Saturday, November 1, 2003

A.E. Van Vogt

couple (link no longer valid) of sites (link no longer valid) about the Golden-Age SF author.

2019 Update: Well, two out of the three above links are long gone. So I will point you toward the Internet SF Database entry and the Wikipedia entry on the author.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Science Fiction and the Post-Apollo Blues

(Reposted from a previous blog.)

Here's a talk that Terry Bisson gave in 1993. Good stuff here about and for those of us who grew up with Willey Ley, Apollo, the promise of the shuttle and more.

Oh yes, and a bit about the state of science fiction in 1993 that certainly still applies to the state of science fiction in 2003.

(2019 Update: The link to the talk is no longer valid. Bisson's talk can be found in The New York Review of Science Fiction, Issue 58.)

David Gerrold

Keeping on the science fiction theme (not much news to report in the world of space, so far today!), here's a link to the website of SF author David Gerrold.

Gerrold got his start as a write of short SF and screenplays for the original Star Trek series. He's also written a number of SF novels. One, The Man Who Folded Himself, is an interesting time travel/parallel universe novel. Another, When Harlie Was One, is one of the few SF novels dealing with the development of artificial intelligence where the AI doesn't go berserk and try to kill the human race (the other is Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress).

Gerrold was also instrumental in the development of Star Trek: The Next Generation. He even had to take a case to arbitration when it was alluded that he was not heavily involved, and was denied back pay (he won).

From his involvement in the original series came a novel Yesterday's Children. He had written a proposal for a script about the Enterprise finding a multi-generation starship. Eventually that book was written as The Galactic Whirlpool, while Yesterday's Children was re-written as Star Hunt.

The introduction to the 1995 edition of Star Hunt has an amusing chronology of the series of books and proposed movies and/or television series based on this story. There have been a number of failed attempts to get the story told on the big and little screen, one even involved another Star Trek veteran (D.C. Fontana).

Gerrold's older stuff has been picked up by BenBella Books, publishers of an excellent reissue of John Brunner's The Sheep Look Up (link updated in 2019 for a edition from another publisher).

They already have a new edition of The Man Who Folded Himself (link updated for 2019), and are now reissuing the Star Wolf books. They have The Voyage of the Star Wolf (link updated for 2019) out as well as The Middle of Nowhere (link updated for 2019). No mention of Star Hunt (made available sometime after this was first written), which shares some of the same characters as the others (and was written first), but appears to be orphaned from the others in this publishing effort.

There is mention of another book in the series, Blood and Fire (link updated for 2019). From some of the text in other sources, it appears to be a reworking of a story for Star Trek: The Next Generation that did not pan out. I'll be interested in seeing what he's come up with.

Space Opera Redefined

Here's an article that appeared in SFRevu by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer. If you don't know who they are, seek out any one of the books that they have edited or co-edited for Tor Books. Among the excellent titles that I own are The Ascent of Wonder and The Hard SF Renaissance.

I hope this article is an indication that they are working on another massive tome, this time dedicated to the subject of space opera.

Addendum (May 23, 2007): Yep it was. Yep they did. Eventually, as we wind our way through my archives, there will be more on the Really Big Book of Space OperasSee this for more information.

The Lensman Meets the Skylark

(Reposted from a previous blog.)

E.E. "Doc" Smith is one of my all-time favorite authors in the science fiction sub-genre of "space opera". Very few could do it as well or better—John W. Campbell, Jr.Edmond "World Wrecker" Hamilton and Jack Williamson among a scant few others.

There have been a few folks who have tried to write sequels to the original stories. More are but pale imitations (and forget about that horrid Japanese anime version!). Here is some "fan fiction" set in "Doc's" universe: Doomed Lensman (Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6and the unwritten sequel!)!!!

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Going Downtown

The air was filled with the smell of burning plastic, the smell of a million melted computers

(Warning: Real Life, Real World, Real Event Content. Strong Situations. Strong Language. Things Are Not Pretty. Real Life Is Ugly. This is the posting that got me "moderated" on User Friendly. You are warned.)

During the Vietnam War, U.S. pilots referred to attack runs over Hanoi as "going downtown."

Going downtown is what I did during the work week from October 1992 onwards. After I was laid off from a job as a technical writer (also in downtown New York, but in Greenwich Village), I eventually got a job as an administrative assistant with the "Value/Conservative Growth" style of investing at Kidder Peabody Asset Management. After Kidder Peabody shut down, we moved as a group to Cowen & Company, into their asset management division. Eventually Cowen was bought by Societe General, and we moved up a few flights to the 34th Floor of the same building, with a firm called Dominick & Dominick.

In the summer of 2001 I was an analyst and vice president with Value/Conservative Growth. I still worked with the same basic group of people, but we had recently added a new portfolio manager, Jack. I did research for Jack, and my original boss, Tom.

Most days blurred into one another, and September 11, 2001 was no different. I got up at 4:30 AM. The alarm usually started calling me around 4:15, but I would inevitably hit the snooze button one or more times. I took the dogs out for their walk, gave them their morning biscuit. I then took a shower, got dressed, listened to WNYC for the early news and walked out to the bus.

The bus ride was the usual, with traffic. My original plan for the morning was to get off where I usually got, one block away from the WTC, and go to Borders Books to shop for a birthday gift for my wife. However, we were running late and Tuesdays and Thursdays we had a group meeting at work among the portfolio managers. I was expected to bring a summary of news and analyst reports to the meeting and be prepared to discuss them. So, when we got to my usual stop at around 7:40 AM, instead of walking to Borders, I went to work. My only stop was at a Starbucks two blocks away from my office to pick up my usual morning ration of a large coffee and a scone (Maple Walnut).

