Saturday, February 28, 2009

Tiffin and Shock

Two nifty entries at Cool Tools. The first is a "tiffin carrier". I've seen these in movies, and on at least one episode of Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares. I'd like to get a couple of sets of the two-tiers, for lunches and such. Then there's the Casio Atomic G-Shock. Maybe overkill for my sedate lifestyle now, I wish I had something this sturdy when I was knocking around with tanks!

And I have to get a replacement shortwave radio. I miss that at night. Maybe this one or this one.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Wanted

Attention book publishers: The following sentiment, in which I heartily agree, was suggested on a mailing list I read...

One of the things the world sorely lacks is a GOOD volume of Kipling in a sturdy—quality paper in soft leather binding, something which will stand up to being carried about and read anywhere—edition. Bookbinding is an all too often unappreciated art these days.


The Sons of Martha
Rudyard Kipling 1907

The sons of Mary seldom bother, for they have inherited that good part;
But the Sons of Martha favour their Mother of the careful soul and the troubled heart.
And because she lost her temper once, and because she was rude to the Lord her Guest,
Her Sons must wait upon Mary's Sons, world without end, reprieve, or rest.
It is their care in all the ages to take the buffet and cushion the shock.
It is their care that the gear engages; it is their care that the switches lock.
It is their care that the wheels run truly; it is their care to embark and entrain,
Tally, transport, and deliver duly the Sons of Mary by land and main.

They say to mountains, "Be ye removed." They say to the lesser floods, "Be dry."
Under their rods are the rocks reproved—they are not afraid of that which is high.
Then do the hill-tops shake to the summit—then is the bed of the deep laid bare,
That the Sons of Mary may overcome it, pleasantly sleeping and unaware.
They finger death at their gloves' end where they piece and repiece the living wires.
He rears against the gates they tend: they feed him hungry behind their fires.
Early at dawn, ere men see clear, they stumble into his terrible stall,
And hale him forth a haltered steer, and goad and turn him till evenfall.
To these from birth is Belief forbidden; from these till death is Relief afar.
They are concerned with matters hidden—under the earthline their altars are—
The secret fountains to follow up, waters withdrawn to restore to the mouth,
And gather the floods as in a cup, and pour them again at a city's drouth.

They do not preach that their God will rouse them a little before the nuts work loose.
They do not teach that His Pity allows them to drop their job when they dam'-well choose.
As in the thronged and the lighted ways, so in the dark and the desert they stand,
Wary and watchful all their days that their brethren's day may be long in the land.

Raise ye the stone or cleave the wood to make a path more fair or flat—
Lo, it is black already with blood some Son of Martha spilled for that!
Not as a ladder from earth to Heaven, not as a witness to any creed,
But simple service simply given to his own kind in their common need.

And the Sons of Mary smile and are blessed—they know the Angels are on their side.
They know in them is the Grace confessed, and for them are the Mercies multiplied.
They sit at the Feet—they hear the Word—they see how truly the Promise runs.
They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and—the Lord He lays it on Martha's Sons!
The High Cost of Flying

Charging for toilets on an airplane? A new low.
Ch-ch-ch-changes!

Gary Westfahl reviews the film version of Neil Gaiman's Coraline. Sounds like they should have left well enough alone instead of "embellishing" or "improving".
Pohl Excerpted

Highlights of a recent Locus interview with SF Grandmaster Fred Pohl (my copy was apparently eaten by the whole recent magazine distribution bro-hah-hah).

"For several weeks after I bought Delany's Dhalgren, every time I came into the office somebody would take me aside and say, 'Hey Fred, I'm not questioning your decision—but why did you buy that book, exactly?' The only answer I could ever give them was, 'Because it's the first book that taught me anything I didn't know about sex since The Story of O.' But it did sell, and I take some credit for that.

