Monday, July 27, 2009

When We Left Earth (11): Moon Shot (Essential)

Alan Shepard, Deke Slayton, Jay Barbree, Howard Benedict and Neil Armstrong (introduction); Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America's Race to the Moon (TurnerPublishing, Inc.; 1994; ISBN 1-878685-54-6; cover from a NASA photograph).

During the last big anniversary, two key books came out on the Apollo missions and started a new cottage industry (which I've been covering in these posts!). This was one of them, a relatively brief history of the program, written by two of the participants and two of the people who covered the program (with an introduction by a person that had pretty much receded from public view until then). Whereas these two books emphasized the science of the Apollo missions, this book, written by two intimates, emphasizes the "test pilot" side of the missions. An essential book.
When We Left Earth (10): America's Space Station

David J. Shayler; Skylab: America's Space Station (Springer-Praxis; 2001; ISBN 1-85233-407-X; cover from a NASA photograph).

While Apollo's lunar missions brought us to the Moon, Apollo also proved that humans could work and live in space for an extended period of time with the Skylab space station (America's "other" space station). Growing out of plans to take a empty booster stage and install living quarters (part of the Apollo Applications Program), Skylab incorporated living quarters (including a shower and private sleeping areas), space to do experiments and tests in the inside, and a telescope to observe the Sun. Shayler looks at the origins of the station and how it evolved, the near disaster and the complete triumph of the launch and first mission, and the wide differences with the way the three missions played out. There is even a look at the Apollo rescue vehicle (in case one crew needed saving), plans for boosting the lab into a higher orbit (where it might have been used again, if money were available) and the station's ultimate demise. Recommended.
When We Left Earth (09): The Lost and Forgotten Missions

David J. Shayler; Apollo: The Lost and Forgotten Missions (Springer-Praxis; 2002; ISBN 1-85233-575-0; cover from a NASA photograph).

In this volume Shayler concentrates on two forgotten or overlooked bits of Apollo program history: missions that were flown but are ignored and missions that were planned but later scrapped. For example, he looks at all the test missions for Apollo such as the "boilerplate" tests of the escape system. He examines two "failures", one successful (Apollo 13) and one not (Apollo 1). And he looks at Apollo missions that were canceled, both the wide-ranging "Apollo Applications" missions (the only one that was flown was Skylab) and the missions to the Moon that were cut (anything beyond Apollo 17). Highly recommended.
When We Left Earth (08): Gemini

David J. Shayler; Gemini: Steps to the Moon (Springer-Praxis; 2001: ISBN 1-85233-405-3; cover from a NASA photograph).

Project Mercury was pretty much "man in a can" despite some experiments; the craft was too small and the missions were too short to do much beyond the main purpose (prove you can live in space). In order to get to the Moon, we then had to test a whole range of things: can you work in a suit in space, can you rendezvous in space, can you live for two weeks in space, etc. Hence, the intermediate step between Mercury and Apollo: Project Mercury.

Shayler does an excellent job in this book, covering the transition from Mercury to Gemini, and then from Gemini to Apollo, showing the development of the craft and the missions, what missions were and were not flown (such as the lunar version of Gemini and the USAF's Manned Orbiting Laboratory—which, if flown, would have had America's first black in space well before it actually happened—let's hear it for the progressive military!). Highly recommended book!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

When We Left Earth (07): The Once and Future Moon

Paul D. Spudis; The Once and Future Moon (Smithsonian Institute Press; 1996; ISBN 1-56098-847-9; cover not credited).

If Don Wilhelms wrote the bible for lunar geology, then Paul Spudis inherited the position of pope of lunar geology, or so I have been told. This relatively slim volume is a "popular" level look at the history of lunar exploration, what we know about the Moon, and what we can do with the Moon. It doesn't quite make the "essentials" level, but it is a tad short. I'm hoping that Spudis, who has been involved in pushing NASA back to the Moon for the past several years, comes out with a more technical/detailed book in the near future.
When We Left Earth (06): To A Rocky Moon (Essential)

Don E. Wilhelms; To a Rocky Moon: A Geologist's History of Lunar Exploration (The University of Arizona Press; 1993; ISBN 0-8165-1443-7; cover from a NASA photograph).

There are essential books in this listing and there are absolutely essential books. This is one of them.

Don E. Wilhelms was involved in the science of Apollo and the study of the Moon along with several other key figures of the period (such as Farouk El-baz and . He wrote what has been called the "bible" of lunar geology, The Geologic History of the Moon (a book that I have sought for over a decade, without on the other hand, are luckier than I was, because you can read the whole thing online!).

