Wired has just published an article about The Year’s 10 Craziest Ways to Hack the Earth, and #8 is a concept I use in my book AVATAR.

Mt. Pinatubo

When Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines in 1991 (left), it sent 10 million tons of sunlight-blocking, planet-cooling sulfur into the atmosphere. Many scientists, among them Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen, think we could duplicate nature’s feat. Using rockets, airplanes, giant guns and even man-made volcanoes to spew fine particles into the atmosphere could drop Earth’s temperatures to early-20th century levels within a decade.

(Photo taken from the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the UCAR Office of Programs web site. Photographer: T. J. Casadevall, U.S. Geological Survey.)

In AVATAR the planet Ico exists in a binary star system, the larger sun being similar to Sol, while the smaller one is a long-period variable star that flares about every 20 years. That flare cycle is long compared to the year most are known to cycle, but I should be entitled to a little journalistic license, yes? The twist on this in AVATAR is that the particulates are made up of buckminster fullerene particles, which are hollow carbon spheres filled with good things for the environment. Supposedly. I guess you’ll have to read to find out.

The planet’s indigenous people, the Iconnu, aren’t particularly thrilled with this high-tech solution when their own low-tech one has been working for generations: take refuge in the multitude of caves that exist in the mountains. Plus, blocking all that radiation will actually upset the lifecycle of an important protective plant called bloodstar, a substance that has worked its way into almost every human, animal and plant on the planet.

Just when I think I never want to write another complicated story like this again, science reminds me how cool it is.

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New Grange
1. Also called Midwinter, the Winter Solstice occurs around December 21 or 22 each year in the Northern hemisphere, and June 20 or 21 in the Southern Hemisphere.

2. It is the shortest day or longest night of the year.

3. The word solstice originated in the early to middle 1200s and derives from the Latin solstitium, which means “to make stand.”

4. The late Neolithic site Stonehenge is aligned to frame the Winter Solstice sunset.

5. The Bronze Age site New Grange (photo above) is aligned to frame the Winter Solstice sunrise.

6. In colder European climates, cattle were slaughtered at this time of year so they would not have to be fed during the winter. This meant that it was last time before spring that a supply of fresh meat was available, which led to a feast.

7. The Roman Saturnalia festival themes of reversal may be tied to the Sun’s ebbing presence in the sky.

8. The Gaulish festival of Deuorius Riuri is listed on the Coligny Calendar, a bronze tablet found in Coligny, France and dates to the 2nd Century, as the annual “great divine winter feast.”

9. In Ireland, people celebrated Wren Day around this time, said to be a remnant of a Druidic feast. According to Wikipedia, people “dressed in motley clothing, wearing masks or straw suits and accompanied by musicians.”

10. In the 3rd Century, the Christian Church prohibited the decoration of houses with evergreens. The decorated Christmas tree only caught on in the mid-19th Century.

11. Coniferous trees and bushes came to be associated with the eternal life and became meaningful during Winter Solstice, and later Christmas, because these types of foliage remain green when other plants have died.

12. The familiar Christmas symbols of evergreens, holly, mistletoe, and the Yule log all predate Christianity.

13. According to the Religious Tolerance web site, the actual Christmas tree tradition, wherein an evergreen is brought inside the house, dates to 16th Century Western Germany. These trees were called Paradeisbaum (paradise trees) and were first brought to American by German immigrants around 1700. They became popular in the general population around 1850.

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

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I’ve seen Harry Connick, Jr. live something like four times now and he never disappoints.

Harry Connick Jr.A fantastic musician and an incredible entertainer, I’ll go see him as many times as I can. This footage is from the Malaga Jazz Festival and TVSpain has disabled embedding this video, so click on the photo to view it on You Tube’s site. From the description accompanying this video:

Harry Connick, Jr., born in New Orleans, USA, 1967, is a singer, pianist, composer and arranger. The style and repertoire of this student of Ellis Marsalis is closest to Jazz, through Swing and popular North American songs. He’s a modern-day crooner with a baritone register that some, because of his artistic leanings, associate with Frank Sinatra, but which in terms of style and timbre is actually more similar to Tony Bennett or Mel Torme. Connick’s career began with two albums which were heavily influenced by jazz and later tended towards a more “popular” style. . . After Chanson du vieux carre (06), with his Big Band, an album of songs associated with Crescent City and a new take on the great hits that evoke New Orleans, he’s released Oh! My Nola (07), which fuses rock&roll, country, blues and ragtime melodies.

