Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Gold at Starbow's End

Should NASA fake a need to for a space program? Hmmm...I think I've read this plot somewhere (several wheres). Most appropriately, here, by this author.
Orks...In...Space!

25 years of Warhammer 40,000. Not sure which is weirder...that it made it to 25 years or outfits like this are covering it.
Clarkeian

This could almost be part of the last section of the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey. Saturn Space and Beyond the Infinite.
The Silly Season

If you don't believe, don't believe. Don't make an ass out of yourself. Good book choices, but why not just read them anytime?
Ball's Pyramid and Big Bugs

I swear this is like something out of a Patrick O'Brian novel.
Poem 02

Book lying in road
Leaves turning in the wind
What words upon your pages?
Poem 01

Dead skunk in road
Black white and red smear
What a stench!
Conjunction

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a nice planetary grouping in our night sky (and some statues). The planetary dance will continue for a while.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Cat with Two Tails

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day has the return of Comet Garradd. Why does it have two tails?

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Clean, Well-Lighted Space

A imagining of M.C. Escher's workspace. Nifty!

Addendum: More here and here.
Shockwave Rider (Redux)

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Supernova 1987A in a time-lapse sequence. Watch the pretty rings!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Shockwave Rider (Prime)

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the shockwaves surrounding Supernova 1987A.
A Century of Sand Dredging

How was volume one, I wonder?
A Birthday Party Leads to an Unexpected Meeting

I had a dream last night that was both bizarre and vivid. I went to a birthday party of a science fiction writer in New York City. I took my daughter with me. The party was held in a small apartment, essentially one large common room (livingroom, diningroom, kitchen all combined), bedroom, and bathroom (tub filled with beer).

Among the invited guests were both Pope Benedict and author Harlan Ellison.

Everybody at the party was "Oh, no! Keep the apart! There will be trouble!" But they both got along, discussing old age, their aching joints and "those damn kids".

I "met" both of them and found them very friendly and open and willing to talk at length. I asked my daughter if she knew who the man in the hat was and she replied "Pope Clement?" "No!" I replied, "Weren't you listening in church tonight! Pope Benedict!"

The strangest dream I've had in years.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Famous Grouping

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is Stephen's Quintet, a group of galaxies. They played angels once, you know.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Celestial Wisp

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the spectacular Aurigae Nebulae. This is something that you need very dark skies for. Which leaves out my location!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Essentials

Science fiction author (and real live scientist) Gregory Benford provides a list of science fiction titles to read. Some very good stuff here! To this I'd add some Benford titles such as The Martian Race, Across the Sea of Stars and Timescape.
Skyscape

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the zodiacal glow of the night sky over one of the darkest parts of Pennsylvania: Cherry Springs State Park. The park is home to star parties and observing sessions.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Fractured Comedy Tales

Patton Oswalt: Zombie Spaceship Wasteland (Scribner; January 2011; ISBN 978-1439149096; cover art by author).

This book was a series of vignettes (and as such, I'm debating whether or not to tag it as several entries in the 2012 Year in Shorts as well). The quality varies: Oswalt lost me during a series of reviews written under a pen name (I would have been happy with one or two reviews), but he reaches Ellisonian heights with one examination of his soul while attending a product giveaway. Somewhere in the middle are entries such as his experiences in his misbegotten youth encountering genre fiction and roleplaying games.

Despite the uneven quality, recommended. Enough so that I'll buy his next book, whenever we see such a volume.
A Good Old-Fashioned Adventure

Saladin Ahmed; Throne of the Crescent Moon (DAW Books; February 2012; ISBN 978-0-7564-0711-7; cover art by Jason Chan).

Some months ago (in the Twitterverse), I came across Saladin Ahmed talking up his forthcoming fantasy novel. The name rang a bell, it turned out that I had seen his name in the PodCastle episode lineup. I looked at the description of the book and was immediately interested: the main character and the setting went against most of the fantasy that I find same old-same old and have given up. An older (tired) fighter, part-magician, part-detective (at least from those early descriptions) in a ancient Middle-Eastern style setting. Sinbad! Ray Harryhausen! Clark Ashton Smith!

I ordered the book. And waited.

