Monday, December 31, 2007

Reading: 2007

So how did the year pan out?

Books read: 97 books (as of 12/31/07).

Best books: Well, anything by Patrick O'Brian. But you probably knew that! So, let's break it down a bit more.

Best fiction (other than O'Brian): In the Ocean of Night by Gregory Benford. The works of Lois McMaster Bujold. Interestingly enough, other than the O'Brian's, all of these are re-reads. It was a year for visiting old friends, more or less., but first read of a Edward Whittemore book.

Best non-fiction: House to House by SSG David Bellavia. A tough call here. I read a fair bit of non-fiction this year, but this one edged out the several military history works I read.

Short works: 441 short works read (as of 12/31/07).

Best fiction, short form: The works of Cordwainer Smith. I've read these many times over, but they continue to amaze me, move me, and I continue to find new things in them.

Best "new" discovery: David Drake. This was the year that I moved beyond Drake's Hammer's Slammers tales and pretty much ended up buying everything I could find by him. Highly recommended!

Worst reads of the year?

Fiction: Eric Nylund: HALO: First Strike and HALO: Ghosts of Onyx.

Non-fiction: Tony Horwitz: Blue Latitudes.
More Than Honor

More Than Honor, David Weber, David Drake and S.M. Stirling (Baen Books, 1998, ISBN 978-0-671-87857-3, cover by David Mattingly).

A collection of shorter works set in Weber's Honor Harrington series. For this one Baen Books recruited Weber and two folks that have collaborated with him on several occasions, David Drake and S.M. Stirling.

A Beautiful Friendship (David Weber): Details the first "bonding" between the treecats and humans. The story employs one stylistic tool that I've noticed a lot in science fiction: aliens or primitives (or alien primitives) are written from a somewhat "childish" point-of-view. Who's to say that primitives did not have as rich a thought process as us. Maybe we would be seen as the primitives...

Made up of: A Beautiful Friendship (David Weber); A Grand Tour (David Drake); A Whiff of Grapeshot (S.M. Stirling); The Universe of Honor Harrington (David Weber).

Counts as one entry in the 2007 Year in Shorts.

Part of the 2008 Year in Shorts.
With the Lightnings

With the Lightnings, David Drake (Baen Books, 1998, ISBN 0-671-57886-3, cover by David Mattingly).

(Read the book online or download it for free at Baen's Free Library.)

2007 was the year that I expanded my reading of David Drake beyond the Hammer's Slammers tales. This novel was a most enjoyable addition to the reading I did.

The story seems to be an outgrowth of the short work that Drake contributed to the More Than Honor collection of short works. There are some similarities with the main character and one of the main secondary characters (a kind of Jeeves and Wooster relationship, without the master being a clueless idiot). The book grew out of Drake's love of (hey, another reason to like the guy!) the sea-faring tales of Patrick O'Brian. Another source is Poul Anderson's tales of Dominic Flandry. Toss in some Horatio Hornblower and stir well...

The two main characters are quite the mis-matched pair. Daniel Leary is serving in the Republic of Cinnabar's Navy. He could be home, getting ready to run the family estates, but quarreled with his father. So a career in the Navy seemed like a good idea. He runs up against Adele Mundy, a woman who can massage a database to get amazing results. Alas, she has it in for Leary ever since his family was involved in the massacre of her family (they were conspiring against the government of Cinnabar at the time).

They come together on a backwater planet that just happens to be the site of an invasion by one of Cinnabar's enemies. With little resources other than their wits and several members of Leary's crew that did not get swept up in the invasion, they must either escape or defeat the invaders.

A fun tale. Most definitely a fun tale. Let me tell you how much I enjoyed it: during the summer, I worked on the home improvement task from heck, stripping off the old "water treatment", cleaning and then re-"water treating" our deck and fence.

We have a large fence. It is six foot tall. Why six foot tall? Well, one of our dogs proved able to jump over anything less than six feet tall. It goes around the yard, most of the yard. The sides are "slotted", but the back is a solid "privacy" fence, so the amount of wood along the back probably is the same as the amount of wood employed on the two sides.

Strip, clean and paint. With carpal tunnel syndrome. Man, there were some days when I would come in, covered from head to toe with dirt, mold, mildew, old "water treatment", with my hands, fingers, wrists, arms, elbows and shoulders screaming from the abuse.

One day my wife and daughter went out while I was working on the project. They inadvertently locked the back door as well as the door between the garage (which leads into the cellar) and the kitchen. I discovered this when I finished for the day, cleaned the power washer and went to go inside to relax. Hmmmm...can't get into the house to clean up and relax!

I went to a neighbor's, used their telephone to leave a message for my wife (they were at a baby shower, so could not hear the cellphone) and then went downstairs to get a warm drink (since the cellar is lacking in refrigeration) and a book.

The book I picked up was With the Lightnings. Despite being covered from head to toe in grime, despite the pain from the CTS, I managed to lose myself in the book for a few hours before my wife returned. Any book that manages to get me past the joy of CTS is one well worth reading. I had bought the paperback version second-hand. I then proceeded to not only pay for the electronic version that is available for free at Baen's Free Library, but bought a hardcover copy as well. Then...electronic and hardcover copies of the other installments of the series. March 2008 will bring another installment; maybe by then I'll be "caught up"!

(Read again in 2008...)
The Reefs of Taprobane

The Reefs of Taprobane, Arthur C. Clarke (with photographs by Mike Wilson) (Harper Brothers, 1957).

Now how's this for alternative history? In 2007, world famous ocean explorer and promoter of ecological tourism Sir Arthur C. Clarke celebrates his 90th birthday. Clarke is cheered by hotel owners and cruise line operators as a pioneer who helped to bring about several generations of undersea exploration by the common folk (tourists). At one point Clarke had been almost as well known for publishing several science fiction novels and science fact novels, but fate brought him to a much more profitable line of work.

How far-fetched is the above scenario? Not so much. While Clarke likes to joke that he should have patented the communications satellite, another career that he was on the cusp of was underwater exploration and exploitation by ordinary people. In the late fifties and early sixties, Clarke, along with business partner and photographer Mike Wilson, produced a series of films and illustrated non-fiction books showing the undersea wonders of the Great Barrier Reef, the waters of Ceylon (later known as Sri Lanka) and other areas.

The Reefs of Taprobane is one of those earliest voyages of testing (trying to produce decent photographs underwater) and exploration. Clarke eventually fell in love with Ceylon and lived there permanently. While he kept his hand in underwater exploration, a small-budget production named 2001: A Space Odyssey and involvement in the Time-Life science book series entry on space travel sealed his fate. What might have been...
To Do List

O.K., the day (and the year) isn't over yet!

So what have I got planned for today:

Buy food for non-vegetarian meal (tomorrow's dinner guests). Buy food for vegetarian meal (vegetarian guests) for tomorrow lunch. Go to pet store and buy dog food and fish food. "Winterize" lawn mower (I think the grass has stopped growing, finally!!!) Finish updating blog with missing reviews, end of year items, etc. Go to firehouse and do the things the idiot president said he would do to relive the treasurer's burden (the treasurer would be me)...but which I found out he hasn't, so I get to do it anyway!

Maybe finish reading a couple more books...almost there, almost there, almost there!
The Fugitives

"We came to your world as fugitives from a great planet that once formed part of the solar system—a planet composed entirely of ultra-violet substances..."

(Clark Ashton Smith, The Invisible City, 1932)

"Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so."

(Douglas Adams, The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy)
The Legion of Space

I started re-reading this work earlier, but various things caught up with me and I put it down. As it can be seen from previous occasions, this is one of my all-time favorite books.
Blue Latitudes

Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before, Tony Horwitz (Picador, 2002, ISBN 0-312-42260-1, cover by Michael Brennan/Corbis).

Given my growing love of Patrick O'Brian's sea-faring tales and just about anything to do with the age of sail, I picked up this account of a modern re-tracing of the route of Captain Cook on his epic voyages.

I should have picked something else to read. At first amusing, ultimately tedious, the book is an endless account of how European society ruined various native groups and produced an endless supply of groups who complain about how great the past was, or spend one holiday to another planning on how to get drunker and drunker, etc.

There are a few bits here and there about James Cook. But, if you are interested in that subject, you would be better to seek out a more historical account than to read this muddy travelogue.
Ah, The Legal System

Don't you love when people game the system?

Addendum (January 3, 2008): Some follow-up.

