Sunday, December 20, 2009

The world of Cauldron

So DarkSyde emails me on Thurs (Dec. 17) asking if I can do an image of a planet just discovered circling a red star in the constellation Ophiuchus, about 40 light years from here. He needed it by 1 p.m. on Sunday. Burned out from doing
writing about 4,000 words per weekday on my two Chevenga stories (starting point here) for the last nine months, only a few hundred words into the Thursday segments, and busy with Christmas prep, I kind of balked, but eventually agreed. We went back and forth a few times and here's the one that went up on the Daily Kos front page.

As ever, DarkSyde wrote a beautiful caption.

To create an illustration, Karen Wehrstein and I assume Cauldron (Our working name, nothing official) is tide locked and thus rotating every 38 hours, about six times the mass of the earth and three times the radius, and that it is indeed composed mostly of H2O, i.e., water. A big, fat planet-sized spinning drop of dirty boiling water thousands of miles deep over a small rocky-metal core the size of our moon. That brings up some interesting physics and lends us one hell of an artistic license built on images of thunderstorms and cyclones, pics of gas giants and solar flares, and flavored with imagination.

From a vantage point perched high in the atmosphere, the red dwarf star glowers on the cloud drenched horizon. Under intense solar radiation, hydrogen and oxygen split up and react with trace elements like nitrogen or carbon forming pastel reds, yellows, and browns. Titanic convection and the planet's rotation produce fierce cyclones, streams and bands, the differential between permanent night and day sides fuel supersonic jet streams. Shown right a mountain of swirling stained water vapor -- perhaps better compared to under water black-smokers than garden variety thunderstorm cells -- the size of Iceland blasts hundreds of miles above twisted puffy ribbons of low laying crimson cloud. Far below and unseen, in the perfect pitch black lower atmosphere, water vapor is heated and pressurized until the phase differential between liquid and solid disappears. No clear surface, just an increasingly dense superheated fluid, until the water is crushed by sheer brute force into a dozen different kinds of exotic 'ice' hotter than burning coals.

Here's another version:

Nice place to visit...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Star go ka-BOOM!

Playing catch-up after a long hiatus again. I haven't done that much computer art. But here's diagrams of the stages of a supernova, used for a political/scientific story posted on Daily Kos by Darkside on Feb. 17, 2008. Quoting from the story:

The three schematics below courtesy of graphic artist Karen Wehrstein illustrate the basics of what is thought to happen deep inside a massive, aging star near the end of its life, during a classic kind of Supernova called a Type ll. After burning successively heavier elements, the star eventually begins producing iron at its center. It's a stellar dead end. The iron core grows, robbing the star of energy due to the idiosyncrasies (See comment) of atomic physics, and soon reaches a critical threshold; a massive ball of iron thousands of kilometers in diameter suddenly collapses dramatically, like a soap bubble, into an unimaginably dense remnant a few kilometers wide. Overlying superheated plasma, compressed so much it weighs way more than lead -- quickly falls in to fill the gaping void. When it slams in to the surface of the degenerate core it begans fusing furiously. Short version: Star Go Ka-BOOM!

These illos, incidentally, are totally original, done from scratch.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Chevenga Lives

UPDATE (Feb. 29): Here's the link to the introductory Chevenga site (*). It jumps off to two blog sites where I will begin posting chapters, once I get started (I'm still doing assorted preliminary work.)

I'm really much more of a writer than an artist, in the sense that I actually m
ake money writing. I've occasionally done art professionally, but not enough to say I have a career in it.

In 1991, I published two solo fantasy novels with Baen Books:


...the "autobiography" of a character named Fourth Chevenga Shae-Arano-e.

I followed up with a third, a collaboration with S.M. Stirling and Shirley Meier, in which Chevenga has a starring but secondary role, in 1992.


After that, I took a long hiatus, at least when it came to publishing novels. (I never quit actually writing. I don't think I could. Laptop... cold, dead hands... you get the idea.)

But then just a few days ago, a friend introduced me to the website of a fiction author who writes online... successfully enough that she's been able to quit her day job after about six months of starting to post this particular work, I calculate. Maybe Alexandra Erin has become famous enough that you've already heard of, or are irredeemably addicted to, Tales of MU.

