Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sniff Sniff

What's that I smell? Maybe some fresh cow flops?

Among my people (urban, lefty, low BMI), places like Starbucks, McDonald’s and Applebee’s have take the role of a kind of punchline, the culinary equivalent of Coldplay. For us, they’re not restaurants or cafes, they’re totems of America’s—and the world’s—relentless, inevitable march toward sameness.

I’m generally sympathetic to this. Starbucks kills independent cafes, McDonald’s cuts down rainforests, Applebee’s wants you to have diabetes.

But in every other aspect of my life, this doesn’t bother me. I wear Nikes, I shop at Safeway, I use rapper-endorsed headphones to drown out the clacking on my MacBook. All of this is just as mass-produced as anything from Starbucks, and yet I willingly (OK, maybe grudgingly) submit.

But chains underpay their workers, my conscience shouts. They get foodstuffs from poor farmers and nonrecyclable lids from petroleum! They donate to ugly political causes!

All that’s probably true, but there’s no reason to think an independent restaurant or cafĂ© is any better by default. Maybe the guy handmaking the gluten-free scones at that ‘small batch’ bakery makes the same minimum wage as the teenager at McDonald’s. Or maybe he owns the place, and thinks women never should have been given the vote. Just because I have no way of knowing his conditions, impacts or beliefs doesn’t mean they’re not there or that they’re not problematic.

"Among my people..."? Gag me with a spoon.

All Alone in the Dark

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a dark nebula (the Dark Doodad, amusingly) in the southern constellation of Musca ("The Fly", I love names of constellations in the southern hemisphere). Nearby is globular cluster NGC 4372.

Yet another example of how spectacular the southern hemisphere skies are compared to mine!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a short video showing the Apollo 16 astronauts taking the Lunar Rover for a spin. What a magnificent view they had!

A List of Fifty

We readers of genre fiction (science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, etc.) love lists. We love building lists. We love complaining about lists (especially when somebody outside "the field" creates a "best of" list). Ian Sales, author of Adrift on the Sea of Rains and other works has come up with his list of 50 essential SF works. You can find Part 01 here and Part 02 here. Lots of good suggestions!

In conjunction with that, we also have Pornokitsch's 50: Part 01. Part 02. And, James Smythe adds his 50: Part 01. Part 02.

Why all this list building? In direct response to ABE's list of 50.

There's less overlap on specific titles than author's, but there's an interesting relative consistency among these four lists. And, if you are looking for something to read...this will keep you busy for quite a bit!

Addendum: Ian Sales looks at the lists. Next up, Ian Sales looks at the criticisms?


The Herschel Space Observatory's infrared eyes give a very different look to the Great Galaxy in Andromeda.

Monday, January 28, 2013


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a shot of the Trifid Nebula, one of my favorite sights in the night sky, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and tweaked by the incomparable Robert Gendler.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Comet McNaught over the skies of Chile in 2007. Will inbound Comet PANSTARRS or Comet ISON be as magnificent?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Moon Glow

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the evening sky over Lower Miller Creek, Alaska. Full Moon, icy ring and multiple moondogs!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Endurance: The Loneliness of the Long-Distance "Runner"

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is an amazing thing. On January 25, 2004, MER Opportunity landed on Mars. It's been operating ever since. We've been on Mars for nine years. We've driven 22 miles, sampled rocks, taken pictures, learned out to teleoperate with a significant time delay and more.

That's pretty damn good for a ninety-day mission.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Clouds, Station, Galaxy

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the summer Milky Way, scattered clouds and a long streak of light: the International Space Station orbiting above.

Memory, Sorrow, Thorn

And if today were not sad enough for our family, it is twice as sad for my wife and myself (less so for our daughter, given her age at the time). Today is the day, ten years ago, we lost our son.

January, putting it plainly, sucks.

Frederick Paul Kiesche, Jr.

November 6, 1935 to January 24, 2010

Then Almitra spoke, saying, We would ask now of Death.
And he said:
You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of life.
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heat wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.

In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;
And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.
Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.
Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour.
Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king?
Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.

("The Prophet", Kahlil Gibran)

Mad Dog

USMC General James Mattis is apparently retiring. Where will the Corps find somebody to replace him?

Stories about Mattis’ caring and deference to the lower ranks abound. As a one-star general he dressed for guard duty, sword and all, one Christmas at Quantico, Va., relieving a young lieutenant to spend the holiday with his family.