I arrived in my office and logged onto my computer and started working through e-mails and morning news, looking for items for the morning meeting. I had the radio on, tuned to WNYC again.

At 8:40 AM I sent e-mail to a friend (and fellow commuter) who worked for a firm in the North Tower. I forwarded a report about the housing refinance boom and how it was powering the economy.

At 8:46 AM, the signal from the radio fritzed out, like lightning had struck. A few seconds later, I heard a loud "boom" and our building actually shook from the force of it. The signal came back, the noise died away.

It was obvious something had happened, but we did not know what. I looked outside, and saw smoke around the North Tower. I also saw a cloud of paper in the air, like confetti. I went to the trading room on our floor to get a better view. You could see more smoke, and could see a gash going partly around to the side of the North Tower that faced us.

Reports started to come in, on CNBC and other media sources. The initial reports were that a plane had hit the building by accident. We wondered about that, how that could have happened, given the beautiful blue sky that we had that day. Obviously, one very stupid small plane pilot.

I tried to go back to work, and gather more material for the morning meeting. But, it was soon a hopeless task. I watched from my window as the smoke got worse. When I went to the trading room again, and saw some close-ups of the damage, you could see people in the damaged areas. Live people. That's when the enormity of what was happening struck me. Financial people, overall, get to work early to try and get the jump on the other guy. That building was full of people who had tried to get the jump on others and now were stuck.

I called my wife, but on Tuesdays and Thursdays, she took our daughter to daycare and ran errands. By that point she was in the Stop & Shop, and because it was a metal-framed building I could not reach her. I left her a voice mail, telling her what had happened.

I then called my parent's. I knew that my mother's knowledge of the geography of downtown NYC was hazy at best, so if she was listening to the news or watching the news, she might be concerned for my safety. I reached her, and started to tell her what was going on, trying to be reassuring.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw an airplane. I turned in amazement, thinking it was a sightseer.

Then the scale of the plane hit me.

It was a jumbo jet, twisting and weaving, so close to me that I swear that I saw the rivets on the side of the plane.

I screamed in general, and into the telephone, "Oh sweet Jesus, help them, what is that fucking idiot doing!?"

It then angled it's wings so that it would hit the largest number of floors, and it slammed into the South Tower.

I dropped the telephone as the entire top of the building was engulfed in flame and smoke and millions upon millions of pages of documents spewed out of the side of the building like blood from a slashed artery. A fireball expanded, growing so large as to encompass the North Tower as well. For a moment it appeared the tops of both towers had been taken off by the explosion. Our building swayed.

I could hear my mother calling from the phone I dropped. I yelled again what had happened, and she kept saying "You're joking!" I told her again, and she realized that I was not kidding, and she started screaming for me to get out of the building as fast as I could.

I hung up, and called my wife again. Again, I could not reach her, again I left a message. By now, the initial fireball was gone and I could see the damage to the building.

My first rational thought was something like "Well, given the fireball, any chemical or biological agents would have been destroyed." This was no accident. This was intentional. By who I did not know, but I knew we were at war.

I turned around and a few people, including our receptionist were standing there. Those in the interior offices had heard me scream and came to see what had happened. They were as stunned as I was.

I do not know how long I was in the office after that. I know that I spoke to my boss's wife at one point. She came in and worked on Tuesdays. I told her to turn around and not come in. I spoke to one of our other portfolio managers, a woman who refused to work in the office (she claimed she was allergic to the building).

Then the announcement came, we were to evacuate the building as quickly as possible.

My boss's line rang. I thought it might be his wife, so I picked it up. It was our office-allergic portfolio manager. "I really think you might want to leave", she stated. As usual, a dollar short and ten minutes late. "That's exactly what we're trying to do," I said. I grabbed my things (backpack, cell phone, etc.) and went around the floor in a counterclockwise fashion (away from the stairs and elevators). Jack was stunned. Tom was stunned. Others were crying. I came across one person who was on the telephone to a client. I urged him to finish the call, and pushed him out of his office. I swept around, past the trading room, waited for another person to gather his things, and then we all went down the elevator together. Yes, the elevators, we were told to get out as fast as possible, not to wait.

In the lobby people were milling around. There was no sense of organization, no roll calls, no checking that people were all out. Then the building management made another announcement that was even more amazing than "get out and use the elevators". We were told we could go back to our offices and retrieve personal belongings, if we wanted.

I left the building. On the street, I could see paper. Paper was floating down. Burned paper. Presentations. Printing instructions. Manuals. Trade tickets. Paper from the Towers.

I looked up at the Towers. I could see them clearly, both surrounded by a lot of smoke.

Then I saw a dot fall from the North Tower. And another. Another. I realized what they were. People. People who had gotten to the point of having two choices. A choice of death by fire or death by jumping. I stopped counting the dots after fifteen.

The streets were full of people, going back and forth, no single direction. Cars were abandoned in the streets. I remember being amused (!) at the sight of an abandoned UPS truck with it's back door open. Nobody was going to be looting anything today.

I went towards a subway station, the #2 and 3 line on Wall Street. It was a mob scene, no way I was going to get in that subway.