I was totally inspired. If she could do it, why not me? I'd been wanting to do a revision and expansion of the Chevenga books anyway. One thing about writing a novel in your 20s: when you read it in your 40s, you see a lot that you'd like to fix. As well, I'd had to cut a number of scenes out by editor's orders; the episodic format of online serialization, I felt, would make a longer version work. And then, of course, there was Book III of Chevenga's memoir.

Wait a minute, you're thinking, if you've ever read the first two. As George Bush Sr. said after the assassination of Meir Kahane, "I thought this guy was kind of dead." More than kind of, actually -- really most sincerely dead, Chevenga is, at the end of Lion's Soul. Er... did I forget to say "Spoiler Warning!"?

No worries... no spoiler. And there's a third book. How can that be? I guess you'll just have to come over to the site, once I've posted the first chapter of Book III, to find out, won't you?

And if you haven't read the first two Chevenga books, they will be there, too, revised, expanded, vitamin-enriched, etc.

In the meantime, the site requires artwork, and so I turned to the obvious source: Larry Elmore, the artist who did the covers. Bit of a tale here, that Larry told me in a bar at a con after the first book came out.

He was already established and very b
usy as a painter in 1989. So he'd get his wife to help him, by going through each manuscript with a highlighter, marking scenes that were very visual and thus would lend themselves well to illustration.

When she handed him my manuscript (said Larry as we quaffed a wee cup or two), "Half of it was highlighted!"

In a panic -- the art was due in three weeks -- he phoned the publisher, Jim Baen (1943-2006). "Never mind the manuscript," Jim told him. "Just give me a painting with a man and a woman in it." Badabing...



So for Chevenga website art, I started with this. First thing I wanted was a nice head shot
of my main man:

Now this piece is really Larry's, but there's more of my touch in it than is immediately apparent. I'd been doing drawings of Chevenga, trying to match perfectly the vision of him I had in my head, for years. When I found out who would be doing the cover art, I scared up Larry's snailmail address (which was just called an "address" back then) and sent him the best drawing I had. Bless his soul -- no contract required him to do this -- he clipped it right onto his easel, and copied it precisely. When I got the cover flat, there was Chevenga, staring right back out at me. Because a cover artist is usually using images from his own visual imagination, evoked by words, rather than an image out of the writer's visual imagination, darn few writers get to experience this. I count myself very blessed.

The only mistake Larry made was making the eyes dark blue instead of deep brown as they should be (the drawing was black and white). So -- and here's where the image has felt my touch at the other end of its creation -- I photoshopped them brown again for the portrait. Obviously I've done a few other things, too, including moving the head to a different place against the background, and de-focusing the background to give the image depth.

But the point is, this really is what Chevenga looks like (at least before he acquires a number of facial scars). Really. How lucky am I?

*About the domain name: years ago, having some other idea for how to get my doughty character an Internet presence, I checked the availability of "" and found that it was owned by someone else. Italian, I wondered? (The only frequent Google mentions I've found of the word other than references to my books are in Italian.) Perhaps it was being used as an acronym by some group such as the Coalition of Holistic Equal Value Enhanced National Giraffe Associations? Or maybe some enterprising person, not quick enough off the mark to have registered "" or "" so that he could make millions selling them to their rightful owners, was looking to do the same with a more obscure brand for more modest gain? Whois informed me that it was owned by a per son named Jeyen Chevenga Barham-Kaiel.

A fan who gave himself the name, at least on the net, after reading my books? Someone who thought of it independently? I'll probably never know. When I checked again after deciding to start writing online, he'd given up, so I grabbed it. If you're out there, Jeyen Chevenga, thanks for giving the domain name back. And I promise: there is a giraffe association near you.
Hire a Hero

There wasn't much work needed on the image DarkSyde requested I edit for this front page post on Daily Kos, Feb. 5. Just take this photo of a guy working out at the gym, he asked, and remove the background so he and the leg-press machine are against white.

But I'm posting it and quoting extensively, because I was totally moved and inspired by this young man's story, and the action he's taking. Which you should support.


"All I remember is dirt falling on top of me. My first thought was that I was dreaming, I closed and opened my eyes -- then realized it was real. There was no pain at first, just a dead cold feeling all over, like my body was submerged in ice. My buddy was driving a humvee 10 yards ahead of me. I’ll never forget the look on his face when he opened the door and saw me on the ground. Everything after that is hard to remember ..."

