Sharman-Caselli deck does not deal with reversals, which is when a card is drawn upside down, changing its meaning. Aside from being absolutely gorgeous cards, the Revelations Tarot is drawn so that the meaning of the upside down card is obvious. My curiosity built after using the SC deck for awhile, but feeling something was missing, so I caved in to temptation and also bought the RT deck. Using these cards is an absolute pleasure. Although I felt nothing when I held the cards in the store, once they were unwrapped and held directly in my hand, the energy felt masculine, electric and somewhat spiky. The cards also had a funny herbal smell to them, and on reading the package insert, I assumed this was sage, since it's recommended to rub the cards with it to "cleanse" them. I don't have any sage, but I do have a few bits of rose quartz, so I figured I'd just put one of those in the little storage baggie the cards come with, and call it good.

The cards have a very unique surface texture to them. They feel oily, but when you take your hand away, there is nothing on your fingers. They are quite slick when you shuffle them, and they spread out almost like they are frictionless. Despite being so different, I get pretty much the same answers to similar questions as I got with the SC deck, frequently drawing the equivalent cards. The companion book is also very good. It doesn't inundate you with tonnes of information, it just tells you what you need to know to interpret each card, and I like some of the shifts in meaning that come with this deck, as it seems to make the interpretations more flexible, depending on the question asked. You also get a lot more "information" as the content in terms of colours and symbols is pretty much doubled in comparison to every other deck out there. One thing I really liked is that the Major Arcana are numbered, so that you can easily put them in order if that's how you choose to store the deck, and it makes it really easy to find the corresponding interpretation in the book if you can't remember the order of the cards. There are also two extra reference cards included to help you lay out common spreads and determine which card is supposed to convey meaning related to which subject.

Other decks of visual interest: I think these cards are extremely pretty, but would be inclined to buy them more for art collecting rather than for doing readings, as these decks seem to be lacking in symbolic meaning:
1) The Favole Deck
2) The Lunatic Deck
3) The Fenestra Deck
4) The Palladini Deck.

Conclusions: I think it's fun, but regardless of whether or not I get my "answers", what happens to me in life would probably just go ahead and happen anyway with out my knowing what those answers would have been. And since I am a fantasy novelist, for me this counts as research. So there.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

I don't know what to think.

I'm so confused. Does all this mean my little bubble has burst, or that I just need to adjust my perception of things?

Pagan Christ

Zeitgeist Movie

Bart Ehrman's Investigations

Jesus' birthday might be wrong

Maybe we're all pagans. Hmm . . .

25 May '08: More food for thought:

The Catholic View of all this.

Someone who took the time to check the details

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Audacity!!!

After NINE podcast episodes! NINE! After fussing and fretting about how to increase the dynamic range of my recordings and boosting the sound to noise ratio and blaming the microphone . . . Jen finally figures out that all she fricken needed to do was reboot the computer!!!!

How on Earth was I supposed to figure out that putting my machine on standby would mess up the microphone settings??!?!???!?! How!?!?!?

Anyway, this week's podcast is VERY crisp and I'm quite happy with it. For others who may have been experiencing the same problem, here's the fix:

1) Reboot!

2) Record!

3) Select a small portion of what is supposed to be background noise, then select "Effect", "Noise Removal".

4) Click on "Get Noise Profile".

5) Move the Step 2 cursor all the way to the left. If you don't, it makes your voice sound all underwater-warbly.

6) Remove noise! Done!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

How quickly damage is done

I always tell myself to factor in intent when I detect myself starting to feel slighted. Did the other person mean to offend? Were they aware that the action was offensive? If the answer is no, then the usually recommended course of action is to let it pass, but be ready with a gentle, boundary-establishing statement to prevent further hurt the next time -- one that does not offend in itself.

