April 21st, 2006

Mars from Earth

Ages of Mars

Imagine having lived at that point in history when the science of geology was in its infancy, and man was only just beginning to see the elaborate and wonderful patterns in the rocks, patterns of geomorphology and organic evolution, when the concept of deep time had not yet solidified into our current formal geological timescale. Back when antediluvian literally meant "before the flood." Of course, here on Earth, we're a good two centuries or more into the science of historical geology, but as regards the other planets, humans are just starting to (literally) scratch the surface. An international team of researches studing the new data coming back from the Mars Express spacecraft have constructed a three-part geologic timetable for Mars. And that's just too frelling cool. It's the beginning of understanding Mars' deep time and whatever secrets it holds, and there's always something profoundly magical for me in beginnings. David, if you could get this paper (in Science) as a PDF and e-mail it to me, I would be very grateful!

More on Mars later (naturally).

This afternoon, in a moment of boredom, I followed a link to a test at Salon.com purporting to measure a person's devotion to the philosophies of Machiavelli. I took the test. I scored 71, which the test assured me meant I was a "high Mach." Having never read much of Machiavelli's work and never having thought of myself as particularly Machiavellian, I admit this took me by surprise. Go figure.
Mars from Earth

falling through the cracks

My thanks to sovay and corucia for sending me the Science article ("Global Mineralogical and Aqueous Mars History Derived from OMEGA/Mars Express Data") describing the three new proposed geologic eras for Mars. Now I know what the researchers in question have actually said, as compared to only knowing the watered down and oversimplified versions of their findings and propositions turning up in popular articles. If you'd like to read the paper for yourself, just follow this link. This is such marvelous stuff. File it in the great overflowing cabinet labeled "I'm glad I've lived long enough to be around for this." So, perhaps Mars was wet and amenable to life very early in its history, during the proposed "phyllosian" era (<4 billion ybp; see diagram below). The last paragraph is exciting indeed:

The era during which Mars might have been most likely to have hosted habitable conditions is the first one, indicated by the presence of phyllosilicates. If indeed living organisms formed, these clay minerals could be the sites in which this biochemical development took place. The low level of the further surface alteration, in perennial cold and dry conditions, under a tenuous atmosphere, could have preserved most of the record of biological molecules, structures, or other diagnostic features in clay-rich surface or subsurface rocks. These areas of high habitability potential offer exciting targets for future in situ exploration.

Back here Earth, I spent much yesterday on various busynesses, but also managed to begin the new Dancy piece, a vignettish thing which will be published as a chapbook to accompany Alabaster (free to those who order the once-again-available limited edition). It's called "Highway 97" and is set a few days before Dancy's arrival at the old church south of Bainbridge, Georgia. Despite the fact that I was initially reluctant to write another Dancy story, I'm actually quite excited about it. The whole of the story occurred to me yesterday, as I was listening to Nick Cave's soundtrack for Warren Ellis' film The Proposition. Likely, I'll write the entire thing to that CD (which is quite awesome, by the way).

I wish I could say that I'd be spending all of today working on "Highway 97," but, unfortunately, this isn't the case. Instead, I need to spend it working on the cover copy for Daughter of Hounds. My editor at Penguin sent it to me a week or so ago. She wasn't very happy with it, and when I saw it I was very unhappy with it. The chief problem is that whoever wrote the copy (people get paid to do this, I suppose) was trying to present it as a genre horror novel, which it isn't. It might fairly be called dark fantasy, with some emphasis on the dark, but it's not whatever people mean when they say "horror". So, anyway, I have something like 150 words to try and synopsize/describe a very complex novel that's almost 700 typescript pages long. 150 words to accurately convey the plot, the mood, something of the central characters. And I have to have it e-mailed to my editor before five p.m. this evening. I'd much rather spend the day with Dancy. Or Martian mineralogy. Or wedging my head into the bowl of the Worst Toilet in Scotland, for that matter.

Yesterday, Sonya Taaffe (sovay) brought up a problem that I've been trying not to think about. A substantial portion of my writing time is now being devoted to the work I'm doing on Sirenia Digest. On the one hand, the digest is keeping the rent paid until the next book deal comes in, and there's no doubt that it's allowing my writing to grow in new and exciting directions. But it's also true that the majority of my writing is presently being done for a very small audience, and there is some danger of all this work "falling through the cracks", as it were, failing to come to the attention of reviewers and editors and suchlike. I've been worrying about this for a couple of months. Excepting "Bainbridge," the last full-length short story I wrote was "Night," in July 2005, and before that, "Bradbury Weather," way back in August 2004. And I see three primary reasons for this: 1) personal chaos over this past year; 2) the fact that most of 2005 was spent writing Daughter of Hounds; and 3) the energy that's going into Sirenia Digest. It's an odd situation to be in. I love the work I'm doing for the digest and that I did on Frog Toes and Tentacles, but it's all being written "off the radar," so to speak. For the foreseeable furture, I'm committed to the digest project and don't really see how I can address the problem. But I have recognized that it is a problem. To a degree, the release of Alabaster will help, as will the release of Daughter of Hounds, work which will help keep me in the public eye while I'm engaged in these more esoteric pursuits. Well, truth be told, writing short stories, even when those stories win awards or are chosen for "year's best" anthologies, is a pretty damned esoteric endeavor.

There were wonderful thunderstorms just after sunset last night, and there will likely be more today.