Scientists from UC Santa Cruz announced today the discovery of Gliese 581g, the first planet discovered in the habitable zone of its star. Let me repeat: the first planet discovered in the habitable zone of its star.
In this habitable zone, temperatures are just right to support life as we know it here on Earth–that’s why it’s known as the “habitable zone.” Of course, there are several other conditions that need to be met before we can know whether the planet is truly habitable, but one of the most important criteria has already been met.
According to the report, this planet sounds like one of the rainbow worlds from Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. It’s tidally locked to its star, which means that one side of the planet is always in day, while the other side is always in night. If life as we know it exists on this world, it’s probably limited to the narrow band of twilight between the extremely hot day zone and extremely cold night zone.
The scientists calculate that the planet is about three times as massive as Earth, which means that if it’s a rocky world (as opposed to an ocean world), gravity on the surface would be about 1.2 times that of Earth. The host star, Gliese 581, is only twenty lightyears from Earth–the 86th closest star to our solar system.
But the best part is that the scientists feel that there are many, many more worlds like this out there. They detected Gliese 581g using the radial velocity method, which uses the star’s wobble to detect the planets tugging on it. Typically, this method is only good for discovering “hot jupiters”–very massive gas giants in extremely tight orbits (sometimes with a period of only a few Earth days). However, by the fact that scientists were able to find a planet in the habitable zone using this method, they predict that similar Earth-like planets are extremely common.
That is so cool, I don’t know what to say other than “the revolution has begun.” And truly, it’s a revolution. When we start discovering hundreds of Earth-like planets, and find that several of them have conditions perfect for supporting life (or better yet, actual evidence of life present), it’s going to change everything about how we think of our place in the universe.
This is an incredibly exciting time to be alive! Now if only I could live long enough to join the first colonization mission to one of these worlds…
That was my Facebook/Twitter status a couple of days ago; as you can probably guess, it ruffled quite a few feathers among my friends. For their benefit, as well as my own, I’d like to explain my thoughts in a little more depth.
I met Kristi at World Fantasy last year, and she impressed me as one of the most genuine people at the convention (which is really saying something). We met in the bar and chatted for a while about the Middle East–she has some kind of family connection there, so it was something we had in common.
Then she started asking all about my experiences living and studying in Jordan, which surprised me, because I’m basically just a wannabe writer at this point: one of those annoying guys with a badly-written manuscript who talks about their book with anyone they can trap in a corner. Of all the people you want to avoid at a con, the young, annoying wannabe writers are the ones you probably want to avoid the most, since they tend to be desperate and only talk about themselves.
So anyway, she really impressed me as a genuine, down-to-Earth good person. And then, when I heard her on the podcast, I learned that she supported her husband for five years working a crap job while he was trying to break in as a writer.
WOW. An all-around awesome woman who buys into her husband’s dream enough to support him? It goes without saying that Mr. Weeks is a very fortunate man.
Hearing about their experience gave me a complete paradigm shift. As a devout Mormon living in Utah, all I ever hear is that I should have my adventures and chase my dreams while I’m single, because when I’m married, none of that will be possible. As Man of the House, my Sacred Duty is to be the breadwinner, which means that I’ll probably have to work a day job all my life because Writers Don’t Make Money.
The unintentional effect of this teaching, however, is that the Typical Mormon Housewife becomes this expensive pet in a gilded cage. Women must stay at home and manage the house because the husband is constantly gone providing for the family. If housewives ever do leave the home or become involved in their husbands’ careers, it’s only out of Tragic Necessity. You may argue with this by pointing out all the church resources that help women to be independent and self-fulfilled, but here in Utah people really do buy into this idea–men and women.
The paradigm shift happened when I realized that a wife doesn’t have to be a drag on my writing career–that we can both work together to make it a collaborative thing. Maybe I’ve just been living in Utah for too long, but that blew my mind.
So that’s what prompted my comment about not being able to stand being married to a stereotypical Mormon housewife. Immediately, people started asking me why, and I offered the following seven criteria that define, for me, the stereotype:
1) distances herself from her husband’s career, thinking of it as mere duty fulfillment in order for him to provide for his family,
2) considers it her duty to make a home that conforms to the social expectations set by the Mormon community,
3) reduces the gospel to a series of trite self-help formulas,
4) is highly dependent on others for emotional support,
5) measures her personal success against the achievements of others,
6) has no personal or creative aspirations beyond having a family and raising children, and
7) is inwardly terrified that others will think of her or her family as anything other than “normal.”
EDIT: Keep in mind that I’m speaking broadly about the stereotype, not generalizing about women in the church. Many of them simply aren’t this way, and this list probably says more about me than about actual Mormon housewives.
