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Issue Number : 33 - Web Site Progress
I'm told that the new web site is virtually completed, and all we're waiting for now is testing of the reworked version of the Bookstore. (As a reminder, Mailing List subscribers can preview the new site at www.jamesphogan.com/index_new.php -- see details in the last newsletter.)
In the meantime, Tim Gleason, the Site Administrator, and Declan Glynn, who has been programming the new site, have restyled the existing Home Page at www.jamesphogan.com to reflect the new approach. The main change is that it now contains links to new items throughout the site, brought to the front to avoid the tedium of having to check inside -- a great improvement indeed. They've also made the new Site Index compatible with the current version of the site and linked it in, so it's accessible by clicking on the Site Index button of the menu bar. I'm really impressed by this. One of the reasons I've been a bit light on Bulletin Board postings this year was the feeling that it would become unwieldy if it grew much larger without an adequate Index. That's now solved, so you can expect some activity in the BB department in the weeks ahead. The same applies to the Heretics Bookstore, for which I've been getting appreciative comments and requests for new additions. The other reason for going easy with new material, of course, was to avoid confronting the site developers with constantly moving goalposts.
The other significant change is that the new site is driven entirely from a database. That's more of an engine-room refit that won't make a lot of difference to what you, the visitor, sees, but it will facilitate maintenance, updating, and future expansion enormously.
A number of people have been asking about the paperback edition of Kicking The Sacred Cow, which has been drawing some very complimentary responses, even from scientists in fields that the book challenges. Even when they disagree with my own views, the general feeling is that theses are subjects that should be debated more freely, and that the media and educational systems would be doing a service by giving the dissident sides more coverage. Baen Books have scheduled the paperback edition for July, 2006. The main change is that we've moved the section on Darwinism and Intelligent Design from the front to the back of the collection. This was suggested by several readers, and as I recall, an early thought voiced by my agent, Eleanor Wood. Because of the subject's current political and religious connotations, and the emotional reactions they arouse, apparently some people found it a heavy challenge to be confronted by up front, at the beginning of the book, possibly to the detriment of judging the rest of it. After absorbing and adjusting to the book's general tone, however, many found it to be more easily digested in the new light upon rereading.
A reminder that Catastrophes, Creation, & Convolution will be out from Baen Books as a December, 2005, title. This is the third collection of mixed short fiction and nonfiction pieces, along the lines of Minds Machines, & Evolution and Rockets, Redheads, & Revolution.
One of the nonfiction pieces in this talks about Intelligent Design too. Some of the mail I get regarding Bulletin Board postings on the subject provide interesting examples of how--particularly when the issue is one that feelings can run high on--will read something from their own minds into what's written instead of what it actually says. In this case, the preconception that seems to get played out is that if you don't buy neo-Darwinism, then you must be a Creationist.
What I've said is that as things presently appear, the entire probabilistic resources of the universe wouldn't be sufficient to generate more than a negligible faction of the possible trial-and error solutions to be selected from on the basis of pure randomness that Darwinism presumes. Too many parts of these stupefyingly complex systems that we observe, each highly specific and each colossally improbable in its own right, have to be just right, all at the same time. Until the proponents of the theory come up with a convincing answer to this, there's no justifiable reason for dismissing an intelligent agent of some kind at work behind it all. It is also claimed that the particular kind of information that we recognize intuitively when we identify the result of an intelligence at work (a sand castle as opposed to a dune on the beach; a hexagon nut as opposed to a pebble) can be rigorously defined, quantified, and used a measure of phenomena found in nature. That strikes me as a perfectly respectable scientific claim that should be examined and tested. I don't know what the answer is, and I would be curious to learn the outcome.
But in the present climate, all else seems to be drowned out by the clamor from the fundamentalists at both extremes, who have evidently made up their minds that they do know what the answer is, and are more interested in winning arguments than learning anything.
Another of the essays in CC&C is on the Electric Universe theory -- another of those subjects that I was skeptical about at first, but discovered that the deeper you get into it, the more intriguing it becomes.
