Tuesday, July 31, 2007


To follow up on two previous postings about explorations of our Solar System, it is nice to see NASA finally realizing that a working spacecraft in outer space is definitely cheaper than a spacecraft that is designed from scratch. Two probes had successful missions: Deep Impact rendezvoused with Comet Tempel-1 on July 4, 2005, examining the comet as it flew by and also getting a peak inside by releasing a probe that impacted with the comet. The Stardust mission flew through the tail of Comet Wild-2 in order to collect samples of the comet's coma as well as (later in the mission) samples of interstellar dust. These samples were returned to Earth on January 15, 2006. Missions over, right?

Wrong! NASA has extended both missions. Deep Impact will undertake two new missions called Deep Impact Extended Investigation (DIXI) and the Extrasolar Planet Observation and Characterization (EPOCh). It will swing by Earth for a boost and course change and study Comet Boethin. It will also study stars where known extrasolar planets orbit in order to try and find other (smaller) extrasolar planets. Stardust's mission is known as New Exploration of Tempel-1 (NExT). The vehicle will rendezvous with Comet Tempel-1 and take a look a what changes may have occurred since Deep Impact's probe hit the comet.
Spook Country

So is William Gibson becoming the new Edward Whittemore? This description of his upcoming novel, Spook Country, via BoingBoing sure sounds like he is mining the same territory.

I am, of course, the only person who did not think that Pattern Recognition (the first in now what is a trilogy) was the greatest thing since sliced bread. On the other hand, my first go through of Virtual Light left me cold. It wasn't until I re-read it, in conjunction with Idoru and All Tomorrow's Parties that I thought it was interesting. Even then, it wasn't quite the bolt out of the blue that the "Sprawl" stories were for me (Neuromancer, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive, plus some shorts) were for me.

Perhaps it is because those tales were so fresh, at the start of a wave. Perhaps it is because the Bridge Trilogy was a lot closer to our "now" than the first works. Pattern Recognition was "our now", but (at this point) is dated by subsequent events. Can Spook Country retain anything more than a brief amount of freshness and relevance given that it also takes place "now"?

Other items: William Gibson interviewed at Amazon.com. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. William Gibson at College Crier.

Addendum: Checking a couple of eBook sites (what would be more natural than to read the tales of the Father of Cyberspace on a PDA?), I'm puzzled. For the Sprawl tales, we have Neuromancer and Count Zero but no Mona Lisa Overdrive or Burning Chrome. For the Bridge Trilogy, we have Idoru and All Tomorrow's Parties, but the first book, Virtual Light is missing. For the new trilogy, we have Pattern Recognition, but (not surprisingly, since it is not out yet) no Spook Country. Is Gibson's agent asleep at the switch? Why are chunks of the first two sets missing at this late date? Prices are not quite Baen Books Webscriptions level for eBooks, except for Pattern Recognition which is wildly overpriced for a book that has been a paperback for a few years. Sigh. Get a clue, folks. People shouldn't pay hardcover prices for a bunch of electrons!

Addendum: I've started re-reading Pattern Recognition as preparation to reading Spook Country. I'll post a review soon. Interview with William Gibson at The Observer.

Sunset and Moonrise

As the sun went down into the sea, a great red-golden ball, so into the eastern sky there rose the moon, a great golden-yellow ball, as full as a moon could be. It was not a rare phenomenon; indeed it was a very usual one; yet this time, for purity of sky, the particular degree of humidity and no doubt a host of less obvious, rarely coinciding factors, it had an extraordinary perfection, and all hands, even the ship's boys and the loquacious, thick-skinned Old Buggers, watched it in silence.

(Patrick O'Brian, The Thirteen-Gun Salute)
Encyclopedia Galactica

Well, not quite. But here are a ton of links about one of the funniest SF (well, mostly)-related shows out there! MST3k! Everybody sing!

KTMA (Season 0) Theme:

In the not too distant future,
Next Sunday A.D.
There was a guy named Joel,
Not too different than you or me
He worked at a satellite loading bay,
Just polishing switches to pay his way
He did his job with a cheerful face,
But his bosses didn't like him,
So they shot him into space!

