Monday, December 5, 2005

What He Said

For myself, I probably stand alone in owning to a sentimental weakness for the night-piercing whistle--judiciously remote, as some men love the skirl of the pipes. In the days when streets were less wearily familiar than now, or ever the golden cord was quite loosed that led back to relinquished fields and wider skies, I have lain awake on stifling summer nights, thinking of luckier friends by moor and stream, and listening for the whistles from certain railway stations, veritable "horns of Elf-land, faintly blowing." Then, a ghostly passenger, I have taken my seat in a phantom train, and sped up, up, through the map, rehearsing the journey bit by bit: through the furnace-lit Midlands, and on till the grey glimmer of dawn showed stone walls in place of hedges, and masses looming up on either side; till the bright sun shone upon brown leaping streams and purple heather, and the clear, sharp northern air streamed in through the windows..."We are only the children who might have been," murmured Lamb's dream babes to him; and for the sake of those dream-journeys, the journeys that might have been, I still hail with a certain affection the call of the engine in the night...
—Kenneth Grahame, "The Romance of the Rail", Pagan Papers (essays)

In later years it is stifled and gagged--buried deep, a green turf at the head of it, and on its heart a stone; but it lives, it breathes, it lurks, it will up and out when 'tis looked for least. That stockbroker, some brief summers gone, who was missed from his wonted place one settling-day! a goodly portly man, i' faith: and had a villa and a steam launch at Surbiton: and was versed in the esoteric humours of the House. Who could have thought that the Hunter lay hid in him? Yet, after many weeks, they found him in a wild nook of Hampshire. Ragged, sun-burnt, the nocturnal haystack calling aloud from his frayed and weather-stained duds, his trousers tucked, he was tickling trout with godless native urchins; and when they would have won him to himself with honied whispers of American Rails, he answered but with babble of green fields. He is back in his wonted corner now: quite cured, apparently, and tractable. And yet--let the sun shine too wantonly in Throgmorton Street, let an errant zephyr, quick with the warm South, fan but his cheek too wooingly on his way to the station; and will he not once more snap his chain and away? Ay, truly: and next time he will not be caught.
—Kenneth Grahame, "Orion", Pagan Papers (essays)

Thursday, December 1, 2005

The World, The Flesh and The Devil

One of the biggest inspirations to science fiction has been a little book called The World, The Flesh and The Devil by J.D. Bernal. There are a couple of versions available online.

For a good addition, however, I recommend this posting at Impearls. Michael McNeil got permission to post Freeman Dyson's look back and speculations forward from Bernal's seminal work.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane

(Reposted from a previous blog.)

Del Rey has been coming out with a series of trade paperbacks containing the works of Robert E. Howard. This installment was The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane. Other than a short encounter with this character sometime during college, I wasn't really all that familiar with Kane. As I recall, I thought the idea of a Puritan running around getting into sword fights, pistol duels and various encounters with the fantastic and supernatural was pretty silly.

However, when I spotted this book in the store, I was interested. For one, the artwork, by one Gary Gianni, was excellent. It seemed to really capture the pen-and-ink style used in the pulps that stories like these originally appeared in. For another, since this was a complete set of Kane stories, I figured I'd get a pretty good sense of the worth of the series.

The stories are pretty darn good, and I'll have to read more of Howard's stuff ths year. I have a feeling that my appreciation of his writing was probably ruined by the various camp followers (ranging from the good such as Poul Anderson to the simply atrocious such as Robert Jordan) who have attached themselves to Howard over the years. These tales (overall) were nicely plotted and had some good characters, not the least of which is Solomon Kane himself.

The stories range pretty widely and seem to be arranged in chronological (for the stories) order. Kane starts out in England, travels through Europe, and then (for the bulk of the book) spends a lot of time in Darkest Africa. While Howard occasionally slips into less than politically correct characterizations at time, many of the secondary characters in the African sequence are written a lot more sympathetically than his contemporaries.

There are a number of story fragments scattered throughout the book. It's a shame that Howard never finished them, as I would have liked to see how they ended. There are also a couple of poems about Kane, as well as a article by H.P. Lovecraft on Howard's death, an essay by the artist, and couple of articles in the end. These include a biography of Howard, a profile of the artist, and a series of notes on the texts themselves.

The book is made up of: Foreword (Gary Gianni); In Memorium: Robert Ervin Howard (H.P. Lovecraft); Skulls in the StarsThe Right Hand of DoomRed ShadowsRattle of BonesThe Castle of the DevilDeath's Black RiderThe Moon of SkullsThe One Black StainThe Blue Flame of VengeanceThe Hills of the DeadHawk of BastiThe Return of Sir Richard GrenvilleWings in the NightThe Footfalls WithinThe Children of AsshurSolomon Kane's Homecoming (two versions); A Short Biography of Robert E. Howard (Rusty Burke); Gary GianniNotes on the Original Howard Text.