The Geologic History of the Moon is a highly technical book; what this book does is to not only summarize the various theories about the Moon before Apollo, and talk about the results of Apollo, but give an excellent overview of the personalities that drove the science, how the astronauts became geologists and more. If you've seen the Tom Hanks produced mini-series From the Earth to the Moon, you saw portrayals of Farouk el-Baz and Lee Silver, two of the people portrayed in this book. You also get good descriptions of the battles to include science (and a scientist) in the missions, the view from the "back room" where support for the missions was provided, the unmanned missions (Ranger, Surveyor and Orbiter), and a good chapter on "what might have been" (missions that were planned and cut, or which might have happened if the program had continued).

Good stuff. Very good stuff. I can't recommend this one enough!

Bonus! You can read this book online as well, you lucky person, you!
When We Left Earth (05): The Man Who Ran the Moon (Essential)

Piers Bizony; The Man Who Ran the Moon: James E. Webb, NASA, and the Secret History of Project Apollo (Thunder's Mouth Press; 2006; ISBN 978-1-56025-751-6; cover from a NASA photograph).

Bizony has produced several good "coffee table" books in the past (including one on space stations and one on the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey), but that is not why I'm keying this volume as "essential". This, as well as couple of others, focuses on the folks behind the missions, people that are usually overlooked in most of the histories, especially any media-produced history. Webb ran Apollo and NASA, and due to his management we see (along with the efforts of some other key personnel) the results. Oftentimes when somebody criticizes NASA for having lost its way, lost it institutional memory, etc., they cite the Apollo program as when NASA had "the right stuff". Maybe NASA needs another Webb!
When We Left Earth (04): Stages to Saturn

Roger E. Bilstein; Stages to Saturn: A Technological History of the Apollo/Saturn Launch Vehicles (University Press of Florida; 2003; ISBN 0-8130-2691-1; cover from a NASA photograph).

This one is a reprint of one of several NASA official histories that were produced (and are highly sought after). The book covers the various Saturn launch vehicles and is a absolute goldmine for the general space enthusiast/historian or even for those building models or doing artwork of the vehicles. However, due to the somewhat specialized subject, it barely missed being classified as a "essential", as I was trying to keep things from being too specialized.
When We Left Earth (03): Taking Science to the Moon (Essential Book)

Donald A. Beattie; Taking Science to the Moon: Lunar Experiments and the Apollo Program (Johns Hopkins University Press; 2001; ISBN 0-8018-6599-9; cover photographs from NASA).

Apollo is mostly characterized as being a "flag and footsteps" program, we came, we saw, we left. There are several reasons for this: a lack of a clear mission beyond getting to the Moon in ten years, a lack of political will by the President and Congress to fund beyond the initial mission, the general political climate and more.

Somewhat buried in this was a battle between might be termed the engineers, the pilots and the scientists. The pilots wanted to do the mission, get home and fly neat stuff. The engineers wanted to launch their toys. The scientists wanted to do science. This book, and a few others that I'll mention, does a good job of talking about the battle, but also about what science was deployed during Apollo and what we've learned (a bit, but there's a lot more...anybody who thinks we know "everything" about the Moon is deluding themselves). Emphasis here is more on the science than the background and politics, but it is quite a good book, so I'm tagging it an "essential".
When We Left Earth (02): Apollo in Perspective

Jonathan Allday; Apollo In Perspective: Spaceflight Then and Now (Institute of Physics Publishing; 2000; ISBN 0-7503-0645-9; cover, NASA photograph).

This volume could have...should have...been a contender for an essential entry, but was hurt by the rather unfocused approach it took. It's more a series of disjointed entries (not separate essays), rather than a unified book. Some theory on physics is tossed in with facts about Apollo, bits about the Challenger incident, the Orion project, Skylab, computers, Mars exploration...well, you get the idea. Probably enough ideas for sixteen books, all crammed into one.
When We Left Earth (01): First on the Moon (Essential Book)

Neil Armstrong; Michael Collins; Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr.; Arthur C. Clarke (epilogue): First on the Moon (Little, Brown and Company; 1970; Library of Congress 76-103950; cover artist not indicated).

Pretty much an "instant" book, coming out as it did barely a year after the historic mission. However, it has two strengths: First, it is as close as we're going to get as an autobiography of these three men. Collins has written some autobiographical work, Aldrin has yet to contribute to the bookshelf (that I can find) and Armstrong has an official (and an unofficial) biography out, thus ceding the writing to others.

The second strength is the extensive epilogue by Arthur C. Clarke, a science and science fiction writer that can be cited to have influenced a lot of people to get involved in the field. Remembering the late Walter Cronkite was done a lot this past week; Clarke sat by him during much of the Apollo coverage, providing commentary and bringing his name into many households (who went out and bought, and hopefully read, his books).