"We'll send him cheesy movies,
"The worst ever made
Joel says when you got lemons,
You make lemonade
Now keep in mind he can't control,
When the movies begin or end
Because he used those extra parts,
To make his robot friends

Robot Roll Call:

If you're wondering how he eats and breathes,
And other science facts
Just repeat to yourself, "It's just a show,
I should really just relax".

Monday, July 30, 2007

I Feel My Arteries A'hardening

I feel a heart attack coming on just looking at this thing. Pigs in a blanket around a pizza? Bacon, sausage, pizza rolls (on a pizza) and more! Well, at least there are a few vegetables scattered on it...
Twin Sons of a Different Mother

Jay Lake's Mainspring is on the ever-tottering Mount Toberead. Over at SF Signal (their review here), they link to a posting by David Levine. I think I've found Project Rho's (see the Atomic Rockets sub-site) missing twin!
You Can Make Anything With Legos

An aircraft carrier. It floats and has support vessels! I am in awe.

More here. How the heck does the guy transport it from his home to the lake/river?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Great Debate

Here at The Lensman's Children, deep dark questions keep us up at night. Well-fried beans made from scratch or canned? Salsa from New York City or local products? What kind of chilis make the best hot sauce? Discuss.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Dang. Not Another Meme

Blogs that I read regularly: Rand Simberg at Transterrestrial Musings. Mark Whittington at Curmudgeon's Corner.

Authors: John Scalzi at Whatever. Paul McAuley at Earth and Other Unlikely Worlds. Paul Glister at Centauri Dreams. Walter Jon Williams at Angel Station. Tobias Buckell at...errr...Tobias Buckell. Ken MacLeod at The Early Days of a Better Nation.

Finally: The Diary of Samuel Pepys. The man who blogged well before the invention of the term.

Hey, that's more than ten. Well, I never said math was my strong point.
Stormy Weather

Following up on this posting, here's a quick update. Both Spirit and Opportunity are being threatened by large dust storms that are girdling the martian globe. It's not so much the force of the winds involved (remember that sequence from Mission to Mars?), but the amount of dust being raised. Both Spirit and Opportunity rely on solar power to keep them going and the amount of light getting through the dust is decreasing, as this sequence of pictures from the Astronomy Picture of the Day site shows. Will this be the end of these plucky devices?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Small Business...Big Dreams

Following up on the Scaled Composites post, there's a lot of other interesting stuff going on in the areas of private and quasi-private space.

Besides Scaled Composite's efforts in SpaceShipOne (which one the X-Prize) and SpaceShipTwo (which will be the backbone of Virgin Galactic's "space fleet"), other companies are pursuing similar efforts. For example, Jeff Bezos, the man behind Amazon.com, is financing Blue Origin, a somewhat secretive company working in Texas. Some information has been leaking on their vehicle, New Shepard, a vertical take-off and landing sub-orbital vehicle. It bears more than a passing resemblance to the DC-X test vehicle (not surprising since some of the design and engineering team for New Shepard worked on the DC-X).

Then there's Armadillo Aerospace. Edged out of the X-Prize, they are working on several fronts, ranging from modular vehicles to concepts for a lunar lander. Founded by, like Blue Origins and SpaceX, another software engineer who made good (yes, Mom, you were right, again, about my poor career choice!), this is a company to keep an eye on.

With all these companies working on sub-orbital vehicles, what side industries might we see? How about rocket racing? Think NASCAR is hot? What until you see these babies! More seriously...how about space diving? It might be the most extreme of extreme sports, but it might lead to a new way for astronauts to escape from a crippled spacecraft.

What else? How about space hotels and space industrial parks. No joking, the first steps towards this are above your heads right now! Using technology originally designed by (and now licensed from) NASA, Bigelow Aerospace has successfully launched and orbited Genesis I and Genesis II, the first two test space station modules. Future plans are for larger and larger modules, possibly even for modules that could be used on the surface of the Moon. Will NASA's "hard shell" approach for the ISS be obsolete shortly after the ISS is finished?

