Summer’s Premature End

Oh, dear.  I’ve made a huge mistake.  Meant to get the final bits o’ research done for the earthquake scarp in Seward Park, y’see, but since On Demand had The X-Files: I Want to Believe on offer for cheap, I decided to watch that over dinner.  It’s threatening to bring summer to an abrupt end.

Inspired now, alas.  Inspiration was supposed to wait for the winter writing season.  And since the last few seasons of The X-Files had sucked so very badly that I stopped watching it, I didn’t think the movie would do anything to prod the Muse into action.  Oh, how very wrong I was.  Everything came flooding back: the delight in storytelling, the excitement, the intrigue.  Not that this was the greatest movie I’ve ever seen, not that there wasn’t a fair amount of eye-rolling, but right now I’m willing to forgive any inane bits, because it made me want to write.

Unfortunately for the Muse, summer’s not over just yet.  We’ve got Flaming Geyser State Park tomorrow, Oregon over the weekend, and if all goes well, a visit from a very dear friend the weekend after.  I haven’t finished even a fraction of the work that’ll keep this blog up and running whilst I’m off in my fictional world.  The fact that it’s an almost physical pain I feel knowing fiction has to wait a few weeks tells me I’m still a fiction writer at heart.

As a compromise, and since I’ve got some new readers who may not know that much about me, we’re having this post, which shall serve as an introduction to what I get up to in the dreary months.  Follow me after the jump if you’re curious.

I’ve been screwing my courage to the sticking place all summer.  You see, the novel I want to write terrifies me.  Truly does.  Everything I do after it shall be a cakewalk, comparatively speaking.  I’ve got to do no less than cause my readership to fall in love with an entire world.  Could’ve taken the easy way out and just had them fall in love with the characters instead – that’s dead easy – but no.  A world it must be. 

Just as characters must be realistic and believable, I’ve decided this world must be the same.  A lot of SF writers spend their time making sure their physics and sometimes even biology are up to par, but I barely ever see geology given a nod.  Geology is assumed.  It is glossed over.  This will not do for this novel.  Since the world is to become a character in its own right, its geology must be as realistically-drawn as possible.  I still don’t feel prepared for that, but there comes a time when one has to just bloody well go for it.  I may be screaming for help.  Fair warning.

So, there’s that.  Definitely want to immerse myself in that novel, although I know it’s going to take far more than a single season to write.  This is the work of years, and I’m okay with that.  Certainly, because it’s the first book in the series, that means everything else is on hold.  I’m okay with that, too.  This novel must be done right, because it’s the foundation for everything that comes after.

In the midst of that, I’ve got a glimmering of an idea for a book on actual really-real geology, and I might start working on that as well.  I might even (gulp) do NaNo.  Yes, technically, it is supposed to be a fiction novel one writes, but I’ve done shadow-NaNo before, and if this little itch of an idea won’t go away, it’ll be nice to just spend November scratching it so I can get on with the novel itself.  And guess what?  You, dear geologist and other scientist readers, would be a part of that project, because it would include highlights of you.  Aren’t you excited?  I am.  And it’ll happen, whether it’s this November or turns into a next-summer project.  So prepare yourselves to be invited to participate in something that should turn out to be rather fun and inspirational, if all goes as it should.

This winter, you’ll notice a decided reduction in mah blog output, especially from Saturday – Tuesday.  Won’t go silent, mind, but you’ll notice signs like this posted occasionally:



That was created back when this blog had much more of a focus on pollyticks, but you get the idea.  Look, when your jack-booted thug of a Muse has her heel on your throat, you don’t defy her.  It’s just not Done.  Especially if you intend to go through the rest of your life with an intact larynx.

I will have plenty of geology coming up.  There’s all the write-ups from summer adventures I’ve been saving, and then there’ll be the world-building stuff.  Other sciences come into it, too.  You’ll get a chance to see how an SF writer weaves disparate bits together to make a whole story.  I’ll make it as fun as I can.

Right, then.  There’s a suggestive shoe nudging my windpipe, so I’d best go for now.  In the meantime, if you geos who are also fiction fans want to tell me what really gets up your nose about how fiction treats geology, I’m all ears.

