Monday, March 31, 2008

The Next Battlestar

NASA's "flagship" missions (Voyager, Cassini, etc.) were once derided by a former NASA Administrator as "battlestars". The thing about the battlestars is that they keep on ticking...well past their planned expiration dates. The other thing about battlestars is that they are often targeted at destinations where the "smaller, cheaper, faster" approach just won't work (the vehicles are not robust enough). In the current issue of The Space Review, Taylor Dinerman looks at two potential "battlestar" missions.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Tim Tam Slam

I'm putting this under cuisine...ummm...because I don't know where else to put it!

The intertubes once again comes through and presents me with an obscure cultural reference point. And once again shows me an area in desperate need for further research. Let's see if we can erase all those "citation needed" indications!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

New Solaris

The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction; George Mann (editor) (Solaris; 2007; ISBN 978-1-84416-448-6; cover by Stephen Martiniere).

I seem to be blessed recently at my local Big Box bookstore. While the science fiction shelves are shrinking, I have noticed that the books being stocked are getting slightly more diverse. I've seen editions from Pyr, Night Shade Books (Clark Ashton Smith, forsooth!) and now Solaris there.

In fact, I spotted several volumes from Solaris and picked up two in an annual series while marking four others for possible future purchase. The author selection in the anthologies seemed decent, a nice mix of names I recognize wtih new or relatively unfamiliar names.

Introduction (George Mann): Hey, he said whilst! Really! Whilst!

In His Sights (Jeffrey Thomas): Thomas is a new author to me, but both a friend and another site have been impressed with his Punktown stories (free novel here, by the way). The story was a mix, for me. His descriptions of burned-out soldiers have been done before...and much folks such as David Drake. The story is a precursor to the Punktown tales, an origin, tale, so I'd be interested in seeing more of the setting, the background to the war, the main character shared by this story and the novels. But...the kicker. One character shoots another character. Using an energy weapon. Shooting through a videophone in his car, and into the other character's apartment. Through the screen of the videophone. I'm sorry...but my suspension of disbelief, already tested by a mutation that allows a human to face-shift, by a war fought in another dimension, etc., just absolutely fell apart at that point. Would somebody really manufacture a videophone that would allow the transmission of the energy bolts from a weapon? Ummm...sorry, but the story was killed for me at that point!

Made up of: Introduction (George Mann); In His Sights (Jeffrey Thomas); Bioship (Neal Asher); C-Rock City (Jay Lake & Greg van Eekhout); The Bowdler Strain (James Lovegrove); Personal Jesus (Paul Di Filippo); If At First... (Peter F. Hamilton); A Distillation of Grace (Adam Roberts); Last Contact (Stephen Baxter); Cages (Ian Watson); Jellyfish (Mike Resnick & David Gerrold); Zora an dthe Land of Ethic Nomads (Mary A. Turzillo); Four Ladies of the Apocalypse (Brian Aldiss); The Accord (Keith Brooke); The Wedding Party (Simon Ings); Third Person (Tony Ballantyne): The Farewell Party (Eric Brown).

Counts as 2 entries in the 2008 Year in Shorts.
New Toy

Well, it looks like it is going to happen. They've hit forty for the month, NAEB will be sending my a brand-spanking new Bookeen Cybook in the near future.

(What are you babbling about, Fred?)

It's a gadget to read eBooks on. I've been reading electronic books for quite a while now. When I first got the Apple Newton (remember that?), it was around the same time that texts were appearing on the intertubes. Some were self-published works by various "non-professional authors". Others were efforts from groups like Project Gutenberg. As time went by, I eventually acquired a newer Newton. When the Newton was cancelled, I eventually got one of the early Palm Pilots. Then a Handspring Visor. And (most recently) a Sony Clie.

In the course of all this, I continued to download books from Project Gutenberg. Other sites came into being, some free, some paid, some mixed. I happily downloaded from Baen Books, eReader (under various owners), Fictionwise, Manybooks, Memoware, and others. I now have thousands, yes, thousands, of electronic books of various lengths (ranging from short stories to multi-volume novels).

The new reader will handle some, but not all of the formats I have. Alas, one party or the other is being stubborn, so I'll not be able to read in some formats as TomeRaider or eReader. In some cases the eBooks are in multiple formats so I'll just download in another (readable) format. And I'll keep my Sony Clie around for those DRM-locked and crippled eBooks that I was foolish enough to purchase. Who knows, maybe some day publishers will come to their senses.

In the meantime, I'm quite excited. As with a iPod, it'll be nice to be able to carry around tons and tons (so to speak) of titles, able to dip in to something at a whim. Battery life looks nice (a trade-off, in part, to the lack of backlighting as well as the "eInk" technology). Screen size and quality looks nice. Who says you can't read books on a screen? I've read hundreds!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Carbon Redux

Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds! Collected Essays, 1934-1998; Sir Arthur C. Clarke (St. Martin's Press, 1999; ISBN 0-312-19893-0).

I had previously read this collection in 2004, but, given Sir Arthur's passing, I picked it up again to re-read his shorter works (I'll take up the short stories later in the year).