Hey, what about Ad Astra? Now, not Ad Astra Games, the Ad Astra Rocket Company! In one of those strange but true tales, there's a company working on the VASIMR propulsion system with the name of Ad Astra. Not only that, but they've managed four hours of continuous use of their engine, a quantum leap from the earlier test that managed two minutes! Maybe a merger between the two Ad Astra's is in the offing?

What to wear, what to wear? Spacesuits have been somewhat clunky looking outfits. Wouldn't it be better to wear something that allows you a full range of motion and won't tire you out from all the bulk? Perhaps the first steps in that direction have been taken at MIT.

So other than visiting Bigelow's orbital hotels and industrial parks, what can one do in Earth orbit? Well, NASA is looking for ways to expand the use of the International Space Station (ISS) with plans to open up portions of it for "private business". When the ISS is "completed" (and that's only the latest definition of "completed") in 2010, NASA is hoping that research will be carried out by a mix of government and private interests. Me, I'm hoping that by 2010, Bigelow Aerospace has several sites in operation already, beating NASA to the punch!

Next, with the space shuttle scheduled to retire (sooner rather than later!), what will take its place to carry crew and cargo to the International Space Station and other orbital destinations? The Russians are still building the dependable Progress vehicle and Soyuz vehicle and the European Space Agency is hoping to get its Automated Transfer Vehicle online. Even the Japanese are hoping to get into the act with their H-2 Transfer Vehicle.

But what about the United States? If NASA is successful in building and launching its Ares I launch vehicle, it will have a government-financed way of getting both cargo and crew to the ISS. With the larger Ares V, it would even have a way of lofting large cargoes into orbit.

More interesting is what is known as the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. NASA is partnering with two private firms, Rocketplane-Kistler (with its K-1 Orbital Vehicle) and SpaceX (with its Falcon 9 Launch Vehicle and Dragon crew and cargo capsules). Will NASA be able to break from its "we invented space travel" mentality and work with private partners? Will the private partners be able to pull this off? I hope so, as it is far too dangerous to have all our manned and cargo lift capability in one basket (or dependent on foreign partners).

Further out? How about private expeditions to the Moon? Much of the technology has been proven, but not quite in these circumstances: using Russian vehicles, modified with additional modules, for a slingshot trip around the Moon. Who could afford such a trip? Space Adventures, the folks behind several private trips to the ISS claim they already have their first client at the cut-rate price of $100 million (per passenger seat!). When will this occur? Details are still being worked out, but I wouldn't be surprised to see private space beat NASA back to the Moon, even if it is just for a quick jaunt!

Finally, with all this activity, there's a growing need for scientists and engineers at these companies. And not just that...what about machinists, software designers, financial wizards and more! Here, for example, is a recent advertisement from XCOR Aerospace:

XCOR Aerospace Is Hiring - And It's Not Rocket Scientists

Want to help build rocket ships? XCOR Aerospace has an immediate opening for an experienced precision prototype / job shop machinist. CNC experience (both mill and lathe) required. Full competency with conventional equipment and freehand tool grinding capability also a must. Good pay commensurate with experience. Applicant should be a self-starter and function well within a small group. XCOR is a small company with a motivated, entrepreneurial and friendly working environment. This position is open to current U.S. citizens or permanent residents only. Position is located at the Mojave Spaceport and Civilian Aerospace Test Center in Mojave, CA. Strong verbal and written communication skills in English required. Benefits include medical and dental, and all employees get rides! XCOR Aerospace is an equal opportunity employer.

Interested? Know someone who is? E-mail resume to shadowcat [-at-] engineer [-dot-] com or call Aleta at 661-824-4714 x113. Fax resume to 661-824-0866.