Convert Your Republican Friends. Plus, What Faux News Fears Most

Suzanne found two absolutely yummy political articles for ye to sink yer teeth in to.

First off, for those of your with semi-sane conservative relatives or friends who refuse to abandon the Cons no matter how batshit fucking insane they get, this is a helpful guide to helping them face facts.

And you’ll love the biggest threat to Faux News’s long-term survival.

There ye go.  Don’t say Suzanne never gave ya nothin’.

Sunday Read: So An Atheist and a Chaplain Walk Onto a Battlefield…

You can’t miss this.  Truly cannot.  Go. Read.  And marvel at the power of faith to make dangerous ridiculous fucking morons out of some people.  I’m going to inflict it on my Christian best friend, because I do so love hearing him howl at people who put the blind in blind faith.  Perhaps someday he’ll forgive me.

Actually a little appalled that sensible soldiers are risking their lives to protect this god-deluded fool.  Kudos to them for doing the job and doing it well!

APOD: It’s Nuclear!

My dear, my cherished, my beloved Suzanne sent me this link tonight under the heading “Geology for you.”  And what did I find but an Astronomy Picture of the Day that’s totally nuclear geology:

Oklo: Ancient African Nuclear Reactors
Credit & Copyright: Robert D. Loss (Curtin U.)

Oh, yes, my darlings, that’s right – ancient fission reactors in ancient uranium deposits in equatorial Africa.  Two billion years ago, groundwater mixed with uranium ore, and we had fission!  Natural freakin’ fission.  How awesome is that?  Back in those days, the uranium hadn’t decayed to the point where you needed humans to turn it into fissile material.  Just add water, and you had yourself a nuclear chain reaction.

We have learned a valuable lesson here today: be careful where you pee in the wilds on a young planet.

Suzanne’s provided us with more than one lovely picture today.  Go check out her “After Sunset.”  No matter whether you’re having a good day or bad, it’s exactly what you need.

In Which I Tell You About That Time I Read the Koran

George has this habit of making me think.  Last night, he voiced every thought I wish I had the eloquence to voice on the whole Koran-burning-pastor kerfluffle.  If you haven’t read it, go now and do so.

Sums it up rather wonderfully.  And then, there’s his promised response, Protesting Xenophobic Ignorance.   Yes!  That’s how it’s done!  Counterpoint to useless drivel, beautifully-delivered, and without hyperventilation.  Now, if only the religious folk would learn how to react so productively, we might have a dialogue going, and might even enjoy doing it – even when we point and laugh at each other.  Far better than overheated threats of violence and/or howls of “Help!  Help!  I’m being repressed because these people don’t agree with me!”

So, that, together with PZ’s take, pretty much sums up my feelings on the matter.  Besides, if the First Amendment’s to mean anything, some outrageous idiot has the perfect right to burn mass-produced copies of a book on their own property.  Hell, Christians do it to Harry Potter all the time, and I sincerely hope they’ll do me the same favor.  Might I suggest marshmallows with that religious frenzy?  Seems a waste of a good fire otherwise.

Anyway.  Due to the fact I had to be at work for twelve fucking hours today, I missed the whole Koran-reading thing.  That’s not to say I haven’t read many bits of the Koran, and actually appreciated several.  I’ll cannibalize anything for inspiration, thee knows.  Back in the days when I had a desk, I used to have the self-same edition George was reading sitting by the computer.  When I got blocked, I’d have a good flip through its pages until something caught my eye.  And I thought I’d share some of those moments for Day-After-Read-a-Koran Day.

Wanna know how an atheist finds inspiration in religious literature?  Then read on.  There’s even some religious conflict!

Ah, good, the gang’s all here.  Shall try not to bore you.

I have one completed novel under my belt, written when I was mightily annoyed at the soggy knights-in-tarnished-armor being trotted out as antiheroes at the time.  Alas, it’s set close to the end of the series I intend to write, so its dawn upon the world stage shall have to wait.  In medias res is one thing, but that would be taking the concept a bit far.  Because I write horribly out-of-sequence, and furthermore needed to know where things ended up in order to know where they should begin, I jumped to events arising out of that novel, and ran into two characters I’m going to enjoy foisting upon the literary stage someday.  One is the main evil human dude, and then there’s his accomplice, who practically worships him.  Worships for a good reason, as this passage from the Koran so eloquently captures:

From Daylight:

By the light of day, and by the dark of night, your Lord has not forsaken you, nor does He abhor you.