Looking at the towers, looking at the smoke, looking at the people falling, I proceeded on automatic pilot to the next nearest subway stop. I am, to this day, not even certain where I was. But I went down, to the 1 & 9 line. I swiped my Metro card (it worked!), and went to the platform. A half-empty train came shortly thereafter, going uptown.

We pulled into the stop under the World Trade Center. It was empty. It was silent. The doors opened. Then we heard the noise, the noise of a mighty wind (no movie jokes, please), the sound of a dozen jet engines, a hundred thundering locomotives. We thought there was another attack. People started screaming, "Go! Go!" and the doors closed and we pulled out of the station.

Later I found out that we were under the South Tower when it came down. I eventually saw a picture of a girder from the South Tower that had penetrated through the basements, etc., and ended up going through those tracks.

We went uptown. We stopped, not at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, where I was headed. The announcement was made, the subways are shutting down, get out.

I stumbled upstairs. The streets were filled with people, still going every which way. I tried calling my wife. No luck. Then I heard another rumbling noise, another attack? One person said that eight more jets were reported hijacked and were heading our way. Somebody said the Capital Building in Washington, D.C. had been bombed.

I tried my wife again. She was home. I said I was OK. She told me that the North Tower had just fallen. I realized what I had heard. Then I asked her about the South Tower, and she told me that it had fallen first.

Looking south, towards the tip of the island, you could see massive clouds of smoke rising.

What to do? The Port Authority was closed. All the tunnels and bridges were closed. The subways were not running. Eight more jets were (we thought) headed out way, what to do?

My wife suggested I go south (!) to where her sister lived, and wait there until things quieted down. I started to walk south, getting closer and closer to those billowing clouds of smoke.

I suddenly realized, at one point, what I was walking past. The Empire State Building, once the tallest building in the world, now again the tallest in New York. Given what had happened, I realized how stupid I was being so close to it. I made a detour.

My sister-in-law's apartment is downtown, at the nexus of three hospitals. As I got closer and closer, I could see people clustered around cars, listening to radios. There even was one electronics store that had set up televisions outside, and people watched.

Overhead the sky was cracked by the sound of a sonic boom. I saw the plane, and recognized the profile. It was one of ours. Too little, too late. But, of some comfort.

Getting to the area of the apartment, I kept hearing more and more sirens. Ambulances. Fire trucks. Police cars. Cars going north covered with ash and debris. Sirens. Sirens and more sirens.

I reached my sister-in-law's apartment. She was not there. I met some of her neighbors, they had not seen her. I tried to call her cell phone, no luck. By this time you could not get a signal (the North Tower had the biggest cell tower in the city, plus there was major damage to the circuits that ran in the area). The only thing that worked, sometimes, was my "push-to-talk" feature on my Nextel cell phone. So sometimes I could get my wife, sometimes not. From her, I heard from my boss's wife that my boss had gotten on a ferry to cross the river. Of my other colleagues, not a word.

Eventually my sister-in-law turned up. She had been scheduled to work across from the WTC that day, but had worked until 2:00 AM the day before and got a late start. Lucky for her.

We got some food and stocked up on water. We watched TV, seeing the same clips over and over again. We listened to the sirens and watched the billowing clouds of smoke and ash.

Finally, they announced that trains would be running again. Subways were not. So I walked again north. The streets were deserted. I have never seen the city so empty.

I got to Penn Station and it looked like a scene out of a George Pal movie like "The War of the Worlds" or "When Worlds Collide". Hundreds upon hundreds of people waiting for trains. I got on one, not the first. No ticket required.

Pulling out of the tunnel, in New Jersey at last, you could see the open wound in the city. People sat in stunned silence on the train. Nobody spoke. People did not even want to look at each other.

My cell phone rang. It was a high school friend, who lived in California. He just kept saying "I can't believe it".

I finally got to New Brunswick and left the train. New Brunswick was also deserted. My father-in-law came and picked me up, my wife was at a service at our church and they were babysitting our daughter.

I got out of the car. I went inside my in-laws house. My daughter was there crying. I held her tight.

The next few days I was home. There was no power downtown, the markets were closed. The sky continued to be blue, except for a hazy stain. And even where we were, you could smell the burned plastic.

The sky was empty of planes. At one point my daughter asked, "Where are the planes?" Perceptive kid. She also asked at one point "Why is Daddy so sad?", as all I seemed to be able to do was to sit on the couch and stare into space.

On Thursday there was a thunderstorm at night. A powerful one. I woke up screaming, from a nightmare where I was trapped up to my waist in debris, as the world exploded around me. The dream has faded since then, but revisits with similar weather.

The markets reopened, but our building was still closed. A research client graciously offered us some space for a few of us. It was difficult. They were so nice, but I kept wanting to scream. I was shaking, working in a building that high (and it really wasn't all that high!). The number of bomb scares that got phoned into every building that day did not help either.

A few days later our building was opened. So, I went downtown again. We had to take a subway, and then walk several blocks. We went through several checkpoints, and had to show multiple ID's. We got closer and closer to the WTC, or what was left of it, a multi-story mass of wreckage.

The air was filled with the smell of burning plastic, the smell of a million melted computers.

I started walking to my office. Not far from where I saw the wreckage of the WTC, I saw a puddle of water, obviously from the rainstorm that Thursday before.

In the puddle of water was a congealed smear of red. Blood. From where? From when?

