Saturday, November 29, 2008

Foundation: The Movie?

So there's another attempt to make Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy into a movie afoot? As well as his The End of Eternity?

I don't think it will work. Last time I read them, I really noticed how much of the "action" is just two character's talking.

And...previous attempts have been bad from the get-go. For example, an attempt to turn the trilogy into two films (similar to what the initial attempt by Peter Jackson for The Lord of the Rings was). And the attempt to use the "creative team" behind that horrific version of Asimov's I, Robot. Blech!

Addendum (January 18, 2009): More details and opinion. "A Seldon Crisis of epic proporations in the making"! And here's a good look at the plot...and how much it has been mined by other "franchises"!

Straight-up chess, or chess played on a wall! I wonder how the match is going between the crew of the International Space Station and ground control and others?

And...has the internet killed "postal chess" or has it just all gone online?
Shock Wave!

The Bad Astronomer talks about the bow shock around Betelgeuse (I have to pick up his new book, Death from the Skies!. Any book that uses an exclamation point in the title...)

To give this a SF twist, look up Gregory Benford's short story Bow Shock, which appeared in the first issue of Jim Baen's Universe. Why this story did not win a Hugo or a Nebula, I'll never know.

From direct images of exo-planets to stuff like this, it's amazing how astronomy keeps coming up with stuff that...well, amazes! "What a fascinating modern age we live in", as Captain J. Aubrey put it.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Put Tobias Buckell on the Map

Tobias Buckell is in the hospital. Again. For a heart-related condition. Again. Good gravy!

John Scalzi has a brilliant suggestion. Let's all make him feel better by buying his new novel. Heck, it's apparently already #1 in SF at Amazon, let's see if we can blip it up to the main list!
Missed All But One

The New York Times has published a list of what they consider the 100 Notable Books of 2008. Despite having read 82 books (to date) and 602 short works (to date), I've managed only to purchase (and not yet read!) one book out of their 100.

Am I disconnected...or are they?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ten Years On

The International Space Station turns ten. Imagine what we could have done if we had the "will", given it better funding and the like.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My Jaw Has Dropped

At the urging of some friends, I went (with great trepidition) to the store to purchase some...anime.

O.K., O.K., so I've had RoboTech for years. I own Planetes. But the first was something that hooked me years ago, when it was shown locally (WPIX, Channel 11, out of New York), one episode a day, five days a week. I worked a few miles away from our then apartment and was able to get home and watch it while cooking supper. Along with Star Blazers, they were a lot of fun, but...

Primitive. Limited animation, limited story, limited characters.

A friend recommended Planetes, and I picked it up as I was interested in the subject matter: near-future space exploitation (not exploration, actually using space). Characters had pasts, "issues', were gritty, smoked cigarettes, drank and got drunk, bitched and moaned, fell in and out of love, died...Interesting stuff.

Beyond that, it was a confusing morass. What anime was good? What was bad? Which version to buy (each seems to exist in multiple "complete", "remastered", "expanded", "super deluxe", etc.)? How to proceed?

Man, there are so many titles. And if you look at online reviews, proceed with caution. As a "noob", most of the "fanboi" will treat you as pond scum when you inquire.

O.K., back to the jaw dropping. One title that was recommended was Ghost in the Shell. However...confusion abounds, as there is a movie, a sequel, a third movie which is not related to the two movies, but is a sequel to the two seasons of the television show which takes up some of the elements of the manga, expands upon some, parallels others, and...

You see what I mean? Oh, my, aching, head. Several versions of the movie on DVD. Sequels that do and don't relate. Releases of the television series in boxed sets, non-boxed sets, with extras, without extras...

Somebody needs to write a comprehensive guide for noobs.

I went to the store and picked up a two-disc version of Ghost in the Shell as well as a boxed set of the television series (first season). Last night, after a multi-hour Odyssey of the Mind meeting (don't ask, long story), I put the first disc of the movie into the computer and...

The jaw dropped.

I only watched about 15 or so minutes, but what a 15 minutes. Remember that story that William Gibson relates about how he was working on Neuromancer, went to see Bladerunner and staggered out of the movie theatre, realizing that he was seeing echoes of his creation on the screen...Ever hear about how the folks behind Matrix (great first movie, should have stopped there!) pitched their product and one of the pitch items was a showing of Ghost in the Shell (GITS, from now on)? Maybe they should have just skipped making those other two Matrix flicks and done what the folks at Pixar did with movies like Spirited Away (helped to distribute it to a wider audience).