Five long months of extensive physical rehabilitation and seven intense revision surgeries later
, Justin Callahan walked out of Walter Reed on a prosthetic leg. Even so he was fortunate; he quickly found a job. Many of his fellow soldiers walked or limped or wheeled their way out of WR and straight into unemployed civilian limbo. That’s when Callahan, encouraged by the person who had hired him, got a brilliant idea: Hire Heroes USA.

Most jobs in today’s modern military not only require training on some of the most highly sophisticated technology, they train service members to perform in extremely dangerous and stressful situations. Anyone who can calmly keep an IT network operating while mortars fall, can probably deal with a stubborn server in an office-cube farm. But as any handicapped person can attest, too many employers see only the disability, even when the applicant before them has completed a regimen worthy of an Olympian.

To recover from a severe injury is to find the heart of a dedicated athlete. The wounded in action will train, sweat, endure immense physical pain, like any athlete. But unlike today’s lavishly paid ball players, they won’t be training for money or fame. They build muscle, to power their wheelchair; hone reflexes, to balance on a prosthetic leg; work their heart and lungs, to develop the endurance to live independently. And when they diet, it’s not for vanity or photo shoots, but to take mechanical stress off the scar tissue, metal pins, and stainless steel staples knitting torn flesh and shattered bone together.

"There are men and women out there who feel they are only approached to be put on a pedestal or used as props. If you want to thank a veteran for their service, offer them a job. Give them a chance to apply their skills, work ethic and values to the civilian workforce. Let them have the opportunities to take care of their families. They’re not looking for sympathy; they just want to contribute to the society they fought for. If you are a veteran with a disability from any branch of the military who is returning from Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom, Hire Heroes USA is here for you." -- Sgt. Justin Callahan, 10th Mountain Division.

Whether you are a small business or a large corporation, conservative or progressive, if you’re looking for trained, quality employees that have the ability and desire to succeed, contact HHUSA.

And if simply doing the right thing doesn’t motivate you, let’s talk cold hard dollars: Unlike traditional agencies, this non-profit, non-partisan group provides job placement services at no charge to veterans and employers. They’re supported solely by employer and private contributions.

Unrequited, I mean, unrequested art*

Okay, more catching up. Here's my warm, cuddly Christmas greeting to the netizens of the Alexander the Great forum Pothos, a slightly-altered photo from the Oliver Stone movie Alexander, with Colin Farrell in the title role:


If that didn't warm the cockles of your heart, how about losing weight the quick way? Texas Republican congressional candidate Dean Hrbacek did back in January, by having his head shopped onto the body of a more shapely fellow on his campaign literature. Hey, I know how that works.


(Yes, it looks cheesy. It's supposed to look cheesy.)

And finally, DarkSyde on an open science thread referred to this image ("that is one big-ass rat.") By an involuntary reflex, I cannot help but look at such a creature without envisioning the head of a politician on him. (I think it's genetic.) The obvious victim here was the most plasticly photogenic, in a used-car-salesman sort of way, of the presidential candidates: Mitt Romney.


Now, I'm not trying to claim that this image alone caused Romney to abandon his presidential ambitions. Just that it was a factor.

*Have you ever heard anyone say, "I thought it was unrequited love, but then (s)he turned around and requited it after all" ?

The Battle of Newsweek

Back in November 2007, Markos announced on the front page of Daily Kos that he'd be writing a column in Newsweek (here's the first one), along with a politically-opposite columnist... none other than Karl Rove, neocon slime-meister extraordinaire, today's most well-known American practitioner of the politics of personal destruction.

No one asked me to illustrate this, but I did anyway, and posted it in a comment thread.


In a spatial reversal of their usual positions, that's Karl sweating on the left and Kos dominating on the right. There is also a visual nod to the evocative nickname which which Karl was anointed by George W. Bush: "Turdblossom."

Saturday, August 25, 2007

What if emergency rescue was set up the same as health care?

