Back from the Drawing Board

SpaceX has finally chalked up a success with its Falcon 1 launch vehicle. The company announced that on September 28 it launched a Falcon 1 from Kwajalein Atoll, carrying into orbit a payload mass simulator of approximately 364 lbs. Consisting of a hexagonal aluminum alloy chamber 1.5 meters (5 feet) tall, the payload remains attached to the second stage as it orbits Earth.

There had been several previous failures. Last time the first and second stages bumped into one another after separation, resulting in the loss of three government satellites and human ashes including the remains of Scotty and Gordo.

Snapshots 5

Here are four developments of interest to fans:

(1) Reading this reminds me how E. E. “Doc” Smith begins the Lensman Series:

Two planets about 300 light years from Earth slammed into each other recently, US astronomers said Tuesday, the first time evidence of such a catastrophic collision has been seen by scientists.

“Doc” Smith’s opening line is:

“Two thousand million or so years ago two galaxies were colliding; or, rather, were passing through each other.”

(2) The Los Angeles Times sf blog “Hero Complex” has interesting posts on the new Hitchhkers Guide to the Galaxy novel, and “A.D. – After the Deluge,” a comic inspired by Hurricane Katrina.

(3) The site that hosts Tom Perry’s article “Take Back Your Government” has a great collection of other articles about Heinlein.

(4) Isaac Alexander asks, “Do you nominate and vote for the Hugo Awards? Then you might be interested in checking out the wikis at and”

The Theory of Everything Online

Jason Stoddard draws some very interesting conclusions about who forms the core audience for certain types of online sf sites:

From the amount of related magazines, online pubs, review sites, and market sites like Ralans, it is increasingly evident who the primary audience for short SF is today: other writers. This is true for both Analog and Strange Horizons

Jonathan McCalmont adds, in a comment, that “the audience for review sites appears to be reviewers.”

I wonder if Stoddard’s and McCalmont’s analysis can be extended to the internet at large. Perhaps it’s true that the most dedicated audience for much of what appears online are people with the ambition to do something similar.

Chinese Astronauts Prepare for Spacewalk

Here’s something else the U.S. won’t be doing while we spend our billions elsewhere, competing with China’s manned space program:

China‘s three-man spacecraft shifted from an oval orbit to a more stable circular orbit 213 miles above Earth on Friday in preparation for the country’s first attempt at a spacewalk.

The spacewalk is scheduled to take place at about Saturday afternoon, although the exact timing depends on the readiness of equipment and personnel, said Wang Zhaoyao, deputy director of China‘s manned space program office. The event will be broadcast live on television, he said.

The planned spacewalk is seen as just the latest step in China’s ambitious space program:

Experts said this mission is the next logical step toward an expected Chinese space station and possible future moon landing. Having put people in orbit and returned them safely, China is planning spacewalks, then rendezvous and docking operations, then deployment of a relatively modest space lab followed by a more permanent space station.

Update 9/28/2008: And they’re back, after a successful spacewalk.

File 770, The Unauthorized Blog

The inspiration for this post came to me last week, and my thoughts crystallized upon reading Jonathan McCalmont’s admission that blogging “plays in to my fondness for objectively quantified measures of success.” For that’s very much what I wanted to talk about: How I get distracted from my vision for by the urge to compete for quantifiable success in the blogosphere: more hits, higher authority rankings, longer comment chains, and the rest.

What became of my plan to conquer the Technorati universe anyway? Google Analytics’ daily count of my unique visitors, humble as it may be, is double what it was six months ago. Yet after an early takeoff my Technorati Authority — the number of blogs that have linked to me in the last six months – now has shriveled from 24 to 19.

Somebody is saying, “What the hell does that gibberish mean?” Brother, I was right with you a year ago. Now I know what it means. And other bloggers feel my pain. I’m sure my old pal Crotchety does, although his definition of winning requires having lots of revenue-generating traffic.

There are newcomers to blogging who hear that Whatever has 30,000 regular readers and say “I’ll have one of those.” Not me. My ambitions are far more modest. I analyzed the Mount Everest of sf blogs and determined its success is based on eight vital ingredients of which I have two: a computer and an internet service provider. Just the same, I believe that the cream rises to the top. I compared notes with a few other fans and decided 150 unique visitors a day and a Technorati ranking of 70 was within reach.

That didn’t happen automatically, so I helped things along with a few judicious editorial decisions. Like mentioning Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, posting about Star Trek, and dropping giant squid references where Cheryl Morgan might find them. The one thing I wouldn’t do was write about affixing pork products to felines. I could keep my self-esteem as long as I drew the line at that. (Besides, Crotchety tried that and it didn’t work.)(Also I exaggerate – all the Star Trek stuff is here because it genuinely interests me.)