Out of print, as far as I know, but worth hunting down.
When We Left Earth (00): Overview

Forty years ago, this month, we first walked on the Moon. A total of twelve humans walked on the surface of another sphere.

And then we stopped, we threw away what brought us there, and we haven't been back...except for some robots.

Knowing that there would be a fair bit of hoopla around the anniversary of Apollo 11 (and seeing that Apollo 1, 7 and 8..let alone 9 and 10 have been pretty much ignored by the press, I'm willing to bet we're going to ignore Apollo 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, the Skylab missions and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project...Apollo 13 will probably get attention, but not as much as 11), I undertook a bit of a reading project this month. I looked through my collection of space-related and Apollo-related books and hauled down a bunch and read and re-read them. I didn't get through everything I hauled down, but I got through quite a bit.

I'll post individual reviews, rather than One Big Review. And there will be a separate posting of those books I did not get to...but which should be conisdered. The emphasis will be on Apollo, but I'll also talk about some other books which covered unmanned probes, which cover astronomy and the like.

Order of reviews will be vaguely alphabetical. Vaguely.

If I consider the book to be an essential book on the subject, I'll note it. In the title.

Please stand by!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

From the Moon to the Earth

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the lunar module ascent stage, Eagle, rising from man's first steps on the Moon to link-up with the Apollo service module, Columbia for a return to Earth.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Fun Times in Florida

John D. MacDonald; Bright Orange for the Shroud (Ballantine Books/Fawcett; 1983; ISBN 0-449-22444-9; cover designer unknown).

About a year or so ago, my friend Steve Hart and I got into an extended e-mail discussion about recent books from The Library of America. They had come out, amazingly, with a volume of tales by H.P. Lovecraft and, even more amazingly, the first (in what will be, with the publication later this month) of three volumes of novels by Philip K. Dick. Steve wondered what other authors would be worthy of such publication. We discussed Samuel R. Delany, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert A. Heinlein and many other "genre" writers.

One author that Steve came up with that intrigued me was John D. MacDonald. I knew the name (he had written some science fiction, one tale which was adapted to a popular movie), but most of my knowledge came from Spider Robinson's Callahan tales, in the course of which, the extended Callahan "family" moves to the Florida Keys and makes homage to MacDonald and Travis McGee.

Steve came up with his four best McGee tales in some e-mail (that later made its way into a blog posting) and I was able to purchase three of the four (Bright Orange for the Shroud, The Long Lavender Look and The Dreadful Lemon Sky) with the fourth (The Empty Copper Sea) being out of print.

I picked up Bright Orange for the Shroud early this afternoon...and finished it, with a short break for supper, this evening. McGee is an interesting character, MacDonald is a good "pulp" (and I mean that in a good way) writer and the story (with grifters, murders, clues aplenty, shootings and more) is enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. Good stuff, and I thank Steve for the recommendation (although I was slow to follow through!). On to the next!

(Weirdly enough...upon reading this, I not only saw the influence that MacDonald had upon Spider Robinson, but I also noticed similarities with the works of John Ringo, especially the so-called Paladin of Shadows series (Ghost, Kildar, Choosers of the Slain, Unto the Breach and A Deeper Blue). Stranger things have happened!
Five Planets, Two Stars

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows us the recent solar eclipse and a few other sights.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows us a beautiful sight for both amateur and professional astronomers: M94. Nice to see in amateur-class instruments and interesting to observe by professionals due to its age.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Down to the Sea in Ships

Patrick O'Brian; The Letter of Marque (W.W. Norton & Co.; 1988; cover by Geoff Hunt).

Following upon the emotional high point of the series (at least to me), The Letter of Marque opens with Captain Aubrey in an entirely different, yet similar, world to which he is used. His beloved Surprise is retired out of the service, and is owned by his friend Stephen Maturin. Captain Aubrey is no longer part of his beloved Royal Navy, but has been hired to command the Surprise as a private man-of-war with a letter of marque. And Stephen Maturin, having come into a fortune from his godfather, has also gotten the Surprise and its crew to act in interfering with the designs of the French upon South America. Much else happens in the course of the book; for example, in one of O'Brian's mirroring techniques, Maturins surgical assistant, Padeen, becomes addicted to the alcoholic tincture of laudanum just as Stephen himself is. By books end, Aubrey has restored his fortune (and gone beyond it), been given a seat in Parliament and is well on the way to being returned to his position (with accumulated seniority) in the Royal Navy.

Multi-book themes and threads continue with this volume. Spies and counter-spies act. Domestic life goes on. The ongoing relationships of Jack and Sophie, Stephen and Diana grow and change. And there is the sea, the eternal sea.

Patrick O'Brian; The Thirteen Gun Salute (W.W. Norton & Co.; 1989; cover by Geoff Hunt).