This book counts as 20 entries for the 2005 Short Story Project (link needs to be updated).

Saturday, November 5, 2005

Skunk Cabbage

In Robert A. Heinlein's 1949 novel Red Planet depicts a struggle of colonists on Mars trying to fight back against an Earth-imposed government that does not understand what it takes to live on Mars. The books depicts that Mars of Percivel Lowell: canals, ruined cities and Martians (reused by Heinlein in other books such as The Rolling Stones and Stranger in a Strange Land).

Part of the plot revolves around the journey of the main characters, Jim Marlowe and Frank Sutton, to warn their fellow colonists of the plans of the Mars Company. To survive a night on Mars, they hide inside a large plant that resembles the Earth skunk cabbage. Despite freezing temperatures, the plant is able to survive. Perhaps it is a cousin of Earth's skunk cabbage, which was recently found to have a mechanism to combat freezing?

Addendum (November 14, 2005): The posting was picked up by Technovelgy!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

American Gods and More

Three brief reviews of books by Neil Gaiman.

American Gods: Mixed feelings on this one. Overall, I enjoyed it. There was a lot of fun in this book, plus a few very moving or scary scenes. But (there's always a but) I'm not as thrilled with Gaiman as some seem to be. I do not, for example, understand why people can rave so much aboug Gaiman while ignoring somebody like Tim Powers. Both explore similar themes, threads and ideas, but Gaiman (in my humble opinion) barely can carry Powers' pencil case. Hype? Am I missing something?

The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish: Hey, it's a short kids book...what are you doing reviewing it and listing it? True, but I bought it on the strength of Coraline, which I read last year. It's an amusing tale of a kid who loses his dad in a trade. Young Miss Laura gives it two thumbs up, and I agree.

Neverwhere: I tried reading this a few years ago, without success. It seemed a pale imitation of Tim Powers (yes, I know I keep harping on that...but I wonder why there is so much praise heaped on Gaiman when there are numerous other practising fantasy writers of equal or greater ability...such as Tim Powers). Anyway, given that I read American Gods, I gave Neverwhere another chance. I got through it, and enjoyed it, but felt that it felt more like a novelization of a movie (or television series) than an independently developed novel. I know that it was a BBC series, but I don't know which came first. Of course, if I ever make it to London and take the "tube", I'll certainly eye various stops with more interest. The tale alternates between our world and a shadow world and follows the adventures of a man who steps between the two worlds. He gets caught up in a major conflict between various factions of the shadow world. Lots of atmosphere, some interesting mythology, some interesting characters.

I'll continue to follow Gaiman as an author and see where he takes us as he matures.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Quantum Physics for Mind-Altered Substance Abusers

The Universe Next Door (Schrodinger's Cat #1) (Robert Anton Wilson): I first read these books in college. They were all the rage then. I'm not sure if I'll be able to get through them a second time. One thing's for sure; if you're looking for a good introduction to quantum physics, this isn't it.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Daddy's Little Girl

