Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

The anti-GMO movement…

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

It’s surprising how many people are anti-GMO, playing into the hands of unscrupulous marketers who have made a lot of money attending to their whims. The whole idea is absurd, of course. Humans have been making GMOs since prehistoric times. Their creations weren’t called such a nasty, degrading name as GMO, to be sure, because the usual name until hysteria took hold was “domesticated variety” or something similar. New technologies just speed up the process, but they just continue this process.

A recent article in Science News should be read by every anti-GMO activist on this planet, many of them in the U.S. (These probably overlap considerably with the anti-immunization crowd, PETA members, vegetarians, and vegans.) OK, I’m being a bit snarky here—I don’t really care about what your belief and behavioral choices are as long as you don’t proselytize about them by shouting in my face.

Back to the Science News article; it’s titled “The Road to Tameness” (SN, p. 21, July 8, 2017). I’ll extract from that articale a short list of ancient GMOs: golden hamsters, horses, silkworms, dogs, cats, chickens, honeybees, rice, foxes, watermelons, wheat, llamas, alpacas, turkeys, camels, ducks, sheep, corn, tulips, and roses. There are many more. Human beings have been genetically tinkering for ages. One really impressive sight is to drive through Holland when all those tulips are in bloom. Guess how many varieties in those fields of color are wild.

The article’s title is politically correct; SN always tries to stand above the cultural and political wars. They talk about “tameness” and “domestication” in the article. I talk about ancient GMOs and genetic engineering. Po-tah-toe v. po-tay-toe. No matter what you call it, human beings have been genetically tinkering for a long time.

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Notes on the eclipse…

Friday, September 1st, 2017

Isaac Asimov in his extended Foundation series (it brings together the Foundation Trilogy, the robot novels, and The End of Eternity) commented toward the end during the search for Earth that humans’ home is an E-type planet with a very large moon. Some gas giants have even larger moons, of course, but Earth’s satisfies the Goldilocks Principle twice over: its distance from the Sun and its diameter are just right so that it just blocks the Sun. That occurs about every eighteen months on Earth, but most eclipses aren’t seen by many people because the Earth’s surface is 70% covered by water.

Eclipses have left their observers agog from prehistoric times to present day. Originally explained via magic and superstition, we now use the magic of technology to observe them. These observations have aided and will continue to aid us in understanding our home star. The eclipse of May 1919 confirmed a prediction of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. While telescopes can now block the solar disk to study the sun’s corona and prominences, there’s something special about the moon doing it for us.

The eclipse occurred a week ago. Because the NYC area wasn’t in the path of totality, I decided to watch the totality multiple times with ABC’s reporters stationed along the totality path. Here are some notes (with annotations from yours truly) that I made during that experience:

The last cross-country total eclipse was 1776. I need to check that. If correct, that eclipse was the most patriotic one.

People were saying all viewers in the U.S. were at a “Woodstock for Nerds.” I was happier just seeing ordinary people, not Sheldons and Leonards, getting excited. Even the Great Denier of Science Fact seemed into it.

I’m not sure the two making their wedding vows during the eclipse got the wedding present they’d bargained for. It rained on them.

ABC’s left-clock announcing the “next totality” must have been created by a lover of oxymoronic phrases. There was no “next”; the moon’s shadow swept continuously across the country. They should have said “next report about totality” or something similar.

“Diamond ring”? Not a bad name, but that and the Bailey’s beads (named after astronomer Francis Bailey) are both due to the sun either peeking and/or diffracting through craters and valleys on the moon. Its limb isn’t smooth by any stretch of the imagination.

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Book review of The Three-Body Problem…

Friday, July 28th, 2017

(Cixin Liu, The Three-Body Problem, Tor, 2006)

I’ll admit it: I struggled through this Hugo Award winner. It’s a cross between a physics textbook; a historical account of China, including the Cultural Revolution; and a story about first contact.

The physics is a bit much for the average sci-fi reader perhaps, especially for those who think Star Wars, Star Trek, and other Hollywood gruel are real sci-fi. The history is more interesting. I feel I don’t know enough about China. Books like this one, Ludlum’s third Bourne novel (and not the third movie!), and The First Excellence by Donna Carrick, represent good ways to understand Chinese history and modern culture via fiction. First contact is overdone in the sci-fi literature (perhaps Asimov was smart to avoid ETs altogether in his Foundation series), and this book offers few novelties.