Addendum (January 17, 2008): Another update. And, according to this posting at Black Five, there will be some court action tomorrow.

Addendum (January 20, 2008): Guilty! Guilty!

HALO: First Strike; Eric Nylund (Del Rey, 2003, ISBN 0-345-46781-7, cover by Lorraine McLees).

HALO: Ghosts of Onyx, Eric Nylund (Tor, 2006, ISBN 978-0-765-35470-9, cover artist not indicated).

I'll freely admit that the whole computer gaming thing has pretty much passed me by. Spending all day working on a computer, then coming home to (now) post at a blog or read e-mail...well, you never really feel like gaming. Like television, I'd rather read.

But I was curious about the HALO. It sounded like the sort of thing I'd enjoy. So I took the cheap route out and picked up a couple of books set in the universe. Heck, Peter Jackson wanted to make a movie based on the game, it has to be good, no?

Well, if the books are any indication, no. Bad author? Bad background? Need to grind these puppies out as fast as possible? I don't know what to blame, but these were the worst books I read this year.
On the Back of the Turtle (Two)

Terry Pratchett: Equal Rites. Mort. Sourcery. Wyrd Sisters. Going Postal.

A mixed bag of first-time reads and some re-reads. Pratchett continues to amuse me, and I find myself restraining the number of Discworld stories that I read in order to get other books in!

From the need for Death to get an apprentice (and a screamingly funny passage about curry) to Ankh-Morpork's postal system (and some screamingly funny passages about hobbyists and bureaucracy) this were among my favorite (favourite?) reads of the year.
Wit *AND* Wisdom

The Wit and Wisdom of Discworld, Terry Pratchett (compiled by Stephen Briggs) (HarperCollins, 2007, ISBN 978-0-06-137050-2, cover by Larry Rostant).

Sure to be found on nightstands and in the bathroom magazine racks of Discworld fans everywhere, this book is a series of quotes from the fantasy epic and ongoing social commentary. You might argue with some of the choices, but you'll find plenty in here to amuse and delight you. You'll probably end up re-reading whole swaths of the series as a result. And that can only be a good thing.
To Rule in Amber

Nine Princes in Amber, Roger Zelazny (Avon, 1972, ISBN 0-380-01430-0, cover by Ron Walotsky).

Another re-read! I'll leave it to this Wikipedia entry to supply details of the plot. I'm pretty sure most are familiar with the tale; if not, You Have Been Warned That There Are Spoilers Herein.

What really impressed me about this book was the style and length. Such economy! I know that Zelazny was taking a stylistic riff from detective fiction, but the book seems like a breath of fresh air compared to some of the over long fantasy tales being written today. A classic. Haven't read it? Please do and see what you are missing.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Metal Man

The Metal Man and Others; The Collected Stories of Jack Williamson, Volume One, Jack Williamson (edited by Stephen Haffner) (Haffner Press, 1999, ISBN 1-893887-02-2, cover by Frank R. Paul).

The first in an excellent series of books from Haffner Press. Stephen Haffner is bringing all of Williamson's non-serial magazine appearances between covers, spanning a multi-decade career.

The introduction by Hal Clement makes one very good point (and one that some of the proponents of "mundane SF" seem to miss regarding science fiction): Science fiction is both a literature of ideas and of story. The ideas may become dated, heck, they may be completely impossible by any stretch of reality that we may know. But, if well written, the story remains timeless. Clement makes the point that Williamson is such a writer. And I'll agree: we may not be able to terraform the Moon. Mars might not have a surface covered by canals. Barnard's Runaway Star might not be inhabited by evil aliens. But The Legion of Space remains an excellent tale despite any "dating" of the science involved.

Scientifiction, Searchlight of Science: An essay that appeared in Amazing Stories Quarterly in 1928.

The Metal Man: Very much in the spirit of one of Williamson's early influences, A. Merritt.

The Girl from Mars: Co-written by Miles J. Breuer, M.D., who acted as a guide for Williamson's early writing. A minor work involving humans from Mars.

Made up of: Jack Williamson—Speculator (Hal Clement); Scientifiction, Searchlight of Science; The Metal Man; The Girl from Mars (with Miles J. Breuer, M.D.); The Alien Intelligence; The Second Shell; The Green Girl; The Cosmic Express; The Birth of a New Republic (with Miles J. Breuer, M.D.); The Prince of Space; The Meteor Girl; Afterword; Appendix.

Counts as four (4) entries in the 2007 Year in Shorts.

Part of the 2008 Year in Shorts.
The "New" Space Opera

The New Space Opera; edited by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan (EOS, 2007, ISBN 978-0-06-084675-6, cover by Stephan Martiniere).

I picked this volume up on the basis of the one editor (Dozois) and the lineup. I've been impressed enough with the works of folks like Reynolds, Hamiltion, McAuley and Macleod, let alone Benford and Silverberg, that the presence of several unfamiliar names did not deter me.

The Introduction by Dozois and Strahan runs down the sub-genre, although I'll admit where the "new" comes from still puzzles me. I've always been a fan of space opera and never saw it die out and thus create a divide between "old" and "new". It's been morphed and refreshed, but it has always been there. Point to me a period when we didn't have space opera. The 1970's? The 1980's? I'll dig through my collection and find somebody who was practicing "space opera".

Saving Tiamatt (Gwyneth Jones): Hit the rocks already! I started reading this book several months ago. Alas, the first tale of the collection not only did not seem to be at all appropriate of the sub-genre, but was such a confused jumble that I stopped reading the collection. Next year!

Verthandi's Ring (Ian McDonald): Somewhat jumbled at times, but definitely space opera! Space opera with a galaxy-spanning view, like an Olaf Stapledon tale linked with the hard-physics approach of Alastair Reynolds or Stephen Baxter. Good stuff!

Made up of: Introduction (Gardener Dozois and Jonathan Strahan); Saving Tiamaat (Gwyneth Jones); Verthandi's Ring (Ian McDonald); Hatch (Robert Reed); Winning Peace (Paul J. McAuley); Glory (Greg Egan); Maelstrom (Kage Baker); Blessed By An Angel (Peter F. Hamilton); Who's Afraid of Wolf 359? (Ken Macleod); The Valley of the Gardens (Tony Daniel); Dividing the Sustain (James Patrick Kelly); Minla's Flowers (Alastair Reynolds); Splinters of Glass (Mary Rosenblum); Remembrance (Stephen Baxter); The Emperor and the Maula (Robert Silverberg); The Worm Turns (Gregory Benford); Send Them Flowers (Walter Jon Williams); Art of War (Nancy Kress); Muse of Fire (Dan Simmons).

Counts as two (2) entries in the 2007 Year in Shorts.

Part of the 2008 Year in Shorts.

Part of the 2009 Year in Shorts.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Medical Queries

A friend assures me these are all true quotes.

Q: Now, it not true that when a person dies in his sleep he does not know until the next day?

Q: Doctor, have you preformed many post mortems on dead bodies?
A: All my post mortems were preformed on dead bodies.

Q: Do you remember at what time you started the examination of the body?
A: The post mortem started at 22.30

Q: And was Mr: Dennington dead at the time?
A: No, he was sitting at the table wondering why I was performing a post mortem.

Q: Doctor, before you started the post mortem, did you check his pulse?
A: No.

Q: Did you check his blood pressure?
A: No.

Q: Did you check if he was breathing?
A: No.

Q: So is it then possible that he was alive when the examination started?
A: No.

Q: How can you be so certain, doctor?
A: Because his brain was in a container in my office.

Q: But could the patient still have been alive.
A: Yes, and possibly working as an attorney somewhere.

From another trial:

Q: This myasthenia gravis, does it affect your memory?
A: Yes.

Q: How does it affect your memory?
A: I forget things.

Q: Can you give us an example of something you have forgotten?

Q: How old is your son who lives with you?
A: He is 35 or 38. I can't remember exactly.

Q: And how long has he been living with you?
A: 45 years.

Q: Your youngest son, the 22-years-old, how old is he?

Q: When is your birthdate
A: July 15th.

Q: What year?
A: Every year.

Q: All your answers have to be oral.
A: All right.

Q: What school did you attend?
A: Oral.

Q: Where you present when this picture was taken?

Q: Are you qualified to give a urine sample?

Q: Can you describe the person you saw?
A: He was medium tall and had a beard.

Q: Was this a man or a woman?

Q: How did your first marriage end?
A: By death.

Q: And whose death did it end with?

Q: She had three children, right?
A: Yes.

