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.

Passengers (2016) Review & Poll: Are we becoming too judgmental, or should we just go along for the ride?

Passengers MovieAccording to Wikipedia, “Passengers is a 2016 American science fiction adventure film directed by Morten Tyldum and written by Jon Spaihts. It stars Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne and Andy García. The film tells about two people who wake up 90 years too soon from an induced hibernation on board a spaceship bound for a new planet.”

That description is generally correct—if you were to discard the biggest spoiler this movie hinges around. The spoiler that has many viewers crying “Sexism!”, with a percentage saying they will boycott the film because of it.

Well, let’s get to the crux of the matter and put it to a vote.

Yes, that’s right: ******SPOILERS PAST THIS POINT******

The Wikipedia description isn’t necessarily a lie, but, rather, it is what the female lead character, Eve (portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence), first believes to be the situation when she emerges from her pod. The reality—and here is where the spoilers start, folks—is that Frank (portrayed by Chris Pratt) woke up first, alone. He was housed in the only stasis pod to malfunction when the colony ship was ominously damaged. While Frank is unable to repair his pod (he is an engineer by trade), and is dealing with the frustration of discovering how limited his security clearance is, he eventually works out how to make the most of his isolation through the astute observations offered up by the ship’s bartender—an android played by the ever-brilliant Michael Sheen.

However, accessing as many perks on the ship as possible can’t distract Frank from the realization that he has woken up 90 years too soon, and will die on the ship after spending many years alone. Frank becomes suicidal and in his moment of greatest weakness, spots Eve’s stasis pod and is mesmerized by her visage. He looks her profile up on the computer and reads and watches everything he can access about her. His interest is that of a man starving for company, but it could easily be seen as an obsession, depending on how you frame it in your mind.

And here comes the crux of the movie—the part that divides its viewers. Frank wrestles with his consciousness, appearing to realize that dooming someone else to live their entire life aboard a spaceship is cruel, but he still decides to wake Eve up anyway, effectively stealing her future. The thought of being alone for an entire lifetime is driving him crazy; maybe too crazy to reason.

But is Frank’s decision merely the act of a selfish man being driven crazy by incessant loneliness, or the act of a man who subconsciously believes he has the right to dictate the life of the woman he wants to date, perpetuating the sexism that is still prevalent today in a future setting? If he had’ve just wanted a mere friendship, or someone with more expertise to help find another solution to his predicament, he could have combed through all the passenger profiles—regardless of gender or sexual orientation—to find someone in a specialized field who could help him on a practical level. Except it soon becomes clear he chose Eve with the ultimate goal of having a relationship with her, to ease his loneliness on a purely personal level.

A lot of viewers, men and women (although admittedly more of the later), objected to that being the main basis for his decision, in a futuristic science fiction movie where other potential plotlines could have been more…enlightened. And many viewers were not happy about the fact that Eve chose to be with him at all, saying she was overly sexualized in the film (in comparison to the male lead) and it’s unbelievable that Frank and Eve would ‘hook up’ so quickly, simply because they are the only two awake. Add to the fact that she decides to resume their relationship, and trust him again, after she finds out he had sabotaged her pod and taken away her right to choose, the plot appears to endorse or validate the impression that Frank is of the superior gender in their union.

But, what if we switch one simple factor in the movie, and consider the same plot from a different perspective? What if it had’ve been Eve who had woken up first? Eve who had been driven so crazy by loneliness that she woke Frank up to keep her company and give her comfort, to try and ease the harsh void of a lifetime trapped on a colony ship. If it was the woman who had lied to the man about what she did, because she didn’t want him to hate her, and the woman who had taken away the man’s choice, instead of the other way around, are those very actions no longer sexist if enacted by Eve instead of Frank? Does it mean that women would be seen as more empowered in the future? (Or perhaps less empowered, since it might imply that a woman can only be strong with a man by her side.)

Perspective can be a funny thing. As a female viewer, I cringed at specific scenes and lines in the movie, because they did appear sexist in isolation, and it bothered me that Frank would not leave Eva alone when she needed space following the reveal of his deception. However, I could also see why there are people who believe (and I include myself in this camp, also) that the movie does emphasize how wrong his actions have been—before he made them, and after—and that people can learn from their mistakes.