When angry, it really feels good to just cut loose and let the other person have it. This is *never* worth the momentary satisfaction gained. First of all, how well do you know that other person, and what they are capable of in terms of retaliation? If they took one blow from you in the past, how many more will they take? Unfortunately, such things have a cumulative effect. If a person is mean one day and nice the next, the effect of the nasty behaviour does not fade over time, and reset everything to baseline. Eventually the recipient of said anger will take steps to protect themselves. These steps may include removing themselves from your presence (if enough people do this, one is left with no friends), vicious retaliation, or bringing down a third party on your head. Eventually, through repeated strikes, people get the measure of one's character, and respond accordingly.

Secondly, what kind of world is it that we want to live in? Both courtesy and rage are contagious. It's not right for us to bring negative energy into the world. We do have to take responsibility for our actions, because we each have to live in the atmosphere we surround ourselves with.

Third, we never know where "news" of our behaviour will go, or how far reaching the consequences can be. Maybe the person we just mouthed off to is the favoured nephew of the boss, or has the ear of your boyfriend's mother. One never does know.

In a matter of seconds, a few harsh words can do irreparable damage and cost one more than is initially realised. Not everyone is strong enough to forgive a strike and take another (and another), because we are all entitled to protect ourselves in some way.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Photoshop Tutorials

Donnie Hoyle from My Damn Channel has one of the best tutorials around:







He's got loads more helpful tips on YouTube.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Dear Tante Marianne

Dear Tante Marianne,

It hasn't hit me until today. I'm sorry for what's happened to you. I hope you're not in any pain, or won't be for much longer.

I just needed to say, thank you for making so many Christmases wonderful, you were one of the good things in my childhood.

Thank you for being proud of me.

I miss you already. Safe journey.

Love,

Jennifer.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Wicked Initiations - Drawing Kyril

OK, that title is still tentative, but I'm starting to like it more and more.

The first draft of Wicked Initiations, which is the prequel to The Longevity Thesis, was finished a few weeks ago, and has been sent out to the first round of test readers. So far, one of them tells me it's "superior" to LT, and other described it as "much better".

This is encouraging, especially since it's only the first draft. I'm hoping to add about 30k words, and still think I could polish it up a bit more. Anyway, while I wait for the critiques to trickle in, I've been indulging in one of my favourite activities, which is to make some little graphics to promote the novel later on.

The first one I've done is of the character named Kyril. She is an Aragoth who does not die in the surface-underground war, and becomes a central player in the formation of events that eventually lead up to the "birth" of Antronos, who is of course the protagonist in The Longevity Thesis. Aragoths are not natural creatures, having been created in the Desert using a mysterious animation process for generating disposable and intensely loyal soldiers. As such, Kyril "eats" only on the surface, and has to absorb the elements of wind, water and Earth, in order to continue existing. This activity ties into one of the underlying themes of the novel, which is the proper direction of one's Qi (life energy) in order to attain a worthy state of existence that is relatively pain-free.

Of course, I'm using The GIMP graphics program and the Wacom graphics tablet my brother gave me last year.

I started off with a base sketch - pencil and paper - which I photographed and loaded up as a digital image. From there, I used separate layers for the base colours, light and dark shades, and the light that is supposed to represent the elements Kyril is absorbing. I'll eventually use this image in promotional bookmarks and on the webpage, once the novel is finished.

















I think I might redo her hand around the light bubble (which is actually another character in itself - won't tell you which!) so that the fingers bend around it a bit. I'd also like to change the background to a Desert scene and maybe put another character standing in the background. But the learning curve is steep, and that will take me some time.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

My Opinion on The Golden Compass


I've finally finished reading The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. I had bought a copy on sale a while ago, curious about it because of the controversy, and doubly determined to read it after a friend of mine had said to me, "I've finished reading your book, Jen. I'm reading a really good book now. The Golden Compass. It's very engaging."

(Ouch.)

Of course, it's an extremely well written book . . . but I don't see why it got banned for being anti-Church of all things, and I'm not so sure I'd want anyone younger than 13 reading it. Perhaps the younger set would simply not pick up on some of the rather "racy" concepts that are introduced in the book, and it would be just fine to let them pore through it.