Phew! We've only scratched the surface of the private and quasi-private efforts! More as I come across more news!
Scaled Composites

So Burt Rutan, Scaled Composites and Northrop Grumman have announced that NG is going to increase their stake in Scaled Composites from 40% to 100%. A buyout, in other words. Maybe this is a positive, and NG will allow Rutan to run a Skunk Works for NG, employing his talents. Possibly, or equally possibly they take the current ideas, find that the cultures "don't match" and he'll move on. Klyde Morris has the best take on why it might be that somebody who was so independent seemed to agree to the deal that ran contrary to much of what we heard from this smaller shop.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Gamer Kidnapped...for Password

One of those cases where life is stranger than fiction! On the other hand, the brilliance of the criminal mind was not shining that brightly.
Sunshine in the Morning

Reading Mark Kelly's comments from a preview, as well as Gary Westfahl's in-depth Locus Online review makes me wish that all cinema types would do two things.

First, they should refrain from being influenced by 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Second, they should read some science fiction. And some science. Lots of science.

Sigh. Some of the reviews I've read have been absolutely gushing. But like those folks who have "discovered" the remade Battlestar Galactica and gush how it really isn't science fiction, they just show their ignorance of the genre.

Given the comments in the two links, I'll pass. Time for another good book instead and I'll avoid stale popcorn and flat soda as well!
MST3k 2.0

Hey, one of my all-time favorite shows is returning, sort of. Same premise, more or less the same crew, slightly different format and direct to DVD. Presenting Mystery Science Theatre 3000 Mark 2.0!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Tragedy at Altair VI

Read the entry here. Please keep David Portree and his daughter, Samantha in your thoughts.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Short Stories!

The Heinlein Society is holding a short story contest for the best tale to reflect the philosophy and spirit of Robert A. Heinlein. It's open to both professional and amateur writers and first prize is $5,000.00, considerably more than Heinlein himself would have won if he had sent his first tale into a contest, rather than submitting it to Astounding Stories. You have a year, so start writing!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Following up on last week's posting, that concentrated on the inner planets, we now move outward in our solar system and visit three current or pending missions.

First up is the Dawn Mission, designed to explore the Asteroid Belt. This could almost be called the Phoenix Mission (except that name is already taken!) as the mission has gone from being active, to almost being canceled, and then back to a go again.

So what's the big deal? Several big deals, actually. First up, following up on the successful use of ion engines in missions such as Deep Space 1 and SMART-1, Dawn will use an ion engine. These will be improved models and are expected to run longer and carry a much heavier payload that any previous ion-propelled mission. The second big deal is where Dawn is going. The Asteroid Belt appears to be the remnants of a planet that never finished forming (possibly stopped by the nearby presence of Jupiter and its massive gravity field). So we have a chance of seeing what the protoplanets that eventually became places like our home started out like. Third, we have a big deal in the route we are taking. Our deep space efforts to date have either been flybys (sometimes of more than one planet) or missions that end in orbit. For Dawn, thanks in part to the use of continuous thrust ion engines, we will travel to one asteroid, orbit it for several months, then travel to a second asteroid and orbit it.

Finally, when it comes to our future in space, we're visiting a very interesting place and two very interesting objects. If we are to extend our presence into the solar system, we'll need resources. You can launch them from Earth or another planet, but even from Mars (with the potential of water there, for example), you're fighting gravity. The asteroids (and, by extension, the comets) offer the potential of plenty of resources, with much smaller gravity wells.

What kinds of resources can these smaller bodies provide? Long the setting in science fiction as a kind of "Wild West", there is the potential of some serious resource gathering out there. There are basically three kinds of asteroids, rocky (or "silicaceous"), metallic and carbonaceous. Carbonaceous asteroids are the most numerous, and are made up of various carbon compounds. With a little money and know-how, such compounds could be turned into building materials...fertilizer...food and more. Metallic asteroids (the smallest part of the population) could potentially yield resources for building habitats, ships, or for use back in the "inner system". And then there's water. Comets are icy bodies, and many asteroids are expected to yield water as well. For example, one of Dawn's targets is the asteroid (or "dwarf planet") known as 1 Ceres, the other is 4 Vesta. What makes 1 Ceres so interesting, for resources, that it might contain water. How much water? One theory puts the amount of water at 200 million cubic kilometers, or more water than that is found on Earth!

