#Worldcon75, Helsinki and everything

Life, universe… I mean Worldcon, Helsinki and everything is here! I’ll update this post regularly as the con continues, so watch out for more news and pictures!

Helsinki's City Hall is beautiful, and they held a very nice reception for us. Thank you!
Helsinki’s City Hall is beautiful, and they held a very nice reception for us. Thank you!

Day 0

We arrived to Helsinki and enjoyed the nice reception the city held for many of the program participants in the City Hall. We met a German author Claudia Rapp there, and since she recommended us a “prohibition bar” called Trillby & Chadwick, which was just around the corner, we all went there. I can recommend the place: very small and stylish, with a variety of interesting cocktails. I had the Flower of Mare (meaning sea, not horse…), which was full, slightly salty and in overall very good. I’d love to share some pictures, but I don’t have any – it’s forbidden to photograph in there. You’ll just have to go try it personally!

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My Worldcon program

The preliminary program for Worldcon 2017 is here! I’ll have a talk about exoplanets, five panels and a signing – not speaking of the myriad program items I want to attend as an audience member. This is where you’ll be able to meet me:

Thursday (Aug 10)

Signing (11:00-12:00, signing area)

What can you bring to get signed? You can get a copy of some of the anthologies where my fiction has appeared (Alien Artifacts, Futuristica Vol. II, The Mammoth Book of The Adventures of Moriarty, TFF-X: Ten Years of the Future Fire, Penny Dread Tales Volume 3: In Darkness Clockwork Shine), or issues of Asimov’s, Analog and Clarkesworld with my stories or nonfiction articles. Or, if you like to collect international SFF, you can of course bring some of the seven novels and many short stories I’ve published in Czech.

Friday (Aug 11)

Single fandom – two languages (11:00 – 12:00, room 205)

Some countries – Finland included – have more than one national language and naturally fandom also contains people with a different native language. Is this a problem or does it enrich fandom? – Ben Roimola (M), Frank Roger, Julie Novakova

Making a Better Human (13:00 – 14:00, room 101d)

Homo sapiens evolved to be well suited to small groups on the plains of Africa, not to be living in cities in a technological society. This can cause problems. What changes would you make to have humanity better suited to its current environment? How would you achieve this? And what unintended consequences might there be? – Shariann Lewitt, Sam Scheiner, Julie Novakova (M), Keffy R.M Kehrli

Proxima Centauri b (18:00 – 19:00, room 205)

Our new and closest extrasolar planetary neighbor is a mixture of paradigms old and new. It appears to be a “meridianal world” like Ellison et al.’s “Medea,” with a narrow habitable strip, but new atmospheric modeling has produced a much more complex picture. What is that? How big is Proxima b and what else is in the Proxima system? How soon will we find out more? What about getting there? – Michael Reid, G. David Nordley, Julie Novakova (M)

Saturday (Aug 12)

Beyond the Goldilocks Zone (10:00 – 11:00, room 103)

Astronomers are on the lookout for planets in the Goldilocks zone because they are supposed to contain just the right conditions for liquid water on the surface of the planet. But why stop there? Why not look for planets that are superior to Earth? Astronomers, biologists and others will talk location, location, location to determine the best place to live for humans. – Olli Wilkman, Janet Catherine Johnston, Julie Novakova, Michael Reid (M)

Exoplanetary Zoo and The Search for Earth 2.0 (14:00 – 15:00, room 203a)

In the last quarter of a century, we have discovered several thousands planets around other suns and the number keeps growing rapidly. Some of the worlds were big surprises initially: planets circling dead stars, worlds almost grazing their suns or on orbits more fitting a comet than a planet. What can this vastly diverse exoplanetary zoo tell us about the universe, the place of our own solar system in it, and chances of finding a “second Earth”? – Julie Novakova

Genre Fiction in Translation (17:00 – 18:00, 203a (Messukeskus)

Translated fiction has been the “Cinderella” of the Anglophone speculative fiction market for quite some time, but lately has been gaining more attention and support, winning major awards and kickstarting new venues. What are the perks of translating genre fiction and publishing translations? Can the authors themselves facilitate it? How can we make it easier for translations to be published? – Julie Novakova (M), Ann Vandermeer, Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen, Jan Vaněk jr.