Here are a few things that made me raise my eyebrows in surprise, having not expected to come across such things in a children's book:

1) A child being hurt by a family member she has loving feelings towards. The "he" refers to Lord Asriel, who is first introduced as her uncle, but is later revealed to be her father:

*He seized her wrist and twisted hard.

"Lyra! What the hell are you doing?"

"Let go of me and I'll tell you!"

"I'll break your arm first. How dare you come in here?"*

2) Advocating narcotics use:

*The Master lit the spirit lamp under the little silver chaffing dish and heated some butter before cutting half a dozen poppy heads open and tossing them in. Poppy was always served after a feast: it clarified the mind and stimulated the tongue, and made for rich conversation.*

3) Hinting at different sexual orientations. This one may be a bit of a stretch, but why did the author choose to emphasize the point?

*Bernie was a kind, solitary man, one of those rare people whose daemon was the same sex as himself.*

4) Adultery:

It turns out that Lord Asriel had an affair with Mrs. Coulter in order to conceive Lyra, the story's protagonist. He also killed her husband, which is why there is no Mr. Coulter in the movie.

There are some statements in the book that seem to be anti-Church, but I found that there were others which were strongly validating of traditional beliefs. For the most part the anti-Church views are held by Lord Asriel, who turns out to be not a very nice person in the first place. And if the Church is being condemned for putting their own political interests first and using propaganda to support it, Asriel seems equally guilty of the same.

My conclusion: Mr. Pullman has dealt with several interesting concepts in a carefully neutral manner. He may show certain factions in a bad light, but he doesn't seem to be overly biased in doing so. Perhaps the humans involved look bad, but for all the attention being put on his being an atheist, he doesn't seem to rule out the possibility of there being higher powers that work on the universe.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Promotional Talents of Mike Bennett


w00t! Mike Bennett, podcaster and performer, has done an excellent voice-over for me to help promote the podcast of my novel. The little widget off to the right will play the promo if you'd like to hear it.




I previously interviewed Mike for this blog, and more information about him is available on his website.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Podcast Up!!!

It was waaaaayyy harder than I imagined, but the very first podcast episode of The Longevity Thesis is up!!!!! It can be found at:

http://jrahn.podshow.com

I did have fun amidst all the frustrated swearing, but in the end, I'm quite pleased with the result. I had the music recorded last summer when the promo vid was made, but I still had to read the chapters and record that, edit out all the goof ups, and put in some promo spots for friends. Cellist Aurealis has agreed to play some more Tchaikovsky for me, this time on the cello instead of a keyboard. It's gonna be awesome!!!

For those who are interested, the sound recording and editing was done using a free linux-based program called Audacity (have I mentioned before my unending love of all things open source?) and later on, Justyn, the EDGE marketing manager pointed me towards a nifty little program called the Levelator to smooth out the sound levels.

Now I'm too tired to blink, but still raring to make the next one!!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Book give away finished.

I'm happy to announce the three winners of The Longevity Thesis book give-away:

1) Bill
2) Karen
3) Janet

Congrats and enjoy your prize!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Mini Movie Reviews

Blockbuster has been sending me these evil little coupons that make me keep going into their store. Damn 3 for 2's and $1 early return account credits!!

Anyway, here are quick impressions of some movies they manipulated me into renting and watching.

Rush Hour 3: Jackie and Chris have an adventure. They need to recover a list of mob bosses, which turns out to be a human being. Chris Tucker has a fast mouth and makes you laugh out loud. There are martial arts, guns, slapstick humour scenes and such through out the movie. At one point, Jackie sings, and he's surprisingly good.

Overall Impression: A fun, fast paced movie. I enjoyed it, although I wasn't as impressed with it as the first two in the series.

3:10 to Yuma: Christian Bale and Russell Crowe ride around on horses with guns and hats and . . . stuff. Crowe is the bad guy and has to prove he's really not evil by continuing to be a bad guy. People die for not very good reasons. Supposed to be tragic or dramatic or something.

Overall Impression: Meh. Vacuuming is slightly more interesting.

