Science and astronauts — not a rant

Astronaut Alan Bean talks at the University of Texas campus.
Astronaut Alan Bean talks at the University of Texas campus.

Last week author Nicky Drayden and I went to the University of Texas campus to hear astronaut Alan Bean talk about his life and work as a test pilot and astronaut and painter. (As Nicky pointed out, these opportunities are slipping away, to meet astronauts who walked on the moon)*.  It was incredibly inspiring. He was speaking primarily to students about following dreams but in a pragmatic kind of way — of doing good work, being a good leader and team member, finding a mentor and being a mentor. In looking back at his life, he was rather hard on himself, as he told stories about not always being a good team member or mentor, and I found that very brave. I think it’s helpful to look back at your life and, not necessarily castigate oneself, but take stock. Most of us do that, privately, but Bean laid it all out there.

What a grand adventure is space exploration. It takes knowledge and fortitude, determination, a willingness to work with a team of individuals who all share the same goal, a deep desire to understand and apply the laws of nature, to take on danger, to make mistakes and keep going.

And the current distrust and politicization surrounding all scientific disciplines, coming from politicians who want to make election-day hay, religious charlatans who claim that science is counter to God’s law, and the current crop of science fiction writers who write dystopic fiction based on science gone bad, is putting our real future in jeopardy.

Science is an easy scapegoat. It’s hard, it has rules, it requires math, and not everybody gets it. When climate-change deniers or proponents of creationism demand equal time for their viewpoints, they automatically corrupt scientific disciplines by association. By setting up a false equivalent — aided by sloppy journalism, which states that every side should be given their say — they give their own specious argument legitimacy and suck it away from science.

  • Climate change is happening, and it is accelerating, and it is caused by human-made dumping of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, which began in earnest at the turn of the last century.
  • Evolutionary theory is true, it is fact, and it is proven day after day, and there is overwhelming evidence supporting it.
  • Creationism is a belief system, and is not science. Calling it intelligent design doesn’t make it true.
  • Plenty of scientists believe in God and draw comfort and strength from their religion. Science and religion are not incompatible. **

Alan Bean said something interesting about that: Walking on the moon had this effect: the astronauts who believed in God (see! Astronauts! Scientists! with religious faith) found their faith strengthened. Astronauts who were atheists found their atheism confirmed. Astronauts who were ambivalent remained ambivalent.

For decades the US has been coasting on its reputation for scientific research and development. Not anymore. Science and technology are in a fight for their lives against the forces of ignorance (how’s that for a dystopic future? Are you having fun now?) Part of this is because we’ve lost ground in our schools, and part of it is that the US has splintered into affinity groups so that we no longer share a sense of community.

And part of it is that the insatiable need to fill news channels means that the outlying cults and conspiracy theorists who used to stay on the outside have now been moved to the forefront of our consciousness. We know more about other people’s weird shit because CNN and its ilk have to fill 24 hours with programming.

So what’s the solution? Well, we could all stop with the kitten videos maybe and read a damn nonfiction book about science. *** Or history. Or something. We might even read a newspaper, a real one, that talks about hard stuff.****

Will we do this? Probably not. Will we continue to forward each other stories about the other side which shows so clearly how insane and irrational “those people” are? Probably.

But it’s good to at least think a bit more critically about these issues, and try to do your best to stem the tide. *****


* I think probably we or some other nation will go back to the moon in 20 years or so, but for now, this is it.

** I’m not saying that there will be no conflict — there is a need to have a conversation about ethics in science, just as we should have conversations about ethics in everything, but these conversations should be respectful and based on a willingness to find common ground, not to sow fear and loathing.

*** Watching Nova or Through the Wormhole don’t count. No. They don’t. Especially the latter which is utter fantasy wrapped in pseudoscientific tech-speak.

**** Hint: HuffPo and Fox News are equal parts crap. As is The Daily Mail. Rawstory, or any other blog — same thing. Crap. Say what you like about big major media companies like Wall Street Journal and New York Times, despite it all, they still have journalistic standards.

***** This isn’t a rant. It’s commentary. A rant is a wild-eyed screed shouted out by a crazy man standing on a soapbox on a street corner. If you want your words taken seriously, don’t call them rants.

The Next Big Thing

Nicky Drayden tagged me in her Next Big Thing entry. So here I am to talk about my WIP.

1. What is the title of your Work in Progress?

Bandit Girls. I fully expect that to change at some point.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

The germ of the book came from a short story I wrote nearly 15 years ago. It was the first short story that ever “worked:” I learned more from writing it than any story I had written before. It’s existed in many forms; various drafts of short story as well as a screenplay. The idea has never left me, and I decided to expand it into a novel.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

YA Fantasy.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Saorse Ronan for Tesara. Emma Watson for Jalana.

5. What is a one-sentence synopsis of the book?

The black sheep of a merchant family, Tesara Mederos must come to terms with her talent for magic in hopes of restoring her family’s wealth.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

By an agency, I hope!

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

It’s not finished, but I expect to complete it in the next four to six months. I’m also developing an outline for a sequel.

8. What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?

Hmmm. Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal, is probably the closest match. Bandit Girls has a Regency setting in an alternate world, though it is not so finely constrained as a true Regency.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I blame everything on Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

There’s a Bandit King, a dashing Captain, and mysterious magic.

If you haven’t already become acquainted with the work of Nicky Drayden, you are in for a treat. Visit her at her blog and track down her short story collections — you will be quite pleased if you do.

And now I will tag the following authors; be sure to check out their answers!

Jessica Wynne Reisman

Rebecca Schwarz

Stina Leicht

Aaron de Orive

NaNoWriMo — or, here we go again.

Jane Austen didn't need no stinkin' NaNo.
Jane Austen didn't need no stinkin' NaNo.

Remember my stance against NaNoWriMo? Oh come on, sure you do. To refresh your memories, here’s the link:

Writing a Novel? Don’t do NaNoWriMo.

For the full effect, read the comments. Good stuff there. So my question to you who took part in NaNo last year, how did it go? Especially if you were first-timers, did you think you learned something, produced good work, realized something about this novel writing gig, or all (or none) of the above? Please share your experiences.

I am still strongly against NaNo. I think it reduces an artform to gimmickry. While turning off the internal (or infernal) editor is a must, and speed can be exhilarating, speed for its own sake, and word count for its own sake is counterproductive. I’ve also had the experience of reading NaNo mss, when people bring them to workshops. I’m assuming that people don’t bring unedited first drafts to workshops,  and invariably, NaNo work is just more of a mess.

If you are a newbie and you want to start writing a novel, ditch NaNo. Instead, concentrate on the ABCs — Apply Butt to Chair and write.

Now for a counterpoint (I am all about the counterpoints:): Nicky Drayden, a writer I admire and am fortunate enough to be in a writer’s group with, is a staunch NaNo participant. She says it got her writing. Visit her blog to see what she has to say. And pssst: Nicky! Write something about NaNo so people can see it.

Diary of a Short Woman

(Don’t you love that title?)