Make that Ten (and Eight) Reviews!

You know, I seem to recall saying I was going to stop making announcement every time I got a new review.But in this case, it was three new reviews, so… yeah! In the past few weeks, The Cronian Incident has received two more reviews on Amazon (4 and 5 stars, respectively), bringing the total to ten. Meanwhile, on Goodreads, I picked up another 5 star review, bringing the total there to eight.
Granted, I am more excited about the latest Amazon reviews, mainly because my publisher has said that advertisers pay more attention to books that have ten good reviews or more. And while I am thankful for a good review no matter where it comes from, the Amazon ones also came with comments, which I wanted to share.
The first came from a user named Chris B, who gave it 4 out of 5 stars. I especially liked what they said in the last sentence:
I’ve enjoyed the world building as another reviewer has stated and am starting to warm to some of the characters. I really like how the action is taking place on various planets/moons of the solar system, and am eagerly waiting for further instalments of the story. For a (seemingly) first time fictional author it’s certainly well written.

Wow! And here I’ve been feeling self-conscious about my writing all along. When you know people are going to be reading it, you really begin to second guess your choices of words, your pacing, everything. Hearing a comment like this makes me feel a bit more comfortable with the writing process.

And here is the second and latest review, which came courtesy of Heather Archuletta. I bragged about her impressions in a previous post (which she posted on twitter) but I’ll let her speak for herself right here:

The Cronian Incident, which I recommended to my audience as my top Sci-Fi read of the year, is a treasure of planetary science. From bio-implants to solar system stations to the particular engineering environments in each planets’ system, this is a well-developed story with believable settings and characters. The author has a firm grasp of exobiology and extremophiles that will please scientists who enjoy ‘realism’ in their reading, but enough possible future tech that will also please the space-opera crowd. Don’t be afraid of methanogenic hydrocarbons — the hard science is never overwhelming, but neither does Williams assume is audience is dumb by over-explaining anything. A nice balance is struck, here. The novel assumes you know the basics of aerospace, but even if you don’t, you’ll follow the hero because you want to, as his reluctance transforms into purpose. The standout in terms of detail is the uniquely, culturally distinct planets and moons, which could only be done with competent research on each environment, and projecting the imagination into the framework of what it would truly take to colonize places like Mercury, Titan, or Callisto. Join the Interplanetary Accord.
The Interplanetary Accord. No spoilers, but that’s a reference to something mentioned in the text, and something I totally forgot about (to be honest). I better keep this in mind for future novels! 🙂
In any case, thanks to everyone who has left a review and know that your words of encouragement are what is making ths all worthwhile.

The Cronian Incident Named “Best of the Year”!

The Cronian Incident Named “Best of the Year”!

Good news, folks! First off, I apologize for the tardiness of this post. I meant to write about this days ago, but unfortunately for me, blogging about writing seems to take a backseat to actually writing. But I digress…

Heather Archuletta, a member of NASA’s Flight Simulation Research program, a STEM education advocate, creator of Pillow Astronaut (Pillownaut) and sci-fi geek (among other things) recently gave me the best review of my life! As she says in a Tweet posted on Dec. 8th, The Cronian Incident was the best sci-fi book she read this year.

Gifts! ADULT SCIENCE FICTION BOOK: Best I read and reviewed this year was “The Cronian Incident” by Matt Williams . Awesome hard sci-fi on multiple planets, with plot twists, available at Amazon.

Needless to say, I am very humbled and honored. I was also feeling pretty smug when I got this news to be perfectly honest! It certainly made me feel more motivation to get the sequel done too, which has just surpassed 70,000 words. For those looking to follow up on The Cronian Incident, the second installment – The Jovian Manifesto – it will be available in the New Year!

Cyberwars: Is Putin Going to Cut Off Russia’s Internet?

Russia ButtonFew politicians today elicit the same level of controversy as Vladimir Putin. Adored by many Russians at home and abroad, he is also reviled by many for his near-absolute grip on power, intimidation of political opponents, political repression, and military aggression against neighboring states. But in this latest coup de grace, Putin may be seeking the kind of power that few modern states enjoy – the ability to shut down his country’s access to the internet.

According to the Russian business newspaper Vedomosti, Putin and his security council met this past Monday to discuss a way to disconnect Russia’s internet should it be deemed necessary. According to various sources, it is a tool that could be enacted in times of war, massive anti-government protests, or in order to “protect” Russians from Western countries like the United States or members of the European Union.

putin-sanctions-west-response.si_Citing an intelligence officer as their source, Vedomosti claims that this is the result of the Ministry of Communications conducting exercises to test vulnerabilities in Russia’s internet and can now successfully disable IP addresses outside of Russia. All of this is being done in order to see if the Runet (Russia’s internet) can operate on its own without Western web access, with the hope that it will be functional next year.

