Jessica Young, my friend from Mensa

jessicayoung1995I’ve just learned of the death of Jessica Young, on November 23. I knew it was coming for a long time, but that doesn’t make it any easier to accept. Last February, she emailed to tell me she had inoperable pancreatic cancer (the same thing that killed my grandmother two decades ago), and that she’d just been through a year of chemotherapy and high intensity radiation treatment. So I spent the last year sending her chatty emails every month or so, just to let her know I was thinking of her, and because I really was thinking of her.

jessicaandian2014I first met her at the Mensa Annual Gathering in St. Louis in 1995, where she took me to the Gateway Arch. We ran into each other again a few years later, at the AG in Philadelphia in 2000, which cemented our friendship. After that, we saw each other intermittently, at Annual Gatherings. With the coming of smart phones, we communicated a more often, sharing fireworks photos when we weren’t at Independence Day celebrations together. We saw each other only rarely, but every time, it was just picking up where we’d left off the last time, one long friendship.

ianjessica2016Only once did we see each other outside of Mensa: In February 2016, her chorus sang at Carnegie Hall, and she was in New York for nearly a week. I got to see her most of the days she was in town, showing her around my home town, enjoying her concert, seeing a Broadway show, just hanging out, as good friends do.

She hadn’t responded to my most recent emails, and I knew the end was near. But a few days ago—at my sister’s house for Thanksgiving—I wondered that I hadn’t heard anything from her. After getting home tonight, I did a web search for “Jessica Young obituary,” and found it: she really is gone.

Jessica Cerridwyn Young was a member of St. Louis Area Mensa. She is survived many family members and friends, all of whom, I’m sure, saw her far more often than I, and were far closer to her than I, and thus will miss her even more. But she was a very dear Mensa friend to me, and the excitement of next year’s AG will be tempered with the melancholy of knowing she won’t be there.

Philcon, this weekend

philcon_logoIt’s starting to feel like the before-times again. I just got back from a weekend on the road (I was in Charlotte, North Carolina, for Charlotte Blue Ridge Mensa‘s Regional Gathering, which hosted the AMC meeting), and now I’m getting ready to leave Friday for Philcon, my second science fiction convention of the new world.

As a typical science fiction convention, I’ll be spending most of my time in the dealers’ room at the Fantastic Books table. We’ll have many copies of Allen Steele’s brand new novel Sanctuary, and of the non-fiction book On Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren (I’m hoping to have Delany himself at the table for some of the time, to sign copies). But I’m also on programming. If you’re looking to catch me there, my scheduled items include:

Friday at 6:00 PM in Plaza 2: “Perils and Pitfalls of Near-Future Scenarios” with Jennifer Povey, Margaret Riley, Michael A. Ventrella, and Joan Wendland

Saturday at 1:00 PM in Plaza 4: “Writing and Publishing in the Digital Age” with Neil Clarke, Gordon Linzner, Margaret Riley, and Ann Stolinsky.

Saturday at 5:00 PM in Plaza 3: “The Future You Imagine is the Future You Get” with Mitchell Gordon, Mark Roth-Whitworth, and Jeff Warner.

Saturday at 7:00 PM in Plaza 3: “Alternate Histories” with Scheherazade Jackson, Roberta Rogow, Mark Roth-Whitworth, and Chuck Rothman.

Sunday at 11:00 AM in Plaza 5: “A New Dune” with Randee Dawn, Barna William Donovan, Robert Hranek, and Lawrence Kramer.

I hope to see a lot of you there!

Isaac and Me

Two years ago, I was preparing a talk about Isaac Asimov, to commemorate the centennial of his birth. Richard Lederer and I shared a stage at the American Mensa Annual Gathering that summer, and then I gave the talk as a solo several times over the next few months.

When I was putting the talk together, I wanted to include the only known picture of Isaac and me together, but couldn’t find it. I dug through all the albums in the house, the boxes of unsorted pictures, what negatives I could find from the right era, but no luck. The best I could find was a photocopy of Isaac’s obituary I wrote for Mphasis (the newsletter of Greater New York Mensa), which included a black-and-white printing of a photocopy of the picture. So that’s a photocopy of a photoprinted copy of a photocopy: several generations removed from the original, and not the best resolution.