"Most editors were not usually invited to the annual sales conference, because there were too many of them, but I told the boss I was going whether they liked it or not. Nobody else would be able to persuade them to deal with Dhalgren. When I got there I said to the salesmen, 'You're going to get a book called Dhalgren. You don't need to read it, don't need to know what it's about. The only thing you need to know is, it's the first book by Samuel R. Delany in many years. He considers it his masterpiece, and there are thousands of people out there who will buy it as soon as they see it. Just get it in the stores, and it will take care of itself.' It did. I think we did 16 printings in the first year, and he kept changing a line or two for every one. When the guy who took over from me as editor saw the sales figures on Dhalgren, he immediately signed three new contracts with Chip, with commensurate advances... and lost his shirt!"
The Comic Insertion of the Extended Infodump

John Clute reviews a collection of short works by the late Poul Anderson.
Two Solar Bodies

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Comet Lulin and Saturn. I spotted Lulin Thursday morning (early, very early) both with naked eye and binoculars, so get out there!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The American Military

David Brin posts about the American military at the Sigma Forum (do some digging around on that to see how odd it is for Brin to be there). Now if he would only write more Uplift tales so we can finally find out what ever happened to the Streaker!
Dune. Desert Planet. Arrakis.

The Cassini probe has been mapping weather patterns on Saturn's moon Titan by looking at dune fields.
Hot Coffee!

I'm moving to Maine. To heck with Starbucks.
Nukes in Space!!!!

What better place than the excellent Atomic Rockets website to discuss nukes in space (and many other weapons)?
Coke: The Real Thing

A plasma thruster made from a Coke can and a glass bottle? Coke brings things to life. Only at MIT.
Three Planets, One Moon

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows our Moon, as well as the planets Mercury (a rare sight for most), Mars and Jupiter.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Philip Jose Farmer

SF Signal is reporting that Philip Jose Farmer has passed away. Some books and stories that I remember: Riders of the Purple Wage, Sail On! Sail On!, The Green Odyssey, The Other Log of Phileas Fogg (what a great cover by Vincent di Fate!) and Flesh.

(Sample chapters from the omnibus Strange Relations can be found here.)

Into the Ring of Fire

Science fiction used to be fun. Then it got serious. There were occasional outbreaks in the 1960's with the "New Wave" (is it dead yet?). In the 1970's we saw cyberpunk and the initial wave of literati embracing "speculative fiction". Now we have people who write science fiction (or would be science fiction if anybody but the literati types wrote it) while poo-pooing SF, science fiction shows that "really aren't science fiction" and sub-sub-genres where the more strident (annoying) proponents say we ought to be writing stories about things like (I kid you not) a science fiction (sorry, speculative fiction) version of the sub-prime meltdown.

Give me a break.

Now, don't get me wrong. I want to see the market for SF get expanded. More mainstream readers ought to read SF, it'll help them get adjusted to the increasing pace of change ("future shock", if you like). Learned articles on the field? Sure, if it keeps folks like James Gunn employed. But when you get to the point where somebody claims that you can only write in the field if you have a masters or doctorate in literature (as I have had related to me)...forget it. When you think that stories ought to exclusively deal with current day issues because somehow (magically) the literati will start taking SF "seriously"...forget it.

Let's face it folks. We face enough serious stuff and real life stuff in...real life. It's time for science fiction to be fun again!

And, thanks to Baen Books, I've found a series that makes it so.

What am I talking about? Let's look at one of science fiction's Grand Masters, Murray Leinster. He wrote a short story (which can be found online here) called The Runaway Skyscraper. A building full of "modern" (well, modern for the time) New Yorkers get transported into the past. Do they scream and gnash their teeth? Do they give up and die? No, they adapt, improvise, overcome and win out in the end.

Good stuff, that positive thinking.

Eric Flint (with the help of a whole lot of people, more on that later) set out with a similar theme in his first Ring of Fire story, 1632 (the series is also known as the Assiti Shards universe). The town of Grantville, West Virginia, is hit by a cosmic accident (amusingly, a bit of space art gone very wrong) and is transported back in time, to Europe in the year 1632.

Europe at that time was quiet and sedate, a pastoral paradise. Well...no. Europe at that time was embroiled in a series of wars fought by locust-like armies, lots of political maneuvers, religious strife. Toss in an American town from West Virginia (and six-odd miles around the town) and what happens? Do they give it up?

