Debunking myths on genetics and DNA

We're all chimeras: roughly 10% of our DNA is made of ancestral viral sequences.
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Friday, April 18, 2014

Acoustic lasers, tomatoes, and spaceships: Endi Webb talks about his life between writing and physics


If you've been closely watching Kindle book rankings on Amazon this month, as I have (ahem), you may have noticed a new star rising: The Terran Gambit, Book I in the Pax Humana Saga, came out on March 19 and quickly rose to the top 10 Kindle books in 4 different science fiction categories! Author Endi Webb is not only an accomplished science-fiction writer, but also an experimental physicist with whom, turns out, I share a common recent employer -- small world, right?

So, of course, Endi had to be my next guest here on CHIMERAS! Welcome, Endi!

EEG: From your bio: "At work, he gets to make nano-materials (really small things) with giant lasers and highly pressurized gas. His clients include NASA, the defense department, and many other government agencies that don't like to be advertised."
Let 's talk about the science you do: you work on nanotechnology, correct? What do you make, exactly, can you tell us? And what are some of the most fun things you get to do on your job?


EW: Hmm... I'm not sure how much I should say, but I study chemical vapor deposition processes, and their effect on material properties: grain size, conductivity, tensile strength, optical properties, etc. When I was an undergraduate, one of the first lab experiences I had was helping to set up a DC magnetron sputtering system, and sputter vanadium metal onto a substrate. It was one of the most magical experiences of my life. I grew up watching Star Trek TNG, and as I saw the argon light up into a beautiful purple plasma it felt like I was living a dream aboard the Enterprise. Needless to say, I was hooked.

Ever since then I've worked on a wide variety of experimental physics projects. My PhD was in thermo-acoustics, and I designed acoustic heat engines that could convert sound into electricity. Kind of like an acoustic laser. Later, I got to work with huge lasers to do.... stuff. Like, 400 watts of high quality 532 nanometer light, focused down into very small areas to create crazy high temperature gradients. Good times. But I think the best part about being a scientist is that I get paid to have fun in a physics lab and play with lasers and crap. I mean, seriously, they pay me for this stuff! It's crazy.

EEG: You are a scientist and a science lover -- how does science inspire your stories?

EW: I love science, both real and otherwise. You know during all the old Star Trek TNG episodes when Geordi or Data would start spouting off some techy mumbo jumbo, and the joke was that the audience was probably glazing its eyes over? Yeah, those were my favorite parts. In fact, one of the most disappointing parts of my physics classes was discovering that tachyons are not real.

In my books, I try to let the science inspire the story, without governing it. I mean, I write about a group of rebels trying to take down a galactic empire. Faster than light travel must be used, and any space battle must have things like bright red and blue beams pounding down on enemy starships. But I try to at least base them in science. I borrowed Isaac Asimov's "gravitics", and actually tried to come up with a theoretical framework for how gravitic drives might function. Yeah, I'm a nerd. And there is a crazy Feynman-esque scientist in the story who tries to explain the gravitic drive to the dunce of a captain, but it's done in a way with a wink and a nod to the reader that they're not supposed to get it. It's more of an homage to all the times that Geordi and Data spouted off their stuff.

So, in brief, I try to throw just enough science into the stories to give them some plausibility, and to make them fun for readers who like science as much as I do, but not so much to make it a boring reading experience for the average reader.

EEG: Your new release, The Terran Gambit is really hot right now: top 10 in three different sci-fi categories in Amazon Kindle books! Congratulations! How does that feel? And what are your plans for this new series?

EW: Actually, 4 different categories! And for a few days it was 5! Honestly, it feels a little surreal. The day I hit #507 in the whole Amazon store was just a little unreal, especially when I looked up the author rankings in SciFi. There I was, tucked right in between Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert. Seriously? This is a joke, right? Obviously, that bump didn't last, but lots of people are still buying this book, for which I'm extremely grateful.

The series will have 10 books, and if the fans clamor for more, there might be spinoffs. I also give all my mailing list subscribers free access to all the short stories I write in this universe, and I'll be adding to that collection over the coming year. Book 2 comes out in mid-May.

EEG: Why do you write?

EW: Honestly? I needed a hobby. Don't get me wrong, I've always had the little voice in the back of my head that said I should write novels, and I've even started a couple over the years. But after a particularly long video game binge two and half years ago (curse you, Skyrim!), I sat down and realized I was wasting my life. I mean, I really, really like videogames, and I'll probably always play them, but in that moment I added up all the time I'd spent in the previous 6 months, and it was.... embarrassing. So for my new years resolution, I decided I wanted to do something "big". I didn't know what "big" meant at the time, but it had to be life changing. A huge accomplishment. I wrote down a list of ideas, and writing a novel came out on top. So for 3 weeks I did nothing but write, the result of which was my first novel that I published, The Rohvim, Book 1: Metal and Flesh. After several months of editing, and a re-write of the first 30%, it actually came out to be a pretty good book.

Needless to say, after writing a novel in 3 weeks, I caught the bug. Bad. I followed up with a sequel, and that Rohvim series will probably end up with at least 2 trilogies. But my first love is Space Opera, and I made the switch to that in November last year for NanoWriMo. The Terran Gambit was the result.