The life to come holds a richer prize for you than this present life.  You shall be gratified by what your Lord will give you.


Did He not find you an orphan and give you shelter?
Did He not find you in error and guide you?
Did He not find you poor and enrich you?

When I stumbled upon that, it led to much fruitful exploring of the relationship between these two characters, and the conflicts and plot twists that arise from it.  And yes, our poor dear worshiper was literally plucked from an orphanage by a lord – in this case, a Duke – which is why that passage caught my eye.

I have a short story collection planned, to be entitled Cautionary Tales.  The stories span the time and space of my story universe, which is a lot of territory.  What binds them together is the theme of mistakes, hence the title.  And wouldn’t you know it?  The Koran has the perfect title quote:

Cautionary tales, profound in wisdom, have been narrated to them: but warnings are unavailing.

I’ll take it!

There’s some fantastic end-of-days-doom-and-destruction bits in the Koran, ripe pickings for the dire stuff.  I have an entire sequence built around three quotes:

The Cessation

When the heavens shall be stripped bare, when Hell shall be set blazing, when Paradise shall be brought near; then each soul shall know what it has done.

The
Cataclysm

…each soul shall know what it has done and what it has failed to do.

The
Cessation

Whither then are you going?

Now, you’ll just have to trust me that these fragments work wonderfully well in context, because right now the context is in dire need of a good revision.  But the three perfectly capture a person balanced on the edge of a critical decision, and I love them for that.

I’ve noticed that most religious texts have bits and pieces which, when polished and placed in a new setting, sparkle very prettily.  And in historical context, some of the less-beautiful bits can shine as well.  Take this one:

When the sun shall be darkened,
When the stars shall be thrown down,
When the mountains shall be set moving,
When the pregnant camels shall be neglected,
When the savage beasts shall be mustered,
When the seas shall be set alight,
When the infant girl buried alive shall be asked
for what crime she has been slain,
When the records of men’s deeds shall be laid open,
When the heavens shall be stripped bare,
When Hell shall be set blazing,
When paradise shall be brought near,
Then each soul shall know what it has done.

My Islamic Civ professor noted that in ancient Arabia, it was terribly common for female infants to be exposed.  No value in a girl.  Mohammed frowned on that practice.  She explained that, as repressive as the Koran seems toward women, it was actually a vast improvement over how women were treated in those days.  She also taught Women’s Issues, so although I haven’t fully explored the context myself and a quick read through Wikipedia’s entry suggests a mixed bag, I’ll provisionally take her word for it.  That’s not to say Islam hasn’t stagnated and even backslid in the women’s rights department – it has, and rather severely.  But at least the Koran advised that murdering babies just because they’re not your preferred gender isn’t a righteous practice.  I’ll grant it that.

(Not surprising that Mohammed showed a wee bit more respect toward women than the culture at large tended to at the time.  His first wife was a businesswoman, and one gets the impression she wouldn’t take any shit.  He certainly didn’t risk having multiple wives until she was safely dead.  From what I’ve read of her, I wouldn’t have fucked with her, either.)

The above-quoted passage led to the religious conflict I enticed you with.  A long, long time ago in a workplace far, far away, I’d gone a bit wild with my new color printer and made up a couple of pages to hang at my desk.  One contained that passage; another contained a few quotes from the Tao Te Ching (chapters 2 and 14, if you’re interested), and a third a poem by Neil Gaiman .  During a hiring frenzy, before they ordered new cubicles, it came to pass that we had to share desks: one early and one late person per desk.  And a mystery materialized: when I came in every afternoon, my lovely little hangings were all crooked, and they were developing new tack holes in their corners.  ZOMG WTF??

A coworker explained that when my deskmate came in, she’d spend the first few minutes of her shift busily removing the art from my half of the desk, and the last bit of her shift putting it back up willy-nilly.  So I left her a note: please stop doing that.  Next thing I know, I’m in a conference room with the call center director, my supervisor, and the deskmate, who is slathered in crosses.  She’d called the meeting because she just couldn’t take it anymore.  Those icky horrid quotes from other religions threatened her Christian faith.  She babbled on and on about how very scared they made her.

