Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Jesus Animal, Species at Risk


Just to continue my thoughts of the previous post regarding species at risk and the use of sentinels (see my post below) this little creature, the Pacific Water Shrew, is a great example. Found on coastal lowlands of the Pacific Northwest, the Pacific Water Shrew was designated threatened in Canada in 1994 (threatened means that if things go on unchanged, this species will eventually no longer exist). The Pacific Water Shrew is a mouse-like animal with a pointy snout, long tail, velvety fur and broad paddle-like feet. About 15 cm long, he likes to eat insects and, of course, loves the water. This shrew lives mainly in valley bottom forests along streams and wetlands (called riparian areas). Unfortunately, the range of this little furry guy coincides with the major urban areas in British Columbia, the Lower Mainland (see picture in my last post). Ditching and draining of streams as well as stream pollution have impacted the shrew.
Here's the really cool part: the Pacific Water Shrew is considered unique for having skills of biblical and Olympian proportions. Not only can this diminutive creature dive several metres deep but he can run on top of the water for several seconds. Not only is he a cool dude; the Pacific Water Shrew is no slouch when it comes to doing his part in the ecosystem. Shrews feed on sawfly pupae on the forest floor and are known to be useful biological control agents during sawfly and other pest outbreaks (Narorsen, 1996). See? Do you have any cool examples? I'd love to hear of them.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Species at Risk


I recently attended a workshop on species at risk in British Columbia, Canada, and the summary given by Kym Welstead, Species at Risk Biologist with the Ministry of Environment, made me quite thoughtful. Did you know, for instance, that British Columbia is fast becoming the focused area for species conservation (particularly for larger carnivores) in North America? This is because of the 'migration' of species to our area from the south-east due to human pressures (and dare I add, global warming) along with their extirpation and the destruction of habitat elsewhere. According to scientists with the South Coast Conservation Program (www.sccp.ca) British Columbia is becoming the 'hot spot' for species conservation and preservation. Armed with the newly amended federal Species At Risk Act (SARA), the BC Government is committed to a results-based regulatory system with a focus on species at risk (e.g., usually endemic, with global importance and threatened directly or indirectly by habitat destruction by humans). One of their major aims is to foster a sterwardship ethic through outreach, education and promotion of Best Management Practices for everybody from the developer to the property owner. I totally agree with this approach; I much prefer to be convinced to act through rationale than simply be slapped a fine after the fact. Check out Environment Canada's listing of Species At Risk (http://www.speciesatrisk.gc.ca). You'll see a list that's disturbingly long.
"Okay, why is it important for me to help protect these species at risk", you ask. Well, here are some good reasons:


  • they keep the air and water clean and an ecosystem healthy;

  • they help promote mental and physical health in humans (think of the song birds you hear in your backyard);

  • they promote recreation and tourism in your region;

  • they increase the property value of an area; and,

  • you're doing your part in the shared stewardship of this planet (remember the old phrase, think globally, act locally).
"Okay," you respond, "I can see their overall use. But what about that one pesky spotted owl or whatever owl holding up the development of my shopping mall? Surely ONE species can't take precedence over the economic growth of another community: HUMANS!" My answer to that is, that it isn't just ONE species; it isn't just about the spotted owl. It might seem that way, but in reality that one species is being used as a SENTINEL that represents many others in a community that makes up a functional ecosystem. The spotted owl is being used as an indicator, a representative, of many other biological creatures that may be impacted by our actions. The spotted owl (or whatever the species chosen) was selected for its particular sensitivities and other rare qualities that allow it to conservatively represent the ecosystem in question.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Darwin's Paradox 3