Battlestar Galactica Razor: OK, these people are messing with me. They put out a DVD that you think is supposed to be some sort of TV movie semi-pro thing, and it turns out to be the best SF movie I've seen since The Fifth Element. It had everything: twisted psycho relationships, smack you in the face pathos, dramatic gore, some of the best CG robots ever, extremely well done military scenes, tremendous story, kick ass characterisations, awesome soundtrack, and a very satisfying ending.

Overall Impression: Seriously addictive hard core SF. Don't watch it if you're supposed to be doing something else.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Give-away

I've decided to give away two signed copies of The Longevity Thesis to (1) the first person to enter, and to (2) one person randomly drawn from the first 50 entries. I may give away a third, depending on how things go.

To enter, just contact me through my webpage, blog, MySpace or Facebook and tell me you're entering. If you win, I'll ask for your mailing info. And of course, you have my assurances that this is only to promote The Longevity Thesis, and I am not interested in polluting the internet with more spam.

Thanks to everyone who enters!

ANNOUNCEMENT: Monday, 7:39am. The first copy has been claimed by W.Sumner Davis, author of Heretics. (Check out his MySpace.) Congrats to Dr. Davis!

18Feb08 Update: The last two copies are being given to Karen and Janet. Thanks for entering!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Open Source Desktop Publishing

I thought this was cool:

"Scribus is an open-source program that brings award-winning professional page layout to Linux/Unix, MacOS X, OS/2 and Windows desktops with a combination of "press-ready" output and new approaches to page layout.

Underneath the modern and user friendly interface, Scribus supports professional publishing features, such as CMYK color, separations, ICC color management and versatile PDF creation."

Kudos to the open source programming community.


Saturday, February 2, 2008

Wee Hoo!

Geez, forget ramblings about alternate spiritual forms, check this out:

http://sfcrowsnest.com/features/arc/2008/nz12201.php

Arconna really is a superhero!

#######

7:13 pm

. . . and the feed is picked up by comic-news-now.

I am chortling.

Boy, am I ever procrastinating.

I wonder what it's like to be dead. I don't mean that in the morbid sense, but when you read about traditional or speculative or rational expectations of what happens when you die, it seems we have three options: (i) one passes into some sort of afterlife, good or bad, (ii) one spends some time in the "in between" prior to selecting or being assigned the next incarnation, or (iii) that's it. Nothing more happens.

Is the equation oversimplified? I can readily accept that our physical bodies are the result of evolution. Our minds, I think, are much more complex, and develop from pressures applied from the environment, nutrition, and genetic expression – but, what "evolutionary" pressure causes us to be able to appreciate, say, a painting? What is the selective force that encourages us to express ourselves through art in the first place? Judging from the monetary traffic that passes through Hollywood or MTV, we clearly value such things intensely. Perhaps it's nothing more than a viable aberration that arose randomly, and since it didn't interfere with homeostasis, there was no negative selective force against it.

I still ponder the question of there being something else we cannot perceive scientifically. If matter cannot be destroyed, only be changed in form, is that the same for consciousness? If the brain runs on electric impulses, and matter can convert into energy and vice versa, then can the electrons that power our thoughts also convert into a different form of energy -- perhaps one that melds into the thoughts of some other physical entity? Is the origin of consciousness a particular collection of energy that changes form depending on what mortal coil it inhabits? And if that is possible, what evolutionary force would select for that?

I guess I'll eventually find out. There's a 2/3 chance I'll find it interesting, and a 1/3 chance I won't be able to care.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Darwin's Paradox

Imagine a mysterious virus that devastates half a population, while giving certain individuals enhanced mental abilities, allowing them to "psychically" link to a server containing an artificial intelligence that seems to be developing autonomy. What if that virus turned out to be deliberately engineered? What would be the motivations of the designer? What if the virus turned out to be more than it seemed, and had ideas of its own?