Recently, Mom was going through the built-in bookcase, and the pictures on it and in it. As she was dusting the top, she took down a plastic photo holder that has a large picture of Mom, Laurie, and me. I happened to walk through the room, and saw there was another picture looking out the back of that photo holder: a big picture of me, and smaller, at the bottom, facing back… the picture of me with Isaac that I’d been looking for! It’s a first-generation print off the original negative! The negative is probably gone, but I’ve finally found the “original” of the picture. So I’ve scanned it, saved it, and present it here: Isaac Asimov and me in the editorial office of Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, taken some time in 1991.

Isaac Asimov and Ian Randal Strock, 1991.

Sanctuary is out!

perf6.000x9.000.inddIt’s publication day! But rather than writing something about the book, I’ll just copy author Allen Steele’s own commentary on his newest novel, Sanctuary:

At long last, my new novel is being published today. Sanctuary is a full-length expansion of a series of stories that appeared on and in Asimovs Science Fiction from 2017 through 2020, revised and made longer by new material; even if you read all the stories in their original form, you haven’t received the whole story until now.

Paperback, hardcover, and ebook are now available, and I hope it will soon have an audio edition as well. This is the first time I’ve had a new novel come out from a small-press publisher, so things are a bit different this time out; the paperback and hardcover editions won’t be in any chain bookstores and probably only a few independent book shops, so your best bet is going to be ordering it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or direct from the publisher. It’s a new world, folks.

Sanctuary is about a new world, too: a small human colony on a planet orbiting Tau Ceti, established by the survivors of the disaster that destroyed the two ships that arrived there several centuries earlier. Time has passed, but memory has faded; the inhabitants have lost the historical records of the past, and therefore their memory of their origins has become clouded by myth. The island they live on, Sanctuary, is kept isolated from the rest of the world by the native Cetans, a dog-like canine race who aren’t hostile but not particularly friendly either. So the descendants of the original colonists live in a stratified society stuck in a pre-industrial way of life where science and technology has been replaced by a strong belief in magic and superstition; they’re surviving, but they’re not prospering.

The story itself is told by its central character, Jeremy Crowe, a private investigator in the sprawling urban ghetto of Landencyte, Sanctuary’s largest settlement. A member of the city’s ruling class, a Steward, hires Crowe to locate his daughter, a young woman who has disappeared just before she’s to be married to another young nobleman from another house. But what seems to be a simple missing-persons case becomes far more intriguing, with the trail leading Crowe on a mission to discover Sanctuary’s forgotten history and the reasons why his kind has fallen so far during the time they’ve lived on Tawcety.

I describe Sanctuary as a cross between hard-SF and hard boiled detective fiction. If Poul Anderson or Jack Vance had collaborated with John D. MacDonald or Mickey Spillane, this is what the result might have been. Publisher’s Weekly has favored it with a nice, respectful review: “Three-time Hugo Award winner Steele pulls off an unusual genre-bending adventure in this melange of far-future alien-human interaction and classic gumshoe investigation … Steele’s engaging tough-guy narrator and well-wrought alien culture make this an enjoyable romp for both science fiction and detective story fans.”

As always, I hope you enjoy it.

The Democrats are Threatening Suicide, Again

What kind of morons are our Congressional representatives who claim to be Democrats? They’re the majority party (however slim a majority, it is a majority). They can actually adopt important, far-ranging, necessary legislation.

But every sub-group of Democrats in the Congress is doing its level best to kill the party, to make themselves look like the gang who only wants to shoot themselves.

And the Trumpians (the former Republican party) are keeping out of it all, laughing themselves back into the majority at the next election.