Q: How many boys?
A: None.

Q: Did she have any girls?

Q: What was the first thing your husband said that morning?
A: Where am I Cathy?

Q: Why did that upset you so?
A: My name is Susan.
1 in 25 from 1 in 75

The chances of that asteroid hitting Mars on January 30, 2008 have increased from 1 in 75 to about 1 in 25. Watch out below!
Nerd Sniping

I believe I forgot to post this hilarious bit from XKCD.
The Dragons of Babel

I went t the bookstore yesterday in the hopes of picking up two books that should be out. One of them is Michael Swanwick's The Dragons of Babel. I'm not as much into fantasy as I am interested in science fiction, but Swanwick, at his blog, has been writing about the process of writing the book for some time now and it has me hooked enough to want to read the book.

(The other book I was looking for was The Ruby Dice by Catherine Asaro. True, both are "January 2008" releases. However, I did manage to pick up a couple of other "January 2008 releases yesterday. Go figure.)

Here's a rundown on Swanwick's postings.

The cover art.

Alien Speech. Ongysdrail. The Science Fiction Writer's Babel. Advanced review. The Office Worker's Babel. Another advance review. A Publicity Mailing. The author gets his advance copies.

Diagramming Babel: Part 01. Part 02. Part 03. Part 04. Part 05. Part 06. Part 07. Part 08. Part 09. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12. Part 13. Part 14. Part 15. Part 16. Part 17. Part 18. Part 19. Part 20. Part 21. Part 22. Part 23. Part 24. Part 25. Part 26. Part 27. Part 28. Part 29 (the final entry!).

Addendum: Early Notes Toward a Nonexistent Lexicon (with a real "Tower of Babel", har har har).

Addendum (January 25, 2008): I've got a copy of the book. Still don't have Ruby Dice, dang it.
Science Tats

A selection of science-related...tattoos.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Travels with Miles

Cordelia's Honor, Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen Books, 2000, ISBN 0-671-57828-6, cover by Gary Ruddell).

Young Miles, Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen Books, 2003, ISBN 0-7434-3616-4, cover by Gary Ruddell).

The Mountains of Mourning, Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen Books, 1989, ISBN 978-10-1125-0004, cover artist not indicated).

Cordelia's Honor is an omnibus edition made up of Shards of Honor and Barrayar. Young Miles is an omnibus edition made up of The Warrior's Apprentice, the short work The Mountains of Mourning and The Vor Game. The Mountains of Mourning is also available as an independent work from Baen's Webscription service.

Read in 2008...

Miles, Mystery and Mayhem (Lois McMaster Bujold, Baen Books, 2003, ISBN 0-671-31858-6, cover by Patrick Turner) is an omnibus made up of Cetaganda, Ethan of Athos and the shorter work Labyrinth. It also contains an introduction by the author and a timeline.

As I am hoping that the new year (or maybe the year after that) will bring a new Miles Vorkosigan book (I know that a new omnibus is coming, that's almost as good), I decided it was high time to start re-reading the series. I've read the tales, both in serial form (in Analog) and book form (in various editions from Baen Books) over the years, but never in a rapid installment fashion such as this.

(2008 Update: I've continued to read the books in the cycle and will list books completed. A new omnibus has been released: Miles In Love, made up of Komarr, A Civil Campaign and the short work Winterfair Gifts. Still no word if the muse has bitten Bujold and will be bringing us a new story set in this universe.)

So how do you keep a series going when you've got more than a dozen books and stories in it? How do you keep it fresh?

Interesting characters, for one. In the first two books of the series, you have two characters with wildly different backgrounds. Put together and mix well. Next you have Miles. Between his physical characteristics and his mental agility and toughness, he is usually a "fish out of the water" no matter what environment he is in. Then to liven things up, we get a cousin (Ivan), a "brother" (Mark), and a host of interesting secondary characters (take the enigma of Sergeant Bothari, for example...a force of evil or a force of good?).

Interesting settings, for a second. A planet of men. A planet devoted to biological technology. A planet of warriors. And more. Maybe it is not as wide as, say, the galaxy of Star Trek, but it is a lot better realized.

Interesting plots, for a third. The tales range from straight adventure or space opera to romance to mystery to political intrigue to war. As with another favorite series, the "formula" for the series seems to be...avoid formula.

If you haven't read these, give them a try. Especially if you "don't like science fiction". Baen makes it easy to stary with their omnibus packages and Webscription releases. Come on, you won't be sorry!
Second Voyage

The second voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle started today in 1836.
The Lovely Bones

Some interesting bits about the bone trade.
How Stuff Works

And the internet provides me with yet another site to spend endless "idle" hours searching...

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Destinies: Volume 1, Number 1 (November/December 1978), edited by James Baen (Ace Books, 1979 ISBN 0-441-14281-8, cover by Stephen Fabian).

After he left Galaxy and took over the editor's position at Ace, Jim Baen started experimenting with a cross between book and magazine publishing. Destinies was one of those efforts (and the efforts continued at Tor Books when he was there with New Destinies, and then at Baen Books with Jim Baen's Universe). Initially published quarterly, Destinies was a mix of fiction and non-fiction, illustrated copiously by the artists that were contributing to Ace's line of handsome trade paperbacks.

It's interesting to see some of the folks here. Everybody "knows" what Jim Baen publishes, right? Mil SF! Then how do you explain Roger Zelazny? And then there's that Spider Robinson fella, with two entries (one of which was a very infamous book review).

A good mix. I'm glad I snatched up the series when I had a chance to pick it up second-hand.

Made up of: Stand Pat, Ruby Stone (Roger Zelazny); Old Woman by the Road (Gregory Benford); New Beginnings (Jerry Pournelle); Transition Team (Charles Sheffield); Antimony (Spider Robinson); Spider vs. the Hax of Sol III (Spider Robinson); Very Proper Charlies (Dean Ing); Party Line (Clifford D. Simak); Assimilating Our Culture, That's What They're Doing (Larry Niven); Science Fiction and Science, Part One: Reality, Fiction and Points Between (Poul Anderson).

Counts as four entries in the 2007 Short Story Project.

Part of the 2008 Year in Shorts.
The Endless Frontier

The Endless Frontier; edited by Jerry Pournelle (Ace Books, 1979, ISBN 0-441-20667-0, cover by Vincent di Fate).

Part of an ongoing series (now defunct, apparently) that Pournelle edited. This one deals with variations on the concepts advanced by Gerard K. O'Neill. The collection is a mixed bag of fiction and non-fiction and even some poetry and advertisements for the L5 Society. The best stories were Haldeman's, the collaboration between Pournelle and Niven and the solo Pournelle story.

In general, the stories are of the type that I prefer the most: Hard SF, puzzle stories, problem stories, stories in the tradition of Astounding/Analog, call 'em what you will! With all the sub-genres available, I still come back to Hard SF and Space Opera.

Made up of: Preface (Jerry Pournelle); The Endless Frontier (Jerry Pournelle); Editor's Introduction to Spirals (Jerry Pournelle); Spirals (Jerry Pournelle & Larry Niven); Editor's Afterword to Spirals (Jerry Pournelle); Editor's Introduction to Coming of Age in Henson's Tube (Jerry Pournelle); Coming of Age in Henson's Tube (William Jon Watkins); Editor's Introduction to Tricentennial (Jerry Pournelle); Tricentennial (Joe Haldeman); Editor's Introduction to No Home-Like Place (Jerry Pournelle); No Home-Like Place (Dian Girard); Editor's Introduction to Bind Your Sons to Exile (Jerry Pournelle); Bind Your Sons to Exile (Jerry Pournelle); Editor's Introduction to To Catch a Falling Star (Jerry Pournelle); To Catch a Falling Star (Brian O'Leary); Editor's Afterword (Jerry Pournelle); Editor's Introduction to To Bring in the Steel (Jerry Pournelle); To Bring in the Steel (Donald Kingsbury); Editor's Introduction to The L-5 Society (Jerry Pournelle); The L-5 Society (Robert A. Heinlein); Editor's Introduction to House (Jerry Pournelle); House (Peter Dillingham); Editor's Introduction to Home on Lagrange (Jerry Pournelle); Home on Lagrange (Bill Higgins and Barry Gehm); Editor's Introduction to The Gambling Hell and the Sinful Girl (Jerry Pournelle); The Gambling Hell and the Sinful Girl (Katherine MacLean); Editor's Introduction to Dark Sanctuary (Jerry Pournelle); Dark Sanctuary (Gregory Benford); Editor's Introduction to Cable Cars in the Sky (Jerry Pournelle); Cable Cars in the Sky (Hans Moravec); Editor's Introduction to Transition Team (Jerry Pournelle); Transition Team (Charles Sheffield); Editor's Introduction to Bigger Than Worlds (Jerry Pournelle); Bigger Than Worlds (Larry Niven).