Brig. Gen. John Broadmeadow accompanied Mattis on a tour of remote checkpoints in northern Kuwait in the run-up to the Iraq invasion. Mattis wanted to sound out the Marines on duty, so he had Broadmeadow, then a lieutenant colonel, stand post for a half hour.

“He walked away from that talk with very junior Marines with some direct tasks to his regimental commanders,” and the young Marines got a great story to tell about the general, Broadmeadow said.

No book? No autobiography? No summing up of a lifetime of lessons learned? Hopefully he changes his mind, or finds somebody competent to do it for him.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Beyond Far Centaurus

A favorite A.E. van Vogt title (title, alas he often had better book and story titles than actual tales!) is Far Centaurus. Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day takes us beyond Far Centaurus, to NGC 4945 in the constellation of Centaurus. What energetic madness lies at the core of this Seyfert galaxy? Can we get beyond the blue event horizon?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Birthing Wall

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a hot bed of gas, dust and newly formed stars in the "Central America" and "Mexico" portions of NGC 7000, a.k.a., The North American Nebula in Cygnus.

Monday, January 21, 2013


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a short video showing the descent of the Huygens lander (carried to Saturnian space by the Cassini orbiter) onto Titan. Huygens landed on Titan in 2005 and was able to operate for ninety minutes before being overcome by the temperature.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


What is today's Astronomy Picture of the Day? Is the Antikythera Mechanism a clock? An astronomical device? A computer? News reports are surfacing that more might be in the area where this was found, so stay tuned!

Friday, January 18, 2013


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day features on the most prominent feature of Phobos, one of the hurtling moons of Mars: Stickney Crater (nearly 50% the size of the moon).

Thursday, January 17, 2013


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows Cassiopeia A, or Cass A, the expanding remains of a supernova in our galaxy. Optical and x-ray wavelengths are combined to show the complexity of the shockwave and expanding gas.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Here's a bit of advice: just try reading it. I'm pretty sure Harlan Ellison hasn't been banned by the Roman Catholics yet. If he were, I'd have heard about it.

This Immortal Storm

Think controversy amongst genre folk is new, or invented on the internet? Think again.


Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a a short video from NASA's Solar Dynamic Observatory, soaking in the rays while orbiting the Sun.

The Space Review

In the current issue of The Space Review, a few items of interest. Jeff Foust looks at the golden age we live in (for exoplanet science). Dwayne Day looks back at the GAMBIT orbital reconaissance satellite. Anthony Young discusses the Senate Launch System and how it is driving research into "rebooting" the venerable F-1 engine used on the Saturn V. Finally, Jeff Foust looks at the shuttles on display.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Galaxies, Cluster, Nebula

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows NGC 602, a star cluster within the Small Magellanic Cloud. Also visible are the dust and gas that contributed to the birth of the star cluster. Beyond (seemingly within) is a galaxy. Oh, and another...and another...and another...

Saturday, January 12, 2013


Once the area of science fiction, we now see more and more proof of the existence of extrasolar planets. Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows a graph built from the data from NASA's Kepler observatory. Models predict ten billion "Earths". Ten. Billion. Now, there are some caveats to the prediction (such as where these planets orbit), but I'll bet this turns out to be a lowball figure.

Brother, Can You Spare $900.00?

Not as cool as getting Harlan Ellison's typewriter, but wouldn't this be nifty?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Cluster (I Won't Mention Eno)

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the Fornax cluster of galaxies, a tight grouping of galaxies in this southern hemisphere constellation. The cluster is also a collection of the evolutionary stages of galaxies: spiral, elliptical, etc.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Bullet Time

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day depicts "cosmic bullets" in the Orion Nebula. What are these? The text talks about shock-heated hydrogen gas, a natural process.

I suggest an alternative.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Jellyfish Hunting

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a part of IC 443, popularly known as the Jellyfish Nebula. The tagline at the site calls it "elusive". Believe me, under my suburban skies, that applies to many nebula!