In the meanwhile, I struck up an online conversation with Saladin Ahmed (mostly reading his postings). And I looked for his short stories, reading, in fairly rapid succession: Mister Hadj's Sunset Ride; Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela; The Faithful Soldier, Prompted; and especially: Judgment of Swords and Souls and Where Virtue Lives, both set in the universe of the forthcoming novel.

(The first story set in the universe of the novelfeatures a character that I really hope appears in another book in the series, as I want, really want, one of the main character's from the second story—who is also a main character in the book—to encounter her.)

What was not to like? Cowboy stories? With supernatural elements? And fish out of water? Young girls going against the norms (trying to get The Young Lady to read that one)? Ghuls?

When is that dang book coming out?

More time passed. I learned that Saladin and another new author I was following (Myke Cole) were both going to be appearing at an event in New York City. I made plans to take time off and see them. Oddly enough, both books came within a few days of each other, right before the event. Armed with the books, I went to the event, met both authors (charming folks, really, despite what you may have heard...) and settled in to read the new books.

(Administrative note: Myke's book arrived first. I started to read it first. But then it got knocked off the tracks by a family matter and I'm just now getting back into it. Soon, Myke, soon!)

On to the book! Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, the last of the ghul hunters is getting on in years. There's nobody to carry on his work (Raseed bas Raseed is is assistant, but lacks the spark needed to go from a fighter to somebody who can magically destroy a ghul) and as his age has crept up and the number of other ghul hunters crept down...the number of ghuls seems to be creeping up.

While tracking what turns out to be a particularly nasty band of ghuls, they encounter Zamia Badawi, the sole surviving member of her clan or band (named Protector of the Band, she failed at that task and that haunts her). She manages to save their hides and the three team up. Something is stirring. Something that will need additional resources to put down. They return to the city, Dhamsawaat (more later) and enlist the aid of two of the Doctor's oldest friends and longest-serving campaigners, Dawoud and his wife Litaz.

What first appears to be a straightforward dungeon crawl and fight with a master of the ghuls, turns into a nightmare when the Doctor's sanctuary, his house, is invaded by Mouw Awa. Mouw Awa is a power demon and a very creepy critter, one of Ahmed's best creations in this work (he reminds me of something you find in a Jack Vance tale, or maybe one of A.E. van Vogt's dream-inspired works). The heat is turned up and the band must face an even graver task then they first planned for.

Toss in an assortment of other character's, the corrupt Khalif and his idealistic son, the Robin Hood-esque Falcon Prince, the Doctor's long-time flame, Miri, and you've got a great first entry.

The book is not overlong, a strength in my opinion. Ahmed did not feel the need to make a doorstopper. And, while it is part of a trilogy it is complete. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end. A satisfying end. You can read the book and know you have read the whole story. Back in your mind, you'll know the campaign is only starting and there will be more tales, but you have a complete meal here.

The best parts of the book for me, other than the story and the action (which felt like a very fun and satisfying RPG adventure to me) were the main characters: Doctor Adoulla Makhslood and his long-time friends Dawoud and Litaz as a triad, Raseed and Zamia as a pair and the city itself, Dhamsawaat as a solo.

The Doctor, Dawoud and Litaz have a history. A very long and complicated history. And they are written in such a way, they are familiar with each others strengths and weaknesses, their jokes and habits. You can find references to many a previous adventure (and one hopes that at some point some of these adventures are told!). It is a wonderful friendship.

Raseed and Zamia are the relative newcomers. While Raseed has been working for the Doctor, he seems somewhat insular. He is attracted to Zamia, and vice versa, so they draw each other out. The relationship is new, makes mistakes (I yelled at Raseed more than once) and ends at a forked road. But either fork can take the story one with the subsequent books.

Dhamsawaat is definitely a character. As with Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar, any number of planets or cities in the works of Jack Vance, Clifford D. Simak's rural settings, the U.S.S. Enterprise, a RPG setting such as Arkham or Jakalla or even a movie set such as the Los Angeles of Blade Runner, it is a character. Ahmed does a fantastic job of depicting the smells and scents (good and bad), the food, the crowds, the streets, the rhythm and flow of life there. I can't wait to visit it again (who is doing the F-RPG module?).

A highly recommended first novel. When is the second coming out?

Addendum: Google around for interviews, but this one is a good place to start.
Rolling

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a rock. An earthly rock. That has...sailed? This seemingly earthbound item might have some astronomical applications (say, on Mars). Me, I prefer the mundane explanation for a more science-fictional one.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Anti-Rays!