Some want to. But this is a science fiction novel in the good old sense (is it a coincidence that Flint has edited anthologies bringing the works of Murray Leinster back into print?). The town works to survive, fighting back, planting crops, seeking out alliances.

There are good guys. There are bad guys. And...interstingly, they evolve and grow. Alliances shift and change. Machines break down and must be adapted. The town realizes that their 20th Century lifestyle needs a lot of outside support and will grind to a stop. So it is interesting to watch them come up with ways to live on in the 1600's with better than 1600-level technology.

The series started to expand in two directions. First, there is a series of books, mostly co-written by Flint and a number of other folks (David Weber has contributed to some, but the usual practice—one that Baen excels at—is to pair Flint with a relatively unknown author...with the result that sometimes the lesser-known author grows to become a solo author on his or her own). This line of books includes the direct sequel to 1632, 1633 and then titles such as 1634: The Ram Rebellion, 1634: The Baltic War and 1635: The Cannon Law (and more). History and fiction intermix, as do real and imagined characters. Even Galileo makes an appearance!

The other thread of books are short story collections. This started with Ring of Fire, which featured stories not only by known Baen authors, but fans of the books. The stories set the pattern for another line: the author focuses on a incident from the main books and explores a sideline, or focuses on some sort of problem faced by the inhabitants of Grantville and sees how the problem can be overcome.

From Ring of Fire came Grantville Gazette, a series of electronic magazines and book anthologies. The fans were hooked by the books and wanted more. The authors could only write so fast, so fans proposed stories of their own. Started as an experiment in electronic publishing, the eZines (electronic magazines) proved popular enough to be "spun off" into "real" books. As with Ring of Fire, the stories are mostly explorations of the sidelines, especially in terms of adapting technology. Heck, one even has a group of teenagers coming to grips with the change and instead of moping around they start a business. Teenagers! In a positive light! The shock!

Phew. There's a lot of stuff here and I'm still wrestling how to do a proper (decent) set of reviews. If you love science fiction in the style of the "Golden Age", if you love positive stories (with plenty of thrills and chills), if you love adventure and action...give these a try.

(Addendum: Official website here! Learn about the dead horses, download timelines, browse thousands of messages from fans...and maybe...get inspired to contribute to the universe!)

(Addendum: Free books! Free books! Baen has put a number of the Ring of Fire tales in their Free Library. You can read online or download files in multiple formats. You'll be able to find: 1632, 1633 and the first volume of Grantville Gazette there.)
Getting the Drift

E.D. Swinton; The Defence of Duffer's Drift (Avery Publishing Group Inc.; 1986; ISBN 0-89529-323-4; cover art, uncredited historical photograph).

(An online version can be found here.)

Defence opens as Lieutenant Backsight Forethought, about as green as grass, is dropped off in the veldt with a platoon to defend a vital piece of terrain. He has no idea of what conditions are in the area, so when he is attacked, he is beaten soundly and surrenders.

He then has a dream where he learns a couple of lessons about tactics. And he applies those lessons when (a la Groundhog Day) he is dropped off to defend a vital piece of terrain. Over a series of dreams, he improves his lot, a bit each time, is beaten each time, but learns more lessons (twenty-two in all) and wins the action, changing the course of the war.

And then he wakes up...as it is time to defend that new piece of territory.

The story here is less important than the lessons learned, implied or direct. In addition to the direct lessons, there's a lot here that young lieutenants should pick up on in terms of logistics, listening to the men, directing the men and more. While set during the Boer Wars, much of this carries forward to this day (and beyond).

(Interestingly enough, Swinton was one of the founders of my chosen MOS—armor. No wonder I enjoyed the book so much!)
Comet-Mania

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows you the two tails of Comet Lulin.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Career Opportunities Are Ones That Never Knock

Phil Plaitt, The Bad Astronomer, looks at orbital job satisfaction.
Bubble

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day continues the recent explorations of sights in and around Orion. Here we have Barnard's Loop around the Horsehead Nebula. Dang Horsehead Nebula is one sight that continues to elude me!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Heat Wave

SpaceX has successfully tested a heat shield for their Dragon spacecraft.
Future Games

Atomic Rockets takes a look at the games of the future!

