Monday, September 29, 2008

Contra-Terrene Matter

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

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

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

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

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

(Alice Flaherty, The Midnight Disease)
The Space Review

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

Friday, September 26, 2008

Kids These Days

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


Thursday, September 25, 2008

I Guess Now It's "Art"

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

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Space Drive?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Author Unknown)
Life in the Balance

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Inaction, Cubed

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

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

Eight. Pokking. Weeks.

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

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


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

Science fiction writers Steve Miller and Sharon Lee are surviving the demise of their former publisher by finding a way of making money (gasp) by "giving" away their writing (gasp gasp).
Rebel Attack!

The latest in a series: you can build anything with Legos...

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Space Review

One item of interest in the current issue of The Space Review: Dwayne A. Day interviews Mike Okuda, who has worked on Star Trek and much more. Good stuff!
Government Cutbacks

It appears that the Internal Revenue Service has suffered greatly due to cuts in hiring and equipment purchase. Just look at the e-mail I received from them this evening!

You Have Get a Tax Refund on your VISA or MasterCard
Complect The Formular
And get your tax Refund
(Your Refund Amount Is $620.50)
What's Wrong with Greg Egan?

Or, more properly, what's wrong with US publishers?

Here's a guy who has written a pile of novels and short stories. Heck, he's won an award or three (Hugo, Locus and John W. Campbell Memorial, to be specific). His stories and novels are interesting...thought-provoking...they stretch your mind.

So why is it that his short story collection is only published in the US by a relatively small publisher? Why is it that his latest novel, Incandescence, is the only one of his works widely available in the US (his UK publisher published his whole backlist)?

Even that new guy, John Scalzi, seems impressed with his stuff.

So why is it, US publishers, that we don't have access to his backlist? Because he writes "hard" SF? Because he is from Down Under? Because he uses hard words?

Robert's Rules

Robert J. Sawyer expounds on Robert A. Heinlein's rules for writers.

Addendum: Dean Wesley Smith's interpretation of Robert's Rules.
Harry Truman

Yes, you can build anything with Legos.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Young British Soldier

When the 'arf-made recruity goes out to the East
'E acts like a babe an' 'e drinks like a beast,
An' 'e wonders because 'e is frequent deceased
Ere 'e's fit for to serve as a soldier.
Serve, serve, serve as a soldier,
Serve, serve, serve as a soldier,
Serve, serve, serve as a soldier,
So-oldier OF the Queen!

Now all you recruities what's drafted to-day,
You shut up your rag-box an' 'ark to my lay,
An' I'll sing you a soldier as far as I may:
A soldier what's fit for a soldier.
Fit, fit, fit for a soldier . . .

First mind you steer clear o' the grog-sellers' huts,
For they sell you Fixed Bay'nets that rots out your guts --
Ay, drink that 'ud eat the live steel from your butts --
An' it's bad for the young British soldier.
Bad, bad, bad for the soldier . . .

When the cholera comes -- as it will past a doubt --
Keep out of the wet and don't go on the shout,
For the sickness gets in as the liquor dies out,
An' it crumples the young British soldier.
Crum-, crum-, crumples the soldier . . .

But the worst o' your foes is the sun over'ead:
You must wear your 'elmet for all that is said:
If 'e finds you uncovered 'e'll knock you down dead,
An' you'll die like a fool of a soldier.
Fool, fool, fool of a soldier . . .

If you're cast for fatigue by a sergeant unkind,
Don't grouse like a woman nor crack on nor blind;
Be handy and civil, and then you will find
That it's beer for the young British soldier.
Beer, beer, beer for the soldier . . .

Now, if you must marry, take care she is old --
A troop-sergeant's widow's the nicest I'm told,
For beauty won't help if your rations is cold,
Nor love ain't enough for a soldier.
'Nough, 'nough, 'nough for a soldier . . .

If the wife should go wrong with a comrade, be loath
To shoot when you catch 'em -- you'll swing, on my oath! --
Make 'im take 'er and keep 'er: that's Hell for them both,
An' you're shut o' the curse of a soldier.
Curse, curse, curse of a soldier . . .

When first under fire an' you're wishful to duck,
Don't look nor take 'eed at the man that is struck,
Be thankful you're livin', and trust to your luck
And march to your front like a soldier.
Front, front, front like a soldier . . .