Awnings everywhere were covered with ash. The streets still had debris: Ash, papers, etc. Police and National Guardsmen wore masks, we had none and had to put up with the smell.

I got to my office. On my desk was my coffee and scone from over a week later. I threw them away, and sat down. I reached for my collection and business cards and leafed through them. I needed to find a name.

I found it. A friend, the person that I had sent that e-mail to about the housing refinance boom. She worked in the WTC. I burst into tears, because I could not remember if she had been on the bus that morning.

That weekend we went to church, our usual 5:30 PM Saturday "folk" mass. When we entered, we saw the front of the church closed off by yellow "caution" tape. The smell of burned plastic filled the air.

At church, they had set up a lectern with a notebook on it. If you wanted to, you could write your thoughts in the notebook. There was a candle burning nearby. An American flag stood nearby. The church had been kept open each day from 9/11 onwards for people to come and pray and think and reflect.

The night before somebody stayed in the church when it was closed and locked. He or she knocked the flag over on the candle, it caught fire as did the lectern and the notebook. As did the plastic tiles. Luckily the fire put itself out before it reached the first row of pews. If did had not, the whole church would have burned down.

So the place I went to for peace smelled like downtown. Another fire. My last refuge was taken from me.

As time went by, we tried to carry on. We tried to go back to the way it was. But you could not. There were constant reminders of what had happened. You got off the bus, and had to walk by the WTC. To get to the bus in the evening, you had to walk by the WTC. In your office you would look out and see the smoke. Those fires burned for six months. You would see birds over the site and then learn later they were turkey vultures, attracted by the scent of death. You'd hear about all the rats that had lived in the subway, and now were invading the area.

You would read a report in the paper about the air downtown. There would be the chemical breakdowns, all supposedly at safe levels. But then you'd see something like "organic materials" and a percentage of the total.

Organic materials. You know. People.

Then there were the bodies. No, I did not see any bodies as they were uncovered. But I cannot count the number of times I would be walking to or from the bus stop and see the sad procession going to one of the FDNY ambulances waiting around the site.

Then there was the sound of the girders. Huge trucks would take the twisted girders away from Ground Zero and bring them to river by our building. They would be picked up by a crane and dropped one by one onto a barge. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Occasionally it would be loud enough to make your windows shake.

Finally, it all caught up with me. One day in January 2002, I felt as if I was having difficulty concentrating. Then I had difficulty seeing, my vision kept getting blurred. As I left the office, and started to cross the street, I got dizzy. A pain went from my chest to my left arm and hand. I got tunnel vision. Somehow I got across the street, and eventually to my bus. By automatic pilot, I got on the bus. I felt better, but not great. When we got to East Brunswick, I asked the driver to let me off. I called my wife and told her what happened. She came and took me to the Emergency Room, where I told them I thought I might have had a heart attack. They ran tests, no heart attack. I had a follow-up visit with my doctor. No, no heart attack, just PTSD, another term to learn and live with.

When I went to the dentist, he asked: "When did you break your tooth?" I thought he was kidding. But, upon reflection, it was obvious when it had been broken. When the second plane went by my window, or when I was on the subway, or one of sixteen dozen other moments that day. I guess I got a little excited. At some other point that day, I must have gotten excited again, as a second broken tooth was discovered a little later in the visit. (Both, together, came to several thousand dollars in repairs, none of it covered by insurance. Toss in other medical expenses that weren't covered and 9/11 cost me nearly $20,000 in medical expenses; I kid you not.)

Other problems have cropped up. Some are related to the PTSD. Others are related to the exposure to dust and other substances. My childhood asthma is back. I'm nervous in crowds, nervous in tall buildings, etc.

After my "heart attack", one of the things I did was to get counseling. I don't know if it really helped or not; eventually I stopped because it was expensive and I was unable to get financial reimbursement for all of it. One of the things that the counselor told me was that I "was a hero". Why? Because I did not panic. When we evacuated the floor, I stayed long enough to make sure that all others were leaving and forced a few to leave. Because one of my thoughts upon leaving the building was to go towards the WTC and try and help direct traffic, provide first aid, or whatever. The counselor said I was a hero for wanting to help.

I do not feel that makes me a hero. The heroes were the ones who worked there and died at their desks. The heroes were the ones who helped others, although it was not their job. The heroes were those in the Fire Department, the Police Department, the Port Authority and countless other agencies who rushed in where others feared to tread.

Among those in the New York Times "Portraits of Grief" was the profile of one such hero. He was originally from the town I now live in, and was a classmate of my wife when she was in school. Here is the portrait of a hero:

John Collins
Future Fireman at Age 4

When John Collins was 4 years old, his father took him to a Bronx firehouse. That is when he decided what he wanted to do. It took a while, with entrance exams delayed because of a legal dispute, so he joined the Police Department first before becoming a fireman in 1990.

The oldest of five children, Mr. Collins, 42 organized family events, like two weeks each year on Long Beach Island in New Jersey, or a benefit concert on the aircraft carrier "Intrepid" in Manhattan, followed by a night on the town with his sisters and their husbands. He lived in the Bronx, lifted weights and brought groceries for neighbors who were down on their luck.

He never talked much about his work, his sister Eileen Byrne recalled, because he did not want to worry his parents. "We teased him, said he was the only fireman who never went to a fire," she said.

That is not how they remember him at Ladder Company 25 on 77th Street. On Sept. 11, he was supposed to go to another firehouse to fill in. It was called out before he could get there. When Ladder 25 was called, he jumped on the engine.

