Wednesday, December 31, 2008

More Ghosts, More Shells

Ghost in the Shell; Shirow Masamune (Dark Horse Manga; 2004; ISBN 978-1-59307-228-5; cover by Shirow Masamune).

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: The Lost Memory; Junichi Fujisaku (DH Press; 2006; ISBN 978-1-59582-072-3; cover by Kazuto Nakazawa).

So after coming across the anime movie version of Ghost in the Shell and acquiring (and partly watching) the anime television series of the same name, I picked up three novels based on the television series as well as the original manga that inspired the movies, the television series and now the novels.

Masamune's GITS (to be fanboi-ish about it) parallels the stories that were developed into the movie as well as episodes of the show, but goes in directions that neither followed. It is also, quite frankly, a lot more adult in nature than any of the other versions. I'll have to look up other works by the artist/author.

Fujisaku wrote (according to material in the book) some of the episodes for the GITS: SAC show. Whether it is a problem with translation or the sparse nature of a story originally intended for the screen, this was a sketchy, scattered read. It might have worked better on the small screen, as a book it was a disappointment.
On the Road with The Histories

Travels With Herodotus; Ryszard Kapuscinski (Vintage; 2007; ISBN 978-1-4000-7878-3; cover by Raghu Rai).

Ryszard Kapuscinski was a Polish journalist who fell in love with one of the world's first history books, The Histories by Herodotus (good overview of the book here; electronic versions here, here and here). This collection (sometimes this feels like a group of essays strung together, sometimes it feels like an integrated work...I'm treating it as a collection, hey, it's my blog...)

The book alternates between Kapuscinski's sometime bizarre travels to China, India, Iran, Egypt and other points around the globe and his examinations of the one book that traveled most with him: The Histories. Sometimes the book illuminates his travels or vice versa; often he finds more drama and interest in the book than the places he visits. Some amusing stuff, some moving stuff, and a lot of very good stuff.

Made up of: Crossing the Border; Condemned to India; The Train Station and the Palace; Rabi Sings the Upanishads; Chairman Mao's One Hundred Flowers; Chinese Thought; Memory Along the Roadways of the World; The Happiness and Unhappiness of Croesus; The Battle's End; On the Origin of the Gods; The View from the Minaret; Armstrong's Concert; The Face of Zopyrus; The Hare; Among Dead Kings and Forgotten Gods; Honors for the Head of Histieus; At Doctor Ranke's; The Greek's Technique; Before He Is Torn Apart by Dogs and Birds; Xerxes; The Oath of Athens; Time Vanishes; The Desert and the Sea; The Anchor; Black Is Beautiful; Scenes of Passion and Prudence; Herodotus's Discovery; We Stand in Darkness Surrounded by Light.

Part of the 2008 Year in Shorts.
Easy Travel to Other Planets (An Ongoing Series)

Do Your Ears Pop in Space?; R. Mike Mullane (Wiley Books; 1997; ISBN 0-471-15404-0; cover by James Carr).

Mile Mullane was a shuttle astronaut who produced the uproariously funny autobiography, Riding Rockets. In this volume (very similar to a book produced by Skylab astronaut William Pogue), he answers a series of questions about how to train to be an astronaut, what it is like to fly the shuttle, how to eat in space, and more.

The book is somewhat dated, having been written before the Shuttle-Mir missions and the increasingly long stays on the International Space Station. And, it is somewhat more "G rated" than his autobiography (more detail can be found, for example, in that book on the testing that the space shuttle's toilets system underwent...). I bought the book as part of a vague plan to write a story or series of short stories about the relatively near future in space (still working on them!), and it gave me a lot of general information (still looking for a bunch of specific answers!).
Tales from Known Space

In addition to re-reading Poul Anderson's Technic Civilization tales, I've also started reading and re-reading the Known Space stories by Larry Niven and others. First appearing in the 1960's in a series of short stories, plus such novels as A Gift from Earth and Ringworld, Niven eventually opened up the era known as the Man-Kzin Wars to other authors.

Heck, there was even a SF roleplaying game. I've got one, and no, it isn't for sale!

At the Core: Known Space Stories by Larry Niven

Here are the stories written or (in a few cases) co-written by Niven. I've read all but a few of the Ringworld and the most recent collaborative efforts prior to this (starting when I first discovered them in the early 1970's).

Larry Niven; Tale of Known Space: The Universe of Larry Niven (Ballantine Books; 1975; ISBN 345-24563-6-150; cover by Rick Sternbach).

Short stories spanning the earliest days of Niven's saga (when humanity was within one solar system) to beyond the time of the Ringworld stories. You can see how the series just grew, instead of working from a plan (the story The Ethics of Madness in the collection Neutron Star, for example, does not really fit comfortably into the "canon").

My fondest memories of this collection come, however, not from the stories, but from the Sternbach cover. Around the time that this volume first came out I had discovered Niven (through short stories) and descended upon it with cries of joy when I saw how the series fit together. The entries in the series came out in a somewhat unified edition from Ballantine (later Del Rey), many of them with covers by Sternbach. During that time an exhibit of his work (mostly from Niven's work, but also some other science fiction, a cover for The Mote in God's Eye and some work for a non-fiction book) was touring and I found it at the Hayden Planetarium. It was there that you could appreciate the detail in what you only see as a mere approximation. In addition to a stunning depiction of our galaxy, and a map showing the various stars of Known Space, Sternbach sneaks in micro-sized versions of several of his covers for other Known Space works (such as Neutron Star and Ringworld). Amazing stuff!

Made up of: Introduction: My Universe and Welcome to It!; The Coldest Place; Becalmed in Hell; Wait It Out; Eye of an Octopus; How the Heroes Die; The Jigsaw Man; At the Bottom of a Hole; Intent to Deceive; Cloak of Anarchy; The Warriors; The Borderland of Sol; There is a Tide; Safe at Any Speed; Afterthoughts; Bibliography: The Worlds of Larry Niven; About the Cover (Rick Sternbach).

Counts as 10 entries in the 2009 Year in Shorts.

Man-Kzin: Known Space Stories by Larry Niven and Diverse Hands

These stories have been appearing since the early 1990's in a line from Baen Books. Volume XII will be published soon. There have also been a number of omnibus books (collecting fragments published in separate anthologies) and original novels.

Inconstant Star; Poul Anderson (Baen Books; 1991; ISBN 0-671-72031-7; cover by Larry Elmore).