Counts as: 17 entries in the 2007 Short Story Project. (Dark Sanctuary read previously. Transition Team read previously.) Continuing to read.

Counts as 17 entries in the 2008 Year in Shorts.

Planetes #01 (Tokyopop, 2003). Planetes #02 (Tokyopop, 2003). Planetes #03 (Tokyopop, 2004). Planetes #04a (Tokyopop, 2004). Planetes #04b (Tokyopop, 2004), Makoto Yukimura.

Planetes is a series set in the relatively near future. We're starting to colonize space. Earth orbit is filled with factories, shuttles, stations and garbage. The Moon has seen the first children born there. And we're getting ready to explore Jupiter space.

I started this year with the intention of watching the Planetes anime. I had finished getting the series, thanks to the efforts of a relative last Christmas. I got through the first set, and started the second set, when I was sidetracked by the Planetes manga. I had read these a few years ago, having gotten some pretty good recommendations from a friend. After watching several of the episodes, I went back to the manga feeling that I was missing turned out that the plots of both often are identical, sometimes change in details, and sometimes diverge wildly. So I wasn't crazy after all.

I don't have much experience with manga, other than to note with dismay how it seems to be crowding out science fiction at the bookstores. (Don't get me wrong. I love the fact that it is so popular, as maybe those that read it will move on to other science fiction. But...instead of expanding bookshelves or expanding into other areas, it cuts out the availability of what I read. And...if the trend collapses, how hurt will the SF shelves be? Will bookshelves be filled with other SF, or will the "bottom-liners" tar other SF with the same brush and cut back on all SF after the collapse?) At the start of each of these, I had to re-set my mind to read from the back to the front, and in reverse order on the pages.

The tales concentrate more on the human aspect. The characters in the manga are better drawn (so to speak) than in the anime (there is some pretty silly stuff in the televised version of the tales). And, there is a good chunk of good science in here as well. Nothing is wildly far out and the authors have tossed in some gritty details (how does one go to the bathroom in one's spacesuit?) that even the most gritty of shows in the American SF world have ignored.
The Uncompleted Cycle

Necromancer, Gordon R. Dickson (Ace Books).

Tactics of Mistake, Gordon R. Dickson (Ace Books).

(Both also found in an omnibus edition called Three to Dorsai, published by the SFBC.)

When Gordon R. Dickson died, he left his so-called Childe Cycle unfinished. Earlier this year his long-time assistant "co-wrote" a novel (Antagonist). Rather than one of the central novels to the series, it appeared to be a "side" novel (much the same as Young Bleys or Other). I had intended on reading this volume this year (too many books, too little time), but decided to start with the other books in the series (seeing that it has been, in some cases, a few decades, since I've read them). So I dug up the various paperbacks plus the SFBC omnibus and...

As originally envisioned, the series would have been three historical novels, three "contemporary" novels and three science fiction novels. Each would have dealt (from an introduction that Dickson wrote for the SFBC omnibus) with the conflicts between various aspects of society (i.e., progress and conservatism) and the various key people that were involved in crucial parts of history. So, for example, one planned historical novel would have dealt with a Man of War, Sir John Harkwood. Another historical novel would have dealt with a Man of Philosophy, John Milton.

Necromancer is the first book in the science fiction part of the series. It shows a world typical of many science fiction tales: people crowded into cities, tensions rising, a space program, a vast computer-mind that runs things. The main character is the focus of the various conflicting aspects of the society: The Chantry Guild, the uber-computer, etc. During the pivotal sequence, society starts to break down. Instead, society breaks apart, and the seeds of the various "splinter cultures" that play a role in the later books of this part of the series are formed.

Tactics of Mistake shows the genesis of one of Dickson's most popular creations, the Dorsai. Cletus Grahame is a soldier who is working on a multi-volume series of books on tactics. He becomes involved with the Dorsai and gets them to try his military philosophy. In a series of ever-expanding conflicts, Grahame faces off against Dow deCastries, who represents the established powers of Earth. Grahame helps to further the needs of one splinter culture, the Exotics, and enable two other splinter cultures (the Dorsai and the Friendlies) to survive.

Necromancer feels (to me) somewhat retrofitted upon the series. Some of the technology (travel to the stars) does not seem to match what was used later in the series. In the SFBC omnibus, Dickson adds narrative which (at that point) from a book he was writing (The Final Encyclopedia) tbridged the tales (my memory from that book tells me this narrative did not appear in the final version) and smoothed the differences; some differences are still apparent.

Tactics of Mistake got me interested in strategy, war-gaming and even military miniatures. A friend has pointed out that Grahame only succeeds because everything goes his way, the enemy totally cooperates with the various feints and jabs. Reality rarely cooperates as nicely. But, the book remains in a special place thanks to the other interests it brought to me.
The Rackman Chronicles

The Rackman Chronicles; Dean Ing (Baen Books, 2004, ISBN 0-7434-7183-0, cover by Stephen Hickman).

The Rackman Chronicles is made up of three shorter works. The first (Inside Job) appeared in the Stephen Coonts edited anthology series Combat. The second (Vital Signs) appeared in an earlier Ing collection, Firefght Y2K. The third was a separate publication, Pulling Through. All three feature Harve Rackman, bounty hunter and race-car driver.

From reading these three tales, I think Ing was more interested in using Rackman as a character vehicle than writing a consistent series. The first tale is the least "science-fictional", and is a pretty straight-forward technothriller involving terrorists and WMD's. Just about the most SF-ish aspect is a kid's computer that the main character uses (both more capable and more primitive than what we've got now). The second has Rackman tracking an alien, so might be the most science fiction in tone. The third, the longest entry, Pulling Through, is both a grim tale of atomic war (a "limited" war) and a manual for surviving such a war (or a similar event).

They were all good, fast reads. Pulling Through is the best of the three. It gave me the willies when I first read it and it gave me the willies again.
The Wine-Dark Sea

During 2007, I completed reading the following books by Patrick O'Brian: Desolation Island, The Fortune of War, The Ionian Mission, Treason's Harbour, The Reverse of the Medal, The Letter of Marque, The Thirteen Gun Salute, The Nutmeg of Consolation, The Truelove, The Wine-Dark Sea.

I also read a short non-fiction work, Men-of-War: Life in Nelson's Navy.

And, I may finish another volume in the Aubrey-Maturin series, The Commodore.

Rather than writing a review for each, I'll try to talk about why I love these books so much.

First, I love the craft of the writing. The author is not in a hurry. The words are carefully chosen. You feel like the books were written long-hand, rather than banged out on a typewriter.

The plots take a long time to develop. Some threads are spun out over the course of several books. A very minor character early on becomes a prime mover later. Old friends come back several books later to visit. Secondary characters mirror the main characters.

Non-living (I won't say "inanimate", as many of the non-living objects move) objects are alive. The H.M.S. Surprise, Jack Aubrey's favorite ship, is as much a character as any "living" person in the series. The sea itself is alive, and more than because it is filled with life. The landscape is alive. The air is alive.

Music. The books are filled with music. Some pieces are not real, but the composers are. The main character's play music, secondary characters play music.

Interactions. Whether it is a character writing a letter to another, an entry in a journal, log or diary, private thoughts, or spoken conversation, the books thrive on the interactions between the various characters.

Setting. The European wars of the 1800's. Men-of-War were the height of technology. Imagine being out at sea, with nothing more than rope-and-pulley enhanced muscle power. Imagine needing to strip out a mast, put in a new one, repair sails in all sorts of weather. Imagine going around the world by wind power, not once, but twice in the course of a tale. Uncharted lands, friendly and not-so-friendly encounters, new animals and plants. The books are a wonderful mixture of plots in battle, plots in peace, plots of exploration...You can see why this appeals to somebody whose primary interests are books in the science fiction genre. Here we have new worlds and strange civilizations, a ship equipped with the height of technology and more elements thare are "only" in science fiction.

When I first discovered these books, I rationed myself to one a year, knowing that O'Brian would not continue the series forever. This year I raced through several, just losing myself in the story. When I complete the series, I'll start again. I'll re-discover old friends, find previously unknown nuances. A wonderful series. A wonderful author. A wonderfully realized universe.