Dyson Shells, Alderson Disks and Stellar Engines

The 365 Days of Astronomy podcast has been a lot of fun; I'm just about caught up. Today's episode will provde plenty of scenarios for the science fiction writer.

For some previous entries I've made on the subject, I refer you to here and here.
One Night in Bangkok

A Russian chess champion wants to make the game "cool".
Cheap Oil

Keeping in mind that this was expressed as a "personal opinion" (sort of like certain NASA employees expressing their "personal opinions" on politically-charged subjects), are biofuels forbidden by the Koran?
The Space Review

In the current issue of The Space Review, a few items of interest. Brian Weeden looks at the crowded region around our planet and its implications for security and travel in space. Taylor Dinerman wonders about the need for a new National Space Council. And at T-minus 1 year, Dwayne A. Day looks at 2010. Not as good the 2001: A Space Odyssey, but still a excellent effort.
Etruscan Vase

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows one heck of a strange moonrise.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Night Flight to Orion

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day provides a stunning view of one of my favorite sights in the night sky: M42, the Orion Nebula.
What's Up, Doc?

Aaron Allston: Doc Sidhe (Baen Books; 1995; ISBN 0-671-87662-7; cover by David Mattingly).

Available for free online here.

I had not encountered anything by Allston before this and actually had this book on various eBook readers for a couple of years: it is available with Baen's Free Library, so I downloaded it and pretty much forgot about it. Now that I am dipping into a lot of Baen this year, I read it.

And I'm glad I did.

Harris Greene seems to be washed up. He has lost a fight, his manager has fired him, and his girlfriend has dumped him. Then his ex-girlfriend gets kidnapped by a mysterious group and while Harris is trying to rescue her he gets sent into another world, a place like Earth, down to the continents but without our powers and principalities. Instead there is a whole other society there, a kind of mix between (mostly) Celtic magic and a sort of Victorian/Steampunk level of technology. He's caught up in a war between the forces of good and order (lead by the "Doc Sidhe" of the title) and Duncan Blackletter and The Changeling.

Propeller-driven airplanes, fancy cars, airships, lifts, brick-lined streets, swordplay, golems, friends, sacrifice, true love, "the fair folk" and more. I enjoyed the book so much that even though it is from the Free Library at Baen Books, I've bought it and the sequel. I'm not sure what Allston is up to these days, but his name is on the list of authors I'm looking for when I step into a bookstore.
Bugs, Mr. Rico!

John Ringo: Gust Front (Baen Books; 2001; ISBN 978-0-671-31976-2; cover by Dru Blair).

Available for free online.

I had read John Ringo's earlier entry in the Posleen series (also known as The Legacy of the Alldenata series). It was fun, but kind of rough. This entry, the second in the series (and I'm not sure how many books this was for Ringo, as he also collaborated on several) was not only much smoother in terms of writing, plotting, characterization, but a much better story.

The bugs...or the Posleen...are approaching Earth. The military is mobilized, but the fleet on which so much hope is pinned won't be ready in time. It'll be up to ground forces (of varying qualities), aging weapons systems with improvements (battleships) and the like.

When the Posleen land, all heck breaks loose. The book does swap around to some of the landings in other countries, but concentrates mainly on the landings in and around Virginia. And, interestingly enough, it does not so much concentrate on the typical infantry or armor units, but a number of engineer (sapper) and mortar units and how they turn the tide. Toss in the usual conniving humans, secret societies and strange plots (more weird stuff going on here than your typical season of 24 or the mind of a conspiracy-laden wing nut) and you've got a good fast-moving read by Ringo. Highly recommended.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Extro!

Two more science fiction reviews at Dark Roasted Blend. I tried Alfred Bester's The Computer Connection, but never "got it" (much like it's roughly contemporaneous Golem 100). Maybe it is time to try it again (it is certainly time to re-read his other works such as The Stars My Destination). Then there's Samuel R. Delany. Nova and Babel-17, along with The Star Pit and Empire Star are about my all-time favorites among his works.

The Legion of Space

Dark Roasted Blend looks at one of my all-time favorite space operas: The Legion of Space by the much-missed Jack Williamson.
Lego-Mania

Geodesic domes. Logic gates. A Scrabble board. Is there anything you can't make, given enough bricks?