Made up of: Introduction: Part 1: The 1930s and 1940s: Rockets and Radar; Dunsany, Lord of Fantasy; Rockets; The Coming Age of Rocket Power; Extraterrestrial Relays; The Moon and Mr. Farnsworth; The Challenge of the Spaceship; First Men in the Moon; The Problem of Dr. Campbell; The Lackeys of Wall Street; Voyages to the Moon; You're on the Glide Path, I Think; Morphological Astronomy; The Conquest of Space; Introduction: Part 2: The 1950s: Beneath the Seas of Ceylon; The Effect of Interplanetary Flight; Space Travel in Fact and Fiction; Review: Destination Moon; Interplanetary Flight; The Exploration of Space; Review: When Worlds Collide; Review: Man on the Moon; Flying Saucers; Review: Flying Saucers Have Landed; Undersea Holiday; The Exploration of the Moon; Eclipse; Astronautical Fallacies; The Star of Bethlehem; Capricorn to Cancer; Keeping House in Colombo; The Reefcombers' Derby; Rest Houses, Catamarans, and Sharks; The First Wreck; A Clear Run to the South Pole; The Isle of Taprobane; The Great Reef; Winding Up; Introduction: Part 3: The 1960s: Kubrick and Cape Kennedy; Failures of Nerve and Imagination; We'll Never Conquer Space; Rocket to the Renaissance; The Obsolescence of Man; Space and the Spirit of Man; The Uses of the Moon; The Playing Fields of Space; Kalinga Prize Speech; More Than Five Senses; Son of Dr. Strangelove; Possible, That's All!; The Mind of the Machine; God and Einstein; Introduction: Part 4: The 1970s: Tomorrow's Worlds; Satellites and Saris; Mars and the Mind of Man; The Sea of Sinbad; Willy and Chesley; The Snows of Olympus; Writing to Sell; Introduction: Part 5: The 1980s: Stay of Execution; The Steam-Powered Word Processor; Afterword: "Maelstrom II"; Mother Nature Got There First; Message to Comsat, February 18, 1988; Graduation Address: International Space University; Back to 2001; Coauthors and Other Nuisances; The Power of Compression; Life in the Fax Lane; Credo; The Colors of Infinity: Exploring the Fractal Universe; Close Encounter with Cosmonauts; The Century Syndrome; Who's Afraid of Leonard Woolf?; My Four Feet on the Ground; Introduction: Part 6: The 1990s: Countdown to 2000; Macroni Symposium; Introduction to Charlie Pellegrino's Unearthing Atlantis; Tribute to Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988); Satyajit and Stanley; Aspects of Science Fiction; Save the Giant Squid!; A Choice of Futures; Gene Roddenberry; Introduction to Jack Williamson's Beachhead; Scenario for a Civilized Planet; NASA Sutra: Eros in Orbit; Minehead Made Me; Good-bye, Isaac; Encyclical; Letter from Sri Lanka; Message to Mars>; Preface: The War of the Worlds; Preface: The First Men in the Moon; The Joy of Maths; Tribute to Robert Bloch; Spaceguard; Foreword: Encyclopedia of Frauds by James Randi; Bucky; Homage to Frank Paul; Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!; The Birth of HAL; The Coming Cyberclysm; Tribute to David Lasser; Toilets of the Gods; When Will the Real Space Age Begin?; Review: Imagined Worlds by Freeman Dyson; Eyes on the Universe; Walter Alvarez and Gerrit L. Verschuur; The Gay Warlords; More Last Words on UFOs; Carl Sagan; For Cherene, Tamara, and Melinda; Introduction: Part 7: Postscript: 2000 and Beyond; Science and Society; Is There Life After Television?; The Twenty-First Century: A (Very) Brief History.

Counts as 45 entries in the 2008 Year in Shorts.

Re-read in 2010! Seemed the appropriate thing to do given the year.
State of the Art

The State of the Art; Iain M. Banks (Night Shade Books; 2004; ISBN 1-892389-38-X; cover art by Les Edwards).

With the release of the latest novel in the Culture sequence, I figured it was time to start re-reading the earlier books (scattered so far across the years that I can't remember most of the plots!), read the ones I've left tottering on Mount Toberead, and then tackle Matter, the newest addition. For a series that has been running as long as it has there are few short works in the sequence. In fact, as far as I know, this is the only collection that Banks has.

Made up of: Road of Skulls; A Gift from the Culture; Odd Attachment; Descendant; Cleaning Up; Piece; The State of the Art; Scratch; A Few Notes on the Culture.

Counts as one entry in the 2008 Year in Shorts.
SF. Hard SF.

Thanks to an e-mail from the man behind Atomic Rockets, I've found an interesting author. Meet Mike Brotherton. Read about his Hard SF writer's bookshelf, Arthur C. Clarke's predictions, a cheat sheet for space travel and more!

More, you say? How about a free book?

