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Jim Cambias
I am a writer, game designer, New Orleanian, cook, parent, and wood-splitter.
Recent Activity
In two and a half weeks I'll be in Chicago for ChiCon 8, the 80th World Science Fiction Convention. I offered to participate in programming events, and they're really making me sing for my supper this time. Thursday, September 1 (all times are CDT) 2:30 P.M.: Writing and Story Development... Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at Just The Caffeine Talking
I've updated the entry Part 8: Planetary Characteristics to include a discussion of surface pressure, partial pressure of gases, and how that might affect habitability by humans. Thanks to Jim Torkelson for pointing out that I'd neglected that topic. Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at Just The Caffeine Talking
Most of the planets we've been talking about are analogous to the worlds of our own Solar System. But planetary scientists have come up with some planet types which might exist circling other stars. Small variations in element abundances when a system forms can lead to very exotic worlds. Carbon... Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at Just The Caffeine Talking
I'm back! Let's talk about moons now. Most planets have moons, ranging from little chunks of ice or rock to planet-sized bodies like Triton or Titan. Moons can affect their primary planet — and sufficiently large moons of a giant planet in the Goldilocks Zone might be habitable worlds in... Continue reading
Posted Jul 31, 2022 at Just The Caffeine Talking
For the next couple of weeks I'm going to be conducting a science fiction writing workshop for the Smith College summer Precollege Program. This means blogging will be very slow, and may not resume until the course is over. I haven't forgotten about the worldbuilding project. Have patience! Continue reading
Posted Jul 11, 2022 at Just The Caffeine Talking
This is where we figure out the details that actually determine what it's like on the planet. Some of these can be figured pretty precisely, others are up to the creator. (For gamers I've included random generators.) Size: We know the mass (in Earths), and we've determined the density relative... Continue reading
Posted Jul 6, 2022 at Just The Caffeine Talking
From here on out I'm going to concentrate on solid planets which might be home to life we can interact with. These are bodies with a mass in the range of 0.1 Earth to 10 Earths, though I will include occasional nods to "Mega-Earth" type worlds even bigger than that.... Continue reading
Posted Jul 1, 2022 at Just The Caffeine Talking
The two defining features for a planet are its mass and its temperature. Those data can pretty much predict its likely size, composition, and how suitable it is for life. Temperature is a function of the world's distance from its primary star, and how bright that star is. By "bright"... Continue reading
Posted Jun 27, 2022 at Just The Caffeine Talking
Until the boom in exoplanet studies, we really knew nothing about how planetary systems form. In the old days, with only the Solar System as our guide, it looked simple: small rocky worlds near the Sun, big giants in the outer regions. But then we began to observe things like... Continue reading
Posted Jun 20, 2022 at Just The Caffeine Talking
Now we're going to get into the real nuts-and-bolts part, creating worlds and aliens. Note that you can start this process at either end: begin with the star and work your way through the planet to its life forms and their society, or start with what you need for the... Continue reading
Posted Jun 14, 2022 at Just The Caffeine Talking
Fictional worlds which differ from our own because of some scientific or pseudo-scientific rationale are basically the definition of science fiction. After all, SF stories have all kinds of plots, all kinds of characters, all kinds of themes, but they all take place in a "science fiction world." Sometimes that's... Continue reading
Posted Jun 10, 2022 at Just The Caffeine Talking
From here on, science fiction is going to be the primary focus, so when I say "worldbuilding" just assume it's SF. And, yes, I'm eventually getting to the nuts and bolts, but I think it's important to understand what we're doing and why, before we get to the how. Why?... Continue reading
Posted Jun 8, 2022 at Just The Caffeine Talking