Addendum (as I try to clean out the mailbox!): SF gaming with Legos! Lego spies and Lego terrorists (me thinks the folks protesting should protest more against the actual participants than the toys). The Lego Turing Machine (video!). Brickplumber's photostream. Steampunk and Legos!
Alt.History

What if the Nazis had won WWII? What would Manhattan looked like?
Think of London

Two maps of London that fit in (well, around) the "canonical" period of the career of Jack Aubrey. And, here are some nifty pointers to The Canon.

Addendum: An even cooler map resource.
Danton

It appears that a French battleship, sunk during WWI, has been located.
Tools for Writers

Apparently cold is one way to supercharge a writer, or at least some writers.

I'll note that this writer also gets supercharged while chugging coffee drinks.
The Truth is Out There

Well...somebody has figured out that jihad ain't that good for public relations!
It's Not Dead...It's Just Pining for the Fjords...

Darwin's Evolutions has "morphed" from being a webzine to a free-content blogzine. Blog, blogzine, webzine...poootaaaaato, poootaaaayyytoe...

Judge Dee at Work

I first encountered Judge Dee during the summer of 1974 when Judge Dee and the Monastery Murders appeared on television. It was announced as a "pilot", which excited me when I saw the film (I did not know then that a "pilot" appearing during the summer meant the series was not picked up and the network was trying to recoup some losses by using it as a fill-in). An all-oriental cast, set in historical China, a detective that had to use brains instead of bullets...alas, not for American television!

Fast forward several years. When I eventually got married, got a television and got a VCR the movie surfaced again on late-night television (nowadays late-night television is the home of infomercials, once upon a time it was the home of movies). I taped it and watched it several times. Fun stuff!

Fast forward again several more years, a couple of jobs, and a different work location. Working in downtown New York, you would occasionally come across a speciality shop. One of these was a bookstore that specialized in mysteries. At that time I was working my way through the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters. Imagine my surprise when I saw several titles by Robert Van Gulik including a omnibus edition that included The Haunted Monastery! Could it be?

It was! And even better...I found that there was a bit of a Van Gulik republishing spree going on, including a collection of short stories that had a chronology. Given my anal-retentive nature of attention to detail, I was in seventh heaven. So I rapidly consumed the entire series.

Flash forward again. While digging through books, I came across these again. As it has been more than ten years, it is time to go through again. Alas, the videotape that I had made of The Monastery Muders seems to have vanished (and no DVD has been released).

Robert Van Gulik (translator); Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee (Dee Goong An): An Authentic Eighteenth-Century Chinese Detective Novel (Dover Publications, Inc.; 1976; ISBN 0-486-23337-5; cover by Robert Van Gulik).

Celebrated Cases is a translated and edited version of a real Chinese-language Judge Dee novel. It features many of the elements that Van Gulik later expanded upon for the original series entries (Dee's lieutenants, his methods of detection, etc.), but adds much that Van Gulik never really touched on again. For example, Dee would employ, in this book, a much more "vigorous" method of questioning than the rest of the series. This can be read at any time during the rest of the series, as it does not fit in with the "canon". Almost as interesting as the rest of the book are Van Gulik's notes at the end concerning his translation.

Robert Van Gulik; The Chinese Gold Murders (The University of Chicago Press; 1977; ISBN 0-226-84864-7; cover by Ed Lindlof). Summary here.

Dee's fictionalized career starts with this novel-length work with strong overtones of being several short works woven together. This comes from an approach the Van Guilik often used: several separate story threads that may or may not be linked (they are for this entry). Dee deals with murder and smuggling in the port-city of Peng-lai. The story also introduces his two trusted lieutenants ("brothers of the green wood") and his trusted oldest servant and even tosses in a touch of the supernatural. Unlike the first book, Celebrated Cases, Dee relies entirely on detective work, thinking, questioning and footwork. None of the more "extreme" methods of the first book are present.

Robert Van Guilik; Judge Dee at Work (The University of Chicago Press; 1992; ISBN 0-226-84866-3; cover by Ed Lindlof). Summary here.