I can’t refrain from commenting on the title. The Centauri star system has achieved some notoriety lately because there’s an Earth-sized planet orbiting the red dwarf Proxima (the usual extra-solar planets are Jovian-sized). Obviously the author didn’t know about this planet when he wrote his book, but any inhabitants of that planet might be interested in exact solutions to the three-body problem because the “suns” in their sky form such a system. Beyond that, the mysticism that shrouds the three-body system in this novel is unwarranted because the Centauri three-star system has been stable for millions of years.

The end of the book leans more to Harry Potter-like fantasy than hard sci-fi. Unfolding a proton and etching integrated circuits on its surface is a story that Harry’s house dwarf might dream up (if the author knew anything about science, that is). It’s a silly extrapolation, if it can even be called that. And it’s definitely not good sci-fi.

The climax is too long coming. The description of the two camps of human thought about how to deal with the ETs is too. I’d say 70% of the book is how one woman dealt with and had her little victories against the Cultural Revolution; there’s very little sci-fi beyond the fact that she and her father were physicists. That’s about 270 pages out of 390 before the reader even gets to the point.

The usual sci-fi story elements are missing: fast-moving plot (there’s not much world-building here, so why is it so slow?); interesting characters (I don’t like any of them); strange settings (OK, there are foreign and interesting ones, but I wouldn’t call them all that strange, except for the fantasy home of the Centaurians, and you can’t tell them apart from those in a computer game); and so forth. The author also spends too much time writing about a computer game. I’m just not into them because they’re a waste of time, but this one is used to subvert and convert and recruit intellectuals to further the ambitions of the main character (hard to tell whether she’s protagonist or antagonist, by the way). Maybe you like computer games. If that’ the case, you’ll maybe like some of this book.

I kept thinking as I read, “Hey, Steve, this is a Hugo winner. It must get better.” It never did–not for me. I found it to be a slog. Maybe the Hugo judges were trying to achieve some rapprochement with China? For me, Hugo has been slipping the last two decades. This one was a major slip-up (I previously tried to read another Hugo winner, one I couldn’t even finish, so I didn’t review it).

This is the first book in a trilogy. I won’t be reading the two remaining ones. That’s my cultural revolution against Hugo as much as this author.

***

Rembrandt’s Angel (a mystery/thriller from Penmore Press). To what lengths would you go to recover a stolen masterpiece? Scotland Yard’s Arts and Antiques Inspector Esther Brookstone goes the extra mile. She and paramour/sidekick Bastiann van Coevorden, an Interpol agent, set out to outwit the dealers of stolen art and recover “An Angel with Titus’ Features,” a Rembrandt painting stolen by the Nazis in World War Two. Their efforts lead to much more, as they uncover an international conspiracy that threatens Europe. During their dangerous adventures, their relationship solidifies and becomes a full-blown romance. This book is available in ebook format at Amazon and at Smashwords and its affiliate retailers. It’s available as a print version at Amazon, B&N, or your favorite bookstore (if not there, ask for it). Happy reading!

In libris libertas…

Information overload…

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

Maybe I’m just getting old, but every day it seems to be more difficult to process the information I look for and find. I seem to be drowning in it. I try to be selective, but the selection takes time too. Some days the selection process takes more time than processing the information I’ve received.

Information is now mined by corporations who sell what they’ve mined to other corporations. The latter are probably in the same boat I’m in. Will Corporate America come to a grinding halt when it has so much information that it can’t process it? Will I?

Some computer gurus discuss a tipping point when computer networks become sentient and human beings become superfluous. (The Terminator movies are built on this premise.) I don’t think that will happen. When information overload maxes out, computers will be turned off, AIs, robots, and androids will crazy, and civilization will end. We’ll probably return to a hunter-gather society. The only information we’ll need then is what to hunt and what to gather.

We’re already networking computers to solve problems of great complexity. But will we reach the point that the solutions to these problems are just as complex and human beings can’t begin to understand them? I can imagine a worldwide network going crazy because it has solved a complex and important problem but the solution is so complex that only another worldwide network can understand it!

