Where to find me at Capricon 39

Cap39_Website_Header

This weekend I’ll be at Capricon 39, a science fiction convention held February 14 to 17 in Wheeling, a suburb of Chicago. This year’s theme is “Strange Beasts Arise.”

If you’re there, say hi. In addition to wandering around and having fun, I’ll be on four panels:

Friday, 10 a.m. – Book Reviews vs. Literary Criticism: But Is it Good?
What is the role of a reviewer compared to that of a critic? What are the differences? What serves the genre more? How do we deal with fan reviews, especially those so-called reviews on Amazon and Goodreads?

Friday, 5:30 p.m. – Literary Economics
Most SF and fantasy assumes that there is an endless supply of money, spaceships, horses, swords, ray-guns and … Our panelists will discuss how and why to consider economics in world-building.

Sunday, 10 a.m. – The Business Side of Writing
Okay, so you’ve written your novel. Now what? Our pros guide you through what your next steps need to be and what your options as a writer are.

Sunday, noon – Resurrecting Strange Beasts
Modern genetic science may be able to recreate extinct life forms (such as mammoths). There is also the possibility of creating even stranger creatures (such as griffons, dragons, and even centaurs) by mixing genes from widely different animals. What are the pros and cons of playing with our new genetic toys in this manner?

A useless old key that I won’t throw away

ParentsKeyWith all the talk of decluttering lately, here’s something useless, stored away in a box and half-forgotten, that I will never throw away: the key to my parents’ old home. They left that house more than twenty years ago.

That house … They loved living there, a small ranch home at the end of a cul-de-sac. They enjoyed its wide windows, airy sun porch, and large back yard. My mother planted a flower garden in front and a vegetable garden in back, and together they worked hard to create a charming, comfortable interior. On weekends they would visit nearby parks, go to sporting events, or simply relax at home. They were happy there.

I remember the times I visited. I lived in nearby city, and I had the key because I could come anytime — always welcome, just walk right in — and I came when I could for holidays and visits.

My parents have died, someone else lives in that house, and I’ll never go back. Someone else might think that the old key is useless, but they never used it to walk into that happy home.

Once, that key opened a door. Now it opens joyful memories.

Review: The Revolutionary Genius of Plants

The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and BehaviorThe Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior by Stefano Mancuso

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stefano Mancuso, an authority on plant neurobiology, begins by showing how plants can remember things, although they don’t have a brain. They can move, although they have no muscles. They can imitate items in their surroundings like stones or other plants, although we don’t think they can see. It’s clear that plants pay scrupulous attention to their environment. He describes the ways plants do all this in an entertaining and easy-to-understand way.

Then, in Chapter 4, he pulls these abilities together by stressing the differences between plants and animals. Beings that can move (animals) tend to avoid problems. If the sun is too hot, animals try to find shade. If something wants to eat the animal, it runs away. Beings that are rooted in place (plants) have to solve problems. Beings with brains and other central organs can react faster, but that also makes them more vulnerable. Decapitate an animal and it’s dead. Chop off a branch of a tree, and the tree carries on. Beings with dispersed problem-solving abilities may react more slowly, but they’re more resilient.

How can a being with no central intelligence solve complex problems? Mancuso suggests that plants act more like flocks of birds: each part, each cell, reacts to its environment, and the changes in the cell and changes in the environment affect the other parts of the plant around it. Together, the plant acts as a coordinated whole. He offers several ways for decentralized intelligence to work in order to reach what looks to us like a decision.

He goes on to describe the ways that plants manipulate animals, the lessons we can learn from plants in fields like architecture and robotic design, and how plants respond to weightlessness.

I received this book as a gift, and I lingered over the stunning photos. Plants are beautiful, and the presence of plants seems to soothe human beings.

Most of all, Mancuso’s love for plants permeates the text – and his respect for them. By weight, the vast majority of life on Earth is plants. They are master problem-solvers, he says, and we can learn from them how to solve some of our own problems.

View all my reviews

I’ll be at an open mic Saturday night

I’ll be reading at an open mic Saturday, January 26, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Second Unitarian Church of Chicago, 656 W. Barry Avenue. Free and open to the public to listen or participate. Light snacks provided, BYOB (bring your own beverage, alcoholic or otherwise).

We hold these open mics every few months at my church. Readings, music, spoken word, dance, and other forms of creative expression are welcome. You can find out more at the Facebook event page.

I’ll read this essay, which I wrote while I was living in Madrid, Spain. Spain is famous for encierros, or running of the bulls, and when I learned there was going to be one at a fiesta in a suburb of Madrid, my husband and I went to watch. (Not to run.) There was no violence, no blood, no harm to the bulls — but no courage on display, either.

Instead, I observed something quite different about humanity, and perhaps not even Ernest Hemingway could have turned it into a novel.

— Sue Burke