(Free is good. I need to write up a posting showing how many free eBooks have led me to purchase deadtree editions of the same, often in hardcover!)
From 26 to 25

A mathematician has shown that you can solve a Rubik's cube in as few as twenty-five moves. This is one better than the previous proof.

Addendum: Via BoingBoing, a kit to help you conquer "speed cubing".
Main Engine(s) Start

SpaceX has posted video showing a three-engine firing test for the Falcon 9 first stage.

Pretty. Let's light some more candles!
Globe-Trotting Eats

A Cook's Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines; Anthony Bourdain (Ecco/HarperCollins Publishers; 2002; ISBN 0-06-001278-1).

Following up on my previous Bourdain read, this book is based on Bourdain's limited run television series of the same name. Going around the globe, Bourdain samples the cuisines of places as diverse as Japan, Vietnam, England, France and Morocco. The book feels less like an integrated read than a series of stitched-together short works (hence my tagging it as part of the 2008 Year in Shorts).

The essays vary, between essays and within the essays. It is almost there are two sides to a battle. Inevitably, when Bourdain is conned into doing something for the television seems to flop. Iguana? Bird nest soup? Disasters.

But then there are the culinary jewels. When he strikes out on his own, or when he overcomes the suggestions of his producer, he hits the big time. Vietnam (more than once). Japan (three different excellent meals). Seeing just how far one pig can go.

There's more humorous commentary on the state of the world, the state of other chefs (real and "celebrity"), the state of food, the silliness of various wingnuts when it comes to applying our mostly American views to the rest of the world. And the food. Lots of food. It is mostly due to seeing and reading folks like him or Gordon Ramsay that I've been able to go into a farm market and appreciate the quality of the poultry or vegetables and realize what unappetizing pap most mega-marts sell. Or to stare at a pile of bones for sale at the butcher and wonder what they'd taste like roasted and make into stock. Or...

Made up of: Dear Nancy; Introduction; Where Food Comes From; Back to the Beach; The Burn; Where the Boys Are/Where the Girls Are; How to Drink Vodka; Something Very Special; Highway to Death; Tokyo Redux; Road to Pailin; Fire Over England; Where Cooks Come From; Can Charlie Surf?; West Coast; Haggis Rules; Very, Very Strong; Perfect.

Counts as 18 entries in the 2008 Year in Shorts.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Edward Whittemore's Secret Histories

Quin's Shanghai Circus; Edward Whittemore (Old Earth Books; 2002; ISBN 1-882968-21-2; cover by Julie Burris). Introduction by John Nichols. Foreword by Tom Wallace. Afterword by Judy Karasik.

I first came across Edward Whittemore when my mother gave me a paperback acquired from a yard sale. It was Jerusalem Poker and featured a rather strange cover. An occult novel? A fantasy novel? A spy novel? I tried it, and put it aside (too many books, too little time) as it did not catch my attention.

Several years later, I read this extensive review of Whittemore by Jaff VanderMeer in Locus, written in conjunction with the Old Earth Books release of his works. Maybe the mindset had changed and evolved as they sounded very interesting. I set out to acquire them as they were published. (Alas, fate and reality intervened and it was not until last year that I read Quin's Shanghai Circus. And read it again this year.)

Describing the plot of this book would be a fairly meaningless task. There is so much going on that I could spend several paragraphs in summary (indeed, near the end of the book, Whittemore does just that...spends several paragraphs of dialog relating the plot). The book resembles a Noh play, a few actors, a few masks, infinite variety. Or you might think of the classic Japanese tales Rashomon and In a Grove, and the combined story that became the classic film Rashomon: a story told from multiple viewpoints, each containing a grain of the truth and more than a grain of distortion.

That? Just that? But you should have said so before, nephew. Right this way for the illusive dream often sought and seldom found, or to be exact, often found but seldom recognized. (Edward Whittemore, Quin's Shanghai Circus)

It would be silly to summarize the story. How could I do justice to (for example) one character that influences both Lenin and Mao in their respective revolutions, crosses a continent, learns dozens of languages, shortens World War II, fathers more characters and dies an obscure death? Or the story of a Japanese rabbi? Or a Baron who becomes a spy and a general? Or a circus master? Or a clown? Or a giant who tries to sell a load of pornography and return a valuable cross to its rightful owner? Or...

Both actions are for the same purpose. He wants to assure himself that the insane tale told by the stranger on the beach won't end the way it began. He wants to prove to himself that even an account of history as grostesque as that can have some small measure of order behind it. Above all he wants to believe there has been some meaning in the pathetic parade of events and people that he calls his life. (Edward Whittemore, Quin's Shanghai Circus)

This will be a difficult read for many. Whittemore jumbles the story, jumbles the points of view, does not employ quotes for the dialog. You jump from period to period, you are never sure what is reality and what is the hammered and reworked memory of somebody's perception. But there are real literary jewels here. Some reviewers compare Whittemore to Thomas Pynchon or Jose Luis Borges. Perhaps. But it is more than likely that his was a unique voice, one that has influenced further generations. Obscure as he may be, I find echoes of his writing in the recent novels of William Gibson (Pattern Recognition and Spook Country), but with the difference that Whittemore takes the fantastic and makes it real (where Gibson takes the real and makes it fantastic). Perhaps another heir would be Neal Stephenson and his Baroque Cycle. If you've enjoyed either of those authors, seek Whittemore out.