This is a cyberpunk movie, a heck of a lot closer than anything else I've seen for the genre. Obviously inspired by Bladerunner, it does what Bladerunner set out to do several levels better. It is cyberpunk on the screen, a lot "rawer" and closer to the source than anything out of Hollywood.

So I go back to the store today and look for similar stuff. Still a morass of titles and versions, not any clearer where to go next. But I did pick up a novel of the movie and a CD of music (the music is pretty dang astounding on its own).

My jaw has dropped.
Mysterious Surplus

So where are all these high-energy electrons bombarding our planet coming from?

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Politics of Planets

Harrison H. "Jack" Schmitt, the only geologist to walk on the Moon, has resigned from The Planetary Society.

Finally, becoming a deep space-faring nation again constitutes a mult-generational endeavor, particularly if Mars is in the mix. Unfortunately, the government-run, politicized K-12 school system will not currently support such an endeavor. It has totally failed several generations of young people, not just in STEM subjects but in history, language and economics. This problem has to be solved first. The people requirements for a return to the Moon should help jump start that process, although it will take a much more grassroots effort to be successful.


TPS Statement * accelerating research into global climate change through more comprehensive Earth observations

---As a geologist, I love Earth observations. But, it is ridiculous to tie this objective to a "consensus" that humans are causing global warming in when human experience, geologic data and history, and current cooling can argue otherwise. "Consensus", as many have said, merely represents the absence of definitive science. You know as well as I, the "global warming scare" is being used as a political tool to increase government control over American lives, incomes and decision making. It has no place in the Society's activities.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Before You See That Remake

For some wacky reason, Hollywood has decided to remake one of the all-time classic science fiction movies: The Day the Earth Stood Still (directed by Robert Wise). Before you trot off to see yet another accounting error from the studios, take some time and read the story that inspired the original. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.

Posted at The Library of The Nostalgia League.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Could Be A Disaster

If it comes to pass that the one name being bandied about as the next NASA Administrator is nominated and serves...we could see the end of the agency as a functional institution.

Don't believe me? Start digging around and see what disasters he headed.

Update: Lori Garver? Ah, another political hack.

Assuming that the weather holds, space shuttle Endeavour will liftoff at 7:55:39 Eastern today on a mission to the International Space Station. Should be a spectacular site, given the light conditions at the time.
Old Bottles, New Wine

One of my most treasured astronomy books is a massive NASA-published collection of pictures from the 1960's-era Lunar Orbiter series of probes. You can get a copy online, if you search, but if you want a "deadtree" edition, be prepared to get another mortgage out.

So it was pretty amazing to see that the data from these probes is still of use: it is being reprocessed to get more detail and will help out our future unmanned and (the new administration willing) manned missions to our nearest neighbor.

I really hope that they reprocess the image known as The Picture of the Century (download the 9.8MB version for a real "wow!). That is my all-time favorite.

(Some details here.)
We've Found the Dorsai!

It looks like the Hubble Space Telescope has directly imaged an extra-solar planet. Pretty good for a piece of equipment on "life support"!

Dorsai? Why, everybody knows that the Dorsai are from the Fomalhaut system!

Phil Plait, a.k.a., The Bad Astronomer, has details.

Pictures of the second extra-solar direct image here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Think Of It As Evolution In Action

Somali and Yemeni pirates learn the hard way that it is not wise to attack a vessel of Her Majesty's Navy:

By the time the Royal Marines boarded the pirates’ vessel, the enemy had lost the will to fight and surrendered quietly. The Royal Navy described the boarding as "compliant".

And...the Russians have developed invisible helicopters, apparently:

The Russians claimed a helicopter based on their own frigate Neustrashimy had also taken part in yesterday’s battle, though the Royal Navy knew nothing about it. The Royal Marine commandos who boarded the pirates' dhow were supported by a Lynx helicopter from HMS Cumberland, the MoD said.
Return to Saturn

While they were derided as being "Battlestar Galactica missions", Cassini and Galileo provided (and in the case of Cassini, still provides) returns up and beyond their original specifications. Jupiter and Saturn are almost solar systems in their own right; sending a single-purpose mission that far is almost a waste.

So it is interesting to hear about plans for future missions of this class. For example, how about dropping a hot-air balloon to explore Saturn's moon Titan?
Kitchen Chemists

An article looking at the hoops one has to jump through in order to do experiments at home. Have you looked at a kid's chemistry set recently? Trash!
Cheap Bricks Ahead?

You'll have to take my word on it, but from this article the maker of Legos has lost its exclusive right to make bricks. Cheap bags of bricks for those who make aircraft carriers ahead?
Lunar Orbit

India's Chandrayaan-1 satellite has entered lunar orbit to begin an intensive study of our natural satellite. Instruments onboard include some provided by NASA and the JPL. an alternate reality...the debate over whether or not to release information about those secret lunar UFO bases continues!
Robot Roll Call!