The short stories in this collection span the career of Judge Dee and the book ends with a mostly-complete chronology of his fictionalized career (it misses the book Poets and Murder). All good short works that fill in the career of this ancient detective.

Made up of: Five Auspicious Clouds; The Red Tape Murder; He Came with the Rain; The Murder on the Lotus Pond; The Two Beggars; The Wrong Sword; The Coffins of the Emperor; Murder on New Year's Eve.

Counts as two entries in the 2009 Year in Shorts.

(More to come as I go through the series again!)

Robert Van Gulik; The Lacquer Screen (The University of Chicago Press; 1992; ISBN 0-226-84867-1; cover by Ed Lindlof).

Judge Dee travels to Wei-ping after a conference in the capital. Instead of relaxing, as he intended, he gets involved in a murder, an apparent suicide and a case of fraud. He spends time undercover and finds that the three cases are really one.

Addendum: The lack of The Haunted Monastery on DVD shows that there are still plenty of titles out there that might sell...maybe if the studios were to take a "print on demand" approach? Heck, I'm surprised nobody has figured out (Roddenberry = Money) that the failed pilots that Gene Roddenberry worked on (Spectre, the various Genesis II efforts and The Questor Tapes) have a certain audience.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Things That Make You Go Hmmm....

Sure, I believe in "climate change". Just looking at geological history shows you all sorts of times when the climate of our planet has changed. Looking out into our Solar System shows all sorts of climate models and climate history.

But...are we significantly contributing? I'm not so sure there. I think the debate is still open. And it is nice to see that there are some pretty major figures who feel the same way.
Far

George Hrab, of Geologic Podcast, celebrates the 365 Days of Astronomy podcast and the International Year of Astronomy.

Very. Funny. Stuff.
Tropical Hawai'i

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the Milky Way as seen from the summit of Mauna Kea. Yes, that is snow.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Just Mooning Around

The good news: The LCROSS probe (Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite) is heading for Kennedy Space Center for launch.

The bad news: LCROSS will be integrated with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. It looks like the launch date for the LRO has slipped.

And...it is time once again for the Great Moonbuggy Race!
Fahrenheit 451

Oh look, the federal government is mandating the burning of books!
Those Dang Solids

Gamer and FTL: 2448 fan John H. Reiher talks about dice. Lots of dice.
Why We Game

Richard Tucholka, head honcho of Tri Tac Games (one of my favorite smaller gaming houses) talks about why we do the things that we do.
Nothing Like a Information Fragment...

From Charlie's Diary, the blog of SF author Charles Stross:

I'll try to come up with something more pleasant to talk about when I'm home. Like, oh, the forthcoming Japanese edition of "Accelerando", or the covers of this summer's books, or the impending collapse of the US magazine and mass-market distribution chain.


I await enlightenment. Here's some.

Monday, February 16, 2009

One Heck of a Nebula

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows you one reason why amateur astronomers in the southern hemisphere have more fun.
The Infinity Concerto

Clifford D. Simak...as music?

The score is just the written descriptions used in the novels because I want the musicians who bring these sounds to life to use their imaginations. One of the great joys of doing a Mail Art project is the surprise of getting back wholly unexpected interpretations of the project parameters.


Probably a bit beyond the fringe for me. I'll pass it on to the The Path of the Bookseller, as I know he did some music in Austin at one point.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Lensman!

Time for the creaky old fan (with apologies to Steve Davidson) to ramble.

Way back in the dawn of time when Pyramid came out with an edition of "Doc" Smith (both the Skylark tales and the Lensman tales) with those utterly wonderful Jack Gaughan covers, I read the whole Lensman series on Friday nights when we went to a place called Packard's Market (sort of a department store) in Hackensack, NJ. My parent's would drop us kids off at the books, we'd read them, and they'd pick us up eventually.

Imagine doing that today?

Anyway, over the course of a spring, into a summer, and then a fall, I read "Doc" Smith. Years later I bought a different edition from Pyramid (and eventually got most of them in hardcover...in early to original editions!). But the first time was the magic time. Hurtling planets, negaspheres, colliding galaxies and more! From the birth of the planets in our galaxy to ancient Rome, to WWI, WWII, WWIII and beyond, from hurtling spaceships to hurtling planets to fleets of planets, "Doc" Smith Thought Big.

