Frank Landis' Blog

And now for something completely different…
October 6, 2011, 11:48 am
Filed under: California Native Plants, Science Fiction, writing | Tags: , ,

Oddly enough, I’ve been meaning to put this up for over a week. Originally, I was going to wait until I had the book ready for sale, but you know, reality has it’s own agenda. All of a sudden, a bunch of things suddenly erupted onto my schedule like post-rain mushrooms. Given that Smashwords takes a bit of time to publish things, I thought I’d put the teaser up now.

It’s my second book, and this one is in the spirit of Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol. The title is The Ghosts of Deep Time, and the book contains a novel and a short story.

From the back cover:

“A consultant finds a fossilized pack in the desert, then finds himself back in the Miocene with a criminal gang.

A game warden busts a group of trespassing druids in a wildlife sanctuary. They vanish in a green flash and he loses his job, only to be recruited for something much bigger.

This is the big secret: time travel is easy. There are over four billion years in Earth’s past. The deeper one goes in time, the more alien the Earth is. Still, people have settled most of Earth’s history. Of course they live without a trace, for that is the law of deep time. To do otherwise could create paradoxes, bifurcating histories, even time wars and mass extinctions.

Where there is law, there is also crime. When crimes span millions of years, law enforcement takes a special kind of officer. An ex-game warden can be the perfect recruit. At the right time.”

Here’s a sample. Enjoy! The Smashwords version will be available in a couple of weeks, and a paper version will be available through Lulu late next week. I’ll add links as things progress. A couple of you may have seen this already. If so, feel free to comment on it.

Wet and Wild 1: Willows and Seep Willows

Wow, 3.5 inches of rain in the last two days! Yes, yes, I know anyone outside southern California wouldn’t even bother with an umbrella for that little, but around here, the news media are howling about THE FLOOD. Worse, according to at least one outlet, we environmentalists have caused the flooding (!), because “we” stopped San Diego from pulling on its 1950 tin hardhat and running bulldozers through all the creeks and storm drains so that they’ll drain straight to the ocean. Of course, “THE FLOOD” has occurred where water backed up into the flood plains of the San Diego and Tijuana Rivers, areas that flood during every major wet event, but that doesn’t get much attention. Worse, if all the crap in the storm channels went into the Pacific Ocean, it would trash San Diego’s famous beaches and drive off the tourist. This is the real reason why the city is having trouble implementing this plan, as it runs contrary to the Clean Water Act. But that doesn’t really bubble up to the media surface either. Flooded roads! Drama! Media exposure!

Where was I? Oh yes, there are in fact plants growing inside the flood channels despite the glowers of the SD Storm Water Department, and they are the topic for this entry. The plants? Willows and seep willows, two plants that grow great together. Both of them like water, whether it’s in seasonally flooded arroyos or on the shores of rivers and lakes. Or in the city’s undeveloped canyon bottoms.

To start with, “seep willow” is an alternate name for mulefat, and it isn’t a willow. Instead, Baccharis salicifolia is one of the biggest Asteraceae in California. It’s often mistaken for a true willow (genus Salix), but the white Baccharis composite flowers usually give it away. Mulefat blooms in fall, but the dead flowers and buds are around most of the year. The smell is distinctive too, resinous and easier to remember than describe.

As for telling the true willows apart, that’s a bit harder. My favorite system for southern California is still the one Tom Chester published a few years ago. Go to that site to learn the five willows that are common in San Diego. Actually, there’s only three that are common (four in the desert), so they are not hard to learn.

Why do willows and mulefat look so much alike? The reason is convergent evolution, which is a technical way of saying that living anywhere that can flood is a bit dangerous, and very different species have figured out the same formula for surviving a flash flood. If you’re a plant, you don’t get to run away from danger, and where it floods, you’ve got to deal with surges of water, along with the gravel, rocks, and other debris that come with the water. Both willows and mulefat have worked out a strategy that includes being able to resprout from a stump or branch (useful if a branch gets broken off and carried downstream), having very flexible branches, and long, streamlined leaves. It’s fun to play with the branches of willows and mulefat. They flex all over the place, and both are useful for basketry (think wicker) because of this. These are plants that bend before the water rather than breaking, and if they do break, they can resprout if the flood leaves them in suitable soil. This last property is beloved by restorationists, who propagate these plants from cuttings, because they will grow rapidly and keep banks from eroding.

Sexually, willows and mulefat are also similar. Mulefat blooms in the late fall, willow blooms in winter, and both species have fuzzy seeds that float on the breeze. This is probably convergence again: releasing seeds during flood season is a way to colonize sandbars and other areas scoured bare by floods. I still can’t explain why both mulefat and willows have separate male and female plants, but they do. The easy way to spot the females is to look for unreleased seeds and the resulting fuzz, and it’s easier with mulefat than with willows. The fact that each plant is a single sex can be a problem for restorationists, as they need to plant both male and female plants to insure that they will have breeding partners. It’s a minor but important detail.

Finally, if you look around, you will find mulefat away from the seasonally flooded arroyos it prefers. Often it has been planted, but still, it is common to find mulefat in areas that seldom, if ever, flood. What is it doing there? The simple answer is it’s growing. Happily. The thing to remember is that the mulefat is adapted to surviving floods, but it doesn’t particularly need floods to survive. If there’s a bit of water in the soil, mulefat can happily grow with other dryland Baccharis species (such as coyotebrush or broom baccharis). However, if the site floods, I’d bet that mulefat would be the only survivor. Everyday living isn’t an emergency, despite what the Storm Water Department might want us to believe.

Scion of the Zodiac becoming available
December 15, 2010, 10:38 am
Filed under: NANOWRIMO, Science Fiction, writing

Hi All,

Currently Scion of the Zodiac is available at Smashwords (paperback or pdf) and Lulu (many electronic formats). Spreading it more widely is proving interesting. In the coming days, it should make it to Kindle, Apple, and the other big stores. Or you can get those files at Smashwords and save the wait.

If you happen to like science fiction, gardening, friendly dragons, and/or native plants on alien worlds, you might like this book. Check it out.

Note: there are three ways to get it, if you’re interested. One is to buy it, which is always much appreciated. Another is to read and review it for me, which means you get it free if I get your honest feedback afterwards (this is the sweat-equity model). The third way is to be closely related to me, in which case it may just appear on your table some day soon. This is the fun part of being related to an aspiring author.

Writing update
December 7, 2010, 2:58 pm
Filed under: California Native Plants, NANOWRIMO, Nature Writing, Science Fiction, writing

Hi All,

Ah, the silence of November. It was productive. Here’s what was up:

–I did my third National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO) contest, and for the second year in a row, I finished the necessary 50,000 words. Since I started late and had a lot of other things going on, when I was writing, I wrote a lot. This is the start of another science fiction novel, one about time travel and conservation.

–The result of my NANOWRIMO 2009, Scion of the Zodiac is going up for publication. While I’m still shopping it around to see if any publishers want it, I decided to publish it myself and see if anyone liked it. It’s currently available at Smashwords and Lulu. Hopefully before Christmas it will be available at Mysterious Galaxy bookstore as well. The basic idea is that, if a publisher wants to option it, I’ll simply take down the current self-published versions and let them publish it.

Bottom line is: if you want to read science fiction with a large dose of ecology in it, check it out. I’ll post links as I get them.

–The next writing item on my list are those promised blog entries about native plants, to help Mike and anyone else for leading public hikes in the spring. If you have any preferences for topics, let me know.