The little kids in Congress, the progressives, are quite emphatic that they want want want what they want and they want it all; most is just not good enough for them. Apparently they never bothered to learn negotiation or compromise. They’re continuing to flaunt the Democrats’ Achilles Heel of demanding absolute purity of their members, absolute fealty to their ideals because they seem to think getting most of the way there is unacceptable (but apparently they don’t have a problem with losing everything). And anyone who shows the least bit of fallible humanity is worse to them than the opposing party. If they’d stop being road blocks for five minutes, they could pass one major bill—which would be the first domino in an incredibly long and important chain—and then focus their energies on the next, rather than holding up one because they have to have everything right this minute, all or nothing!

And then we have their two senators, Manchin and Sinema, who early in these negotiations decided to set themselves up as the most powerful people in Washington. They’ve got it. We’re listening to them. No one has heard Chuck Schumer’s name in weeks. So what are they waiting for? What more do they think they can wring from their own party? Or do they think the Trumpians are going to give them more if they kill this legislation, and with it, the Democratic majority? It’s time for them to get their asses off the bench and vote for the damned bills, or else admit that they really are Trumpians in sheep’s clothing, and give the Senate back to Mitch McConnell and his twisted views of how the government should operate.

The Trumpians are laughing all the way back into power, and the Democrats’ loss will be squarely on the shoulders of the House Progressives and Manchin and Sinema. This has been the latest lesson in “how to throw away an insurmountable lead.”

Presidential Offspring and Punctuation

Two completely unrelated links that are both part of my working life and fascinating.

First, from a presidential trivia group on Facebook, I got the link to this article, about the new Society of Presidential Descendants.

We frequently talk about their ancestors, though I also made an attempt to discuss some of their descendants in my books. But this article talks about the fact that all those descendants are actually people who, through no action of their own, have to deal with being living connections to history. Some interesting stories in that article.

The other link, from an editors’ group on Facebook, talks about punctuation.

This is of specific interest to me, because last weekend I debuted my new talk, “Punctilious Punctuation,” at Boston Mensa’s Regional Gathering. Now I’m in the process of polishing that talk a bit more, based on the audience’s reaction and my own sense “hearing” it live. But anyway, this linked article talks about punctuation when the words infesting it have been removed. There are a couple of links in the article—including one to an app the author cobbled together, which will remove the words from a block of text to show you the punctuation—which I also recommend exploring after you’ve read the main text. Fascinating stuff there.

Back on the road and on the stage

I went to Boston Mensa’s Wicked Good RG this weekend. It was a bit smaller than in the past (but then again, what convention isn’t these days?), but it was a very good time. Most of that, of course, was due to seeing friends in person who I hadn’t seen in almost two years. But I also got a chance to play a few strategy-type games, which I hadn’t been able to do in a long time, so I enjoyed that.

And I gave a brand-new talk, one that I finished writing (oops!) about twelve hours before we left home to get there. It was my first time on a live stage since before the pandemic, so getting my legs back under me to interact with a live audience was a bit nerve-wracking, but I quickly fell into the old rhythms (I really do love being on that kind of stage). And the audience was quite enthusiastic, so I’m going to polish the talk a bit more. If your group would be interested in hearing about “Punctilious Punctuation,” let me know. I describe it as “telling tales with (and of) those jots and tittles, including why they’re called jots and tittles, and the horrifying story of why the period goes inside the quotation marks.” And the long-form write-up is:

What sets humans apart from the animals is our ability to miscommunicate with language. With thoughts, ideas, musings, and maunderings on what we’re trying to communicate, with a plethora of words meaning almost exactly the same thing, we stumble to communicate; sometimes even to think. But as confusing as all those words are, they would be much, much harder to understand if it weren’t for the punctuation we use—when writing—to divide them, group them, emphasize them, and combine them. The horror of texting (and newspapers’ space-saving attempts) may be responsible for turning punctuation into a dying art form. But Ian Randal Strock posits that punctuation is not only necessary, but beautiful, evocative, meaningful… and a heck of a lot of fun. Come listen to this talk… if you dare. You may find yourself agreeing that the “schmutz” on the page really deserves our love.{[(‘/’, “;”, ‘:’)]}

