Monday, August 30, 2010

The Bear Necessities

Bears won't save Borders. The sad thing is, I'm seeing many of the same trends at Barnes & Nobles.
Signs of Hospitality

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Comanche Outcrop as imaged by MER Spirit in 2005. Some interesting news in the caption!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Friday, August 27, 2010

Almost Every August

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day: The story sweeps de intertubez every year. Mars will be bigger/brighter than the Moon! You won't see that for another 60,000 yeas! Too bad it isn't true.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Roll Your Own

OMG! Japan is a nation of BOOK PIRATES!!!
More SAH on RAH

Sarah A. Hoyt on RAH RAH RAH. Some interesting stuff here, and she still knows how to pull in the comments.
Not a Comet

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day: Messier 27, not a comet. Charles Messier, the "ferret of comets" built a catalog of objects that were not comets, but (in the optics of the day) could be mistaken for such. It is one of those odd bits of history that Messier is known for his catalog of non-comets but his comets are forgotten.
Ripe Crop

I'm in the midst of a tomato boom. Not only is our garden booming, but the local farm is practically giving them away (they are doing a 2-for-1 sale). Good stuff, but with my family away there are only so many things I can do with the things!

New ideas are always welcome, such as these.
Home Grown: Home Made

Home-made hot sauce. Rock on!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Stimulating the Neurons

"Brain-blasting" filmed SF? Agree with some, but not many of these.
Answers to the Eternal Question

What would Largo do?
Rings Around a Sun

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is an animation of HD 10180 (possibly circled by five planets!).
Where I Write

Not me, don't have much in that talent department. Where real writer types write.
Miniature Hammer

John Lambshead's game based on the Hammer's Slammers tales is reviewed over at This Week in Wargaming.
Expanding the Power Base

They will not be happy until they crush their enemies and hear the lamentations of their women (or men).
Technology Model

Has that girl with the dragon tattoo inspired a generation?
Box Art

Box art of computers games vs. what was inside. Somebody should do the same for SF book covers!
It's Not Easy Being Green

Want to build an environmentally-friendly "green" house? Not so easy, discovers Scott Adams.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Audio Books

David Pogue highlights an interesting new feature of the iPad:

Yes, this is exactly the feature that debuted in the Amazon Kindle and was then removed when publishers screamed bloody murder. But somehow, so far, Apple has gotten away with it, maybe because nobody's even realized this feature is in there.

Let the firestorm of concern from the publishers commence!
A New Level of Malware

Was a malicious computer program actually responsible for the death's of 154 people? Look for a new level of hysteria even if this does not pan out.
The Soul of a New Machine

Alien hunters should also look for intelligent machines. Paging Dr. Benford...
Private Venture

An attempt to put humans in space—not only a private venture, but one funded by donations and created by volunteers.
The Doctor!

The travels of Doctor Who. An interesting graphic and an article explaining the graphic.
The Andromeda Strain

Microbes (from Beer) lived in space for 553 days. How good are our processes to sterilize spacecraft going to Mars?
Tracking the Potato

How long before somebody starts yelling about privacy concerns here?
Lensing Cluster

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day: What's the matter with this galaxy cluster?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Form Factor

Books as objects in science fiction.
Ring Around the Galaxy

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is of Hoag's Object, a strange-looking double object. One galaxy or two? A collision between two? Or what?

Oddly enough, it does not appear to be in Arp's catalog (unless I've overlooked it).

Watching the short-lived television series based on Jim Butcher's books. What a shame that they seemed to be hitting a nice stride when they got canned. Some classic lines in one of the later episodes (Things That Go Bump):

"Chicago PD! Put down your...sword!"

"O.K., in my life a lot of things happen. I'm going to try to bring you up to speed."

Thursday, August 19, 2010


A NASA version of a solar sail. Meanwhile, there's a real one out there.
Drink, Drink, Drink

The eBook drinking game!
Winners All Around

Chris Walters on how a publisher can get him to buy more books.

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is of IC 5067, the Pelican Nebula. An amazing variety of color shades.
Peaceful Mother Nature

Zombie ants and mind-controlling fungus. The peaceable kingdom, phah!
Stupid Industry Ideas (An Ongoing Series)

The electronics industry wants to mandate putting FM radios into PDA's, cellphones and the like. Because, of course, you know you'll get such great reception in a gadget that size. And I am sure you're battery power will just go gangbusters when it has to maintain an "always on" radio. Sigh.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Truth... out there. Aha! The US has Yet Another Super Secret Weapon!