This entry by the late Poul Anderson is one of the better stories not written by Niven. Anderson's lyrical writing plus his use of interesting astronomical facts plus Niven's universe make a nice mix. The book is an omnibus of two separately published but linked tales, Iron and Inconstant Star.

Running count for the overall reading project:

Counts as two entries in the 2008 Year in Shorts.
Watch the Skies

Star Trails: 50 Favorite Columns from Sky & Telescope; David Levy (Sky Publishing; 2007; ISBN 978-1-931559-46-1; cover by Shaun Lowe).

A collection of columns by comet-hunter (and popular science writer) David Levy. A Starlight Light put me on the trail for the work by variable star observer Leslie C. Peltier, which has become my favorite work on astronomy (and the life of the observer). The Last Hour and A Sunrise Total Eclipse are two nice columns on the joy of observing. Tsutomu Seki and the Great Comet of 1965 recalled memories of seeing that comet myself.

Since these are columns as they appeared in the magazine, there is a certain amount of repetition that could have been taken out if they had been changed for the book. However, Levy is a good writer (I especially recommend some of his observing guides and his biographies, especially the one for Clyde Tombaugh).

Made up of: Preface; Starting Over; Accidents at the Telescope; The Third Star; Cole of Spyglass Mountain; A Starlight Night; Telescopes for Telethon; A Marriage of Science and Art; The Last Hour; The New Age of CCD Observing; In the Footsteps of Giants; Don't Let It Get to You; Earth Strikes Back; Uncaged Spirit; A Toast to Friends, Present and Absent; Something Old, Something New; Four Decades of Stellafane; The Man on the Moon; An Observer for All Seasons; Letter to My Granddaughter; Skyward Bound; Arthur C. Clarke's Vision of the Cosmos; The Street-Corner Astronomer; The Comet Master; Tsutomu Seki and the Great Comet of 1965; The Real Unified Theory; A Central American Heaven; Crescent City Astronomers; A Peak Experience; Miracle at Birr Castle; Observing Earth; A Voyage to Remember; Two on a Tower; Tombaugh's Star; Tombaugh's Telescopes; My First Telescope; A Sonnet for Columbia's Seven; Adventures with Mr. Schmidt's Telescopes; Further Adventures with Mr. Schmidt's Telescopes; A Sunrise Total Eclipse; Meteor Nights; A Perfect Storm; Red Lights in the Sky; A Tale of Two Eclipses; A Not-So-Transitory Success; Seeing Einstein's Gravity Lens; In Praise of Penumbral Eclipses; A Ringside Seat; My First Meteor; What is a Planet?

Counts as fifty-one entries in the 2008 Year in Shorts.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Oh, There He Is...

Wil McCarthy produced a bunch of really neat science fiction books...but then seemed to vanish. Well, not quite totally. Seems he has a day job that is taking up all his time, working on changing some of his ideas into reality.
The Cat is Out of the Bag

Psion, which owns the trademark word Netbook suddenly finds it has lost control of its "intellectual property". Or something. Now, if they actually produced a product with that name...

Somebody give them a box of kleenex.
A Blog for Everything

One more bit of proof that there's a blog out there covering every subject. Even furniture stores.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Night Before Yuletide

'Twas the night the stars were right, when all through the house,
Not a creature was unterrified, not even a mouse
The Elder Signs were hung by the chimney with care
In hopes that Great Cthulhu would not find his way there

The family were hiding, all under their beds
while visions of insanity danced in their heads
And mama in her kerchief, and I in my cap
prayed Great Cthulhu wouldn't wake from his nap

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter
I sprang from under the bed to see what was the matter
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Threw open the shutters and tore down the sash

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
Gave a lusture of mid-day to abominations below
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a Squid-God whose visage inspired dread fear

With tentacles many and bearing bloodstain,
I knew in a moment he'd drive me insane
More rapid than eagles, his minions they came
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name

"On Hastur, on Nyarlathotep, on Deep Ones and Mi-Go
"On Fungi from Yuggoth, Yog Sothoth, let's go!
"To the top of the porch, to the top of the wall
"Now slash away, slash away, slash away all!"

As dry leaves that during strange aeons do fly
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky
So to the top of our house the minions they flew
With eyes full of death and Great Cthulhu too

And then in a twinkling I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of Shub-Niggurath's hoof
As I drew back in terror and was turning around,
Down the chimney Cthulhu came with a bound

He was green and tentacle'd from his head to his foot
He looked angry to be tarnished by ashes and soot
A sack filled with gore he had flung on his back
And he looked all prepared to launch an attack

His eyes - how they burned His damp chill - how scary
His breath smelled like carrion - his minions were hairy
His tentacle'd mouth was drawn up like a bow
The sudden streak in my hair was as white as the snow

The flaming limb of my neighbor Carl he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke encircled his head like a wreath
He was green and immense like some great, twisted elf
And I shook when I saw him in spite of myself

The look in those eyes which burned in his head,
Soon gave me to know I had much to dread
He spoke not a word but went straight to his work
Then caught sight of my Elder Signs and turned with a jerk

Staring at them with hate, his minions they froze,
Then giving me the finger, up the chimney they rose
He took to the sky, to his team gave a whistle
and away they all flew like the down of a thistle
But I heard him exclaim, over my own screams of fright
"I'll be back for you soon...when the stars are right!"
Tele Presence

A two-part article on driving the Mars rovers.
"...with a compass in the stock..."

Santa's pack, 1947 style.
New Laser

The...quantum cascade laser!
"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!)
Rewriting History

Galileo was a man of faith. Who knew?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Blame Game

The publishing industry is dying. Blame second-hand stores! Blame the internet! Blame the chains!

Blame everybody but yourselves.
Two Great Tastes That Go Well Together

Star Wars. Steampunk. Mix well.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008

It Can't Be As Bad As...

...Santa Claus Conquers the Martians! A look at a Rankin-Bass/L. Frank Baum collision.

More on the original. More on the movie.
Paper Falcon

A papercraft model of one of my favorite spacecraft.

