Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Good Book

"A big leather-bound volume makes an ideal razorstrap. A thin book is useful to stick under a table with a broken caster to steady it. A large, flat atlas can be used to cover a window with a broken pane. And a thick, old-fashioned heavy book with a clasp is the finest thing in the world to throw at a noisy cat."

(Mark Twain)

Dr. Peter Venkman: This city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.

Mayor: What do you mean, "biblical"?

Dr Ray Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath-of-God type stuff.

Dr. Peter Venkman: Exactly.

Dr Ray Stantz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies. Rivers and seas boiling.

Dr. Egon Spengler: Forty years of darkness. Earthquakes, volcanoes...

Winston Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave.

Dr. Peter Venkman: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together—mass hysteria.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Its Origin and Purpose Are Still a Mystery

How to Get Into Manga. I'm still trying to figure out how to get into comi—your pardon, "graphic novels". And I'll note that I've noticed more shrinkage at the local big box in exchange for graphic novels and manga.

Overall, I think I'd rather collect this stuff.
Best Horrors

Time lists their choices of the best 25 horror films. A pretty good list, if somewhat top-heavy in the newer gore-splattered films. They miss my favorite, the original filmed version of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, known only as The Haunting.

I'm talking about the original one here. Black-and-white. Almost no special effects, unless you count some nice camera angles and such. No blood. No gore. No visible monsters. Nothing that litters today's horror films.

But I dare you to watch this movie. At night. Alone. In a storm. I dare you. I double-dog-dare you!

Just don't bother with the utterly insipid remake. Please.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Space Opera, Miles and Me

Lois McMaster Bujold has posted an essay about the relationship between one of her most popular characters (Miles Vorkosigan) and the much-maligned science fiction sub-genre of space opera.

In one of those strange but true moments, I started re-reading (for the first time in a long time) Shards of Honor. Whether this leads to a re-reading of the rest of the series, we shall see.

Free read! Baen Books has the short work The Mountains of Mourning available to be read online or in multiple download formats. (Baen Books has the complete series in print, or coming back into print, including the previously scarce tale Winterfair Gifts.)

Addendum (November 8, 2007): Another Bujold interview makes an appearance.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Official Coffee

I look at the Airstream website now and again. Maybe when I win the lottery! Today I noticed that they have an "official coffee". Hmmm...a Kona blend. No Blue Mountain blend, though. Espresso, check!
"Greater love has no one than this..."

"...that he lay down his life for his friends."

Quite some time after it was first announced, the mainstream media, and local media, finally have picked up on the tale of Lt. Michael P. Murphy.

More can be found in the book Lone Survivor, by Navy Corpsman Lucas Luttrell.

More stories like this can be found here and here. Seems there are still a few heroes out there, beyond the drug-addled "sports heroes" that crowd the front pages.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Road to the Stars

Take a look at today's Astronomy Picture of the Day. And to think that dark skies like this once were seen everywhere. No wonder people have lost their sense of wonder (pun intended).

Friday, October 19, 2007

Strange Days Indeed

A few random bits from my morning reading.

John Scalzi comes across what might be his favorite negative review of Old Man's War.

A biopic on Philip K. Dick...not!

My favorite Brother Astronomer has a new book out!

A better way to travel (anybody read Fritz Leiber's Catch That Zeppelin?)?

Does he write science fiction? Is he a futurist? Are people in the middle-class pussies? That and much more in an interview with William Gibson!

Old and new. A blog for fans of the Moleskines. A online photo group of fans of the same. How Web 3.0.
Deep in the Heart

A Texan's view of the US. From Strange Maps, where you can see Europe after WWII, the signs of the end times, and much more!
A Little Light Reading

Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, quarum unam incolunt Belgae, aliam Aquitani, tertiam qui ipsorum lingua Celtae, nostra Galli appellantur. Hi omnes lingua, institutis, legibus inter se differunt. Gallos ab Aquitanis Garumna flumen, a Belgis Matrona et Sequana dividit. Horum omnium fortissimi sunt Belgae, propterea quod a cultu atque humanitate provinciae longissime absunt, minimeque ad eos mercatores saepe commeant atque ea quae ad effeminandos animos pertinent important, proximique sunt Germanis, qui trans Rhenum incolunt, quibuscum continenter bellum gerunt.

