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.