The book also contains an obligatory introduction by a famous literary figure (John Nichols), but also an excellent and illuminating foreword by Whittemore's former editor and agent, Tom Wallace and a moving and heartfelt afterword by Judy Karasik.

Great fiction is hard to sell. What happens to a person who reads a book—if it's any good—is a profoundly private and irrational process, and the more distinctive the novel, the more private and irrational the process. That's where the trouble with publishing begins. (Judy Karasik, An Editorial Relationship: Afterword to Quin's Shanghai Circus)

A strange journey, a difficult one, but a worthwhile one.

More resources: The Jerusalem Dreaming website is probably the best place to start. Dreaming of Jerusalem, an excellent article by Anne Sydenham. A Christian Science Monitor article that contains some good details. Jeff VanderMeer's excellent review and overview. Paul Di Filippo had a brief entry on the books in The Washington Post. Whittemore's obituary in The New York Times.

An excerpt from Quin's Shanghai Circus can be found here. An excerpt from one of the volumes of Whittemore's Jerusalem Quartet, Jerusalem Poker, can be found here.

NASA posted a somewhat obscure map depicting the landing site of Apollo 11. Thank goodness there are people out there who can show us what all that data means!
Music, Comedy and Physics

There's an old joke (attributed in one instance I've come across to Timothy Krauss) that goes...

A physicist, an engineer, and a psychologist are called in as consultants to a dairy farm whose production has been below par. Each is given time to inspect the details of the operation before making a report.

The first to be called is the engineer, who states: “The size of the stalls for the cattle should be decreased. Efficiency could be improved if the cows were more closely packed, with a net allotment of 275 cubic feet per cow. Also, the diameter of the milking tubes should be increased by 4 percent to allow for a greater average flow rate during the milking periods”.

The next to report is the psychologist, who proposes: “The inside of the barn should be painted green. This is a more mellow color than brown and should help induce greater milk flow. Also, more trees should be planted in the fields to add diversity to the scenery for the cattle during grazing, to reduce boredom”.

Finally, the physicist is called upon. He asks for a blackboard and then draws a circle. He begins: “Assume the cow is a sphere....”.

From the latest issue (online) of Symmetry comes a little more physics humor (yes, physics humor). For example, we can learn about Les Horribles Cernettes at the Hardronic Music Festival, Drug Sniffing Dogs at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and more! Who knew that physicists had a sense of humor?

Well, some at least. In the same issue, Jennifer Ouellette (who blogs at Cocktail Party Physics) talks about how some in the community complain about Big Bang Theory. I've only seen a few episodes, but why complain? How many people before the show was aired even knew what a physicist was? Welcome to the enlightenment of the great unwashed masses!
85 Storytellers

Weird Tales (still back from the dead) lists the 85 weirdest storytellers of the past 85 years. It is nice to see that they have expanded "storyteller" to go beyond folks who just write books.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Once upon a time, when I had one of those Real Jobs, I used to attend various conferences around New York City. While wandering outside during the breaks (believe me, you needed to get away from the buzz of the microphone, the overload presentations, the PowerPoint presentations!), I would come across small shops that sold reproductions of netsuke. I was somewhat interested in Japan, especially Japan of Ran or Throne of Blood or Kwaidan (too many movies!) and various novels, so these fascinated me.

I never bought any, but was interested enough to buy a couple of books on the subject. Now I have noticed that BoingBoing links to a site showing representations of this folk art.

Hmmm...are gashapon the modern equivalent?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Special Circumstances

Princess of Wands; John Ringo (Baen Books, 2005, ISBN 978-1-4165-0923-3, cover by Stephen Hickman).

(The entire first section of the book available as a fee read at Baen's site.)

Barbara Everette has a problem. She wants to be a nice soccer mom, life mate to her husband, member of society. But sometimes she feels like she's going to go nuts. Sometimes she needs to get away.

So get away she does. Off for a weekend away. Alas, she ends up in the middle of a case involving a series of serial killers, a manifesting demon, and an outbreak of the likes that hasn't been seen since the Innsmouth incident in the 1920's.

Thank goodness she runs into a detective from New Orleans on the trail of the killer. And happens to be packing her pistol. And finds she can channel power from God. Let the bullets fly!

Another fun read from John Ringo. The book is filled with in-jokes (many of the character's are named after science fiction fans and several are takes on various famous authors), and feeling like a much hyped up episode of the X-Files, or even better, a typical gaming session of the venerable Call of Cthulhu RPG.

The adventure continues with another serial killer who takes victims at science fiction and fantasy conventions. The body count might even be higher here, along with the level of demon power. Buffy? Hah! Wimp compared with Barbara Everette!

An interesting twist is the main character's strong Christian beliefs. Interesting in that most of the seemingly endless vampire detectives, wizard detectives, etc., don't seem to be either particularly Christian (or even religious in many respects). Strange, that...