GIANTS SERIES REISSUES
Baen Books will be reissuing the first four titles of the "Giants" series: Inherit the Stars, The Gentle Giants of Ganymede, Giants Star, and Entoverse. Good news for those who have had difficulty finding them in recent times. The format will be two volumes, each containing two novels. The first volume, comprising the first two titles of the series, is entitled Two Moons and is scheduled for release in April, 2006.
(The fifth novel in the series, Mission to Minerva was released as a Baen Books hardback in May, 2005)
ECHOES OF AN ALIEN SKY
The new novel that has been in the works for a while is finished, and the Manuscript was FedExed off to Eleanor on Thanksgiving day (not a holiday in Ireland, but highly appropriate nevertheless). I originally predicted that it would be 100,000 words, 45 chapters, and be done by the end of November. We actually weighed in at 100,600 words, 47 chapters, and a week early. So who says these things have to be a business of vague hopes and crossed fingers?
This is the one about explorers from a future cooled-down Venus digging up ruins and remains of the extinct race that used to live on Earth--kind of an Inherit the Stars in reverse. Background, Summary, Samples, and so forth will be available when we put the web Title Page up. I don't produce these on a new book until it is formally accepted by the publisher.
Several readers have lamented on many of my earlier short stories no longer being available. Well, I'm pleased to announce the Ms. Eline D. Trimm, an old friend and teacher in Georgia who had also done some journalism herself, has offered to handle placings and reprints of my shorter works, and Eleanor has given the arrangement her blessing. Eline's first contribution has been to place 24 of my short stories with the online publisher Fictionwise, going back to the first one I ever wrote, "Assassin," which appeared in Ballantine's Stellar 4 anthology, edited by Judy-Lynn del Rey, in 1978. I'm a little over halfway through checking and editing the Fictionwise versions, and will post a full list with links when the final schedule is available.
LIFE ON THE FARM
When I bought the cottage, it was listed as having 4 bedrooms. I knocked an archway from one through to the kitchen to make it into a dining-room extension, and took out the partition between what had been two small rooms for the kids to make an office. So now I'm left with just one. For a much of this year I've been trying to get a price to have a guest-room and utility room extension added, but due to a building glut in the area, you can't get anyone to do it. Either they never get back with a prices as promised, or the figure quoted is so high as to be either an intentional deterrent or an invitation to be robbed. (They say that in Ireland "Oi'll get back ta ye's" means the same as the Mexican manana, but without the same implied undertone of urgency.)
In October, when I was in Alabama as the guest of Con*stellation, I went down to Georgia to spend a few days with Eline and her family before catching the plane back. Her husband, Darryl, was in the final stages of completing a magnificent two-story guest house for the place, with a living area and kitchen on the ground, and bedroom, bathroom, and walk-in closet above. I commented that he had to have done this kind of thing before. He said no -- he's an engineer with NBC -- he just came back from Home Depot with all the books, and worked his way through it all step-by-step from there. So when I got back, I called by to see Frank, who runs a big bookshop in Sligo town and has a lot of my titles, to see what he could offer in the way of "How To" guides on such arts as pouring foundations and block-laying. I now have plenty to absorb by the fire in the long winter evenings.
So who knows? After plunging into piano playing a few years ago after getting one for youngest son Joe when he enrolled in a music course in Pensacola (it's still going strong, incidentally), the next thing on the list might be a self-taught blocklayer. One of the things I took time out for this summer was making some stone steps across the ditch that runs above the zeppelin shed, and digging trenches for ground drains. One of the problems you have to contend with here is a sticky blue clay called "daub" that sets like concrete when dry, sticks infuriatingly to tools when wet, and is impervious to water. Leitrim county is made of it. I was in one of the local pubs not long ago, when a friend informed us that some Victorian poet from the area (not Yeats) waxed lyrically about "the daub" in one of his romances about the homeland. A farmer who was with us growled dourly, "Is that a fact? A poet, was it? Then all I can say is, he never shoveled the f******g stuff."
I've been getting some requests for a photo gallery on the site for shots of these people I talk about, the farm and the zeppelin shed, and other things that go on, such as conventions. A good idea, and something that we'll maybe implement when the site is up an running on the database with all the current features working solidly. So don't give up.