When 'arf of your bullets fly wide in the ditch,
Don't call your Martini a cross-eyed old bitch;
She's human as you are -- you treat her as sich,
An' she'll fight for the young British soldier.
Fight, fight, fight for the soldier . . .

When shakin' their bustles like ladies so fine,
The guns o' the enemy wheel into line,
Shoot low at the limbers an' don't mind the shine,
For noise never startles the soldier.
Start-, start-, startles the soldier . . .

If your officer's dead and the sergeants look white,
Remember it's ruin to run from a fight:
So take open order, lie down, and sit tight,
And wait for supports like a soldier.
Wait, wait, wait like a soldier . . .

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
So-oldier of the Queen!

(Rudyard Kipling)
Decks. Gills.

In answer to Talk Like a Pirate Day, John M. Ford suggests (see entry #13) Talk Like Stephen Maturin Day!

Eisenhorn and Others

Upon the urging of some at SF Signal (although they may deny it), I took a look at the fiction set in the game universe known as Warhammer 40,000 (produced by Games Workshop). Some further research yielded recommendations from science fiction authors such as David Drake (who is going to be writing a "blurb" for one of the upcoming books) and John Lambshead (researcher, game designer, science fiction author who somehow finds time to play the game).

Well...with recommendations like those...

The big problem is that the game has been around since 1987. So you've got this big massive backstory that hangs around...are the books approachable by somebody who is not familiar with them?

After reading three novels and several short stories, the answer is mixed. Some authors (Dan Abnett) are good enough on their own that you can work past the pseudo-Latin, the handwavium, the unobtainium, and the other wacky bits to enjoy a good story. (The same can be said for any "media-derived" novel: if the characters are good, if the story is good, then it can rise above any "taint" of being associated with such a "non-intellectual" item...but I bet those that decry media-derived works wish they got the money those works did!)

(Addendum upon finishing the Eisenhorn omnibus: I found this omnibus, despite my unfamiliarity with the game's background, to be quite good. If all the Warhammer 40,000 books are as good as this...impossible, but if...the effort will be worth it. At least I have one good author to search for, Dan Abnett.)

So, will I play the game? Not sure about that. I haven't done any gaming in years. But I am itching to pick up some of the miniatures and see if the hands have recovered sufficiently to do some painting!

Dan Abnett: Eisenhorn (Black Library Publishing; 2004; ISBN 978-1-84416-156-0; cover by Clint Langley). Omnibus made up of the novels Xenos, Malleus, and Hereticus and the short works Missing in Action and Blackcloth for a Crown Additional. Counts as three contributions to the 2008 Year in Books and two additions to the 2008 Year in Shorts.

Marc Gascoigne & Christian Dunn (editors): Let the Galaxy Burn (Black Library Publishing; 2006; ISBN 978-1-84416-342-7; cover by Jim Burns). Collection made up of the following short works: Editor's Introduction (Marc Gascoigne); Words of Blood (Ben Counter); The Black Pearl (Chris Pramas); Angels (Robert Earl); Unforgiven (Graham McNeill); In the Belly of the Beast (William King); Hellbreak (Ben Counter); Small Cogs (Neil Rutledge); The Fall of Malvolion (Dan Abnett); Children of the Emperor (Barrington J. Bayley); Deus ex Mechanicus (Andy Chambers); Business as Usual (Graham McNeil); Salvation (Jonathan Green); Hell in a Bottle (Simon Jowett); Tenebrae (Mark Brendan); Daemonblood (Ben Counter); Know Thine Enemy (Gav Thorpe); Nightmare (Gav Thorpe); Ancient History (Andy Chambers); The Tower (C.S. Goto); Loyalty's Reward (Simon Jowett); Raptor Down (Gav Thorpe); Defixio (Ben Counter); Ancient Lances (Alex Hammond); Ork Hunter (Dan Abnett); The Raven's Claw (Jonathan Curran); Emperor's Grace (Alex Hammond); Acceptable Losses (Gav Thorpe); Pestilence (Dan Abnett); Barathrum (Jonathan Curren); Suffer not the Unclean to Live (Gav Thorpe); The Lives of Ferag Lion-Wolf (Barrington J. Bayley); Playing Patience (Dan Abnett); Snares and Delusions (Matthew Farrer); Apothecary's Honour (Simon Jowett); Unthinking Justice (Andras Millward); Battle of the Archaeosaurs (Barrington J. Bayley); Wrath of Kharn (William King); Into the Maelstrom (Chris Pramas). Counts as five (5) entries in the 2008 Year in Shorts. Counts as seven (7) entries in the 2009 Year in Shorts. Counts as eleven (11) entries in the 2010 Year in Shorts. Counts as one (1) entry in the 2011 Year in Shorts.