"We had seven firemen on the rig instead of six," said another fireman, Matt O'Hanlon.

I attended two services for John Collins. The first was shortly after 9/11, and was a memorial (he was among the missing) without a body. The second was the funeral, when his body was recovered. We have had a memorial each year, since then, and I've attended them all. I'll be attending the next one tonight.

"Into the Fire" (Bruce Springsteen, "The Rising")

The sky was falling and streaked with blood
I heard you calling me then you disappeared into dust
Up the stairs, into the fire
Up the stairs, into the fire
I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs, into the fire

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

You gave your love to see in fields of red and autumn brown
You gave your love to me and lay your young body down
Up the stairs, into the fire
Up the stairs, into the fire I need you near, but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs, into the fire

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love bring us love

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love bring us love

It was dark, too dark to see, you held me in the light you gave
You lay your hand on me
Then walked into the darkness of your smoky grave
Up the stairs, into the fire
Up the stairs, into the fire
I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs, into the fire

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love bring us love
May your love bring us love

I would like to forget what I saw. I have tried to write this piece several dozen times, each time ending it because I could not get through it. But I wrote this because I cannot forget. I wrote this because I feel that people are once again becoming complacent. I wrote this because there are thousands of people like me, who were downtown that day. Our stories need to be told as well. Finally, I wrote this for my daughter. Someday she will be old enough to understand why her father is sad, especially in September.

(Originally posted on September 11, 2003. It took me two years to write this, and longer to write the postings that follow it.)

2004 Update: Out of work for one year, more or less. I was laid off in June 2003. The company never recovered from the closing on 9/11, we were borderline to being with, apparently. Signs that the lungs are having a bit of trouble thanks to all the crap that we all breathed downtown. At one point I had several links up from people who either were downtown NYC or at the Pentagon, but all those links have gone now.

2005 Update: The Dream Is Always the Same has been haunting me again, of late.

2006 Update: Still working part-time. Unable to get full-time work. Skating the edge of sanity again, thanks to stress. Almost no "civilians" at the local memorial, just volunteer firefighters. Have they all forgotten?

2007 Update: More health issues, some stress (PTSD) related, some breathing related. Now using three different inhalers, depending on the situation. Same as it ever was. The Dream Is Always the Same has been back several times this week.

2007 Update, Part Two: I watched a bit of the coverage this morning. My daughter asked me what was going on. I explained in general terms what had happened. How can you explain something like this simply? You can't. Coverage was on the local stations on the way to work, it is hard to drive when you are crying.

2007 Links Update: My view was a lot closer than this, this represents the best rendition of what I saw. Victims List. Local coverage the next day. Front page of local coverage the next day. Photogallery. Commentary from 2007. NY Times coverage. NY Times archive.

2008 Links Update: So somehow it is all our fault. And a plot against Muslims. And it involved the US and Israel. Reflections on a Tuesday. Physical injuries persist. Seven Years After 9/11, the Tears Keep Coming

2008 Update: People are finally noticing the scope of breathing-related and stress-related injuries among those who were not immediately in the WTC. Took them long enough. Treatment? Money? Help? Nothing yet. But (sarcasm mode on) at least they're collecting data!

2009 Update: Trying to lay low this time around. Nightmares last night and a bad week overall.

2010 Update: Tried to avoid the coverage, but sucked back into it.

2011 Update: Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.

2012 Update: The nightmares are back, as usual. The memories come back. The problems start again.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003


Along with my love of old science fiction, comes a love of old science fiction art. Here's a wonderful site that features many of the covers of the classic SF magazines Astounding and Amazing.

Take a look around the site. They have other excellent pages devoted to Kelly Freas and many other subjects.

Good stuff. I could stare at these for hours.

Addendum: Ah, the internet. All those links are now dead. As alternatives, how about:

Astounding Science Fiction.

Amazing Stories, here or here.

Kelly Freas.

Now This Looks Interesting...

If you know me, or if you've read far enough into the posts here, you know I have a certain fondness for young adult science fiction (what we used to call "juneviles").

The problem is I'll often remember part of a plot--or even just a picture.

Now there's a site called Stump the Bookseller. Loganberry Books of Cleveland allows you to post questions, descriptions, etc., on their site of a book you are looking for. If the proprietor can't help you, maybe one of the members of the community can.

The service costs $2.00, but if you're awake at nights, trying to figure out who wrote that favorite book from your childhood, it might be worth it!

Sunday, June 1, 2003

Robert A. Heinlein

Robert A. Heinlein still remains one of my favorite authors. Here's a website that quotes bits and pieces of his wit and wisdom. The only downside is that the site is not updated (no changes since June 14, 2000!) and the person running the site does not seem to respond to e-mail. But, keep hitting your "Refresh" button for a stream of comments...

(This was clipped from a previous site, so here is a response from Steve Hart dated June 8, 2003...)

Fans of Robert A. Heinlein crop up in the most unexpected places. When he died, the single most heartfelt tribute I read was in the libertarian Reason magazine—not too surprising, when you think about Heinlein's libertarian mindset, but the editors of Reason give the impression of reading nothing beyond The Wealth of Nations and Atlas Shrugged. Just the other day, I was researching somebody in the Bloomberg database and came across a business advisory firm called Tanstaafl. That's probably a warning of what to expect when the guy sets his fee.

And a follow-up comment by me, from September 6, 2003...

