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!

Invisibility, Anti-gravity, Ethics of Time Travel, & Balonium

I’ve just received my schedule for Philcon, being held in a bit over a week, November 8th thru 10th.  Curious collection of subjects, but looks like a lot of fun.  If you are in the Philly area, it would be great if you can come by!

Sat 1:00 PM in Crystal Ballroom Two (1 hour)

THE INVISIBILITY CLOAK (1553)

[Panelists: John Ashmead (mod)]

How do we hide a jet fighter, a tank, even a city from sight? For
millennia people have dreamt of invisibility rings, caps, & cloaks:
how close are we to Harry Potter territory? Progress in the last ten
years has been extraordinary, and, with some help from general
relativity, 3d printers, advanced photonics, and more than a pinch
of ingenuity, we can now bend, fold, & spindle light in ways
unimagined ten years ago
Sat 3:00 PM in Crystal Ballroom Two (1 hour)
A WEIGHTY MATTER: ANTI-GRAVITY AND ARTIFICIAL GRAVITY (1404)

[Panelists: John Ashmead (mod), Ed Bishop, Walter F. Cuirle, Jay
Wile]

Both creating and negating gravity are very common tropes in science
fiction. It’s taken for granted in most Science Fiction that
spacecraft have normal gravity, although they do not spin. How this
is achieved is rarely discussed. Anti-gravity is nearly as common,
(and convenient for the plot).. Are either of these concepts
scientifically plausible? Could such a technology ever actually be
achieved

 

Sat 6:00 PM in Plaza II (Two) (1 hour)
THE ETHICS OF TIME TRAVEL (1501)

[Panelists: John Ashmead (mod), Evelyn Leeper, Andrew C. Ely]

Everyone talks about killing Hitler in his crib, or stopping Booth
from shooting Lincoln. But if you could change the past, would you
Sat 7:00 PM in Plaza III (Three) (1 hour)
BALONIUM, UNOBTAINIUM AND UPSIDASIUM (1530)

[Panelists: John Ashmead (mod), Darrell Schweitzer, John Monahan,
Sharon Lee]

From cavorite to kryptonite, science fiction fiction writers love to
add new elements to the periodic table. How do you create
convincing imaginary substances and what do you do with them

Time and Quantum Mechanics

I’ve submitted an extended abstract for my paper “Time and Quantum Mechanics” to the Center for Philosophy of Science’s workshop on Quantum Time. I’m not sure what the odds are of my getting in, but at a minimum prepping the abstract for the center has been a big help getting the paper organized, working out what is essential to the argument, and what can be let go.

Note the abstract is more extended than abstract, about two pages:

CFP-abstract-extended

Invisibility: Theory & Practice

I’ve posted my talk on the Theory & Practice of Invisibility  to ShareShare.  I’ve given the talk at Balticon, FOSSCON, & Capclave, & will be giving it at Philcon in a few weeks.

At Capclave, NASA asked if I would give it at their Goddard Space Center, once the sequester is lifted.  Nice to be asked!

Balticon records the talks in the science track, so at some point a video record should be online.  The last page on SlideShare has the references; I’d start there.

I’m not really sure why I decided to do invisibility for Balticon; Miriam Kelly, who organizes the science track at Balticon, asked me what I was going to talk about this year, & the next morning I woke up knowing the title.  Then there was the awkward few weeks while I tried to attach a talk to the title.

It’s a great subject; the main problem was really to throw enough out that the rest would fit into a 50 minute hour.  Seemed to go OK, lots of questions during the talk & afterwards in the halls.  That’s the real test.

One thing I like about the subject is that it leads in so many directions, among which:

  1. It’s about the math.  One of the limiting factors is just getting enough control over the mathematics of bending light to create the appropriate cloaking effect.  Any subject that borrows math from general relativity in the interests of simplifying itself is complex!
  2. It’s about the money.  The more money, the more transparency! In general, you can make things invisible from specific angles, over specific frequency ranges, to a certain level of quality.
  3. It’s not about the media:  the general approaches for making something invisible are the same for visible light, for radar, for sound waves.  One application under discussion is to make cities invisible from earthquakes:  arrange for the seismic shocks to pass around the city for instance.
  4. The hype to results ratio is still pretty high.  This is normal when an area is just starting; longer term, the most important uses are likely to be ones we haven’t even dreamt of.
  5. Making  things invisible & making them visible are two sides of the same coin, like attack & defense in war, to master either we must master both.
  6. And, finally, while the future of invisibility may not be clear, our motives in studying it are transparent: it’s interesting, potentially profitable, and fun.

 

 

Quantum Mechanics, Reality, & You at Philcon

Did my Quantum Mechanics, Reality, & You talk at Philcon this last weekend.  Had a very energetic & engaged audience. My thanks to Ed Bishop, Tom Purdom, Ron Bushyager, Ferne Welch, Walt Mankowski, & lots of others for great questions! Did five panels as well.  Full schedule:

Fri 8:00 PM in Plaza III (Three) (1 hour)
LOVECRAFT’S SUCCESSORS (1107)

[Panelists: John Ashmead (mod), Darrell Schweitzer, Marvin Kaye,
A.C. Wise, Neal Levin]

Is anyone writing good cosmic horror today? What new directions has
cosmic horror been taken in
Fri 9:00 PM in Crystal Ballroom Two (1 hour)
COSMOLOGY AND ITS DISCONTENTS (981)

[Panelists: Paul Halpern (mod), John Ashmead, Dr. H. Paul Shuch,
Robert Kauffmann]

The Standard Cosmological Model is the history of the universe as
arrived at over decades of observation and experiment and accepted
by the majority of scientists. It includes the Big Bang, Cosmic
Expansion, Inflation, Dark Matter, Dark Energy, etc. However, there
are real problems with the SM, and real (non-crank) scientists who
disagree with parts of it. What are the issues with Standard
Cosmology, and what alternative ideas are currently being discussed
Sat 12:00 PM in Plaza II (Two) (1 hour)
QUANTUM MECHANICS, REALITY, AND YOU (1319)

[Panelists: John Ashmead (mod)]

Behold the weird! Wigner and his panel of babies! The case of the
highly charged cat! The collapse of the collapse of the wave
function! And quantum chess! What’s new with quantum mechanics &
what does it all mean
Sat 1:00 PM in Plaza III (Three) (1 hour)
TIME TRAVEL FOR THE MILLIONS (1115)

[Panelists: John Ashmead (mod), Andrew C. Murphy, Gail Z. Martin,
Michael F. Flynn, Glenn Hauman]

If everyone could do it, how would this affect daily life? What are
the most frivolous uses of time travel we can think of? What would
be a time traveler’s practical joke
Sat 7:00 PM in Plaza II (Two) (1 hour)
FICTION ABOUT ITSELF: METAFICTION (1200)

[Panelists: John Ashmead (mod), Gregory Frost, April Grey, Neal
Levin, Alexis Gilliland]

Metafiction is when the story and the text becomes interchangeable,
each a part of the other. What are the roots and nature of this kind
of fiction
Sun 1:00 PM in Crystal Ballroom Three (1 hour)
EXOPLANETS AND SCIENCE FICTION (1124)

[Panelists: John Ashmead (mod), Eric Kotani, Inge Heyer, Walter F.
Cuirle]

We now know that planets are as common as stars. Over 500 are known,
nearly 20,000 are suspected.
What impact has this enormous expansion of the known universe had on
science fiction?

 

 

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