Tentacles The SF Reviews newsletter, 2nd March 2003
The Columbia Tragedy
Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart during re-entry on 1 February
2003. I would like to express my condolences to the families and
friends of the crew: Rick D. Husband, William C. McCool,
Michael P. Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David M. Brown,
Laurel B. Clark and Ilan Ramon.
They live on in our memories.
Best Books This Month
The best books this month were:
The quality of these two books took me by surprise. I expected
little from either. I'd never heard of Megan Lindholm and I'd
forgotten that Wil McCarthy was the author of "Bloom" which I
enjoyed. They're both great books: "Alien Earth" for the cool
ideas and the quality of the characterization and "The Collapsium"
for its exhilarating and humorous writing. Make a point of reading
Worst Books This Month
"Black Snow Days" was bad but "The Z Sting" was incomparably worse.
"Black Snow Days" is one of the books that exposes, in immense
unashamed detail, all the mental anguish and turmoil of a
character in the belief that it enhances characterization.
Of course it does nothing of the sort, it merely exposes all the
mental anguish and turmoil of a character.
"The Z Sting" certainly doesn't make that mistake, skipping
characterization entirely I believe. Instead it opted to use a
bizarre dialect of English that I could only translate by
replacing, several times a paragraph, various parts of speech
with more conventional ones and a general substitution of
hyphens with normal conjunctions.
This Month's Reviews
I enjoyed rereading John Brunner's "The Crucible Of Time" which
even if not one of his major works is still Brunner. The cover is
by Don Dixon and for those of you that like his artwork here is his
Cosmographica web site.
Daniel F. Galouye's "Dark Universe" is also still surprisingly
enjoyable. My recent edition was published as part of a new
series "The Gollancz SF Collectors' Editions". This series includes
some great books: Ian Watson's "The Embedding",
Clifford D. Simak's "Way Station", and Pat Cadigan's
"Mindplayers" but don't buy any of them!
The covers are boring, old-fashioned and, well, repellent. For
some reason they're trying to look like cheap hardbacks, but
they're not, they are simply large format stiffie-backs. I want
quality artwork on my collectibles. What about some Don Dixon?
Or even better, how about something seriously artistic like the
cover of "The God Makers"?
And Frank Herbert's "The God Makers", wonderful cover
notwithstanding, had an extra resonance this time around.
After all, the protagonist Lewis Orne is introduced as a
weapons inspector, checking rediscovered civilisations for
signs of aggressive intentions. Lewis Orne is very successful
as an inspector. He is very good at calling in the Imperial forces
to occupy the offending colony. However, he comes to think that
there must be a better, less violent way, to achieve the desired
On the subject of weapons, and slipping away for a moment from
SF, Scientific American had a throwaway mention of a military
flight controller having a small problem. He changed the
battery of his missile targeting equipment. This reset the
target location and his position received a direct hit from
the missile. Let this be a lesson to us all.
Next Month's Reviews
I'll have completed the review of "The Star Fraction", Ken
McLeod's excellent first novel. That's a great book and was one
of the high-points of this month's reading.
I'm reading David Brin's "Kiln People" now so there's some chance
of that review appearing.
There's no hope for "Dhalgren" though. I need some time off if
I'm going to work my way through that.
Thunderbirds Are Go
My mate John recommended I take a look at
It's great. They've even got the specs of the Thunderbird craft.
Did you know that the fabulous Thunderbird 2, always my favourite, flew at up to 5000 mph?
Just listen to this:
5 4 3 2 1 Thunderbirds are go!
Octopi Are Go
This week Reuters reported that an octopus had learned to unscrew
a shrimp jar. Apparently it takes from ten seconds up to an hour to
get the lid off. Pretty much proves that octopi aren't intelligent.
Even my mate John never takes more than five minutes to unscrew a
Check out Octopus learns to do the twist.
SETI Is Go
In the early 1990's, NASA stopped funding SETI. Microsoft co-founder
Paul Allen stepped in and has been providing much of the financing since
then. I am pleased to see that in April construction will commence
on the Allen Telescope Array. This is a precursor to the Square
Kilometer Array that will vastly increase SETI's capabilities.
I hope they get a move on this. I'm getting markedly fed up with my
SETI@home. The screensaver is playing up again, displaying bitmap images
rather than those relaxing multicoloured graphs. The bitmaps appear
to be engineering diagrams but they're incomprehensible, the colours
are wrong and I suspect they're upside down. I am seriously
considering complaining to SETI and getting some fresh data. The
last thing I need at the moment is instructions on building bizarre
machinery. Everyone knows I'm an absolute duffer at DIY.
Science Note – Far Out Physics II
If you still want more far out physics after the links to NASA's
projects last month, pick up a copy of the
Scientific American Special Edition "The Edge Of Physics". It
has great articles on such diverse topics as quantum
computing, frozen light and "wormholes and warp drive".
Look at more on the Scientific American web-site about
this Special Edition .
Science Note II – The Cable Guys
Last month I published a review of Arthur C. Clarke's
"The Fountains Of Paradise" and this month the BBC program
"Click Online" included a segment reporting on a company
planning to build that very thing: the Space Elevator.
It was entertaining to watch. The company is HighLift Systems.
Dr. Bradley C. Edwards, Chief Technology Officer, said they had
licked all but one of the technical problems. The only one they
hadn't quite mastered yet was a sufficiently light and strong
material for the cable. They are working with carbon nanotube
composites and they expect to have the answer in two or three
years. I won't be investing in them yet. But I will do so on the
day they announce they've solved that last little problem.
There's a little more information on this at
BBC World Click Online – Space Lift .
That's all for now. As always, tell me what you think about the
books, the reviews and the site. Do let me know if there are
books you think I should review.