A couple of years ago I taught a class via Zoom for the Pioneer Valley Writers Workshop, on science fiction worldbuilding. Now I've decided to write up and expand my notes for that course and post that all here in a series of blog posts. My ultimate goal is to... Continue reading
Posted Jun 5, 2022 at Just The Caffeine Talking
And so we say farewell to scenic Iceland. On our final day we had a big breakfast at our hotel, made a few last-minute purchases, and then packed up the car and left the Hotel Borg. We drove south, back to the Reykjanes peninsula, and spent some of the time... Continue reading
Posted May 16, 2022 at Just The Caffeine Talking
My experience of travel to various places has taught me that one should always include a "slack day" in one's travel plans. There are a number of good reasons for having a day with few or no activities planned: you can re-visit someplace you really enjoyed, you can switch around... Continue reading
Posted May 13, 2022 at Just The Caffeine Talking
We rose fairly early and had a substantial breakfast at the Hotel Borg's cafe, then dressed in our warmest clothes and headed down to the waterfront to board one of the Elding whale-watching tour boats for a three-hour cruise. We shared the boat with a tour group from Italy, who... Continue reading
Posted May 9, 2022 at Just The Caffeine Talking
After a breakfast in our room (scones and coffeemaker coffee) we crossed Austurvollur Square to the Settlement Museum, a branch of the Reykjavik City Museum. The museum occupies the basement of a building (a hotel, I think) and consists of the in-situ archaeological site of a Viking longhouse from the... Continue reading
Posted May 7, 2022 at Just The Caffeine Talking
We had another big breakfast and did a little more walking around the island of Heimaey on Tuesday morning, then boarded the noon ferry back to the Icelandic "mainland." Our car was none the worse for having sat in the parking lot for forty-eight hours — except for a light... Continue reading
Posted May 4, 2022 at Just The Caffeine Talking
We slept for about twelve hours on our first night in Iceland, then went downstairs for an excellent buffet breakfast at the hotel restaurant. Lots of different breads, a kind of baked scrambled egg dish, skyr (Icelandic yogurt — you're going to see that a lot), cold cuts, and so... Continue reading
Posted May 1, 2022 at Just The Caffeine Talking
The ferry ride to Heimaey took about 20 minutes and was the quietest boat ride I've ever taken. We later discovered that the good ship Herjolfur is electric-powered, with a big recharging plug on the dock at Heimaey. It makes sense for a short-haul ship in a country with plentiful... Continue reading
Posted Apr 28, 2022 at Just The Caffeine Talking
A few years ago the Crack Team and I went to Europe aboard Iceland Air, because they had good cheap fares and fly out of Logan Airport in Boston. Like all modern long-haul airliners, the plane had little video screens at each seat, and those little screens played promotional videos... Continue reading
Posted Apr 25, 2022 at Just The Caffeine Talking
Note: edited to reflect new information. The war in Ukraine drags on, and the courage and skill of the Ukrainian defenders continues to astonish the world. As I write, they've just announced a missile strike on the Russian Navy's flagship in the Black Sea, the cruiser Moskva. The Russians are... Continue reading
Posted Apr 14, 2022 at Just The Caffeine Talking
We're all following the progress of the war in Ukraine, bouncing around between hope, fear, and utter bafflement. I'd like to take a step back and think about what the results of this conflict are likely to be. I see five paths, and only one of them is not terrible.... Continue reading
Posted Mar 19, 2022 at Just The Caffeine Talking
I'm pleased to report that the long-awaited anthology Lost Worlds and Mythological Kingdoms is now available. It's edited by John Joseph Adams and features a pretty impressive lineup of contributors, including Theodora Goss, Cadwell Turnbull, and Becky Chambers. The seventeen stories in the book are all about visits to hidden... Continue reading
Posted Mar 8, 2022 at Just The Caffeine Talking
One of the most baffling things about Russia's invasion of Ukraine, to Westerners, is that it seems impossible to succeed. If the Russian army gets badly mauled and driven out, Putin gets forced from power and probably shot in the back of the head. If the Russians somehow manage to... Continue reading
Posted Mar 3, 2022 at Just The Caffeine Talking