Tentacles The SF Reviews newsletter, 14th July 2009
Cautiously Poking My head above the Parapet
Well it has been a long time and I wanted to check the lay of the land before leaping into another of the occasional monthly newsletters and a few more reviews (of mostly old books). It's been a bit busy over the past couple of years. The major factor was the birth of Max Junior and the subsequent intensive training regimen to ensure he'll be NASA material in just a very few years. Already he is perfectly capable of conversation whether standing up or being suspended upside down. This I'm sure must be a basic requirement of the Astronaut entrance examinations.
Oh, by the way, the sidenotes have a coffee theme this week. But you would proabably have guessed that anyway.
In Seattle you haven't had enough coffee until you can thread a sewing machine while it's running.
Back to Japan
After five years in London I and Mrs Max finally last year moved back to Japan. As we are older, wiser and have a two-and-a-half-year-old boy, Max Junior, we didn't move to our old haunt, the cool locale of Ebisu. We've settled in a little oasia tucked away in Nihonbashi, Tokyo. No more London cold, wet rain! No more London unairconditioned underground! No more smoke-free cafes and bars (although of course, since I've virtually given up smoking, that barely bothered me)! On the other hand, the parks here are very, very small.
And also no idea how long I'll be out here of course. But may be it's long enough for me to make a stab at learning the language once again.
So life is, as always, good.
But first to keep a sense of balance I'd like to list a few obituaries of some notable people who have died in the past couple of years.
Decaffeinated coffee is kind of like kissing your sister.
Obituaries I've raised a glass to the below. They've all, either directly or indirectly, had a strong effect on my life.
Fred Saberhagen – 29th June 2007
Fred Saberhagen passed away in his home in Albuquerque NM on the afternoon of 29th June. He wrote the classic Berserker novels, along with many others. He was a founding father of SF.
Arthur C. Clarke – 18th March 2008
The New York Times says of Arthur C. Clarke
"From his detailed forecast of telecommunications satellites in 1945, more than a decade before the first orbital rocket flight, to his co-creation, with the director Stanley Kubrick, of the classic science fiction film "2001: A Space Odyssey," Mr. Clarke was both prophet and promoter of the idea that humanity's destiny lay beyond the confines of Earth"
Arthur C. Clarke was the authors of one of the first SF books I read – "A Fall of Moondust" and was one of the writers that made me love SF.
Algis Budrys – 9th June 2008
Algis Budrys was the author of ten novels and many short stories. Among his novels were "Who?" in 1958, the classic "Rogue Moon" in 1960 and the my personal favorite, the outstanding "Michaelmas" many years later in 1977.
He also edited, in later years, the L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future series.
Thomas M. Disch – 4th July 2008
Thomas M. Disch was a poet as well as a writer of death-haunted science fiction such as "The Genocides" and "Camp Concentration". He also wrote the first novel in the spin-off from the TV series The Prisoner.
Philip José Farmer - 25th February 2009
Philip Jose Farmer was a prolific writer across the range of SF and Fantasy. He wrote "Night Of Light", "To Your Scattered Bodies Go" (the first of the Riverworld series), "The Maker Of Universes" from the World of Tiers series, and "Dayworld" with its eponymous series. He's also the writer that gave us the brilliantly imaginative and controversial "The Lovers" and "The Image Of The Beast"
James Graham Ballard - 19th April 2009
He was born Nov. 15, 1930, in Shanghai, where his father ran a large textile firm. He was imprisoned by Japanese troops in 1941 -- an experience he drew on for "Empire of the Sun."In a review of the novel "The Drowned World," Kingsley Amis called Ballard "one of the brightest new stars in postwar fiction." Graham Greene said his short story collection "The Disaster Area" was "one of the best science fiction books I have ever read."
Arthur Burks - 14th May 2008
Arthur Burks as one of the principal engineers of the first general purpose electronic digital computer, the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC).
He co-authored the 1946 paper Preliminary discussion of the logical design of an electronic computing instrument. He wrote it along with John von Neumann and Herman Goldstine. It was the one of the seminal papers that brought about computing as we know it now.
Patrick McGoohan - 13 January 2009 Having mentioned the The Prisoner in Thomas M. Disch's brief obituary, I see that that No. 6 himself, Patrick McGoohan, has also died. Not just No. 6, but also – please don't forget how it started – Dangerman.
Science Note 1: 40th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing
Before a joint session of Congress on May25 1961, President John F. Kennedy said
"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth."
That dream was achieved on 20 July 1969, the Apollo 11 mission landed two men on the moon. Neil Armstrong and "Buzz" Aldrin walked on the surface. Michael Collins the command module pilot remained in orbit in the command module.
After five more missions over three years, the Americans left and haven't been back since.