In The Thirteen Gun Salute, the action takes up almost immediately after the end of the previous book. The mission of the Surprise to South America is scuttled and changed to bring a negotiating party to the fictional state of Pulo Prabang. Not only is a French mission working to sway the Sultan to join with the French, but Stephen Maturin's old enemies, Ledward and Wray are working for the French. Jack Aubrey is restored to the Navy lists and given the H.M.S. Diane to carry the British retinue to the negotiations.

The negotiations eventually go the way of the British and Ledward and Wray are undone. However, there seem to be traitors in the British government even higher than they. Affairs are further complicated by the increasingly erratic behavior of the chief British negotiator, and the ship is eventually stuck on a reef and then sunk during a typhoon.

Some excellent passages can be found in here when Stephen goes off a naturalizing; beautiful long descriptions of a nature sanctuary in a hidden valley of a mountain chain. And, we have the involved conversations, music, food, companionship, action, plots and counter-plots. And the eternal, eternal sea.

Patrick O'Brian; The Nutmeg of Consolation (W.W. Norton & Co.; 1993; ISBN ; cover by Geoff Hunt).

As with the previous volume, The Nutmeg of Consolation opens immediately after the close of The Thirteen Gun Salute. The crew escapes from their deserted island after some battles and makes their way back to their home base at the start of the negotiations in the previous book. Stephen learns that he is financially ruined, but that he will be a father. Jack is given a small ship in which to try and cut off the remains of the French mission to Pulo Prabang and to make his rendezvous with Tom Pullings and the beloved Surprise. They make their way to Australia, rescuing two children whose entire village was wiped out by the smallpox; and end up in New South Wales. While jokes abound about Australia having been a penal colony, O'Brian's descriptions of life there are particularly hellish. Stephen and his surgeon's mate, the Reverend Mr. Martin, travel in the countryside to observe nature. Stephen's former assistant, Padeen, is found (he was sentenced there after his addiction brought him to crime). Stephen is almost killed by the nature he wishes to observe, but in the course of that injury, Padeen escapes and is restored to his crewmates.

The contrast of hell on earth in the colony of New South Wales and heaven on earth among the wildlife of that same land along make the book worth reading.

Patrick O'Brian; The Truelove (a.k.a., Clarissa Oakes) (W.W. Norton & Co.; 1993; ISBN ; cover by Geoff Hunt).

Again, we start off where the action of the previous volume finished. The Surprise is underway, having left the colony of New South Wales, when it is discovered that a stowaway, and worse, a woman, is aboard. It is learned that one of the midshipmen smuggled the woman, a convict, Clarissa Harvill (later married to the midshipman, to become the Clarissa Oakes of the alternate title).

Major plot points and twists involve jealousy over Clarissa and fractions in the ship's company; rescued whalers (the "Truelove" of the other title version); war on a Pacific island; and, linking into the long strand of several books, the identity of one of the players in intelligence working against the British.

As with the rest of the books in this string, this was a re-read. With my first reading, I did not much care for the book; Clarissa seemed yet another mirror of Stephen's love interest, Diana Villers (just as Louisa Wogan was a mirror of her in Desolation Island). This reading brought what proved to be a complex character background more into focus and much of her (Clarissa's) behavior became clearer. So, the book moved from being one of my lesser favorites in a favorite series, to being solidly in the midst of this long extended sequence.

Patrick O'Brian; The Wine Dark Sea (W.W. Norton & Co.; 1994; cover by Geoff Hunt).

With this volume, Stephen finally tries to bring forth the plot against Spain that was initiated several volumes previously, only to be undone, after a long journey, by a strange French idealist they had picked up privateering (without a letter of marque...thus being a pirate). The Surprise goes privateering itself and does pretty good until trying for one last trio of ships and encountering an American heavy frigate. There is one long passage where Stephen gets to go a botanizing, after his plot is undone. Lots of encounters with snow, ice, icebergs, rough seas and more, until an encounter with an old friend puts things to right. A casual line indicates that Clarissa Oakes is a widow...but it is dropped so casually, and without follow-up, you are left wondering what happened.

Patrick O'Brian; The Commodore (W.W. Norton & Co.; 1995; cover by Geoff Hunt).

Captain Aubrey is given the command of a squadron and is allowed to hoist the broad pendant of a Commodore (and wear the uniform of a Rear Admiral). His official mission is to disrupt the slave trade off of Africa; his hidden mission to to disrupt the plans of that vile scrub in France to land troops in Ireland. Stephen must foil the plans of his aunt-in-law (Jack's mother-in-law) to interfere in the raising of his daughter, but then must get his surgical assistant and Clarissa Oakes away from England due to the hidden, and increasingly not-so-hidden actions of the one remaining French agent (against whom no open action can be taken).