Starships everywhere in the ocean.

IRAS 05437+2502. Spooky, elusive, dark.
Hard Stop

The science of baking.
Whittle, Whittle

Man whittles down his stuff. Follow up.

I can see the point. However, as long as music companies and book companies and film/television companies continue to jerk us around on digital versions of music, books and film/television (e.g., we are just "renting" or "leasing" the files rather than owning them), I'll hang on to a lot of my physical objects. At least that way, assuming their SWAT teams don't move in, I'll be able to hang on to them.

Humor addendum: The endgame.
Beach Scene

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the crescent Moon and several planets. Run your cursor over the image to see the planets highlighted.
What a Fascinating Modern Age We Live In

Patenting your town so you are the center of Europe? You astonish me, sir.
On Approach

The Japanese probe to Venus is on final approach.
One of Ours

N.J. Soldier killed in action in Iraq.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Heinlein: Still Not Relevant

Picked up the new biography of RAH RAH RAH today, this is only volume one? Wow.

Tor (the publisher of the doorstop) has been posting bits and pieces on their community (postings by various folks) to promote the book. For an author who is "no longer relevant" (or whatever the phrase was that caused the storm a year or so ago), he sure is generating a lot of ink (errrr...electrons). Let's see...

Sarah A. Hoyt (who guest-blogged about RAH here not so long ago) writes about RAH and the "fairer sex"...

Jo Walton looks at Methuselah's Children...

Mitch Wagner looks at RAH and the "fairer sex" (do I detect a pattern here?)...

Charles Stross writes on RAH...

John Scalzi talks about the zombie RAH...

...and a ton more...poke around!

Not relevant? Hah.

Addendum: Compiled Tor conversations.
Schlock the Monkey

Every comic needs a monkey joke, at least once.

Got some curiosities bubbling in your brain? Jeff VanderMeer may want to hear from you...if you are brief...
Anoia, The Minor Goddess of Things That Stick In Drawers

Often, but not uniquely, a ladle, but sometimes a metal spatula or, rarely, a mechanical egg whisk that nobody in the house admits to ever buying. The desperate mad rattling and cries of "how can it close on the damn thing but not open with it? Who bought this? Do we ever use it?" is as praise unto Anoia. She also eats corkscrews.

(Terry Pratchett)

The Great Big Chart of Fantasy Art (2009 vs. 2010).
The Killer App

There are those that say that porn made VHS tapes a "killer app". Have both IMAX and 3D just been blessed?
Jewell Box

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows NGC 4755, a.k.a., The Jewel Box.
Of Dust and Creation

An image from the WISE observatory (which has been suffering with plumbing problems of late).

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a fantastic picture of layered hills in the area known as Arabia Terra on Mars. Oh to be a geologist wandering there...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Spam, Eggs, Bacon & Ham

There are two kinds of comments I will reject (I will also reject rude, obnoxious, etc. comments). First, if it is so obvious a piece of spam that it has nothing to do with the posting to which you are attempting to comment (if we can use "you" with a spambot...). Second, if it is obviously a blatant attempt to post an ad relating to the posting.

If you want to post an ad, send me a check. TANSTAAFL!
Prelude to a Storm

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows an early (and bright) Perseid.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Passing the Turing Test

Injured NASA Director attends conference remotely.
Crepuscular Rays

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows crepuscular rays over Lake Michigan. Oddly enough, I saw both these (and the aurora) from pretty much the same point several years ago!
I Blame John Steinbeck

Cheap RV Living. Some interesting stuff, but I can't see it for extended periods of time. I blame John Steinbeck.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Worlds of Andre Norton

Pretty astounding month from the book collector point of view. Was able to find very reasonably-priced copies of The Stars Are Ours!, Star Born and Storm Over Warlock. Growing up, Star Born was probably the first book by Andre Norton that I read and it was literally years before I found the first book in the series, The Stars Are Ours!.

Excellent covers by Finlay and Emsh!
Management 101

How to quit your job. Classic.
Final Frontier

Images and notes on Phil Eklund's forthcoming High Frontier game, a more than worthy successor to Rocket Flight (and since who the heck knows what is up with High Trader from Ad Astra...the only game in town!).
Sean O'Keefe

Reports are coming in that former NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe was killed in a plane crash.

