Monday, October 26, 2015

Darwin recap

A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of spending ten days in Australia, and thought I'd give a quick rundown of my adventure.

This all started months ago though, so some backstory might help. I was contacted by a fan from Darwin via email, inviting me to come speak at a conference he organizes. This was not, as it turns out, a literary or pop culture event, but instead the annual conference of Occupational Heath & Safety Professionals.

What the hell do I know about Occupational Health & Safety? Only what I could infer after working for years at a Fortune 500 company. Which is to say, lots of signs in the workplace. To that point I used this slide in my (very tongue-in-cheek) presentation to the audience:


That was one of the more serious slides I used, to give you an idea of what my talk covered.  Point is, the organizer wanted me to come to his rather dry conference and add a little spark. Something different to wake the crowd up after hours of very long and admittedly boring talks.

I don't do many presentations like this (and many thanks to my friend Ramez Naam for giving me some pointers beforehand). I wanted it to be funny, interesting, and ultimately worth the price of bringing me over there. Everything went great, or so I'm told! The audience laughed at all the places they were supposed to, and in the lobby afterwards we sold out of my books. The organizers were very pleased. Alright then! Job done!

So, all the way to Australia for a 30 minute talk. I filled the rest of my time, primarily, with exploring. This was my first visit to the city where my DIRE EARTH trilogy is set. And even though I deliberately set the books far enough into the future that present-day Darwin wouldn't matter much, I still wanted to get a feel for the place. Sort of after-the-fact research. What did I miss? What did I get right?

Right away I realized something I'd neglected: birds. The soundscape of Darwin, at least at certain times of the day, is absolutely full of birdsongs. They were everywhere, they were noisy, and I don't think I mentioned birds once in my writing.  I also saw a fruit bat with a wingspan that shocked me (a meter? More?), and what the locals call a ta-ta lizard because of the way they wave at you. Of course, my Darwin is a megalopolis, not a sleepy beach town, so I suppose it makes sense the wildlife landscape would be different (I left out crocs for exactly this reason, despite knowing how central they are to the personality of Darwin).

Interesting to me is the fact that Darwin is already growing rapidly.  They might not even need an alien-built space elevator to become a major city.  Right now there's a new $50bn oil and gas project going on nearby that has high-rise condos going up all over this supposedly small town, giving Darwin a hotter real estate market than Sydney.

But aside from the safety conference, and my wanderings, I did have some official author business to attend to.  I did a book signing in Sydney as well as Darwin.  In Darwin they sold out of my books before the event even started though, so that made the event a bit... quiet.  Still it was great fun to meet fans and readers, as well as introduce people to the series.

I did two radio appearances, and even had a half-page photo show up in the local newspaper!


Thanks to this picture, on my last day in Darwin someone shouted from across the street, "Hey, it's the zombie guy!"  Perhaps the first and last time I'll know what it's like to be a recognizable face, and as you can imagine it was both cool and a little weird. But mostly cool. I decided not to tell anyone that my books, technically speaking, don't have any zombies. That would cross a nerd border that just didn't need crossing.

There was also the defense-against-zombies demonstration at the Progressive Combat Centre, a Krav Maga studio that invited me to come down and see what they do.  Plus they offered to BBQ for me. It was awesome, and the people I met there were all tough as nails, but also incredibly friendly and helpful. I now have a whole list of folks I can send hand-to-hand combat questions to (and I plan to take full advantage).

Last but not least is the plaque. I had this idea to install a plaque at the location of the space elevator, and a fan (and friend) made one for me to take along. In Darwin, I wasn't able to meet with the mayor, who was out of town, but I did talk to a member of the city council.  They took me out to the site in Nightcliff.  While there we picked a spot beside a park bench and took some pictures.  At some point, once the mayor approves it, the plaque will be permanently installed.



I'll post the exact coordinates once it's actually there, for the historical record. The spot isn't precisely where I marked it while writing the books, because that would have put it in someone's back yard. But it's within a hundred meters of that spot, and along a beautiful walking path. Good enough for me!

Many thanks to Martyn Hill at the Safety Institute of Australia for bringing me over, and to Anna at the Bookshop Darwin for adding book sales support to my events, as well as hosting me for a signing. Also, thanks to Rosina at NewSouthBooks for all help in organizing my appearances and radio interviews.

tl;dr - An awesome time in Australia. Can't wait to visit again!

Friday, September 25, 2015

UNBOUND

I'm in an anthology coming out later this year called UNBOUND, with a short story you might call a distant prequel to ZERO WORLD.  Pre-orders are now available for the hardcover edition as well as a very limited run of advance reader copies for the collectors out there. Links below!

Here is the amazing Unbound line-up:

Joe Abercrombie
Kristen Britain
Terry Brooks
Jim Butcher
Rachel Caine
Harry Connolly
Delilah S. Dawson
David Anthony Durham
Jason M. Hough
Mary Robinette Kowal
Mark Lawrence
Brian McClellan
John Marco
Tim Marquitz
Seanan McGuire
Peter Orullian
Kat Richardson
Anthony Ryan
Shawn Speakman
Brian Staveley
Michael J. Sullivan
Sam Sykes
Mazarkis Williams

Pre-order!
Pre-order the limited run of advance copies!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Australia bound!

Some of you may know from my events page that I'm headed to Australia in a few weeks.  I thought I'd provide a bit more detail here!

First stop is Sydney, where I plan to drink flat whites and take a ferry ride around the harbor.  I've got a signing planned at Abbey's Bookshop on the 5th at 1pm, and so if you're in the area I'd love it if you stopped by! Or tell your friends!

I'll also stop by other area bookstores to sign their stock.

Then, that evening, I head to Darwin!