Addendum (September 22, 2008): A collection of quotes from the game that started it all.

Dan Abnett: The Founding (Black Library; 2007; ISBN 978-1-84416-369-4; cover by Clint Langley).

Another creation by Abnett (who is turning out to be a favorite author in this series), the start of the Gaunt's Ghosts stories. Gaunt's Ghosts are a unit of elite infantry from a world overrun by the forces of Chaos and sent on various desperate missions. The series is pretty long (I've found a second omnibus like this one and a large number of paperbacks that have yet to be collected into sets). So far, lots of fun, but not as "baroque" as Eisenhorn was.

Made up of: Welcome to the Sabbat Worlds (introduction); First and Only (novel); Ghostmaker (novel); Necropolis (novel) and In Rembrance (short story).

Counts as 1 entry in the 2009 Year in Shorts.

James Swallow: Faith & Fire (Black Library; 2006; ISBN 978-1-84416-289-5; cover by Karl Kopinski).

This was one of the first Black Library volumes that I purchased. Knowing nothing about James Swallow, knowing nothing about the "Sisters of Battle" I picked it up entirely due to...the cover.

Showing a icon-bedecked, battle-armor-clad and heavily armed...woman, this was the kind of artwork that had me wondering what the heck the story was all about.

The novel revolves around a few members of the Sisters of Battle, an ultra-fanatic group of armed zealots who hunt "witches" (people with telepathic powers) in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Sister Miriya is put in charge of transporting a dangerous criminal to a planet when he escapes and puts her to shame. The book revolves around her quest to redeem herself and her unit. Overall, it "feels" more to me like a small campaign in a roleplaying game vs. a series of descriptions of battles (which is what you might think you would get from a book based on a game revolving around miniatures). I did not learn as much about the Sisters of Battle as I did learn, for example, about the Inquisitors (in the Abnett volume, above), but the story kept my attention and (more or less) lived up to the promise of the artwork. I enjoyed it enough to pick up a omnibus of "Blood Angels" books by the author (another one with a nice cover).

Monday, September 15, 2008


A description I've read of Neal Stephenson's new doorstop:

It's like a cross between Harry Potter and Gödel, Escher, Bach.

Addendum (September 15, 2008): A review by Michael Dirda.

Addendum (September 25, 2008): An interview with the author.

Message traffic went up significantly this past week. I assume on one posting in particular; but I hope folks come back on occasion.


Total ....................... 56,349
Average per Day ................ 286
Average Visit Length .......... 0:52
This Week .................... 2,001

Page Views

Total ....................... 90,097
Average per Day ................ 401
Average per Visit .............. 1.4
This Week .................... 2,808

Thursday, September 11, 2008


It's the end of the world as we know it...and I feel fine.

Addendum (September 12, 2008): Brian "Superstring" Greene on the LHC. And..physics jokes!!!!

A Higgs-Boson walks into a bar. The bartender says "You know, there were some guys looking for you."

A neutron walks into a bar; he asks the bartender, 'How much for a beer?' The bartender looks at him, and says "This reminds me of a joke."

O.K., more than physics jokes. Some groaners, as well. But fun stuff.
How to Teach the Children

I'm sure there's an officially sanctioned academically sound politically correct format out there somewhere...but how do I tell my daughter about what happened today? Especially when I still find it so difficult to speak about it myself?

I have wanted to be the one to do so. I feel that she needs to hear it from somebody who was there. Unvarnished from historical distortions as I can make it; as close to the actual experience as I can relate, without scaring the living daylights out of her.

Now I find that I must do so. Why? It seems that a classmate has given her a somewhat distorted version of what happened. No doubt he only heard it from his parents, but it has the taint of the whole it-was-a-plot-by-the-United-States-and-the-Israelis element about it.

"Let me tell you about the day Daddy almost got killed..."

Seven Years On

Going Downtown. There was a fire in the area, somewhere, last night. It involved at least some plastic. Toss that into a mix with some low-flying planes, and a fun night ensues.