In "Darwin's Paradox", Nina Munteanu (author of "Collision with Paradise", and "The Cypol") serves up a dually plotted story that's part novel, part philosophical treatise on the nature of mankind and its inexorable evolution, driven by both natural and man-made pressures. Julie Crane, the central character, is a woman with a complicated and violent past, who must deal with the life she left behind to protect the peaceful existence she enjoys with her family now. As the novel opens, the back story and contemporary plot line are unfolded concurrently, until they eventually collide, and Julie is faced with the struggle of her life against unknown political forces in Icaria-5, her previous home, from which she had to flee as an unfairly labeled murderer and deliberate spreader of Darwin's Disease. She's never sure of who her allies or enemies are as she struggles to free herself from old accusations . . . and neither is her innocent, 12 year old daughter, who naively stumbles into her mother's past.

Looking for a thinking person's novel? Give "Darwin's Paradox" a try.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

My Flash in the Pan

For the briefest moment (I'm surprised I saw it at all) I was ranked #42 in Fantasy on Amazon.ca.


Wow. . .


Saturday, January 19, 2008

An Interview With My Next Door Neighbour

Bobby, who lives in 7B across the hall, is a vampire. He was born as Roberto Santiago Amar del Imiani, about 850 years ago. I had slipped him a note under his door the previous week, hoping that he would grant me an interview, since vampires are very much in vogue these days, and I was in desperate need of a sale. He had left me a voice mail message last night, saying that he would see me this evening, as soon as he woke. That was quite all right with me, since as a writer, I was a nocturnal creature myself.

He arrived at my door dressed in a splendid evening robe of dark red velvet, and sporting a longish coif that must have required more than a handful of styling gel. I invited him in and offered him a chair, which he declined, and a glass of red wine, which he graciously accepted. As I sat at my desk, I took a while fiddling with pens and paper, in order to give myself an opportunity to steal furtive glances at him, trying to remember each shadow and line of his jaw, and the elegance of his movements, as he paced wretchedly in front of my mantelpiece, letting me see how tormented he was. I suppose, if you like men, he was beautiful. His skin was a translucent alabaster that showed the delicate pulsing of blood at his throat, and every feature was like a classic chisel cut, as though Michealangelo himself had formed this creature. His dark hair was cut just so it could droop wantonly into his dark violet eyes, giving him that boyish come-hither charm, which was so useful in luring his victims.

I finally pulled my favourite pen, which I had isolated earlier, from my pocket and cleared my throat. He looked up at me, those great, wide eyes glossy and almost weeping with his inner pain.

"I am glad you asked for this interview, Simon," he said. "I feel that unburdening myself to you will ease me greatly. I only ask that you do not reveal my true name in your article."

"Of course, of course," I crooned solicitously, and begged him to begin. He told me of his victims, and how he had taken each of them, and how some had been willing, and how some had cursed him even as they died, yada yada yada, until I felt I simply had to interrupt.

"Er, Bobby," I said, "this is all very interesting, but it's a bit disjointed. I don't suppose you have one particular story you'd like to tell, perhaps something dashing and exciting, like almost getting caught by the Inquisition, or something like that?"

"I don't think you even begin to understand me," he protested. "I loved each and every person I took, whether male or female, adult or child. I must tell you this, in order for me to reveal my innermost soul to you."

"Hem. I see." I clicked my pen a few times and looked up to see him glaring at my hesitation, his skin turning a dangerous mottled purple. I sought to console him: "Perhaps we can work on your autobiography later, it's just that I have a shot at a feature article, and it has got to grab the reader instantaneously. I'm afraid the editor won't tolerate a long introduction to your innermost soul. I've got to sum it up in a sentence or two, and then get on to a pointed episode of your life, one that will hook the reader, and then, bam! Out comes the book revealing the entire story."

He seemed to accept that, and relaxed again, making it clear that his continued co-operation was dependent upon my refilling his glass.

"Now then, Bobby," I said.

"Roberto," he corrected me.

"Forgive me, Roberto. Let's focus on one particular event in your life. Have you ever been caught while devouring one of your victims? Nearly staked through the heart, had Holy Water strewn on you, lost track of time and got home just before sunrise, anything like that?"

He chuckled at that and smiled at me with the patronising tolerance one gives to a convivial but stupid host.

