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 these.
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 ends.
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 Thunderbirds Online
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 lid.
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.