A consolidated list of reviews and when read postings...

1996: Master and Commander; Post Captain.

2005: Master and Commander; Post Captain.

2006: H.M.S. Surprise, The Mauritius Command, The Far Side of the World.

2007: Desolation Island, The Fortune of War, The Ionian Mission, Treason's Harbour, The Reverse of the Medal, The Letter of Marque. The Thirteen Gun Salute, The Nutmeg of Consolation. The Truelove. The Wine-Dark Sea. The Commodore. The Hundred Days. Men-of-War: Life in Nelson's Navy.

2008: Master & Commander (three times!). Post Captain. H.M.S. Surprise. The Mauritius Command. Desolation Island. The Fortune of War. The Surgeon's Mate. The Ionian Mission. Treason's Harbour. The Far Side of the World.

2009: Starting with The Reverse of the Medal...

A look at all the Geoff Hunt covers used in the HarperCollins trade paperback editions. These are the covers that originally got me interested in the series. Wonderful art!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Holiday Feast: Roasted Chicken

Since some of the folks that we expected today only ate chicken, I made some roasted chicken. Since the standing rib roast (mostly the roasting pan and rack!) took up so much room in the oven, I ended up cooking the chicken on the grill.

My basic recipe is quite simple: Wash and dry the chicken (in this case, I used a combination of thighs, legs and wings). Lightly coat in oil (I use olive oil). Sprinkle with salt and pepper and any other spices you care (I used crushed rosemary and sage).

Place on grill on low heat, turn every fifteen minutes or so. After about 45 minutes, check to see if done by cutting into thicker pieces. Meat should be white all the way through, the area around the bone should not be red, any juices should be clear.

Easy as cake. I don't know why some people consider chicken such a mystery.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Holiday Feast: Wrap-Up

And there you have it! We ended the meal with espresso and a variety of holiday cookies, plus nuts (peanuts, cashews and chestnuts). The beef was amazingly tender, the Puddings did not burst into flames. A success all around!

The only downside was a variety of illnesses that have been in the family. As a result, instead of the large number of guests we expected, we only guest. So we made up plates and sent them back to various sick houses!
Holiday Feast: Standing Rib Roast

In doing this dish, I took several recipes and more or less combined them.

For the aging process, I used a recipe from Alton Brown's Good Eats for Dry-Aged Standing Rib Roast with Sage Jus. I took some cooking hints from the current edition of the Fannie Farmer cookbook (a book we've used so much that the edition we got when we first got married literally fell apart). Most of the recipe, plus the recipe for Yorkshire Pudding (below) was sent by a friend from her copy of A Treasury of Great Recipes by Mary and Vincent Price (!).

Standing Rib Roast

I used Alton Brown's suggestion for dry aging the beef. I purchased an 8-pound rib roast. I had asked it to have four bones in, but the crazy atmosphere of the butcher right before Christmas meant my request (left earlier in the week) had been overlooked, so I ended up with 8 pounds of beef with the ribs in. No big deal, but next time...

Alton Brown states that you stand the roast up on a rack inside a roasting pan. Cover it lightly with dish towels. The towels must be changed daily. The temperature must be between 34 and 38 degrees F. If anything made me nervous about this dish, it was making sure the temperature stayed at that level. I went out and bought two thermometers to make sure the range was maintained!

Vincent and Mary Price (and the other sources) suggest removing the meat from the refrigerator a few hours before you start cooking. If the meat is around room temperature, you'll carve off some cooking time. Trim off excess fat. Preheat the oven to 525 degrees F. Place the meat on a rack, in the roasting pan, fat side up.

Do not salt the meat. You can add some spice by placing some garlic inside the meat (make a cut), near the bones. You can also rub the meat with freshly ground pepper. But salting the meat will draw juices out.

Place the roast into the oven for several minutes at the high temperature, then lower it to 350 degrees F.

I did not find that I needed to baste the meat. YMMV.

Cooking time, according to Fannie Farmer, was 20 minutes per pound, until internal temperature reached 140 degrees F. (For this, I used a birthday present, which is a digital thermometer. A wonderful device.)

When the internal temperature says the roast is done, remove it to a heated plate and let it rest for 15 or so minutes before carving. If you carve it too soon, all the juices will run out.

In the meantime, take your roasting pan and pour off most of the fat. Place the roasting pan on the stove, over low heat, and pour in about a half cup of water, red wine, or stock (remember that basic brown stock I made the other day?). Scrape off the brown bits. Pour the mixture into a pot, add additional stock and wine, and bring to a boil. Let cook until it is reduced by half, check seasonings (you'll probably need to add salt, as you did not salt the meat, and I did not salt the stock to begin with).

Serve on a platter with Yorkshire Pudding.

Yorkshire Pudding

This recipe is for six puddings; I doubled it for today's meal.

Prepare the batter at least an hour before you bake it. I've heard some people say they prepare it at least a day ahead of time and let it rest in the refrigerator overnight. In any case, it should be at room temperature when you are about to bake it.

Mix 7/8 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add gradually 1/2 cup milk, stirring all the time (I used a food processor). Beat two eggs until fluffy and pale yellow. Add this to the batter, continuing to stir. Add 1/2 cup water. Beat vigorously (or food process!) until the mixture bubbles.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place some lard (this worked quite well; you need a fat that has a very high smoke point!) into the bottom of each "well" of a muffin tin. Put in hot oven and heat lard until it is almost smoking. Remove muffin tin from oven. Spoon some of the batter into each "well", dividing equally.

Bake in the hot oven for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F. and continue to bake for 15 minutes longer.

Remove puddings from the "wells". Serve with beef and gravy.
Holiday Feast: Roasted Vegetables

This is a dish that I've pretty much developed on my own. It's versatile. I've done it with chicken, I've done it with kielbasi, I done it with both chicken and kielbasi, I've done it with different vegetables.

In this case, I used parsnips, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions (pearl onions).

Peel and slice the parsnips and carrots. Peel and dice the two kinds of potatoes. In today's recipe, the dicing on the potatoes was larger than the parsnips and carrots. For those, I used my newly acquired "wavy knife", a chopper that puts a wave into the vegetable as it cuts it.

The pearl onions were dunked into boiling water for about a minute, then put under cold running water until the cooking process stopped. This causes the outer skin to wrinkle, so it is easily removed. Cut off any remaining root matter, but other wise leave whole.

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. In a roasting pan, mix together the vegetables, olive oil and a variety of spices. I used salt, pepper, rosemary and thyme.

Place in oven for approximately an hour. The dish is done when you can easily thrust a fork through the larger pieces of vegetable.
Holiday Feast: Turnips

This one my wife did. When I was growing up, I would eat almost anything except for sweet potatoes and turnips. Seeing that I would only turn away from those two, my parent's didn't really push me to eat them. I now have grown to appreciate both, but as I was busy with many other items, my wife prepared them.

Peel the turnip (we used a yellow turnip). Cube. Put in water and bring to a boil and cook until softened, about 20 minutes.

In the meantime, dice an onion and saute until soft and clear.

Mash the turnip. Mix in the onion along with a little butter. Serve.
Holiday Feast: String Beans

Another easy to make item. Get fresh string beans. Pick out any that are blemished and discard. Cut off the ends and discard. Slice into several sections, or leave in one piece, your preference.

Steam for about ten minutes until cooked, but still crisp. Serve with butter, salt, pepper.
Holiday Feast: The Not-So-Dreaded...

...Yorkshire Pudding.

Well, the second test run worked. Six portions of pudding batter, divided into muffin tins, into the oven. I used lard this time, not butter. No smoke, no hissing, no spilled contents. Full baking time was reached and we have lovely looking puddings!
The Night Before Christmas

A variant upon a well-known poem. It is widely surmised that Sir Martin N. Rowan wrote this sometime during the Napoleonic Wars.