My point is that when it comes to the traditional expectations for what husbands and wives are supposed to be, I don’t think I could do it. Not as a writer, because Writers Don’t Make Money and that makes us Irresponsible Husbands. To be married to someone who buys into that…I could never stand it.
If I could boil it all down, I would say that I need a wife who 1) supports me 100% in my writing career, and 2) isn’t afraid to be different if it means being true to herself.
I witnessed a friend of mine propose to his girlfriend today…at one of the weekly meetings of The leading Edge. It was awesome.
We have this quirky tradition among Leading Edge slushpile readers (well, several actually). On the whiteboard, someone will write “Today is _____ day,” and then that person or someone else will fill in the blank with a different colored marker.
Well, when I showed up around 7:45, the message on the board was “Today is Multiple days,” with an asterisk that said “will be explained later.” Like most of the people there, I shrugged and didn’t think too much of it.
Well, around 8:15, Neal got up and said “I think it’s time to explain what I mean by ‘Multiple days.’” He then went up and started explaining how it’s harvest day, some other day, something else…
To be honest, we all kind of lost interest. Then he wrote down “the twist that no one saw coming,” and I think we cracked some kind of joke at it, but most of us still weren’t paying attention.
Then he wrote “Nyssa will you marry me?” and got down on his knees with a ring.
It was fantastically awesome. She screamed and went crazy, one of the girls got up with Neal’s phone and started taking pictures, and everyone clapped. Some of the editors came over to see what was going on, and when they saw it, their eyes just went wide. It was awesome.
Man, this science fiction and fantasy stuff at BYU leads to so many marriages. I can count at least half a dozen from Quark, and I’m sure there are a ton of others that were before my time. I think the main reason for it is that these sf&f clubs and events bring us together in a low-pressure environment where we can all just be ourselves and have fun. Friendships naturally lead to more-than-friendships when you don’t feel forced to date someone from the group every week (which is why Quark has just as many marriages, if not more, than most BYU singles wards).
Anyhow, congratulations Neal and Nyssa! I wish you both the best of luck! May all your children grow up to be just as geeky as you both!
Just a quick post before I turn in and try to catch up on the sleep that I didn’t get last night (insomnia sucks).
I’m entering a very difficult part of the revision for Mercenary Savior. I’m a little more than a third of the way through the story (as you can tell from the status bar to your right), which is usually where my writing starts to get iffy.
Up until now, most of the work has to do with revising or rewriting individual scenes. That’s no too difficult; it’s very easy, for me at least, to focus on the page itself and fixing problems on the sentence and paragraph level.
The problem now, though, is that some of the chapters aren’t working as coherent units. Some of them feel slapped together, as if scenes that don’t really have much in common have been thrown in the same chapter merely because I didn’t know where else to put them. That doesn’t make for good chapters.
So now, I need to take a few steps back from the page and look at the forest instead of the trees. I need to figure out which events need to be clustered into which chapters, in order for the scenes to resonate with each other and build up to the climax without bumbling on each others’ toes.
I’m going to try out a few new tools to help with the plotting, most notably Dan Well’s 7 point system. I’ve already worked out the essential plot points for about a dozen of the conflicts in the story; now I just need to see which ones go in which chapter.
I wish I had time to use it now, but dagnabit, it’s 1:30 in the morning, and I have to get up at 7:00 tomorrow. Dang. Well, at least I have work–and it’s good work for an aspiring writer in my position. More on that in a later post.
Man, so much has been happening, but now that I’m working an eight to five job, I never have the time to blog about it. It’s 2am and I’m running on only four hours of sleep from the previous night. Oh well, it’s a weekend. Here goes.
I passed the 50k mark for the rewrite of Mercenary Savior. I’m surprised how much I’m changing the draft. I’m especially finding a lot of slow chapter beginnings and thinly veiled expository lumps–not of scene descriptions so much as worldbuilding. Gotta remember the iceberg concept (to only include about ten percent or less of your worldbuilding in your story’s narrative).
I interviewed a few more people for the article on the “class that wouldn’t die.” Good stuff, all around. I met with Cara O’Sullivan today, and she had a very interesting comment about why there are so many LDS writers of science fiction and fantasy.
In her opinion, Mormon literary culture tends to push the more talented writers into sf&f because of the extreme lack of freedom in other genres of LDS writing. In mainstream and literary LDS fiction, there are so many expectations for the writers: for example, that the story will have a clear message, or that it will contain a certain brand of Mormon sentimentalism, etc. In science fiction and fantasy, OTOH, there’s much more freedom; therefore, LDS writers tend to gravitate that way.
