A word to the wise…

The English language is acknowledged as being one of the most complicated languages to translate into other languages, along with Hindi, Korean, Icelandic and a host of others (depending on which particular set of statistics you look at). But did you know there are some weird and wonderful words that are unable to be translated at all?

No? Well, even more interesting is the reason why these words can’t be translated. No solo word in any other language represents the scope of the original word. Each of these words can usually only be translated using multiple words or a phrase.

A notable English word that fits the bill is Serendipity, which literally means fortunate accident, and has no direct translation in any other language. But there are some really fascinating words in other languages, too, that helps us realize how emotion-driven verbal and written forms of communication can be.

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What if those precious nameless moments between a couple actually did have a word to describe them?

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Who would think there was a word for the specific type of bad luck you can experience?

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There are many untranslatable words that seem to focus on someone’s sense of being. While Litost in Czech describes the torment that is gained by being aware of how miserable your life is, there are other single words our their to describe a positive feeling. Hygge is that cozy feeling you get while you are sitting around a cozy fire with your loved ones, but my favorite, all-encompassing, untranslatable word is Gezellig.

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There are many, many more examples of untranslatable words (the Italian even have a word for people addicted to the UV glow of tanning salons: Slampadato!), but one thing they all have in common is they show us that not matter who we are, we all have the same experiences over our lifetimes, and it behooves us to learn more about the fascinating languages around us that connect us to each other.

GALAXY’S EDGE INTERVIEW’S KIJ JOHNSON

Kij Johnson is a Hugo winner, and a three-time Nebula winner (in consecutive years, yet!) and is acknowledged as one of the field’s leading short fiction writers. And this week, over at Galaxy’s Edge, Joy Ward interviews her about what it takes to be true to yourself as a writer:

“One of the most important things I ever say to my students is, everything else I teach them is just tactics, but the thing that I am always proudest of bringing up is: figure out why you’re writing. Really why you’re writing. Not, oh I have things worth saying or oh, I want to make a living or whatever it is. But really if you go all the way down deeper and deeper and deeper, like spend two years in therapy with a therapist every single Tuesday. So why do you write? Usually the answer is somewhere in early childhood. So it’s a little kid response. I’m not ascribing any value judgment to that. Because mine, when you get right down to it, is parents were sort of emotionally absent and when I wrote I didn’t get praised for my writing very much but I didn’t get praised for anything else. So my writing ultimately was a way of saying I’m not my mother and look at me to my parents. I also did a lot of art for the same reasons. That’s mine. We all have one, ultimately, underneath it all. Whatever we say in interviews usually is the cover up. It’s the pat response we use to cover up the sincere response. I do it because the only time anybody took me seriously as a 5’10” Amazon blonde was when I wrote and they didn’t know what I looked like. Because they stopped staring at my chest long enough it took to read my story. So there are so many responses and so many of them sound venal or petty or small or something like that. Those responses are not any of those things. Those responses are the heart that when we understand it gives us the spines that we build adulthood on. That’s what I always think of, so to me knowing that is the most important part of your writing cause if you know your reason for writing is because you’re competing with your dad and you didn’t know it. It’s like, as soon as you know that, now you can get away from writing your dad’s story or the stories that are going to school your dad about you and now you’re going to be able to tell the stories you want to tell. If you are doing it because you are insecure and you want people to look at you, that you’re smart or clever or cute or whatever it is, as soon as you know that, you are in control. Until you know it you don’t. So I’m always telling undergrads but especially adults because we get those super complicated defense mechanisms that allow us to never, ever look at ourselves. That’s fundamental. That’s my answer really. It’s fundamental that we understand who we are and our smallest, pettiest, most selfish or narcissistic or greedy, envious little pieces. We can either counter or use to our advantage and make them work.”

Go to the interview page of Galaxy’s Edge Magazine to read the rest of this wonderful interview!

Copyright © 2017 by Joy Ward.

 

Humans are evolving!

Genetics can be a fascinating thing. What makes our eyes blue instead of brown? Our hair straight versus curly? Sometimes these answers are determined by the genes our parents pass down; some are determined by mutations in our chromosomes. . . .

More often than not, mutations are random, and so many can be negative. Here is a video showing mutations gone wrong:

It’s no surprise that most people, when they hear the word “mutation”, attribute a negative connotation to it (which is no surprise, given what we just saw in the video above). However, not all mutations are bad.

For example, if you click on this page, there is a description of four beneficial evolutionary mutations humans have developed. You will find out there is a mutation that lessons heart disease, prevents broken bones, makes you a lot more immune to malaria, or, as quoted below, even gives women–yes, apparently only women–the ability to see the world in more colors.

