Stamp Collecting

One thing astronomers do is attempt to classify the objects they see by common properties. For example, stars that display similar chemical fingerprints in their spectra will be assigned a certain spectral type. Galaxies can be grouped by shape such as spiral, barred spiral, elliptical, and my favorite, irregular. Here’s a chart from NASA showing the numbers of exoplanets discovered as grouped by size of planet.

Back in my college days, we called this “stamp collecting.” It’s a somewhat derogatory term because it’s not necessarily the most exciting work in astronomy and its significance can be somewhat misleading. A great example is the whole “is Pluto a planet” debate which was sparked by classifying Pluto a dwarf planet. To my mind a “dwarf planet” is just a type of planet. After all, we orbit a dwarf star! (A G2V yellow dwarf main sequence star if you want more of the taxonomy.)

That said, this process of stamp collecting does serve an important purpose. By seeing how many of what types of objects are out in the universe, it helps us understand how the universe evolved. It helps us see patterns that show us how particular objects might have changed. For example, when I mentioned that the sun is a G2V main sequence star, that not only tells me what it is, but gives me some idea where the star is in its life cycle.

We do stamp collecting in the writing world as well. We classify books broadly by subject: science fiction, horror, romance, adventure, etc. We often take these individual classifications down even finer. A science fiction book can be described as hard science fiction, space opera, military science fiction and more. Like stamp collecting in astronomy, this can be an important process. It helps readers find what they want to read. However, it can also get overblown.

It’s become a reality in the publishing industry that an author’s name is a sort of brand, and authors often get classified right along with their books. Mary Smith writes military science fiction while John Jones writes space opera. Some writers even go so far as to pick different pseudonyms each time they explore not just a new genre, but a new subgenre.

I’ve been thinking about this lately in terms of my own writing career. For most of the last decade, I’ve been very focused on my Clockwork Legion steampunk novels. Now, I’m turning my focus more to my Space Pirates’ Legacy series. To my mind, the two series actually have a lot in common. There’s a real space cowboy vibe in the Space Pirates series that echoes the retrofuturism of the steampunk. Of course, this does cause some people to ask if I’ve finished the Clockwork Legion series or won’t do more steampunk. The answer to both is absolutely not. I think I have many more steampunk stories to tell and many of those will feature Ramon, Fatemeh, Larissa, and the rest of the gang. However, I also like telling stories about Captain Firebrandt, Roberts, and Manuel Raton.

For what it’s worth, I classify myself as a writer of fantastic tales with a retrofuturistic vibe. That captures my steampunk, my space cowboys, and even my vampires, especially when I write stories set in a historical context.

If you’re in Tucson, I hope you’ll join me tomorrow, Sunday, February 10 at 3:30pm at Antigone Books for the Tucson Steampunk Society’s book club meeting where I’ve been invited to discuss my fourth Clockwork Legion novel, Owl Riders, which recently was a top-ten finisher in the Predators and Editors Reader’s Poll for best steampunk novel of 2018. Copies of the novel are available at Antigone and if you let us know you haven’t read it yet, we’ll try not to give away too many spoilers. Antigone Books is located at 411 N. 4th Avenue in Tucson. If you can’t make it, the book club posts videos of the meeting that will be shared on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TucsonSteampunkSociety/

Of Comic Cons and Solar Sails

I spent last weekend at Las Cruces Comic Con. Las Cruces is a relatively small town with a modest-sized convention center, so this was a much smaller event than say Phoenix Comicon, Emerald City Comicon, or the granddaddy of the them all: San Diego Comicon. Still, it was a great event with media panels featuring such people as David Zayas who played Sal Moroni in Gotham and Wendy Schaal who voices Francine Smith in American Dad. Lots of people turned out in some really inventive costumes and I was impressed with the photo area the convention organizers set up, which just allowed people to play. Here you see my youngest daughter and a friend having a light saber battle on Tatooine.

Tatooine

For me, it was an unusual convention in that I was the only writer in attendance. The organizers surprised me by giving me a “special appearance” credit in the program guide which was wonderful. Even though I was the only writer in attendance, I still managed quite a bit of networking. I got to speak to several of the artists in Artist’s Alley, had a productive chat with a film production team about possible book trailers, and of course, I got to speak with several friends and fans, some of which I knew from events in Phoenix and Tucson.

Unfortunately, at some point on Saturday I ate something that really disagreed with me. I didn’t sleep well Saturday night and I spent Sunday at the booth with my stomach churning. Still, I managed to have several nice conversations with people and by Monday morning I finally felt better.

Another feature of the weekend was that the DSL line to my house went dead on Friday, so even though I was at a local convention, I had limited internet contact. Fortunately, I still had access to wireless through the Convention Center, but it always amazes me how helpless I suddenly feel when instant communication—something that has come into existence during my adult life—has gone away. Still, I find these experiences helpful because I can channel them into my steampunk novels such as The Brazen Shark where my characters get to discover the novelty of instant, international communication, or my horror novel The Astronomer’s Crypt where my characters are literally and figuratively in the dark through the night and can’t even communicate with each other reliably through a building or across a mountaintop.

The Solar Sea

On Monday night, my older daughter called to say she got to hear Bill Nye the Science Guy give a talk in New Orleans. She said the talk was very inspirational and came right when she needed some encouragement about her recent decision to pursue a mathematics major. In addition to generally encouraging interest in STEM fields, Nye mentioned the Planetary Society’s recent success raising money for their LightSail Project.

In some fun synchronicity, the next day, Lachesis Publishing shared a guest blog post I wrote about creating a reading guide for my novel The Solar Sea. The novel imagines the first voyage to Jupiter and Saturn aboard a solar sail spacecraft. The reading guide presents activities and questions for any classrooms or book clubs who might be interested in reading the novel.

You can read my post at:
http://lachesispublishing.com/?p=6042.

You can learn more about The Solar Sea and download the reading guide at:
http://TheSolarSea.com