(Julius Caesar, The Gallic Wars. Slightly less obscure version here.)
The Big Six-Oh

I'm reading books faster than I'm posting reviews! Just hit 60 for the year-to-date. The complete list, as always, is here. Reviews to come, promise, as soon as the audit is done at the firehouse, I catch up on a couple of other firehouse projects, and (the infamous) etc.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Scanners Live in Vain!

I first ran across Cordwainer Smith in a collection I got for Christmas waaaayy back when. My parent's would buy old copies of Science Fiction Book Club editions at garage sales and yard sales and give them to me each year. One year I got The Science Fiction Hall of Fame (Volume 1), edited by Robert Silverberg. This was a collection of stories that "should have" won the Nebula Award (except for the fact that the award did not exist at that point). Just about every story is a winner, and Smith's entry, Scanners Live in Vain, was definately a tale that turned my world upside down.

Martel was angry. He did not even adjust his blood away from anger. He stamped across the room by judgment, not by sight. When he saw the table hit the floor, and could tell by the expression on Luci’s face that the table must have made a loud crash, he looked down to see if his leg was broken. It was not. Scanner to the core, he had to scan himself. The action was reflex and automatic. The inventory included his legs, abdomen, chestbox of instruments, hands, arms, face and back with the mirror.

In a few short pages, Cordwainer Smith not only paints an interesting tale, but shows a vast background. What are the Beasts? Why do people live in cities and are afraid of the Wild? How many worlds does man inhabit? Why are the Scanners both revered and scorned? What are the "Vomacts"? And more...

This being the Dark Ages, before the internet, before Google, before vast databases and exchanges of information painlessly between fans, I could not find out much more on the author. The library had nothing. Bookstores were nonexistent in the town I lived in; my sources of books were a few drugstores and magazine stores/soda fountains that also had some book racks. It wasn't until a few years later, and a different town that I had access to a bookstore. And soon after that, I came across The Best of Cordwainer Smith, with notes (and a timeline!) by one of the earliest of "Smith Scholars", J.J. Pierce. It was like a thunderbolt striking. There was a whole other universe in the background of that one story, a powerful Instrumentality of Mankind, "uplifted" animals called Underpeople, multiple ways of going through space, planets that changed people as much as people tried to change the planets, a spice more powerful than that of the Dune series, and more!

I think I read that whole book in one night.

Another book was mentioned, Norstrillia. I could not find it in the bookstore, and they even said it was out of print. Serendipity, do-dah, I came across it a few month's later in a local used bookstore (I was probably their biggest customer!). Another book read in one night. The tale of C'mell and the man (boy) who bought Earth and their strange adventures. What tales!

The timeline in The Best of Cordwainer Smith listed a number of tales and hinted at a background that went beyond the stories there. Would they ever show the light of day? The answer, eventually, was yes, with the release of Quest for Three Worlds (the tale of Casher O'Neil), The Instrumentality of Mankind (various shorts, mostly from the early part of the saga) and a short story finished by Smith's wife after his death.

I treasured the books and read them again and again. Eventually came the two beautiful editions from NESFA and, most recently, two trade paperbacks from Baen (see below for more information, including links to several of the stories in the Baen editions). With the internet and all of its resources, more information is found about Smith/Linebarger. His personal life is as fascinating as his fiction! Dabbler in "small wars", developer of psychological warfare, friend to Chinese rebels and more.

What might have been? Linebarger lost a notebook full of story ideas and background. What did we miss out on? I've also heard that outlines and fragments were taped by him. Were the tapes lost? I've heard conflicting reports. Maybe we'll learn more if a biography I've heard about, off and on, is ever finished.

Go below for some samples of this wonderful writing. Click on the links for the stories up at Baen's site. And then buy the books. Be prepared for wonders!