With past missions, plus Dawn, we've barely scratched the asteroid belt. About 5,000 of these bodies are discovered each month; the catalog numbers in the hundreds of thousands (for a nice graphical view click here). The potential for resources is vast.

Metal shortages? Water shortages? Pollution? Energy problems? Our planet may be a "closed system", but we may come to have the means of "opening" it up to the point where scarcity of resources is a thing of the past.

Addendum: You too can participate in the Dawn Mission! NASA is encouraging amateur astronomers to observe Ceres and Vesta. Why? Larger telescopes are in constant use, there are more targets than telescopes. On the other hand, there is a large community of amateur astronomers. If enough observe a particular target, a baseline of information can be built up. Amateurs are often on the forefront, for example, in spotting comets, events in the atmosphere of Jupiter or storms on Mars.

No telescope, you say? Well, how are your model-making skills? Give a paper model of Dawn a try!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

From the Inner Solar System...

This post is the second update on the current state of exploration in our solar system. This installment will skip Mars, although there is still plenty to talk about. I'll refer you back to my previous posting and mention that the dust storm circling the planet is still delaying the entry into Victoria Crater. Stay tuned!

Quick! What's the second-most under-visited planet in our solar system? It's easy to answer what planet (sorry IAU) is the most neglected, that being Pluto. The second most neglected body in our solar system is Mercury, the innermost planet. Visited once previously in a series of flybys using the Mariner 10 probe, only about 50 percent of its surface has been photographed in any detail. Seeing that was in 1975, a return visit is more than overdue!

The current mission is known as Mercury MESSENGER (MEcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging, get it?). Launched in 2004, the probe will finally arrive in mercurian (hermian?) orbit in 2011, after a journey that involves one flyby of Earth, two of Venus and three of Mercury itself before finally settling into orbit. Unlike some missions where a flyby might be used to boost the spacecraft's speed (such as the recent encounter between the Pluto-bound New Horizons probe and Jupiter), these multiple flybys are being used to change the speed, size and tilt of the Mercury MESSENGER's path to enable it to use its relatively small engines to settle into orbit around Mercury.

What then? We have lots of questions, hopefully we'll get more than a few answers. For example, of the four "rocky" planets, Mercury is the smallest of the batch, has densest makeup, the oldest surface and the most extreme temperature variations. MESSENGER will probe the surface with a variety of instruments to try and determine the makeup (and therefore, which theory of evolution was the most likely). Imaging the surface will build a more detailed maps. Does Mercury have a liquid core (it shows a magnetic field)? Is there ice (water ice?) at the poles?

Mercury has been an enigmatic planet both in history and science fiction. Think of what you've read that has been proven wrong. A twilight belt. A half-molten/half-frozen surface. A place of weird creatures. You know something? What we really find there might be even more exciting and strange!

Mercury MESSENGER's mission is expected to last for one year. After that, we might see the joint Japanese-European twin probe known as BepiColombo, which is planned to orbit the innermost planet for three-and-a-half years.

So what about our "twin", the cloud-shrouded planet Venus? Not quite as neglected as Mercury, there also has been a long gap in explorations there. Currently, there is one visitor from Earth in orbit, the ESA's Venus Express. Built mostly from spares from the Mars Express and Rosetta missions, Venus Express was designed to orbit Venus for two days (Venusian days, that is...about 500 Earth days!) and pierce some of the clouds of mystery.

Does Venus have a liquid core? Are there active volcanoes on the planet (the surface appears to have been shaped by volcanic activity in the past, is it still undergoing eruptions?)? Why are craters on the surface distributed fairly uniformly? Does this mean that the surface has been massively reworked? What is the link between the geology of Venus and the climate? What are the atmospheric mechanisms for things such as the rotation of the atmosphere (many times faster than the rotation of the planet)?

Being so close, yet so different, from Earth makes Venus an interesting object to study. There is a lot of concern here on Earth that we are heading into a period of global warming. Venus is an extreme case of global warming; might it be useful as a model to study that?

