A few comments about Geospermia (Analog, May 2013)

Yes, I know it isn’t May yet, but the May 2013 issue of Analog with my story in it is out in the wild, and has been sighted by US subscribers (if not yet by me).

Martin Shoemaker alerted me to a discussion on the F&SF forum about the issue in which a few people mentioned my story Geospermia. For those who have followed me on various social networking sites, this is what I loosely termed the “pandas on Mars” story.

It seems that people take away various messages from the story, which is interesting to see.

To me, this story is mostly a biological SF story. Yes, there is terraforming and there are conflicting ideologies in the human population in this habitat, but it is a story about the realities of trying to grow stuff in soil that has never grown anything. I touched on this subject in my posts about farming on Mars or about growing crops in space.

If you try to to replicate some sort of ecosystem under circumstances that are different from the original, it is very likely that something unexpected will happen. Species which should do well don’t, and ones that hadn’t been on the radar become invasive pests. Nature is good at throwing curveballs like that.

In another, much earlier post, I described that I used to work in pasture ecology, where people actively introduce species for the improvement of pasture quality. The process goes like this (simplified): scientists travel overseas to identify species that have desirable characteristics and collect seed. They take the seed home (fumigated through quarantine) and grow plants inside a quarantine glasshouse. Plants that pass inspection will then go into pots to bulk up seed quantity and then into small plots in various locations in the field. People will constantly monitor the plants. It is virtually impossible to predict which plants will do well in the new environment.

Supposing you had a habitat on Mars ready to be populated with living things, how would you go about deciding what to put in? Apart from selecting plants and animals that are adjusted to each other, I suspect that the reality would have a wet-spaghetti element to it (you throw it at the wall to see what sticks). Each of the differences between normal growing conditions and conditions in the new Mars enviroment will influence each species in a different and often unpredictable way. Therefore, you will have a species that may well be timid and unremarkable on Earth run riot on Mars, because it just happens to be less sensitive to the conditions on Mars that are different from Earth. I’m thinking about soil composition (salts and fine particles), light conditions and high carbon dioxide.

Is the story depressing? I don’t think so. What we tend to get from a lot of hard SF is a very big picture, a bird’s-eye camera view of the new society without much detail about what the lives of people inside settled habitats are like on a day-to-day basis. People in these new habitats face the realities and frustrations of trying to grow stuff that should grow but won’t and other stuff that grows but they wish it didn’t. They face the responsibility of churning out food on a regular basis. Their life contracts to their reality, mostly limited to the inside of the habitat, just like many people rarely travel outside the town where they live. This reality is none less interesting than the bigger picture, and is more human.

Sale and Image of the Day approaches Mars

As we approach Mars…

Many things are actually approaching Mars. First of all, we have the real-life landing of Curiosity on 6 August.

Secondly, I’ve sold my Pandas on Mars story Geospermia to Analog. This is in addition to the other story I sold them but that has not yet come out.

Also, if you want to see my images of the day and many other digital artworks, the best place to go is my DeviantArt profile.

The image above is very much a WIP. I fully realise that DAZ Studio is not the ideal software for making planets, but I can’t use Terragen because it keeps crashing, and I don’t (yet) grok Bryce at that level. So I used the ball that is a simple sphere with a NASA-snarfed map of Mars wrapped around it (I’ve ised this image before on this blog), and created a second, slightly bigger, transparent sphere. If you play with the settings, but notably the velvet and fresnel settings, you can create a passable illusion of atmosphere.

Short story sale (or sales?)

I’ve just heard that my short story Abode will be published in Aurealis magazine #50. This story has been the victim of more almosts than I can count in the fingers of one hand. It’s a story I really liked. It’s set in a self-sufficient and rather backward community in the dark and gravity-less world of the Oort cloud. The title refers both to this setting and the fact that the main character is trying to build a house out of ice (which would be rock-hard out there at temperatures of about 3K). Why does the title refer to the setting? Well, of course, Oort was someone’s last name, but in various germanic languages, it means… you guessed it.

And I’m not sure I’ve mentioned on this blog that I sold my story Survival in Shades of Orange to Analog. This is my WOTF workshop 24-hour story. It is set on a planet with an 90 degree inclination, which means that the planet rotates side-on, like Neptune. This does some really interesting stuff to the climate. How does life survive in such a place? Well, that’s what our characters are about to find out.

the sound of dominoes falling… Analog accepts e-submissions!

I logged on this morning to the awesome news that Analog now accepts–even prefers–e-submissions! Needless to say, this is a great source of joy to me, not in the least because of all the money it will save me in stamps. I never said I was not selfish.

When talking about Analog, I often detect a hint of headshaking and a slight sad smile. I think it is the last of the big magazines people expected to fall to the evil e-submission curse.

I think we’re probably at a stage where the remaining magazines accepting only paper submissions are starting to miss out on too many great submissions by newer writers who have never submitted anything on paper. They risk losing their edge by relying too much on the same old, shrinking, bunch of regular submitters. Change is here!

I subscribed to Analog recently and I think is a great magazine. Analog specialises in ‘realistic’ SF. From what I’ve read so far, that doesn’t necessarily mean hard SF, it means that the stories take place in worlds that are described as if they could really exist, in a way that a reader can easily envisage them. Those of you who complain that they find a lot of published short stories ‘too weird’ will find some great fiction here.