My only complaints are that he hasn't written a sequel yet. Guess I'll have to pick up something else by Ringo for my next fast read!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Brick SF

A couple of famous science fiction items rendered in Lego bricks.

(O.K., technically the third is not science fiction. a couple more and stick it on a Lego version of the Valley Forge...)

(Addendum: Well, that was fast! Just a bit more searching did it...)

(Addendum: The Blake's 7 Liberator! An original space fighter. Mecha. Could be Babylon 5! Boral II gas refinery. The Brothers Brick...a way to lose a couple of hours...
Tragedy Tomorrow, Comedy Tonight

"Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has said that China has evidence linking the Dalai Lama to the deadly unrest against Chinese rule in Tibet, as he accused protesters of trying to sabotage the Beijing Olympics."

I'm sure he's got a little list as well.

As some day it may happen that a victim must be found,
I've got a little list — I've got a little list
Of society offenders who might well be underground,
And who never would be missed — who never would be missed!
There's the pestilential nuisances who write for autographs —
All people who have flabby hands and irritating laughs —
All children who are up in dates, and floor you with 'em flat —
All persons who in shaking hands, shake hands with you like that —
And all third persons who on spoiling tête-á-têtes insist —
They'd none of 'em be missed — they'd none of 'em be missed!
Sir Arthur C. Clarke

"The Lotus Eaters? Let’s see—what did Tennyson say about them—nobody reads him nowadays. 'There is sweet music here that softer falls...' No, it isn’t that bit. Ah, I have it!

"'Is there any peace
In ever climbing up the climbing wave?'

Well, young man, is there?"

"For some people—yes,” said Hassell. "And perhaps when space flight arrives they’ll all rush off to the planets and leave the Lotus Eaters to their dreams. That should satisfy everybody."

"And the meek shall inherit the Earth, eh?" said his companion, who seemed to have a very literary turn of mind.

"You could put it that way." Hassell smiled. He looked automatically at his watch, determined not to become involved in an argument which could have only one result.

"Dear me, I must be going. Thanks for the talk."

He rose to leave, thinking he’d preserved his incognito rather well. The stranger gave him a curious little smile and said quietly: "Good-by." He waited until Hassell had gone twenty feet, then called after him in a louder voice: "And good luck—Ulysses!"
(Prelude to Space)

From the Ocean, From the Stars

This afternoon I received some reports that Sir Arthur C. Clarke had died. This was confirmed a short time later by news reports.

It is hard for me to express how much of an influence he was on me. I first started reading his books (either Islands in the Sky or The Sands of Mars) shortly after I started reading science fiction (and that was very shortly after I started reading). I read through everything that was in print, whether aimed at adults or young adults. 2001: A Space Odyssey was read and re-read multiple times before my parents allowed me to see it on the big screen (heck, I didn't even get an allowance at that point, so it was a major treat). The book and the movie blew me away and both have remained favorites to this day. Fiction and non-fiction, if I saw Clarke's name on it (although I must confess that I wish he had held back on some of those "collaborations"), I bought it and read it. Short stories like Saturn Rising led me to amateur astronomy. Imperial Earth led me to an interest in recreational mathematics. In fact, many of Clarke's afterwords led me into other areas of study.

You can see his influence in many other places, upon many other things. Science fiction movies inevitably are compared to 2001: A Space Odyssey. The underwater or ecological tourism industry owes much to his pioneering efforts. How many science fiction authors still show his influence? Stephen Baxter. Charles Sheffield. Alastair Reynolds. Jack McDevitt. Gregory Benford (to name a very few of the many).

The Songs of Distant Earth

I continued to read Clarke throughout his career and my life. I would occasionally visit old friends and make new friends. Sometimes the pace would pick up, with the release of a new book. And, I credit Clarke's works, along with the works of Clifford D. Simak and Spider Robinson, for pulling me out of a very bad period in my life after September 11, 2001.

Its Origin and Purpose Remain a Mystery

Clarke never wrote very long novels. He won't go down as the guy with the most action plots, the most memorable characters, the deepest understanding of the human condition. those relatively short works he shot off more ideas per page than most writers manage in the thick tomes that seem to fill the bookshelves these days. He was always optimistic, always filled with awe at the universe, able to excite you on subjects as diverse as the ocean, space exploration or mathematics. And for all of that he will remain one of science fiction's best authors.

The news reached Earth an hour later, at a time when there was nothing much else to occupy press or radio. Gibson would have been well satisfied by the resultant publicity: everywhere people began reading his last articles with a morbid interest. Ruth Goldstein knew nothing about it until an editor she was dealing with arrived waving the evening paper. She immediately sold the second reprint rights of Gibson's latest series for half as much again as her victim had intended to pay, then retired to her private room and wept copiously for a full minute. Both these events would have pleased Gibson enormously. (Sands of Mars)

(Clarke's final birthday message here.) link to Clarke's final work (forthcoming). Plot summary of the book.