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This week’s Danger Gal Friday profile is on Lt. (jg) Naval Reservist Helo Pilot Teri Howe from Suzanne Brockmann’s Out of Control.

Out of ControlRecently, the debate over “forced seduction” scenarios in the Romance genre has surfaced again after statements made by Julie Bindel in an article for The Guardian. Since this subtype of the Romance genre isn’t the topic of this blog, I won’t go into the details here. Dear Author and SBTB both have great discussions going on right now on this issue, so head over there if you want to know more about it. Also, author Louise Allen has written a rebuttal, having been personally mentioned by Bindel.

While this particular Romance subtype isn’t what I personally like to read, it’s lazy to judge a whole genre based on an unrepresentative sampling — and a misrepresentation of that sampling to boot. In the discussion over at SBTB, several commenters asked for recommendations on books that didn’t deal with “forced seduction,” with Alpha heroes who didn’t display the difficult personality traits of the heroes in this subtype. A whole bunch of authors were mentioned, Suzanne Brockmann being one of them. I’ve loved Brockmann’s entire SEAL and Troubleshooters series, and thought Lt. (jg) Teri Howe would be a good character to profile in light of this discussion, due not only to her Danger Gal status, but also to her particular inner conflict. Spoilers do follow, so if you haven’t read this book proceed at your own risk.

What I like about Teri Howe is that we get to see her rise to the status of Danger Gal. From the get-go, Howe has the Danger Gal skill and determination: she’s a pilot who can fly anything from a prop to a small jet to a helicopter, and she graduated from MIT. From Howe’s accounts of her childhood, it’s a safe bet she financed her own college education. Her real passion in life is flying, and I’ve met more than a few pilots who’d fit that description, so this bit of characterization rang true for me. There’s a reason Flying magazine has a bumper sticker that says “I’d rather be flying.”

The backcover summary describes Howe as “one of the best helicopter pilots in the naval reserves . . . tough, dedicated, and highly-skilled,” but as reviewer Kate Nepveu summarizes: “[Howe is] a great pilot but less assertive when off-duty; through her friendship and then love with Senior Chief Stan Wolchonok, she grows into an all-around kickass person.”

On more than one occasion, Wolchonok assumes a certain kind of behavior from Howe based on his experiences with her as a pilot. He comments to himself and others the high respect he has for her as a pilot and a person. He’s stymied when someone so cool under pressure in the cockpit can cave completely when faced with a sexual harassment situation. He builds a trust with Howe by keeping his own libido in check and she finally confirms his suspicions of childhood sexual abuse. Wolchonok helps Howe to transfer the skills she already has in other areas of her life to deal with this problem. Once she begins to master standing up for herself and going after what she wants, Howe decides she wants Wolchonok and pursues him; something he never thought was possible.

Some might say that Wolchonok swept in and solved Howe’s problem for her by removing her from a stressful situation, but all he did was give her the reprieve Howe needed to access the skills she already had in order to solve the problem herself. Wolchonok is a virile Alpha hero who is the heroine’s biggest fan and would never dream of treating her poorly. He helps the heroine see who she really is and to embrace it. At the end of the book Lt. Teri Howe has transitioned to a full-fledged Danger Gal, with kiss-ass skills and the attitude to go with it.

Out of Control is a great example of how the Romance genre can’t be boiled down to its stereotypes of sheik billionaires, savage Highlanders and secret babies. It’s about ::wait for it:: the power of love, most often Romantic love, but specifically regarding how that connection can change a person to live up to their full potential as a human being. I know what you’re thinking, savvy SF reader: sappy, sappy, sappy. But it’s not. Love, affection and sex — which can be primal and gritty as well as roses and chocolate — are some of the most fundamental qualities we human beings yearn for and it belongs as part of a multi-dimensional character in any genre. The Romance genre, though, to quote commenter Poison Ivy over at SBTB, is “an apotheosis of an intimate relationship.” Just like all books, Romance reflects and shapes its readership. This one reflects a woman dealing with deep emotional pain, who with help from a strong man not afraid to show his nurturing side, learns to stand up for herself in all areas of her life.

Other reviews of this book:
All About Romance
The Romance Reader

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