Dog Walk

Waning clipped fingernail crescent;
Rising low in eastern sky;
Snuggling under blanket of fog.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Blast from the Past

In this installment from NASA's Image of the Day Gallery, data from the Mariner 2 probe, making its closest approach to Venus, is released to the public. Look at the "media" it is released on. We've come a long way!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2013: The Year in Books

I've been keeping track of the books I read each year for about two decades now, initially on paper and electronic notes, then on this blog. The yearly average tends towards something greater than 60 (I always seem to make at least 60). Some years I'm more careful in making notes (occasionally I overlook a book or three!). I usually finish what I read, only on a few occasions do I give up.

I also tend to read a large number of books simultaneously. I can put a book down for days, weeks, even a year, pick it up and begin again. I think I'm reading something like 50 books right now. Some will be finished this year, some not.

Book count: 106 (as of December 31, 2013).

Rick Atkinson: The Long Grey Line (July).

Alfred, Lord Tennyson: Idylls of the King (online version found here) (February).

Iain M. Banks: Consider Phlebas (April). The Player of Games (April).

Stephen Baxter: Gravity Dreams (November). Starfall (November).

Gary W. Bray: After My Lai: My Year Commanding First Platoon, Charlie Company (January).

Lois McMaster Bujold: Captain Vopatril's Alliance (July).

Michael L. Burgoyne, Albert J. Marckwardt, E.D. Swinton: The Defense of Jisr al_Doreaa with E.D. Swinton's The Defence of Duffer's Drift (February).

Italo Calvino: Invisible Cities (October).

Arthur C. Clarke: The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke 02: The Sentinel (See here for omnibus review of Clarke short stories) (January). The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke 03: The Star (May). The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke 04: A Meeting with Medusa (May).

Glen Cook: Dread Brass Shadows (July). Deadly Quicksilver Lies (December).

Paul Cornell, et al: Saucer Country, Volume One (July).

Samuel R. Delany: The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction (Revised and Expanded Edition) (April). Nova (September and twice in October). Starboard Wine: More Notes on the Language of Science Fiction (December).

Gordon R. Dickson: Necromancer (December). Tactics of Mistake (December).

David Drake: Paying the Piper (November).

Harlan Ellison: Dream Corridor (Volume 01) (December). Dream Corridor (Volume 02) (December).

Richard Feynman: "Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman": Adventures of a Curious Character (November).

C.S. Forester: Rifleman Dodd (February).

Neil Gaiman: Neverwhere (October). American Gods (10th Anniversary Edition) (November). Anansi Boys (November). Sandman 01: Preludes & Nocturnes (November). Sandman 02: The Doll's House (November). Dream Country (December). Season of Mists (December). A Game of You (December). Fables & Reflections (December). Brief Lives (December). World's End (December). The Kindly Ones (December). The Wake (December). The Ocean at the End of the Lane (December).

William Gibson: Distrust That Particular Flavor (April). Pattern Recognition (May). Pattern Recognition (November) (yes, again). Spook Country (November). Zero History (November). Distrust That Particular Flavor (yes, again) (November).

Mira Grant: Blackout (July).

Martin H. Greenberg (author) and John Helfers (editor): I Have an Idea for a Book… The Bibliography of Martin H. Greenberg (July).

Robert A. Heinlein: Beyond This Horizon (previous review here) (January)

Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez: Locke & Key Volume 5: Clockworks (July).

Edward James & Farah Mendlesohn (editors): The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature (July).

Stephen King: Dark Tower 01: The Gunslinger (June).

John Kovalic: Understanding Gamers (The Collected Dork Tower Volume V) (December).

Fritz Leiber: Ghost Light (September).

Russell Lewis: Company Commander (January).

Karl Marlantes: What It Is Like To Go To War (October).

Andre Norton: The Time Traders (omnibus, made up of Time Traders and Galactic Derelict) (legal and free version here and here) (March). Star Soldiers (omnibus, made up of Star Guard and Star Rangers) (legal and free version here and here)(March).

Jeff Patterson: Don't Tweet Where You Eat (June).

Edgar Allen Poe: The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (February).

Tim Powers: Salvage & Demolition (February).

Terry Pratchett: Monstrous Regiment (July). Lords and Ladies (July).

Christopher Priest: The Book on the Edge of Forever (July). Alastair Reynolds: Thousandth Night (July). Troika (July).

Kim Stanley Robinson: 2312 (June).

Spider Robinson: Callahan's Crosstime Saloon (February). Time Travelers Strictly Cash (February). Callahan's Secret (February) (omnibus review here).