Oh, yes, you may laugh.  I couldn’t.  I was staring down the barrel of some serious management-power.  After a few moments of stunned silence, in which my supervisor watched me with attentive interest, the call center director looked vaguely worried, and the deskmate looked like she was about to shit herself in fear (sheet-white and shaking she was), I finally said, “So why don’t you just bring in your own poster to cover them up?  You can even use magnets.  There’s a metal strip up there.”

My supervisor nearly passed out.  She’d been holding her breath, you see, because if she’d breathed, she would’ve been screaming with laughter.

The next day, I came in to an enormous, gawdawful Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul poem dangling over my offending art.  Management pulled me in later to advise just how very grown up and diplomatic I was, and thanked me for finding an equitable solution for all.  And yes, we all giggled a bit.  Well, the whole situation had been patently ridiculous.

To this day, if there was one text I would gladly burn, it would be that horrific offense against poetry.  But as I hadn’t bought the poster myself, I refrained from taking it outside for a smoke, though every literature-appreciating coworker begged me to.  That thing caused more angst in the call center than my little bits ever had.  If I ever run across a copy of it for sale, it is Bonfire Day at the Hunter household. 

Bring marshmallows.  I’ll pony up the chocolate and graham crackers.  For it is written, “When life hands you mass-produced ‘literature’ actually worth burning, make s’mores.”

*Update: See this post on Mohammed and Women’s Rights for a good discussion as to why historical context doesn’t mean jack diddly in the modern context.

Strata to Make Your Heart Sing

I don’t go by Wayne Ranney’s blog as often as I should (and he doesn’t post nearly as often as I’d wish!), but when I do, I’m always treated to some of the most beautiful geological images available anywhere in the known universe.  Let me give you a sample:



This is from his rafting trip in Dinosaur National Monument, and there’s a lot more where that comes from.  Go feast your eyes, my darlings.  Read the strata, and weep from the beauty.  Well, that and the envy – what a wonderful trip Wayne had!  Lucky barstard.

And lucky us.  At least we got to see it through his eyes!

The Poetry and Prose of Ellen Morris Bishop

One of my favorite science writers is Ellen Morris Bishop.  She wrote In Search of Ancient Oregon, which I’ve lavished much-deserved praise on here and cannot recommend highly enough.  If I could personally grab each of you by the lapels, give you a good shake, and scream “Buy this book!” in your faces, I’d do it.  You’ll also need a copy of Hiking Oregon’s Geology, dog owners need Best Hikes with Dogs: Oregon, and she’s got a Field Guide to Pacific Northwest Geology on the way.

She doesn’t update her blog often, alas – in fact, last I’d checked, there’d been no activity since 2008.  Silly me, I assumed that was that.  But I dropped by there the other night on the off chance that maybe, possibly, things might have changed, and there are two new posts!  Well, posts from summer 2010, anyway.  New enough, damn it!

I wish I’d known about “Energy and Entropy” when the BP oil spill was still leading the news, but better late than never, especially when a scientist takes on the laws of thermodynamics to explain why we need to get serious about green energy.  Here’s a taste:

We can re-order things now by plugging the well. Period. And we can continue the rest of the system pretty much as-is. Not a lot of energy. Not much change. But also, according to thermodynamics, it will take a minimal amount of energy dysfunction to once again slip into chaos. If we continue offshore drilling without re-ordering our processes and priorities, if we invest minimal political and physical energy in fixing the system, then we will live with chaos on our doorstep. That’s not my opinion. It’s thermodynamics.

Or we can truly change the system. Energize a whole new order to energy and our use of it. It is in these convective overturns of an existing system where new orders are established and, for a time, entropy is driven back. This is an opportune moment to demonstrate mastery of the Second Law.

Once you’re done with that, there’s a poem for ye.   It’s one of those poems that makes a person pause and consider.  And if by some bizarre circumstance I ever end up dying as a soldier, I want it read at my grave.

Now, my darlings, go pester Ellen.  The geoblogosphere needz moar Ellen!  Only, of course, not so much that it slows down the delivery of her books to our shelves.

