Time to the Power of Tim

Three Time Travel Tales by Tim Powers

Three Time Travel Tales by Tim Powers

This year the guest of honor at Capclave was Tim Powers. (Capclave is the Washington DC Science Fiction convention.) Tim is not only the author of many fine science fiction novels, but a very nice guy.

This turned out to be a good thing, as the initial proposal was to have Tim & I appear together and do something physic-y about his novels.  I have never done a talk with a live author before (dead authors are no problem, I have that down cold), so I was a bit nervous about the whole thing.

But it worked out well:  Tim was very helpful & gracious and when the audience asked him if one of my theories about the time travel in his novel The Anubis Gates was correct he said, essentially, “Now it is.” 🙂

I focused on three of his novels, The Anubis Gates — his first big success (with romantic poets & time-traveling Jackel Gods), Three Days to Never — something like the bastard child of John Le Carre & H. P. Lovecraft, and Medusa’s Web — who can resist the Time Spyders?

One of the distinctive features of Tim Powers working method is that he starts with a place and a time, researches it looking for the curious facts, bizarre details, & strange omissions that point to an unknown but dark reality, then gradually teases out the true story of whatreallyhappened!

“I made it an ironclad rule that I could not change or disregard any of the recorded facts, nor rearrange any days of the calendar – and then I tried to figure out what momentous but unrecorded fact could explain them all.”

So Tim builds his novels from the bottom up. As a result, they tend to differ wildly from each other.  Other authors, once they have got a setting that works, tend to reuse it, Tim builds anew each time.  No ten volume trilogies here!

And he also works out the timelines of all of his critical characters.  At each moment, he knows where each of his on and off stage characters are & what they are up to.  His notes on this are a kind of secret history of the secret history!

He has 20 or more novels out, so I focused on just three, all involving time travel.  And in each the theory of time travel was radically different!  I had a lot of fun linking each up to the corresponding physics and going back & forth about all this with my stage-mate Tim. 🙂

The talk, minus alas, the actual talking, is now up on slideshare.  Download if you will & any questions/comments please let me know!  thanks!

 

 

Quantum Dots

Three Quantum Mice

 

Quantum dots (QD) are semiconductors made via several possible routes. John Ashmead and Stephen Granade discuss how they are made, their properties and their applications in research. — from the Balticon 2016 Schedule

This is one of those “I was roped into this, but on the whole, it turned out pretty well” topics.  Miriam Kelly, in charge of science programming at Balticon, asked if Stephen Granade & I would do a panel on quantum dots at the 2016 Balticon.  Stephen had to drop out of the panel at the last minute, so I turned my notes into a full-fledged talk.    Great subject! about which I had known nothing before I got started. 🙂

Quantum dots turn out to be small, useful balls of quantum goodness, much bigger than an atom, but pretty much smaller than just about anything else you can think of which is bigger than an atom.  They are spheres that ring like a bell when hit by light, taking it in briefly, then emitting it again — but at a very specific frequency which depends on the size of the quantum dot and not much else.

It is this that makes them useful. You pepper your sample with quantum dots of different sizes, spray a bit of UltraViolet light over them, & voila! red or green or blue light comes back.  If you have artfully arranged to have the dots of different colors associate with different kinds of interesting chemicals or drugs or cells or whathaveyou, then you can see how things are ambling around down there.  Cute, very cute, there is nothing like a mouse lit up by quantum dots.

They get used a lot in televisions to help out with the colors.  So you can pick up a supply of brightly colored dots at commodity prices.

But the most interesting — at least to the humans who want to live longer & better — are the medical applications.  And the day after my talk, Miriam had scheduled a panel on the very similar topic: Quantum Dots:  Medical Applications.  Turned out perhaps half the audience had been at my talk, survived, recovered, and now were armed with questions which I & the very knowledgeable & capable John Cmar & John Skylar had some quiet & informative fun with.  Yes, there were three Johns on the panel!  And no non-Johns.  Get over it.  After the initial confusion about how to refer to whom, we had a lot of fun with the back & forth, myself from the physics side, Cmar & Skylar from the medical side.

I’ve put the talk up as a pdf on slideshare.  Comments welcome! As always.

Stargates: The Theory & Practice

Doors and Portals and Stargates, Oh My!

Call them Stargates, Jumpgates, Fargates, Hypertubes or just an invitation to every unwanted pest from the far reaches of the Galaxy to visit, they are absolutely necessary if we are to have the glorious Science Fiction action we desperately need.  But could they actually be built?  We look at what modern physics has to say:  how to glue black holes together to build a wormhole, how to avoid the dangers of spaghettification, radiation poisoning, and paradox noise, and just what it would take to build one in practice.

This was a talk I did at the last Philcon, went over well.  And I had a lot of fun doing it.  I’ve got it up as a talk on slideshare.  And I may do variations on this at the 2017 Balticon & also Capclave.

