Tuesday, December 31, 2002

2002: The Year in Books

(You guessed it: Previously posted!)

Well, 2002 turned out to be something of a bust when it came to reading for me. While I did exceed (by one book!) 2001 in terms of numbers, I only did so by reading a number of shorter books. Also, I'll freely admit that I re-read a number of books, but in each case it had been so long since I first read the book that it felt like the first time (cheating?). I have a large pile of books that I started reading in 2002 that I did not finish for a number of reasons. Some, I just could not "get into" for one reason or another (sometimes it takes a few attempts for my attention to "catch" and then I plow on). Some turned out to be very difficult reads and I need to try again (Godel, Escher, BachAn Eternal Golden Braid is the biggest example of this). I also increased my work-related reading for much of the year, dragging endless useless stuff home and reading it there: That definately cut into the "fun" reading!

It will be interesting to see how 2003's list turns out. There's still those books I started in 2002 to finish. Then there's my greater use of "eBooks" on my Handspring Visor PDA. Will I be more productive? Less? Will the commute continue to help or hurt? Will (XXXXXXXXX) (can't be disclosed as of yet) help or hurt the reading this year?

Comments about authors read:

Lois McMaster Bujold. A. Bertram ChandlerLarry NivenDavid Weber: I'll admit to having two weaknesses when it comes to SF. I love "young adult" books and I love space opera (old or new). So, I've re-collected the "Tom Swift, Jr." books (except for four that are going for hilarious prices on eBay and other sources) and I'm starting to read them again. Truly bad writing, but I love it nonetheless. Bujold, Chandler, Niven and Weber can all be classified as space opera, but one can't be highbrow all the time!

Zenna Henderson: I've read most of the "People" stories over the years. This excellent collection (from the great folks at NESFA) puts together all of the stories to date. The editors attempt to place them in chronological order, and add a timeline with their justifications. Wonderful stuff, but I would advise you to read other authors in between chunks of stories as the plots of many are somewhat similar (i.e., similar introductory material, etc.).

James Oberg: I've got nothing but the greatest hopes for the International Space Station and our efforts to work with the Russians as partners. But this book, as well as "Dragonfly" (Bryan Burrough) make me increasingly apprehensive that we'll be able to pull it off.

Leslie Peltier: I re-read this book every year or so. It's especially helpful when I'm depressed, or when we have too many cloudy nights for me to do any observing! Wonderful stuff, no matter how much you might be interested in astronomy.

Spider Robinson: I first read the initial book in the Callahan series shortly after the contents had been published in Analog magazine (which is also where I read the stories). So, it's been a darn long time since I read these. While the later books creak from serial-itis, I still enjoy the initial stories. I re-read these as part of my self-devised therapy to try and snap me out of PTSD.

Clifford D. Simak: As with Spider Robinson, I was reading these to try and snap me out of my PTSD. Simak is a wonderful author. The stories and novels are sparse an deceptively simple. He is a great example of why short is sometimes better than long, and always better than bloated! It's a shame that so much of his stuff is currently out of print. However, that may change, NESFA has plans to come out with one or more collections, down the road.

Cordwainer Smith: Another wonderful collection from NESFA! This, plus the novel (Norstrilia) will get you through the so-called "Instrumentality of Mankind" stories. Smith was a wonderful writer on many fronts: Cleaver use of language, wonderful stories, some fantastic characters. It's too bad he also seems to be largely forgotten by "mainstream" SF readers.

Neal Stephenson: This was the second time through for Cryptonomicon for me. A few comments from this re-reading. First, although I did not make it through the two books I was reading by Douglas Hofstadter this past year, I did recognize a lot from those books in this book. Second, why is it that this is the only book by Stephenson that I can get through? I've tried to read Snow Crash and The Diamond Age on numerous occasions and have never been able to get more than a few chapters through either. I will have to try once more for both! Third, the paperback version of Cryptonomicon has a brief excerpt from the long-awaited continuation of this series. The only downer: It won't be published until at least September 2003! Man, talk about a long gap between books!

Here's the list for 2002...