Sci-Fi-O-Rama points us towards the Aliens Archive, home of lots of xenomorph goodness.
Lost Dog

More suggestions on why the ill-fated Beagle-2 never made it to Mars. Colin Pillinger remains unconvinced.
Dashing to Mordor

Frodo Got Run Over By A Ringwraith
Coming home from Gondor, Christmas Eve
You can say there's no such thing as Sauron
But as for me and Gandalf, we believe

He'd been given Sauron's One Ring
And he had his friends a wizard and elf
He had led them into danger
So he went on to Mordor by himself

When we found him Christmas morning
At the scene of the attack
We found the Ruling Ring was missing
And Morgul blade stab wounds on his back

Frodo got run over by a Ringwraith
Coming home from Gondor, Christmas Eve
You can say there's no such thing as Sauron
But as for me and Gandalf, we believe

Now we're all so proud of Gandalf
He's been fighting the good fight
Killing Orcs and Trolls and Balrogs
But he's smoking too much pipe weed late at night

The days are getting darker
Sauron's troops are coming strong
We're all trying to overcome them
But we know that we can't keep fighting for long

Frodo got run over by a Ringwraith
Coming home from Gondor, Christmas Eve
You can say there's no such thing as Sauron
But as for me and Gandalf, we believe
Now the Dark Lord's power's growing

And we see the darkness rise
We're gonna miss seeing the blue sky
Cause it reminds us all of Frodo's eyes
All Middle Earth is running

Gandalf shouted "Save yourselves!
"We can escape Sauron's power
"If we sail to Valinor with all the Elves!"

Frodo got run over by a Ringwraith
Coming home from Gondor, Christmas Eve
You can say there's no such thing as Sauron
But as for me and Gandalf, we believe

Images of orbiting exoplanets. Images, mind you. MESSENGER visits Mercury (still a bit before it orbits). Images of Venus. Jets on Enceladus.

Just a few of the nifty things we did in space this past year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Organizing the Unorganized

Evolving from the Hipster PDA...a "hacked" notebook becomes the mind.Depositor customer productivity notebook!
Paging Charles Stross

Virtual theft is here.
The Electric Slide

Via BoingBoing and several e-mails, The Oak Ridge Associated Universities Health Physics Historical Instrumentation Collection presents the Nuclear Slide Rule collection! Just in time for your contribution to any of the forthcoming "atompunk" anthologies...
Top View

A shot of space shuttle Endeavour being carried back to "the Cape" on a 747.

He gave in. 'What books, Chiara?'

'The ones Mamma gave me, in English, about the English sea captain and his friend and the war against Napoleon.'

Ah, those books. He took another sip of his wine. 'And do you like them as much as Mamma does?'

'Oh,' Chiara said, looking up at him with a serious expression, 'I don't think anyone could like them as much as she does.'

Four years ago, Brunetti had been abandoned by his wife of almost twenty years for a period of more than a month while she systematically read her way through, at his count, eighteen sea novels dealing with the unending years of war between the British and the French. The time had seemed no less long to him, for it was a time when he, too, ate hasty meals, half-cooked meat, dry bread, and was often driven to seek relief in excessive quantities of grog. Because she seemed to have no other interest, he had taken a look at one of the books, if only to have something to talk about at their thrown-together meals. But he had found it discursive, filled with strange facts and stranger animals, and had abandoned the attempt after only a few pages and before making the acquaintance of Captain Aubrey. Fortunately, Paola was a fast reader, and she had returned to the twentieth century after finishing the last one, apparently none the worse for the shipwreck, battle, and scurvy that had menaced her during those weeks.

(Donna Leon, Friends in High Places)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Big Purge

One of the projects that I'm tackling during my time off is...the basement. It's been a mess for a while. Between the Great Flood of 2003, storing my in-laws stuff there, storing my parent's stuff there, moving things back and has gotten out of hand.

So it is time to sweep, sort and toss. Among the potential tossing will be a lot of books and games and such.

Let's face it: my book collection is somewhere around 8,000 (I kid you not) volumes. Am I ever going to re-read them? As my daughter says lately, "No way, Jose!" It's time to weed out books that do not make the cut in terms of quality, books that I'm no longer interested in, books that are duplicated (either as other paperbacks or as hardcovers), etc. Most will be given away to friends and family...only the real stinkers will go to the recycling pile.

Games? I've got the very earliest incarnations of RuneQuest, early editions of Traveller, Call of Cthulhu, Empire of the Petal Throne and piles upon piles of wargames. If I retired tomorrow, I might keep them all, but, again if I look at it realistically...something has to give. Maybe I can sell them on eBay (advice sought!).

Time to bring order out of chaos. If I clean up and sort and toss, I'll be more likely to enjoy the remainders. And maybe (if my hands can take it), I can start to get involved in some figure painting or model building and painting again. Heck, figure painting might be something my daughter and I can do. Hmmmm...father and daughter Warhammer 40,000?
A Question of Slush

One thing I haven't decided on in the big to count the "slush" I've read this year? I volunteer as a slush reader for a publisher of fantasy and science fiction. There are a number of us, and we make a generally futile attempt to beat the slush pile into submission.

Let me tell you think you've read a stinker of a published book? You ain't seen nothing yet! You can't imagine some of the prose I've tried working my way through this year.

There have been some good ones; I haven't recommended that every book in the pile be rejected. But, my oh my, oh dinosaurs. What the bard has spewed...
Bussard's Legacy?

Will Robert Bussard's low-cost approach to fusion beat out the big guy?

Addendum (January 8, 2009): The Navy is testing one...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Halfway Point

So where does the reading stand? I'm at 89 books and 681 short works, here at the "halfway point".

Not halfway through the year. Halfway through the month.

As it turns out, I'm off for the rest of the month. I have a lot of projects lined up, but I expect to be able to do some solid reading as well. Will I beat my previous personal best in these two categories? That would be 122 books in 2004 and 543 short works in the same year.

Short works...check. Long works...going to be tougher! Stay tuned!
Ouch: Captain Klaatu and the Planeteers?

It seems that Gary Westfahl (Locus) was not much impressed with the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Why, Oh Lord, Why?

Is there no original thought in Hollywood? Just what we need (after what I've been hearing on the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still) a whole bunch of remakes!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

How Big?

A look at the size of the ISS vs. other (imagined) structures. I've seen variations of this chart on several sites now.
Fred's Reading Report (November 2008)

What? December already? Things got a little hectic there, between working on Odyssey of the Mind, my mother-in-law being in the hospital, my daughter having her making the monthly report slipped my mind!

So where do I stand? With short works, 607. Can I make it to 730, the equivalent of two short works a day for the year? Doubtful, but what the heck!