It is the kind of subject you can go anywhere with!

 

Tales from the Miskatonic University Library about to escape into the world!

The Tales from the Miskatonic University Library is not only at the publisher (PS Publishing) but on the awful verge of being actually published. Darrell Schweitzer & I have just reviewed the signing sheets: apparently there is to be not only a regular edition but a special, limited, & elder-signed edition as well!

So, the list of the authors & their stories:

  1. Don Webb. “Slowly Ticking Time Bomb”
  2. Adrian Cole. “Third Movement”
  3. Dirk Flinthart. “To be In Ulthar”
  4. Harry Turtledove. “Interlibrary Loan”
  5. P. D. Cacek. “One Small Chance”
  6. Will Murray. “A Trillion Young”
  7. A. C. Wise. “The Paradox Collection”
  8. Marilyn “Mattie” Brahen. “The Way to a Man’s Heart”
  9. Douglas Wynne. “The White Door”
  10. Alex Shvartsman. “Recall Notice”
  11. James Van Pelt. “The Children’s Collection”
  12. Darrell Schweitzer. “Not in the Card Catalogue”
  13. Robert M. Price. “The Bonfire of the Blasphemies”

And — triskaidekaphiliacs rejoice, triskaidekaphobes despair — there are exactly thirteen stories. Quite by coincidence! (& nothing to do with the fact that thirteen is my personal lucky number.)

And you get intros by both Darrell & myself. Quite a range of stories: funny, grim, grimly funny, paradoxical, and terrifyingly straightforward. Our ultimate criteria was that both Darrell & I enjoyed reading them — and hope you will as well!

Deadline Necronomicon: Tales from Miskatonic Library now open till 8/23/2015

Today is the official deadline for unsolicited submissions for the Tales from the Miskatonic Library.

However Darrell & I have decided to push the deadline back to 8/23, the end of Necronomicon, the Providence convention for all things Lovecraftian.  Darrell & I will both be there, and this will give us a chance to meet some of you in person.

And the mss are still flooding in!  So we want to make sure we have a chance to see everything that’s out there before making the final cut.

One question I’ve gotten a lot:  is there a maximum length?

Well we are only paying 3 cents a word, capped at $100, so that’s about 3333 words.  But all that means is if you go over, the payment is capped, we will still look at the story.

Really the best length is determined by the story itself. As Lincoln said once, a man’s legs should reach just far enough to get to the ground, more than that is a waste of leg.  Same for stories:  if they are good, they have a natural length of their own.

If you start when things are just getting interesting and keep going till it is clear what the final shape of the narrative is, wasting no time between, the length will tend to be about right.  After you’ve cut the story first by a half.  And then — and this will hurt — squeezed out another 25% of what is left.

But stick to point of view, in a short story there isn’t much time for anything but what happens & then what our hero or heroine did about that!

You’ve no time for backstory:  if our narrator has had a troubled past (& that is pretty likely in this case) it will show in how he or she responds to events, maybe a bit too fast to leap to conclusion X, a bit over sensitive to casual remark Y.  And if it doesn’t show in his or her responses, why does it matter?  Leave history to the historians!

And you have no time for fore-shadowing, for what is to come, it will be here soon enough, why trouble the already anxious reader?  There is only time to show what is happening now!

And in fact things are happening so quickly in your narrative — there is so much now now! — that you can barely relay a fraction of them to your reader!  You’re like a tour guide where the boat, car, motorized book cart, flying carpet, night gaunt, is going so fast you can only report one or two of the most salient details — the eyes reflected off what had seemed a bit of waste paper, the curious omission in the alphabetized records for Z, the orchid giving a cheerful wave as you pass by — before the next incident commands attention.  Not so quickly that the reader loses the thread of course — and therein lies the art.

So by the grace of ye eds, another two weeks.  Spend the golden seconds wisely!  Write, read, revise, reread, rewrite, & submit!

Be reading you!

John Ashmead

PS.  And as what we are looking for, as earlier, three requirements:

  1. Good story — pulls you in from first sentence.
  2. Gives you something to think about — leaves you going hmm after the last sentence.
  3. Fits into an anthology called Tales from the Miskatonic Library — without taking two pages of explanation by ye eds.

 

 

Just How Many Universes are There, Anyway?

I did my talk on the multiverse at Balticon Saturday (5/23/15).  Went over well:  SRO & good questions.

I’ve posted on slideshare:  How many universes are there, anyway?

Questions welcome!

Tales from the Miskatonic Library — Call for Submissions

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.” — Ernest Shackleton

The small press anthology Tales from the Miskatonic Library is now soliciting stories for submission.  This is an anthology of tales about, found in, inspired by, or stolen from the Miskatonic University Library.