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Languages…

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

When you get to be my age—old but young-at-heart—you start wondering if you had to do it all over again, what different choices would you make. Life is about choices, of course—choices covering an entire spectrum, from small to big. You might have some regrets too. That’s only human.

I don’t regret the choices I’ve made in my personal life. Given the same circumstances, I’d make the same ones. I wouldn’t have minded if some of them had turned out differently—I’d like to decrease the bad experiences and amplify the good ones—but I generally wouldn’t change the choices I made that led to these experiences.

I started publishing my fiction 10+ years ago (the first edition of my second novel, Full Medical, was published in 2006). At an early age, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I’m a practical person, though, so I made the choice to become a scientist, figuring that being a successful writer was too much like winning the lottery. It is, no matter what some authors or writing gurus say. Don’t give up on your day-job just yet. I think Dean Koontz’s wife gave him a year or so to achieve success. That’s unheard of nowadays, unless you win the lottery like Hugh Howey, J. K. Rowling, or Mark Weir. Writing good fiction is a necessary condition; there are no sufficient ones.

Science might not seem like a career that forms a basis for writing success (except maybe for sci-fi—many successful sci-fi writers are ex-scientists). One can wonder what careers are best for that. A love of languages has always accompanied my love for writing. I have a modest ability with languages. Given other circumstances, I might have become a linguist. That seems to be a fulfilling career for putting food on the table while you write stories and wait for some modicum of success. Probably not as lucrative as hard science and technology, though, which everyone calls STEM nowadays. While a journalism degree is probably better than an MFA (the former produces more understanding of and exposure to the human condition), the study of languages is undeniably related to what a writer does all the time: putting ideas into words and choosing the right words and logic to do so.

Of course, any writing career does this, even writing verses for Hallmark. But the study of languages goes far beyond writing skills. Understanding the linguistic history and structure of languages, especially one as dynamic as English, offers the future and present writer an incredible base for the logical choices s/he must make in her or his writing.

I don’t own many print books now. Although I have enough to keep bookshelves sagging, I generally find ebooks more practical—they’re easy to read, very accessible, and don’t take up any physical space beyond my Kindle. But there’s one print book on my reference shelf that I greatly value, David Crystal’s The Stories of English. Even if you ignore current dialects and regional variations, English is a complicated amalgam of many bits and pieces that has seen a dynamic and rapid development. The Spanish reader can still read Cervantes; we struggle with Shakespeare. And these men were almost contemporaries (Shakespeare died one day after Cervantes).

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Irish Stew #63…

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017

International

Trump’s Saudi policies. Saudi Arabia wasn’t on Trump’s list of countries whose Muslim immigrants, many escaping horrible situations in their home countries, are the targets of his bans in his executive orders, contradicting his belief that all Muslims are terrorists. And Mr. Trump negotiated a weapons deal with the duplicitous Saudis to make the military-industrial complex happy during his whirlwind tour in the Mideast.

The Saudis aren’t our friends. They’re not even the enemies of our enemies. They are the enemy. The majority of the 9/11 terrorists came from Saudi Arabia because the Saudi royal family’s state-sponsored religious schools have a continuing policy of brainwashing young boys and men to hate the West. And they have continuously attacked Yemen where they are responsible for mass murders of innocents. They probably support ISIS too, because ISIS hates Shi’ites, and they’re the Saudis’ enemies.

Sad! Trump is supporting duplicity and murder. Guess he believes in that.

National

Malthusian politics? The CBO hasn’t published its financial analysis yet, but the Senate’s proposed healthcare bill is meaner than the House’s. They’re both an attack on the middle class and poor, especially those who don’t have any financial means and depend on Medicaid as a life preserver—elderly in nursing homes, people with serious disabilities, and very sick children. Too many without any other coverage.

Not just sad but doing the Grim Reaper’s work so the GOP can give tax breaks to the rich elites. These aren’t healthcare bills—they’re thinly disguised tax breaks. And Rand Paul thinks they don’t go far enough? This guy has no compassion at all. No wonder he was a failed doctor! Next thing we’ll see from the GOP? Maybe death ovens for the sick and infirm with Dr. Death running them?