In the longer form, 82 books completed. Probably another 82 being read. Do I suffer from short-attention span theatre or what (I prefer to think of myself as being able to massively multi-task!)?

I continue to expand ways and means of reading. I've continued, as I talked about last month, to read books on a electronic reader. And, I continue to listen to audiobooks during my commute. This past month I used this to finish up The Surgeon's Mate by Patrick O'Brian. I then started listening to The Ionian Mission by Patrick O'Brian and have added the audbiobook versions of the Lt. Leary series by David Drake to my iPod. Currently, I'm more than halfway through With the Lightnings.

Four more weeks, more or less. Almost two will be vacation (in theory). Where will I end up?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Another Sign of the End Times

Ansible Issue 257 is now available!

Lisa Shaw of Century Radio Northeast: "In which book is Room 101 a place to be feared?" Caller: "101 Dalmatians." [PE]
The Space Review

The current issue of The Space Review has a couple of articles of interest. John C. Mankins follows up on Alan Stern's recent editorial about cost overruns. Multiple authors look at the future of Canada in space. Is there any hope for reform on export control? Taylor Dinerman looks at the ESA...the odd man out.
In Case You Were Curious

Odd facts about space travel. Yes, apparently people do think, plan and consider all sorts of things a "normal person" would overlook.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Foundation: The Movie?

So there's another attempt to make Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy into a movie afoot? As well as his The End of Eternity?

I don't think it will work. Last time I read them, I really noticed how much of the "action" is just two character's talking.

And...previous attempts have been bad from the get-go. For example, an attempt to turn the trilogy into two films (similar to what the initial attempt by Peter Jackson for The Lord of the Rings was). And the attempt to use the "creative team" behind that horrific version of Asimov's I, Robot. Blech!

Addendum (January 18, 2009): More details and opinion. "A Seldon Crisis of epic proporations in the making"! And here's a good look at the plot...and how much it has been mined by other "franchises"!

Straight-up chess, or chess played on a wall! I wonder how the match is going between the crew of the International Space Station and ground control and others?

And...has the internet killed "postal chess" or has it just all gone online?
Shock Wave!

The Bad Astronomer talks about the bow shock around Betelgeuse (I have to pick up his new book, Death from the Skies!. Any book that uses an exclamation point in the title...)

To give this a SF twist, look up Gregory Benford's short story Bow Shock, which appeared in the first issue of Jim Baen's Universe. Why this story did not win a Hugo or a Nebula, I'll never know.

From direct images of exo-planets to stuff like this, it's amazing how astronomy keeps coming up with stuff that...well, amazes! "What a fascinating modern age we live in", as Captain J. Aubrey put it.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Put Tobias Buckell on the Map

Tobias Buckell is in the hospital. Again. For a heart-related condition. Again. Good gravy!

John Scalzi has a brilliant suggestion. Let's all make him feel better by buying his new novel. Heck, it's apparently already #1 in SF at Amazon, let's see if we can blip it up to the main list!
Missed All But One

The New York Times has published a list of what they consider the 100 Notable Books of 2008. Despite having read 82 books (to date) and 602 short works (to date), I've managed only to purchase (and not yet read!) one book out of their 100.

Am I disconnected...or are they?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ten Years On

The International Space Station turns ten. Imagine what we could have done if we had the "will", given it better funding and the like.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My Jaw Has Dropped

At the urging of some friends, I went (with great trepidition) to the store to purchase some...anime.

O.K., O.K., so I've had RoboTech for years. I own Planetes. But the first was something that hooked me years ago, when it was shown locally (WPIX, Channel 11, out of New York), one episode a day, five days a week. I worked a few miles away from our then apartment and was able to get home and watch it while cooking supper. Along with Star Blazers, they were a lot of fun, but...

Primitive. Limited animation, limited story, limited characters.

A friend recommended Planetes, and I picked it up as I was interested in the subject matter: near-future space exploitation (not exploration, actually using space). Characters had pasts, "issues', were gritty, smoked cigarettes, drank and got drunk, bitched and moaned, fell in and out of love, died...Interesting stuff.

Beyond that, it was a confusing morass. What anime was good? What was bad? Which version to buy (each seems to exist in multiple "complete", "remastered", "expanded", "super deluxe", etc.)? How to proceed?

Man, there are so many titles. And if you look at online reviews, proceed with caution. As a "noob", most of the "fanboi" will treat you as pond scum when you inquire.

O.K., back to the jaw dropping. One title that was recommended was Ghost in the Shell. However...confusion abounds, as there is a movie, a sequel, a third movie which is not related to the two movies, but is a sequel to the two seasons of the television show which takes up some of the elements of the manga, expands upon some, parallels others, and...

You see what I mean? Oh, my, aching, head. Several versions of the movie on DVD. Sequels that do and don't relate. Releases of the television series in boxed sets, non-boxed sets, with extras, without extras...

Somebody needs to write a comprehensive guide for noobs.

I went to the store and picked up a two-disc version of Ghost in the Shell as well as a boxed set of the television series (first season). Last night, after a multi-hour Odyssey of the Mind meeting (don't ask, long story), I put the first disc of the movie into the computer and...

The jaw dropped.

I only watched about 15 or so minutes, but what a 15 minutes. Remember that story that William Gibson relates about how he was working on Neuromancer, went to see Bladerunner and staggered out of the movie theatre, realizing that he was seeing echoes of his creation on the screen...Ever hear about how the folks behind Matrix (great first movie, should have stopped there!) pitched their product and one of the pitch items was a showing of Ghost in the Shell (GITS, from now on)? Maybe they should have just skipped making those other two Matrix flicks and done what the folks at Pixar did with movies like Spirited Away (helped to distribute it to a wider audience).

This is a cyberpunk movie, a heck of a lot closer than anything else I've seen for the genre. Obviously inspired by Bladerunner, it does what Bladerunner set out to do several levels better. It is cyberpunk on the screen, a lot "rawer" and closer to the source than anything out of Hollywood.

So I go back to the store today and look for similar stuff. Still a morass of titles and versions, not any clearer where to go next. But I did pick up a novel of the movie and a CD of music (the music is pretty dang astounding on its own).

My jaw has dropped.
Mysterious Surplus

So where are all these high-energy electrons bombarding our planet coming from?

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Politics of Planets

Harrison H. "Jack" Schmitt, the only geologist to walk on the Moon, has resigned from The Planetary Society.