In remembrance, once again.
Her hair up in a pony tail, her favorite dress tied with a bow. Today was Daddy's Day at school, and she couldn't wait to go. But her mommy tried to tell her, that she probably should stay home. Why the kids might not understand, if she went to school alone. But she was not afraid; she knew just what to say, what to tell her classmates, on the Daddy's Day. But still her mommy worried, for her to face this day alone. And that was why once again, she tried to keep her daughter home. But the little girl went to school, eager to tell them all about a dad she never sees, a dad who never calls. There were daddies along the wall in back for everyone to meet. Children squirming impatiently, anxious in their seats. 
One by one the teacher called, a student from the class to introduce their daddy as seconds slowly passed. At last the teacher called her name, every child turned to stare. Each of them were searching, for a man who wasn't there "Where's her daddy at?" she heard a boy call out "She probably doesn't have one," another student dared to shout. And from somewhere near the back, she heard a daddy say "Looks like another deadbeat dad, too busy to waste his day." The words did not offend her, as she smiled at her friends and looked back at her teacher who told her to begin. 
And with hands behind her back, slowly she began to speak and out from the mouth of a child, came words incredibly unique. "My Daddy couldn't be here, because he lives so far away. But I know he wishes he could, be with me on this day." "And though you cannot meet him, I wanted you to know all about my Daddy, and how much he loves me so." "He loved to tell me stories, he taught me to ride my bike. He surprised me with pink roses and taught me to fly a kite." "We used to share fudge sundaes, and ice cream in a cone; and though you cannot see him, I'm not standing here alone." 
"Cause my Daddy's always with me, even though we are far apart. I know because he told me, he'll forever be here in my heart." With that her little hand reached up, and lay across her chest. Feeling her own heartbeat, beneath her favorite dress. And from some where in the crowd of dads, her mother stood in tears proudly watching her daughter, who was wise beyond her years. For she stood up for the love, of a man not in her life doing what was best for her, doing what was right. And when she dropped her hand back down, staring straight into the crowd. She finished with a voice so soft but its message clear and loud. 
"I love my Daddy very much, he's my shining star, and if he could he'd be here but heavens much to far." "But sometimes when I close my eyes, it's like he never went away." And then she closed her eyes, and she saw him there that day. And to her mother's amazement she witnessed with surprise; a room full of Daddies and Children all starting to close their eyes. Who knows what they saw before them, who knows what they felt inside Perhaps for merely a second they saw him at her side. "I know you're with me Daddy," to the silence she called out And what happened next made believers, of those once filled with doubt. 
Not one in that room could explain it for each of their eyes had been closed but there placed on her desk was a beautiful pink rose. And a child was blessed, if only a moment, by the love her shining bright star and given the gift of believing that Heaven is never to far.
For all the children that have lost their Daddy or Mommy in the tragedy of September 11th. Always remember they will be in your hearts.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Arp Galaxies

I'm not qualified to tell if this guy has a legitimate set of theories or not. But, I often wonder if "mainstream scientists" are just feeding conspiracy theorists by ignoring him.

Addendum (June 14, 2006): Hubble eyes an Arp galaxy.

Addendum (July 10, 2006): Speaking of conspiracy theories...

Addendum (July 12, 2006): A review of Arp's Seeing Red.

Addendum (August 6, 2006): Various cosmological theories (non-standard, intrinsic redshift, redshift quantization, Le Sage's theory of gravitation, Big Bang, Steady State).

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Matrioshka Brains

Man, you never know where you'll end up on the information superhighway. Some chance remarks and related postings at the ever excellent Centauri Dreams led me to this site and then this site. I passed the links onto a friend, who passed back this link. And somehow or another, through various people, I've had some talks about Dyson Spheres, J.D. Bernal's The World, The Flesh and The Devil, Cordwainer Smith and the Instrumentality of Mankind and Olaf Stapledon and the origins of Star Maker, back to Dyson and this time trees in space, and the Orion "boom boom" rocket. Bernal spheres!

Neptune's trojan asteroids! Another asteroid belt! Pluto's three moons! Next-generation spacesuits from Russia! Ion drives! Water in space! Moons spewing geysers! Life under the ice! Zounds!

There's got to be a science fiction novel in me somewhere. Or four!

Monday, April 4, 2005


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day combines a timed exposure of the sky with a surprisingly common setup for amateur astronomers these days.

Saturday, January 1, 2005

2005: The Year in Shorts

(The madness continues! And moves into 2005!)

Short story count: 159.

I did not (not surprisingly) read as many short works in 2005 as I did in 2004. To be quite honest, I was suffering from burnout in reading and reviewing as many short works as I did in 2004.

Ben Bova: Kinsman.

Ray Bradbury: Dinosaur Tales.

Sir Arthur C. Clarke: The Wind from the Sun.

Stephen Jay Gould: Ever Since Darwin.

Robert A. Heinlein: Expanded Universe.

Robert E. Howard: The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane.

Spider Robinson: Off the Wall at Callahan's; Callahan's Crosstime Saloon; Time Travelers Strictly Cash; Callahan's Secret; Callahan's Lady; Lady Slings the Booze.

Charles Sheffield: The Compleat McAndrew (plus one).

2005: The Year in Books

This posting is intended as a "marker" and a tally. It'll mark the short story collections that I've posted reviews about and it will show you a running tally of how many short stories and essays I read in 2005.

This is the second year that I've done this, based on a posting on SF Signal and carried out previously here.

As I did last year, I'll be following a variant on the program that SF Signal did. First, I don't differentiate between stories of various lengths (one story = one entry). Second, I'll be reading a lot of short non-fiction as well and will count these various collected articles as individual entries.

On to the count and the entries!

Count (as of December 30, 2005): 72 books (assuming my count is accurate).

Best Books of 2005: Two categories this year, fiction and non-fiction.

In fiction, historical novels were the clear winners for me as well as books with grand themes and larger-than-life characters. Tied for first place were the works several works of historical fiction, a tale set in the world after an atomic holocaust, and a space opera.