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the barky
Not a creature was stirring, not even an aardvarky;
The kit-bags were hung in the galley with care,
In hopes that St. Neptune soon would be there;
The crew were nestled all snug in their hammocks,
While three-water grog danced in their stomachs;
And Killick in his 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,
When up in the rigging there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the cot to see what was the matter.
Away to the hatchway I flew like a plover,
Tore open the grating and threw up the cover.
The moon on the crests of the wave-tossed ocean
Gave the lustre of mid-day to this watery motion,
When, what should my wondering eye there did see,
But a miniature boat, and eight manatee,
With a little old boatswain, with kelp all festooned,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Neptune.
More rapid than sharks his swimmers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
"Now, Flotsam! now, Jetsam! now, Cathead and Pudding!
On, Larboard! on Starboard! on, Boomkin and Knotting!
To the top of the main! to the top of the mast!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away fast!"
As wave froth that before the wild hurricane flies,
When it meets the leeward shore, mounts to the skies,
So up to the main-top the swimmers they flew,
With the boat full of slops, and St. Neptune too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the yard
Each little flipper go slapping so hard.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the shrouds St. Neptune came with a bound.
He was dressed all in seaweed, without error or mar,
And his clothes were all covered with sea-salt and tar;
A bundle of slops he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a purser just opening his pack.
His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples did shine!
His cheeks were like durians, his nose like a lime!
His mouth was drawn up like that of a bass,
And the beard of his chin was as green as the grass;
A trident of gold he held tight in his hand,
And three points did gleam as if polished with sand;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right bluff-bowed old crank,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of my rank;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the kit-bags; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the shroudlines he rose;
He sprang to his boat, to his team gave a quick call,
And away they all flew like a twelve-pounder ball.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove straight athwart,
"Happy Christmas to all, and confusion to Buonaparte!"
Kitchen Confidential

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly; Anthony Bourdain (Harper Perennial, 2007, ISBN 978-0-06-089922-6).

Kitchen Confidential was an amusing read on several fronts. I've worked as a busboy and dishwasher several times, so I saw many echoes of things I've seen. Bourdain is an entertaining author, so descriptions of relatively mundane activities were made interesting. And, in this revised edition, it was amusing to see how Bourdain has become what he despised in the original edition of the book: a celebrity chef, with his own (several) television shows. Designer aprons, next?

On a more serious note, Bourdain makes much of the camaraderie that exists in the kitchen. I have a feeling this is why the book appeals; those who do not have that feeling, or wish for that feeling in their workplace have read the book looking for "management secrets" that they can apply.

Here's my theory: Such a feeling of teamwork only exists in jobs where the people involved (soldiers, miners, farmers, kitchen workers) are working in dirty, hard, difficult, dangerous occupations. So, if you're looking to build teamwork on Wall Street, reading these books won't help. Watching Hoosiers and giving your staff a pep talk won't work. Taking them on a field trip to "build trust" by crossing rope bridges...won't work.

Here's hint: hire those who have been through such experiences. Build your team from such people who know how to bond.

Back to the book: A good read, especially given my culinary efforts of late. I wonder if Les Halles is open tomorrow. I may need a place to take a break after the second seating at home.
Shuttle: First Flights

Here's an advance look at an upcoming set from Spacecraft Films. Their Space Shuttle: First Flights set will include a look at early proposals including the USAF's Dynasoar vehicle.
Holiday Feast: Brown Stock

Another new venture was the preparation of some brown stock. Now, I've made chicken stock for years and years and years. It's second nature—roast a bird, when you are done picking over the carcass, you take the carcass and make a broth out of it. The same with a ham bone. Eat a ham, finish the ham, toss the bone into a pot with dried peas and make pea soup.

Earlier in the year I took a lamb bone and made stock out of I thought I'd give it a try from start to finish with the intention of making broth.

I consulted several books for ideas, but pretty much ended up making up things as I went along. I took three pounds of beef bones (purchased at the local PA Dutch Farm Market) and one pound of stewing beef along with some lard. I melted the lard in a roasting pan over the stove, added the bones and beef and put it all into a 400 degree F oven to brown. This took around a half-hour. You want the meat and bones to brown, but not burn.

In the meantime, I cut up four onions (not a fine chop, large pieces), chopped up about six celery stalks (washed, trimmed at the bottom, but kept on the leafy tops) and about six carrots (peeled and trimmed, large cut). When the beef and bones had been in the oven for a half hour, I added the vegetables.

The entire mixture stayed in the oven for about another hour, until the vegetables were brown, but not burned. I put this mix into a large pot (a stock pot, get it?) and added hot water to the roasting pan, in order to scrape all the good bits off the bottom of the pan. This was put into the stock pot. I added four quarts of cold water and turned on the heat to bring it to a boil.

I then added a variety of spices: bay leaf, several cracked peppercorns, rosemary leaves, thyme. No salt.

After the ingredients come to a boil, lower the heat until a very low simmer. Very low. Just a bit of movement in the liquid, this is a sloooooowwwww process.

After 15 minutes, skim off any scum that you see on the top. Then back away and leave it alone. Check it every hour or so and add more liquid if needed.

Time to cook? The recipes I saw varied wildly from a couple of hours to twelve. I let it go for about eight hours.

At the end, scoop out all the solids and discard. After the large bits were removed, I ran the liquid through a couple of sieves of varying sizes to get out as many bits as I could. (I might get some cheese cloth today and do it a few more times). Transfer to storage containers and allow it to cool. A few recipes recommended allowing to cool in an open container in the refrigerator before putting the lids on.

If you make a stock with bones, you will get gelatin when it cools. This is a good thing.

So, now I have four quarts of stock. What will be done with that? Well, some will go into the gravy for the Yorkshire Pudding. If I feel energetic enough, I'll also make some consomme for the appetizer portion of the holiday meal.
Holiday Feast: The Dreaded Pudding

One new entry in this year's feast will be a Yorkshire Pudding. I did a "dry run" a few weeks ago using a recipe that Vincent Price had written (a friend sent me a photocopy). Alas, I used butter (low smoke point) as the fat, there was a lot of smoke, it set off my allergy-induced asthma and I had the worst attack that I've had in a couple of decades (still trying to recover).

So I'm going to do another "dry run" today. There are about a billion recipes for this dish out there, here's one.

I blame Sherlock Holmes and Jack Aubrey. If I hadn't read so many tales about either character that involved food...
Holiday Feast: Aging

The main course for the holiday feast is going to be a standing (beef) rib roast. One thing I'm doing that is new for us is allowing the beef to age. I blame Alton Brown; I saw an episode of Good Eats where he showed how to do this. So now I've got eight pounds of beef in the refrigerator, three thermometers monitoring the situation.

Will this work? Will it taste better. Nothing, other than the Yorkshire Pudding, is making me more nervous about this meal.
Holiday Feast: Scones

I've been working hard on our various holiday feasts. We're hosting (maybe) twelve for Christmas, so this past weekend has been a lot of preparation work, cleaning and the like. I started off yesterday by making scones, lots of scones. Some will be for us, some will be for guests, some for co-workers.

The recipe I use was first published in 2000 in Bon Appetit. I found it at The Gunroom site, which has a collection of recipes suggested by list members. I've found it to be a very versatile recipe. For example, one time I dropped the lemon and ginger and added a tablespoon of cocoa powder and chocolate chips. I usually swap the lemon peel for orange peel, add dried or fresh cranberries, use dried blueberries and the like.

The recipe makes about twelve scones, when I use my middle-sized pastry cutter. Yesterday I made six batches, sprinkling each with red, green or blue crystallized sugar for the "seasonal touch". So, I made 72 scones!

2 and 1/4 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon lemon peel (I use dried and usually use more)
11 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter (yes, 11 tablespoons!)
3/4 cup of heavy (whipping) cream)
2+ tablespoons of heavy (whipping) cream
1/4 to 3/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger (depending on how much you like)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly butter baking sheet or use non-stick baking sheets. Place flour, sugar, baking powder and lemon peel in food processor; add butter (already cut into pieces) and mix, using on/off turns or use a pastry blender, until mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer mixture to large bowl. Mix in your ginger (or, if doing a variant, your berries or chocolate chips or whatever else you are using). Make a well in the center of the mix and pour in the 3/4 cup of heavy cream. Using a fork (although I usually do this with my hands), stir until well mixed and "just moist".

Transfer dough to floured surface and gently knead until smooth, about 7 turns. Form into large round, about 1/2-inch thick. Using a pastry cutter, cut out smaller rounds (I usually get about 12 per batch of dough). Place on baking sheet, brush with the 2 tablespoons of heavy cream.

Bake scones until light brown, about 16 to 20 minutes.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Elementary, My Dear Watson

Looks like we've finally found the Giant Rat of Sumatra!

The Top Ten Reasons My FTL Car Rules

10) Stephen Hawking always wants to carpool.

9) Breaking the laws of physics is only a misdemeanor in most states.