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In addition, you’ll probably find me at some of these items I’d like to see (sometimes even five at the same time…):

Wednesday (Aug 9): Live Tea and Jeopardy/Fashion in SF/Beyond The Big Bang (16:00-17:00), Economics in World Building (17:00-18:00), Creating Effective Dialogue/Hypnotism: Separating Fact from Fiction (18:00-19:00), Psychology, Personality and Politics: Where Are We Heading (19:00-20:30), Red Mars/Green Mars (21:00-22:00)

Thursday (Aug 10): In Defense of The Unlikeable Heroine (10:00-11:00), my signing (11:00-12:00), Editor’s Dream/Superintelligence/Literary Agents and Where to Find Them/Art Workshop: Sketching (12:00-13:00, resp. 14:00 for the workshop), Coode Street Live (13:00-14:00), Logic of Empire/Human reproduction in SF/Remember Who is Boss/Has “Hard SF” changed as a genre? (14:00-15:00), The Long Term Future of The Universe and How to Avoid It (15:00-16:00), Turning Up The Heat on Cli-Fi/Translations into English (16:00-17:00), Publishing Translation/Archeoastronomical View of the World/Tech Questions You Can’t Ask (17:00-18:00), European SFF (18:00-19:00), What Science Can Tell Us About Alien Minds (19:00-20:00), How To Write What You Don’t Know (19:30-21:00)

Friday (Aug 11): The Times That Shaped The Science (10:00-11:00), Single Fandom – Two Languages (11:00-12:00; but if I weren’t there, I’d really like to see Contemporary Chinese SF and Where to Find Them), Aim For The Stars/Under Pressure: Exploring Oceans Beyond Earth/Can Writers of SF Predict the Future/Are Utopias Worse than Dystopias?/Cyberpunk and Computing Advances in SF (12:00-13:00), Making a Better Human (13:00-14:00), Space Medicine (14:00-15:00), Fantastical Travel Guide/The War on Science (15:00-16:00), Proxima Centauri b (18:00-19:00), Hugo Awards Ceremonies (19:30-22:30)

Saturday (Aug 12): Beyond The Goldilocks Zone (10:00-11:00; if I weren’t there, I’d also like to see Mars Colonies/Loses Something in the Translation), Beyond The Dystopia/Gender and “Realistic History”/Up Shields! Dealing with Space Radiation (11:00-12:00), Making Life Interplanetary/Betrayal With Integrity: Conformance and Estrangement in Translating Chinese SF (12:00-13:00), Clouds on The Horizon/Colonialism and The Space Opera/Science Fiction Gone Wrong (13:00-14:00), Exoplanetary Zoo and The Search for Earth 2.0 (14:00-15:00; too bad my talk is against Live Short and Prosper: SF Writers in China, which I’d like to see), Portrayal of the Scientist and Science in SF/Getting Around Linguistic Problems in Translation/Future Shock, and Do YOU Suffer From It? (15:00-16:00), China & Italy: Far in the Past, Close in the Present (16:00-17:00), Genre Fiction in Translation (17:00-18:00), The Singularity (18:00-19:00), Tall Technical Tales (19:00-20:00)

Sunday (Aug 13): Moving Beyond Orientalism in SFF/Bullets in Space (11:00-12:00), The Right Stuff/Beyond Dependence: The Future Evolution of Space Settlements/Writing Fight Scenes That Work (12:00-13:00), Robot Morality/Designing Life/Strange Horizons+Samovar Tea Party (13:00-14:00), History as World-building (15:00-16:00), The Power of the Reviewer: Promoting and Hiding Diverse Voices (16:00-17:00), Closing Ceremony (17:00-18:00)

As you can see, there are some gaps (Friday 16:00-18:00; Saturday evening, unless I attend the Masquerade; Sunday morning, 14:00-15:00, evening), although it may be because I went through the program rather quickly and may have overlooked other interesting stuff. Judging by other conventions I’d attended, I’ll probably attend approximately half of the time outlined above, since I’ll want to meet people and talk. This time, unlike in London in 2014, I know plenty of other attendees – but I’ve never met most of them in person. Changing that will likely be a major part of the convention for me. I might also try the film festival. In summary, the program looks fantastic – can’t wait for the convention!