Is Obama to blame? Not as much as the GOP and American media are saying! They’re still supporting the attack on the ex-president for not divulging what he knew about Putin’s personally directed attack on our electoral system. Why? It’s not “fake news” if they hide the real truth that Obama’s desire to secure bipartisan support to inform the American public was rejected by the GOP members of congress Obama approached. OK, maybe Obama was stupid to believe that HRC was a shoo-in, but Trump had been yammering all during the campaign that the system was rigged. What if Obama had decided to divulge all he knew? They’d have said he was unfairly supporting HRC! Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

For eight years the GOP practiced obstructionism against the Obama administration. And Trump dares to accuse the Dems and Obama of being obstructionists? Of course, I’m waiting for HRC to say Obama was responsible for her losing. Sad! You can’t trust politicians or the media these days.

Wild weather. Last Saturday morning NJ received a taste of Midwest weather. I saw my first tornado in Kansas when I was thirteen visiting my grandfather—an awesome sight even if it was off in the distance. Now we had two in Howell, NJ. A smack across the face from Mother Nature to wake us up to the problems of climate change? She should concentrate on Trump who believes it’s all a hoax. Hey Mother Nature, why don’t you go after Mar al Lago or one of his many golf courses—Bedminster would be a good start? Just give the innocents a warning.

Sports etc.

Cosby and Hernandez. I never bought into the theory that the ex-Patriot tight end committed suicide. He had just won acquittal for one charge and was going to appeal the conviction that put him in jail. Why would he be suicidal?

MA law says a conviction that is being appealed must be vacated. Sleazebag prosecutors want to change that law. They must be related to the DA prosecuting Bill Cosby.

DAs who are running for office or have nefarious agendas shouldn’t be allowed to prosecute anyone because they are just trying to win points for being “tough on crime.” Political campaigns interfere with objectivity. So do many careers in general. Of course, most lawyers, prosecutors or defense attorneys, aren’t known for objectivity or a commitment to the truth—they’ve sold their souls to the Devil for their clients.

***

There’s a big book Summer/Winter Smashwords sitewide promo from July 1 – 31. You have be a member to receive the email catalog. Join Smashwords—it’s free, and it provides a large universe of reading entertainment. Almost of my ebooks are sale with price reductions from 25 – 50 %. That includes the first six books in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series.” Load your e-reader up for summer (northern hemisphere) or winter (southern hemisphere). And for additional great reading, don’t forget my new novels, Gaia and the Goliaths (#7 in the detective series) and Rembrandt’s Angel, both mystery/thriller novels. Enjoy!

And so it goes…

California dreamin’…

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

The state of my birth is becoming a world leader and taking up the slack when Washington (AKA Trump, his minions, and the GOP) fails. San Francisco recently was the site of a meeting involving Canadian and Mexican environmental ministers who discussed maintaining the Paris Accord, among other things, with state leaders. The state’s legal team is getting ready to block any Washington attempt to push back on their tough laws for vehicle emissions. Gov. Jerry Brown (AKA Gov. Moonbeam) is traveling to China to discuss global warming with Chinese officials. And the state is moving toward single-payer healthcare for all—the Cal Senate just approved it.

Calling it “slack” on the part of Washington is a bit too nice, of course. Trump and his cronies are attacking the environment in any way they can. From supporting the coal industry, which has done more to hurt our climate than almost anything else (it’s ironic that even in coal states, they’re moving away from coal in power plants), to emasculating the EPA and rolling back provisions to protect the environment to favor their rich friends in other industries, Washington seems bent on ruining the planet for our children and grandchildren—maybe us too, if they keep up with the onslaught. Remember Trump is the candidate who declared global warming a hoax. Should we put him on that Antarctic ice shelf and see what happens when it breaks off? Maybe the lobby of Trump Tower will be the first to be flooded when the sea level rises by six feet, as predicted.