Think Blue, Count Two:

Space sometimes commands strange tools to its uses--the screams of a beautiful child, the laminated brain of a long-dead mouse, the heartbroken weeping of a computer. Most space offers no respite, no relay, no rescue, no repair. All dangers must be anticipated; otherwise they become mortal. And the greatest of all hazards is the risk of man himself.

The Colonel Came Back from the Nothing-at-All:

If he had come back from the stars, come back from the cold beyond the Moon, come back from all of the terrors of the Up-and-Out, come back by means unknown to any man living, come back in a form not himself and nevertheless himself, how could we expect the crude stimuli of previous human knowledge to awaken him?

The Burning of the Brain:

She looked at the ruined face of Dolores Oh, at the dreaming terror in Dolores's eyes, and she realized that Dolores had passed all limits of nightmare and had become a veritable demon of regret, a possessive ghost who sucked the vitality from her husband, who dreaded companionship, hated friendship, rejected even the most casual of acquaintances, because she feared forever and without limit that there was really nothing to herself, and feared that without Magno Taliano she would be more lost than the blackest of whirlpools in the nothing between the stars.

Only in the planoforming room did the Go-Captain know what happened. The Go-Captai, his pinlighters sitting beside him, took the ship from one compression to another, leaping hotly and frantically through space, sometimes one light-year, sometimes a hundred light-years, jump, jump, jump, jump until the ship, the light touches of the captain's mind guiding it, passed the perils of millions upon millions of worlds, came out at its appointed destination, and settled lightly as one feather resting upon others, settled into an embroidered and decorated countryside where the passengers could move as easily away from their journey as if they had done nothing more than to pass an afternoon in a pleasant old house by the side of a river.

The Rediscovery of Man; Cordwainer Smith (Dr. Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger) (NESFA Press, 1993, ISBN 0-915368-56-0. Cover by Jack Gaughan).

Norstrilia; Cordwainer Smith (Dr. Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger) (NESFA Press, 1994, ISBN 0-915368-61-7. Cover by John Berkey) (Ballantine, 1975, ISBN 0-345-24366-8. Cover by Gray Morrow) (as The Planet Buyer: Pyramid Books, 1964, no ISBN listed. Cover by John Schoenherr.).

We the Underpeople; Cordwainer Smith (Dr. Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger) (Baen Books, 2006, ISBN 978-1-4165-2095-5. Cover by Bob Eggleton).

Samples from this book here.

When the People Fell; Cordwainer Smith (Dr. Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger) (Baen Books, 2007, ISBN 978-1-4165-2146-4. Cover by Tom Kidd).

Samples from this book here.

(Note that while I have listed the books from Baen in their publication order, the first book actually has the stories from the later part of Smith's story cycle.)

The Best of Cordwainer Smith; Cordwainer Smith (Dr. Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger) (Ballantine Books, 1975, ISBN 0-345-24581-4. Cover by Darrell K. Sweet).

Quest for Three Worlds; Cordwainer Smith (Dr. Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger) (Ballantine Books, 1978, ISBN 0-345-27715-17. Cover by Michael Herring).

The Instrumentality of Mankind; Cordwainer Smith (Dr. Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger) (Ballantine Books, 1979, ISBN 0-345-27716-3. Cover by Michael Herring).

The Space Lords; Cordwainer Smith (Dr. Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger) (Pyramid Books, 1965, no ISBN listed. Cover by Jack Gaughan).

Associational: Concordance to Cordwainer Smith, Third Edition; Anthony R. Lewis (NESFA Press, 2000, ISBN 1-886778-25-6. Cover is a photograph of Dr. Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger.).

A few notes on the Higher Criticism: it is reasonable to assume that all of the stories in the canon are true in the best meaning of the term; to believe otherwise leads to nonsense. Are we to believe that Winston Chruchill, Sherlock Holmes, and George Bernard Shaw are fictional? If the reader wishes to believe that Cordwainer Smith was a Lord of the Instrumentality cast back in time to our age and who wrote of the history and fables of his past from memory then I will not argue with such a person. I behooves the careful reader to treat apparent contradictions rationally—that is, pay no attention to them. They are clearly artifacts of one of the following:

* Typographic and/or editorial errors on the part of persons known or unknown between the author and the reader.