At the end of the movie, Frank gave Eve the choice to go back into induced hibernation when he discovered how to do it, bringing their story full circle, and putting the entire future of their relationship into her capable hands. Sure, their history complicates matters, and I feel it is in some way unfair of him to put her in a situation where she would naturally feel guilty if she decided to leave him behind. But he didn’t have to tell her he had discovered a way for her to return to suspended animation, which showed he truly did see her as an equal, even if it meant he could lose her.

As an intelligent and (now) fully informed woman Eve made her choice to live out her life on the ship, with Frank. Given the focus of this article, it would be hypocritical if we did not accept her decision.

Joy Ward Interviews Robert Silverberg

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Remember I am a science fiction writer. I spent my life writing about people who traveled in time and found themselves embedded in some strange era that they could barely comprehend and learning the ropes as they were dumped down in the far future of, say, 1979 back in a story written in 1955. So I expect change. I’m not astounded that the world has changed out of recognition all around me. I’d be pretty upset if it hadn’t.”Robert Silverberg

The 24th Issue of Galaxy’s Edge went live at the start of the year, with stories from the likes of Mercedes Lackey, Kevin J. Anderson, and Michael Swanwick! One of our biggest joys working on Galaxy’s Edge (pun definitely intended!) is reading the ever fascinating interviews Joy Ward conducts with the luminaries of our field. Here is the latest:

Joy Ward is the author of one novel. She has several stories in print, in magazines and in anthologies, and has also done interviews, both written and video, for other publications.

 THE GALAXY’S EDGE INTERVIEW by Joy Ward

Robert Silverberg is one of the living giants of science fiction. His writing has been in constant print for well over fifty years and has been a defining influence on more writers than we will ever know. No science fiction reader can ever consider him or herself to be well read without at least one of Silverberg’s masterpieces under the belt. We were lucky enough to catch up with him at his lovely home in the San Francisco Bay area.

Joy Ward: How did you get started writing?

Robert Silverberg: I started reading science fiction when I was ten or eleven and by the time I was thirteen I decided I could do this too. This was not actually correct at that point. I did send some stories to magazines and, when they figured out it was a boy sending them and not a demented adult, they sent me very gentle rejection letters. But I continued writing. By the time I was sixteen, seventeen I was getting published. That’s how I began writing.

JW: Tell me about the early days of writing. What kind of stories were you writing?

RS: Probably not very good ones.

I lived in New York then and I sent the stories, nearly all of which were edited, in New York, and they sent them back with encouraging letters. Then they started sending checks. The editors invited me to come down and meet them. I hastened to do that. I think they were surprised to discover I was eighteen or whatever but I got to know them, became part of the New York science fiction writers group as a kind of mascot, really, and as the editors discovered that I was a very dependable craftsman they began calling me and saying “Bob, we need a story of five thousand, five hundred words by Friday to fill a hole in an issue. Can you do it?” I would say yes and I did do it.

JW: How did that feel to be with all these literati?

RS: Well, I was accustomed to that because, more or less against my knowledge or will, I got skipped through the early grades very quickly. I could read when I was about four. I didn’t spend much time in kindergarten. I zoomed through. Suddenly I was in the fourth grade and I was a year and a half younger than everybody else; and when you’re seven and a half and they are nine that’s a big difference. So all through my childhood and adolescence I was younger than everyone else. Then I started my career and the same thing was happening so I assumed this is what life is like.

What is really strange is now I’m practically eighty and I’m older than just about any functioning science fiction writer. Not that I’m functioning much anymore but I’m still up and moving around and it’s a very odd experience for me after having been so precocious, to be older than everybody that I know.

It’s kind of lonely. I’ve always gone to the science fiction convention every year, Worldcon, and I formed friendships with writers who were fifteen or twenty years older than I was. People like Frederik Pohl and Lester Del Rey and L. Sprague De Camp and Gordon Dickson and on an on and on. Because they were fifteen or twenty years older and I am now eighty they are all dead. There’s one writer left, James Gunn who is 91, of all the writers that I knew from those early conventions. So I’ve had to form a new set of friends among young people like George Martin and Connie Willis and Joe Haldeman who are only sixty-five or seventy or so.