Postings I've made about Clarke: 1996: The Year in Books. The Missing Years (1997-2000). 2001: The Year in Books. 2002: The Year in Books. 2003: The Year in Books. 2004: The Year in Books. 2005: The Year in Books. 2006: The Year in Books. 2007: The Year in Books. Afterwords and Acknowledgements. The Death of Captain Future and Other Stories and Other Stories. Who is the artist? Polymaths and Snails. Book Meme. An Essential Book for the Shelf. Larger Than Worlds. The First Historian. Hugos. 50 Books. The Missing Are Deadly. Bernal Alpha. To Kipple. And Another (15 Picoseconds of Fame)...

Addendum (ongoing as I find new entries):

Comments by Writers: David Brin. Tribute by Tobias Buckell. Jeffrey Carver. Neil Gaiman. Making Light's tribute. Jerry Pournelle's thoughts. Alastair Reynolds' thoughts. Robert J. Sawyer's thoughts. John Scalzi. Charles Stross. Michael Swanwick's note. Mark Van Name's tribute. John C. Wright.

Comments by Fans: SF Signal's first entry. SF Signal's second entry. Bad Astronomy's tribute. The Spacewriter's Ramblings tribute. TeleRead's tribute. Laughing Wolf note. Selenian Boondocks note. Steven Hart's thoughts. The Joy of Tech. Dream Cafe. Vexxarr's tribute. User Friendly tribute.

Comments from Organizations: British Interplanetary Society. tribute. Centauri Dreams on the passing. The Clarke Foundation. The Arthur C. Clarke Mars Greenhouse. International Space Society. Engadet on the passing. A second article from Engadet. NASA statement. Riding With Rockets. SFWA tribute. The Space Elevator statement. SpaceRef/NASA Watch statement.

Comments by Publishers: Ken Burnside of Ad Astra Games talks about Clarke's influence. Jeff VanderMeer writing at Peter Crowther as PS Publishing. Tor Books statement.

News Stories: MSNBC article. BBC story. New York Times obituary. CNN obituary. Wall Street Journal obituary. Times Online obituary. IEEE Spectrum and the final interview by Arthur C. Clarke. Podcast from IEEE Spectrum. Wired round-up of commentary. Jeff Greenwald (Wired). NPR story. BBC article on the funeral.
Michael Swanwick in The Philadelphia Inquirer
. Dave Itzkoff in The New York Times. The New York Times Books section obituary. John Clute in The Independent. Strange Horizons' Nicholas Seeley has produced a very nice write-up.

Background Items: Technovelgy rounds up Sir Arthur's inventions, real and literary. Wikipedia entry.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Space Review

Two items of interest from the current issue of The Space Review. Anthony Young reviews Donald Rapp's Human Missions to Mars. (Springer/Praxis, which publishes lots of interesting books, but the prices, ouch!) Jeff Foust wonders if the gap (ever increasing) between current Mars missions and the Mars Science Laboratory will lead to a gap in scientific understanding and leadership.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Last Centurion

The Last Centurion; John Ringo (Baen Books, August 2008).


I just finished reading this, in eARC (electronic Advanced Reading Copy) form from Baen's Webscription service.

Ringo has been steadily maturing as a writer. He has taken some chances, with Ghost and the other volumes of the Paladin of Shadows series, for example. I think the one thing that has kept him from a wider audience is the "science fiction stigma" and the generally (ahem) right-leaning orientation of the books.

No more. With The Last Centurion, he has moved firmly into the technothriller genre. That should attract more readers, as Ghost and its sequels did.


And...well...he pretty much manages to say something to anger just about everybody in the course of this book. Sure, the brunt falls on the Left, but keep reading. Everybody suffers at some point or another.

And maybe that is the point. As there is some stuff in here that ought to make you angry...and then make you think.

I'll give it another read when the final version is released.

It's About Time...

Book publishers are phasing out DRM on their audiobooks. Why? It just does not work. Now, how about eBooks?
South Pole

The ESA has released a pair of maps generated from images taken by the SMART-1 probe. They show the area that is often mentioned as one of the prime landing sites for NASA's Project Constellation.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

M&C, Reduced

A member of The Gunroom community shows off her efforts to build or otherwise acquire (capture, sink or destroy?) miniature versions of items used on the H.M.S. Surprise. Still waiting for somebody to the Lego version of The Canon...
Just the Facts, Ma'm

Bad reporting in science writing? Say it ain't so!

Dogs and Cats Living Together...

Cats are better than dogs at preventing heart attacks? Say it ain't so!

More studies are needed!

And dog lovers shouldn't feel left out: Although the study found no such benefit from "man's best friend," that's probably because there simply weren't enough dog owners in the study to draw firm conclusions, the researchers said.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Ants and the Grasshoppers

There are 2 Versions—Read Both

Traditional Version:

The ant works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter.

The grasshopper thinks the ant is a fool and laughs and dances and plays the summer away.

Come winter, the ant is warm and well fed. The grasshopper has no food or shelter, so he dies out in the cold.

Moral of the Story: Be responsible for yourself!

Modern Version:

The ant works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter.