I re-read these books every few years. Sure, the dialog is corny. Sure, the "sex" is silly. Sure, it's pulp.

But. It is the essence of great science fiction. It is one of our wellsprings. And it is a dang lot of fun.

Hmmm..it's been a few years. Time to pull a volume off the shelf.
Return of the Vorpal Blade

John Ringo and Travis S. Taylor: Claws That Catch (Baen Books; 2008; ISBN 978-1-4165-5587-2; cover by Kurt Miller).

When we last left the valiant crew of the A.S.S. Vorpal Blade (don't ask), they had barely survived a survey mission to find out why contact was lost with a planetary outpost. (And in checking my old entries, I find that I never wrote up a review of the second and third book—Manxome Foe. So, I direct you to the Ringo-solo effort that started it all: Into the Looking Glass and the collaborative effort of Vorpal Blade.) Things got interesting (as usual) when they ran into the Dreen (about the nastiest group of aliens in the annals of science fiction), but the day was saved when they teamed up with a new alien race, the Hexosehr.

With the Vorpal Blade more hole than ship, they build the Vorpal Blade II. Claws That Catch deals with the "shakedown cruise" for this new ship. And, as usual, there's a whole lot of shaking going on.

The book was a lot of fun, space opera at the peak. There's also a lot of nitty-gritty military stuff (going from being an NCO to an officer, being a military wife, the joys of being an executive officer, relations upon a ship and more). Toss in a new alien species, hints of an older race, more Dreen (of course), and one heck of an alien artifact.

A fun space opera. But seriously folks...there is a lot of "meat" here as well. The passages on how a newly-minted lieutenant faces sending his troops into harm's way or how an executive officer is supposed to act are excellent. I called the first book in the series (a solo effort by Ringo) snack food, but that hasn't stopped it from becoming one of my favorites (just as Warp Speed, the solo novel by "Doc" Taylor is one of my favorite reads). Ringo and Taylor are getting better and better at feeding you some really hard science plus good concepts on leadership and the military...plus a tasty helping of space opera.

When is the next one coming out? Dang...
Collision!

Two communications satellites collided above the Earth (about 500 miles up). One was a part of the Iridium "constellation" of satellites, the other appears to have been a non-functioning Russian satellite.

No word if we're going to see the Kessler Syndrome!

SEND UP THE TOYBOX!!!!

Addendum: Bill Harwood at Spaceflight Now. Nancy Atkinson at Universe Today (with a nifty shot of an Irdium satellite seen from the ISS).

Sunday, February 08, 2009

I Gloat

Hah, peasants! Bow down before me! I'm proofing an upcoming science fiction novel (not mine). How cool is that?

Friday, February 06, 2009

When Orion Rises

Aerospace Projects Review has put together what appears to be a nice article on the Orion "boom-boom" spaceship.
To Rescue Hayabusa

Japan's space agency has taken the first steps in getting their asteroid probe, Hayabusa, back to Earth.

Addendum (February 7, 2009): Additional details on how the probe is being flown.
Department of Too Much Time On His Hands Department

So, how much did the Death Star drain the Galactic Empire's budget?

Addendum: He ain't the only one with too much time...
All Alone in the Night

At the latest Astronomy Picture of the Day we have the ISS against the Moon. Now how about we strap some engines on that thing and go somewhere!
Cleaning House

A enclosed space is no place for germs! Even astronauts need to get out the mop now and again.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

When Will People Realize the Truth?

Probably when it is too late! As previously mentioned, we have a new comet in the skies. However, this news item from NASA overlooks the obvious: The Cometeers Are Coming!!!!!!

(As an aside: I miss Jack Williamson!)