One part of the book revolves around the actions of the squadron off of Africa; particularly moving is Jack and Stephen's first boarding of a slaver. Another part revolves around Stephen's "botanizing", his catching of the "yellow jack" and his close encounter with death. The book concludes with the squadrons actions against the French invasion (less an invasion, than a attempted landing of arms and assistance) of Ireland and an unexpected reunion.

Patrick O'Brian; The Yellow Admiral (W.W. Norton & Co.; 1997; cover by Geoff Hunt).

This was a pretty depressing entry in The Canon, overall. It opens with both Jack and Stephen having lost all their fortunes (Jack was being sued for taking slave ships; Stephen had lost his fortune in Spain while on travels). Jack is assigned to blockade duty and while he starts to regain his fortune, he is serving under an admiral who hates him due to some recent political activity. He is brought even lower when his past catches up to him when his beloved wife learns of some of his wanderings years before. Peace is declared, briefly, as Jack tries to save his chances of becoming a admiral himself by agreeing to a "private" expedition to South America. Napoleon escapes and war breaks out again.

As should be clear from my comments here, and for other volumes, highly recommended.
Billions and Billions

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the Hercules Cluster of galaxies. Billions and billions, he said.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

This is Me, Jack Vance

A article in The New York Times about SF Grandmaster Jack Vance. Nice to see they are finally discovering what the rest of us knew all along.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Mr. Herschel and His Sister

Michael D. Lemonick; The Georgian Star: How William and Caroline Herschel Revolutionized Our Understanding of the Cosmos (Atlas & Co./W.W. Norton & Co., Inc.; 2009; ISBN 978-0-393-06574-9; cover from various sources).

This slim volume is part of the Great Discoveries series from Atlas/Norton. I'm not sure how its length compares to others in the series; this was a fairly slim, but very informative book.

The book covers William and Caroline Herschel. In a nutshell, William discovered the planet Uranus and is known throughout history for that fact, if nothing else. Until relatively recently, if mentioned at all, Caroline was the one who kept house for him.

As Lemonick shows, the relationship was a lot more complex than that. Caroline was intellectually starved and was withering in Germany; she flourished in England. Not only did she help William with his music, but she composed on her own. And, while he built bigger and bigger reflecting telescopes, she did as well. And while he was discovering the planet Uranus, she had her own extensive observing program. It is a fascinating bit of history, all tied up in one relatively brief package.

If the book falls short anywhere, it is in talking about the telescopes. Lemonick mentions various sized (in feet, which is how they used to be described) telescopes that Herschel used or built, most improvements on the reflecting telescope of another famous scientific personality, Isaac Newton. He could have spent less time talking about Caroline's situation from the perspective of 20th century women and more on why telescopes were measured in feet, the differences between metal mirrors and glass mirrors, the mounts that Herschel used and how they helped/hindered him, etc. But this is a relatively minor quibble; as I said, a fascinating bit of history in a relatively brief package. Recommended.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Run, Rabbit, Run

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows two dozen pulsars (spinning neutron stars) that also emit gamma-rays. Rabbit? Taz? J0357+32 sounds more...astronomical...

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Sky at Night

This is a good time of the year to be an amateur astronomer. And you don't need a fancy set of telescope, mounts, eyepieces and the like to do observing. A good pair of binoculars or even the Mark 1 eyeball will serve you well this time of year. Westerning is Saturn. Above at midnight and later is Jupiter. And in the early morning sky is Venus, at the brightest I've seen in years. I'm sure calls about UFO's will be plaguing police departments these days.

Go to Heavens Above and see when the ISS is overhead. If you're lucky, you'll catch it as the Sun changes angle across the solar panels and you'll see it "flare" or change color. No telescope or binoculars needed, in fact, I'd discourage their use. Six humans, all alone in the night. Be sure to wave hello.

Have binoculars? Find an online or paper starmap. Cast your eyes towards Scorpius, Saggitarius. Globular clusters galore, neublae, the galactic center! How many civilizations are hidden in that direction? Pull down Olaf Stapledon off the shelf and page through that classic and gaze again.

Late at night there's a big Moon on the rise. Gaze at it with a naked eye or binoculars. Look at those features. Twelve humans walked there, why haven't we been back since? There's a whole lot of universe next door...

Take down your Dyson, your Sagan, your Clarke, your Eisley, your Thomas, your Raymo and leave through their pages under the stars. Ponder the wonders of the universe, the occasional tragedy of those who observe. Pause, and gaze upwards.

Yes, it is a good time of the year to be an amateur astronomer.
Mahler's Ninth

Lewis Thomas; Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony (Penguin Books; 1995; ISBN 0-14-024328-3; cover by Gene Greif).