The grasshopper thinks the ant is a fool and laughs and dances and plays the summer away.

Come winter, the shivering grasshopper calls a press conference and demands to know why the ant should be warm and well fed while others are cold and starving.

CBS, NBC , PBS , CNN, and ABC show up to provide pictures of the famished and shivering grasshopper next to a video of the ant in his comfortable home at a table filled with food.

America is stunned by the sharp contrast.

How can this be, that in a country of such wealth, this poor grasshopper is allowed to suffer so?

Kermit the Frog appears on Oprah with the grasshopper, and everybody cries when they sing, 'It's Not Easy Being Green.'

Jesse Jackson stages a demonstration in front of the ant's house where the news stations film the group singing, 'We shall overcome.' Jesse then has the group kneel down to pray to God for the grasshopper's sake.

Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry and Harry Reid exclaim in an interview with Larry King that the ant has gotten rich off the back of the grasshopper, and they all call for an immediate tax hike on the ant to make him pay his fair share.

Finally, the EEOC drafts the Economic Equity and Anti-Grasshopper Act retroactive to the beginning of the summer! The ant is fined for failing to hire a proportionate number of green bugs and, having nothing left to pay his retroactive taxes, his home is confiscated by the government.

Hillary Clinton gets her old law firm to represent the grasshopper in a defamation suit against the ant, and the case is tried before a panel of federal judges that Bill Clinton appointed from a list of single-parent welfare recipients.

The ant loses the case.

The story ends as we see the grasshopper finishing up the last bits of the ant's food while the government house he is in (which just happens to be the ant's old house) crumbles around him because he doesn't maintain it.

The ant has disappeared in the snow.

The grasshopper is found dead in a drug related incident and the house, now abandoned, is taken over by a gang of spiders who terrorize the once peaceful neighborhood.

Moral of the Story: Be responsible for yourself!
Lego LOG

In his new book, The Last Centurion (out as an eARC), John Ringo has a good description of how much mass, in terms of supplies, a modern army uses. Think a football stadium. Actually a couple of football stadiums. Filled.

So how many vehicles are involved? Here's a good description (continued after the fold, due to one "not-kid-friendly" word):

With the attachment of 1st LAR Battalion, Second Tank Battalion, a combat service support company, a combat engineer company, and an assault amphibian company, Fifth Marines quickly transformed into Regimental Combat Team Five (RCT-5). It was a hell of a force, comprising approximately six thousand personnel and nearly two thousand vehicles of all types—M1A1 Abrams tanks, amphibious assault vehicles (AAVs, or "amtracks"), LAVs, hummvees (or HMMWVs—high mobility, multipurpose wheeled vehicles), seven-ton trucks, bulldozers, and fuel tankers. For division planning rehearsals, the commanding general had devised the idea of "Lego drills," in which each unit would bring a mat to which Lego blocks had been affixed to represent every vehicle in each RCT. Only that way could the commanders get an idea of the magnitude and scope of the operation ahead, as well as the space considerations involved in housing a regimental combat team's allotment of vehicles and Marines and allowing them room to maneuver. I saw the Lego set for RCT-5 one day while I was at their headquarters. It was staggering. As I stood there staring at it, one of the regimental operations officers came up to me.

"What do you think?" he asked, motioning to the thousands of tiny plastic icons arrayed before me. I nodded my head and looked back at him.

"That's a shit-ton of vehicles," I replied.

(The Highway War: A Marine Company Commander in Iraq, Maj. Seth W. B. Folsom, USMC)

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Ansible! Ansible!

It. Has. Arrived.

WE ARE EVERYWHERE. You know sf has conquered the world when a net pundit announces that 'Barack Obama is the Democratic Party's Kwisatz Haderach.' ( [LP]

Wot? Still no mention of the SF fandom marriage of the century? Wot?
Queen of the Spaceways

The Secret of Sinharat and People of the Talisman; Leigh Brackett (Paizo/Planet Stories, 2007, cover by Andrew Hou, ISBN 978-1-60125-047-6; $12.99).

In which I trod down the back alleys and dark corners of the Golden Age once again!

Friday, March 07, 2008

M&C Redux

As mentioned previously, I've been re-reading Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander as part of a group read at The Gunroom, the mailing list dedicated to The Canon (as it is called) "...and everything else..."

I found myself wanting to race ahead of my carefully-paced reading and, after resisting for a while, I just gave in and started reading for "fun" while taking notes for the group read.

Just finished the "fun" read, now back to note-taking!

August Update: I pretty much fell off the reading project for the series, due to work and family. So I've jump-started it again with another "fun" read of M&C. I'll push forward with "fun" reads of the series while doing the "in-depth read when I can.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Slow Roasted

Roasting in Hell's Kitchen: Temper Tantrums, F Words and the Pursuit of Perfection; Gordon Ramsay (Harper, 2007, cover by FBC, ISBN978-0-06-119198-5).

When it comes to books about cooking, I prefer cookbooks. This is just as it is when it comes to television: I prefer a show like Alton Brown's Good Eats to Emeril, a show where I'm going to learn some techniques, some science, some background and history as well as be entertained.