Like something out of a science fiction novel (not really)! Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows anticrepuscular (seen opposite crepuscular) rays.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Barred Spiral

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows NGC 1073. "Mouseover" to help you identify the other objects in the frame.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Message in a Bottle

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the "decoded" message sent in 1974 from Earth towards the globular star cluster M13.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Desert Skies

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day show fantastic skies on the way to the European Extremely Large Telescope.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Not-So-PC Army

Ah, the good old days. We used to sing this.

Napalm Sticks to Kids


We shoot the sick, the young, the lame,
We do our best to maim,
Because the kills all count the same,
Napalm sticks to kids.

Chorus: Napalm sticks to kids,
Napalm sticks to kids.

Flying low across the trees,
Pilots doing what they please,
Dropping frags on refugees,
Napalm sticks to kids.

Gooks in the open, making hay,
But I can hear the gunships say,
"There'll be no Chieu Hoi today,"
Napalm sticks to kids.

See those farmers over there,
Watch me get them with a pair,
Blood and guts just everywhere,
Napalm sticks to kids.

I've only seen it happen twice,
But both times it was mighty nice,
Shooting peasants planting rice,
Napalm sticks to kids.

Napalm, son, is lots of fun,
Dropped in a bomb or shot from a gun,
It gets the gooks when on the run,
Napalm sticks to kids.

Drop some napalm on a farm,
It won't do them any harm,
Just burn off their legs and arms,
Napalm sticks to kids.

CIA with guns for hire,
Montagnards around a fire,
Napalm makes the fire go higher,
Napalm sticks to kids.

I've been told it's not so neat,
To catch gooks burning in the street,
But burning flesh, it smells to sweet,
Napalm sticks to kids.

Children sucking on a mother's tit,
Wounded gooks down in a pit,
Dow Chemical doesn't give a shit,
Napalm sticks to kids.

Bombadiers don't care a bit,
Just as long as the pieces fit,
When you stuff the bodies in a pit,
Napalm sticks to kids.

Eighteen kids in a No Fire Zone,
Rooks under arms and going home,
Last in line goes home alone,
Napalm sticks to kids.

Chuck in a sampan, sitting in the stern,
They don't think their boats will burn,
Those damn gooks will never learn,
Napalm sticks to kids.

Cobras flying in the sun,
Killing gooks is lots of fun,
Get one pregnant and it's two for one,
Napalm sticks to kids.

Shoot civilians where they sit,
Take some pictures as you split,
All your life you'll remember it,
Napalm sticks to kids.

NVA are all hard core,
Flechettes never are a bore,
Throw those PSYOPS out the door,
Napalm sticks to kids.

Gather kids as you fly over town,
By throwing candy on the ground,
Then grease 'em when they gather 'round,
Napalm sticks to kids.
You Have To Love Your Job

A film about sushi. Seriously. Looks awesome and I'll probably never find it in the area.

Addendum: Official movie site.

Addendum: Another bit from the film.
Picture of the Century

Remember the Picture of the Century, the shot of Copernicus? Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day might be more ho-hum for many (since there have been many, many wonderful astronomical shots since then), but to me...it is worthy of that label.

Gee, remember when we used to send people to another world? Whatever happened to all of that?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Attack Ships On Fire...

Is there anything we can't do with those Lego blocks? Blade Runner from Legos.
Draconian Spirals

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day takes out into intergalactic space with two beautiful spirals in the constellation of Draco.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Reflections Of

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the Merope in the Pleiades and a beautiful associated reflection nebula.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is one of my favorite sights in the night sky and very appropriate for the holiday we celebrate this day.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Time to Say It Again?

Quoted once previously, but the comments around one incident seem to indicate that a new quoting is needed.

When you send a man out with a gun, you create a policymaker. When his ass is on the line, he will do whatever he needs to do.

And if the implications of that bothers you, the time to do something about it is before you decide to send him out.


(David Drake, "Afterword to Counting the Cost", Caught in the Crossfire)
Eye Test

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is an eye test. What shape do you see?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Complex Clouds

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is another "deep" image of the gas clouds on the Great Nebula in Orion.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Made Better in Japan

No news to anybody who reads the works of William Gibson. Craftsmanship is not dead, everywhere.
HALO

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a ring around the Moon. Crystals in the air add to the beauty of the night sky. Snow is coming!