I also had a phone interview for the wilderness job last Thursday. I think it went well, but we’ll find out at the end of the month, I suppose. Questions that caught me off guard include: “how do you define success?” and “how would you respond to something you heard secondhand about an employee from another shift?”
Finally, I recently got hooked on an old abandonware DOS game called Princess Maker 2. It is so freaking awesome. Basically, you are the father of this ten year old girl, and you have to raise her from childhood to adulthood.
There are so many possible ways to do this: build her fighting skills and send her on adventures, build her artistic skills and have her win dancing/painting contests, build her refinement and send her to court to build her social reputation, etc etc. There are over 70 different possible endings, including some really weird and crazy ones!
And yes, I know, it seems strange that I’d go for a game this girly–but dude, you have no idea until you try it out. It’s like being a father, but with magic and knights and dragons and stuff! So totally awesome!
The flipside is that I spent almost the entire day playing this game. Yeah…still got in 2.5k words, but I was hoping to put in somewhere around 6k or 7k. Man, I haven’t been this addicted since Alpha Centauri. Will it last? I don’t think it will, but then again, I don’t know. The bigger question is whether this is a game I can play in moderation (like Star Control II). I certainly hope it is, but I don’t know.
In the meantime, I’ve got five weeks to write 70k words. Lets go!
Sorry for the general lack of posts these past few days. I haven’t fallen off the face of the Earth (yet), I’m just working full time and living in a place that doesn’t have reliable internet. Someone in the complex tried to set up a wireless router, and now the internet is down. For some reason, the broadweave guys haven’t fixed it yet.
Student housing in Provo sux.
Anyways, here’s what’s going on in my life. I found a temporary full-time job working in a warehouse. They let me listen to my headphones while I work, so I’ve been catching up on a lot of podcasts and old recordings from cons and English 318. It’s actually kind of awesome. Definitely better than the call center.
I’m in the midst of finishing the research for the “class that wouldn’t die” article. Basically, I have about half a dozen more interviews to do, then write up the rough draft. I’m having lots of fun meeting all these awesome people and putting this article together.
But between work and the article, I’m finding it much harder to keep up with my writing. I’m still producing about 2k consistently, but that’s not quite enough to have Mercenary Savior finished by World Fantasy. Looks like I’ll have to sprint on the weekends.
I’m not too worried about it at this point, though. The revision is going great–in fact, I might post a few excerpts. I know the story’s solid, and the characters are a joy–especially Tamu, the slutty, self-centered concubine that becomes something of a mentor for Stella (to her horror, of course).
The Hameji are also quite interesting; one of my goals in this revision is to portray the rationale for their behavior as clearly as I possibly can. Towards that end, I have a list of points about their culture that I want to get across in the narrative, and I’m keeping track of which scenes convey which points. The goal is to have at least three scenes for each point, which will involve some substantial revision. But if it works, the Hameji will go from horrific, brutal antagonists in the beginning to sympathetic if still brutal by the end–kind of like George R. R. Martin’s stuff.
Speaking of George R. R. Martin, I’m reading A GAME OF THRONES right now and I’m absolutely loving it! I wish I had the time to sit down and read this book for hours. Alas, the only way I can do that is to give up writing, and I can’t do that. Weekends, though–better wait for the weekend.
Anyway, that’s what’s going on. I’d better go to bed now, before I jinx myself tomorrow morning. Or maybe I already have? Blarg. Night.
Tuesday Sept 11th, 2001
Day of the Terrorist Attacks on the WTC and Pentagon
Today has been an incredible day. In describing the events that happened today, one of the teachers said that “the world has changed significantly from what it used to be.” There’s no doubt that that’s true. It’s so strange, I’m still having trouble computing it; it seems almost like a dream; that tomorrow we’ll get up and nothing will be different.
On September 10th, 2001, I resolved to keep a daily journal for one full year (and actually followed through on it until June the next year). That journal turned into a detailed account of my personal reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the most historic, world-changing event to happen in my lifetime.
September 11th was the first day of school for my junior year in high school.
I first heard the news in 2nd period, which was AP US History with Mr. Gunn. I was excited to see his class, see what the year would be like, etc. Everyone was scrambling for a test. He came in a bit late, and was visibly shaken. He told us that the test was cancelled, and then broke the news to us.
I don’t think anyone computed it right then. I know I didn’t. I heard about it, and immediately my love of storms, breaking news, and perilous events kicked in. But I knew that what had happened was big – and not cool one bit.
I choked down the impulse to get excited, but I did want to know more – a lot more. I asked several questions about what had happened, but there wasn’t much info right then. I had no idea what the incredible magnitude of the event was; I still have trouble, it’s like something from a movie or something.