Top Chef pretty much left me cold; I could not see how most of those people would survive in any ordinary business, let alone a kitchen where you need some modicum of cooperation. So when I first started seeing bits from a show called Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, I chuckled and moved on.

But...I came back. Gordon Ramsay, known equally well for his sharp tongue as well as a string of award-winning restaurants, swoops in on a failing restaurant and tries to turn it around. Sometimes he succeeds, sometimes he fails, and you are constantly amazed at the people who run and work in those establishments. What were they thinking of when they opened those businesses? Amusing stuff and you can probably do a Kitchen Nightmares Drinking Game where you take a swig for every bleeped out word and two swigs for every word that either isn't bleeped out or bleeped so poorly you can figure it out.

So, having been enchanted by Mr. Ramsay's personality, and following up on this book, I picked up Roasting in Hell's Kitchen. While no other author is listed, the book has more of a feel of a transcript of a long series of conversations at times than a book. There's a lot of brutal honesty here: Ramsay's relationship with his father, a business associate who dies of a drug overdose, and a family member who is also troubled by drugs are examples of that. Some parts feel rushed: descriptions of various television productions or some business ventures. Sometimes I feel like I'm reading a manual on business advice (but without enough gritty detail to make it worthwhile). Other sections have a good mix of commentary, detail and Ramsay's personality (such as descriptions of some early jobs at culinary havens such as Paris).

What next? The ongoing tales of another chef who has risen to literary and television fame...back to the works of Mr. Bourdain!
Sunday Dinner

A recent effort. No formal instruction consulted ahead of time, just made up based on past experience.

1 package of stew meat (I used beef, pork would work, I don't know about chicken...might break down too much).
1 16 oz can of stewed tomatoes.
1 can of pitted black olives.
2 cups of beef stock (previously made from scratch).
1 large onion.
1 package of mushrooms, sliced.
Olive oil.
Salt and pepper.
1 bay leaf.
1 bottle of red wine.

1 skillet. 1 crockpot. 1 larger skillet or other stove top pot.

Turn on crockpot on high.

Slice onion. Warm skillet. Put in olive oil, warm, then onions (hot pan, cold oil, food won't stick).

When nicely done to your satisfaction (personal choice, from "translucent" to "carmalized"), transfer to crockpot. Open black olives, pour off liquid, place olives in crockpot. Open stewed tomatoes, pour into crockpot. Put in bay leaf. Pour in some red wine, maybe 1/3 bottle.

Next, put olive oil in skillet, salt and pepper stew meat, brown on all sides. Put into crockpot.

Mushrooms: Your choice of browning them or putting into crockpot.

Keep crockpot on high for one hour, then switch to low and as Alton Brown says, just walk away.

6+ hours later, transfer contents of crockpot into stovetop pot. Add more red wine. Put on low, low flame.

Two hours or so later, liquid will reduce quite a bit to a very rich gravy. Boil up some egg noodles, serve stew over egg noodles with good crusty bread, a nice green salad and the rest of the red wine.

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Space Review

Two articles of interest in the current issue of The Space Review: Three competing space cargo carriers; and James Oberg tries to educate the media about the recent satellite "shoot down".

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Fred's Reading Report (February 2008)

Leap Year! An extra day of reading! Nope, just an increased number of hours at work, alas...

Books? 11, year-to-date.

Short works? 74, year-to-date.

Currently being read:

Poul Anderson: The Earth Book of Stormgate. Trader to the Stars. The Trouble Twisters.

Isaac Asimov: The Hugo Winners (I'll finish these this year or...).

James Baen (editor): Destinies, Volume 1, Number 1.

Iain M. Banks: The State of the Art.

A. Bertram Chandler: Spartan Planet.

David Drake: Lord of the Isles.

David Drake: Lt. Leary, Commanding.

David Drake and Eric Flint: An Oblique Approach.

David Drake (editor): The Warmasters.

Eric Flint (editor): Grantville Gazette, Volume 1.

Peter F. Hamilton: The Confederation Handbook. A Second Chance At Eden. The Reality Dysfunction: Emergence and Expansion. The Neutronium Alchemist: Consolidation and Conflict. The Naked God: Flight and Faith.

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller: Crystal Soldier.

Ian MacDonald: River of Gods.

Ken MacLeod: Learning the World and The Execution Channel.

Jerry Pournelle (editor): The Endless Frontier, Volume I.

Patrick O'Brian: Master & Commander (twice, actually, for a group read).

Terry Pratchett: Pyramids.

James Schmitz: Telzey Amberdon.

Charles Stross: Halting State.

Michael Swanwick: The Dog Said Bow-Wow. The Dragons of Babel.

Mark Van Name and T.K.F. Weisskopf (editors): Transhuman.

Vernor Vinge: Rainbows End.

David Weber and John Ringo: March Upcountry.

Jack Williamson: The Metal Man and Others: The Collected Stories of Jack Williamson, Volume One.

Yes, I am reading way too many books, as usual. No, I have no plans to change the way I do things!