You Just Can't Keep a Discorporate Author Down!

A long lost novel by Robert A. Heinlein has been found and will be published early next year.

Here's a link to The Heinlein Society. There's a link there to order the book through (somehow, using this link instead of the usual Amazon site, benefits the society...and they say that they promote human spaceflight, which is a good enough reason for me to send them something!)

The description is pretty interesting. The book was never published because it was so racy—so racy that you could not have legally shipped it when it was written! It also features the first appearance of Nehemiah Scudder, the "Prophet" of the short novel If This Goes On... (one of my favorite stories by RAH, and set in his future history (see the collection The Past Through Tomorrow as well as numerous other collections of short stories).

This will be of some interest to me. I've read a number of books by Heinlein that were re-published in their original format. Some, like Stranger in a Strange Land did not really benefit from their restoration (I liked it either way!). Others, like Podkayne of Mars and Red Planet showed how heavy-handed editors can be (and Heinlein laid out his feelings clearly in his semi-autobiographical work Grumbles from the Grave). Others, like The Puppet Masters just became much better books as a result of the restoration.

With the recent passing of Virginia Heinlein, it's possible that we might see some additional restorations. I don't know who makes up Heinlein's "estate", but I hope that they exercise restraint or some control in granting movie options. No more horrible movies like Starship Troopers or Puppet Masters, please!

So, Heinlein's first novel now becomes his last novel!

Monday, January 27, 2003

Kids, Grow Giant Mushrooms In Your Basement!

Maybe not quite, but I have fond memories of these guys from my brief flirtation with comic books when I was a kid. Luckily that flirtation did not last, and I moved onto more important things like science fiction!

They're back (replacement link here and here; original link long gone)...and they are apparently internet-enabled (sort of). Yes, the Amazing Sea Monkeys found in the comic book back pages of yore are back with a whole product line to support them.

The "Executive Set" is certainly cheaper than the Sharper Image (I think) self-contained environment that I saw in a catalog around the holidays. Of course the Sharper Image environment was "NASA-certified" or some such rot. This one is just proven by countless generations of glorified brine shrimp (whoops! the secret is out!)...

Thursday, January 23, 2003


Newly restored (original film score, lots of footage put back in, digital restoration to picture) version of Metropolis will soon be available on DVD...


Wednesday, January 1, 2003

2003: The Year in Books

(You guessed it: Previously posted!)

In 2002 I got through 62 books. This year I did not fare as well (and part of the problem is how to count a book that is an omnibus. Should you count it as one title? Or, should you count it as several titles?). For example, two of my books read this year were Lord Darcy (made up of three previously published books) and The Complete Compleat Enchanter (made up of several previously published books). Two or seven books read?

I also lost my job this year. Now, for some, this might mean more time for reading. For me, it actually meant less. The loss of a bus ride each day, to and from work, meant three less hours that I could do nothing but either read or sleep. Heck, the loss of the high-speed internet connection at work meant more time on the internet (just waiting for stuff to load at home). So, less time to read books all around.

For 2004, I'm hoping that we have better weather than 2003. More clear skies would mean less time to read, but more time observing!!!

So what did I read in 2003?

Anderson, Poul: The Vault of Ages. This was first published in the John C. Winston YA series (which ran from the 50's to the mid-60's). From the author information in the back, this was written quite early in Anderson's career. It a post-atomic war story, set in North America, pitting one group of feudal survivors vs. a more nomadic group of survivors. The story is pretty simple, but you can recognize a lot of themes that Anderson explored more fully in other books. Plus, it's got a wonderful 50's style dustjacket and wonderful 50's style art in the endpapers.

Appleton, Victor ("house name" for several authors): The Tom Swift Jr. Series. Specifically: Tom Swift and His Rocket ShipTom Swift and His Giant RobotTom Swift and His Atomic Earth BlasterTom Swift and His Outpost in Space; Tom Swift and His Diving SeacopterTom Swift and the Caves of Nuclear Fire. Now great SF these ain't. But like the John C. Winston series, or Tom Corbett, or Rick Blaine, or even the Chris Godfrey books of Hugh Walters, I'm enjoying collecting these books from my youth and reading them again.

Baxter, Stephen: Two books in the Manifold sequence--Manifold: Time and Manifold: Space. I'm also mostly done with Phase Space, which is a collection of stories, some of which are set in the same sequence and others of which are the genesis of several other books, or share the same themes as several of his other books. I liked both, but liked Space better than Time. And, in both, he continues his depressing trend of writing about a negative (in general) future. Baxter does a good job of showing you how insignificant humanity is. I'm not sure, however, how many more books like this I'll like. He's got to change his theme at some point! Good, solid books, though. My best recommendation by him: Voyage.

Bear, Greg: Blood Music. Expanded from a short story of the same name, I was leery of the book. I really enjoyed the short story, and could not see how it could be expanded. Bear did a good job of it, good story, good characters, a real "sense of wonder" here.

Brin, David: Brightness Reef. First volume of the "second" Uplift trilogy. It took me several tries to get into the book, but once I got past a few chapters, I was hooked and read the rest in a few days. 2004 should see me finish the other two books of this trilogy.

Brinley, Bertrand R.: The Mad Scientists' ClubThe New Adventures of the Mad Scientists' Club. I first read these as a youth. Some of the stories were published in kids magazines. They are so corny, they are fresh. Imagine kids who use science--real science, not Disney science--to pull pranks, but also do good deeds. A third novel has recently been re-published, and a fourth is in the wings, so I'll be reading more about these folks.