Needless to say, that was the weirdest first day of school I’ve ever had. Classes went on as scheduled, except for the last period of day, which was canceled for an impromptu school-wide assembly. Everything was upside down, with teachers and students trying simultaneously to launch another school year while doing everything they could to find out what the hell was happening on the news.
I didn’t get to a TV until the mid-afternoon, during my lunch break.
CNN was on, and they were showing footage of the Trade Center and the second plane ripping through it. They showed the buildings on fire and the scene around the buildings. It was incredible; eerie…it was really then that I started to comprehend the sheer magnitude of what had happened.
I watched footage of the Trade Center as the building collapsed – that was incredible. I watched the footage reels play over and over again. There was one of someone at the very foot of the building shooting the building as it burned, then caught it as it began to collapse, and then it started jiggling around as the guy and everyone around him scrambled as fast as they could to get out of there!
It was surreal. In the middle school just across the street, kids burst out laughing when they watched the second plane hit the other tower–then looked around in frightened disbelief as they realized that it was real. I remember looking at the photographs from the New York Times the next day and thinking I was reading a superhero comic, not the newspaper. It just didn’t compute.
I had a ton of questions on my mind that day, and they generally went in this order:
1) Was anyone I personally know hurt or killed in the attack?
2) Were any of the victims friends or family of people I know?
3) Is there going to be a war?
We’re going to remember this day for years and years, it’s incredible. The world has changed; I can feel it. It seems tonight like the stuff on the news is amazing and true, but it doesn’t seem real – not in the sense that I think any of us fully understand everything that’s gone on – everything about everyone who’s been affected by this, including ourselves.
For me, it feels exciting and horrifying at the same time, and I almost feel as if it’ll be gone tomorrow, or at least people will still be reporting on it and nothing will have changed from tonight’s events. Of course, that’s not true.
Interestingly enough, I had been watching the news on an almost daily basis for over a year, waiting for something like this to happen. When the second Palestinian intifada began in 2000, I spent all my free time at school on the internet, checking on the latest developments in the Middle East. When the nightly news stopped covering it, I became so disgusted I stopped watching TV news.
So I already knew who Osama Bin Laden was. I knew all about the Taliban and their egregious human rights abuses in Afghanistan. I heard about the USS Cole only hours after it was attacked, and I was disgusted that the US government wasn’t doing more to defend us from terrorism.
So when the 9/11 attacks happened, I felt simultaneously excited and guilty. Finally, after months and months of slow news, something BIG is happening! But people are dying, too–thousands of people. Is it wrong to be excited? But I’m sad too–does that make it all right? How should I feel about this?
I’m not scared, I’m not terrified like the terrorists want, I’m not angry about all this – I’m just in shock, waiting to see how it all plays out. This is BIG!
Of course, the mental and emotional impact of the attacks were much larger than I understood at the time. I didn’t feel a sense of peace in my life until sometime the next week, when I watched a special LDS devotional broadcast from the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. Even then, the impact of the attacks continued to transform me in ways that I didn’t fully understand.
Before the end of the school year, I wrote a short story that amalgamated all of the ways that the events of that year had changed my life. It was my first creative writing project since elementary school that I’d actually finished, and I found it surprisingly cathartic. If you care to read it, you can download it here:
The writing is terrible, the plot is cheesy, and it gets a little preachy towards the end, but it’s more honest and genuine than anything else I can possibly say.
After the shock and horror and fear and sadness, the events of that day ultimately brought me closer to God and the people around me. It also led to a lifelong fascination of Middle Eastern cultures alien to my own–and the desire to show that no matter our background or culture, we are all equally human.
That’s the best way to defeat evil–become a better person because of it.
So I found a job today, which should keep me in the black until November and help me save up enough money for World Fantasy 2010.
The job is at a warehouse for a locally based costuming company. It only runs through October, but that’s perfect because the training for the wilderness job starts the week after. If all goes well, I should be gainfully employed for the rest of the year.
In a blessed stroke of good fortune, I landed a normal 8 to 5 shift. Graveyard is a good shift for writers, but only if you’re sitting at a desk spending 95% of your time doing nothing. I doubt that’s what this job will be like.
I don’t know what this new job will do to my writing, but I tend to think it will be positive. At the very least, it’ll give my life some much-needed structure, and at the worst, it’ll make me write as if my life (or livelihood) depended on it.
In unrelated news, my sister went into labor today. Go Kate! My mom texted everyone in the family–she’s way excited. This will be her second grandchild, and my first nephew. If all goes well, I’ll see him over Thanksgiving. Sarah and I are already planning the road trip down to Texas–it’s going to be awesome!