01: The Marathon Photograph; Simak
02: Visions of Spaceflight; Ordway
03: Rediscovery of Man; Smith
04: High-Tech Heretic, Stoll
05: So Bright the Vision; Simak
06: Skirmish; Simak
07: Special Delivery; Simak
08: City; Simak
09: Goblin Reservation; Simak
10: Ring Around the Sun; Simak
11: Best SF Stories of C.D.S.; Simak
12: Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!; Feynman
13: Lord Brocktree; Jacques
14: Man-Kzin I; Niven
15: Man-Kzin II; Niven
16: Man-Kzin III; Niven
17: Jack of Shadows; Zelazny
18: A Beautiful Mind; Nasar
19: Tom Swift and His Flying Lab; Appleton
20: The Pleasure of Finding Things Out; Fenyman
21: Star-Crossed Orbits; Oberg
22: Tom Swift and His Jetmarine; Appleton
23: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat; Sacks
24: To Engineer is Human; Petroski
25: What Do You Care What Other People Think?; Feynman
26: No Ordinary Genius: The Illustrated Richard Feynman; Feynman & Sykes
27: The Meaning of it All; Feynman
28: Tuva or Bust!; Leighton & Feynman
29: Ghost from Grand Banks; Clarke
30: Tuesdays With Morrie; Albom
31: The Soul of a New Machine; Kidder
32: Firehouse; Halberstam
33: Report from Ground Zero; Smith
34: Callahan's Crosstime Saloon; Robinson
35: The Road to the Rim; Chandler
36: Contacting Aliens; Brin
37: To Prime the Pump; Chandler
38: The Hard Way Up; Chandler
39: Time Travellers Strictly Cash; Robinson
40: Last Man Down; Picciotto
41: Callahan's Secret; Robinson
42: An Introduction to Visual Deep-Sky Observing; Jordan
43: Callahan's Lady; Robinson
44: The Broken Cycle; Chandler
45: On Basilisk Station; Weber
46: The Honor of the Queen; Weber
47: The Voyage of the Space Beagle; Van Vogt
48: The Bad Beginning; Snickett
49: Starlight Nights; Peltier
50: Diplomatic Immunity; Bujold
51: Ingathering; Henderson
52: User Friendly I; Frazer
53: User Friendly II; Frazer
54: User Friendly III; Frazer
55: The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring Visual Companion; Fisher
56: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Visual Companion; Fisher
57: The Lord of the Rings: The Art of The Fellowship of the Ring; Russell
58: Journeys of Frodo; Strachey
59: Cryptonomicon; Stephenson
60: Farmer Giles of Ham; JRRT
61: User Friendly IV; Frazer
62: Full Moon; Light

(Someday I will write reviews for each of those, I promise!)

Friday, November 15, 2002

John W. Campbell, Jr.

Found a copy of JWC's Cloak of Aesir—in hardcover! With an intact dustjacket! First edition, from 1952, in pretty darn good condition.

The collection contains several independent short stories, as well as two mini-series: "Cloak of Aesir" and "The Machine". The stories are from his "Don A. Stuart" period, when he started writing more "atmospheric" stories as opposed to the "Blood and Thunder" space opera stories that he started his career with.

Good stuff, holding up very well (for the most part). In fact, the "Don A. Stuart" stories hold up better than many of his John W. Campbell, Jr. stories (as much as I love space opera).

Quick: What is the origin of the pseudonym "Don A. Stuart"?

Addendum (October 31, 2002): Pete Young (See the blog-formerly-known-as-Flying-Sauce) wrote: I've consulted the Oracle (Encyclopedia of SF) and come up with nothing...!

Addendum (October 21, 2002): To which I replied:


A visitor!

Well, toss that encyclopedia out the window. Don A. Stuart is taken from the lovely Mrs. Campbell...Donna Stuart in her unmarried life!

Addendum (November 15, 2002): ...and speaking of Don A. Stuart, the nice folks at NESFA, through their publishing arm, have a collection of the Don A. Stuart stories of John W. Campbell, Jr. on their schedule.

Hopefully they will follow through with the John W. Campbell, Jr. stories of John W. Campbell, Jr.!

Sunday, November 10, 2002

Voyage of the Space Beagle

I finished David Weber's Honor of the Queen and have plunged into Voyage of the Space Beagle by A.E. Van Vogt. It's been a very long time since I've read this...probably pre-Alien.

The reason I bring up Alien is that the preface claiims that Van Vogt sued and won a "substantial amount" of money from the producer's of Alien on the claim that the movie was "derived" from the book.

Myself, I don't see it. Very few similarities other than an alien on the ship (and that's only the first third or so of the book).

Addendum (October 23, 2002): Well, now I'm replying to myself. How strange can that be.