"I am but a myth, Simon. Nobody believes in me enough to actually go after me in such a fashion. I've become the stuff of pop fantasy. No, I'm afraid not."

"Hmm. No one has ever shot at you with silver bullets?"

"No, that wouldn't be my department." He looked at me pointedly.

I sat back, somewhat frustrated and perplexed, scratching at an itchy spot on my scalp with the pen.

"Well, all right then. You've had many loves. Let's pick one and work with that."

"Ah yes, Amanita Dela Champagne. She was my fourth. I knew her when I was still very new to my immortal life . . ."

He rambled on again, completely losing focus and telling me irrelevant details of what colour Amanita's dress was and her cup size, yada yada yada, until I was forced to interrupt him again.

"So what happened to Amanita?" I asked. "Is she now a vampire roaming New York City? An undead prostitute horrifying her clients into never coming back, anything Oprahish like that?"

Roberto paused for a moment, blinking rapidly. Apparently I had completely derailed his thoughts.

"Er, no. Actually she died. I would have made her a vampire, but she was shot through the heart with a silver-tipped crossbow bolt before the transformation could be made complete."

"Ah! Now we're getting somewhere! So, you were in love with her, but you couldn't save her! You knew she was being hunted, but could not reach her in time, and warn her of her impending doom! I love it! This is going to work quite nicely!" I said.

Roberto turned his back on me.

"No. I did not try to save her."

I paused to let that one sink in.

"So she dumped you? Say, if silver-tipped crossbow bolts work, why not silver bullets? I mean --"

Roberto whirled around and cut me off.

"God! Enough with your silver bullets already! And she did not dump me!"

"All right, all right," I said, and waved him back soothingly. "Let's pick someone different and try that."

Roberto humphed and crossed his arms, one hand reaching up to rub at his nose. After a moment, he sighed and said, "David of Rimms."

"All right, David." I paused to write this down. "What did you do to David?"

"Well, as I said before, I was in love with him."

"You realise that I will only be able to sell this to a liberal sort of magazine," I said mildly.

"Look, do you want the story or not?" he demanded.

"Yes, I do. Please continue."

"And NO silver bullets!"

"Of course not. No more of that."

This time his monologue was definitely better, and I believe he was beginning to understand what it was that I wanted from him. As he spoke, I jotted down quite a luscious love story of forbidden behaviours and desperate joy as he and David roamed the French countryside together for over 50 years, until in a fit of jealousy over one of Roberto's casual lovers, David left him for a woman who was actually a decoy from the Catholic Church, and who had led David to his tragic death.

It was a fabulous piece.

I was intrigued by the roaming bit, and wanted to get some more detail, to give the reader a heightened sense of really being there. I think Roberto was flattered that I truly loved his story, and wanted to get it just right. He co-operated in answering my questions, only giving me an annoyed glance once when I asked if he and David had ever howled at the moon. I backed off of that topic, sensing I might lose him and got more detail on blood sucking and flying at night, which he revelled in, then forgot myself and made a bit of a mistake, by asking if he could only fly when there was a full moon.

"Of course not!" he retorted hotly. "You're getting us mixed up again."

"Sorry, sorry."

"Look, Simon, it's almost dawn. Is there anything else you need?"

I looked at the clock on the mantelpiece, and indeed, it was almost dawn. I stretched and resisted scratching myself, just now realising how tired the wine and interviewing all night had left me. I suppose my brain was not functioning quite right, as I searched it clumsily for any last questions I might have, and supplied the following: "Did you and David ever transform into hounds or bears or anything, when chasing down your victims? Kinda like that movie version of Dracula with Winona Ryder in it?"

I knew I had lost him for sure then. Roberto's shoulders sagged, his mouth hung open, and the wine glass dangled from loose fingertips. He certainly wasn't posing for me anymore. No more strutting and elegant hand waves, he just stared at me with disbelief and utter disgust.

"Piss off!" Bobby said finally. "If werewolves were so hot, why is it that no one has ever tried to interview you!"

The End.