How to avoid me at Capricon

Capricon40I’m going to Capricon this weekend, February 14 to 16, a science fiction convention held annually in the Chicagoland area since 1981. We’ll be at the Westin Chicago North Shore, discussing and debating topics about books, movies, television, anime, space exploration, and science, with special tracks for children and teens. This year’s theme is the Tropics of Capricon. Specifically, as the con describes it:

The tropics is a band around the globe from 23 degrees north to 23 degrees south. This region includes 40% of the world’s population and is underrepresented in science fiction and fantasy. These areas will also be disproportionately affected by global warming. For example, entire island nations like the Maldives and Tuvalu are in danger of being wiped out by rising sea levels.

The word tropics evokes sun-drenched beaches, bustling marketplaces, and lush rain forests. The tropics can be a setting for escape and exploration, or for colonialism and dystopia. Will the future of the region be filled with glittering cities, or a wasteland ravaged by climate change? What does it mean for a science fiction and fantasy setting to be tropical? Come with us as we explore the nexus between geography and culture for science fiction and fantasy settings.

I’ll participate in two panels:

Real Tropical Killers, Friday, 2:30 p.m.
A jungle is a war zone. Jaguars and snakes and other animals will try to kill you, but there’s so much more danger. Many plants will also try to kill you or each other, animals hunt each other, disease lurks, and the climate might get you, too. In our fiction, we can invent all kinds of perils, or we can just incorporate all the threats that menace us in real life. Panelists: Jonathan Brazee, Patricia Sayre McCoy, Shelly Loke, Sue Burke, and Mari Brighe.

Lessons I Learned as a First-Time Novelist, Friday, 8:30 p.m.
From finding a publisher, working with an editor, to marketing your book and everything in-between, our panelists discuss what it’s like to publish your first novel. Panelists: Mark Huston, Sue Burke, John O’Neill, Clifford Johns, Tracy Townsend, and Jon R. Osborne.

I’ll also be autographing at the Autograph Table on Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Come by and say hi! You don’t have to bring something to sign, and there probably won’t be a line.

How much does a dragon weigh?

Canada GooseI’ve been thinking about writing a fantasy story in which the main character picks up a sickly young dragon and carries it home. Would that be possible? How much does a dragon weigh?

Google’s answers refer mostly to Dungeons & Dragons, where the dragons weigh tons, and that’s not my fantasy universe. I want a fantasyland closer to our consensus reality (the “real world” to Muggles). Dragons fly, and birds fly, so perhaps we could extrapolate dragon weight from bird weight.

Canada geese have a sort of dragon-like shape — and like dragons, they can be nasty. If geese could spit fire at us, I’m sure they would. Very roughly (for easy math) a Canada goose is 3 feet long from beak to tail, has a 5 foot wingspan, and weighs 10 pounds. A dragon 30 feet long with a 50 foot wingspan would weigh 100 pounds.

That’s not very much. It would be far easier to carry around a dog-sized dragon than to carry around an actual dog. The hard part would be avoiding the dragon’s fiery breath.

Even a dragon the length of a city block, about 300 feet, with a wingspan equal to the height of a 50-story building would weigh only 1000 pounds. A dairy cow weighs more. World champion weightlifters could pick up a skyscraper-sized dragon.

So … dragons are lightweights. That’s useful to know.

CORRECTION

A friend has kindly pointed out that dragons have not merely length but depth and breadth — that is, their weight would increase by the cube square law.

The 30 foot dragon would be 100 times heavier than a Canada goose, or 1000 pounds. The 300 foot dragon with a 500 foot wingspan would be 10,000 pounds, about the weight of an African elephant.

Sorry. In my defense, a skyscraper-sized dragon that weighs as much as an African elephant is still relatively lightweight, even though we’d need a crane to lift it up (provided that the dragon is cooperative). Another thought: Would you want a dragon to land on the roof of your house?

My award-eligible works in 2019

A lot of exciting literature was published last year. I’m eager to see what gets nominated for awards and I have some ideas about what I want to nominate.

As for myself, I have only two works eligible for an award nomination for 2019:

Interference, a science fiction novel, published by Tor Books. This is the sequel to Semiosis.

“In the Weeds”, a science fiction short story (2700 words), in the anthology Dying Earths: Sixteen Stories from the Ends of Times,, published by SFFWorld.com.

Do not feel obliged to consider them, of course. I’m posting this for the record — but I hope to encourage you to think about what you found outstanding in 2019. What deserves notice and recognition?

What god believes in you?

sculpture-Nike-vessel-city-Greek-Italy-British

Nike, the goddess of victory. Sculpture from a bronze vessel, probably made in a Greek city of southern Italy, c. 490 BCE, in the British Museum.

You may sometimes be asked about your religious faith — that is: What god do you believe in? That’s a good question, but I’d like to propose a different one: What god believes in you?

It may be that the gods get a choice, too. Your choice and divine choice may or may not coincide. Whether you want it or not, Allah may be showering you with mercy and compassion. Jesus may have saved your soul. A variety of other gods may be trying hard to show you truth and enlightenment.

Or you might have attracted the attention of lesser-known gods.

The Roman god Fascinus represented the divine phallus and can protect you from the evil eye and other forms of malicious enchantment. The Roman Empire fell, but gods are eternal, so Fascinus may be hovering around you, facing potential bad luck and nullifying it before it can do you harm. (Don’t ask how.)

The Maya gods of the underworld try to bring you death. Ahalpuh, for example, will cause infection and pus. However, the Maya underworld gods are lesser gods. They were defeated, and their powers were curtailed. They may come for you, but you have the power to thwart their plans.

Other gods can bring you fertility, war, safe travel, victory, greed, earthquakes, or even tempt you to suicide. If you feel that presence, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255. This is another lesser god that you can successfully defy.

Our world has a lot of gods. Which one(s) would be attracted to you, whether you would welcome their attention or not — and why? This question may be not just about their belief in you, but in your own beliefs about yourself.

Goodreads review: “The Last Human” by Zack Jordan

The Last HumanThe Last Human by Zack Jordan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: I received an advance copy from the publisher to see if I’d like to write a blurb for the cover. It sounded like a fun book, and it was, so here’s my blurb: “Brimming with sly humor, intelligence, and big ideas.”

Let me say a bit more about the novel. You can read the summary at Goodreads or elsewhere, and it’s accurate. A young human finds out why she’s the last of her kind, which leads her on a long, strange adventure to learn what she can do about it.

I especially enjoyed the way this book treats “intelligence” and the relationship between different levels of intelligence. Our young human has an AI assistant who isn’t as smart as she is, and she must also deal with beings, machines, and AIs who are infinitely smarter than she is. Every one of them wants something: perhaps to be as helpful as possible, perhaps to solve its own problems, perhaps to outsmart and control the lesser beings around it, or perhaps just to keep things working properly.

This is a new take on the technological singularity proposed by Vernor Vinge and others about what will happen when artificial super-intelligence advances beyond human understanding and control. In this book, it’s not the end of civilization, which Elon Musk has feared. Instead, it takes a turn that Zack Jordan makes logical, terrifying, and comforting at the same time. And he tells it in a way that from time to time might make you laugh.

View all my reviews