* Minor slips in the memory of the author—quick now, which came first the War of the Spanish Succession or the War of the Austrian Succession?

Deliberate attempts on the part of the author to disguise events or people for the sake of preserving the appearance of free will. ("...the world is not yet ready..." wrote Dr. John H. Watson, and this is still true).

Where dates or comments are in contradiction, I have selected those which best serve my theories. Go thou, and do likewise."

Made up of (unique items from each subsequent item are highlighted and added to the count):

The Rediscovery of Man: Introduction (John J. Pierce); Editor's Introduction (James A. Mann). Stories in the Instrumentality of Mankind: No, No, Not Rogov!; War No. 81-Q (rewritten version); Mark Elf; The Queen of the Afternoon; Scanners Live in Vain; The Lady Who Sailed The Soul; When the People Fell; Think Two, Count Blue; The Colonel Came Back from the Nothing-at-All; The Game of Rat and Dragon; The Burning of the Brain; From Gustible's Planet; Himself in Anachron; The Crime and the Glory of Commander Suzdal; Golden the Ship Was—Oh! Oh! Oh!; The Dead Lady of Clown Town; Under Old Earth; Drunkboat; Mother Hitton's Littul Kittons; Alpha Ralpha Boulevard; The Ballad of Lost C'mell; A Planet Named Shayol; On the Gem Planet; On the Storm Planet; On the Sand Planet; Three to a Given Star; Down to a Sunless Sea. Other Stories: War No. 81-Q (original version); Western Science Is So Wonderful; Nancy; The Fife of Bodidharma; Angerhelm; The Good Friends.

Norstrilia: Counts as one novel.

We the Underpeople: Introduction (Robert Silverberg); The Dead Lady of Clown Town; Under Old Earth; Mother Hitton's Littul Kittons; Alpha Ralpha Boulevard; The Ballad of Lost C'mell; Norstrilia (published first by Baen, but actually contains later stories in the sequence).

When the People Fell: Introduction (Frederik Pohl); Instrumentality Stories: No, No, Not Rogov!; War NO. 81-Q (rewritten version); Mark Elf; The Queen of the Afternoon; Scanners Live in Vain; The Lady Who Sailed The Soul; When the People Fell; Think Blue, Count Two; The Colonel Came Back from the Nothing-at-All; The Game of Rat and Dragon; The Burning of the Brain; From Gustible's Planet; Himself in Anachron; The Crime and Glory of Commander Suzdal; Golden the Ship Was—Oh! Oh! Oh!; Drunkboat; A Planet Named Shayol; On the Gem Planet; On the Storm Planet; On the Sand Planet; Three to a Given Star; Down to a Sunless Sea. Miscellaneous Works: War No. 81-Q (original version); Western Science Is So Wonderful; Nancy; The Fife of Bodidharma; Angerhelm; The Good Friends (published second by Baen, but actually contains earlier stories in the sequence; also contains the timeline devised by John J. Pierce).

The Best of Cordwainer Smith: Introduction and Timeline (John J. Pierce); Scanners Live in Vain; The Lady Who Sailed The Soul; The Game of Rat and Dragon; The Burning of the Brain; The Crime and Glory of Commander Suzdal; Golden the Ship Was—Oh! Oh! Oh!; The Dead Lady of Clown Town; Under Old Earth; Mother Hitton's Littul Kittons; Alpha Ralpha Boulevard; The Ballad of Lost C'mell; A Planet Named Shayol.

Quest for Three Worlds: Introduction (John J. Pierce); On the Gem Planet; On the Storm Planet; On the Sand Planet; Three to a Given Star.

