August 14th, 2006


This Day in History, 2003: The Great Northeast Blackout

Can you believe it has been exactly three years since the Great Blackout of 2003? The blackout hit much of the northeast United States and parts of Canada. Where were you?

I was at home (in Brookline, Massachusetts, which did not lose power) on the computer when the phone rang at 4:33 PM. It was my younger brother, Josh, in New York City, calling to ask me if I knew what was going on. As I had left the TV news on in the living room, and the TiVo was recording its buffer, I was able to start describing the news to him and I learned of the blackout as I told him what was going on.

I served as the point person for my younger brother, my sister-in-law, and my mother for the next few hours. Josh had to sleep overnight in Manhattan. Rachel had to care for their new baby daughter, and I gave her information on New York City emergency lines and hospitals. And my Mom stayed home.

I recorded NBC Nightly News that evening and the Today show the next day, and a few months later I gave the tape to Josh so he could see what he missed.

I, Eavesdropper

Last Thursday, after I finished teaching my World-Building Seminar at Grub Street, I got onto the Green Line to return home. I found myself sitting in one of those single seats on one of the new trains while a man and a woman who had not wanted the seat talked around me. I'm chagrined to admit that I thought of them as "kids," as they couldn't have been much older than their early twenties.

I won't say that I consciously expected their conversation to be intractable, but I will note how delighted and surprised I was when they began to talk again. Because the topic of their conversation was something close to my own interests.

The man was telling the woman all about how much he likes the novels of Isaac Asimov.

I listened to him as he explained how wonderful he found Asimov's books. He was very excited about the Foundation series, and clearly had not yet read all the books as there were plot points in the series with which he was as yet unfamiliar. But he was eagerly looking forward to finishing the books, and he did his best to convey his excitement to his friend. She didn't seem as familiar with Asimov's work, or as excited, so he tried to make some connections for her. He cited the movie version of The Bicentennial Man as something based on Asimov's work. He also mentioned the moive I, Robot, but noted quite correctly that it's not really based directly on Asimov's stories.

I wanted to break in and say something, but I couldn't think of anything appropriate. I suppose I could have told them that I had just come from teaching a science fiction writing class, and that I had met Asimov a few times and had even written an article about it. But instead, I just took out a copy of Asimov's Science Fiction magazine, leaned back with a smile, and began to read.

There is perhaps hope for the future after all.

Copyright © Michael A. Burstein


Yesterday Nomi and I drove out to Pi-Con for the day.

Pi-Con is a new science fiction convention that started just this year in West Springfield, Massachusetts. Originally we hadn't planned to go, what with Readercon in July and L.A.con IV in just a few weeks. But then L.A.con was no longer a possibility, and Nomi pointed out that we could do a daytrip to Pi-Con. So we told programming that yes, we'd be there on Sunday, and agreed to do a bunch of panels.

We got up before 7 AM and Nomi went out to Kupel's to get us bagels and cream cheese for breakfast. We left home around 8 AM, and drove straight down I-90 for about an hour and a half, until we arrived at the convention hotel.

When we got there, we both discovered that we were listed as moderators for some of our panels. When I had filled out my sign-up sheet, I had noted that I was willing to be on panels but not as a moderator, as I needed to take a break from moderating after Readercon. So I wasn't expecting to be listed as a moderator, even though I had already known that most of the panels consisted of only two or three people. As it is, I kind of shrugged it off and figured with panels those size most discussions would end up being free-flowing anyway.

Nomi's first panel was at 10 AM, and I had no panel at that time, so I sat in on hers: Religion and Spirituality in Fandom. The other panelist was David Honigsberg, and there were three people in the audience other than me. Nomi and David did an excellent job of exploring the topic, even beyond Judaism.

Nomi went off to the other room to do her other four panels, and I stayed to do mine. My first panel was Psychoanalyzing Superman, with Brian Rust. I had been reading Danny Fingeroth's book Superman on the Couch and I had it with me, so I used it as a springboard for our discussion. We had five people for most of the panel, and two more joining us near the end, so we had a nice back-and-forth on the topic.

My second panel was Worldbuilding, with David Honigsberg as the moderator and Keith R.A. DeCandido (LJ: kradical) as the other panelist. David did an excellent job of moderating the panel; he had a bunch of questions ready and Keith and I took turns answering them.

At 1 PM, Keith, Terri Osborne (LJ: terri_osborne) and I were on a panel titled Professional Writers Q&A. The theory here was that audience members could ask us questions and we would answer them. But there was only one attendee, and she only had a few questions to ask. Furthermore, her questions really weren't about professional writing. The attendee was someone who grew up in Queens, like I did, and who had graduated from my high school nine years after I had. She was familiar with my work and just had a question or two about where I grew up and my upcoming stories. I was happy to meet her and to answer the questions, and then she left to check out Nomi's panel on Small Press Publishing. So the rest of us adjourned to Nomi's panel as well.

My final panel was Short Stories, Novellas & Doorstops with Terri Osborne. No one showed up for about ten minutes, and then we had one audience member walk in. Terri and I talked about the differences between shorter and longer works, and I tried to add some thoughts about the commercial versus artistic needs of the market. We kind of ran out of steam after a while, but the audience member seemed happy with what we had said.

After we finished with our panels, Nomi and I had lunch with Keith and Terri, and we talked about cons, and writing, and the Bronx. Afterwards, Nomi and I drove home and decided that we were too tired to go out anywhere else again. So we watched lots of season five of Stargate SG-1 on DVD instead, as we're hoping to catch "Wormhole X-Treme!" before the 200th episode airs this weekend.

Copyright © Michael Burstein