Finally, becoming a deep space-faring nation again constitutes a mult-generational endeavor, particularly if Mars is in the mix. Unfortunately, the government-run, politicized K-12 school system will not currently support such an endeavor. It has totally failed several generations of young people, not just in STEM subjects but in history, language and economics. This problem has to be solved first. The people requirements for a return to the Moon should help jump start that process, although it will take a much more grassroots effort to be successful.


TPS Statement * accelerating research into global climate change through more comprehensive Earth observations

---As a geologist, I love Earth observations. But, it is ridiculous to tie this objective to a "consensus" that humans are causing global warming in when human experience, geologic data and history, and current cooling can argue otherwise. "Consensus", as many have said, merely represents the absence of definitive science. You know as well as I, the "global warming scare" is being used as a political tool to increase government control over American lives, incomes and decision making. It has no place in the Society's activities.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Before You See That Remake

For some wacky reason, Hollywood has decided to remake one of the all-time classic science fiction movies: The Day the Earth Stood Still (directed by Robert Wise). Before you trot off to see yet another accounting error from the studios, take some time and read the story that inspired the original. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.

Posted at The Library of The Nostalgia League.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Could Be A Disaster

If it comes to pass that the one name being bandied about as the next NASA Administrator is nominated and serves...we could see the end of the agency as a functional institution.

Don't believe me? Start digging around and see what disasters he headed.

Update: Lori Garver? Ah, another political hack.

Assuming that the weather holds, space shuttle Endeavour will liftoff at 7:55:39 Eastern today on a mission to the International Space Station. Should be a spectacular site, given the light conditions at the time.
Old Bottles, New Wine

One of my most treasured astronomy books is a massive NASA-published collection of pictures from the 1960's-era Lunar Orbiter series of probes. You can get a copy online, if you search, but if you want a "deadtree" edition, be prepared to get another mortgage out.

So it was pretty amazing to see that the data from these probes is still of use: it is being reprocessed to get more detail and will help out our future unmanned and (the new administration willing) manned missions to our nearest neighbor.

I really hope that they reprocess the image known as The Picture of the Century (download the 9.8MB version for a real "wow!). That is my all-time favorite.

(Some details here.)
We've Found the Dorsai!

It looks like the Hubble Space Telescope has directly imaged an extra-solar planet. Pretty good for a piece of equipment on "life support"!

Dorsai? Why, everybody knows that the Dorsai are from the Fomalhaut system!

Phil Plait, a.k.a., The Bad Astronomer, has details.

Pictures of the second extra-solar direct image here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Think Of It As Evolution In Action

Somali and Yemeni pirates learn the hard way that it is not wise to attack a vessel of Her Majesty's Navy:

By the time the Royal Marines boarded the pirates’ vessel, the enemy had lost the will to fight and surrendered quietly. The Royal Navy described the boarding as "compliant".

And...the Russians have developed invisible helicopters, apparently:

The Russians claimed a helicopter based on their own frigate Neustrashimy had also taken part in yesterday’s battle, though the Royal Navy knew nothing about it. The Royal Marine commandos who boarded the pirates' dhow were supported by a Lynx helicopter from HMS Cumberland, the MoD said.
Return to Saturn

While they were derided as being "Battlestar Galactica missions", Cassini and Galileo provided (and in the case of Cassini, still provides) returns up and beyond their original specifications. Jupiter and Saturn are almost solar systems in their own right; sending a single-purpose mission that far is almost a waste.

So it is interesting to hear about plans for future missions of this class. For example, how about dropping a hot-air balloon to explore Saturn's moon Titan?
Kitchen Chemists

An article looking at the hoops one has to jump through in order to do experiments at home. Have you looked at a kid's chemistry set recently? Trash!
Cheap Bricks Ahead?

You'll have to take my word on it, but from this article the maker of Legos has lost its exclusive right to make bricks. Cheap bags of bricks for those who make aircraft carriers ahead?
Lunar Orbit

India's Chandrayaan-1 satellite has entered lunar orbit to begin an intensive study of our natural satellite. Instruments onboard include some provided by NASA and the JPL. an alternate reality...the debate over whether or not to release information about those secret lunar UFO bases continues!
Robot Roll Call!

Mystery Science Theatre 3000 is twenty (!!!) years old.
Dust Never Sleeps

The venerable Martian rover Spirit is endangered by dust. On Mars for over 1,725 "sols", dust has cut down the rovers ability to generate power to the point where engineers need to take steps to protect the rover.

And...on another part of Mars, the Phoenix Lander first entered "safe mode" and then had its mission declared "finished" when it too lost too much power.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Fifth of November

...he had to prepare the ship, dressed all over, for the grave ritual of saluting the Fifth of November. He and the bosun had of course laid aside great quantities of bunting and streamers...

Dr Maturin, properly uniformed, was propelled up the companion-ladder to the quarterdeck as the noon observation was in progress. He was somewhat astonished first by the flood of midday light after the shaded cabin and then by the colours all about him, high, low and on every hand, a variety of reds and yellows and blues, square, oblong, triangular, swallow-tailed, chequered, strangely brilliant after the eternal blue or grey, for the ship was now dressed over all, a splendid sight under a most luminous and perfect sky....

'Make it twelve, Mr West,' said Jack, noon being reported to him, and his words were still floating in the air when eight bells struck.

But whereas they were ordinarily followed by the bosun's pipe to dinner and a wholehearted Bedlam of cries and trampling feet and thumping mess-kids, now there was a total silence, all hands looking attentively aft.

'Carry on, Mr West,' said Jack.

'Away aloft,' cried West, and the mass of the frigate's people raced up the shrouds on either side in a swift and even flow. 'Lay out, lay out,' called West, and they ran out on the yards. When the last light young fellow was right at the end of the starboard foretopgallant yardarm, holding on by the lift, Jack stepped forward and in a voice to be heard in Heaven he uttered the words 'Three cheers for the King.'

'You must pull off your hat and call out Huzzay,' whispered Pullings into Stephen's ear: the Doctor was staring about him in a very vacant manner.

Huzzay, huzzay, huzzay: the cheers pealed out like so many rolling broadsides, and after the last nothing could be heard but Sarah and Emily, beside themselves with glee, who huzzayed on and on, 'Huzzay, huzzay for Guy Fawkes', very shrill, until Jemmy Ducks suppressed them.

