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!

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