Friday, February 10, 2012

At the Core

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows us the core of NGC 6752, a globular cluster in the constellation of Pavo.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

The Winds of Fate

What do a bunch of SF/F folks (professional writers even!) do when they get together at a convention? Why, play Dungeons & Dragons, of course!

"Trailer" for a recent game. Apparently three hours of video were shot, maybe we'll see more!
Aurora on the Move

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a short video of the aurora. Beautiful stuff!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Fantastic Worlds

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows how each of the major planets of our Solar System has a system of unique worlds. Take a look at Enceladus!
The Many Worlds Hypothesis

So in the current edition of SF Signal's Mind Meld we are asked to consider whether FTL travel, space empires, crashing suns and the like are no longer better than the intellectual property of a certain Hollywood franchise or two. I mean, you have that pesky Einstein fellow and his laws. You have all that distance. You have the possibility that we'll drown ourselves, choke ourselves, blow ourselves up, starve ourselves or (insert your favorite apocalyptic scenario HERE) ourselves.

Well, maybe. Maybe we're not good enough or smart enough or tough enough to survive the next (5) (10) (50) (100) (500) (1,000) (take your pick) years. Maybe the universe is working against us when it comes to visiting other stars. So how can we get around that?

First, we can be optimistic. While it is currently pretty popular (or trendy) for science fiction to be more pessimistic than optimistic, I think these things go in cycles. The Cold War led to a lot of science fiction where the world ended in fire. The long slow grinding of the 1970's led to dystopian cyberpunk. The threat of climate change led to a new variation on the nuclear apocalypse. But in between the down cycles we had cycles where science fiction had optimism. It might have been overshadowed by the last down cycle, but they were there. So, let's assume that the human race survives. Where next?

Well, we could build an empire (so to speak) here in the Solar System and "play" in that with our fiction. With eight (nine) planets and countless moons, asteroids and comets, there is plenty of real estate and story possibilities around. Look at the McAndrew stories of the late Charles Sheffield, the Grand Tour series of Ben Bova, the classic book The Planet Strappers by Ramond Z. Gallun (available free at your various sites such as Project Gutenberg or Manybooks), Paul Mc Auley's recent duo of The Quiet War and Gardens of the Sun or John Varley's classic Eight Worlds books and stories such as The Ophiuchi Hotline and Picnic on Nearside. Mining colonies on Mercury, balloon cities in the atmosphere of Venus, O'Neil colonies around Earth and the Moon, terraformers (or not) on Mars, miners in the Belt, gas miners and robots around Jupiter, surfers of the rings of Saturn...all the way out to the cometary halo, where we can have Freeman Dyson's genetically-altered trees and humans living in bio-suits such as those found in the works of John Varley and Spider Robinson.

Not enough? It should be, but let's make the Big Leap.

Even if we can't do faster-than-light travel, if we can't get around Einstein, or jump via a collapser (Joe Haldeman), or find a stargate (television or numerous books or webcomics) or warp space (television and more)...you could set stories using the slowboats. Both Sheffield and Varley had epic journeys not quite to the next stars. Charles Stross did the same in his Accelerandro stories. Bussard Interstellar Ramjets, multi-generation colony ships, laser-boosted sailships crewed by the Habermen or the Scanners or even downloaded intelligences. Take the era of Horatio Hornblower and Jack Aubrey where the speed of communication equals the speed of travel, find a way of extending lifespans through artificial means of playing with Einstein and see what you can come up with. Some can find vast time-and-space spanning success within these limits (see the earlier works of Alastair Reynolds as a fantastic example).

Or...let's play with physics. We can go the classic route. Hurtling worlds. The Galactic Patrol. Superdreadnoughts tearing up the ether. Scintillating lenses and steely-eyed heroes and heroines. I revisit "Doc" Smith, Edmund "World-Wrecker" Hamilton and others every few years. The stories creak, the science is obsolete, but those guys could chew up the scenery, errr, the universe.

Or we can take a more rigid approach. Find a way around Einstein. Keep it consistent. Bring it to the fore, or keep it in the background. How about...different physics (Greg Egan's Clockwork Rocket)? Zones of different physics in the galaxy (Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep and its prequel/sequel)? Plain old FTL all the way across (Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, even the cinema of Babylon 5, Star Trek, Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica).