'Mr Smith,' said Jack, 'carry on.' And the gunner in his good black Presbyterian-elder's coat stepped forward with a red-hot poker in his hand: the salute, beginning with Jack's own brass bow-chaser, came solemnly aft on either side at exact five-second intervals, the gunner pacing from one to the other with the ritual words 'If I wasn't a gunner I wouldn't be here: fire seven." When he had reached 'fire seventeen' he turned aft and took off his hat.

Jack returned his salute and said 'Mr West, the hands may be piped to dinner.'

A last wild long-drawn cheer, and before the white clouds of smoke had rolled a cable's length to leeward the usual midday hullaballoo rose to a splendid pitch.

'By land, in the northern parts of Ireland, I have seen the fifth of November celebrated with fireworks,' observed Stephen.

'Nothing can exceed the cannon's noble roar,' said the gunner. 'Squibs and burning tar-barrels, even sky-rockets at half a crown apiece, is mere frippery in comparison of a well-loaded gun.'

(Patrick O'Brian, Clarissa Oakes/The Truelove)
Reality Check, One Each

Chizumatic has some thoughts about the now finished (thank God!) election cycle. Considering some of the wing-nut commentary I've already read (on both sides of the fence), this is pretty tame and actually parallels a lot of my thinking.

Addendum: Alas, so far it seems we're just swapping wing nut comments from folks like Erica Jong with wing nut comments from the other side of the fence. It's amazing how many people have not noticed what SF&F author and scientist John Lambshead noticed and said:

"A large nation with a serious political division, in the middle of a major crisis, has debated, argued and chosen a leader by fair and free universal elections with no violence. An exemplary demonstration of how to run a first world country."

Amen to that.
Reality Shift

Think you know history? Take a look at what years of freshman papers have wrought!

You never know what you find when you open Wikipedia in the morning.
All Alone in the Night

When I sent the dogs out in the night, I was amazed to hear two crickets, calling to each other. This after a couple of heavy frosts and some generally cold weather. It almost feels like Indian Summer again, so it is nice to hear a couple of the night voices that have survived this late in the year.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Get Out and Vote

I've done my civic duty, have you? If you haven't...if you're too busy, if you think the lines will be too long, if you think you won't make a difference...then I don't want to hear one freaking complaint from you for the next four years.

It doesn't matter who you vote for. Just get off your posterior and do it.
What Does It Matter?

Billions of particles of anti-matter are being created. Still not enough to power the warp engines.
And Confusion to the Emperor!

Naomi Novik; His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire, Book 1) (Del Rey; 2006; ISBN 978-0-345-48128-3; cover by Dominic Harman).

For a couple of years now, friends have been recommending this series to me. After all, they reason, you read that Patrick O'Brian stuff and this is just like that, but with dragons.

The series is set during the 1800's, when much of the known world was involved in various wars, mostly revolving around a certain Corsican, Napoleon Bonaparte. However, unlike the world of Jack Aubrey, or Horatio Hornblower, the world of the main character, Captain Will Laurence is inhabited by dragons, dragons that the various nations have used in these wars. Laurence captures a French frigate and discovers a precious cargo: an unhatched dragon's egg. When it hatches, the dragon, soon named Temeraire, bonds with him. This simultaneously gains him a new friend, but loses him the life he knew up to that point, that of a naval officer, as he must join the Aerial Corps.

Much of the book revolves around the growing relationship between Laurence and Temeraire as they train with the Aerial Corps, make friends and enemies, fight French spies and an invasion of England and learn more about Temeraire's abilities. The book is set around the time of Trafalgar (October 21, 1805), which means that we can look forward to several more installments it the careers of Laurence and Temeraire parallel that conflict.

So, is the series "just like" those Patrick O'Brain books? The book was fun and it was a fast read. But it had no where near the level of detail and background of the O'Brian tales, or the complex storylines and character's of his series. Perhaps in time, with subsequent books, Novik will grow as a writer. Right now, it feels more like a mix of Patrick O'Brian and Anne McCaffrey, with a dash of WWI flying aces tossed into the mix.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Delivered by the Intertubes

Number 256 in a series. Dave Langford, the gift that keeps on giving.

John Norman plugs his new Gor novel: "What man, in his deepest heart, does not want to own a female, to have her for his own, utterly, as a devoted, passionate, vulnerable, mastered slave, and what woman, in her deepest heart, does not want to be so intensely desired, so unqualifiedly and fiercely desired, that nothing less than her absolute ownership will satisfy a male, her master?" [GW] Answers on a postcard, to anyone but me.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Fred's Reading Report (October 2008)

With two months to go I've hit 78 books and 548 short works. Books read this month include: Hereticus (Dan Abnett); Dark Integers and Other Stories (Greg Egan); Pyramid Scheme (Eric Flint and Dave Freer); The Fortune of War (Patrick O'Brian); Into the Looking Glass (John Ringo); Manxome Foe and Vorpal Blade (John Ringo and Travis S. Taylor); Footprints on a Secret Moon (David Senechal).

One thing that struck me this month is how much reading I am doing on electronic devices (either my Sony Clie PDA or my Bookeen Cybook) and how ludicrous it is whenever I hear someone say "I can't read a book on a computer screen!" If you work with a computer on a daily basis, you're reading the equivalent of a book over time. Probably several books. I've been reading eBooks since I got my first Apple Newton and have since then used the first two generations of the Palm PDA, the first two generations of the Handspring Visor PDA, a Sony Clie and now the Bookeen Cybook.

This month I read the following in electronic format: Pyramid Scheme, Into the Looking Glass, Manxome Foe, and Vorpal Blade.

Previous to this, I read the following in electronic format: The Secret of Sinharat and The People of the Talisman; Cetaganda; To Prime the Pump; The Broken Cycle; Balefires; Other Times Than Peace; Lt. Leary, Commanding; Ring of Fire; The Stars Are Ours!; Pyramids; The Last Centurion; Princess of Wands; A Hymn Before Battle; Unto the Breach; A Deeper Blue; Manxome Foe (in January); Telzey Amberdon; One Day on Mars, The Tau Ceti Agenda; Warp Speed; Rainbows End.

That means of the 78 books I've read this year...25 were read in electronic format. Plus a number of the short works as well. So much for "not being able to read a book on a computer screen".

I don't think eBooks will ever replace real books. I enjoy collecting books, reading books. But once I put in the amount of time I can read books on electronic devices...standing in line, waiting for a cup of coffee at work, waiting for the car to warm up, etc....electronic books are starting to add up.