I didn't look until I felt the flame.
The steel turns red, the framework starts to go.
Jacks clasp Jills' hands and step onto the sky.
The noise was not like anything you know.
Stand still, he said, and watch a building die.
There's no one you can help above this floor.
We've got to hold our breath. We've got to climb.
Don't give me that; I did this once before.
The firemen look up, and know the time.
These labored, took their wages, and are dead.
The cracker-crumbs of fascia sieve the light.
The air's deciduous of letterhead.
How dark, how brilliant, things will be tonight.
Once more, we'll all remember where we were.

110 Stories, John M. Ford.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Adventures with Tintin

The Young Lady has been doing a lot of reading, but (like me, when I was a kid) tends to fall into small interest groups: reading the same series several times, etc. So we went to the library this weekend and went through a couple of shelves worth of books, with me looking at stuff and saying things like "Hey, this is about kids who travel through time, like The Magic Treehouse, want to try that?", etc.

The one suggestion I thought she'd reject immediately has really hooked her. I spotted several Tintin omnibus collections, three adventures per book. I pulled them out, talked about them, and she took out three. And has been reading them end-to-end since. You never know what will hook her!
We Laughed, We Cried, We Told Jokes

I had the extreme good fortune to not only have seven (see if you can figure out what seven) books autographed by Travis S. "Doc" Taylor tonight, but to have dinner and a couple of drinks with him as well. He is a gracious and funny guy, and while he tries hard to project a "one of the guys image", there were more than a couple of times this evening when my jaw was hanging open trying to follow the way his mind jumps around.

Remember Neil Anson Clemons from Warp Speed and Quantum Connection? How about William Weaver from Into the Looking Glass and beyond? Now I feel like I've met them for real!

Let's see...spacecraft design. Child rearing. Detecting extrasolar planets with off-the-shelf equipment. Shrodinger's Cat. Quantum computers. Quantum physics and organic quantum computers. The Monoceros Ring. Roger Penrose. Miguel Alcubierre. Gamma-ray bursters. The Looking Glass books, The Warp Speed books. Other books he is written, has partially written, would like to write... Authors and/or stories that we both like. RoboTech. Star Blazers. Space opera. "Doc" Smith and parallels with Warp Speed and other books. Robert A. Heinlein. Spider Robinson. Lasers. Exotic space propulsion systems. How to get to another star in one person's "career life". Life extension. The wisdom of ordering sushi in a restaurant that is obstensibly Italian in nature.

And a whole lot more.

Folks, he's a fascinating guy. He's a very nice guy. If you get a chance to meet up with him at a convention or a conference, do so! You won't be sorry!

"Doc", it was great meeting you. I appreciate all the autographs! And the fascinating conversation! Is beer the same as coffee for you (hypes you up)?

Monday, September 08, 2008

Dinner with the "Doc"

Hey, guess who I'm having dinner with tomorrow night if all goes right?

Travis "Doc" Taylor

Time to be the raving fanboy!

The Man Who Corrupted His Daughter

(Addendum: I feel I must make mention of my fanboi bonafides!)

The Young Lady has been somewhat indifferent to science fiction and fantasy. There's the amusing time when my wife was flipping through channels, came across Forbidden Planet, and dismissed it as "Oh, that's a Daddy movie" to our daughter's inquiry. On the other hand, some of the things she has read on her own can be termed science fiction or that much-abused term "science fantasy".

Star Wars? Hasn't interested her a bit. Not a bit. Until now.

Two things were the catalyst. First, was the Pixar movie Wall-E. She enjoyed it (more the character of Wall-E and EVE, rather than the humans). Then there was Indiana Jones. She gave me the Nintendo DS Indiana Jones game (Legos, don'cha know) for Father's Day (and hasn't let me play it once).

So...I set my evil plan into action. I occasionally mentioned that the man who did the voice for Wall-E worked on other films. I let it be known that we had the Indiana Jones trilogy. Would she be interested in trying one? She watched Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade (no Temple of Doom yet!). I loaded the soundtrack onto my iPod and played it in the car when we drove out to visit my folks, or to bring her to summer camp.

Then came (without my intending to use it for the plan) the hype over the Clone Wars movie and the Clone Wars series. I haven't seen it (no time, no time), but the clips, especially the extended clips for the series have interested her to the point of asking some questions. So...