Campbell, John W.: The Best of John W. Campbell (edited by Lester Del Rey). A good collection of stories, ranging from the early space opera style (but not the best representations of that period), through the moody, "Don A. Stuart" pseudonym period (excellent stories there) to an editorial in the pages of Astounding/Analog. 2004 hopefully will see me exploring Campbell's space opera again.

Carpenter, Humphrey: The Inklings. A book about the literary "club" (although it was never that formal) that J.R.R. Tolkien belonged to. Much of the book talks about Tolkien (but Carpenter does a better job in his biography of the author), C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams, as well as briefer mentions of other members (such as Lewis' brother). Good overview, but too brief to give you much detail.

Carroll, Lewis: The Annotated AliceAlice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, in a wonderful edition annotated by Martin Gardner. Highly, highly recommended!

Cherryh, C.J.: The Pride of Chanur. One of the five books that deal with the Hani portion of Cherryh's future history. Great stories, I feel that Cherryh really does a good job of depicting aliens that are more than just people in (in this case) cat suits. I'm about finished with the next book (Chanur's Venture) and expect to read many of the other books in the Union/Company Wars series and other portions of this future history in 2004.

Clarke, Arthur C.: Islands in the Sky. Another edition in the John C. Winston series. I hadn't read this in many years, and this re-read comes after a relatively recent re-read of Clarke's Sands of Mars. It was interesting to see that both are set in the same universe, with Islands being about 50 or so years later than Sands. It's the story of a young man who wins a contest that allows him to travel to any part of the Earth. A legal loophole allows him to travel to the Inner Station, a manned station a few hundred miles up. Definitely a 50's sense of wonder book, you hear about zero gravity and the like--old hat stuff to us now, maybe, but I still remember the thrill of reading about all this. Many elements in this book appear in Clarke's other stories--for example, space suits with no legs. One section of the book would make a fine short story of it's own--the story of a first landing on Mercury and what was found there. Again, a great cover on the dustjacket, wish I could find the art as a painting!

Clement, Hal: I started reading this one, Close to Critical, before his death. It is part of the wonderful NESFA Press Essential Hal Clement set of books, specifically, the first volume: Trio for Slide Rule & Typewriter (also contains Iceworld and Needle). Good Clement ultra-hard-SF book, set in the same universe as Mission of Gravity. I'm also working my way through volume 2 of the NESFA set (Music of Many Spheres, a short story collection) and volume 3 (Variations on a Theme by Sir Isaac Newton, being a collection of Mission of Gravity and the other novel in the series, plus short stories in the series, and a few essays on the Heavy Planet stories by Clement and others).

Clinton, Susan: Reading Between the Bones. A non-fiction book outlining some of the famous dinosaur hunters of the past.

De Camp, L. Sprague and Pratt, Fletcher: The Complete Compleat Enchanter. Contains The Roaring TrumpetThe Mathematics of MagicThe Castle of IronThe Wall of Serpents and The Green Magician. These are wonderful fantasy stories (novels, for the most part, I think most were available as individual books) written originally for Campbell's Unknown magazine. Highly recommended. Join our heroes (and heroines) as they stumble from one fantasy universe to another, with many interesting consequences. Buy it, you won't regret it.

Durant, Michael: In the Company of Heroes. Michael Durant survived a crash of a Blackhawk helicopter (one of the many stories in the book and movie Blackhawk Down). It's a gripping, harrowing story. I read it in one day, excellent non-fiction book.

Friedman, Thomas: Longitudes and Attitudes. Friedman is a columnist for The New York Times. This is a collection of columns from immediately before 9/11 and for some weeks after, plus a diary of his experiences around that time. It varies in quality, like all of his books, but overall, I enjoyed it and found parts of it quite thought-provoking. But, like many other books written on 9/11, I find that there's a vast difference between the opinions of those who experienced it first hand (me for one) and those who saw it from afar.

Garrett, Randall: Lord Darcy. A Baen Books omnibus, made up of Lord Darcy InvestigatesMurder and Magic and Too Many Magicians. Fun to read, an alternative universe where technology stopped developing because magic is real (yes, I know it's a bit more complicated than that...). Good characters, good stories. I read several of the short stories in Analog when they first appeared. I bought this edition even though I have the three individual titles (as those copies are falling apart from being loaned out).

Gibson, William: The three volumes of the loose trilogy including Virtual Light, Idoru and All Tomorrow's Parties plus the 2003 novel Pattern Recognition. The first time I read Light, I did not much care for it. A few years later, I re-read it and enjoyed it more. This was the first time through for me with Idoru and Parties, I enjoyed both. As for Pattern Recognition, I did not enthuse as much as some of the critics, but liked it overall. I'll probably re-read it in a few years, to see if I get any more out of it. I like Gibson a lot, but feel he is drifting away from SF.

Haldeman, Joe: The Forever War and Forever Free. This is the "director's cut" version of The Forever War, with all the stuff that was chopped out for Analog and the first hardcover and paperback editions put back in. I think I like the uncut version much, much, better than the previous (cut) versions. I've always liked this book and oddly enough, do not feel (like some) that it's anti-war, just more realistic than many other SF books with a war theme. Oh yes, I also feel that it is much closer in spirit with Heinlein's Starship Troopers than many seem to think. As for Forever Free, it just did not have the same "zing" as The Forever War. Definitely not anywhere near the same impact.