The U.S. as a whole is the world’s second worse polluter—only China is worse. California doesn’t accept this all-out attack on the environment by Washington. They have led the nation in positive environmental actions and have boldly stepped up their efforts to counter the evil dark lord in the White House and his GOP goblins. Other states—all blue, of course—try to follow along with the state’s defense-of-environment plans. As the most populous state in the union, the food provider for much of the nation, and estimated to be the sixth or seventh most powerful nation in the world if it ever separates from the union, the Golden Bear is a heavyweight. If Washington doesn’t listen, the rest of the world does. California doesn’t need Washington, but the United States does.

Saving the environment is a no-brainer. This means that Washington is now brainless and California is an Einstein. Even China is getting on board, while Trump backed out of the Paris Accord, incurring the wrath of the rest of the world. It’s hypocritical for states with so much at stake—tourism to national parks in many red states, for example—to become anti-environment. Most big game hunters are NRA members who are hypocritical too—wild animals are part of the environment. Aquifers are being damaged all over the country, but you can bet the anti-environment zombies will be the first to complain when their water turns bad. I can go on and on, but the truth is being insensible to what we’re doing to the environment and the flora and fauna of the world is idiocy. No. Anyone who does this is immoral and evil. There’s a reason that the Pope has an encyclical on the environment. He gave a copy to Trump; will he ever read it? He certainly took no heed of the Pope’s advice when he made his decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord. And his comment about Pittsburg v. Paris is the height of stupidity—Pittsburg went overwhelmingly for Clinton in 2016.

California has been leading environmental protection efforts for a long time. They did so out of necessity. If other American cities and states and countries in the world wait until necessity spurs them to action, it will be too late. If others don’t care, Earth will eventually end up like Mars. We all share this planet. Let’s be good tenants by keeping it clean and healthy. And letting the naysayers remain in power at the ballot box will make us accomplices of the thugs who would destroy the environment. Vote green today, not GOP-red. And work to get California rules to protect the environment adopted in your state.

***

Rembrandt’s Angel. To what lengths would you go to recover a stolen masterpiece? Scotland Yard’s Arts and Antiques Inspector Esther Brookstone goes the extra mile. She and paramour/sidekick Bastiann van Coevorden, an Interpol agent, set out to outwit the dealers of stolen art and recover “An Angel with Titus’ Features,” a Rembrandt painting stolen by the Nazis in World War Two. Their efforts lead to much more, as they uncover an international conspiracy that threatens Europe. During their dangerous adventures, their relationship solidifies and becomes a full-blown romance. Published by Penmore Press, this novel is available in ebook format at Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, B&N, and Apple, and in print through Amazon or your local bookstore (if they don’t have it, ask them to order it). Great summer reading!

And so it goes…

Waging war against Gaia…

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

I’m expecting a bloodbath in the EPA, NASA, NOAA and possibly other agencies as Mr. Trump wages war on the environment. Many employees there are civil service, but that might not stop Il Duce AKA Narcissus le Grand—he’ll just close down the agencies if he wants to get rid of them. The EPA, NASA, and NOAA are where many of those “bad scientists” can be found who disagree with the GOP claim that climate control and taking care of the environment have low priority. Narcissus le Grand even believes global warming is a hoax.

What’s driving all this is Trump’s desire to end all environmental regulations so that companies, his included, can pollute and destroy the environment as much as they want, a particularly virulent and dangerous example of capitalism without controls. Even now, they ship high-tech toxic waste and other crap to places like Bangladesh. Il Duce and his minions probably think it would be cheaper just to dump it somewhere in the U.S. How ‘bout not doing it at all?!

Disasters like that BP oil well in the Gulf, destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, poisoning wells and water supplies—those kinds of things are just part of doing business, according to Trump and his cronies. He names Pruitt to head the EPA and one of the gnome’s first public acts is to deny the role of CO2 in global warming. C’mon!

Many scientists are worried. A week before Il Duce’s inauguration, more than 250 volunteers met at UPenn for a two-day binge of downloading climate data and storing it on independent servers. “If you don’t want to do anything about climate change,” said Texas A&M atmospheric scientist Andrew Dessler, “you are in a stronger position if you get rid of the data.” Gretchen Goldman, research director for the Center of Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists said, “With a president who doesn’t respect scientific information, one abuse could be data mysteriously disappearing from websites, or government scientific websites may suddenly have misinformation.” Most of the data that was saved was from NOAA, EPA, DoE, and NASA.