Tetrachromatic Vision

Most mammals have poor color vision because they have only two kinds of cones, the retinal cells that discriminate different colors of light. Humans, like other primates, have three kinds, the legacy of a past where good color vision for finding ripe, brightly colored fruit was a survival advantage.

The gene for one kind of cone, which responds most strongly to blue, is found on chromosome 7. The two other kinds, which are sensitive to red and green, are both on the X chromosome. Since men have only one X, a mutation which disables either the red or the green gene will produce red-green colorblindness, while women have a backup copy. This explains why this is almost exclusively a male condition.

But here’s a question: What happens if a mutation to the red or the green gene, rather than disabling it, shifts the range of colors to which it responds? (The red and green genes arose in just this way, from duplication and divergence of a single ancestral cone gene.)

To a man, this would make no real difference. He’d still have three color receptors, just a different set than the rest of us. But if this happened to one of a woman’s cone genes, she’d have the blue, the red and the green on one X chromosome, and a mutated fourth one on the other… which means she’d have four different color receptors. She would be, like birds and turtles, a natural “tetrachromat”, theoretically capable of discriminating shades of color the rest of us can’t tell apart. (Does this mean she’d see brand-new colors the rest of us could never experience? That’s an open question.)

And we have evidence that just this has happened on rare occasions. In one study of color discrimination, at least one woman showed exactly the results we would expect from a true tetrachromat.

Imagine seeing the world, quite literally, in a different way to most humans on Earth.

Here is another website that lists 10 beneficial mutations (including several of the ones listed above), showing us that humans really do evolve to adapt to our climate (for the most part) or today’s very fast paced world. The webpost even mentions that certain individuals even have rare mutations that don’t necessarily help themselves, but definitely help others:

“Golden” Blood

While most of us are aware of the eight basic blood types (A, AB, B, and O—each of which can be positive or negative), there are currently 35 known blood group systems, with millions of variations in each system. Blood that doesn’t fall into the ABO system is considered rare, and those who have such blood may find it challenging to locate a compatible donor when in need of a transfusion.

Still, there’s rare blood, and then there’s really rare blood. Presently, the most unusual kind of blood is known as “Rh-null.” As its name suggests, it doesn’t contain any antigens in the Rh system. It’s not that uncommon for a person to lack some Rh antigens. For instance, people who don’t have the Rh D antigen have “negative” blood (e.g. A-, B-, or O-). Still, it’s extremely extraordinary for someone to not have a single Rh antigen. It’s so extraordinary, in fact, that researchers have only come across 40 or so individuals on the planet who have Rh-null blood.

What makes this blood even more interesting is that it totally beats O blood in terms of being a universal donor, since even O-negative blood isn’t always compatible with other types of rare negative blood. Rh-null, however, works with nearly any type of blood. This is because, when receiving a transfusion, our bodies will likely reject any blood that contains antigens we don’t possess. And since Rh-null blood has zero Rh, A, or B antigens, it can be given to practically everyone.

Unfortunately, there are only about nine donors of this blood in the world, so it’s only used in extreme situations. Because of its limited supply and enormous value as a potential lifesaver, some doctors have referred to Rh-null as “golden” blood. In some cases, they’ve even tracked down anonymous donors (a big no-no) to request a sample.

Those who have the Rh-null type undoubtedly have a bittersweet existence. They know that their blood is literally a lifesaver for others with rare blood, yet if they themselves need blood, their options are limited to the donations of only nine people.

So what does this tell us? That we’ve not only evolved from apes (so to speak) to become who we are today, but we’re still evolving to become something else in the future! Maybe we won’t develop mental powers like the mutants depicted in the X-Man franchise, but we already have our very own X-men in real life–and that is pretty darn amazing.

Meet humble Australian James Harrison. Because of his blood, and donating over 1100 times in half a century, this one man’s blood has saved over two million human lives–precious new born lives. He quite literally is a hero.

Lettuce reach for the stars!

While it still seems like such a SF concept, it was proven in August 2015 that you can indeed grow lettuce in the microgravity environment of the International Space Station and consume it. And consume it, Expedition 45 crewmembers Scott Kelly, Kjell Lindgren and Kimiya Yui did!

Fast forward to the most recent phase in the “Veggie” experiment: growth round Veg-03 was started on October 25th, 2016, to test the modified water delivery system, and this time six lettuces were grown simultaneously, under the care of Expedition 50‘s newly minted Space Station Commander Shane Kimbrough.

Space Lettuce
“Veggie” prototype. Credit: NASA/Gioia Massa

Yet how do you grow lettuce–indeed, any vegetable–in space when the microgravity means you can’t just “water” the plants? And no, the answer does not requite astronaut feces, such as in The Martian. Instead, it calls for a nifty invention where the seed “wicks” water out of nutrient pillows each seed is attached to and germinated from.