Hardy, David: Aurora. Hardy is a space artist, one of the longest-running in the field. This is his first attempt at writing SF. Overall, I enjoyed the book (and I'm not just saying that because he personally autographed my copy!), especially the parts set during the first expedition to Mars. A little rough around the edges, but I'm interested to see what else he comes up with.

Heinlein, Robert A.: Stranger in a Strange Land and For Us, The Living. I've read Stranger many times, this was the second time through for me with the "restored" edition. There's not much difference between the version that most of us read and this one, but a few scenes really are improved. Overall, a very good book. As for For Us, The Living, it's an interesting historical document, but not a very good novel. If you don't know the story, this was Heinlein's first novel, rejected by some publishers, and stuck in a trunk and presumed lost. You can find the germs of other stories and novels that he wrote in here. But, other than historical or research interests, I'd skip it. It's very talkative and very preachy (much more than any of his other books). I definitely like Heinlein post his J.W. Campbell Astounding education better than this, an example of Heinlein before he went through that education.

Horner, John R. & Lessem, Don: The Complete T-Rex. Hey, what can I say. We joined one museum (Natural History in NYC) and visited several others this year. My daughter is becoming a dinosaur nut. So Dad has to start refreshing his vague memories of the subject.

Levy, Steven: Crypto. A non-fiction book on the subject of codes, especially computer codes. I've enjoyed Levy's other books, and this was no exception. He has a knack of explaining rather difficult or obtuse subjects for us "laypeople".

Long, Duncan: Anti-Grav, Unlimited. If you want to read this, you'll have to go to the Baen site and download it. It's only available electronically (but in several formats). A fun read, probably a first novel by this author. I'd be interested in buying this in a "deadtree" edition, and I'd like to see more by him.

McCaffrey, Anne: Dragonflight. I first read this in the 70's (as well as earlier in Analog in a slightly different version). I recently got a good chunk of the books again, so I'll be working my way through them slowly. I'll give up when the series deteriorates, as I've heard it does.

McCarthy, Wil: Murder in the Solid State. McCarthy is one of the "new hot writers" (even though he's been around several years). This was the first book I read by him. I enjoyed it so much I bought several other SF books and one non-fiction book by him. Some of those should make it to the 2004 version of this list.

Moore, Patrick: 80 Not Out. Moore is a famous amateur astronomer who has written extensively on the moon, astronomical equipment and (sorry for the pun) more. Alas, this is not one of his better books. It's an autobiography, but a disappointment. For the American reader (me), there are several chapters about politics and sports that I found obtuse. A lot of what I was hoping for--his experiences as a amateur astronomer, other famous UK-based amateur astronomers, etc., are skipped over. There are some glaring typographical problems--doesn't anybody proofread books anymore? Oh well, he's got a lot of non-fiction I've enjoyed on astronomy that I can always re-read.

Morton, Oliver: Mapping Mars. Buy this book. Now. It was probably the best non-fiction book I read this year. Dealing with the planet Mars, you see how we observed the planet historically, how we dealt with it in fiction, and what we are learning and theorizing about it now. Morton will probably have to revise it in a few years when the results from Mars Express, (knock on wood) Beagle 2, and the two MER probes Spirit and Opportunity get into the act, but as the media focuses on Mars in the next few weeks, here's something you can read to get a good background. Did I mention that I thought it was the best non-fiction book I read this year?

Perry Rhodan: I'm (very slowly) re-reading this series. I got through the first two Ace editions--Mission Stardust and The Radiant Dome.

Pierce, Hayford: Chap Fooey Rider--Capitalist to the Stars. I read this in an electronic edition. I'm not sure if it is available in a "deadtree" edition, but if it is, I'm buying it. I first read most of these stories in Analog. They are very well written and very funny. Good stuff. Seek out the electronic edition, if nothing else.

Sheffield, Charles: Summertide (first volume of the Heritage Universe series). I'm also about halfway through the second book of the series and will read the others in 2004. Great space opera or hard SF, I started reading this to honor him after his death.

Simak, Clifford: Three books, The Trouble With TychoA Choice of Gods, and Mastadonia. I started re-reading Simak's books in 2001 as part of my personal healing process after the fun and games I experienced on 9/11. The process continues, with these, and with Way Station (which I'm almost done with). Simak is one of my all-time favorite SF authors, sadly neglected and ignored, for the most part, by current readers of SF (much to their great loss). Choice of Gods is one of my favorites. I would recommend CityThe Werewolf PrincipleRing Around the Sun or The Goblin Reservation and many many others. A short story, "The Thing in the Stone" is one of my favorites by him. A wonderful author.

Smith, E.E. "Doc": I re-read TriplanetaryFirst Lensman and Galactic Patrol this year and will work on the rest of the Lensman books in 04 (I'm actually almost done with Grey Lensman). Great stories. Wonderful stuff. If you don't get a sense of wonder with Galactic Patrol, you're dead from the neck up.

Weber, David: I continued working my way through the Honor Harrington stories with the following: The Short Victorious WarField of DishonorFlag in Exile, and Honor Among Enemies. Quick reads, don't leave much of an impression, but I'm enjoying them.

So there you have it. If you count it one way, 52 books; count it another (multiple titles in an omnibus), 60 books...Hope you enjoyed the descriptions, and if you'd like to know any more about any particular title, please let me know!