8) Traffic enforcement is pretty much limited to cops with Ph.D.'s in Quantum Physics.

7) Bugs—they never see you comin'.

6) I can get to the good hookers before Charlie Sheen.

5) I made a fortune selling pizza with the slogan "It's there before you order or it's free!"

4) I sleep until noon and still get to work by 8:00am!

3) I'm never in the car long enough to hear an entire Madonna song.

2) My cigar butts don't land in the back seat, they land in last week!

...and the number one cool thing about my faster-than-light car is...

1) I get a license plate that reads "ME = MC^2
So You Want To Be a Rock and Roll Star

A professor of physics is finding fame on the internet. (Sounds like he's a fantastic teacher. Alas, at my alma mater, they went for "world-class research" not boring stuff like teaching ability. Being a good teacher was a sure-fire indication that you would not be recommended for a tenured position!)
Christmas at Sea

In which the magic of Photoshop is applied to Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World to yield a Christmas special...

In the same spirit, Steampunk Girl brings us a holiday card from Captain Aubrey and his crew.
The Quiet Universe

You look out at the stars and galaxies with your backyard telescope and you ponder how peaceful the universe is. It's easy to overlook test runs of planet-destroying weapons or bad driving on the galactic scale.
Watch the Skies!

A recently discovered asteroid has a 1 in 75 chance of hitting Mars on January 30, 2008. Aside from any photo-op interest, there are a couple of interesting things that could come out of a actual strike. The flash could be examined by orbiting telescopes. It would be interesting to see what an impact would do to Mars, in terms of any climate change. And, the resulting crater might be a interesting place for a future probe to explore (almost like having a drill go into the planet).

The Astronomy Picture of the Day site has chosen their best astronomical pictures for the year 2007.
I'm Green!

So, according to this, my obsession with collecting books and games is actually good for the environment.

Like I needed an excuse...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Vorpal Blade

Vorpal Blade; John Ringo and Travis S. Taylor (Baen Books, 2007, ISBN 978-1-4165-2129-7, cover by Kurt Miller).


`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
He chortled in his joy.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Vorpal Blade is a follow-up to Into the Looking Glass (reviewed here, follow the links for humorous excerpts). Some of the previous characters return, and we're introduced to many new characters, most of which are "Tuckerized" from science fiction fans, especially fans of Baen Books.

Did I enjoy it? Sure! What's not to like? Flying submarines! Flying hamsters (on flying surf boards and space dragons). Giant monsters. Space drives. Quantum physics!

Seriously, this is a good old-fashioned space opera. I happen to like space opera. You may not. I enjoyed this book so much that I read it twice this year, first as the eARC, second in hardcover (and I bought it a third time, as an eBook). Ringo and Taylor interject a lot of good military details, a plot that rocks and rolls, and even make quantum

The third book in the series, Manxome Foe will be out early next year. Then...The Claws That Catch. After that? More, I hope.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Non-Science of BSG

I have friends that will do this sort of thing for any show. Or book series. It's a game we all play.

Addendum: More nerdness!

"The lunatic, on the other hand, doesn't concern himself at all with logic; he works by short circuits. For him, everything proves everything else. The lunatic is all idée fixe, and whatever he comes across confirms his lunacy. You can tell him by the liberties he takes with common sense, by his flashes of inspiration, and by the fact that sooner or later he brings up the Templars."


"There are lunatics who don't bring up the Templars, but those who do are the most insidious. At first they seem normal, but all of a sudden..."

(Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum)
Process Diagrams

More flowcharts than you can shake a stick at. What would Richard Feynman do? Dog eating. The end times (expand to read the tiny bits). Bacon! Science fiction double feature.
"Twas the Night Before Chitlasha"

Twas the Night before Chitlasha and all through the clan
Not a person was stirring, neither Pe Choi nor Man.
The slaves were all locked in their stables with care
For I didn't wish any more trouble down there.

The children were nestled all snug on their mats,
With nightmares of Ssuganar tormenting the brats.
And I hung the meshqu "Don't disturb, I relax",
While my wives settled down for a night on their backs.

When out in the courtyard there arose such a clatter
I sprang to my feet to see what was the matter.
Leaping over Third Wife, cross the room did I dash
Threw open the shutters and saw a great flash.

The moons on the breasts of the demon Quyo
Gave a red-and-green luster to her statue below,
When what to my wondering eyes should appear
But a shining blue oval that filled me with fear.

Then out leapt a creature with a nose glowing red
And I feared in a moment I soon would be dead.
More rapid than Hlaka these monsters they came
As one 'round the back called out their true names;

To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

As leaves which before a wild hurricane fly
When they meet with an obstacle mount to the sky
So up to the rooftop the first creature flew
With eight more behind it, and a palanquin too.

And then in a twinkling I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each demon-hoof.
As I entered the room and was looking around
Down the chimney a humanoid came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
From the brick fireplace that appeared at his back
He withdrew an enormous red tarpaulin sack

His eyes, how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a berry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow
And my wives and I feared there was nowhere to go.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke seemed to come from burning a leaf.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
Which shook when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, like a demonic peasant,
And the smile I gave him was carefully pleasant.
But the wink of his eye and the twist of his head
Seemed like a spell-gesture, and filled me with dread.

He spoke not a word for the spell he would work
And had just turned around when he stopped with a jerk.
A finger was laid to one side of his nose
When he started to glow a bright shade of rose.

Third Wife's Ruby Eye also captured the sleigh
You can see them in Bey Su where they're on display.
A priest closed the nexus with a ritual spell
But I left the brick fireplace. Why not? It works well.

I rewarded Third Wife with thesun and gold
And named her First Wife though just sixteen years old.
Therefore she exclaimed during our evening rites

©1995 Bob Alberti, Jr. with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore, M. A.
R. Barker, Santa Claus, and most of Western Civilization.

(For some background information, start here. I'd also recommend this site and this site ('ware humor!)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

How Long Is Your...

...collection of Philip K. Dick books? (What did you think I was going to ask?) Total Dick-Head, home of all Things PKD, takes a look at a few collections, including his own.

I can't claim to have anything Now if you were to ask "How long is your Heinlein?" or "How long is your Clarke?" or "How long is your Anderson?", etc., I might have these folks beat.

Friday, December 14, 2007

O.K., Next Year...

There's a new book a coming in the Revelation Space series from Alastair Reynolds. I think next year will be time for a re-reading of the series. Bring on the Pattern Jugglers!
Kitchen Nightmares

I don't watch many food-related shows on television (I don't watch much television, period, but that's the subject of another posting). I think Top Chef is pretty silly (there is so little difference between this and Project Runway that I keep waiting for the crossover show): it appears that the contestants are chosen for egos rather than the reality of the kitchen. And what is so dang hard about pastry courses, anyway?

Most of my culinary viewing is Alton Brown, either through his show Good Eats or the occasional seasonal mini-series, Feasting on Asphalt. Most cooking shows have the host mumbling at you and going through the motions of food preparation. Brown tells you the science behind the cooking, and does it with a lot of humor as well. Good stuff! Asphalt's two seasons were road trips, featuring road food. In the first, he traveled across the US via Route 66. In the second, he traveled along the Mississippi, from south to north. Lots of great looking food in both seasons!

One show that has caught my attention is Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, seen (by me) on BBC America. Each episode, Gordon Ramsay tries to turn a failing restaurant around. I am utterly amazed at the trainwrecks that have managed to stay in business long enough to these saving throws.

I'll have to be careful. I may end up getting a digital video recorder just to make sure I don't miss any episodes!

Addendum: January 1, 2009: BBC America has been showing newer episodes...restaurants in America. The show has degraded significantly in quality due to some format changes. Lose the music, for one. Lose the "true confession" interviews. Keep the same format that the show originally had, it isn't an American reality show, it's a gritty British documentary show. Sigh.
Man Conquers Space

NASA Watch points us towards a very tiny taste of this production. It is inspired by the so-called Collier Space Program of the 1950's.
Birthday Greetings

Sir Arthur C. Clarke has released (a little early) his birthday greetings.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Golden Acorn

Vaguely inspired by some of the posters I've seen for The Golden Compass, and vaguely inspired by this posting...I feel compelled to point towards this: squirrel-armor, anybody?

Why stop there? This site has a whole bunch of...stuff.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Work Station

How would you like to have to deal with this much information at once?