Posting quanities of mildly amusing dross in a wishful desire to have internet robots show me a bigger number is probably innocent, unless it makes any of you who follow the blog wonder why you’re still reading. I enjoy getting the links some of you send me and will keep posting the ones I like. But McCalmont’s post has warned me that the competitive urge should not become a distraction from doing the writing I value most, analyzing what’s happening in sf fandom, and throwing a spotlight on the good work done by fan writers, artists and editors.

Clear Your Calendar for ConQuestT 40

Jerry GelbWill you be in Kansas City next Memorial Day? ConQuesT 40 boasts two of sf’s leading figures, John Scalzi and Ellen Datlow. But never mind that! Their special media/anime guest of honor is the one and only Jerry Gelb, the voice of “Master Kobari” in the hit Anime series “Witch Hunter Robin” from Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. And of no little significance to the Glyer family, twin brother of Janice Gelb, who was in my wedding in 1994.

The complete press release appears after the jump.

[Via Chronicles of the Dawn Patrol]

Continue reading

The Last Diplomat

Jonathan McCalmont put his blog SF Diplomat in suspended animation the other day. The site is not being taken down, McCalmont has merely quit adding to it. In signing off, he made some very apt statements about blogging:

My relationship with blogging has been an awkward one for a while as I do think that the medium brings out the worst in me. Aside from bringing the confrontational and argumentative elements of my personality to the fore, it also plays in to my fondness for objectively quantified measures of success. 

Would McCalmont agree that his latest verbal duel with John Scalzi is symptomatic of the “confrontational and argumentative elements” that bring out the worst in him? While the blogosphere relishes a good cage match — Google shows lots of people linking to that page at SF Diplomat – it’s stressful on those who square off in these verbal brawls. McCalmont presented a resilient face to the world in July. Yet two months later, the cumulative effect of that and other clashes has contributed to him shaping a different course.

The pressure of controversy can only accelerate the burnout of a prolific and talented critic. McCalmont began his last post with an explanation I found strongly reminiscent of Cheryl Morgan’s explanation for ceasing production of her Hugo-winning reviewzine, Emerald City. Said McCalmont:

Regular readers will have noticed that my enthusiasm levels have been dipping of late.  My tone has turned increasingly sour, my reviews increasingly half-hearted and my general output sluggish at best. 

Morgan told SF Signal in 2006:

In addition, over the past year or so I have become very disillusioned about both the quality of my own work and the general usefulness of online book reviews.

Pretty much nobody can go on indefinitely doing consistently excellent reviews at the pace demanded for a successful blog, though it may not be the pace itself that drains our top reviewers.

A great many, like McCalmont and Morgan, are part of the sf community, which means to some extent their social milieu is composed of people whose artistic ambitions and livelihoods are affected by what they write. Reviewers who are any good (there are lots of reviewers, but how many get read?) court controversy every time they tell authors that their literary offspring smell bad and look funny. And the authors are not the only ones who take this badly, there are editors, agents, friends and fans.

Since criticism is creative, and creative work thrives in community, the unfortunate side effect of being a prolific critic is progressively alienating some members of the society he or she depends on for the joy of living.

Thankfully, McCalmont has decided to write finis to one outlet for his work without giving up criticism altogether. He says he will still write in other venues, taking the time he needs to do his best work.

The Fly on the Wall at Chaos Manor

Jerry Pournelle often reviews Los Angeles Opera productions on Chaos Manor, and while anybody is entitled to their opinion, I suspect he is one of the few science fiction writers with extensive personal experience in staging operas. So fans may be all the more interested in what he has to say about the company’s performance of The Fly:

The singers acted very well indeed, and all looked their parts. The set was imaginative and well done as was costuming. The libretto was excellent. Indeed, I liked everything about The Fly except that there was no music. There was a passable movie score for background, but the singers did their lines in recititative throughout the opera.

Pournelle also has ideas for making the score more operatic.

A Hit With Me

Steve Davidson has launched a new version of his blog, The Crotchety Old Fan. It’s now active on his website and boasts a new front page.

Thanks to Steve for including a button linking to In fact, the way I discovered the new site was by satisfying my curiosity about where all the hits were coming from. (Note self-aggrandizing turn of phrase “all the hits,” as if 5% of 29 total hits was a number on the Richter scale.)

“One last thing,” says Steve. “I’m now running advertising on the site and in the blog.” If you’re looking to raise your profile, Steve will be happy to help you out.