EEG: Hehe, I completely understand. I need a hobby, too. One, that is. ;-)
Ok, I have to ask. What's up with tomatoes? :-)


EW: I love tomatoes. Don't judge me! But seriously, I really like tomatoes. One year living in Los Alamos, I grew 127 plants. No joke. Last year I only grew like 37, but here in Alabama, 37 tomato plants is equivalent to 7,400 plants in the high desert of NM. We had to start giving them away. It was glorious.
I love experimenting with all the thousands of varieties available. When the seed catalogue arrives in December, I go through that thing like other men go through a playboy. I hold it up sideways and just stare at it, paging through slowly and ogling all the beautiful reds and oranges and yellows and purples. My dream is to retire to a tomato farm and be a hermit writer/tomato grower. Kind of like how Captain Picard retires to his vineyards after captaining the Enterprise. Only with fewer starships and phasers.

EEG: Haha, that would be fun! Thank you, Endi, for being with us today!

You can follow Endi and his adventures in writing, acoustic lasers and tomato farming on his blog, Facebook, and Twitter (@endiwebb).

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The week in the blogosphere and giveaway continued

Upper Antelope Canyon © EEG

This week I continued my promotional blog tour. Here's where you can find the posts:
UPCOMING:
CHIMERAS will be featured in numerous websites dedicated to indie books. I'm listing them here as they are a fantastic way to discover new authors and get cheap books. In fact, many of these fantastic books are free. I encourage all book lovers out there to check-out the websites and subscribe to their newsletter so you can keep your Kindle loaded and happy. :-)

And here's again the details of the current giveaway.
ENTER THE GIVEAWAY FOR A CHANCE TO WIN AN AUTOGRAPHED PAPERBACK COPY OF CHIMERAS (two Kindle copies also available).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Carnival of Evolution to be hosted here on CHIMERAS!



Fellow science bloggers, the next Carnival of Evolution will be hosted right here on CHIMERAS on May 1st. The Carnival of Evolution is a monthly event that highlights some of the most interesting blog posts about biological evolution. The Carnival is hosted by a different blog every month. You can find last month's Carnival here.

So wear your Darwinian hats and send the links to your evolution blog posts to eegiorgi (at) gmail.com or submit them as a comment to the Facebook page. You can also submit the links in the comments here.

Can't wait to read!

Monday, April 14, 2014

For the love of science: Dr. Amy Rogers talks about science thrillers and a new publishing company dedicated to science writing


You know I'm always excited to find fellow scientists who write, but when I met Amy Rogers and learned all that she does to advocate for "real science" in fiction I was ecstatic. Amy is a medical doctor, a scientist, writer, critic, and, as she states in her website, "a relentless promoter of scientific literacy." Amy not only writes science thrillers herself (her book Petroplague explores the world of bioengineered bacteria), but she promotes all science thrillers through her website ScienceThrillers.com. Wait, it gets better: Amy is about to launch a new publishing company completely dedicated to scientifically grounded fiction. Science writers and readers rejoice!

I'm really honored to have Amy here on CHIMERAS today to discuss her book, science writing, and of course her publishing company. Welcome, Amy!

EEG: The premise of your book, PETROPLAGUE, comes from real, ongoing research on biofuels: bacteria that can be bioengineered to produce oil-like substances. You took this premise and turned it into an apocalyptic scenario of what would happen if America were suddenly deprived of oil. Tell us a bit of how you had the idea for this book.

AR: When most people hear the word “microbiology,” if they think anything at all, they think of “germs.” The common understanding of bacteria is that they make you sick. But this is a narrow, skewed vision of the microbial world. When I taught microbiology at California State University, my goal was to convince students that disease-causing microbes are minor players. Bacteria are far more diverse, and far more powerful, than the few examples that infect humans.

In particular, bacteria are capable of performing just about any chemical reaction. Some bacteria break down hydrocarbons (petroleum) and naturally clean up oil spills. Others produce hydrocarbons and could be used to manufacture renewable petroleum substitutes.

That got me wondering. Why don’t naturally-occurring bacteria that “eat” oil get into our fuel supply and “spoil” our gasoline? And what would happen if they did?

Around that time, people in Los Angeles were using the words “carpocalypse” and “carmageddon” to describe the temporary closure of a major local interstate. America’s most car-dependent city, which also is a major oil-producing region, became the obvious choice of setting for my novel PETROPLAGUE.

EEG: Are you currently working on a new novel?

AR: My next novel REVERTANT will be released in early fall 2014. As with PETROPLAGUE, real microbiology is central to the plot of REVERTANT.

In REVERTANT, an American scientist travels to a medical tourism hospital in Mexico to test a risky new treatment on a boy dying of an incurable disease. When the hospital is taken over by a brutal drug gang and a rabies-like virus infects her colleague, she must solve a medical mystery and put her life on the line to protect the child.

Gene therapy, bad guys, chimpanzees, and a really good dog are all part of the tale. I like to think REVERTANT combines the kind of scientific detective story found in Michael Crichton’s THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN with the surgery phobia of Robin Cook’s COMA.