Joining Patreon! + Eurocon schedule

Without further ado: I have joined the ranks of creators on Patreon! You can support my writing and translations there and enjoy a peek inside the life of a writer(/translator/scientist), including exclusive excerpts and other rewards. Check it out here!

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I’m also heading to the Eurocon in Dortmund tomorrow. I have one talk scheduled for Friday at 15:00:

Oceans under ice: Endless worlds most wonderful?
Jupiter’s moon Europa has attracted our attention and sparked our imagination for many decades. Ever since the discovery that it may have an internal ocean, which was later confirmed, one question loomed above all: Could it also support life? But only more recently, we’ve learned that many more places in our solar system and beyond could have liquid water under their thick icy crusts. Could subsurface oceans be the most abundant environments suitable for life in the universe? How can we go about discovering it? And how did science fiction authors take on this exciting topic? Let’s dive straight into the deep, dark and cold realm of oceans under ice.
iac-jn

I’ve also seen my preliminary program for the Worldcon in Helsinki this August, and it looks amazing! I can’t share it with you yet, but hopefully soon. Stay tuned!

2017: Swedish Odyssey AKA Astrobiology in Sweden

A yearly meeting of the Astrobiology Centre of the Stockholm University took place this month in Tällberg. Its sessions covered topics ranging from habitability of planets of red dwarfs, reactions of ions in planetary atmospheres, or resistance of organisms to radiation, to astrobiology outreach and education, isotopes as biosignatures, and impacts and their role in evolution. I had the opportunity to attend the meeting thanks to the Czech Centres and the FameLab contest (more on that here – in Czech).

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A week+ later

This is a time machine of sorts, since I wrote this blogpost more than a week ago, but couldn’t log in on my tablet. Enjoy the trip into the past!

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What I planned to do…

…was to write a blogpost about Angelo Neumann, the amazing first director of the Neue deutsche Theater in Prague in late 19th century. His enthusiasm, innovative concept of the “theatre of special events” and a lot of hard work made the theatre truly exceptional. I fictionalized Neumann in “The Wagner Trouble”, but he would deserve a whole book to do him justice. (To Czech-speaking readers, I wholeheartedly recommend “Až k hořkému konci”, a nonfiction book about the Neue deutsche Theater by musicologist Jitka Ludvová). Hopefully there will be other occasions to write about him, since we have written two more stories set in the theatre together with Lucie Lukačovičová. One was just rejected after 296 days of consideration (which is an awful lot of consideration compared to the average 7 days for that market, so I guess that we should be pleased if we weren’t moderately pis… um, disappointed, I mean).

I also wanted to write a piece about the current status of bush elephant populations and the risks they face. Despite attempts to stop poaching, they still need a lot of help – and let’s hope they don’t end up like in “To See The Elephant”. These wonderful animals were a great inspiration to me and I owe them. Another inspiration (spoiler-laden; read the story first) was this paper, an occurrence which shows that attending evo-devo classes pays off in more than exciting scientific work.

Besides that, I wanted to finish an analysis for a commentary in progress, and revise a paper lacking some in the introduction and discussion. As it is, I didn’t manage any of them before my flight to Stockholm, where I’m writing this, so here’s what you can expect instead (and expect enthusiastically you should): Starting Monday, I’ll be at an astrobiology meeting in Tällberg. I’ll try to write some regular updates. On Wednesday, I’ll be presenting the state of astrobiology outreach and education in the Czech Republic. I hope to learn some insights on how to increase its reach and impact, what to do differently, what more to do… I’ll also looking forward especially to the sessions on habitability of M dwarfs’ planets, and limits of survival of Earth life in terms of radiation. Then, on Friday, I’m off to Göteborg for the Vetenskapfestivalen popular science festival. I’m doing a podcast Friday afternoon, and a talk Saturday morning. If you’re there by any chance, you’re welcome to attend! I thank the Czech Centres immensely for arranging the whole journey for me. So – expect a few new posts in the near future, and stay tuned!