If you investigate the titles listed, you'll see that most are from Baen Books. Baen's Webscription service still stands head and shoulders above all the competition. Other publishers (or distributors of eBooks) should look to the way that Baen distributes their books as a model. Heck, just look at my average expenditures at Webscriptions vs. other sites!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Twenty-Five Years Ago Today

Then Almitra spoke again and said, And what of Marriage, master?
And he answered saying:
You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.

(Kahlil Gibran; The Prophet)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I, For One, Welcome Our New Alien Overlords

So apparently today is the day the Federation of Light will appear in our skies.

Hmmm...the Land Down Under is several hours ahead of us...I wonder if they've all been snatched, already, so that is why I don't see any news...

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Space Review

In the current issue of The Space Review, a few items of interest: Claude Lafluer continues his look at the crossroads looming for space exploration. Taylor Dinerman looks at space commercialization and some recent problems in the corporate sector. Jeff Foust looks at rocket racing. When will it take off? How about when the economy recovers! And Dwayne A. Day looks at China and India. Those crowded skies...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Space Review

In the current issue of The Space Review, you might find the following of interest: Taylor Dinerman looks at the ISS (will it ever grow beyond being an engineering project?). Claude Lafleur (part 1) looks at the future of space exploration (depressing). The missing 12 minutes of Explorer 1. Signs of a new physics or something more mundane? Jeff Foust looks at another book on solar sailing. Cool!

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Mad Dash

The new course brought the great wind almost on to the frigate's quarter, and methodically he began spreading her canvas. They had long since swayed up the topmasts, though not of course the topgallants, and he gave her a little high storm-jib first, then the main staysail, then instead of the close-reefed maintopsail the maintopmast staysail. Each time he paused for the Surprise to take up the full force of the new thrust: this she did with immense spirit, with the buoyant living grace which so moved his heart—never was such a ship—and when she was moving perhaps as fast as she had ever moved, with her lee cathead well under the foam of her bow-wave, he laid one hand on the hances, feeling the deep note of her hull as he might have felt the vibrations of his fiddle, and the other on a backstay, gauging the exact degree of strain.

They were used to the Captain; they had nearly all of them seen him cracking on like smoke and oakum and they were pretty nearly sure he had not finished. But no man had expected his call for the forecourse itself and it was with grave, anxious faces that they jumped to their task. It took fifty-seven men to haul the foresheet aft, to tally and belay; and as the strain increased so the Surprise heeled another strake, another and yet another, until she showed a broad streak of copper on her windward side, while the howl in the rigging rose shriller and shriller, almost to the breaking note. And there she steadied, racing through the sea and flinging a bow-wave so high to leeward that the sun sent back a double rainbow. Discreet cheering started forward and spread aft: everybody on the quarterdeck was grinning.

'Watch your dog-vane,' said Jack to the helmsman. 'If you once let her be brought by the lee, you will never see Portsmouth Point again. Mr Howard, pray let your men line the weather gangway...'

(Patrick O'Brian, The Far Side of the World)
Those Darned Horns

I've pretty much considered myself an independent. Or a centrist. I have beliefs that can be tagged pretty liberal and beliefts that can be tagged pretty conserative. I think most people are like this, neither black or white, but shades of grey, a combination of many political views.

So, I've never registered with either of the two parties or voted consistently either way. This is, despite one sister-in-law that always states that I vote Republican or hold Republican views. Or the firm belief of one ex-employer who was convinved that I had to be a card-carrying Democrat. The truth is, I voted pretty much Democrat for President until Al Gore lost his mind after he lost the election and started flopping around like a dead fish. The refusal to condone Bill Clinton and his zipper (as well as some of his utterly stupid foreign policy and economic decisions) also helped me to change my mind, so I voted Republican for President during W's second term. Maybe I should have just voted for Carter again, as they both seem to be cut from the same cloth, at times (yes, I know there's a time gap there).

On a local level, I'll vote Democrat, Republican or just about anything else.

This time around? Well, with the wingnuts on both side running things (and running), I'm really on the fence. Or on the horns. Sorry, folks, but both sides have major problems with their candidates, positions, past, running mates, etc. Both sides are a great example of how stupid most politicians have become of late.

If only my dream ticket were running. Joe Lieberman and Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg/Lieberman or Lieberman/Bloomberg. Would it matter which was which? Maybe they could swap every six months. Or co-rule, sort of like ancient Sparta with two kings. They both speak their mind and seem to be less tolerant with the party hogswallow that the candidates kow-tow to. But, it ain't happening this time around. So I sit on the horns. Hey, is Ralph Nader running again? How about Gerry Brown?
Everything Old is New Again

GPS? Pah! Who needs it?
Two Runs Through

What do you get after reading all the Sherlock Holmes through twice in a row? If you have drawing talent, a pretty sweet map of Holmes' digs.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Like, Should I Give A Flying Fig?

Headline spotted today:

Taliban Said To Be Furious Over US Missile Strike

So? I think I'm furious about a few things the Taliban have helped out on. So, like I said: should I give a flying fig what they are furious about? Let's help a few more on their way to their 72 virgins.

Migratory Patterns of the Unladen Swallow

Dr Maturin walked into the Entomological Society's meeting as the Reverend Mr Lamb began his paper on Certain Non-Descript Beetles found on the Shore at Pringle-juxta-Mare in the Year 1799. He sat down at the back and listened closely for a while; but presently the gentleman strayed from his theme (as everyone had known he would) and began to harangue the gathering on the hibernation of swallows; for he had found a new prop for his theory - not only did they fly in ever-decreasing circles, conglobulate in a mass and plunge to the bottoms of quiet ponds, but they also took refuge in the shafts of tin-mines, 'of Cornish tin-mines, gentlemen!'

(Patrick O'Brian, HMS Surprise)

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Xeelee Incursion

As one commentator notes, the Xeelee are at it again!
Drake's Surprise

David Drake has published his latest newsletter. His paths cross with another favorite author, Patrick O'Brian:

Visiting the vessel which was used as the Surprise in the film Master and Commander was unexpectedly moving. Jim Baen got me started reading Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series (the direct genesis of my RCN space operas); he and I touched frequently on them when we chatted, right to the end. I kept thinking as I took pictures that I'd really like to burble to Jim about this... and I would.