It’s been a conscious act on my part to form new friendships because otherwise I would be all alone. (I would be) that guy with the white beard standing in the middle of the convention hall saying, “Where did everybody go?”

Science fiction writers are a very collegial group.  Before science fiction was big business it was a downtrodden minority. It was a funny little pulp fiction field. Gaudy looking magazines with names like Amazing Stories, Astounding Science Fiction and we were considered pretty weird. So we banded together, a league against the world. Of course that all changed, changed almost frightingly, and science fiction became such big business that it’s impossible now to keep up with the whole field, to understand what’s going on. When I go out into what I laughingly call the “real world” I hear people talk about aliens and alternative universes. All of those esoteric things that were our private property are now in everybody’s vocabulary because you can’t go to the movies without seeing five trailers for what they call the new sci-fi movies. I hate that sci-fi word.

So science fiction writers tend to choose other science fiction writers as their friends. Not exclusively. Also, I have no family to speak of. I have a wife and a brother-in-law and sister-in-law. That’s about it. I have no ancestors left. I have outlived them all and I never had children. So the science fiction writers are sort of surrogate family for me. That’s why when I go to the convention I don’t want to stand there and say, “Where did everybody go?” It’s an unpleasant feeling. But I don’t. I’ve known a young whipper snapper like George Martin, I’ve known him for thirty-five years or so. This is not a recent friendship.

The big high point of my career, not a very difficult one to understand, was 2004 when the science fiction writers gave me the Grand Master trophy. What was special for me about that, I had been a member of SFWA since it was founded. I was there when the Grand Master award was invented and given to Heinlein and to Jack Williamson and to Clifford Simak and to Sprague De Camp— and these people I’m naming are all writers I read and admired and idolized when I was twelve, thirteen, fourteen years old. Suddenly in 2004 I’m getting the same award they got, which told me that you have achieved something in your career. You have found a place for yourself among them. I never really, I don’t see myself as being among them. I’m just that kid that managed to get a lot of stories published back there in 1956. But from the outside I know it looks different.

It feels wonderful because I was a reader, a fan, and came to conventions when I was fifteen, sixteen and looked at these demigods and grew up to be a demigod myself. I can only feel that I did it the right way. That’s a good feeling. You don’t want to know that you have wasted your life or you bungled your ambition. I haven’t. I remember at a convention about twenty-five years ago I was standing in the lobby of the hotel talking to Isaac Asimov and Arthur Clarke, both of whom I had known for many years and I regard as friends. But the teenage boy within me could not help thinking, “You’re talking to Asimov and Clarke.” Then I heard somebody about twenty feet away say, “Look. There’s Asimov, Clarke and Silverberg.” It put everything in perspective when you see it from the outside like that.

To them, standing over there, that was a group of big-name writers. To me, time traveled back to 1953. I’m a kid who mysteriously finds himself talking to these titans of the field. A lot of double vision involved.

I’ve done a lot of writing that isn’t science fiction. I wrote a number of books about geography and geology and scientific subjects. I wrote a few western stories. I wrote some detective stories, even though I wasn’t very good at that. Mostly what I thought when I did this is this is what I do when I’m not writing science fiction. A lot of hardened science fiction writers have felt that way that it’s not really sensible or justifiable but I remember James Blish, a writer who I revered who has been dead a long time now, Jim was a great science fiction writer but to pay the rent he wrote for sports pubs and westerns, which was funny because I don’t know Jim knew which end of the baseball bat to swing and as for westerns, he was a New Yorker through and through. But still that’s what he did and he always regarded the other stuff as something you did when you didn’t have a science fiction idea but your main business was writing science fiction. On some level, I think that too.

To continue reading, check out the full interview here, at the Galaxy’s Edge website!

Signalling all SF, fantasy, and horror writers, readers and fans!

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A new venture!
A new venture!