I'd be willing to bet this is partly for show. Most of the screens probably only track a single stock, so this is more a "time saving device" so you don't need to flip between windows on a single screen. I'm willing to bet that there are studies out there that show how much information you can handle under stress...too many active windows would probably mean indecision rather than decisive action.

(And yes, this came out of some work-related research. So I can post while I'm at work!)
An "Embuggerance"

Terry Pratchett has announced that he has early-onset Alzheimer's.
Gimme Shelter

On the approach to New York City you can see stacks of empty cargo containers. Stacks and stacks and stacks. It is still cheaper to build a new one in the originating country than it is to ship back an empty from the US.

What to do with all of these things? Here's a site with some interesting solutions. Need more space? A vacation home? A hidey hole?

Addendum (January 8, 2009): More fun things to do with cargo containers: Homes and offices. Refurbished and stacked or un-refurbished and stacked. Some details on refurbishing.
SpaceX Update

After way too long a time, Elon Musk updates the SpaceX site with a writeup on progress, some nifty pictures and even embedded movies. Hey, look! They're building a rocket!

Is the Falcon IX going to beat the Ares I into space?
Ayn Rand, Christmas and More

Thanks to the extensive comments in the John Scalzi posting about the "fading" of Robert A. Heinlein, I've discovered two giggle-laden previous postings on his site about Ayn Rand and Christmas. Step away from your keyboard if you are ingesting liquids while reading.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

An Important Discovery?

One of our martian probes (the rover that won't quit) Spirit has found a patch of nearly pure silica on Mars. This could be a sign that that either a hot-spring environment or an environment called a fumarole, in which acidic steam rises through cracks.

Why is this important? Well, on Earth (the main source for our database) such environments teem with microbial life. Could we have found a prime target for the planned Mars Science Laboratory or a later mission?

Sounds like a big deal to me. NASA Watch wonders why NASA hasn't given this more attention. I wonder the same thing, the only notice I found was in a non-US media outlet.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Heinlein's Ghost

An article implies that Robert A. Heinlein's influence is declining. The evidence? That the literati don't take him seriously anymore. Is being compared to Heinlein a help or hindrance to a new science fiction writer? One such writer speaks up (and to be honest, the main reason I picked up John Scalzi's books was because of the comparison to Heinlein!)

Looks like it is time to trot out this 1980 essay by Spider Robinson again!

Addendum (December 12, 2007): I suggest a visit back to the posting at John Scalzi's site. Lots of interesting discussion going on there! Some forgotten and faded author Heinlein is!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Mapping the Horror

A virtual map of locations mentioned in the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Roll for SAN...

Oh boy! New Call of Cthulhu mugs! Tell me, have you seen the Yellow Sign?

Balefires; David Drake (Night Shade Books, 2007, ISBN 978-1-59780-071-6, cover by Richard Pellegrino).

It wasn't until this year that I discovered that David Drake wrote more than stories about future armored combat. Most of my reading experience had been with his Hammer's Slammers series. This year, in a combination of second-hand book purchases and new book purchases, I've added a significant number of Drake titles that also deal with fantasy, humor, horror, space opera and more.

Balefires mostly runs in the horror vein. There is some humor, there is some war, there is some fantasy...but the strongest underlying thread is horror. Whether you sell your soul to the Devil, open that burial mound that your father once whooped your hide over, encounter European-style monster on a Asian battlefield, or toy with Lovecraftian'll find all that and more here.

Several of these stories (as I've noted below), I've encountered this year in another collection, so while I read them again in this collection, I haven't reviewed them again.

The Red Leer: A fairly traditional horror story. You know, if your father has warned you to stay away from that old burial mound, and even beat you within an inch of your life to emphasize the point...maybe you should listen to him!

A Land of Romance: A story written for a tribute anthology dedicated to L. Sprague de Camp. The most humorous entry in the collection. I'll have to hunt down the themed anthology it appeared in.

Smokie Joe: A deal-with-the-Devil tale with a touch of sex in it. Drake's description of the originally intended vehicle is hilarious. The Devil and the gangsters.

Awakening: Originally written by Drake while he was serving in Vietnam. Inspired by the columns that used to run in Astounding Science Fiction derived from the works of Charles Fort.

Denkirch: Probably the most "Lovecraftian" story in the collection, not only in terms of plot, but in terms of the style used so often by H.P. Lovecraft in stories such as The Call of Cthulhu and At the Mountains of Madness, among others. As much as I like Lovecraft's tales, I'm glad that Drake developed his own distinct style.

The False Prophet, Black Iron, The Shortest Way: Three stories set in the time when the Roman Empire was on the decline and featuring the same two characters (Vettius, a soldier and Dama, a merchant). Each has a very good introduction by Drake on how much Latin and ancient history (especially that of Rome) has played a part in his life. The tales are a good mix of solid historical research and elements of the fantastic. The first could be a science fiction tale (or a fantasy tale, the reader can decide). The second is more traditional fantasy. The third is more horror, of a Lovecraftian bent.

Lord of the Depths: Drake says this was inspired by Robert E. Howard; I detect a bit of Ray Harryhausen as well. Another early tale, marred by a bit of discontinuity in the plot. I'll never look at seafood the same way again...

Children of the Forest: What if Hansel and Gretel met up with some trolls instead of a wicked witch? A long entry in the anthology, well characterized and plotted.

The Barrow Troll: Where do new trolls come from? Drake puts forth one (very believable) theory.

Than Curse the Darkness: Another Lovecraftian pastiche, but a very, very good one.

The Song of the Bone: A good fantasy tale, something along the line of Poul Anderson's love of "the Northern thing". Some humor injected here, of the blackest kind.

The Master of Demons: Historically-based fantasy, with some Lovecraftian overtones injected. A small effort, but very nice in its execution. Again, some black humor, with a twist that will make you chuckle.

The Elf House: A short story set in Drake's major fantasy series (The Lord of the Isles), featuring the character Cashel or-Kenset. The style and feel reminded me of some of the works in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series of books or even of the BAF-inspired works of James Stoddard. Good stuff; I'm going to have to start reading this series by Drake (as my wallet cringes, once again).

The Hunting Ground: A horror/science fiction story. While Drake does not talk about any influence of H.P. Lovecraft in this tale, it reminded me of some sessions that I've run for the Chaosium Games' Call of Cthulhu SF-RPG.

The Automatic Rifleman: Inspired by a similarly-named tale by Fritz Leiber. Think there was only one shooter at the assassination of Kennedy (either one) or King or so many others? A "haunted" weapon works to change the future, using people as tools.

Blood Debt: A fantasy tale (occult tale, if you prefer) that takes place in our world. There's not much in the plot, but Drake does some excellent descriptive work here.

Men Like Us: A tale set in the US after an atomic holocaust. Much more fantasy than science fiction, due to some characteristics of the main characters. Not sure (like Jim Baen) if I agree with some of the sentiments in the tale.

A Working Biography of David Drake's Writing: Can also be found online at Drake's site, where it is a living document (updated on a regular basis).

Final thoughts? A good collection from several points. It shows Drake's evolution as a writer. It is a good mix of horror, SF and fantasy. It certainly gives pointers to several additional books to pick up! (As a result of reading this, I've ordered about eight more books by Drake.) Highly recommended, even if you have only a peripheral interest in fantasy/horror. Better grab a paper copy now, the supply is dwindling fast at NightShadeBooks.

Made up of: The Red Leer; A Land of Romance; Smokie Joe; Awakening; Denkirch; The False Prophet; Black Iron; The Shortest Way; Lord of the Depths; Children of the Forest; The Barrow Troll; Than Curse the Darkness; The Song of the Bone; The Master of Demons; The Dancer in the Flames (not reviewed); Firefight (not reviewed); Best of Luck (not reviewed); ARCLight (not reviewed); Something Had to be Done (not reviewed); The Elf House; The Hunting Ground; The Automatic Rifleman; Blood Debt; Men Like Us; A Working Biography of David Drake's Writing.

Each story is preceded by a short introduction. These introductions, while short, contain some interesting autobiographical bits or bits on Drake's writing process; so even if you've read all the stories before, the book is worth picking up for these plus the biography that is at the end.

The following stories were read previously: The Dancer in the Flames, ARCLight, Firefight, Best of Luck, Something Had to be Done.

Only the introductions to those stories are counted new in the short story count for the year. Reviews of those stories can be found here.

Twenty-two (22) entries in the 2007 Year in Shorts.

Counts as twenty-two (22) entries in the 2008 Year in Shorts.