Macro Mania

My intrepid companion and I had planned to go see the Flaming Geyser on Tuesday, seeing as how I had the day off and all, but this is Seattle, and it’s the day after Labor Day we’re talking about.  We got rained out.  So he came up here instead, and when we got a brief break in the drizzle, we headed up North Creek for some fun and excitement.

I went a little nuts with the macro mode on my camera.  It’s nice to be able to photograph gneiss, f’rinstance:



This is a little chunk o’ rock in the stone wall by my house.  That’s one thing I love dearly about Seattle – all those glaciers dropped interesting rocks helter-skelter, and people pick them up and stick them willy-nilly in stone walls.  This is wedged in a sea of dark brown rock that’s welded tuff, as far as I can tell.  Still having trouble distinguishing some volcanics, alas.

Speaking of that possible tuff, you’ll see something really sweet if you follow me below the fold.



Isn’t that lovely?  Those little patches of agate and quartz are all over the place on these rocks.  It’s opportunistic stuff – if it can find an opening to settle in, it will, it seems.

That, alas, is all the geology I’ve got for ye today, but I’ve got some really lovely flowers, like this one:



Some sort o’ primrose, I believe.  Some of it’s still in bloom while the rest is already rosehips.  It’s a constant fascination how Seattle’s flowers tend to bloom at odd times.

Saw a line of oak trees, and acorns!



Broken green acorns are scattered all over the sidewalks by the ball field, and there’s tons more in the trees.  Looks like our squirrels won’t starve this winter.  Not that they ever will in this city.

Further down, it seems some local beavers are considering their land use options and possibly plumping for a pond:



Zoom in on that one, and you’ll see their buck tooth marks.  Further down the trail, they’ve done an even worse number on another tree:



Some of the trees along the creek sport wire mesh tubes.  Now I know why.

Saw this bit of mossy bark lying in the trail, and could not resist a closeup:



We’ve had rain for a few days, so everything’s getting bright green again.

Up by the restrooms, some wonderful white flowers are in full bloom:



I do believe that’s not native, but it’s still beautiful, and it smells divine.  No wonder butterflies like it.  Too bad it was too rainy for them.

Some of the clover’s blooming still, too:



That’ll keep the bees happy.  So will this, once the tiny little beetle gets his ass gone:



Berries are ripening all over the place, and when one’s very lucky, once can get more than one species in a single shot:



Most of Washington’s native berry species aren’t poisonous, but if you don’t know your stuff, you can’t be sure if you’re looking at one of the few outliers or possibly a deadly invasive, so we left the red berries alone.  We did, however, munch plenty of blackberries.  Trail food!

At a few places, the trail came close enough to marshes to give us good views of cattails:



I hear there’s good eating on one of those, but I’ve never tried one.

By the road, we found these lovely white-flowering bushes:



They seem to have more than one pollinator, or at least more than one critter who likes their blossoms.  There was this pretty green fly:



And then something that looked vaguely like a bee from a distance, but which turned out to be a wasp:



I didn’t even freak out.  This camera has changed my attitude to the insect world.  I don’t mind getting close enough to photograph wasps, and it turns out they don’t really care what I do when they’re eating as long as I don’t take their food away.  The wasps in this bush went about their business as if we weren’t even there.  We didn’t push our luck, however.

It’s definitely getting to be fall here:



Some of the trees are busy changing into their autumn colors, and a few have gotten a head start on the whole going dormant thing.

I’ll tell you a nifty thing about Sony Cyber-Shots with a Handheld Twilight mode: you can use in in daylight to get some pretty astonishing color:



That’s the same tree, but the red’s not as washed out.  I’ve used this trick on sunsets, too, and gotten results that are closer to what my eye’s seeing.

We visited a bit of the creek I haven’t been to for a good long while, and saw its rapids:



And there’s a new bridge near the freeway:



And, before the rains came, a white primrose:



Believe it or not, it was dusky and beginning to rain when I took that shot.  I think I’ve mentioned I love my camera, right?

We scrambled home before we could get completely soaked, and found a cat boxed up and waiting for us:



Doesn’t she just look the perfect angel?  Don’t believe it for a minute – you’re liable to lose a limb.