John Scalzi: The Human Division (February). Redshirts (May).

Cordwainer Smith (Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger): When the People Fell (December).

Deborah Stanish & L.M. Myles (editors): Chicks Unravel Time: Women Journey Through Every Season of Doctor Who (July).

Neal Stephenson: (This edition is the version found in paperbacks and audiobooks, rather than the fatter volumes found in hardcover or eBook.) Quicksilver (December). King of the Vagabonds (December). Odalisque (December). Bonanza (December). The Juncto (December). Solomon's Gold (December). Currency (December). The System of the World (December).

Bryan Talbot: Grandville BĂȘte Noire (July).

Howard Tayler & Travis Walton: Schlock Mercenary Volume Seven: Random Access Memorabilia (July).

Lynne M. Thomas & Sigrid Ellis (editors): Chicks Dig Comics: A Celebration of Comic Books by the Women Who Love Them (July).

Jack Vance: The Dying Earth (May).

Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples: Saga, Volume One (July). Saga, Volume Two (November). Saga, Volume One (December). Saga, Volume Two (December).

David Weber: On Basilisk Station (January) (July). The Honor of the Queen (July). The Short Victorious War (August). Field of Dishonor (September). Flag in Exile (September). Honor Among Enemies (October). In Enemy Hands (October). Echoes of Honor (October). Ashes of Victory (November).

Bing West: The Village (January).

Jim Zubb (author) & Andrew Huerta, Jake Bilbao, Ivan Anaya, Ross Campbell, Mohan, Marshall Dillon and Matteo Scalera (artists, colorists and letterers): Pathfinder Volume 01: Dark Waters Rising (May).

2013: The Year in Shorts

I started the goal of trying to read at least as many short stories each year as there are days and have managed to keep it up most years. Last year I exceeded the goal handily; some years are not as productive. What will 2013 bring? Who will know!

Total count (out of 365): 422 (as of December 31, 2013).

Stephen Baxter: Gravity Dreams (2 entries, completed). Vacuum Diagrams (4 entries, continuing to read)

Mark Berent: Let's Kill the Dai Uy (1 entry, completed).

Borges, Jorge Luis: Labyrinths (3 entries, continuing to read).

Algis Budrys: Benchmarks—Galaxy Bookshelf (57 entries, collection completed).

John W. Campbell, Jr. (writing as Don A. Stuart): Cloak of Aesir (4 entries, continuing to read). Who Goes There? (1 entry, completed).

Arthur C. Clarke: The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke 02: The Sentinel (21 stories, collection completed). Reach for Tomorrow (1 entry). Tales from the "White Hart" (1 entry). (Omnibus review here.) The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke 03: The Star (29 entries, collection completed). The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke 04: A Meeting with Medusa (30 entries, collection completed).

James S.A. Corey: Gods of Risk. The Butcher of Anderson Station (2 stories, completed).

Samuel R. Delany: The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction (13 entries, collection completed). Starboard Wine: More Notes on the Language of Science Fiction (14 entries, completed).

Harlan Ellison: Dream Corridor (Volume 01) (20 entries, collection completed). Dream Corridor (Volume 02) (15 entries, collection completed).

William Gibson: Distrust That Particular Flavor (26 entries, collection completed).

Elbert Hubbard: A Message to Garcia (1 story, complete) (original text here) (Part of the USMC Professional Reading List, found here, Adobe Acrobat file).

Fritz Leiber: The Ghost Light. Made up of: Introduction; The Ghost Light; Coming Attraction; A Deskful of Girls; Space-Time for Springers; Four Ghosts in Hamlet (read twice); Gonna Roll the Bones; Bazaar of the Bizare; Midnight by the Morphy Watch) (9 entries, continuing to read).

C.L. Moore: Black God's Kiss. Made up of: Introduction (Suzy McKee Charnas); Black God's Kiss; Black God's Shadow (3 entries, continuing to read).

Chris Mitchell (editor): The Best of Spike Magazine—The Interviews (40 entries, collection complete).

Alastair Reynolds: Thousandth Night (1 entry, completed). Beyond the Aquila Rift (1 entry, completed). Troika (1 entry, completed).

Spider Robinson: Callahan's Crosstime Saloon (12 entries, collection completed). Time Travelers Strictly Cash (24 entries, collection completed) (omnibus review here).