I read The Lives of the Cell several years ago and was impressed enough by the writings of Lewis Thomas that I bought all his other works that I could find. Alas, I stacked them on the shelf and did not come back to them until this year. I picked this one off the shelf as random, due to the title; and it is fitting in well with the similar works I'm reading by Dyson, Eisley, Clarke and others.

This collection is more political in tone than the previous; many of the essays were written at the height of the Cold War when the threat of nuclear armageddon was closer than it seemed now. This might make some of the essays "dated", but much of what is said could be applied to hysteria around non-nuclear forms of armageddon; comments about research could be applied to many fields; and there are plenty of essays to give you thought about mental health, medical technology, etc.

Made up of: The Unforgettable Fire; The Corner of the Eye; Making Science Work; Alchemy; Clever Animals; On Smell; My Magical Metronome; On Speaking of Speaking; Seven Wonders; The Artificial Heart; Things Unflattened by Science; Basic Science and the Pentagon; Science and "Science"; On the Need for Asylums; Altruism; Falsity and Failure; On Medicine and the Bomb; The Problem of Dementia; The Lie Detector; Some Scientific Advice; The Attic of the Brain; Humanities and Science; On Matters of Doubt; Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony.

Counts as 24 entries in the 2009 Year in Shorts.
Rebel and Heretic

Freeman Dyson; The Scientist as Rebel (New York Review of Books; 2006; ISBN 978-1-59017-216-2; cover by CERN).

It is very interesting to read Freeman Dyson, whether it be these essays or his other works. Not only do you see that he is one dang intelligent person (most of us are not fit to carry his pencil case, let alone his slide rule), but those that criticize his position on issues such as "global warming" make it clear they do not know the man or read his materials. They would benefit from doing so!

An interesting mix of book reviews, excerpts from out-of-print works, and essays such as Dyson's expansion upon J.D. Bernal's The World, The Flesh and The Devil. Highly recommended. Not beach reading, but maybe if more people read stuff like this on the beach, we'd have more intelligent discourse and less panic in the media.

Made up of: Preface; The Scientist as Rebel; Can Science Be Ethical?; A Modern Heretic; The Future Needs Us; What a World!; Witness to a Tragedy; Bombs and Potatoes; Generals; Russians; The Race Is Over; The Force of Reason; The Bitter End; Two Kinds of History; Edward Teller's "Memoirs"; In Praise of Amateurs; A New Newton; Clockwork Science; The World on a String; Oppenheimer as Scientist, Administrator, and Poet; Seeing the Unseen; The Tragic Tale of a Genius; Wise Man; The World, The Flesh, and the Devil; Is God in the Lab?; This Side Idolatry; One in a Million; Many Worlds; Religion from the Outside.

Counts as 29 entries in the 2009 Year in Shorts.
Even Newer Destinies

After Far Frontiers, came New Destinies, as Jim Baen continued to work on the "bookzine" format. Similar in frequency, New Destinies concentrated more on fiction and had fewer but longer entries per issue than Far Frontiers.

Jim Baen (editor): New Destinies 01 (Baen Books; March 1987; ISBN 0-671-65628-7; cover by Craig Farley).

Made up of: Point Man (Timothy Zahn); Magic Matter (Robert L. Forward); Iron (Poul Anderson); Not for Country, Not for King (Joel Rosenberg); In Praise of Sociobiology (John and Mary Gribbin); Lifeguard (Doug Beason); The Space Beat: How to Stop a Space Program (G. Harry Stine); The Graphic of Dorian Gray (Fred Saberhagen); Rank Injustice (Keith Laumer).

Part of the 2009 Year in Shorts.
Living on the New Frontier

When Jim Baen came to Galaxy magazine as editor, one thing he did was to keep Jerry Pournelle on as science writer. The relationship went as long as Baen edited Galaxy; he eventually left to become editor at Ace. While at Ace, he started a "bookzine" called Destinies, and Pournelle came along to write science articles. When Baen left Ace to work with the folks at Tor, Destinies withered, when he founded his own publishing house he created, with Pournelle, Far Frontiers, a new "bookzine". Eventually Far Frontiers evolved into New Destinies (but that's another entry in the blog).

Jerry Pournelle and Jim Baen (editors): Far Frontiers #01 (Baen Books; January 1985; ISBN 0-671-55935-4; cover by Michael Carroll).

