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!