It was a momentous achievement. At the time it felt almost unbelievable. What is really unbelievable Is that we've done almost nothing since. Still I think we're about to start: we've got companies involved for commercial reasons and that will shake some action. There's Virgin Galactic for example. Plus - and this is what makes me excited and embarrassed to be excited about it because it's always seemed so unlikely - the Space Elevator or Skyhook may be buildable.
I put instant coffee in a microwave and almost went back in time.
Best Books This Month
These are the best two books reviewed this month, and a lovely pair they are too.
These are personal favourites. "Bug Jack Barron" just blew me away when I first read it as a naïve and rebellious teenager. I thought it was fantastic. I felt I'd never read anything as wild or exciting. Nowadays I think it's a flawed masterpiece and it remains one of my favorite books.
Melissa Scott's second novel, "Five Twelfths Of Heaven", is also a favorite of mine. I loved her anti-science universe, where electronics disrupt elemental flows of power.
Currently it's hard to judge "Nova Swing" by M. John Harrison. I've read it twice and I'm still unsure how to rate it.
Worthy of mention also are Robert Charles Wilson's "Spin", Joe Haldeman's "Forever Free" and "Prisoner Of Conscience" by Susan R. Matthews. These are all very good books.
I think if I were a woman I'd wear coffee as a perfume.
John Van Druten
Science Note 3 - Space Elevators
The Times of London believes that Space Elevators were first proposed by Arthur C. Clarke in his 1977 novel "Fountains Of Paradise", That's not exactly true, but he certainly popularized them. Long a hot topic in science fiction, they were always hopelessly impractical from an engineering viewpoint.
Now they are on the engineering agenda and I think we're actually going to see some built. It appears that Japan is taking the lead on this and since Japan is where I am now, I'm pretty happy with that. The big problem is the cables as they have to be at least 22,000 miles long. According to Yoshio Aoki, a professor of precision machinery engineering at Nihon University and a director of the Japan Space Elevator Association, the cable would need to be about four times stronger than what is currently the strongest carbon nanotube fibre, or about 180 times stronger than steel. Pioneering work on carbon nanotubes in Cambridge has produced a strength improvement of about 100 times over the last five years.
Check this out this Times article Japan hopes to turn sci-fi into reality with elevator to the stars.
I believe humans get a lot done, not because we're smart, but because we have thumbs so we can make coffee.
Worst Books This Month
These two were the worst of the batch.
Karen, it may be time you gave up on Shan. Is it six books now? It's got a bit boring. Shan is just too tough. It's like the Superman comics, people started to get bored when they realised nothing could really hurt Kal-El and the writers had to invent increasingly unlikely varieties of Kryptonite. But at least "Ally" was readable and fairly enjoyable as a domestic interest piece. Steve White's book really disappointed – terribly predictable and so boring. But hey, read the reviews.
Sleep is a symptom of caffeine deprivation
Science Note 3 – Wild Sex 2
Following up on my comment in the last newsletter on - as I'm sure you'll recall - ejaculate, this also comes from the wonderful world of the New Scientist.
Giant sperm stretch back millions of years
It's about super sperm – gigantic reproductive cells many times longer than the minute crustaceans that produce them. Ostracods, or seed shrimp, have been producing these for millions of years. Even today, closely related species produce sperm that are as long as their bodies. Let me say that again. Even today, closely related species produce sperm that are as long as their bodies.. All I can bring myself to say, is I'm happy we decided on the smaller variety. I wouldn't want to have to reserve a whole swimming pool just because I had a hot date.
As usual, I'm going to need a Tequila shot and pinch of snuff just to quell that appalling vision and mellow out.
Way too much coffee. But if it weren't for the coffee, I'd have no identifiable personality whatsoever.
This Month's Reviews
Only Irish coffee provides in a single glass all four essential food groups: alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and fat.
Coffee I pretty much covered Caffé Nero in Tottenham Court Road, London, in my last newsletter. Now's a time to celebrate modern Japanese culture with mentions of Excelsior Café in Ningyocho, Tokyo. It's a fine place to spend an afternoon and see a mix of salarymen, office ladies and a few of the people that actually live in this area.
Of course it's great – being back in Tokyo – to return to my old haunts of the many Café Veloce across Tokyo. Here's my local.
You may have gathered that I like coffee, particularly an iced black coffee in summertime. With a cigarette, of course, if I smoked.
Chocolate, men, coffee: some things are better rich
Next Month's Reviews
There's a chance that the next reviews will be out in about a month but candidly who knows. I swim on through the great puddle of life and occasionally, when I surface, a few reviews pop out.
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.
Everybody should believe in something. I believe I'll have another coffee.
Thanks to The Quote Garden for the coffee quotes.
Be a coffee-drinking individual - espresso yourself!