Update! They want you believe it is a "disconnection event". The reality is that The Cometeers have stopped firing their engines!!!
Exploring Mars

More evidence that water...in some form...helped to create features that we see on Mars today. And, how scientists prepared for the Phoenix Mars Lander mission a bit closer than the Red Planet.
And Orion Shall Rise

Nifty drawings of what might have been!
Mars Stinks

Will human explorers of Mars be forced to hold their noses?
Into Deepest Space

Lots of galaxies in the news today. Infant galaxies were apparently small and hyperactive, just like humans! Here's a view of a "strange" galaxy. Not a galaxy, but could somebody plug up the dust fountains that block our views of those faraway objects?
Committing Blog

David S. F. Portree (hey, look at those middle initials!) is moving from Altair VI to Beyond Apollo and Robot Explorers.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

SAN Check

Seen as a .sig file...

Once you can accept the universe as matter expanding into nothing that is something, wearing stripes with plaid comes easy.
What Ever Happened To...

R.A. MacAvoy?

I still recall coming across a very thin (even by the standards of 1983) paperback called Tea with the Black Dragon. A damn good fantasy, combining computers, Oriental mythology, and, of course, dragons.

Some good stuff from her...then poof. Or something. R.A., if you are out there, you are missed!
And Now, A Song...

From the man who brought us the world-famous OH JOHN RINGO NO review of Ringo's (in)famous...ummm...ahhh...technothriller, Ghost (ah, go on, download it and read it, you'll either thank me or curse me...but you know you want to read it!) comes Rise of the Kildar!

Mike is Ghost, a Navy SEAL.
(OH JOHN RINGO NO.)
Bad terrorists some co-eds steal.
(OH JOHN RINGO NO.)
Mike gets the girls back, once they're nude
trains some subs and stops a nuke
and he gets mom's permission, too!
(OH JOHN RINGO NO.)
The Shame, The Shame

What's the real shame of Hollywood? That no film as good as Xanadu has been made!

Monday, February 02, 2009

eBooks

A long and interesting article at Ars Technica on electronic books. My personal experience is a bit longer: I started reading electronic books before 1992. And current experience shows that my personal trend is still on the upswing.
Abandon in Place

I was interested to see that SF author Jerry Oltion was also the inventor of the "trackball" telescope. I had not made the connection!
Like A Bad Penny

Why look, it's Ansible Time!

As Others See Us. 'Doctor Who ... has ... made sci-fi -- once the domain of pizza-faced speccy boys and middle-aged men named Timothy who iron their socks and still live with their mum -- acceptable, if not downright glamorous.' (Paul Connolly, Daily Mail, 10 January) [FS]


Sigh. Next thing you know they'll be saying the not-so-new Battlestar Galactica isn't really science fiction (yes, I am being sarcastic...because that has been a theme for years...)

Sector General Lives! Heart-warming public safety news from a writer who worked on a UK patient information leaflet for oxygen, as supplied in cylinders to hospitals: the regulator insisted that he include the words 'Do not use if you are allergic to oxygen.' [PM]

Hah. Good one. Let's hear it for James White!

As Others Summarize Us. Tower Books 'Publisher's Note' for Ringworld's Children by Larry Niven: 'When a powerful new weapon threatens the spherical planet of Ringworld, a protector, an exile with the ability to speak with animals, and a native with a mysterious past assist explorer Louis Wu on his quest to save Ringworld from interplanetary war.' (Not the blurb of the actual publisher, Tor, where they know Ringworld's shape and the meaning of Speaker-to-Animals.) [AL]

Ummmm...hoookay...
Turnabout Is Fair Play

In books like The War of the Worlds, Earth is invaded by the Martians. For a twist, Earth is invaded by aliens from outside the Solar System via Mars in Von Neumann's War, Travis S. Taylor and John Ringo invade Earth with visitors outside the Solar System (with a stopover at Mars).

It seems only fair that we plan to invade Mars from Earth, then!
Fred's Reading Report (January 2009)

What? January is over? Seems like it just began!

Books: 11 completed. Three of the eleven were electronic, one of the eleven was audio.

Shorts: 45! So I am well on the way to keeping to my goal for the year. Take that, SF Signal! Wimps!

For shorts, 31 were electronic in format. I've dumped all my shorts and short collections into one big folder on my Bookeen Cybook, so I can get through a bit at a time whenever I'm on a coffee break or such.
Comet Lulin

As mentioned previously, we've got a visitor in the skies. Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day gives you a view.