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End of journey back in time. Long story short: Sweden was perfect – seeing the country, attending the meeting and talking with the other attendees, speaking at the Vetenskapfestivalen… I didn’t have a chance to write regular updates due to the login problems, but expect one long blogpost most likely tomorrow. So – until then!

Czech science fiction in English

Hanuš Seiner is one of the best Czech short story authors in my opinion, and every one of his sparse publications is worth reading. When I read his story Hexagrammaton in 2013, it took my breath away. What a shame that readers abroad cannot read it, I thought. Someone should translate it.

Back then, I had no idea that I would translate it a few years later. Cut to 2017: The English translation is going to be published at Tor.com on May 10.

Why stop at one translation? When I started working on my hard SF anthology, I asked Hanuš to write a story for it. His Terra Nullius became the anthology’s titular story, and not long after that, I asked him if I could translate it.

Since Monday, you can read it in Strange Horizons.

hanus_povidky_ilustrace

Illustrations by Jeffrey Alan Love (Hexagrammaton) and Sishir Bommakanti (Terra nullius).

ship-whisperer

Terra Nullius isn’t the first story from my anthology of the same title. My story “The Ship Whisperer” appeared in Asimov’s in English, and in ZUI Found in translation into Chinese by Geng Hui.

What else can we look forward to? I’m working on translating samples from several other stories by various Czech authors, and a couple of my own works are awaiting publication: The Wagner Trouble (in GigaNotoSaurus), To See The Elephant (in Analog), Étude for An Extraordinary Mind (in Futuristica II), Aeronauts of Aura (in Ares Magazine)… For non-English speakers, there are also a few promising projects to translate Czech SF into Portuguese and other languages (e.g. Azerbaijani or Filipino). Let’s see where it leads!

Futuristica-Volume-2-Cover-and-TOC-376x1024

Cover and contents of Futuristica II (Metasagas Press; cover by Kanaxa Design).

 

Space is a good place for countries to work together

Few people have a career record as impressive as Leroy Chiao: He’s an astronaut who flew three Space Shuttle missions, was the commander of ISS’ Expedition 10, and conducted countless research projects in space as well as down on Earth. After working for NASA, he became an entrepreneur, motivational speaker and consultant, for which his astronaut’s practical experience and chemical engineering background present a unique combination of insights. Last autumn, he has visited the Czech Republic to launch his book “OneOrbit/Život jako výzva” (“Make The Most of Your OneOrbit”), which was published by the Zdeněk Sklenář Gallery and first introduced at the International Book Festival in Beijing. English and Chinese editions of the book were published shortly after. We’ve talked with Leroy Chiao about returning to the Moon, facing the health challenges of a flight to Mars, working in space internationally and more.

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Making ESA ready for the future

At the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, I had the honor of being among the students awarded with ESA’s Student Sponsorship to attend the conference and of meeting the agency’s Director General Jan Wörner. Read about his plans for ESA and beyond the agency, about what inspired him to pursue a career related to space and how can ESA inspire others.

The interview was conducted primarily for the magazine Přírodovědci, whose next issue will feature a Czech translation of the text below.

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It was a very good year…

That time of skeletons creeping down chimneys and eldritch carols has passed, and the time of reflecting upon the closing calendar year is here in its full strength. It’s also the time we think of our wishes and resolutions for the coming year. Overall, 2016 has been strange. If there is such a thing as split personality for years, 2016 is a prime example. We’ve seen extremists from various sides of political spectra and social media-abusing demagogues triumph, while many thousands of people in danger massively flee their homes. Some warn that the foundations of democratic societies are crumbling, and it somehow feels like we’re just before one of the timelines in William Gibson’s The Peripheral (oh yes, Gibson has got an uncanny knack at noticing things already present in the world years ahead of others). We should not take it lightly or dismiss it as exaggerations.