It is not hard to imagine the Kremlin justifying such a clamp-down by whipping up fears that it’s the West that wants to disconnect Russia from the web, said industry experts. In Russia’s current political environment, anti-western propaganda has been used effectively to create the impression of a siege mentality, used largely to justify their current economic woes and the ongoing Ukrainian Crisis.

RunetAnalysts say similar measures have been introduced by countries such as Iran and Cuba, which developed national Internet limits to curb the spread of Western culture and ideas. Prior to the meeting, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that the Security Council meeting on Internet security would be taking place, but he declined to discuss details of the agenda.

In addition, he denied that Russian authorities have plans to disconnect the Internet, instead insisting this is a question for other countries to answer. He also added that Russia needs a way to protect itself from the West. Peskov cited the “unpredictability” of the European Union and the United States before implying that these countries would in fact disconnect Russia from the Internet and not the reverse.

russia-internet-putin-670-1In a statement to Russia Today – a government-run website launched in 2005 by Putin as a “PR campaign to improve [Russia’s] image in the eyes of the world.”- Russia’s communications minister, Nikolay Nikiforov, said:

Russia is being addressed in a language of unilateral sanctions: first, our credit cards are being cut off; then the European Parliament says that they’ll disconnect us from SWIFT*. In these circumstances, we are working on a scenario where our esteemed partners would suddenly decide to disconnect us from the internet.

*Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication

The “unilateral sanctions” he refers to are the ones that were placed upon Russia by the US and the EU in response to its seizure of the Crimea, which have since escalated thanks to Russia’s ongoing involvement in the eastern portions of Ukraine where rebels – whom many claim have been supplied with Russian-made weapons and are now being supported by Russian troops – continue to fight against the new Kiev government.

Ukraine_crisisInterestingly enough, whether it is the West that disconnects Russia from the Internet or if it is Putin that does so, both possibilities highlight the world’s dependence on Western internet. In fact, many countries, including Brazil and Germany, have been complaining about this since Edward Snowden’s revelations last year. Putin himself has expressed concern over the NSA spying on him via the web and the security of the internet in his country in the past.

Nevertheless, the question remains as to whether or not it could be done. According to Andrei Soldatov, a Russian spy expert who recently spoke to the Guardian on the subject, claims that it is technically possible given how few internet exchange points Russia has. However, it seems unlikely at this point that Putin would do this given the repercussions for Russian businesses that rely on the Western internet to function.

russia_protestsAlready, Russia has been feeling the pinch because of Western sanctions, particularly sanctions targeting its oil industry that have been leading to a drop in prices. At this rate, several economists and even Russian ministers are predicting a recession in the near future. This in turn could present Putin with a scenario whereby he would have to disconnect the internet, in order to block mass protests sites in the event of people protesting the economic downturn.

Similar measures have been taken in the past by countries like Egypt, Iran, Syria, China, the UK, and Thailand, who chose to block Facebook at various points because protesters were using it to organize. Venezuela also blocked Twitter this year during times of political unrest to prevent people from sharing information and real-time updates. But a total disconnect has yet to be seen, or even seriously contemplated.

russia-censorshipWhether or not Putin and Russia’s ruling party is the first to do so remains to be seen. But it is not entirely unfeasible that he wouldn’t, even if economic consequences were entailed. For as the saying goes, people will “cut off their nose to spite their face”, and Putin has already shown a willingness to challenge his country’s economic interdependence with the world in order to ensure control over neighboring territories.

One can only hope that he won’t feel the need to snip his country’s connection to the rest of the world. In addition to ensuring its ec0nomic isolation – which would have dire consequences and reduce the country to the status of a developing nation – it will also resurrect the specter of the Cold War years where Russians were effectively cut off from the outside world and entirely dependent on state-controlled media.

We’ve simply come too far to go back to an age where two superpowers are constantly aiming nuclear warheads at each other and entire blocs of nations are forbidden to trade or interact with each other because of political rivalries. History does not respect regression, and the only way to make progress is to keep moving forward. So let’s keep the internet open and focus on building connections instead of walls!

Source: motherboard.com, news.discovery.com, ibtimes.com

New Milestone: 500 Follows!

fireworks1The good people that run WordPress have just informed me that this humble blog o’ mine has reached an important milestone. As of 3:00 AM this morning (Pacific Daylight Time) I received my 500th follow! Combined with followers from Facebook, Yahoo, and Twitter, that brings the grand total to 2,091!

