Monday, November 20, 2017

Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World

With Thanksgiving coming up in a few days, it seems like a good time to think about the Native Americans who enabled the colonists to survive. Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World, reminds us how much we owe the Native Americans. I'm only a few chapters in, but I've already learned how the gold and silver the Europeans took made a world economy possible, how potatoes improved the lives of peasants and farmers, and how cotton helped make the Industrial Revolution possible. That said, the way the Europeans (and later Americans) treated the Native Americans is one of the world's great tragedies. I'd heard of an alternate history that has the two worlds meeting on more equal footing. Unfortunately, I can't remember the name off the top of my head. If someone else remembers it, please feel free to post it.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Science of the Week, 11/17/17

If you're named Jennifer and have a hotmail e-mail address, please check your inbox. I randomly picked the winner of my Strong Women in Fiction giveaway last night, and you've won five autographed books in my fantasy Season Avatars series! Thanks to everyone who participated and to Terri Bruce for organizing the blog hop.

Here are some of the most interesting science news articles I read this week:

Is this the end?

Carbon emissions on the rise again

Wolves: the power of the pack

Very low calorie diet can reduce Type 2 Diabetes

Group literally taking air-pollution monitoring to the streets in California

Hunt for dark matter is narrowed.

Have a good weekend, and see you Monday!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution

Speculative fiction often uses real creatures as inspiration for fantastic (or science-fictional) beasts and aliens. How realistic is it to expect that all sentient beings will be humanoid? (Star Trek costuming notwithstanding.) In Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution, Jonathan B. Losos examines examples and counterexamples of convergent evolution, which occurs when dissimilar or unrelated species evolve parallel traits to meet the same challenge. For example, dolphins, sharks, and whales all have a streamlined body plan for swimming in the water.

Although Stephen Jay Gould famously claimed you can't replay the tape of evolution and expect to see the same events unfold, Losos points out instances where that has happened. He cites examples of lizards colonizing a series of islands and filling the same niches on each one. Experiments with lizards and guppies, both in the lab and in the wild, show that if you introduce the same predator into different isolated populations, natural selection will favor the same adaptation repeatedly. When you start with populations that share the same genetic material, it's not surprising that they independently evolve the same adaptation to the same challenge.

Of course, there are plenty of unique species out there that serve as counterarguments to this premise. Nothing alive today might be stranger than the duck-billed platypus, but its bill, venomous spur, and electro-location abilities all have analogues in other animals. Perhaps the platypus is an example of multiple instances of convergent evolution. There are also defining moments in evolution. Without the extinction of the dinosaurs, it's doubtful mammals would have evolved into so many different species--and us. If dinosaurs had continued to thrive and developed intelligence, they might have looked more like parrots than us. Finally, many traits (such as the ability to metabolize a certain type of food or resist antibiotics) are coded by multiple genes. A mutation (or lack thereof) at one point in the pathway may be necessary before the final phenotype develops.

No matter how you develop creatures for your stories, you're bound to find some food for thought in this book. If you're interested in evolution, it's worth checking out.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Remakes Blogfest--Beatles and Bangles

Today, Alex J. Cavanaugh and Heather M. Gardner are hosting the Remakes Blogfest, a chance to discuss the remakes of songs, movies, and TV shows that are equal or better than the original versions. For the full list of participating blogs, please visit Alex's blog using the above link.

I debated about participating in this blog fest for a while before signing up. I'm pretty conservative in my music tastes. I stopped following popular music when I became a devout Beatles fan in 1995, and I tend to imprint on the first version of a song that I hear. However, the Beatles covered quite a few songs on their early albums, so I can discuss a couple of them.

First up is "Twist and Shout." It was originally performed by a group called the Top Notes and was produced by Phil Spector. That version flopped, so I'll post the more familiar Isley Brothers version instead:

It's a pleasant version, perhaps a soulful one (see the comments below the video on YouTube). The Beatles' version, however, is much more intense and rocking. When they recorded it for the Please Please Me album, they saved it for the final song of a twelve-hour recording session, since they knew how hard it would be on John's voice, especially since he was suffering from a cold at the time. John was only able to manage one take, but it was an immortal one. The version I posted below is from the first Ed Sullivan Show appearance. (I didn't see the album version on YouTube.) The sound isn't great, but you can still enjoy John, Paul, and George harmonizing.

The Beatles didn't release the Isley Brothers' "Shout" until Anthology 1, but thankfully they performed it on TV a couple of times. While the original version is great (and probably the one I heard first), the Beatles' cover is also fun. I think the energy both groups put into their versions is comparable.

I could go on with Beatles covers, but I'd like to finish off with "A Hazy Shade of Winter" by both Simon & Garfunkel and the Bangles. As a teen in the 80s, I most likely heard the Bangles' cover before the original. I love the energy the Bangles put into it; plus they also remind me of the heroines of my Season Avatars series. I can see Gwen, Jenna, Ysabel, and Kay performing this song (though they would be dressed more modestly) to welcome winter in Summon the Seasons.

Which versions of these songs do you prefer? Feel free to let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Reading Goal Update

Last year around this time, I was really pushing myself to reach my Goodreads goal of 200 books read in 2016. I barely made it, so for 2017 I decided (for the first time ever) to decrease my goal. My original goal for this year was 180 books, but this weekend I decreased it still further to 160 books. At least I'm on track to meet that goal! There have been so many other things going on this year that unlike last year, I don't feel bad about lowering my expectations. In the meantime, we'll see how much reading I get done in the next few weeks.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Signed Books for the Holidays

I'm already getting notices from companies wanting me to advertise with them for the holidays. However, I think people prefer giving paper books over eBooks. While you can order my books through Amazon or Barnes and Noble, you can also contact me directly to get books slightly cheaper (though I will ask you to pay for shipping) and even better, have the books signed to the recipient. As you can see from the picture, I have copies of all my print books available. If you'd like to order something, my e-mail is in the right-hand sidebar. Payment will be through PayPal. I'll accept orders through mid-December.

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