And yet, it was also the year that most likely continued the good trends of the preceding decades: decreasing both relative and absolute number of people living in extreme poverty in the relevant documented history, conquering even more diseases, spreading literacy, higher perceived happiness – all in all, if there’s no unexpected big jump in the data (for more on the poverty trend and pros/cons of the methodology e.g. here), it was on average a very good year, it’s just that this average is shadowed by many horrid events and also more subtle changes like the income gap widening in many areas: not to be taken lightly, perceived as normal or forgotten. But also not to be a cause for shouting “apocalypse”, panicking and doing nothing useful. They’re serious and need our work and attention. We can work on continuing that trend of the world getting on average better in terms of reducing poverty, providing access to medical care, education, and more. All of us can contribute to that, and every baby step counts.

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In the realm of speculative fiction, it was a very good year. Lots of exciting new novels and shorter works on my to-read list! For me personally, it was a wonderful year. Lots of my stories and my translations of other authors’ stories had been accepted, I edited Dreams From Beyond (reviewed here by Rachel Cordasco), and several of my stories were published this year. Um, the award nomination season is approaching, right? This is new to me and I’m just becoming to understand it as a stranger to the Anglophone market for most of my life, so any advice how it’s done? Or I could just list my eligible stories (aside from the anthology) below, yes?

  • The Ship Whisperer (In Asimov’s 3/2016. Short story. In orbit of a star that shouldn’t exist in so young a universe, a curious ship whisperer, a determined colonel and a conscious ship are facing the toughest decision of their lives. Update: Thanks to Jason Sanford’s tweet, I found that the story appeared on the Tangent Online 2016 Recommended Reading List.)
  • The Nightside (In Alien Artifacts anthology. Novelette, apparently; 7 540 words as my word processor shows me. Linus doesn’t like cold, dark, dangerous places – but being stationed on one, a world of truly hellish qualities, was his only chance to escape war. Yet war may be coming to him…)
  • Becoming (In Persistent Visions. Short story. You can read this one online! Dive into the strange world of a space station controller forced to live in a gravity well once again, until a first contact happens. You can also check out what Ada Hoffman said about the story.)

If you have read and loved any of them, please consider them. If you haven’t, don’t. Seriously. Never nominate something you haven’t even read, no matter who else recommends it. Read it first, decide then.

In terms of getting to know other people, places or things, 2016 has been superb. I attended The Astrophysics of Planetary Habitability conference, which was just astounding and full of inspiration for science, popular science articles and science fiction alike. Academia Film Olomouc was as great as the year before. I got to the national FameLab finale and received one of the awards. I toured Norway all the way from Oslo to Lofoten with my husband, and when we got lost on Moskenesoy, we’ve met a great hiking books writer Harri Ahonen by asking him for the directions. During the two science-themed summer camps I worked on, I got to impersonate a saber-toothed cat, teach kids how a skeleton fits together, and find several open as well as globular clusters with a telescope on my own (while interested in astronomy for as long as I can remember, I’m a lousy sky observer!). On the Festival Fantazie in Chotěboř, I won the Aeronautilus Award for the best novel and also the best short story published in 2015.

I had the honor to be among the students selected by ESA for a sponsorship to attend the International Astronautical Congress, held in Guadalajara in late September. It was an absolutely wonderful experience, made even greater by the ISEB (International Space Education Board) events. I loved it and gained some useful insight into my educational and perhaps also scientific activities. Not speaking of the beauty of Mexico we at least briefly glimpsed, and then touring Netherlands on my own and spending time in the Rijksmuseum, wandering through Haarlem and getting my hair blown into my face by gusts of wind next to the famous windmills. And then there was Eurocon in Barcelona: absolutely brilliant! I’ve met so many wonderful people on the convention, seen lots of interesting program and got to see the beautiful Barcelona.