One of those infamous executive orders from Narcissus le Grand could restrict data access from outside the U.S. Trump’s evil minions are already talking about clamping down on the internet and allowing service providers to have multi-tier systems—that’s been on the GOP hit list for some time. And shortly after the inauguration, Trump ordered the EPA to delete climate change pages from the EPA’s website, but he then backtracked on that order when the roars of protest became deafening. The order for EPA scientists and other agencies’ scientists not to post on social media or communicate with reporters still stands, though. Inside the agencies that do climate-related research, Goldman says “morale is low. People are scared.” Scared for their jobs, because Il Duce likes to fire people who disagree with him!

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Post-mortem of a speech to Congress…

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

In some dilating time machine or Mr. Trump’s parallel universe, ages have passed since he gave that speech to Congress. In real life, it was only a week ago—can you believe it? Everything he said is meaningless now, so dissecting that rambling rhetoric of a delusional man is anti-climactic. But let’s do it anyway because the president left the Twitter-sphere long enough to sound presidential and hide his narcissistic psychosis.

It’s curious that the media, after the president declared them to be the “enemy of the American people,” fell all over themselves to state that his “state of the union” (read: state of Trump’s parellel universe, that one that circulates among the dark energy and matter of his mind) set a new tone. Il Duce was even called presidential because he sounded presidential. But not for me—he’s not my president! He never will be my president, and isn’t the president of a majority of the American people.

What I heard was empty rhetoric reminiscent of Goebbels’s 1930’s propaganda in Germany—in other words, fascistic spin and appeal to populism playing on the fears of good Americans. His handlers, Bannon, Conway, and Miller, who take turns at the puppet strings—yes, he’s a marionette, even stringing himself along—carefully planned this atrocious display. If it was some crazy attempt to reach across the aisle, Dems won’t buy the snake oil from this charlatan, and didn’t—the thumbs-down from the Dem women in white were refreshing and evidence for their general mood—Trump the misogynist is women’s rights worst enemy. Narcissus the Wonderful shows no concern about women’s issues—we know he sees them only as objects—and on abortion, he’s as much a right-wing bigot as they come.

Let’s consider a few points. On trade, Trump might have sounded a wee bit like Sanders. There’s a huuuuge difference, though. Both men were born in Brooklyn, but the two are light years apart—Trump might actually live in one of those other multiverses where his marionette strings are tangled with those of general string theory. In particular, where Bernie was an earnest and honest champion for the working class, Il Duce doesn’t really give a rat’s ass about their plight—it’s all just show. He follows the time-tested fascist strategy of pretending to do so, of course—that’s how Franco, Hitler, and Mussolini came to power in the 1930s! U.S. workers should be wary about buying anything from this snake-oil salesman. Pay attention to his false promises at your own risk!

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Apocalypse redux…

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Redux = brought back, revived. We’re talking about the apocalypse again. Apocalypse is the event. While a dystopian society can cause it or be its aftermath, post-apocalyptic is reserved for the aftermath. There is a resurgence in these themes now. Everyone knows the reason: what’s happening in the U.S. right now as well as across the world has frightening parallels with 1930’s Germany, Italy, and Spain as well as with the darkest days of the Cold War. There’s nothing religious about this apocalypse.

Most dystopian, apocalyptic, and post-apocalyptic tales in the past were associated with the two world wars or the Communist threat. Brave New World was dystopian; Ape and Essence was post-apocalyptic. Even The Time Machine was post-apocalyptic. 1984 and Animal Farm were dystopian. Later sci-fi novels like Not This August were post-apocalyptic. Many classics can be found in these subgenres. Many soon-to-be classics like Wool are too. They all are warnings about what could happen. It’s common that interest in books and movies in these subgenres reflect troubled times in the world.

The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki changed the world. As that hand on the Doomsday Clock inches toward midnight, these sci-fi subgenres become more popular. Some readers ignore them, burying their heads in the sand by reading schmaltzy romances and fluffy adventures that avoid most serious themes of any type. Which group is right? Beats me. I just tell stories. If one of them comes out apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic, so be it. Almost all my stories have serious themes, though, but not all of them are in the aforementioned subgenres.

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