On the bus home last night, reading Space Beagle on the Handspring, the soundtrack to Forbidden Planet comes on the MiniDisc (yes folks, it's a total immersion experience...anything to overlook the fact that I'm on the bus!).

I was reminded that I always thought that Forbidden Planet was a damn good filmed version of a lot of stuff that Van Vogt wrote about, especially Space Beagle.

But for some reason, the folks who did FP were never sued. I guess back in the 50's, when the film was made, nobody thought of such a unique idea!

Addendum: Space Beagle III

Well, mystery over the lawsuit solved. I had forgotten that Voyage of the Space Beagle is made up of several short stories. One of them involved a pretty indestrctible alien that gets on the ship and manages to "impregnate" several crew members by planting eggs into their stomach areas. Scenes involve chases through ventilating shafts, the crew attempting to escape via lifeboat and the like.

So it looks like our late, beloved author (A.E. Van Vogt) was justified in the lawsuit (or so I would say, if I were a lawyer).

Monday, September 30, 2002

Afterwords and Acknowledgements

I was flipping through some books today and started re-reading some of the afterwords and acknowledgments that Arthur C. Clarke has put into his books. It's interesting to see how much these short essays have influenced me.

In Imperial Earth, he talks about a mathematical puzzle called polyominoes (sometimes seen in a commercial form called Pentominoes). I recently found a few sets of these. The book also sparked an interest in geology that I never followed up on (who knows what career that would have lead me to?). It also interested me in SETI/CETI and things like the Very Large Array and Project Cyclops. I also re-watched A Night to Remember as a result of this book, with new appreciation.

From The Fountains of Paradise, I grew to appreciate Sri Lanka and Buddhism. Much of the book deals with the possibility of a space elevator to provide low-cost/high efficiency access to space. It's been interesting to see how this idea has played out in science fiction (in books like The Web Between the Worlds by Charles Sheffield and in the Mars books by Kim Stanley Robinson as well as other books by Clarke). And now, it may be playing out in fact—a conference was recently held in New Mexico on this very subject. Various materials are coming into easier production that might make such a thing possible.

The Ghost from Grand Banks introduced me to fractals. I've bought a few books on the subject, as well as several programs to generate these fascinating things. I can't claim to be anywhere the math expert needed to understand it all, but it got me interested in geometry and math again.

The Hammer of God had references to just about every science fiction novel that I've encountered that includes in it's plot meteors striking the earth.

The Odyssey books (specifically, 2010: Odyssey Two2061: Odyssey Three and 3001: The Final Odyssey) have a lot packed into their afterwords. Especially of interest is the afterword to 3001 in which Clarke gives a chapter-by-chapter description of all his sources. Endless hours of time could be spent tracking this stuff down and reading it.

2001 did not have a afterword, but it did have Jerome Angel's excellent Making of book. I wish that book would come into print again, my copy is falling to shreds from the number of times I've read it or loaned it out.

Stephen Baxter continues this tradition. The "heir apparent" (in many ways) to the British variant of Hard SF, several of his books have notes on sources. And, as he has written one book with Clarke, and has a few more in various stages, I'm sure we'll see more from both. Phase Space, a collection of stories connected to or inspired by his Manifold trilogy has an interesting afterword on where the various stories came from (and if they are connected to other books). Two of Manifold books—Time and Space (but not Origin) each have a list of sources that are fascinating to explore. The alternate history novel Voyage has an excellent rundown on the actual plans NASA had to get us to Mars—in the 1980's! Titan and Moonseed have relatively brief afterwords compared to Voyage, but Moonseed lists some excellent books to explore.

Many thanks to Clarke and Baxter for suggesting many ways to further explore their fictional worlds!

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Day of Loss

An interesting New York Times article.
It started with one shot. At 8:46 a.m., Jules Naudet, a rookie filmmaker making a film about a rookie firefighter, was practicing his camera work. He heard a roar overhead and pointed his camera up. Kenneth T. Jackson, the president of the New York Historical Society, believes that was the only camera that captured American Airlines Flight 11 hitting the north tower.

Then the number of photographs rose exponentially. As many as 100 cameras captured United Airlines Flight 175 flying into the south tower, Mr. Jackson said. Thousands of cameras caught the towers falling, and hundreds of thousands recorded the aftermath on that day.

Now, he said, "It is the most documented event in human history."