2016 in pics

Back from me to the bigger picture. In science, 2016 was a great year. Gravitational waves. New confirmed exoplanets. Hypothetical Planet Nine. More dwarf planet and smaller objects discoveries in the Kuiper and beyond. The successful finale of the Rosetta mission. Juno’s arrival to Jupiter. Year in Space and the Twin Study. Lots of bold announcements concerning especially piloted space exploration. GAIA data release. Genes transcribed post-mortem. Wider uses of CRISPR. Eukaryote which lost its mitochondria completely. Peculiar silica deposits on Mars. Thinner crust of Enceladus than expected. Possibly more subsurface oceans than we had expected (not just you, Pluto – what about Dione?). Maybe very young Saturnian inner moons. And much, much more, some of which we’ll perhaps only appreaciate some years in the future.

So. When I was 25, it was a good year. Let’s make the next one even better.

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I’m looking forward to lots of expected events in 2017. The final part of the Cassini-Huygens mission. New rocket launches. Continuing search for Planet Nine, and hopefully more Kuiper Belt/scattered disk/inner Oort cloud objects. And I have a special list of somewhat specific wishes for 2017…

  • I wish to know what scientific equipment will the Red Dragon capsule carry for its maiden voyage to Mars. If it makes the 2018 launch date, it’s high time to assemble that… So – any chance for a sensitive seismograph (Just imagine three active seismographs on Mars! InSight, Red Dragon, plus later ExoMars 2020 lander. You know how it goes: The more seismographs, the merrier… and the greater chances of learning more details about the inner structure and evolution of Mars.), and maybe some astrobiological instruments before piloted missions end planetary protection and make the results less reliable?
  • I wish an “Ocean Worlds” mission to Enceladus and/or Titan is selected for implementation by NASA. Also, if there is a way to constrain the age of the inner icy moons (would more precise tidal dissipation measurements be feasible?), it would be perfect to include it if possible.
  • I wish DAVINCI or VERITAS is selected in the current Discovery selection by NASA (and that perhaps two Discovery missions could be selected…?), and that more missions to Venus would follow. We know staggeringly little about the history of this “Earth’s sister planet”. Did it have water oceans at all at some point, and if so, was it for tens of millions years, two billion years, more, something in between? How did its surface and atmosphere evolve? Learning more about Venus would additionally give us useful insights for Earth sciences and exoplanets research. Update: This wish was over quickly. NASA selected Lucy and Psyche instead, but these are so great missions it would be hard not to be very excited! Venus may get its chance in the next New Frontiers selection.
  • I wish there’s more drive to return to the Moon with piloted missions. This wish actually seems to have a good standing right now. Anyone up for making the Moon Village concept reality?

We’ll see what 2017 holds in store. As for me, I’ve got a few resolutions…

  • Finish a novel in progress before the Worldcon.
  • Start writing another one (and preferably have most of it ready in a year’s time).
  • One short story or novelette a month, let’s say?
  • Translate some good fiction. Luckily, it’s not in short supply.
  • Write some good nonfiction. Topics also not in short supply (the opposite, really).
  • Expand our science outreach programs.
  • Visit the Eurocon and the Worldcon.
  • Attend the European Planetary Science Congress in Riga.
  • Try to attend the next IAC in Adelaide.
  • Get on with older data and finally write those two papers, so that I’m not nearly in the middle of my PhD studies for nothing.
  • Go running regularly (everyone needs an exercise resolution, right?).
  • Not get months behind with transcribing interviews anymore. (AI industry, please make speech-to-text usable, please…)
  • Not remain the thing I loathed and yet have become this year (= the person who sometimes takes weeks to respond to simple e-mails).
  • Generally make the world a better place. Baby steps matter too.
  • …and, you know, just enjoy the year and help others to do the same.

Suggested keywords for 2017: Reason. Fact. Peace. Curiosity. Exploration. Fun.

All the best into the new year!