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day show the dunes of Titan.
Islands in the Sky

Coma Cluster and Island Universes.
Black Library

Electronic books (and more audio books) from Black Library (Warhammer, 40,000, etc.). I'm hoping "Kindle" means "non-DRM'd Mobipocket for non-Kindle devices that use the Mobipocket program" because I would like to buy these!
Naomi Novik

Geek's Guide to the Galaxy Episode 17. I may have to give these books another try.
Eric Garcia

Geek's Guide to the Galaxy Episode 18. The shower as a writing tool. Who knew?
Right Twice a Day

H.P. Lovecraft's The Shadow Out of Time. The very abridged edition.

Monday, August 09, 2010

The Space Review

This week's issue of The Space Review has a couple of articles of interest. Former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin looks at the current direction of NASA. Japan's IKAROS sailship unfurls its sails! How can you measure support for spaceflight? And Jeff Foust looks at a new science book.
Fragment (An Ongoing Series)

//scritch scritch// went the claws across the bedroom window //scritch scritch//
Even More Cowbell!

The second episode of the SF Signal Podcast has been posted.
Fragment (An Ongoing Series)

Try to keep up here. You want to cut the GREY/GRAY striped wire, not the YELLOW striped wire. I know we're working in low levels of light, but focus! Focus!
Galaxies in Collision

Images from several orbiting telescopes (operating in different light frequencies) are combined to create this amazing picture of the Antennae Galaxies.
Swanwick on Swanwick

Rick Kleffel of The Agony Column interviews Michael Swanwick. Some interesting stuff on British vs. American Fantasy, fantasy in general, writing genre fiction, inspirations and more.
On Stranger Tides

Rick Kleffel of The Agony Column interviews Tim Powers. Way cool!
Enigmatic Structures

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows IRAS 05437+2502 shows stars and dusty clouds.
Jupiter Tank

Juno, our next mission to Jupiter (and beyond the infinite) is getting some protective wrap.

Sunday, August 08, 2010


R.A. MacAvoy; Tea with the Black Dragon (Bantam; 1983; ISBN 0-553-23205-3; cover by Pauline Ellison and; 1999; ISBN 0-7592-0801-8; no cover art).

Way back at the Dawn of Time, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and the internet was the Arpanet, a new author came to my attention that grabbed my attention in a way that few others have done in the field of fantasy. Peter S. Beagle was one such author, Tim Powers was another such author.

(The problem I have with much of fantasy is that so much of it seems to be the same. So many lost princes or princesses hidden in farmyards, waiting for the old wizard to come and awaken them to their true destiny. Or epic quests where small parties fight the evil overlord in a desperate struggle to save their world. Etc. Warmed-over Tolkien, or rehashed D&D adventures.)

(Sure, I know there is good stuff out there. But it is so hard to find. Maybe I should have stuck with the field more, found the "urban fantasy" or "dark fantasy" or "magical realism" as it surfaced (as this seems to fit the likes of Beagle, Powers, and now folks like Glen Cook, David Drake or newcomers like John Lambshead). But for a few jewels, Powers, Beagle and that discovery from 1983, MacAvoy, the field passed me by.)

Tea with the Black Dragon is a slim book. Barely a novel, as a matter of fact. You can read it in one sitting (as I did today, re-reading it for the first time in many years). Martha Macnamara (no capital N) has come to San Francisco from New York to meet up with her daughter, Elizabeth. Elizabeth has indicated that she is in trouble, but has not said what over. While at her hotel, Martha meets up with the mysterious Mayland Long, widely read, mysteriously Oriental and maybe not human. She enlists his help, the story moves from fantasy/philosophy to pure crime and detection to fantasy/romance.

And all throughout, pure magic.

I only read a little bit more of MacAvoy's work (including the sequel to this book, Twisting the Rope). She seemed to move into more traditional pathways and fantasy tropes and then vanished. Recently she has surfaced again, at Subterranean Press, with In Between (a story that sounds like it could be as good as Tea with the Black Dragon was). I'll have to dig around for all that is in between, and hope that she will return to the field with more gems.
That Blue Planet

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a closeup of the solar system's largest blue planet.

The possibilities are...infinite!
On Pluto

A diorama depicting a scene from Robert A. Heinlein's Have Space Suit, Will Travel.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night

Jerome K. Jerome: Three Men in a Boat and Three Men on the Bummel (Penguin Books; 1999; ISBN 0-140-43750-9; historical photograph for cover).