The Instrumentality of Mankind: Introduction (Frederik Pohl; almost, but not quite the same as the Introduction in When the People Fell); Stories from the Instrumentality of Mankind: No, No, Not Rogov!; War No. 81-Q; Mark Elf; The Queen of the Afternoon; When the People Fell; Think Blue, Count Two; The Colonel Came Back from Nothing-at-All (note title change); From Gustible's Planet; Drunkboat. Other Stories: Western Science Is So Wonderful; Nancy; The Fife of Bodidharma; Angerhelm; The Good Friends.

Space Lords: Prologue; Mother Hitton Littul Kittens; The Dead Lady of Clown Town; Drunkboat; The Ballad of Lost C'mell; A Planet Named Shayol; Epilogue.

(For more, here is a site maintained by Smith's daughter, Rosana.)

Counts as forty-three (43) entries to the 2007 Short Story Project.

Addendum (October 19, 2007): Locus Online reprints a April 2007 column doing a "retro review" of Cordwainer Smith.

Addendum (October 21, 2007): Jeff VanderMeer on Cordwainer Smith, in reaction to the Graham Sleight column.

Addendum (August 20, 2008): I've started re-reading the tales again. For 2008 (so far): 5 entries, continuing to re-read.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Honorverse Online

An online game based on the worlds of Honor Harrington? Will I finally have to get broadband?

Launch is a bit off, so in the meantime, I suggest you pick up the board game from Ad Astra. Nifty miniatures!!!

Addendum (December 30, 2008): Still no launch, so that online game is looking more and more like vaporware.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Nifty Gadgets

Ain't these nifty little gadgets? I can see buying several, because of the MilSpec cuteness factor that is built in. I can also see the TSA having hairy fishnuts when you tried to bring one on a airplane as well.

(Posted, of all places, at BoingBoing!)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Categorizing the Reader

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm

You're probably in the final stages of a Ph.D. or otherwise finding a way to make your living out of reading. You are one of the literati. Other people's grammatical mistakes make you insane.

Dedicated Reader
Book Snob
Literate Good Citizen
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

What kind of reader are you?

I'm a obsessive-compulsive bookworm! No kidding! (With thanks to ***Dave for the link.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Things We Learn

An extremely rapid technique for deconvolving single exponential luminescence decay data is described that involves essentially no mathematical manipulation of the experimental data. The method permits "real time" measurement of deconvolved luminescence lifetimes with conventional pulsed, lifetime-fluorometers and phosphorimeters. The method assumes that the true luminescence decay of the chromophore is accurately represented by a single exponential decay function.

A nomogram for deconvolution of single fluorescence decays, M.G. Rockley.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Robert Bussard

I haven't seen an official note yet, but Rand Simberg has posted that Robert Bussard has passed away. Wikipedia confirms this. He threw off ideas the way some folks shed skin. Physics will be that much the poorer for his death.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Who's Reading Them?

Clayton Collins, writing for The Christian Science Monitor takes a look at the eBook audience. Who's reading them?

(Raises hand.)

Friday, October 05, 2007

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Good Eats!

Death leaned over the saddle and looked down at the kingdoms of the world.




"What's a curry?"

The blue fires flared deep in the eyes of Death.


"No, sir," said Mort.


(Mort, Terry Pratchett.)

Addendum (October 4, 2007): Hot sauce as a weapon?

Addendum (October 12, 2007):

Jack took off his coat, covered his waistcoat and breeches with an apron, and carried the dishes into the scullery. 'My plate and saucer will serve again,' said Stephen. 'I have blown upon them. I do wish, Jack,' he cried, 'that you would leave that milk-saucepan alone. It is perfectly clean. What more sanitary, what more wholesome, than scalded milk?'

(Patrick O'Brian)
The Haunted Observatory

From the description this does not actually appear to be about October-ish subject matter such as ghosts, but the title certainly caught my eye. Another addition for Mount Toberead!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Breakfast in America

"The researches of many commentators have already thrown much darkness on this subject, and it is probable that if they continue we shall soon know nothing at all about it."

(Mark Twain, on the mystery and history of pre-Columbian voyages to the Americas.)