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).
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!
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!
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!
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.
Illustrations by Jeffrey Alan Love (Hexagrammaton) and Sishir Bommakanti (Terra nullius).
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!
Cover and contents of Futuristica II (Metasagas Press; cover by Kanaxa Design).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
My first Eurocon has been an even more amazing experience than I had expected. We arrived in Barcelona with Lucie Lukacovicova and her husband the evening before the convention, so we almost immediately jumped into the event. The first panel I saw was the Queer SF panel, to which we arrived a little late, but catching up was not a problem, and we learned about lots of interesting works. After that came my panel “Where are the aliens?” with Jonathan Cowie and Ian Whates. You can watch our discussion in the video below!
The Cross-Media panel and the Evil Females panel (including Lucie; watch it here) concluded the official Friday program for us. Saturday started with Ian Watson’s very interesting Orwell Tour around places in Barcelona marked by Orwell’s presence, and continued with the Genre Translators panel (including Lucie; unfortunately, program held in this hall was not recorded). The panelists were from the Czech Republic, Finland, China, Poland, Bulgaria and Italy, and listening to the peculiarities of translating into different languages was most interesting. Cultural context, history, grammatical gender, names bearing meaning – all of that can wreak havoc with a translation (especially if the name is something like Hodor…). My talk “Is Venus habitable?” came next. Watch it below.
Robot Companions by Carme Torras were a very interesting talk. I would recommend you watch it, alas, it was in the hall that wasn’t streamed. At least google some of the projects especially by Boston Dynamics, then. Sunday morning, I wanted to be at three places at once, so I left Euro Steampunk before the end to attend Beyond Jurassic Park. The talk had little new in store for me, but it was brilliantly structured and delivered: great fun with lots of interesting information, smoothly going from one part of a topic to another, and engaging the audience through Mentimeter polls. Great idea!
I also wanted to at three places at once in the afternoon, same as Lucie and Atlan, so each of us went to one of the program items. “Does SF prevent bad future?” was my pick, and liked the discussion, although (unsurprisingly) the question was not resolved. Then came the closing ceremony including the results of Euro SF Awards. The Czech Republic had no winners in the main categories, but the Czech Encouragement Award went to Jan Hlávka and Jana Vybíralová for their “Ledové hry” (“Ice Games”) space opera series.
Starting Monday, we’ve had time to explore Barcelona. I’m writing this at the airport, soon to leave the beautiful city (note: I was. And then an exceptionally busy week happened. No time travel involved, believe me.). I might add something more about Barcelona later. But as I have two talks and three interviews to conduct in the week after I return to the Czech Republic (not saying home, because I’ll almost immediately go to the other end of the country, and to the opposite one afterwards) (note: Already happened. Great events and great people I had the honor to interview!), and in the week after that, I’m teaching and also having my PhD exams (alas, that is still going to happen). Everything beside those things will have to wait until early December (unless I find a way how to apply the time travel).
Most of Eurocon program items can be watched here. If you’re in for some interesting talks and panels, don’t hesitate. And if you can attend the next Eurocon (in Dortmund next June), the same applies. I’ve met lots of wonderful people at this Eurocon; we went to dinner or lunch with some of them, talked with others during program breaks, en route to talks and panels… So, thank you, Lucie, Atlan, Cheryl, Kevin, Tasha, Charles, Ian and Ian, Jonathan, Pedro, Charlie, Mike, Djibril, Valeria, Cristina, Elena, Atanas, Mihaela, Klaus, and Arrate, for your great company. The people are always what makes conventions so amazing.
I’ll be registering for both the next Eurocon and Worldcon (in Helsinki in August) soon. Two more things before I conclude this post: You can still help kickstart Piracity, an anthology of pirate stories by writers from Bristol and the Caribbean, edited by Cheryl Morgan. I have just contributed with my pledge. Aaarrgh!
And the last thing: I have uploaded mobi and epub formats of Dreams From Beyond, so you can check out the anthology of Czech speculative fiction in English on any device now!
This year’s Eurocon is approaching fast! The convention will be held in Barcelona on November 4-6. The program has been ready for a couple of weeks, and there’s a lot to be looking forward to: interesting talks, panel discussions, cultural events, award ceremonies… I’m on two program items I’d like to invite you to: one panel discussion and one popular science talk.
Friday 12:15 “Where are the aliens?”
Although we know that the Fermi Paradox is not exactly a paradox and not exactly Fermi’s, the question “where are they” remains an interesting food for thought for science fiction authors, scientists and the public as well. To attempt to answer it (even if any truly reliable answers are far away due to the lack of data), we can look at the number of potentially habitable planets in our galactic neighbourhood, cultural aspects of our technological civilization, difficulties of interstellar travel, percolation theory models of colonization, and much more. We’ll be discussing the topic with authors and editors Jonathan Cowie and Ian Whates.
Saturday 13:30 “Is Venus habitable?”
My Saturday talk ended up with a somewhat provocative title “Is Venus habitable?”. We’ll look at the largely unknown past of the proclaimed “Earth’s sister planet” (Could Venus have had liquid water oceans at some time? For how long before its greenhouse effect evaporated the last bits of them? Could it have had plate tectonics and effective geochemical cycles when it still had water – if it had?) and thus chances of potential habitability in the past, current conditions in its cloud layer, life in Earth’s atmosphere, our historical thinking about Venus and more. I’ve been planning to write a popular science article about Venus’ past for some time, and I hope to have it ready not long after the talk.
I’m also going to launch an anthology of Czech SF in translation into English, Dreams From Beyond. It’s one of several anthologies from different countries, edited specially for this year’s Eurocon.
And something for my fellow Prague-dwellers: Before Eurocon, I’ll be having a public reading and discussion about the relationship of science and science fiction at the Czech Centre in Prague as a part of the Week of Science and Technology. It’s on November 2, starting at 17:00.
The day after is a press conference about the involvement of Czech students in astronautics. It starts at 11:30 in restaurant Mamacita Catalina in the Mucha Hotel in Karlin, Prague, and it’s also a part of the Week of Science and Technology. I’ll be talking about this year’s IAC and science outreach through astrobiology. After that, off to Barcelona!
Update: Eurocon will be streamed live here, so you can watch it from anywhere!
So, the Alien Artifacts SF anthology was released a few days ago! It includes my story “The Nightside”, and you can read an excerpt from it below. But beware – if cold, dark, unforgiving places which can kill you in a thousand ways give you the goosebumps, consider crawling under the blanket with a cup of hot tea before you read further. Your considerate author.
The International Astronautical Congress had been full of interesting talks, people and events. We’ve already discussed the budding race to Mars, but there was so much more to the IAC. It would be a mistake to reduce it all to proposals of crewed missions to the Red Planet. In this part, we will discuss robotic Mars exploration and its astrobiological implications, the Moon Village concept, visions of future icy moons exploration, and last but not least the student program on the IAC.