fivervcsThe weekend was also remarkable for a certain group of attendees. We managed to take a picture with five of the six Region 1 Regional Vice Chairman who are in attendance. Left to right are: Lisa Maxwell (2015-17), Deb Stone (1999-2000), Teresa Campbell (2021- ), Lori Norris (2007-11), Ian Randal Strock (2017-21). Not pictured, but at the RG: Andrew Heffernan (2011-15). And talk about Mensa leadership positions: Lisa also served as Secretary. Deb was Chairman and Treasurer (the first person to serve on the AMC in another role after serving as chairman), and is currently a trustee of the Mensa Foundation. Lori is currently the First Vice Chairman, and was Secretary. And I’m currently the Secretary of the American Mensa Committee (the board of directors of this member-led organization).

Taking Sanctuary

perf6.000x9.000.inddI may have mentioned that Fantastic Books will be publishing Allen Steele’s new novel, Sanctuary, in early November. Now we’ve got the cover finalized, and I’m prompted to show it off because Publishers Weekly has just reviewed the book. PW says “Steele pulls off an unusual genre-bending adventure in this mélange of far-future alien-human interaction and classic gumshoe investigation.… Steele’s engaging tough-guy narrator and well-wrought alien culture make this an enjoyable romp for both science fiction and detective story fans.” You can read the full review here. And when the book actually goes on sale, you’ll find links to it on this page.

TR on the world’s royalty

26rooseveltSorry I haven’t posted recently. The trip to Capclave was an odd mix of familiar and strange, comfortable and not. The convention was a little smaller than usual, and pretty much what I expected, but it was good to get out among people again. Especially since the convention required all attendees to be vaccinated against Covid-19 and to wear masks. So I think I’m ready for the upcoming conventions, including Philcon and WorldCon.

Completely unrelated to that, a friend pointed out this link to me, American Heritage‘s 1954 publication of a letter Theodore Roosevelt wrote in 1911, detailing his experiences representing the United States at the funeral of King Edward VII in 1910. It’s a fascinating look at the world’s leaders at that time. And though it seems like he talks about everyone who was there, apparently there were far more people there (as detailed in this Wikipedia article). It was the last gathering of the world’s royalty before World War I, which wound up deposing many of them and shifting their countries forms of government away from royalty.

I also, particularly, like TR’s comment in the second paragraph, that “you doubtless remember Cloudberry’s remark, of which I am so fond, about ‘the infinite capacity of the human brain to withstand the introduction of knowledge.'” Now I’ll have to figure out who Cloudberry was, and find the actual remark.

Trepidatiously returning to the convention scene

It occurs to me that, in the before-times, when I had a scheduled convention upcoming, I would tell my followers about it: where I was going to be and when, in case any of my stalkers were interested in seeing me in person. The last convention I attended was Arisia in January 2020 (there was also a Mensa Gathering, Snowball, in March 2020). Well, I’m fully vaccinated, and the convention is requiring all attendees to be vaccinated, so I’m going to take my first steps out into the world next weekend at Capclave (, a science fiction convention in Rockville, Maryland. I’ll be spending a lot of time at the Fantastic Books table in the dealers’ room (there are a bunch of new books to show since the last convention), which is open Friday from 3 to 6pm, Saturday from 10am to 6pm, and Sunday from 10am to 2pm. In addition to that, I’ll be on several panels, all of which are scheduled for the Truman room:

Friday at 6:00 pm: “Seductive Evils” with Martin Berman-Gorvine, Carolyn Ives Gilman, and Larry Hodges

Friday at 8:00 pm: “Why the Bumbling Sidekick?” with Suzanne Palmer, Karlo Yeager Rodriguez, and Hildy Silverman

Saturday at 5:00 pm: “Power and Social Structures” with Carolyn Ives Gilman, Darrell Schweitzer, Caias Ward, and A.C. Wise

Saturday at 11:00 pm: “Eye of Argon” with Walter H. Hunt, Hildy Silverman, and Michael A. Ventrella (unplanned, it’s an all-Fantastic Books authors event)

I hope to see a bunch of you there, to help me reintegrate with society (at least, as much of “society” as one might find at a science fiction convention).