Made up of: Editors Introduction to A Step Further Out (Jerry Pournelle); A Step Further Out: "The Association for the Abolition of Science" (Jerry Pournelle); Editor's Introduction to The Warm Space (Jerry Pournelle); The Warm Space (David Brin); Editor's Introduction to The Jefferson Orbit (Jerry Pournelle); The Jefferson Orbit (Ben Bova); Editor's Afterword to The Jefferson Orbit (Jerry Pournelle); Editor's Introduction to The Boy from the Moon (Jerry Pournelle); The Boy from the Moon (Rivka Jacobs); Editor's Introduction to Brain Salad (Jerry Pournelle); Brain Salad (Norman Spinrad); Editor's Introduction to Goodbye Dr. Ralston (Jerry Pournelle); Goodbye Dr. Ralston (Damon Knight); Editor's Introduction to Future Scenarios for Space Development (Jerry Pournelle); Future Scenarios for Space Development (G. Harry Stine); Editor's Introduction to Lost in Translation (Jerry Pournelle); Lost in Translation (Dean Ing); Editor's Introduction to Through Road No Whither (Jerry Pournelle); Through Road No Whither (Greg Bear); Editor's Introduction to Interstellar Transport Paradox (Jerry Pournelle); The Paradox of Interstellar Transport (Robert L. Forward); Introduction to Pride (Jerry Pournelle); Pride (Poul Anderson); Introduction to Table Manners (Jerry Pournelle); Table Manners (Larry Niven); The Leading Edge Book Reviews (Richard E. Geis).

Counts as three entries in the 2009 Year in Shorts.
I Don't Need No Education

Adam Savage (MythBusters) on education and fixing it. A-freaking-men!
The Dark River

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the dark cloud in the Antares region known as the Dark River.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Richard the Deep Breather

I read these a few years ago, see my review here. Since I'm down and out of work for the week with either a "flu-like illness" or a global pandemic, I've been doing a lot of reading.

And I just resist a book where a truck is named "Richard the Deep Breather".

Wonderful tales, once again! (Some good background here.) The stories are a mix of pranks ("The Flying Sorcerer"), straight-up adventure ("The Great Gas Bag Race"), mystery ("The Secret of the Old Cannon") and adventure mixed with good deeds ("Night Rescue"). It's amazing to see these guys at work, building gadgets out of junk, thinking to solve a problem, acting to help each other or neighbors, or just having fun.

Another highlight is the fact that these reprints include the artwork (covers and interior sketches) of Charles Geer. They really do capture the characters and the situations they are involved with for me!

Bertrand R. Brinley: The Mad Scientists' Club (Purple House Press; 2001; ISBN 1-930900-10-4; cover and interior illustrations by Charles Geer).

Made up of: Introduction (Sheridan Brinley); The Strange Sea Monster of Strawberry Lake; The Big Egg; The Secret of the Old Cannon; The Unidentified Flying Man of Mammoth Falls; The Great Gas Bag Race; The Voice in the Chimney; Night Rescue.

Counts as eight entries in the 2009 Year in Shorts.

Bertrand R. Brinley: The New Adventures of The Mad Scientists' Club (Purple House Press; 2002; ISBN 1-930900-11-2; cover and interior illustrations by Charles Geer).

Made up of: Introduction (Sheridan Brinley); The Telltale Transmitter; The Cool Cavern; Big Chief Rainmaker; The Flying Sorcerer; The Great Confrontation.

Counts as six entries in the 2009 Year in Shorts.

Bertrand R. Brinley: The Big Kerplop (Purple House Press; 2003; ISBN 1-930900-22-8; cover and interior illustrations by Charles Geer).

I never had read this one as a kid, and there turns out to be a good reason: the publisher was in financial trouble and only about 1,000 copies were actually distributed. The first full-length Mad Scientists' Club novel, the book tells the "origin tale" of the club, how they got together when the U.S. Air Force accidentally dropped an atomic bomb in the local lake. Not quite as good as the short stories (I think due to the form, Brinley put more into each story, expanding the gang out to novel form did not really add anything).

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows us one of my all-time favorite sights in the sky: M20, the Trifid Nebula.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Sunday, July 05, 2009

A New Lunar Atlas

Any amateur astronomers out there see this one yet? Opinions?
Stellar Nursery

The Spitzer Space Telescope has found a cluster of baby stars in the galactic center.

WISE stands for Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer. The mission will survey the entire sky at infrared wavelengths, creating a cosmic clearinghouse of hundreds of millions of objects—everything from the most luminous galaxies, to the nearest stars, to dark and potentially hazardous asteroids. The satellite is assembled; next up will be testing, shipping, processing and launch on November 1.
Sunny Clime

Chemistry and the occasional "episode with thin films of liquid water" could make the place where the Phoenix Mars Lander touched down a favorable environment for microbes. How much longer before we can retire that phrase "the dead planet Mars"?

Friday, July 03, 2009

Fred's Reading Report (June 2009)

Books read, year-to-date? 174, with 28 books read during the month.

The books read in June were...

David Drake: When the Tide Rises (part of the Leary of the RCN series).

William Gibson: Virtual Light (part of the Bridge Sequence).