I’m especially happy about this because for some time now, I’ve had trouble breaking the 2050 mark. It seemed that with every new follower, I would lose one, and that’s never nice. Sounds greedy, I know. But it seems that the more people you have willing to listen to you, the more concerned you are about keeping that following.

https://wordpress.com/wp-content/mu-plugins/achievements/followed-blog-500-1x.png?m=1391188133h

Naturally, I want to thank all those people who have signed on to follow Storiesbywilliams. This past March marked its third anniversary, and for those who have chosen to stick with me over the past few years, I am especially thankful. The support and encouragement I have received since deciding to go public with my writing have made quite the difference.

Not only has it helped me to bring my written work to publication by giving it the feedback and constructive criticism it needed, it has been the difference between toiling in anonymity and making meaningful connections with people. This is why I began writing in the first place, and knowing that there is a receptive public makes all the difference.

Here’s to three years more and (fingers crossed) another 500 followers! And to those I’ve been following myself, I hope I have managed to make a similar contribution to your work. None of us is alone on this journey and we all need to know that we are doing matters to others. May it lead us all to somewhere joyous, fruitful and (God willing) profitable as well!

Movie Trailer: “Batkid Begins”

Batkid_beginsOnce in awhile, a story comes along that warms your heart and restores your faith in humanity. And after reading and writing so much about morally ambiguous things or scary developments, this is one that I was happy to share! This past November, in what was an online media circus,  25,000 people showed up to watch a five year-old boy cruise around San Fransisco in a Batman costume and a Lamborghini with the logo on the hood.

After doing battle with his enemies – which included the Riddler and the Penguin – “Batkid” was taken to City Hall where he received the key to the city from the mayor. The city spent $105,000 on the event – covering things like speakers, a big screen at city hall, and cleanup crews – and everyone from Barack Obama to Britney Spears expressed their heartwarming support for the costume-clad Batkid.

Batkid_begins2This massive effort, which was a viral media sensation, was orchestrated by the Make-A-Wish Foundation for Miles Scott, a five-year who has spent half his life struggling with leukemia. Having finished his course of chemotherapy, it was Scott’s dream to be Batman for a day. And now, a documentary called Batkid Begins, is retelling the story of Batkid, the Scott family, and how one kid’s wish went viral.

Director Dana Nachman has already raised nearly $40,000 (of her goal of $100,000) on Indiegogo to fund production. A one-time journalist, Nachman has made three films prior to this that were, in her own words, quite dark. As she explains:

I was looking for my next film to be uplifting. I didn’t even know about Batkid until after it happened, and I blown away that I had missed it, and was just so touched by the outpouring of support for this child.

Through a friend at NBC, where she formerly worked, Nachman was able to get a meeting with Make-a-Wish, which had already been approached by others wanting to do Batkid documentaries. Though Scott’s family had been reticent to do much press surrounding the Batkid event, they offered to work with Nachman on the film. After making their son’s wish come true, the Scott family hopes to raise awareness about the Foundation and the work it does.

Batkid_begins3The three-act story will start with a focus on Scott and his experiences, segueing into the lead-up to the event itself as it went viral and everyone scrambled to keep up with the momentum. The third act will focus on the event itself, which involved Miles rescuing a damsel in distress from the train tracks, stopping the Penguin from kidnapping the San Francisco Giants seal mascot, and getting the key to the city from the mayor.

And though it might have seemed like the event was a media circus all on its own, it actually had quite the helping hand. The event went viral thanks in large part to the Clever Girls Collective, a content and social media agency that volunteered its time. As Nachman explained:

To me what’s interesting is that everyone approached for the [Batkid event] said, ‘Yes, I’ll participate and I’ll make it even cooler by doing this, this, and this.’ That’s the message of the film to me: ‘Yes, and.’ If I had my dream, that would be the title of it, but I think it’s a little too esoteric.

Batkid_begins1The $100,000 in funding that Nachman hopes to collect on Indiegogo will help out with animations, a soundtrack, and other production assets. A rough cut will be ready by the one-year anniversary of the Batkid event (this coming November), and the film will likely premiere early next year.I don’t know about you, but… a young boy who had a brush with death getting to live out his dream of being a superhero? I’m certainly going to see it! You got Miles Scott!

And in the meantime, check out the trailer for this heartwarming documentary below:


Sources: fastcoexist.com, (2)

Forty-Fifth Anniversary of Apollo 11

Apollo11_launch1Today, July 20th, marks the 45th anniversary of the first step being taken on the Moon. And even though the coming decades may involve astronauts setting foot on Mars or a nearby asteroid, the Moon landing will forever remain one of humanity’s greatest accomplishments. And the many speeches, footage and images associated with the mission remain firmly rooted in public consciousness.