The coral's paradox that I discussed in my previous post was linked to its struggle for existence. Charles Darwin also faced the paradox of natural selection, based on "like begets like -- but not exactly". Although Darwin could observe this paradox, he couldn't explain it. Ironically, Gregor Mendel, who lived at the same time as Darwin, was making discoveries that could help explain what Darwin was observing. But they never collaborated. It was only following the birth of population genetics, particularly in the 1930s, that Mendelism and Darwinism were reconciled and the genetic basis of variation and natural selection was worked out. In his "Origin of Species", which Darwin called "one long argument", he presented a case for evolution and natural selection that had yet to be proven much later by genetics and ecology. Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College of London and author of "Darwin's Ghost" said: "Natural selection is a machine that makes almost impossible things." Jones describes how some artists use a computer to generate altered versions of an original. Architects do the same and machines even write plays; all of these are examples of evolution through descent with modification. "Darwin is loose on the shop floor," Jones adds, "and industry has become a branch of the biological sciences." Where might this lead and what does it mean for natural selection? The study of evolution and its modern synthesis remains fluid and lively with continued controversy. My upcoming book, "Darwin's Paradox" by Dragon Moon Press explores some of the more wierd (and wonderful) ideas in this evolving process.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Darwin's Paradox 2


"Darwin's Paradox" isn't just the title of my new book by Dragon Moon Press. It's a term that describes a peculiar enigma in tropical oceans. Ever since Charles Darwin described coral reefs as oases in the desert of the ocean, oceanographers were struck by a peculiar irony. Coral reefs are one of the richest ecosystems on Earth, with productivity ranging from 50 to 250 times more than the surrounding ocean; yet they thrive in crystal-clear water largely devoid of nutrients. This apparent violation of the laws of thermodynamics (high productivity in a low-productivity environment) has long puzzled scientists who coined the phenonemon: Darwin's Paradox. Well, part of the answer is the coral's shape and their efficiency in recycling nutreints like nitrate and phosphate. Any of you who have snorkeled in the tropics and seen corals will know that they have extremely rough surfaces. The rough coral surface amplifies any water turbulence at a microscopic level, disrupting the boundary layer that usually settles on objects under water, and lets the coral "hoover" up the sparse nutrients. Lots of corals also act as "landlords" to specialized algae (called zooxanthelae), which provide the coral with food (by products of photosynthesis) and, in turn, get food from the wastes created by the coral. VERY COOL isn't it? In fact, many coral communities function as both plant and animal in this symbiotic relationship. I guess it's like having your cake and eating it, too.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

"The Cypol" nominated for Ecata Reviewer's Choice Award

Time for a COMMERCIAL Break... :-)

My SF sensual romantic thriller, "The Cypol" published by eXtasy Books in October 2006, was nominated for the 2006 Ecata Reviewer's Choice Award. Here's part of the review: "...The Cypol is a different type of romance...The ending is poignant yet appropriate. Ready for something different yet rewarding? The Cypol by Nina Munteanu is well worth your time."
The reviewer's right...The Cypol isn't your ordinary romance. It's rather dark and the ending is not typical for romance readers. It's more typically SF in that way, I guess. There you go...I'm categorizing again :-) This book is a good example of cross-genre that doesn't really fit either the "romance" category (except for some steamy scenes, that is :) OR the SF genre (those same steamy scenes :-D. What I'm hearing on the writer's grapevine is that cross-genre books like this one are being successfully published by small press publishers, who are taking the lead in fresh and innovative works. And they are doing very well too. I'm not surprised; they're taking the chances that the big publishers can't seem to afford to be able to take. Dragon Moon Press was lately featured in the New York Times and Scott Sigler's "Ancestor", published by DMP, reached #1 on Amazon.com.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Book jacket blurbs


Answers.com says this about a blurb:

blurb (blûrb) n.
A brief publicity notice, as on a book jacket.
[Coined by Gelett Burgess (1866–1951), American humorist.]
Aurora award-winning author, editor and educator, Robert Runte--in a comment to my previous post (April 12, 2007) in which he trashed the description of my book, brought up a good question about book jackets. What's appropriate? How much detail is too much? How much is too little? And does it depend on the genre? I've seen some very long and involved blurbs in some fantasy covers (i.e., Marjorie B. Kellogg's Dragon Quartet; Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Dart just to name a few). Then there's SF, with usually a shorter blurb accompanied by reviews and short bio (e.g., Stanislaw Lem's Solaris, so many others). Although I agree with Runte, I had to research this further (remember, I'm a scientist). So I asked one of my primary resources at hand: my son. He replied that when he browsed a bookstore, after letting the cover and title (if not author) draw his attention, he immediately went to the back jacket; he preferred a fairly short to-the-point description that gave the gist (and genre) of the book (enough to intrigue him) but not so much that it made him yawn (oh, dear), and he liked seeing comments by reviewers (preferably short). I then pursued my secondary source: Google. I found a delightfully blunt though insightful discussion by Lynne W. Scanlon, "The Publishing Contrarian" (here's the URL: www.thepublishingcontrarian.com/2006/11/10...). In her opinion, jackets totally sink or sell a book. If the book jacket failed to ignite the interest of the bookstore browser, they wouldn't bother to take that critical next step of peeking at the first paragraph of the first chapter before tossing the book back on the shelf. Her point: the story can't sell itself. While she may be mostly right (I like to think that word-of-mouth sells a story very well, book jacket and cover aside), certainly where a potential reader is first encountering a book and/or writer, that first impression is critical. My own preference is to see something genuine about the story and tone of the book and not be led astray (something that has certainly occured...another reason for Runte's 'less is more'). So, what do you, the reader, like to see in a book jacket description? What grabs you? What stinks?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The paradox of Darwin's Paradox


"Darwin's Paradox" is my next SF book due out this November by Canadian publisher, Dragon Moon Press. Being a bit of a categorist (I'm a scientist, remember), I originally tried to describe it as a techno-eco-thriller. My son just about vomited when I told him. "That'll just kill it!" he moaned. I guess he's right. By the time you get to the word thriller you've yawned already at least once...not much of a thrill. This speaks to my earlier remark about how we've become category-mad, disdain it, and yet wholeheartedly prescribe to it. So what IS it, you may very well ask? Is it a thriller? Or an ecological tome? Or a techno-whatever? Or just science fiction (which, in the final analysis, is hard to define of itself). Good question. Maybe YOU can help me define it. Here goes:

A devastating disease. A world on the brink of violent change. And one woman who can save it—or destroy it all.


A decade has passed since Julie Crane was accused of murder and causing the worst plague faced by mankind, Darwin’s Disease. When she’s captured by a ruthless Machiavelian visionary with designs for her—and her young daughter—Julie must rely on some unlikely helpers to escape and battle the sinister force intent on recasting humanity. She must race against the menace of those who fear and want to destroy her for what she is and those who wish to experiment on her and her daughter. Ultimately, Julie must face the shattering truth from which she has run for so long. She must confront the will of the ambitious virus lurking inside her to fulfill her final destiny as Darwin’s Paradox, the key to the evolution of an entire civilization.

A novel about a woman’s fierce love and her courageous journey toward forgiveness, trust, and letting go to the tide of her heart.

Okay, so is it an eco-romance-thriller SF with fantasy...Oh, there I go again...

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Alien Musings


OK...so I'm a science fiction writer. I've written a few novels (my newest is coming out this November from Dragon Moon Press, called "Darwin's Paradox"...more on this later). I've published a few SF short stories here and there. I've even had some of them translated and reprinted in magazines abroad (e.g., into Polish [Nowa Fantastika], Hebrew [Bli Panika] and Greek [the Dramaturges of Yan]). I also review SF movies and books (check them out on Gotta Write Network or Strange Horizons). But here's my question...What is SF? I've got a crazy discussion going on with fellow romance writers right now on one of my other listserves. We're having a hard time defining it. Is it speculative fiction? Or is that a sub-genre? And who the @%*& cares, you might ask? Well, the bookshop owners care, that's who. They're the ones who stock the bookshelves so you, the book buyer, can find them better. AHH!! But that's all going by the wayside now, you say, because we now have online bookstores like Amazon.com and Chapters.ca and Fictionwise, etc. who've dispensed with those mortar and brick bookshelves by using virtual bookshelves. Well, I don't know about you, but I still like to browse in a real bookstore, flip and smell the pages, glance at all the glossy covers, lose myself in a maze of paper. And in a place like that, you need categorization. Categories. Genres. So, we're back to SF and what is it? Or, more to the point, WHERE is it?