Three Men in a Boat: This book has been in the background for much of my life. I'm moderately sure of seeing a copy in the house of my maternal grandparents. It is referenced several times in Robert A. Heinlein's YA novel Have Space Suit, Will Travel. I even came across a filmed version of it starring the likes of Tim Curry, Michael Palin and Stephen Moore (anybody know why this is not currently available in the US?). I even had several eBook versions, from the early days of Project Gutenberg to the more recent versions listed below.

But, for some reason, I never read the dang thing.

I spotted the omnibus edition from Penguin and picked it up (despite having both books in electronic format, you see both can co-exist!). Since this is another summer without vacation (long story, several long stories, actually), I have taken a couple of weekend camping trips with The Young Lady. I brought this along on the first. We were caught in traffic, caught in a downpour, got to the site in the middle of the night, rain continued to pour, the tent gave me trouble getting set up, the rainfly blew off in the middle of the night and soaked our sleeping bags before I could get a spare tarp set up...

While we were drying out the next morning, I started reading the book and started roaring in laughter. And continued throughout the book.

J. (Jerome K. Jerome), George, Harris (to say nothing of the dog, Montmorency) decide to get back to nature and travel up in a small boat on the river Thames, camping out on the banks or in the boat, living the rough and rustic life. Hilarity ensues in a series of set pieces: how to pack, how to row, what happens when you set up a tent at night or in the rain (heh), what happens when yo forget a vital piece of equipment (should I mention that this camping trip had a side trip where I went and bought another camping I had forgotten to pack our camping stove?).

Good stuff for anybody who has ever camped. Good stuff even if you haven't. On to the second book!

Free eBook of Three Men in a Boat here. Free eBook of Three Men on the Bummel here.

FTC Disclaimer: This paper book was purchased. The eBook is 100% free electrons.
Wild, Wild Solar System

Eric Flint and Ryk E. Spoor: Threshold (Baen Books; 2010; ISBN 978-1-4391-3360-6; cover by Bob Eggleton).

When we last saw our heroes...they had discovered that aliens had co-existed with dinosaurs, forged an alliance with the US government (and some international partners), crossed to Mars, discovered alien presences around and on Mars and...through the luck of Joe Buckley...had colonized Mars (by accident).

Threshold, the follow-up to Boundary starts up the tale several years later. The private effort behind the expedition to Mars has succeeded beyond anybody's wildest dream...but is strapped for cash. Hints abound of additional bases of the aliens nicknamed Bemmie throughout the Solar System, but Ares has no resources to follow up on the hints. The various nations all want a piece of the pie (or to find a pie on their own): the US is building more ships, the ESA is building its own ship, some countries contribute in other ways (India builds a space elevator).

From Earth, to Mars, to the Asteroid Belt, to Jupiter and dropping hints to where we are going next: this is one excellent read. Not only do you see that Hard SF is not dead (the pundits may think otherwise), but you can have a lot of fun with a positive near-future setting. Maybe SF doesn't have to be all doom and gloom these days?

Like Arthur C. Clarke's stories of exploring the Solar System? Like Robert A. Heinlein's Future History or YA series? Give this one a try!

A white-knuckle race across the Solar System, multiple hair-raising escapes and (of course) a cliffhanger (literally) of an ending. Guys? Eric? Ryk? Please don't take so long with the next installment!

FTC Disclaimer: Both the paper book and the eBook were 100% purchased by me.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Friday, August 06, 2010

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Comes the Inquisitor

Sandy Mitchell: Scourge the Heretic (Black Library; 2008; ISBN 978-1-84416-512-4; cover by Clint Langley).

My latest read in the series of novels based on Games Workshop's long-running Warhammer 40,000 series of games (I still have yet to play the game, but I've bought a ton of the novels). My very informal survey of the books has them splitting into one of three threads: books about the Inquisitors, really big story arcs, and solo books about units featured in the game (very informal folks, I'm sure there are more ways to categorize the novels).

Scourge the Heretic (the first of—so far—a pair of novels) falls into the Inquisition thread. What makes it different from the one omnibus that I had read previously (Eisenhorn) and the one I am reading now is that the emphasis is less on the central Inquisitor than on the Inquisitor's staff of heavies and investigators. The team is sent on a mission to investigate some oddities at your typically ornate and Dickensian Imperial planet, ends up picking up some local help, and tugging at the various threads of the conspiracy in order to try and shake some things loose.