John Scalzi: OMW: After the Coup. OMW 05: The Human Division: The B-Team; Walking the Plank; We Only Need the Heads; A Voice in the Wilderness; Tales from the Clarke; The Back Channel; The Dog King; The Sound of Rebellion; The Observers; This Must Be the Place; A Problem of Proportion; The Gentle Art of Cracking Heads; Earth Below, Sky Above (this book is being released one installment at a time; now complete).

Cordwainer Smith: When the People Fell. Made up of: Introduction (Frederik Pohl); No, No, Not Rogov!; War No. 81-Q; Mark Elf; The Queen of the Afternoon; Scanners Live in Vain; The Lady Who Sailed "The Soul"; When the People Fell; Think Blue, Count Two; The Colonel Came Back From Nothing At All; The Game of Rat and Dragon; The Burning of the Brain; From Gustible's Planet; Himself in Anachron; The Crime and Glory of Commander Suzdal; Golden the Ship Was—Oh! Oh! Oh!; Drunkboat; A Planet Named Shayol; On the Gem Planet; On the Storm Planet; On the Sand Planet; Three to a Given Star; Down to a Sunless Sea; War No. 81-Q (original version); Western Science Is So Wonderful; Nancy; The Fife of Bodidharma; Angerhelm; The Good Friends (29 entries, collection completed).

Jonathan Strahan (editor): Edge of Infinity. Made up of: Introduction (Jonathan Strahan); The Girl-Thing Who Went Out For Sushi (Pat Cadigan); The Deeps of the Sky (Elizabeth Bear); Drive (James S.A. Corey); The Road to NPS (Sandra McDonald and Stephen D. Covey); . (5 entries; continuing to read). The Starry Rift. Made up of: Introduction (Jonathan Strahan); Ass-Hat Magic Spider (Scott Westerfeld); Cheats (Ann Halam); Orange (Neil Gaiman); The Surfer (Kelly Link) (5 entries, continuing to read).

Mark Teppo: Seer—A Foreworld SideQuest (The Foreworld Saga) (1 entry, complete).

Jack Vance: The Dying Earth (6 entries, collection completed).

Periodicals: Interzone 244 (12 entries, complete). Locus Magazine: January 2013 (2 entries). February 2013 (2 entries).

The Hugo Packet! Pat Cadigan: The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi. Aliette de Bodard: On a Red Station, Drifting. Immersion. Mira Grant: San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats. Thomas Olde Heuvelt: The Boy Who Cast No Shadow. Kij Johnson: Mantis Wives. Nancy Kress: After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall. Jay Lake: The Stars Do Not Lie. Ken Liu: Mono no Aware. Seanan McGuire: In Sea-Salt Tears. Rat-Catcher. Brandon Sanderson: The Emperor's Soul. Catherynne M. Valente: Fade To White.

2013: No Battle Plan Survives Contact with the Enemy

I'm not sure why I do this now and again, as it rarely lasts far into January, let alone much of the year...but here are my reading plans for 2013.

First "resolution", finish more of the books I'm currently reading and try not to start too many others that hang around!

For fiction, try to read several of the potential Hugo-nominees ahead of the mad rush to the vote.

In graphic novels, continue to get Stan Sakai, as they come back into print, and read them. Also, read the other various Sandman-related items that I have or have seen.

In history, I hope to read The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides again, probably in edition edited by Robert B. Strassler, The Landmark Thucydides. After that, I hope to read Donald Kagan's single-volume The Peloponnesian War, followed by his four-volume in-depth examination of the same: The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian WarThe Archidamian WarThe Peace of Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition and The Fall of the Athenian Empire.

In literature, I hope to dabble in Things Arturian, ranging from Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur to Stewart's Merlin quartet to Sutcliff's The Sword at Sunset to Alfred Lord Tennyson's Idylls of the King. The first three will be re-reads, but most have not been read in years (if not decades). The fourth will be a first-time attempt. I blame Greg Stafford and his excellent Pendragon fantasy roleplaying game, which I hauled off the shelves during 2012 to look at. It awakened the dragon, again.

Beyond that? So many books, so little time, so many ex-lover's to bury. Heck, I have over 100 books in my "Current Reads 01" folder on my Kindle (and about 300 in my "Current Reads 02" folder). I'm not going to get bored, any time soon!