Want to see Venus yourself? Look in the western sky, after sunset. It's currently one of our "evening stars" and (next to Jupiter) the brightest object that you can see.

As an addendum, even old missions can yield new results. For example, take a look at these images from the Soviet Venera landers. The data was reprocessed and cleaned up, yielding stunning images of one of the most hostile places in our solar system.
Into the Catacombs

Here's a great site that gives you interactive maps of several Roman catacombs (despite the warning labels, the site works with Mozilla Firefox, at least for me). Ah, underground tombs...many an hour in my misbegotten youth was spent robbing tombs...on Tekumel, not in our sphere of reality!)
Some Things...

...are maybe better left forgotten. Presenting Star Maidens! I actually caught a few episodes of this on US television way back when.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Project Moonbase

Continuing his Heinlein Centennial-related articles, Dwayne A. Day (writing at The Space Review) looks at Project Moonbase. An ultra-low-budget effort, it was essentially an expanded television show. The amount of involvement that Heinlein had has been debated over the years, but you can see many of his touches: the shuttle rockets, an atom-bomb armed space station, and more.

It's cheap, it's pulp, it's black-and-white, but like Creation of the Humanoids, it has it's moments. Get it on DVD!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


Many people have died protecting our country. They have not only died on battlefields, but at home: saving others from criminals, saving others from fires.

Even "ordinary civilians" can be heroes.

Today I finished re-reading Robert Mason's Chickenhawk and started re-reading We Were Soldiers Once...And Young by Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore (Ret.) and Joseph L. Galloway. I recalled a photograph that had been on the cover of an earlier edition of the book.

And then I recalled who the person was in the photograph. And what role he played in a later battle.

Even "ordinary civilians" can be heroes.

I love the caption for the photograph found at this site:

No sleep for 48 hours.
Grimy, unshaven, filthy uniform.
Canteens loose, dogtags hanging out, pocket unbuttoned, helmet strap hanging.
No insignia of rank, sleeves up.
Dirty fingernails.
His bayonet is fixed; trigger finger alert and ready for action.
Rick Rescorla

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Number 240 in a Series

Ansible 240 is up! Rejoice! Laugh! Cry! Scream in delight!
Endurance Missions

It's an interesting time to be studying Mars. In addition to the orbital looks of the ESA's Mars Express and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and 2001 Mars Odyssey (I'll have a writeup on these three in the future), we're still reaping the benefits from two other missions, both of which have lasted well past their "expiration dates."

(Update! The entry into Victoria Crater (see below) has been delayed due to a dust storm!)

On the ground, the mars rovers, MER-A and MER-B (more popularly known as Spirit and Opportunity) continue to operate in Gusev Crater (for Spirit) and at the edge of Victoria Crater (for Opportunity). Originally designed to last for ninety days on Mars, the rovers have had their missions extended again...and again...and again to the point where both rovers have been operating on the martian surface for nearly four years.

Mission managers have found ways of keeping the rovers operating (such as "wintering over" to keep batteries charged), have had the fortune of recovering from glitches (computer problems such as software resets and memory) and even have been helped by the environment (with an occasional "windshield wipe" from the winds to clean off the rovers solar panels).

Spirit has traveled from its landing site to the region known as Columbia Hills. There it most recently has found evidence of ancient volcanic explosions in the form of layered basalt. Spirit is somewhat worse of than Opportunity, with workarounds for a stuck wheel, a "stiff" arm (that restricts movement to a certain region) and a rock abrasion tool that has gotten stuck on occasion.

Opportunity is about to set forth on what might be it's final mission. It is poised to enter half-mile wide Victoria Crater. Victoria Crater could allow scientists to "peek" into the martian past, revealing layers upon layers of deposits that show the wet environment that was Mars of long ago. There's a chance that Opportunity might damage itself either on entry or trying to exit, trapping the rover inside the crater.

Why take the risk in damaging the rover and limiting its future explorations? "While we take seriously the uncertainty about whether Opportunity will climb back out, the potential value of investigations that appear possible inside the crater convinced me to authorize the team to move forward into Victoria Crater," says Alan Stern. "It is a calculated risk worth taking, particularly because this mission has far exceeded its original goals."