Shane Kimbrough was the first to taste the lettuce grown from the latest growth experiment, using a repetitive harvest technique where only the tops of a selection of leaves are sliced off for him to eat, allowing the lettuce base to grow new leaves for subsequent consumption and science samples to be sent home to be tested. Each growth cycle takes approximately ten days.

“Testing this method on-orbit, after using it on the ground, is very exciting for us,” said Veggie Project Manager Nicole Dufour. “A repetitive harvest allows us to provide more food for both the crew and for science, so it’s a win-win.”

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Tokyo Bekana Chinese Cabbage leaves are shown prior to February 2017 harvest aboard the International Space Station. Photo Credit: NASA.

Since then the fifth crop has been harvested on the ISS, by Peggy Whitson, on February 17th, 2017–the first crop of Chinese cabbage ever grown. While most of it will be going back to Earth for scientific study, the crewmembers were able to enjoy some of it. Peggy’s stay on the ISS was extended by three months as she is now Expedition 51‘s Space Station Commander, allowing her to oversea the planting of a second round of Tokyo Bekana Chinese Cabbage, and as of April 3rd, the crew are already seeing sprouts.

So what does this mean for the future of space exploration? Everything. Scientists agree it helps morale and the physical health of the astronauts to be able to consume fresh food while away from Earth. Not only that, but it increases the probability of creating a renewable sustainable food supply while NASA continues to explore the feasibility of humanity moving to Mars, or beyond.

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Astronaut Peggy Whitson harvests Tokyo Bekana Chinese cabbage aboard the ISS on February 17th, 2017. Photo Credit: NASA.

But what about the immediate future?

“I love gardening on Earth, and it is just as fun in space….” Peggy Whitson tweeted in early February. “I just need more room to plant more!”

And NASA apparently agrees. Later in Spring a second Veggie installation will be set up on the ISS, to provide side-by-side comparison experiments. And on the April 18th resupply mission is an experiment involving Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant as well as petri dishes to place within the Veggie facility. Arabidopsis is seen as the genetic model of the plant world, so the principle investigator, University of Florida’s Dr. Anna Lisa Paul, considers it the perfect specimen for performing genetic studies.

“These experiments will provide a key piece of the puzzle of how plants adjust their physiology to meet the needs of growing in a place outside their evolutionary experience,” Dr. Paul said. “And the more complete our understanding, the more success we will have in future missions as we take plants with us off planet.”

Now, when I read that quote, why can’t I help but think of The Day of the Triffids? Just how will the plants evolve to cope with microgravity? How will they adapt? With each advancement we make, the science fiction we extrapolate in books really does seem to becoming closer to reality. I can’t wait to find out what the future holds. How about you?

2017 Hugo nominations period nearing a close! (Poll!)

It’s that time of the year again. Time to nominate our favorite science fiction and fantasy works (in different forms, lengths and mediums), as well artists, editors and writers in professional and fan categories.

The deadline is at 06:59 UTC on March 18, 2017 (March 17, 2017 23:59 North American Pacific Daylight Time / UTC-7) and if you have the required membership and voting pin, you can still use the personalized link in the email you received to cast your vote. (I suspect it is too late to mail in a paper ballot, unless you do so via express post.)

Anyone who is a voting member of the 2016, 2017, or 2018 Worldcons by the end of the day on January 31, 2017, is eligible to nominate in this round, but only members of the Helsinki Worldcon can vote on the chosen finalists in the next round, so make your vote count now! Click here to go to the current worldcon website to find out more.)

There are professional and personal blogs and websites around the net listing eligible nominees, for all the categories, and if you click here (for example) you will be taken to a webpage that invites people to suggest their own recommendations, which have been compiled into very helpful lists for each category. No website has a complete list of all eligible works, but some of them might jog your memory, if you recognize a particular book or story on one of them that you had read last year and realized it was definitely worth your vote. (We have such hectic, multi-tasking lives that I suggest that, in the future, you create a list and add to it whenever you read something new during a calendar year, so you can refer back to it during nomination periods.)

This year the rules have been changed up a bit, in regards to how they tally their votes. While you can only nominate up to five titles/names per category, there will be six finalists per category once the numbers have been tallied and their legitimacy verified, to help prevent block voting.

Feel free to participate in the poll below. We’d love to here from you which book (or books) you believe should be nominated for the 2017 Hugo Award for Best Novel. Either by adding a new book title (and the author who wrote it) to the poll list options, or by selecting one or more of the options already listed!

Happy voting!

