A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Friday, November 20, 2015

Now I Feel Really Old

Saw this on Gary Armitage's Facebook page.

There are also a bunch of Tyrannosaur cartoons.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

At the Eleventh Hour

... of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the guns in Europe fell silent at last. The United States built a wall inscribed with the names of servicemen killed or missing in the nine years' war in Vietnam. In three-and-a-half years, the Allies in WW1 suffered deaths amounting to 103 Vietnam walls. That's just over 2.5 Vietnam walls every month.
Technically, it was only an armistice, and 21 years later, they had to do it all over again; this time with massive civilian casualties. In between, as our friend Fabio pointed out once before, more people were killed in battle than in the years of the Great War. Think only of the Reds and Whites in Russia, of the Greeks and Turks in Anatolia, of the Polish-Soviet conflict, and a host of smaller conflicts, such as in Ireland.

Armistice Day has been expanded to include all veterans of all wars. As generally done on Veteran's day, TOF appends here a short account of veterans in my own and the Incomparable Marge's families. 

TOF in uniform, Artillery ROTC
TOF himself is not a veteran.  The closest he got was two years of Artillery ROTC (so he can call down shells on your location.  You have been warned.) but he was classified 4F by a wise military. This was at the height of the Vietnam War, toward which TOF expressed opposition, though unlike other opponents, it was LBJ's insistence on micromanaging the war that irritated him the most, as well as Sec. McNamara's weird focus on corporate-like numbers crunching. He never imagined, as others did, that the victory of Ho Chi Minh would be all sweetness and light, rather than re-education camps and boat people.

Note: TOF does not know why there are whimsical font and font size changes scattered throughout this post. He has tried several times to correct them but has been defeated by the daemons of the internet each time.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Missing Inaction

Where did they go? You must remember them! A few years ago, they were everywhere. Celebrities spoke of them in the hushed and rapturous tones usually reserved for pyramid power or acupuncture. There was hardly a thought-manager who neglected to tell us of the wonders they would bring. We can "resist the onslaught of time’s vulture." They would provide "answers that have so long been beyond our grasp." They constituted "one of the most promising areas of research."

Troglodytes and religious fundamentalists raised barriers that would result in patients "suffer[ing] needlessly" and "put many critical future advances in medicine beyond the reach of patients in the United States."

Yes, it's good ol' Human Embryonic Stem Cells, that were gonna cure Parkinson's, Alzheimers, and all the rest. That's if anyone could get past that bodily rejection thingie.Those who were opposed to grinding up embryos to make their bread were ridiculed as "anti-science" and the opposition of the Church was called, as was her earlier opposition to eugenics, another episode in the "war of religion on science."

I wonder if they would have also called those opposed to Nazi experimentation on Jews "anti-science"? Yes, I know. Godwin's Law and all that. But the point is that not every instance in which people put on white lab coats is quite the same.

Now, the only thing being opposed was killing human embryos in order to obtain stem cells to experiment with. No one was objecting to the use of non-human embryonic stem cells or of human adult stem cells (like bone marrow). And the usual course of research had been to work on animal models before going on to humans, so a few folks were bemused by the rush at that early stage to jump directly to the human subject. It's not as if benign therapies were going to burst fully formed from the brow of Zeus.

Well, science, as it often does, surprised the activists and in 2007 a Japanese researcher Shinya Yamanaka discovered how to "regress" ordinary cells to stem cell status ("induced pluripotent stem cells"). He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for this in 2012. There is an obvious benefit in that tissues can be developed in this way from a patient's own cells, thus bypassing the rejection problem. And you didn't have to kill anyone to get them.

For a while, activists pooh-poohed regressed cells and claimed they were somehow not as good as embryonic stem cells. It was almost as if the goal was not scientific discovery but simply to use embryonic cells, period. When necessary, they touted results achieved with "induced pluripotent stem cells" as simply "stem cells" so they could chide those who had opposed the use of embryonic stem cells. See? THEY would have prevented this beneficial result! Meanwhile, cases like this one raised caution flags over the use of embryonic stem cells. Such stem cells are programmed to proliferate, and the risk that they will result in runaway tumors is quite real.

Now, in a paper in Nature Biotechnology, Choi (et the usual al.) finds that induced and embryonic stem cells "are molecularly and functionally equivalent and cannot be distinguished by a consistent gene expression signature."

As time passed and induced stem cells became the preferred research material, noise about stem cell research has quietly faded from the news-smog. It's almost as if the point had always been to find a reason to use embryos.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Panic Town

From a review of the anthology Mission: Tomorrow:
There’s a kind of updated, au courant Planet Stories vibe to Michael Flynn’s “In Panic Town, On the Backward Moon,” and that’s pretty neat. Our working-man narrator gets involved with some criminal elements concerning a stolen artifact, on a Red Planet that has a thriving infrastructure detailed slyly and deeply. 
Sly and deep, that's TOF alright.
Mission: Tomorrow, edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt (Baen 978-1-4767-8094-8, $15, 336pp, trade paperback), November 2015

Sunday, November 8, 2015