Mystery Science Theatre 3000 is twenty (!!!) years old.
Dust Never Sleeps

The venerable Martian rover Spirit is endangered by dust. On Mars for over 1,725 "sols", dust has cut down the rovers ability to generate power to the point where engineers need to take steps to protect the rover.

And...on another part of Mars, the Phoenix Lander first entered "safe mode" and then had its mission declared "finished" when it too lost too much power.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Fifth of November

...he had to prepare the ship, dressed all over, for the grave ritual of saluting the Fifth of November. He and the bosun had of course laid aside great quantities of bunting and streamers...

Dr Maturin, properly uniformed, was propelled up the companion-ladder to the quarterdeck as the noon observation was in progress. He was somewhat astonished first by the flood of midday light after the shaded cabin and then by the colours all about him, high, low and on every hand, a variety of reds and yellows and blues, square, oblong, triangular, swallow-tailed, chequered, strangely brilliant after the eternal blue or grey, for the ship was now dressed over all, a splendid sight under a most luminous and perfect sky....

'Make it twelve, Mr West,' said Jack, noon being reported to him, and his words were still floating in the air when eight bells struck.

But whereas they were ordinarily followed by the bosun's pipe to dinner and a wholehearted Bedlam of cries and trampling feet and thumping mess-kids, now there was a total silence, all hands looking attentively aft.

'Carry on, Mr West,' said Jack.

'Away aloft,' cried West, and the mass of the frigate's people raced up the shrouds on either side in a swift and even flow. 'Lay out, lay out,' called West, and they ran out on the yards. When the last light young fellow was right at the end of the starboard foretopgallant yardarm, holding on by the lift, Jack stepped forward and in a voice to be heard in Heaven he uttered the words 'Three cheers for the King.'

'You must pull off your hat and call out Huzzay,' whispered Pullings into Stephen's ear: the Doctor was staring about him in a very vacant manner.

Huzzay, huzzay, huzzay: the cheers pealed out like so many rolling broadsides, and after the last nothing could be heard but Sarah and Emily, beside themselves with glee, who huzzayed on and on, 'Huzzay, huzzay for Guy Fawkes', very shrill, until Jemmy Ducks suppressed them.

'Mr Smith,' said Jack, 'carry on.' And the gunner in his good black Presbyterian-elder's coat stepped forward with a red-hot poker in his hand: the salute, beginning with Jack's own brass bow-chaser, came solemnly aft on either side at exact five-second intervals, the gunner pacing from one to the other with the ritual words 'If I wasn't a gunner I wouldn't be here: fire seven." When he had reached 'fire seventeen' he turned aft and took off his hat.

Jack returned his salute and said 'Mr West, the hands may be piped to dinner.'

A last wild long-drawn cheer, and before the white clouds of smoke had rolled a cable's length to leeward the usual midday hullaballoo rose to a splendid pitch.

'By land, in the northern parts of Ireland, I have seen the fifth of November celebrated with fireworks,' observed Stephen.

'Nothing can exceed the cannon's noble roar,' said the gunner. 'Squibs and burning tar-barrels, even sky-rockets at half a crown apiece, is mere frippery in comparison of a well-loaded gun.'

(Patrick O'Brian, Clarissa Oakes/The Truelove)
Reality Check, One Each

Chizumatic has some thoughts about the now finished (thank God!) election cycle. Considering some of the wing-nut commentary I've already read (on both sides of the fence), this is pretty tame and actually parallels a lot of my thinking.

Addendum: Alas, so far it seems we're just swapping wing nut comments from folks like Erica Jong with wing nut comments from the other side of the fence. It's amazing how many people have not noticed what SF&F author and scientist John Lambshead noticed and said:

"A large nation with a serious political division, in the middle of a major crisis, has debated, argued and chosen a leader by fair and free universal elections with no violence. An exemplary demonstration of how to run a first world country."

Amen to that.
Reality Shift

Think you know history? Take a look at what years of freshman papers have wrought!

You never know what you find when you open Wikipedia in the morning.
All Alone in the Night

When I sent the dogs out in the night, I was amazed to hear two crickets, calling to each other. This after a couple of heavy frosts and some generally cold weather. It almost feels like Indian Summer again, so it is nice to hear a couple of the night voices that have survived this late in the year.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Get Out and Vote

I've done my civic duty, have you? If you haven't...if you're too busy, if you think the lines will be too long, if you think you won't make a difference...then I don't want to hear one freaking complaint from you for the next four years.