The book reads like an adventure set in a roleplaying game (maybe like this one?). That can be a good thing or a bad thing. Even the venerable Andre Norton found it hard to pull this off, but when it succeeds, you end up (much like any other media novel that passes its roots—John M. Ford's The Final Reflection, anyone?) with a book that is a dang fine read.

I'll have to read the sequel (Innocence Proves Nothing) to see whether this one passes the level of "just" a media book. I enjoyed it until the end, the battle that wraps up the book seemed a bit rushed and a bit neat. Otherwise, a fun read.

FTC Disclaimer: This paper book was purchased by me. Twice. The first time the dog ate it. I kid you not. The second time because the dog ate it before I finished reading it the first time.
Layer Cake

The north pole of Mars. Cool!

The last (unless a miracle happens) space shuttle tank being processed.
A Lack of Reality

Dumping on NASA or just a bad review of a boring game?

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is another favorite stopping point when I'm out observing: Messier 8, the Lagoon Nebula in Sagittarius.
Artist GoH

Two great podcasts from the Balticon convention. One with Schlock Mercenary's Howard Tayler and one with the artist associated with many Baen Books covers, Kurt Miller. Tayler has some good advice on being a businessman as well as an artist and Miller shares his thoughts on working in the digital realm.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Phone Home!

Looking at the JPL site for news...still no word from "Spirit"!
Energy Independence

The road to hell is paved with myths (as well as good intentions).
Unleash the Drones!

Elf with power boots! Attorney Drones! Attorney Drones, three for the price of two!

Rumor has it there's a set of wargame rules in the works as well...don't forget Sergeant Schlock and Tagon are available!

Next up, definitive proof of the flying spaghetti monster.
The Planet and the Dish

Today's Astronomy Picture of the, cosmic, man.
Starship Trooper

What's your favorite Robert A. Heinlein novel, David Drake?

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Who is the Artist?

This link will bring you to a Flickr page showing five book covers. These are all from a set of Arthur C. Clarke books that Ballantine came out with in the 1970's (Childhood's End, Earthlight, Reach for Tomorrow, Expedition to Earth and Tales from the 'White Hart').

Can anybody identify the artist? One suggestion was that it was Dean Ellis (who did do the same set of Clarke books several years later), another suggestion was Vincent Di Fate; but we can't be sure.
Our House

They're made out of meat!
Hot Stuff

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a radar image from the Magellan orbiter (craftily color enhanced) of the surface of Venus. Ouch!
Wrecking the Worlds

There's something about summer and space opera. Maybe it is because I first encountered some of the space operas of John W. Campbell, Jr. and E.E. "Doc" Smith in the summer, or the time I took the whole Lensman series with me on a camping trip (also summer) or the time I found a bunch of Fantasy Press originals of Campbell and the any case, summer is the time for space opera.

It's time for crashing suns and planet stories!

Edmond Hamilton: Crashing Suns (Baen Books; 2008; ISBN 978-1-4014-0319-5; cover by Doug Chaffee).

Made up of: Crashing Suns; The Star Stealers; Within the Nebula; The Comet Drivers; The Cosmic Cloud.

Separate read: The Sargasso of Space.

Counts as six entries in the 2010 Year in Shorts.

See this earlier review for my previous thoughts on the Interstellar Patrol stories. Even more fun this time around! Edmond "World-Wrecker" Hamilton rules!

Leigh Brackett: Beyond Mars (Baen Books; 2008; ISBN 978-4-413-15901-2; cover by Doug Chaffee).

Made up of: No Man's Land in Space; Child of the Green Light; Outpost on Io; The Halfling; The Dancing Girl of Ganymede.

Black Amazon of Mars.

Leigh Brackett: Martian Quest (Baen Books; 2008; ISBN 978-1-8938-8711-4; cover by Doug Chaffee).

Made up of: Martian Quest; The Treasure of Ptakuth; The Water Pirate; The Sorcerer of Rhiannon; The Veil of Astellar; The Beast-Jewel of Mars; The Last Days of Shandakor; Mars Minus Bisha; The Road to Sinharat; Purple Priestess of the Mad Moon.

Counts as thirteen entries in the 2010 Year in Shorts.

Several entries from Leigh Brackett's contributions to the Planet Stories magazine, mostly strange transplants of carny tales, Western tales, noir tales with their serial numbers filed off and a new coat of paint slapped on. Fun stuff, and it was very strange to read The Dancing Girl of Ganymede. Hmmmm...androids...hiding from the law...being hunted down...they just want to live...where have I run across this plot (//cough cough// Blade Runner //cough cough//) before?