Fossil use in every day life

giant-chalk-ammonite-foreshore-peacehavenWe’ve all heard about the cycle of life before, but have you ever wondered what happens to Earth’s creatures after they’re gone? I’m not talking about their spiritual journey (the theories and multiple beliefs on that alone could generate a year worth of blogs) but rather, what happens to their bodies?

The simple answer is our planet re-absorbs them. In most cases, they even get turned into something else as time passes. Something we can often use in the modern world.

o-clean-grease-with-chalk-facebookYes, you read that correctly. We use the converted remains of once-living organisms in day to day life. In fact, there are many products we use that were derived out of once-living beings, in one form or another. One of the biggest examples of this is fossil fuel (petroleum, coal, and natural gas), but a more fascinating exampleat least for meis chalk. Remarkably, those little white sticks your teacher used to write math and grammar lessons on the blackboard were formed out of compressed skeleton debris from the large numbers of plants that floated in the tropical sea 130-65 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period.

If you could look at the composition of chalk under a magnification of about a thousand, you can see the dried out skeletal carcasses known as coccoliths. They were made out of calcium carbonate (giving the fossil rock its signature white color), which used to be extracted out of the sea water by the then-living plants. When they died, the skeletons fell to the sea bed and was compacted over millions of years to form the chalk rock we see and use today .

old-harry-rocks-dorsetMost known as coming from the White Cliffs of Dover, in England, chalk can also be found on the Islands of Mon (Denmark) and Rugen (Germany), as well as along cliffs in Northern Ireland and France. Despite the rarity of the locations it can be found, chalk is still used for a variety of purposes, not the least for writing on blackboards. It was once used to draw those white lines that separated court boundaries in racket sports, such as badminton or tennis. You can find tailors using chalk to outline their designs on fabrics, and its being used in agriculture to treat soils that are too acidic. Mountain climbers or gymnasts still use it to remove perspiration from their hands, and even your toothpaste can have a small amount of chalk in it….

Yes, I know you are stuck on the fact that you brush your teeth with toothpaste that potentially contains the fossilized remains of a prehistoric creaturea very many fossilized creaturesbut I will leave you with something else that is food for thought. The name “Cretaceous” is partly derived from the Latin “creta” for chalk, meaning that one of the most significant features of the Cretaceous era was the formation of chalk. What will be the fossil deposits that will define our era? How will the remains of humans be used in millions of years, by the newest inhabitants of Earth?

I’m sure just the thought of that makes you shudder to think about it, yet who ever hesitates to use a piece of chalk? It’s the perfect example of the cycle of life, no matter what belief system you adhere to. Perspective will no doubt be different again in another million or so years.

Learning how to impress publishers…it isn’t just a novel idea. (Poll)

When you start writing your first novel, it can be quite daunting imagining the endless amount of words you have to arrange in just the right order to impress an agent, publisher, and eventually, hopefully, legions of readers. But first you have to plot it out, and decide just how big your story will be. I’m not saying big to mean how impressive it will be, but rather asking if you will need more than one book to complete the full story arc, or if you think a standalone format is the perfect length to do justice to your vision.

There are pros and cons to either option.

If you write a standalone, you can make a more immediate impact on potential publishers, and publishers are more willing to commit to a new author if they can already read the conclusion (and obviously like it). When award time comes around, standalone novels are also more likely to win, because your book will have a completed story arc which means it could resonate better with judges and readers. Your debut could even be applauded as an “instant” success.

But on the flip side, unless you show vast potential, publishers are less inclined to give multiple book deals to debut authors who initially give them a standalone, because your track record hasn’t been established yet. They might request right of first refusal for any future novels, but that is not the same as a multi-book deal. You would have to pray that your first book is a runaway success, so you can be offered a bigger, more lucrative, second contract.

If you write a trilogy or series, you are more likely to be offered a multi-book contract from the beginning, even if the publisher has only read the first completed book, because why would a publisher buy the beginning of a series, and not the middle or end? A multi-book contract with a major publisher would definitely a great way to start a career, with multiple opportunities for exposure.

But, yet again, on the flipside, if the publisher does offer you a multi-book contract, unless they believe you are the next George R.R. Martin, the amount they offer a debut author might look very attractive at first blush, but when you break down the amount you would receive for each individual book, you realized you got a bulk discount deal. Not to mention that publishers are less forgiving now, so if your first couple of books underperform, more authors are dropped after their first trilogy than ever before. It makes you realize it’s probably easier to outperform a standalone contract, then try to hit every sale goal on a multi-book contract.

So which is better? Should you focus on one particular model, with the belief you will be more successful? I recommend picking the model that best suits the idea you are most enthusiastic about, so any resulting novel will be produced with as much passion and creativity as possible. With the right amount of talent added in, that would be a winning combination for any type of book.

What do you think? Leave us a comment, or feel free to answer our poll.