Born during the closing months of the Eisenhower administration as a follow-up to Project Mercury – which successfully put astronauts into orbit – Project Apollo was conceived when spaceflight was still very much in its infancy. However, it was under President Kennedy that the goal of “landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth” by the end of the decade truly began.

kennedy_moonspeechAnd though some within NASA were already doing some preliminary planning for a manned mission to the Moon in the late 1950s, there was no hardware that could see the mission fly, no rockets large enough to launch a manned spacecraft all the way to the Moon, and no provisions for managing a program of that magnitude. The men and women who brought the lunar landing to fruition were forced to invent almost everything as they went along.

And in the nine years between President Kennedy promising America the Moon and Neil Armstrong’s small step, NASA developed an unprecedented amount of technology and know-how that continues to shape the way NASA and other space agencies plan and implement missions today. These include the Saturn V multistage rockets, which are currently being refurbished for a manned mission to Mars by 2030.

Apollo_11Launching on from Cape Kennedy on the morning of July 16th, 1969, the mission sent Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin into an initial Earth-orbit. Then, just two hours and 44 minutes after launch, another engines burn put Apollo 11 into a translunar orbit. Four days later, the Lunar Module touched down and the three men – with Armstrong in the lead – stepped onto the Lunar surface.

And for those looking to participate in the anniversary, there are several ways you can participate. On Twitter, @ReliveApollo11 from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is reliving the highlights from Apollo 11 mission to the Moon in “real time”. Also, @NASAHistory is tweeting images and events from the mission, and journalist Amy Shira Teitel (@astVintageSpace) is tweeting pictures, facts and quotes from the mission, again in “real time”.

apollo11_flag2At 7:39 p.m. PDT (10:39 p.m. EDT), when Armstrong opened began the first spacewalk on the Moon, NASA TV will replay the restored footage of Armstrong and Aldrin’s historic steps on the lunar surface. On Monday, July 21 at 7 a.m. PDT (10 a.m. EDT) NASA TV will be broadcasting live from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where they will be renaming the center’s Operations and Checkout Building in honor of Armstrong, who passed away in 2012.

The renaming ceremony will include NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Kennedy Center Director Robert Cabana, Apollo 11′s Collins, Aldrin and astronaut Jim Lovell, who was the mission’s back-up commander. International Space Station NASA astronauts Wiseman and Steve Swanson, who is the current station commander, also will take part in the ceremony from their orbiting laboratory 260 miles above Earth.

Apollo_11_bootprintOn Thursday, July 24 at 3 p.m. PDT (6 p.m. EDT), which is the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11′s return to Earth, the agency will host a panel discussion – called NASA’s Next Giant Leap – from Comic-Con International in San Diego. Moderated by actor Seth Green, the panel includes Aldrin, NASA Planetary Science Division Director Jim Green, JPL systems engineer Bobak Ferdowsi, and NASA astronaut Mike Fincke.

In addition to Aldrin recounting his experiences, Fincke and the other NASA staff are slated to talk about the new Orion space capsule and the Space Launch System rocket – both of which will carry humans on America’s next great adventure in space – and what the future holds for space exploration. These will no doubt include talk of the planned missions to an asteroid, Mars, and quite possibly the construction of a settlement on the Moon.

apollo11_flag1The NASA.gov website will host features, videos, and historic images and audio clips that highlight the Apollo 11 anniversary, as well as the future of human spaceflight. You can find it all by clicking here. And if you don’t have NASA TV on your cable or satellite feeds, you can catch it all online here. Plenty has been happening already, marking the anniversary of the launch and recapturing the mission in “real-time”.

Forty five years later, and Apollo 11 still holds a special place in our collective hears, minds, and culture. One can only hope that the next generation of astronauts prove as equal to the task as those who made the Moon Landing were. And I’m sure that when they do make history, Neil Armstrong (may he rest in peace) will be watching approvingly.

And be sure to check out this video from Spacecraft Films, showing the entire Apollo 11 mission in 100 seconds:


Sources: universetoday.com, motherboard.vice.com, nasa.gov, spacecraftfilms.com

China Blocks Google for 25th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square

tiananmen-square-1989-tankIn preparation for the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre (aka. the June 4th Incident), Chinese authorities decided to begin blocking Google. It’s believed that the blockade is tied to this week’s 25th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre where the People’s Liberation Army cracked down on pro-democracy demonstrators. Each year, the Chinese government censors the web in an effort to limit protests against the thwarted uprising.