It doesn't matter who you vote for. Just get off your posterior and do it.
What Does It Matter?

Billions of particles of anti-matter are being created. Still not enough to power the warp engines.
And Confusion to the Emperor!

Naomi Novik; His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire, Book 1) (Del Rey; 2006; ISBN 978-0-345-48128-3; cover by Dominic Harman).

For a couple of years now, friends have been recommending this series to me. After all, they reason, you read that Patrick O'Brian stuff and this is just like that, but with dragons.

The series is set during the 1800's, when much of the known world was involved in various wars, mostly revolving around a certain Corsican, Napoleon Bonaparte. However, unlike the world of Jack Aubrey, or Horatio Hornblower, the world of the main character, Captain Will Laurence is inhabited by dragons, dragons that the various nations have used in these wars. Laurence captures a French frigate and discovers a precious cargo: an unhatched dragon's egg. When it hatches, the dragon, soon named Temeraire, bonds with him. This simultaneously gains him a new friend, but loses him the life he knew up to that point, that of a naval officer, as he must join the Aerial Corps.

Much of the book revolves around the growing relationship between Laurence and Temeraire as they train with the Aerial Corps, make friends and enemies, fight French spies and an invasion of England and learn more about Temeraire's abilities. The book is set around the time of Trafalgar (October 21, 1805), which means that we can look forward to several more installments it the careers of Laurence and Temeraire parallel that conflict.

So, is the series "just like" those Patrick O'Brain books? The book was fun and it was a fast read. But it had no where near the level of detail and background of the O'Brian tales, or the complex storylines and character's of his series. Perhaps in time, with subsequent books, Novik will grow as a writer. Right now, it feels more like a mix of Patrick O'Brian and Anne McCaffrey, with a dash of WWI flying aces tossed into the mix.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Delivered by the Intertubes

Number 256 in a series. Dave Langford, the gift that keeps on giving.

John Norman plugs his new Gor novel: "What man, in his deepest heart, does not want to own a female, to have her for his own, utterly, as a devoted, passionate, vulnerable, mastered slave, and what woman, in her deepest heart, does not want to be so intensely desired, so unqualifiedly and fiercely desired, that nothing less than her absolute ownership will satisfy a male, her master?" [GW] Answers on a postcard, to anyone but me.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Fred's Reading Report (October 2008)

With two months to go I've hit 78 books and 548 short works. Books read this month include: Hereticus (Dan Abnett); Dark Integers and Other Stories (Greg Egan); Pyramid Scheme (Eric Flint and Dave Freer); The Fortune of War (Patrick O'Brian); Into the Looking Glass (John Ringo); Manxome Foe and Vorpal Blade (John Ringo and Travis S. Taylor); Footprints on a Secret Moon (David Senechal).

One thing that struck me this month is how much reading I am doing on electronic devices (either my Sony Clie PDA or my Bookeen Cybook) and how ludicrous it is whenever I hear someone say "I can't read a book on a computer screen!" If you work with a computer on a daily basis, you're reading the equivalent of a book over time. Probably several books. I've been reading eBooks since I got my first Apple Newton and have since then used the first two generations of the Palm PDA, the first two generations of the Handspring Visor PDA, a Sony Clie and now the Bookeen Cybook.

This month I read the following in electronic format: Pyramid Scheme, Into the Looking Glass, Manxome Foe, and Vorpal Blade.

Previous to this, I read the following in electronic format: The Secret of Sinharat and The People of the Talisman; Cetaganda; To Prime the Pump; The Broken Cycle; Balefires; Other Times Than Peace; Lt. Leary, Commanding; Ring of Fire; The Stars Are Ours!; Pyramids; The Last Centurion; Princess of Wands; A Hymn Before Battle; Unto the Breach; A Deeper Blue; Manxome Foe (in January); Telzey Amberdon; One Day on Mars, The Tau Ceti Agenda; Warp Speed; Rainbows End.

That means of the 78 books I've read this year...25 were read in electronic format. Plus a number of the short works as well. So much for "not being able to read a book on a computer screen".

I don't think eBooks will ever replace real books. I enjoy collecting books, reading books. But once I put in the amount of time I can read books on electronic devices...standing in line, waiting for a cup of coffee at work, waiting for the car to warm up, etc....electronic books are starting to add up.

If you investigate the titles listed, you'll see that most are from Baen Books. Baen's Webscription service still stands head and shoulders above all the competition. Other publishers (or distributors of eBooks) should look to the way that Baen distributes their books as a model. Heck, just look at my average expenditures at Webscriptions vs. other sites!