I'm a bit late with this one, as it was posted on Daily Kos in DarkSyde's story "That Ole Free Market Magic" on July 13. It was pointing up the absurdity of one life-saving service (emergency rescue) being provided by the state, when another no less life-saving service (health care) is not. (Michael Moore has made this comparison also.) Dick Cheney seemed the most suitable ambassador for this message:

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Then down in the comments, DarkSyde posted the other image I created for this story. Since George is always bull-horning (or doing something that starts with bull, anyway) about 9/11, I have him delivering a similar message as it's happening.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Read the whole thing, and the 129 comments. I am Canadian, incidentally, so the American health care fiasco doesn't touch me directly... I view it with horror, shock and revulsion from afar, and feel for my many American friends. Go out and see SiCKO too, and get involved with the movement. The entire rest of the civilized world is wondering what in heck is keeping you.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Woo-hoo! I'm on Astronomy Picture of the Day

See the Gliese 581c image there -- posted May 2, 2007.

Or if you're bored of plain old English and you'd rather see it in Czech (as happens to me frequently), click here.

Welcome APOD readers.

Friday, April 27, 2007

A distant twin of Terra

Daily Kos Open Science Thread

When the Southern European Observatory reported the discovery of "the most Earth-like planet" yet outside the solar system -- orbiting a red dwarf star named Gliese 581 -- DarkSyde posted about it on Daily Kos three days later, on April 28. Of course, he needed a shot of its surface, and so he asked me to jump in the spaceship equipped with the camera of my imagination.

DarkSyde's caption:
In this artist’s conception courtesy of our own Karen Wehrstein, the sun would never move as seen from the surface of a tidally-locked world, but the sky is an ever-changing show greater than any on earth. Observational data and theoretical models suggest that stars like Gliese 581 might have a dynamic, granular surface and sport enormous starspots. It could be engulfed in perpetual solar storms, seen here as faint plasma arcs and visible surface flares. The star is shown as it might appear above a hypothetical waterworld’s horizon from just sunward of the terminator, distorted and dimmed through a blanket of CO2 five times thicker than our own atmosphere. With less than 7 million miles separating star and planet, Gliese’s solar wind easily plows through the planet’s (presumed) weak magnetic field and slams into the upper atmosphere to produce brilliant displays. Shimmering cascades of what on earth might be called colorful sprites, blue jets, and dazzling aurora mingle so completely with high, wispy clouds as to be virtually indistinguishable. Fat cumulus clouds hang low over the water eerily backlit by the brooding red-dwarf. One lone iceberg represents the assumed many which calve off from the great unseen ice-sheet dominating the planet’s dark side and drift slowly to their eventual destruction on global currents through a deep, planetary ocean of carbonated water. High overhead the barest hint of shorter wavelengths are scattered by the thick air, coloring the zenith a deep twilight blue. Could life evolve in such an alien environment?

But that's only how the daylit half of the planet looks. Please, DarkSyde asked guiltily, half-hiding, could I do one of the night side, too?

He knows darn well what drives me. It's wondering, "What would that look like?"

But part of the fun of this work is the extracurricular activity. Let's pretend the watery planet has a breathable and not-too-cold atmosphere, and certain people are younger again, for this next picture -- triggered by my own comment to DarkSyde that the planet boasts the "galaxy's biggest skating rink."

Eerily lit by the brilliant auroras of a distant world, British ice-dance legends Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean perform their classic Olympic-gold-medal-winning routine to the music of Ravel's Bolero (video). No need to worry that they'll fall through the ice as it's scores of miles thick; however, they've had to undertake a gruelling regimen of extra conditioning to perform with their characteristic grace -- in gravity twice as strong as Earth's.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Save the Blastocyst-Americans!

Well, it's been a while... on hiatus for more than one reason, but now I'm back adorning the front page of DailyKos again. This piece was done on DarkSyde's request as usual and published with his story Neoconning, April 13.

Point being that blastocysts left over from the in-vitro fertilization process won't have their little lives saved by a ban on stem-cell research. They just get tossed in the medical incinerator anyway. So where's the logic?

Then someone in the comments suggested there should be an elephant in the fire and a donkey in the Petri dish, to represent the ultimate fates of Republicans and Democrats in relation to this sort of question. Of course I obliged.

You know... you've got to hold their feet to the fire on this issue... (rim shot).
Nothing terribly earth-shattering about these little illos, they didn't take long. The one new thing is that the sign on the clinic door was my first foray into mouse lettering, and the arrows and door were done freehand, or should I say freemouse, also, rather than using the straight line function. I wanted to make the whole thing look a little more hand-done, a little less stiff, thus a little more cartoony.