The other mission of note is the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS). It was launched in 1996 and sent back images from martian orbit until November 2006. During its long orbital career it sent back hundreds of thousands of images. Observing over several martian years allowed us to track changes on Mars. Some of the more significant things discovered by the MGS are the retreat of the southern polar cap, signs of fresh cratering and signs of something (dare we say...water?) causing fresh gullies to appear on the surface of the planet. The MGS even managed to capture images of Viking 1, Viking 2, Spirit, Opportunity and the Mars Pathfinder landers! Let's hope the current orbital missions last as long!

Mars, the dead planet? Not at all!

Addendum: I should have pointed out that July 4 marks ten years since the Mars Pathfinder mission (with the MER's "mother" rover, Sojourner!)

Monday, July 02, 2007

Fred Saberhagen (1930-2007)

It is with sadness that I pass word that Fred Saberhagen died on Friday, June 29, 2007, after a long illness.

He had a long and distinguished career in the fields of science fiction, fantasy and horror. He wrote tales of Dracula and Sherlock Holmes.

He was probably best identified, for me, with the tales of the Berserkers, implacable alien machines bent on destroying organic life (including us).

Wikipedia entry and official site.

Addendum: The family will announce a date for a Memorial Celebration later this year. In lieu of flowers donations would be appreciated to any of the following: Doctors without Borders, Catholic Relief Services, SFWA Emergency Medical Fund, or John XXIII Catholic Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. If you would like to send an email message to the family please use the link to contact me, and I will pass your words on.

Here's an excerpt from my favorite Berserker tale:

The Face of the Deep

He rode in a crystalline bubble of a launch about twelve feet in diameter. The fortunes of war had dropped him here, halfway down the steepest gravitational hill in the known universe.

At the unseeable bottom of this hill lay a sun so massive that not a quantum of light could escape it with a visible wavelength. In less than a minute he and his raindrop of a boat had fallen here, some unmeasurable distance out of normal space, trying to escape an enemy. Karlsen had spent that falling minute in prayer, achieving something like calm, considering himself already dead.

But after that minute he was suddenly no longer falling. He seemed to have entered an orbit—an orbit that no man had ever traveled before, amid sights no eyes had ever seen.

He rode above a thunderstorm at war with a sunset—a ceaseless, soundless turmoil of fantastic clouds that filled half the sky like a nearby planet. But this cloud-mass was immeasurably bigger than any planet, vaster even than most giant stars. Its core and its cause was a hypermassive sun a billion times the weight of Sol.

The clouds were interstellar dust swept up by the pull of the hypermass; as they fell they built up electrical static which was discharged in almost continuous lightning. Karlsen saw as blue-white the nearer flashes, and those ahead of him as he rode. But most of the flashes, like most of the clouds, were far below him, and so most of his light was sullen red, wearied by climbing just a section of this gravity cliff.

The whole tale is available online, here. Wonderful descriptions, wonderful tale.

Addendum (ongoing): Walter Jon Williams remembers Fred Saberhagen. Las Cruces Sun-News (New Mexico) obituary.
Ride the Lightning

In conjunction with the Robert A. Heinlein Centennial, Dwayne A. Day (writing at The Space Review) provides us with an excellent look at the relationship between Heinlein and the U.S. space program.

Particularly of interest is a memo that Heinlein wrote in 1945. Has history overlooked a piece of writing as important as the letter Einstein wrote to Roosevelt regarding the creation of the atomic bomb?

This is Dwayne A. Day's second look at the relationship between Heinlein and the space program. For an even more detailed look, I recommend his two-part article, Heinlein's Ghost (found here and here).

Addendum: Related to the celebration, Heinlein as Nostradamus?

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Sterling E. Lanier

Locus Online is reporting that SF author Sterling E. Lanier died on June 28, 2007. He is best know to me as the author of a pair of post-Apocalyptic novels, Hiero's Journey and The Unforsaken Hiero.