I have a bunch of things planned, but the highlights are:

  • Speaking to a group Darwin-based writers at the library
  • Doing a presentation to the Occupational Safety conference about the heath and safety concerns during the zombie apocalypse.
  • Placing a plaque at the location of the The Darwin Elevator in Nightcliff, with the mayor!
  • Signing at the The Bookshop Darwin at 11:30am on Oct. 9th

The rest of the time I'll be wandering the city, visiting locations used in the book and chatting with anyone who is willing.

I will blog about the trip extensively. Expect loads of pictures!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Launchpad Astronomy Workshop

I'm still alive!

Yes, the blog has been woefully underfed lately, and I'm sorry about that.  The simple reason is that I've been swamped lately.  ZERO WORLD releases next month, which means I'm doing a lot of promotional work behind the scenes (this primarily involves me cowering in a corner biting my nails).  Plus, my deadlines can't wait for fun release stuff, so at the same time I am busily writing a new novel.  Actually, two new novels.  More on that soon, I hope!

But today I wanted to take a minute and share a bit about my experience at the Launchpad Astronomy Workshop last month, because it was awesome and deserves to be discussed!

What is Launchpad?  Simply put, roughly twenty sci-fi authors of all experience levels are invited to  a week-long series of lectures, workshops, and group discussion on all topics related to astronomy.  It's hosted at the University of Wyoming by a group of professors who really, really know their shit.  Not only that, they know how to teach.

But why do they do this?  To help us write better stories that are more grounded in science.  To improve our vocabulary and the accuracy of our content.  In short, to paraphrase one of the instructors, "if I teach a class of 100 students, I might be able to further science for those 100 students.  If I teach you, I might be able to reach a vast audience through the books you write, the games you make, the films you create."

Here's a quick diary as I remember things:

Day 0: Arrived in Denver, met up with other attendees, and we all hopped into a big rental SUV and drove up to Laramie, Wyoming (about 2.5 hours).  All of us were chugging water like crazy to combat the altitude.  It was even worse for me because I'd been in three different climates in two days (Phoenix, Seattle, then Denver & Wyoming).  We arrived in the early evening and settled into our accommodations: a beautiful place called the Honors House, replete with a full kitchen and dining area, a living room, an entertainment room, plus laundry and all the other things you'd expect from a dorm.  Some of the group did not get in until almost 10pm that night, but we all waited up and then did a round of introductions.

Day 1: The lectures begin! We spent most of the day talking about the scale of the Universe. "It's big. Really big."  Check out this amazing video that takes you through our solar system at the fastest possible speed: the speed of light. It's really eye opening, knowing how fast light is, and then being shown so clearly just how damn SLOW it is.

That night we went to the University's planetarium, then up to the roof of the science building to play with their 14" telescope.

Day 2: Today we talked about how astronomers do their research, and it mostly comes down to the analysis of spectra. I'd learned about all this back in school, but it was great to get a refresher and also to hear it presented in a different way.  Our teachers were amazingly talented!  To really hammer home the concepts we spent the afternoon in a lab looking at different light coming from gas emission tubes (as well as the lights in the room).  I discovered pretty quickly that holding the filter in front of my camera provided some neat pictures.  Also, despite this being a pretty well-known subject, this session was where I came up with the most story ideas.





That evening we had no official events, so everyone walked to the pub.  Irish Nachos FTW!

Day 3: Exoplanets! We spent a lot of time talking about how extrasolar planets are detected, and did some lab time on Planethunters.org searching for some ourselves (I've done this before, and you should try it! Crowd-sourced interactive science is awesome).  

In the evening we drove an hour to the top nearby Mt. Something, where WIRO is (the Wyoming Infra-Red Observatory).  It was fascinating to tour the facility and speak with the current team up there who were doing sciency things.  Unfortunately the weather didn't cooperate and we were unable to use the telescope.  We did however get to watch an incredible lightning storm that spanned the entire Northern half of the sky.  And, honestly, although the scope was not used, it was informative and interesting to experience the place and see scientists doing their thing.











Day 4:  Today covered star formation and the various types of stars, black holes, and space travel.  Seriously, my mind was reeling under the crush of information by the end of the day.

Dinner was spent in downtown Laramie, which is quaint and loads of fun.  Upon returning to the Honors House, I gave the group a demo of Kerbal Space Program, a game where you plan, build, and fly spacecraft on various semi-realistic missions.



Day 5: Galaxies, Galaxy clusters, and the elusive topic of Dark Matter and Dark Energy, were the topics on our last day.  Then we spent the afternoon reviewing questions people had been building up over the course of the week.  Finally, we spent a few hours talking about science education, and how we as creators could do better in our work.  Really, a fine end to a truly epic week.

I have to thank Mike Brotherton, Christian Ready, and Andria Schwortz for taking time out of their busy schedules to organize this whole thing, as well as basically donate their time to this cause.  They're remarkable people and I feel proud to have spent time with them.

In addition, I met so many amazing authors, editors, game developers, and all-around brilliant people that I can't even begin to name them all.  The organizers did a great job of bringing together a diverse group of students and it was heartening how everyone mingled, talked, and generally hungout together.

If you're an author, or really in a creative field of any capacity, I encourage you to apply to Launchpad next year!

Friday, January 30, 2015

News on the next book, and a podcast...

My new novel has a title now: ZERO WORLD!
Release date is tentatively scheduled for Sept 15th.

The cover is done (and kicks ass), but isn't quite ready to share yet.  More on that soon.

Also, I'm interviewed this week on the SPECULATE! podcast. Have a listen!

I'll be a bit quiet for the next month or so as I race to finish the new book on time. Stay tuned!

-Jason