In the historical novel arena are the tales of Patrick O'Brian and the works I read by Neal Stephenson. Between O'Brian's sea stories and Stephenson's massive Baroque Cycle, I feel like I'll need to spend much of 2006 reading hard SF just to get out of the pre-technological ages! Seriously though, both authors have produced massive amounts of well-written historical fiction. Both have produced many interesting characters, a wealth of detail, amazing plots and fantastic writing. I highly recommend anything by O'Brian (I read Master & Commander and Post Captain this year) as well as The Baroque Cycle by Stephenson (made up of the individual volumes QuicksilverThe Confusion and The System of the World). Great reading awaits!

Nova (Samuel R. Delany): An amazing mix of space opera, the Grail myths and Tarot, along with power struggles and larger-than-life characters. Still probably my favorite book by Delany.

A Canticle for Leibowitz (Walter M. Miller, Jr.) is not only a good science fiction book, but a moving tale of how humans perservere in the face of adversity and a darn fine story of religious faith. A strange combination, perhaps, but Miller does one fine job here.

Last Call (Tim Powers) is a great combination of the Grail Quest, cards, gangsters and more. Read my review (below). Powers is one of my favorite fantasy authors and I wish he'd get more recognition for his work!

In non-fiction, also a tie. On the one hand, we have the most moving book I read all year: 102 Minutes, by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn. Stories from the inside of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

The other favorite non-fiction book for the year was Roving Mars: Spirit, Opportunity, and the Exploration of the Red Planet (Steve Squyres). In reading this book, you'll be amazed that Spirit and Opportunity made it to Mars and are still operating. There are so many points in the book that it seemed like Squyres was going to fail in this quest: design issues, budget issues, political issues, etc. It is also a great story of what we are learning from Mars through these two rovers. And the book is only the start of the tale, let's hope that Squyres follows up when he finally has time to digest the reams of data that these two rovers have been sending back.

Worst Book of 2005Rocket Man: Robert H. Goddard and the Birth of the Space Age by David A. Clary.

Stephen Baxter: Ages in ChaosTitan.

Greg Bear: Dinosaur Summer.

Ben Bova: The Star ConquerorsKinsman.

Ray Bradbury: Dinosaur Tales.

Edgar Rice Burroughs: At the Earth's CoreTarzan of the Apes.

John W. Campbell, Jr.: Islands of Space.

Arthur C. Clarke: The Ghost from Grand Banks; The Hammer of God; Rendezvous with Rama; The Songs of Distant Earth; The Wind from the Sun.

David A. Clary: Rocket Man.

Michael Crichton: Jurassic Park and Lost World.

Walter Cunningham: The All-American Boys.

Samuel R. Delany: The Motion of Light in Water (yes, again!). Nova.

Damon DiMarco (editor): Tower Stories.

Lowell Dingus: Hell Creek, Montana: America's Key to the Prehistoric Past.

Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn: 102 Minutes.

Neil Gaiman: American Gods; The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish; Neverwhere.

David Gerrold: The Voyage of the Star Wolf and The Middle of Nowhere.

Stephen Jay Gould: Ever Since Darwin.

Robert A. Heinlein: Expanded Universe.

Robert E. Howard: The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane.

Mark Kurlansky: Salt.

C.S. Lewis: The Magician's Nephew and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Neil McAleer: Arthur C. Clarke: The Authorized Biography.

Walter M. Miller, Jr.: A Canticle for Leibowitz.

Leonard Mlodinow: Feynman's Rainbow.

Patrick O'Brian: Master & Commander; Post Captain.

Jerry Pournelle: Exiles to Glory.

Tim Powers: The Last Call.

Perry Rhodan (various authors): Enterprise Stardust and The Radiant Dome.

Spider Robinson: Off the Wall at Callahan's; Callahan's Crosstime Saloon; Time Travelers Strictly Cash; Callahan's Secret; Callahan's Lady; Lady Slings the Booze.

J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone; Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix; Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Charles Sheffield: The Compleat McAndrew.

Clifford D. Simak: A Heritage of Stars.

Steve Squyres: Roving Mars: Spirit, Opportunity, and the Exploration of the Red Planet.

Neal Stephenson: The Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, The System of the World).

Travis S. Taylor: Warp Speed and The Quantum Connection.

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring.

David Weber: On Basilisk Station; The Honor of the Queen; The Short Victorious War; Field of Dishonor; Flag in Exile; Honor Among Enemies.

H.G. Wells: The Croquet Player.

Robert Anton Wilson:The Universe Next Door (Schrodinger's Cat #1).

Robert Zimmerman: Leaving Earth.