EEG: I love your website ScienceThrillers.com and how you "relentlessly" promote science literacy. That's also my mission here on CHIMERAS! There are so many intriguing premises that spur from real science, yet most traditionally published "science-y" books are based on bogus science. Why do you think that is? Do you think people are scared of "real" science?

AR: There are two sides to your question: producers and consumers. Why do writers use bogus science? And do readers avoid real science in the stories they read for fun?

As far as readers go, all I need to say is Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park.

Readers don’t avoid science. They’re attracted to great stories. If a writer has the ability to combine a great story with real science, readers will respond.

The problem with writing good scientific fiction is a mismatch of skills. The people who understand science deeply enough to use it realistically in a story are generally scientists or educators, not full-time writers. Many writers find science interesting and would like to use it in their stories, but they lack the technical expertise to write about it well. So they make it up. And often get it wrong. In my experience reviewing over a hundred science-themed thrillers at ScienceThrillers.com, writers can get help correcting the details of their science, but scientist-writers like Crichton display a unique depth of understanding in the way they weave science into their plots.

EEG: How can we make a stronger message that science is in fact sexy and fun?

AR: As writers of science-themed fiction, we’re doing it! Through much of the 20th century, the entertainment industry portrayed scientists as male, mad, and malevolent. Today, when geek has become cool and Bill Gates is the world’s richest man, it’s time to recast the scientist stereotype in books and movies.

We need great stories that will capture the public’s imagination. Those stories must feature compelling, realistic characters who are also scientists, engineers, mathematicians, or physicians. Science in plots should enhance the reader’s understanding of general scientific principles, not undermine it with nonsense.

EEG: You’ve launched a new publishing company, ScienceThrillers Media. STM is dedicated to science-y fiction, specializing "in stories with scientific or medical themes, and stories with protagonists who are scientists, mathematicians, engineers, or physicians." As you explain in your website, your emphasis is on "science thrillers" rather than the speculative stuff most people think of as "science fiction." ScienceThrillers Media is a "hybrid" publisher, offering authors the option of a traditional, advance-paying contract or an indie-style arrangement with higher royalties. Tell us more about STM and how the company plans to distribute the acquired titles.

AR: As you say, ScienceThrillers Media is a new, boutique publisher that will specialize in stories (primarily fiction but also narrative nonfiction) that have realistic science in the plot. Thrillers are a popular part of this genre, but STM will also consider mysteries, romance, historicals, young adult, etc. if the book appeals to the scientifically literate audience we serve.

Traditional publishing and self publishing each have advantages and disadvantages for authors. ScienceThrillers Media will negotiate a contract that finds a balance between the two that best suits the individual desires and skills of a particular writer for a particular book.

ScienceThrillers Media titles are published in both digital and paper formats. Our ebooks are distributed through amazon, bn.com, Apple/iBookstore, and Kobo, and many smaller and foreign e-tailers as well. Our trade paperbacks are distributed through Ingram, amazon, Baker & Taylor, Barnes & Noble, Espresso, and various global partners. STM can’t guarantee placement of books in bricks-and-mortar stores, but we do offer booksellers a generous discount and return policy, just like the major publishers, and we will promote our catalog through industry channels to get our authors’ work in front of buyers.

If you write scientific fiction or popular science nonfiction, send us a query. No literary agent required.

EEG: That's fantastic. Thank you, Amy, for stopping by, and most importantly, thank you for advocating the importance of "real" science in books as well as in our everyday life.


Amy Rogers, MD, PhD, is a Harvard-educated writer, scientist, educator, and critic. Through her book review website, her publishing company ScienceThrillers Media, and her own science thriller writing, Amy advocates for literate entertainment in the form of great stories with real science.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

The week in the blogosphere and another giveaway!

Horseshoe Bend, AZ © EEG

It's been quite a week! CHIMERAS is finally live on Amazon, both in paper and in Kindle. Check out the giveaway at the end of the post -- you can win one autographed print copy of CHIMERAS!

To help spread the word about the book, here are some guest posts and interviews that I did this week and some that are about to come:

And here are the details for the giveaway:
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Friday, April 11, 2014

New Indie Releases and giveaway on Susan's blog

Indie Extravaganza: New Book Releases You Should Check Out - PLUS Gift Card Giveaway!

Looking for some great NEW indie reads?
All of these books are New Releases in the last few months. Skip to the genre you love, sample a new indie author... and enter the giveaway at the bottom! (Also check out the FREE books associated with these New Releases at the bottom.)
And THANK YOU for supporting indie authors!
(click on covers to learn more)

p.s. is it me, or are these indie covers amazing?


Young Adult Science Fiction
 
 

Science Fiction/Dystopian
  
  
 
 

Young Adult Fantasy
  

  

  


Fantasy
 

Young Adult Contemporary Romance
  

Contemporary/Historical Romance
  

  

Young Adult Suspense

Middle Grade
 

Steampunk/Alternate History
 

Thriller/Suspense
  

FREE Books
Connected with New Releases Above