Aside from Google, several internet services were blocked or censored in advance, including social networks and other web communication tools. Though the Chinese government has not yet confirmed this, countless Chinese users have discovered Google’s services to be inaccessible since the last week of May. In addition, a report from GreatFire.org claimed that the government appeared to have begun targeting Google Inc’s main search engine and Gmail since at least the last week of May, making them inaccessible to many users in China.

chinese_hackerThe report added that the last time it monitored such a block was in 2012, when it only lasted 12 hours. At is states:

It is not clear that the block is a temporary measure around the anniversary or a permanent block. But because the block has lasted for four days, it’s more likely that Google will be severely disrupted and barely usable from now on.

Asked about the disruptions, a Google spokesman said: “We’ve checked extensively and there’s nothing wrong on our end.” And Google’s own transparency report, which shows details about its global traffic, showed lower levels of activity from China starting from about Friday, which could indicate a significant amount of disruption. Other major social media sites – such as Twitter and Facebook and Google’s own Youtube – are already blocked in the country.

A Google logo is seen at the entrance to the company's offices in TorontoOf course, this should come as no surprise, given the way this anniversary is received by Chinese officials. For the ruling Communist Party, the 1989 demonstrations that clogged Tiananmen Square in Beijing and spread to other cities remain taboo, particularly on their 25th anniversary. When June rolls around each year and the Tiananmen Square Massacre is commemorated around the world, including in Hong Kong, China’s ruling party typically conducts a web crackdown.

It’s not uncommon for Chinese censors to block certain comments from being made even on China-based company services, like Weibo, China’s own version of Twitter. And China also applies pressure to search engines like Baidu in their country in order to ensure that censorship filters are in place. And as with previous years, the run-up to the anniversary has been marked by detentions, increased security in Beijing and tighter controls on the Internet.

tiananmen_square_vigilThis year, the detainees included prominent rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and Chinese-born Australian artist Guo Jian, a former Chinese soldier who last week gave an interview to the Financial Times about the crackdown. And as usual, the Chinese government made a statement in which it once again defended its decision to use military force against the pro-democracy demonstrators who gathered in the Square twenty-five years ago.

The statement came from Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei during a daily news briefing, in which he said:

The Chinese government long ago reached a conclusion about the political turmoil at the end of the 1980s. In the last three decades and more of reform and opening up, China’s enormous achievements in social and economic development have received worldwide attention. The building of democracy and the rule of law have continued to be perfected. It can be said that the road to socialism with Chinese characteristics which we follow today accords with China’s national condition and the basic interests of the vast majority of China’s people, which is the aspiration of all China’s people.

tiananmen_square_vigil2On the subject of why Google was being targeted, Hong said only that the government “manages the Internet in accordance with the law”, which is consistent with the state’s position with all web-based censorship. When asked about the jailing of dissidents, Hong replied that “In China there are only law breakers — there are no so-called dissidents.” He also stressed once again that all departments of the Chinese government “consistently act in accordance with the law.”

For years now, Google has had a contentious relationship with China, which began with the company had once offering its search services to the world’s second largest economy. However, due to issues over censorship, Google decided to move its Chinese search engine to Hong Kong, effectively allowing them to operate outside the rules and regulations of the Chinese government. But as China demonstrated these past few weeks, it still has the ability to block the flow of traffic from Hong Kong into the mainland. 

tiananmen_square_vigil3It also aptly demonstrated just how much it fears the specter of Tiananmen Square, even some twenty-five years later. From clamping down on their people’s ability to learn more about the massacre, to clamping down on even the possibility of protest in advance, to continually denying any wrongdoing and suppressing information on the number of people killed, the legacy of Tiananmen Square continues to expose the blatant hypocrisy and denial of the Communist Party of China.

If history has taught us anything, it is that the fall of a dictatorship usually begins with one terrible mistake. The state of China committed that mistake a quarter of a century ago, and since then has relied on state-sanctioned economic growth in order to justify its existence. But in so doing, they’ve essentially created a Catch 22 for themselves. Continued economic growth ensures greater material wealth for more and more of its people. And a burgeoning digital-age economy means more and more access to information for its citizens.

In short, the CPC is screwed. And I for one would be happy to see them gone! Lord knows they deserve it, and the Chinese people would be better off without them, no matter what they try to insist. So on this historic anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre, I invite the CPC to EAT A DICK! And to the people still living under their hypocritical rule, please know that you are not alone. Hang in there, and wait for the day when these bastards join all the other reprehensible dick-heads on the ash heap of history!

Sources: cnet.com, reuters.com, (2)