The problem was, which way to view the films. The way they were made or the "chronological order". If you watch the three prequel films, you pretty much know all the surprises in the three original films (I'll leave the discussion of the quality of the three original films vs. the three prequel films for another time). So even though showing A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi is "wrong" from the timeline, it is "right" in terms of suspense (and quality).

I asked her a couple of times. No interest. Then this weekend, a slight sign. I proposed showing her 15 minutes or so from A New Hope, if she liked it she could watch the rest, if she did not, I'd shut up. She agreed, so I showed the part where R2-D2 gets captured by the Jawas to the point where he meets up with C3PO in the sand crawler.

Hook. Line. Sinker.

She wanted to see the rest. So we went to the beginning. The next day we watched The Empire Strikes Back. No Return of the Jedi yet (school today), but who knows what the weekend will bring? Down the road? Maybe a little E.E. "Doc" Smith?

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Living Ship

A last glance to windward: the forces were exactly balanced: the moment had come. He drew a deep breath, tossed the hairy mango stone over the side, and shouted, 'Let go there.' An instant splash. 'Hard a-port.' The Surprise turned on her heel, her yards coming round to admiration, sails flashing out as others vanished, and there close on her starboard quarter was her foaming wake, showing a sweet tight curve. She leapt forward with a tremendous new impulse, her masts groaning, and settled on her new course, not deviating by a quarter of a point. She was heading exactly where he had wanted her to head, straight for the potential gap, and she was moving even faster than he had hoped. The higher spars were bending like coach-whips, just this side of carrying away.

'Mr Stourton, that was prettily executed I am very pleased.'

The Surprise was tearing through the water, moving faster and faster until she reached a steady eleven knots and the masts ceased their complaint. The backstays grew a shade less rigid, and leaning on one, gauging its tension as he stared at the Marengo, he said, 'Main and fore royal stuns'ls.'

(Patrick O'Brian, H.M.S. Surprise)
The Battle Over Poe

Baltimore has him. Philadelphia wants him. Good thing there's a Poe Militia standing by to defend his body!

(Alternate URL here because the NY Times never makes it easy.)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Monday, September 01, 2008

Still (!) Going

Those two plucky rovers, Spirit and Opportunity are still going on Mars. Opportunity has finished its year-long exploration of the half-mile wide crater known as Victoria and is back on "surface level" for its next stop. Spirit has sent back the "Bonestell Panorama". Wouldn't it have been wonderful for Chesley to have seen this?
Paper Disaster

Just what you need to spruce up the office cube...paper models of the Titanic and the their worst moments!
He's Back!

Recovering from the loss of his Hugo, Dave Langford is back with another issue of Ansible (#254 in a series).

A 19-year winning streak came to its end at last, which frankly was something of a relief....
Fred's Reading Report (August 2008)

So we come to the "traditional end" of did I do?

Short works? 459! The goal for the year was 365, so I've blown past that again (take that, SF Signal!). I feel like I've gotten on track again, picking up some books, such as the Hugo collections, that have been gathering dust on Mount Toberead. I've also started tallying shorter non-fiction works, to encourage me to read them.

Books read for the year stands at 57, with the following being read in August:

Hazardous Duty, by Col. David H. Hackworth (USA, Ret.).

Master & Commander, Post Captain, by Patrick O'Brian.

Unto the Breach and A Deeper Blue, John Ringo.

The World of Null-A; A.E. van Vogt.

The Patrick O'Brian volumes were originally part of a group read at a list I am on; I fell way behind, so now I'm just reading for pleasure. I'm hoping to make a run through the entire series. It is interesting to read these on a fairly continuous basis and see how the seeds for later tales are planted early on.

The two Ringo volumes complete his "Paladin of Shadows" or "Ghost" series (to date). When the Muse bites, I'm sure we'll see more.

The A.E. van Vogt was a re-read, the first time in a couple of decades. I was surprised how good the story was. I have a feeling my opinion of the book was colored by the rather poor third book in the series (which I no longer own). John Wright has continued the saga, so this was a re-read to refresh my memory before tackling that one.

Alas, reviews are running behind readings, so reviews will come...eventually. And (looking guiltily at Mount Toberead), I owed the folks at SF Signal several reviews, hopefully September will get me a little caught up there!

60 books a year has been my average for many years (the actual totals tend higher, which means I should calculate my average again! But, with 57 books completed, I'm probably doing better than 99% of the "average" folks out there!

Burroughs Birthday

Happy Birthday, Edgar Rice Burroughs!