The play's the thing. FTL, the Galactic Patrol, galactic empires (rising or falling) and the like are no more or less relevant today than they ever were. It's up to the storyteller, the writer, the screen writer, the director, the game designer to make it something we want to experience.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Earth Belt

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows us the so-called Belt of Venus that you might catch a glimpse of around sunrise or sunset.

Monday, February 06, 2012

January 2012

A few days late, but better late than never! Books for the year to date: Two. Hmmm...are we slowing down?

Not really, as shorts for the year to date: Ninety-nine (O.K., several of those belong in February, but still...)

Last year was the reverse, by the end of January I had read many books and few short stories. That trend continued throughout the year and I'm using this year to reverse it. Right now I'm concentrating on short story singles of recent origin (purchased or found for free and downloaded to the eBook gadget). Next, I'll start working on the backlog of paper and electronic magazines that are crowding the shelves (real and virtual). And then multi-author anthologies.

I'm just never going to catch up with the current pace of book publishing again (probably haven't been able to match it since college). The only way to find and experience new writers will be through short works (which may lead to novel purchases as well). I think I'll make 60 books (my usual minimum) for the year, but maybe not. The number of shorts should be way past my minimum for the year (365).
Winter Looking Like Fall

One of my favorite winter sights has a distinctly autumnal tinge to it in today's Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Cycles

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a short movie showing a lunar cycle, or lunation.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Near Collision

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day appears to have Comet Garradd and globular cluster M92 colliding in the night skies.

Friday, February 03, 2012

The Eagle Shall Rise Again

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a multi-telescope image of the famous (made famous by the HST) Eagle Nebula.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Together Again for the First Time

Well, not really. They've been together before. But here's a new conversation between William Gibson and Douglas Coupland.
Saturn Space

Dione on a diagonal. Another great Cassini shot.
Is There An Echo In Here?

In the inbox today:

emma@amplifiedmedia.org via www.amplifiedmedia.org
5:32 PM (1 hour ago)
to me

Hi Fred, My name is Emma with Amplified Media.

We loved theeternalgoldenbraid.blogspot.com. Thanks to your sharp powers of observation and dry wit, your zingy one liners are invariably hilarious! Moreover, you are a reliable source of greatlinks to the latest astronomy news and pictures. Please email me at emma@amplifiedmedia.org if you are interested in learning more about opportunities to work together. I look forward to hearing from you. Best Regards, Emma Peters AmplifiedMedia.org emma@amplifiedmedia.org


Hmmm...

http://cbcpforlife.com/?p=1125

"My name is Emma with Amplified Media. We were impressed with the quality and scope of cbcpforlife.com. Your site is truly a comprehensive resource portal of digital materials on life and the family. We enjoyed learning more about the RH symposium, and how it really inspired youth."

http://bitsnbobsshowntell.blogspot.com/2012/01/zebra-in-tijuana.html

Hi Chris, My name is Emma with Amplified Media. We were impressed with the quality and scope of bitsnbobsshowntell.blogspot.com. The Christmas advent series you feature on your site is a great way to really get into the holiday spirit. We enjoy your selections, and appreciate you sharing them with your readers! Please email me at emma@amplifiedmedia.org if you are interested in learning more about opportunities to work together. I look forward to hearing from you. Happy Holidays!

http://fasstyle.blogspot.com/2011/12/loved-your-site.html

Loved Your Site! Hi, My name is Emma with Amplified Media. We were impressed with the quality and scope of x-loan.blogspot.com. Finding insurance and loan information has been made simple with the helpful assistance of your fantastic site. The Google alerts you share are a great way to keep up with the latest news! Please email me at emma@amplifiedmedia.org if you are interested in learning about opportunities to work together. I look forward to hearing from you. Happy New Year! Best, Emma Peters amplifiedmedia.org

IS THERE AN ECHO IN HERE?

Pass. As Cordwainer Smith almost said "Spammers live in vain."

Addendum: Thanks to Pat for the comments and this posting as well as some interesting links!
Desk Set

Twenty minutes into the future with William Gibson.
Star Trails!

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows star trails over the La Silla Observatory. Dizzy!
What Does Jonathan Franzen Hate?

Apparently: eBooks, smartphones and other gadgets, the internet, cats, fiction variants, critics, Broadway, and self-promotional author videos.