Your editors are Darrell Schweitzer & myself, and we are looking for tales that:

  1. Are good stories.
  2. Can be included in an anthology titled Tales From the Miskatonic Library without involving us in elaborate explanations.
  3. Aren’t “Boy Reads Book; Book Eats Boy.”

So, your chance to have a bit of grim fun:

  • What sort of tales might be found in the Miskatonic University Library?  Kept perhaps in the secure reading room?  Shared by Chief Librarian Henry Armitage over faculty sherry with only a trusted few?
  • And how did Dr. Henry Armitage acquire his position as Chief Librarian?  And what of his successor(s)?
  • What unexpected problems might be faced by an acquisitions librarian at Miskatonic University?  Or a cataloger? Is the Necronomicon quite as rare as it is made out to be?
  • What is the real explanation for the curious gaps in the Dewey Decimal System?
  • What might it take to see the unexpurgated account of the Pabodie’s 1930 expedition to The Mountains of Madness?  Together with their troubling cross-correlations with Shackleton’s private diary? The US Treasury Departments internal report on the incident at Devil Reef off Innsmouth?
  • Why are no students allowed within the stacks?  Are rumors of non-Euclidean spaces within merely rumors?  Why was Einstein called in for a consult in 1944?  And his frequent correspondent Schrödinger brought over  secretly from Ireland that same year?
  • And are series like Warehouse 13 or The Librarian or Charlie Stross’s The Laundry really just cover stories for the MUL? precautions taken to make sure if a bit of the truth gets out, it will be seen as merely a publicity stunt?

And, there is absolutely no requirement to mention the Necronomicon or even the Cthulhu Mythos at all!  So long as its appearance in our anthology makes sense, we’re good with it.

Our publisher is PS Publishing, which has just published Darrell’s That is Not Dead:  Tales of the Cthulhu Mythose Through the Centuries, and which has a very strong line of Lovecraftian titles.  As this is small press, maximum 1000 copies, the rate is — alas — correspondingly small:  3¢/word max $100.  Sigh.  But, Honour & recognition!  Or, even better, a chance to warn the world of untimely horrors!

Please send stories in electronic form only!  RTF, Word, or Pages are OK.  Not PDF, which is not editable.

No reprints.  Your original work only.  We need to see by the end of August, 2015.

Send to me, John Ashmead, at john.ashmead@timeandquantummechanics.com.

Any questions, ask!

And if even if you don’t have a Tale from the Miskatonic Library bubbling up inside you, perhaps a friend does.  Please pass this link along to any who might be interested.  Word of tentacle is our best advertisement!

Red Letter Days in the Time Traveler’s Almanac

The Main Line SF Book Discussion Group (is that the official name Denise?) which meets the third Tuesday of each Month at 7:15pm at Mainpoint Books, is doing the Vandermeer’s Time Traveler’s Almanac at our next meetup March 17th.

I’m pleased with this collection:  I’m a big fan of time travel & try to read  everything on the subject that doesn’t involve a strong yet sensitive woman going back in time to the Scotland of the clans & claymores to help a rough yet sensitive Scottish chieftain find true yet sensitive love.

The Vendermeers have done a good job of getting a wide range of good stuff.  There are some clunkers (avoid getting yourself trapped into Loob’s time loop) but overall average good & some standouts, including several I had not seen before.

The MLSFBDG decided we’d pick a few of the 80 odd stories to focus on.

Herewith my own favorites.  I used a really simple test:  I had already read thru the volume; these are the ones I particularly found myself wanting to read again.

  • Needle in a Timestack — love & time travel, spreadsheet time where you can feel the changes when you personal time line is recalculated
  • The Gernsback Continuum — the glorious futures of the lamented past, and a great addition to my collection of Imaginary Books: The Airstream Futuropolis:  The Tomorrow That Never Was
  • Triceratops Summer — cabbage stealing triceratopses & a meditation on impermanence
  • A Sound of Thunder — the classic butterfly effect story
  • Vintage Season — tourism more fun for the tourists than the tourees
  • Fire Watch — what can’t be changed can be remembered, is it enough?
  • Under Siege — George R. R. Martin shows his usual delicate concern for his character’s well-being
  • Traveler’s Rest — “No one knew what really happened to Time as one came close to the Frontier…”
  • At Dorado — her past is his future
  • Red Letter Day — curiously appropriate title for an almanac, interesting balancing act between free will & the desire to know how it will come out

And some more, likely to be good for discussion:

  • Ripples in the Dirac Sea — reminiscent of the Stevenson’s the Bottle Imp
  • Himself in Anachron — time & self-sacrifice
  • Time Travel in Theory and Practice — good review of the basics
  • The Final Days — Iron Man thinks the time travelers are watching him because he is about to do so well
  • On the Watchtower at Plataea — the time travelers are there to view the Peloponnesian War but get caught up in a war of their own
  • The Gulf of Years — love & bombs
  • Enoch Soames — time travel deal with the devil
  • Palindromic — opposite arrows of time collide
  • Delhi — time ghosts in Delhi, intriguing
  • Terminos — bottled time (see Tourmaline’s Time Checks, Momo) with an interesting narrative method
  • The Waitabits — classic Analog story-with-a-point: slowly, slowly, they get conquered that move fast
  • Music for Time Travelers — non-fiction
  • As Time Goes By — Tanith Lee channels her inner Moorcock, with a bit of Robert Service: “The nature of time, What do we really know about it? Two thousand streams, and us playing about in them like salmon.”
  • Against the Lafayette Escadrille — carpe diem — a frequent theme of this collection: Fokkers, crinolines, & Confederate spy balloons.
  • Palimpsest — Stross does the reductio ad absurdum of Heinlein’s All You Zombies (recently made into a not-bad movie), Gerrold’s The Man Who Folded Himself, Asimov’s The End of Eternity. If you like your absurdum’s reductio’d, this is the tale.

Most of the rest were worth reading as well: the only real clunkers — personal opinion obviously — were Loob & Forty, Counting Down with its companion Twenty-One Counting Up.

If you want to get on the Book Discussion’s list, email Denise who will be glad to add you to the list.  And check out Mainpoint Books, which has provided & new & hospitable home for the group (even staying open late just for us!).

Unclassified Horrors

And speaking of Balticon, several Balticons back, I mentioned to my old friend Darrell Schweitzer (looks a bit like the Emperor Palpatine but is significantly less evil), that I had been thinking of a story about the Miskatonic University Library to be called Unclassified Horrors.

I have always been fascinated by Libraries in general & by the Miskatonic University Library in particular.  This is the place where the hero/victim of a Lovecraftian story will go to check out/steal/examine furtively an obscure but dangerous tome.  This is a particularly poor idea if you can’t break yourself of the habit of reading aloud.

See for instance the unfortunate consequences experienced by Evelyn Carnahan (“I … am a Librarian!”) in the 1999 film The Mummy.  She reads from the Book of the Dead.  Aloud.  And awakens the High Priest Imhotep, whom being buried alive for the last three thousand two hundred and thirteen years has not put in a good mood.  Difficulties ensue.  And the world is saved only by the pluck & luck of a few bold adventurers.

But I digress, something that happens to me a lot in libraries.  That is actually a design goal of libraries, think of them as an early form of the Intertubes, where when you go in you are planning to swot up on topic A and find yourself well among the Z’s or even On Beyond Zebra  before you know.  They deliberately arrange the cataloging systems so that interesting volumes will tend to be right next to target volumes.

What you think of as chance is in fact as so often a sinister plot:  the very scheme intended to create the illusion of order is meant to pull you in & leave you helpless & browsing on the floor when the final gong is rung & the library scraping machine comes by to scoop up the day’s victims.  As you slowly sort yourself out of the pile of your fellow victims at the back of the library, you may wonder how this happened — yet again!

It’s the fault of the Dewey Decimal System.

One of the innovations of the Dewey Decimal system was that of positioning books on the shelves in relation to other books on similar topics.

That’s the problem right there:  we are naturally associative thinkers; this well-intentioned positioning of topics near similar topics has the effect on the inquisitive mind of those elvish lights in Mirkwood that lure Bilbo & the dwarves into the spider’s lair (name World Wide Web a coincidence, I think not).

And if that were not suspect enough, consider the ninety one entries missing from the top nine-hundred and ninety-nine.  As Rex Libris, the Kick-Ass Librarian, put it:

Have you wondered why Section 217 is missing from the Dewey Decimal Classification System? …

Section 216, good and evil, is left just hanging there, with the obvious follow-up section completely, mysteriously AWOL.

Where did it go? Why is it missing? This question has plagued people for years.

Did Nietzsche have something to do with this? Are his attempts to go beyond good & evil, to explore Section 217, what led to his almost Lovecraftian madness?

And when I brought these & similar too-dangerous-to-commit-to-print questions up to Darrell he said — like all editor/writer/booksellers he can resist anything but a chance to make money —  ah, the perfect idea for an anthology.  And thus Tales from the Miskatonic University Library was born.  Surely if we present this as fiction, we will be safe from the attentions of the things that haunt the stacks.  But of this more in a subsequent post.

Just how many universes are there, anyway?

As usual with Balticon, I came up with the title before figuring out the talk.  This year it is:

Just how many universes are there, anyway?

Why do many physicists think there may be an infinite number of universes?  What would they be like?  What might life be like in parallel universes? How might we detect them?  Could we travel between them?  And what does quantum mechanics have to do with the multiverse?
This will be at my favorite time slot, 2pm Saturday (the 23rd of May this year).  Now all I have to do is whip up some content.  Would I were in one of the infinite parallel universes in which I have already done so!

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