Well, we burbled a lot to one another while we were able to. For those of you who haven't learned the lesson the hard way, remember that you don't have anybody forever. Deal with other people so that you won't have regrets at the moment you realize that either you or the other fellow isn't going to be around any more.

Picture here.

Lost on Land

'Well now, sir,' said Bonden, glancing over his shoulder and shooting the boat through a gap between a mob of small craft and the outer buoy. He did not speak again for some while, and when he did it was to say in an obstinate, contentious voice, 'They can talk to me about Captain Seymour and Lord Cochrane and Captain Hoste and all the rest of them, but I say our skipper's the finest fighting captain in the fleet; and I served under Lord Viscount Nelson, didn't I? I'd like to see the man that denies it. Who wiped a Spanish frigate's eye in a fourteen-gun brig, and made her strike? Who fought the Polychrest till she sunk under him, and swapped her for a corvette cut out from right under their guns?'

'I know, Bonden,' said Stephen mildly. 'I was there.'

'Who set about a French seventy-four in a twenty-eight gun frigate?' cried Bonden, angrier still. 'But then,' he went on in quite another tone, low and confidential, 'when we're ashore, sometimes we're a little at sea, if you understand me, sir. Which, being as straight as a die, we sometimes believe them quick-talking coves are dead honest too, with their patent knees and braces and goddamn silver-mines, pardon the expression, sir. Now 'tis natural for any captain to think his command the finest ship that ever was: but sometimes, being stuffed up with knees and braces, we might perhaps think her finer than is quite reason, and believe it and say it too, without a lie.'

(Patrick O'Brian, Desolation Island)
Kissing Nature

"Oh, a fish...A flying-fish hit me in the face!"

(Patrick O'Brian)

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Fred's Reading Report (September 2008)

Fall is in the air, and books and tales continue to be read. Where am I for the year?

71 books for the year-to-date. The biggest amount of reading has been the works of Patrick O'Brian. I've read most of the series before this, some books as many as six or eight times (now more). This is my first attempt to read the entire series, from end-to-end without stopping much between volumes.

I have to laugh during this reading as I recently read a description (on a SF discussion board) of the series as one in which people talk a lot but do nothing. Good gravy! Ships sink. People die. Characters grow. Babies are born. Music is played. Food is eaten. Nations fight each other. I have a feeling that the person making the remark must have had no experience with the books.

September's books were:

Dan Abnett: Two books in the Eisenhorn omnibus.

Greg Bear: The Forge of God (still owe SF Signal a review of this one!).

Ernle Bradford: Thermopylae: The Battle for the West.

Jere Longman: Among the Heroes.

Andre Norton: The Stars Are Ours!

Patrick O'Brian: H.M.S. Surprise, The Mauritius Command, Desolation Island.

Travis S. Taylor: Warp Speed.

Eric S. Trautmann: The Art of Halo: Creating a Virtual World.

Various: Halo: The Graphic Novel.

Jack Williamson: The Legion of Space.

527 short works to date. My goal was for 365 short works, one for each day of the year. I've gone way past that, obviously, and continue to increase the number. Watch the skies!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Contra-Terrene Matter

A look at the first appearance of antimatter in a science fiction story (Jack Williamson, writing as "Will Stewart") along with a glimpse at the original manuscript.

(Addendum: The first contra-terrene story did not make the cover, but I found a later one that did. The cover image is above.)
She Blinded Me With...Television!

Jennifer Ouellette's Cocktail Party Physics (always an interesting read) takes a look at the science-related television lineup for the new "fall season" (a previous look is here). I must confess that most of my television watching these days is either Good Eats (or Alton Brown's "mini-series" efforts) or whatever my daughter is watching.

I have seen Numb3rs in the past and have enjoyed what little I've seen of The Big Bang Theory (a previous look by Jennifer Ouellette is here). But, pretty much, I'd wouldn't miss television if I let the satellite subscription expire. I'd rather be reading!
Scribble, Scribble

"Writers write every which way; the only ingredient their habits have in common is that having habits helps, and that, as a rule it’s better not to be interrupted much."

(Alice Flaherty, The Midnight Disease)
The Space Review

Another week...another issue of The Space Review! Progress in commercial space (big progress)! Confusing behavior from the government. What news! The exploitation of space. A bad idea for the Moon. Spaceflight and the Myth of Presidential Leadership reviewed (again).

Friday, September 26, 2008

Kids These Days

The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

I Guess Now It's "Art"

An archive of maps and character sheets from various fantasy roleplaying games. What next? Doctoral thesis?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Space Drive?

Are the Chinese building the Shawyer Relativity Drive? Or are they backing a new version of the Dean Drive?
Baroque Tyme

This looks like something that Neal Stephenson would have put in his massive The Baroque Cycle!
The Crowded Skies

Space may be vast, but it looks like the New Jersey Turnpike during rush hour in certain orbits around the Earth!

"Solar physicists have announced that the solar wind is losing pressure, hitting a 50-year record low for the Space Age. This development has repercussions across the solar system."

/sarcasm/ You mean things outside this planet affect us? /sarcasm/ does this tie in with a certain lack of sunspots and a delayed solar cycle? Paging Wilson Tucker!

Addendum (October 2, 2008): The New York Times notices the lack of spots.
Design Philosophy

Regarding the kerfuffle over the game Spore...this came to mind.

"Once we would avoid pirated software because of it's malicious nature, filled with viruses and what not, and flocked to the safety of clean copies from companies. Today we run from companies and their malicious software and flock to the safety provided by the pirates."

(Author Unknown)
Life in the Balance

A new building design that "balances" nature and civilization. Acrosanti, anybody?
Sex and the Single Dad

The strange world of biology...gets a little stranger.
Stealing the Sun

It is interesting to see what new areas of crime pop up. Following up on the crimes mentioned in this post, thieves are now panels!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Inaction, Cubed

Following up on this posting and this posting, an update at last! Sort of.

Eight weeks ago or so, we called for an update on the processing of our tax return and tax refund. They graciously admitted that they owed us money. So when could we expect the check? Oh, in about eight weeks.

Eight. Pokking. Weeks.

So this week we called again. Hey, it is us. Those folks you owe money too. How's that tax refund going?

They are still "manually checking" the return. It should be done in about eight weeks.


Well, at least it isn't a situation like the economy is tanking, my industry is imploding, and I could be laid off any moment. Not like I really could use the money or anything!