Hilarity ensues.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

That Time of the Month

Ansible 295. That is all.

Thog's Second Helping. Headdesk Dept. 'Syme struck the table with a radiant face.' (G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday, 1908) [JDB]
Cat on a Hot Alien Roof

Spew-worthy cat's-eye view of Alien. Thanks, Winch!
Soundtracks

Another fifteen picoseconds of fame! An appearance in an SF Signal Mind Meld!

In the Beginning was the Word

My first encounters with soundtracks was on a grainy black-and-white television in the early 1960's. I can still recall being creeped out by the music and the sound track (the sound effects) of such Outer Limits episodes as Demon with a Glass Hand, Soldier, and more. Outer Limits was not only some of the earliest science fiction that I remember, but my first encounters with how music and sound effects can work together to make a story better. Forbidden Planet featured "electronic tonalities" with a completely synthetic soundtrack. In here the noise of the ship, the sound of the weapons, the scream of the Monster from the Id, all combined as one. You can't dance to it, you can't hum it, but it was one of the best aural environments in the film that I experienced.

A few years later came Star Trek. Again, an interesting mix of found music and sound environment. The music, especially in the space scenes (oh, that Doomsday Machine was a real thriller!), was stirring but can you imagine life on the Enterprise without the sounds of the computers, the turbo-lift, the engines, the transporter?

The sound track that affected me the most, and which is still a favorite to this day, was the music for 2001: A Space Odyssey. While there was an original music score done for the film (by Alexa North, which was released as a soundtrack on its own several years ago), seeing the movie on the big screen (during its first release) not only confirmed me as a lover of classical music, but introduced me to the wild edges of orchestral works (and probably led me to all sorts of "experimental stuff" or "electronic stuff" that I still listen to today). Whether it is the marrying of Also Sprach Zarathustra (Strauss) to several key scenes (such as the triumphant tossing of a bone into the air), or Ligeti's music on the approach to Jupiter and the journey Beyond the Infinite, this soundtrack was the key for years.

After 2001: A Space Odyssey, I can think of several soundtracks that in whole, or in part, remain favorites. The Planet of the Apes, with Jerry Goldsmith's occasionally odd-sounding score affected me but, alas, I did not have the actual record (later CD) for years after seeing the film (once!) on the big screen. Silent Running, with a mixture of both a orchestral score and a more poppy collaboration between Peter Shickle and Joan Baez remains one of the few scores where I think either a rock or folk approach works with science fiction.

It All Started With a Big Bang!

I'm sure that other contributors to this installment will talk about Star Wars. So, while a favorite (actually, I like the soundtrack to The Empire Strikes Back better), I'll talk about the post Star Wars soundtracks instead.

Star Wars was both a blessing and a curse. It opened the floodgates to many more SF/F productions, but that meant we were seeing a lot more dross along with the gold (Adventures of Stella Star, anyone?) The same went with the music: everybody and their brother and sister were doing big special effects productions with bigger and bigger orchestral numbers. I'm sure that the studios would have been happy if they had been able to clone John Williams, but it lead to a certain sameness (and dullness) in the soundtracks.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Alien, both born in the post Star Wars-glut managed to avoid this for the most part. Both scores were courtesy of Jerry Goldsmith and featured the non-standard orchestration that attracted me to Planet of the Apes. While I might find some sequences of Star Trek: The Motion Picture tedious, I've never found the music to be tedious. Alien manages to creep me out, with or without the film as a back drop.

Another effort that stands out for originality was the Vangelis score for Blade Runner. Marrying sound effects, visuals, and a sweeping electronic score made a lasting impact on me. I cannot see a clip or still without thinking of the music or vice versa.

Along the cyberpunk end was the soundtrack to the animated film Ghost in the Shell and the soundtrack to the series of the same name. The film's score is odd and atonal, the series features a lot of rock and jazz. Both have been permanently loaded on my iPod since I first bought it. The first Matrix movie (are there any others?) mixed both orchestral and rock to a good effect (I love watching the DVD with the music-only option, great pacing all the way through!).

I could mention many more: Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Battlestar Galactica (the reboot), Star Gate (any version) and more, but those are my key listens.
Southern Skyglow

Not your ordinary light pollution over Australia in today's Astronomy Picture of the Day. What a special effects show!