September 15th, 2006


Late-Nite Science!

I've pretty much stayed mum regarding the recent kerfuffle over what is and is not a planet, the demotion of Pluto to the status of a "dwarf planet." I have done so, mostly, because I cannot see that this is anything more than the waste of resources on an issue that is purely semantic, not genuinely scientific. It's the same sort of typological nonsense that has so long had biologists arguing over what constitutes a genus or a species, or that we see in palaeontology and ornithology when tempers flare over whether birds should be called birds or avian theropods. A rose is a frelling rose. Is Antarctica a single continent or merely two subcontinents bridged by ice? Is Australia a continent? Then what about Greenland? And, geographically, how can we possibly consider Europe and Asia two separate continents, when the boundaries dividing them are purely political and historical?

For me, this whole thing about "real" and "dwarf" planets is just the same. For my part, Earth's moon is as much a planet as is Mercury, or Titan, or Miranda, or Pluto. Rocky bodies in orbit about the sun. Spherical rocky bodies, if you want to get picky. Maybe spherical rocky bodies should be distinguished from aspherical rocky bodies, but I can't really see the sense of it. And just because we've always been taught one thing — in this case, that Pluto is a planet — is not a sound reason for hanging onto an idea. That's dogma. The solar system has thousands upon thousands of rocky, gaseous, and icy bodies orbiting the sun. Give them names, for convenience and the sake of romance. Explore them. Discover their secrets. Catalog their differences and similarities. But don't waste time arguing over whether or not one of them should be plugged into an artificial category — "planet." I didn't mean to ramble on like that. Actually, I just meant to post this link, to an article at announcing the official naming of 2003 UB313 and its satellite as Eris and Dysnomia, respectively. There's a very nice bit of humour there, I think.

Also, just in case the weather hasn't been quite weird enough for you lately, note that NOAA has issued an "unscheduled" El Niño advisory. Okay. Time to lie down.

Mary counts the walls...

I tried to write yesterday. Honestly. I did. I sat down, exchanged e-mail with Sonya (sovay) regarding the plot, getting everything just right, ironing out the details. I read through "Houses Under the Sea," as I think our collaboration is going to overlap with that story just a bit...and I was so ready to actually write. But then Spooky needed me to sign eBay books, which reminded me I wanted to send some people copies of Alabaster, and other people copies of the Daughter of Hounds ARC. Only I'd misplaced some of the addresses and had to find them. And then the BellSouth guy shows up to fix the landline because it had gone kerfluffey again, and he needed to get to the phone jack in my office. So, I went to the kitchen and washed dishes. And then there were more e-mails. And before I hardly knew it, the day was gone and I was too distracted to write and well, these things happen. Today, however, will be different, even if I have to nail my office door shut from the inside.

Speaking of "Houses Under the Sea," I've been promised that the anthology it was written for, Thrillers II (Cemetery Dance Publications), will be out before the end of 2006. I wrote the piece in 2004, and reading over it yesterday, realizing how much I like it, that it's one of my best short stories to date, remembering how it really should have been part of To Charles Fort, With Love — it's all very frustrating. In a way, "Houses Under the Sea" seems like the summation of so many of the other stories. I wish it could have come after the Dandridge House stories as a sort of epilogue to the whole collection. Reading through it yesterday, I was reminded how easily this long story (11,000 words) could become a novel.

Yesterday, I spoke with Liz, my editor at Penguin, regarding the unauthorized and therefore illicit eBaying of one of the Daughter of Hounds ARCs, and she's gone to legal to "see what demons of hell we can release on this mofo." Which, frankly, is the sort of talk I like to hear from an editor. I have no problem with dealers selling ARCs of my books on eBay or anywhere else, after the books have been released. Beforehand, these things exist primarily for reviewers, exist in a very limited number, and are to be dispensed at the discretion of me, my agent, and Penguin, and No One Else. No exceptions. Clearly, this is an example of someone who's somehow managing to acquire advance-reading copies for eBay, someone who's fooled Penguin's publicity department into thinking sheheit's an actual reviewer.

Oh, another of yesterday's distractions, a big box from Amazon containing an order I placed a couple of weeks back. It included Richard Ellis' most recent book, Singing Whales and Flying Squid: The Discovery of Marine Life. Ellis is one of my favourite science writers (and not just because he quoted two of my mosasaur papers at length in Sea Dragons: Predators of the Prehistoric Oceans). There was also Mark Z. Danielewski's new novel, Only Revolutions, which I've been eagerly awaiting. And In the Wake of Madness by Joan Druett, an account of "the murderous voyage of the Whaleship Sharon." And, finally, Food of the Dead: On the Trail of New England's Vampires by Micheal E. Bell, which I spotted at the Peace Dale Public Library while we were in Rhode Island last month. I really wish I'd had this book when I was writing "So Runs the World Away," but it hadn't been published yet. I also wish that, when I made the order, I'd known that Cormac McCarthy's new novel, The Road, is being released on September 26th, because I'd have added it to the batch. Cormac McCarthy does post-apocalyptic, with cannibals. You know it's gonna be on beyond drad.

We made a pizza for dinner, then took our walk right at twilight. We walked past L5P, where some crazy brouhaha involving a fire truck, police car and paddy wagon was going down at Sevananda (the coop grocery), and a jazz band was playing outside A Cappella Books. We followed Sinclair Avenue past the dinosaur, southwest almost to its end. There was a hint of autumn in the air, almost sweater weather, which makes Spooky very happy. We spoke with unfamiliar cats, admired the houses and trees, and watched dusk fade to night. On the way back, Spooky spotted a snake on the sidewalk. It quickly slithered between us, and I snapped a photo (behind the cut, below) before it vanished under a car. Another Storeria dekayi (DeKay's brown snake). Since moving to this part of Atlanta, we've spotted five or six snakes. One was a Diadophis punctatus (Eastern ring-necked snake), and all the others have been S. dekayi. Back home, we watched Jean-Jacques Annaud's Enemy at the Gates, with Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Ed Harris, Ron Perlman, and Bob Hoskins as a very convincing Nikita Khrushchev. It's one of my favourite films of 2001, and Spooky hadn't seen it. Stalingrad in 1942, the Soviets and Russians deadlocked in a landscape straight out of Dante. The opening scene, with terrified Soviet soldiers being herded directly from railroad cars to boats that will, with luck, ferry them across the Volga, through a hail of bullets and mortar shells, to the burning, besieged city is one of the most stunning and gruesome depictions of war ever filmed.

Okay. 12:20. Time to nail the door shut and write. Here's the pretty little snake (8-9 inches):

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