Masashi Kishimoto: Naruto, Volumes 01 through 22.

Patrick O'Brian: The Nutmeg of Consolation (part of the Aubrey-Maturin series).

John Ringo: When the Devil Dances (part of the Legacy of the Aldenata series).

John Ringo and David Weber: March to the Sea (part of the Prince Roger series).

Howard Tayler: The Tub of Happiness (part of the Schlock Mercenary series).

A mixed bag, with a heavy emphasis on fun/action for the month. Best reads were mirrors of each other, David Drake and Patrick O'Brian. Most intellectual probably was William Gibson (a re-read). Most fun was probably Howard Tayler. Sergeant Schlock is going to save me!

Short works? 233 read, year-to-date. The goal is to read one short a day, so I have 132 to go to meet that goal. (The list of short works is actually pretty out of date and in need of serious fixing.
Milestones and Delays

The good news is that components of the Ares 1X test vehicle have been delivered to Kennedy Space Center and the test launch appears to be still on the schedule. The bad news is that the test of the escape capability for the Orion capsule was delayed (and I haven't seen any news fresher than this to indicate that it has since happened).

Addendum (July 8, 2009): Launch abort system tested! I wonder if they named this one Little Joe II?
Running Around the World

The gritty underside of life in space. Sponge baths just don't do it.
"Major Stake"?

Over-budget, over-delayed, over-managed...sounds like one of our upcoming Mars rovers. Why the heck should NASA take a "major stake" in this vehicle? Probably more due to politics than engineering/science.

The current issue of The Internet Review of Science Fiction had a couple of interesting pieces. Nadar Elhefnawy looks at the sub-sub genre known as "steampunk". Gary Westfahl looks at the career of J.G. Ballard. An interesting spin. I'm hoping that his books become available again (look at what death has done for Philip K. Dick!). And, Mark Cole looks at Andrei Tarkovsky and his science fiction movies (Solaris, Stalker). I wonder if we'll ever see a "proper" version of the novel Solaris, not the translated-from-Polish-to-French-and-then-massively-abridged-when-translated-to-English version that keeps showing up.
Secret Histories

I'm still working my way through this book about Tim Powers (one of my favorite modern fantasy authors). Here's a review by Rodger Turner to give you a hint of what is inside this amazing tome!

Thursday, July 02, 2009


Worried about "climate change"? You ain't seen nothing yet.
Space Bubble

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a camera image and a conception of what is going on in that image. Supermassive black hole plus matter equals one strange universe.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Buran to be Revived?

What in the name of holy heck are these people smoking? Because reviving Buran is a pipe dream involving massinve amounts of green stuff. Better to put the money to use in the domestic arena, either funding a shuttle variant of really funding Constellation.
A Passion for Space

Major Jack Fischer on why we need space travel.
Oh My Darling Clementine

Get ready for the lunar uranium rush.

The July 2009 issue of Ansible (#264 in a series) is out. Alas, it came out faster than I could actually violated casuality and came out in June.

Terry Pratchett, who's finding novel-writing much easier now he's moved from keyboards to dictation, reveals: 'Something for the Very Strange department; the BBC contacted us about doing a prime time series based on the Guards books. Things seemed to go well, although it appeared to me that up to that point only one person involved had read a Discworld book. Then we gradually moved into Fairy Land.... What caused me to crack was the question of the Bible. I am not going to let something like this happen without some input, if only to stop Nobby Nobbs becoming female. Much discussion ensued, and my movie agent suggested that the BBC and us create the Guards Bible -- these style guides are quite common in the business. / It looked, therefore, like it would be all systems go until the BBC came back and said that while they would be happy to collaborate on the Bible, they would because of their charter have to have the final say, which means in effect: "everything will be set in stone, but we are allowed to have a sledgehammer." So the BBC is not getting Guards! Guards!. As my movie agent (who has dealt with some of the most voracious companies in the States) said to me, "How does anyone ever deal with the BBC?"'
18 Years of Ops

The Ulysses probe, in operation in deep space (observing our star) for eighteen years (!) has "officially" ceased operations.

This is pretty amazing. An amateur astronomer spotted the LCROSS satellite around the Moon! Those dang amateurs!
No Constellation-Class Observatories?

Hmmm...doesn't look good. The shuttle is heading for retirement and this makes me think NASA is expecting the Ares V to be canned. So much for heavy-lift.
Why the Moon?

Dennis Wingo, Paul Spudis and Gordon Woodcock take on the question. Let's get out of low-Earth orbit already!

Addendum (related previous articles): Bootstrapping the Moon. To ISRU or Not to ISRU, This is the Dumbest Question.
Three Angles

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows three galaxies in the constellation Draco. Three different angles!