Wednesday, August 30, 2017

It's Mary Shelley's 220th Birthday

Born in Somers Town, London, United Kingdom, in 1797, her story, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, lives on in a million minds. It is amazing how much it is quoted in film and fiction. It's a very effective archetype, the artificial/undead monster given life by an egotistical human seizing divine power. I recently saw a similar revisiting of the theme by Alex Garland in Ex Machina.

"Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world."

Monday, August 28, 2017

Hugo Awards: Women > Sad Puppies

After several years of political influence that resulted in No Award votes for the Hugo Awards, this year's were largely uncontroversial, but the results were surprising to many who are not paying attention to SFF. A picture is better to convey the information:

Also, N.K. Jemisin who just finished The Broken Earth trilogy. Her series won the Hugo Award last year and this year. Her release this year has a great chance too: n-k-jemisin-broken-earth-trilogy-the-stone-sky-fantasy-book-review

Good writing advice: Putting a one-dimensional character of a marginalized background into a story is bad writing, and also tokenism. If the one-dimensionality adheres to common stereotypes, then it's bad writing and also harmful.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Cinder, a hero story in the future from the past, by Marissa Meyer (4 star recommendation)

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1)Cinder by Marissa Meyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Marissa Meyer writes fairy tales in a dystopian future of high technology and little hope. Cinder, the protagonist, is a homologue of Cinderella. We have a Prince, an evil stepmother, and other aspects of the famous tale, but the original story is used as a device to articulate a much larger narrative, a story of terrifying danger, not only for the protagonist but all of humanity.
I really like what the author has done, especially the technical aspects that are at once ultramodern and, yet, full of the same quirks as our world that keep the maintenance people in business--a good thing since our protagonist is a mechanic.
The world-building is intriguing, but what I most enjoyed was the sarcastic wit of the protagonist. All of this helps build a likable character, and it works very well. It's even more than the story. The book challenges assumptions about race and a woman's role in a fantasy setting. Our protagonist is a heroic figure who uses her brain to vanquish disaster. It's easy to cheer for Cinder.

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Wild Cards - Edited by George R. R. Martin

Wild Cards (Wild Cards, #1)Wild Cards by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A mosaic novel where after an alien virus is exploded over New York City (and into the jet stream), society has a parallel force of Aces and Jokers, victims/beneficiaries of the virus. What's coolest (for me) is the way actual events were woven into the story: the McCarthy HUAD hearings, the protest against Viet Nam, Watergate... All in all, it's pretty cool.

The stories, however, are uneven:

1. Prologue: a solid piece that explains how Tachyon arrives on Earth.
2. Thirty Minutes Over Broadway! (Waldrop): Even though the story is dark, it taps into the heroic genre. Jetboy is a larger-than-life hero worshipped by the people. The maniac dispersing a virus over New York City rings a lot different now (post 9/11) than when it was written. Consequently, I was really pulling for Jetboy’s success, though, of course, that would have made for a short series. ;-)
3. The Sleeper (Roger Zelazny): One of my favorites in the collection. It really helps demonstrate the wide range of outcomes. Croyd Crenson is a great gray character, living in an uncertain world with complicated morals.
4. Witness (Walter Jon Williams): Introduces a hero turned villain, Jack Braun, along with the HUAC’s involvement in the story. This was depressing and effective.
5. Degradation Rites: (Melinda Snodgrass) So this is the HUAC case from another angle, from the perspective of Tachyon and Blythe. Since she is my favorite of the Aces and I have absolute contempt for the HUAC, I found the story to be compelling and was left distraught. Effective tale.
6. Shell Games (GRRM): The Great and Powerful Turtle details the rise of a new era of aces. Clever story and the characters were true to form, powerful and foolhardy as juveniles with Peter Parker-like popularity.
7. Dark Night of Fortunato (Lewis Shiner): The hero of this story is a pimp who acquires telepathic powers (or perhaps read telepathic impressions) when he has an orgasm, sucking in the tantric energy of whoever he is with, like a Reichian vampire. He uses this power to find a serial killer, someone who has killed one of his working geishas. When I started reading this, I was excited by the darkness, the violence, and the sex, but the backstory—where we learn how Fortunato became a pimp (at 14)—and his scene with Lenore felt so cliché. I had that moment where you look at the book in your hand and question your judgment. It felt a bit tawdry.
8. Transfigurations: (Victor Milán) Introduces Cap’n Trips. Best story of the book, imho. Mark’s an MIT student trying to break into 1960s West Coast culture, about to do his thesis on psychotropic drugs, but hasn’t really indulged. He runs into a girl he knew from high school who is well-versed in such matters, revisits his adolescent lust for her, and ends up at an anti-war rally tripping balls. What happens next is pretty much amazing.
9. Wild Card Chic: (Tom Wolfe) I love this placement. We see the WC folks are in vogue now. They have their special restaurant and everything’s going right… finally. Even Dr. Tachyon is happy.
10. Down Deep: (Edward Bryant & Leanne Harper) Bagabond, the bag lady, Sewer Jack, alligator man, and CC Ryder (the train). This was pretty weak. The crime angle seemed very cliché. So many stereotypes.
11. Strings (Steven Leigh): The Puppetman manipulates everyone to get everything he wants. People fall for it. I like this villain. The story made me wonder what the limits of psychic power are. Puppetman can control so many people at once. I guess with all the trickery my suspension of disbelief was affected.
12. Comes a Hunter (John J. Miller): This is about how Yeoman seeks revenge. The battle scene was clever. Not bad, but not at the level of some of the earlier stories.
13. Epilogue (Lewis Shiner): Yeah, also didn’t move the needle for me.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Vernal Falls

One of the first places Denise and I went together was Vernal Falls in Yosemite. At the end of the trail is a climb to the top of the 318-foot waterfall. It takes almost as long to climb to the top of the fall as it does to reach the start of the switchbacks. I'm not sure how far we went before turning back. The rocks were slick, and we weren't in great shape, smoking, etc. I remember the amazing view, though. It was something like this:
I'm posting a contour map too. You can see how the two trails diverge. The trail climbs more steeply when the contour lines are closer:

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Getting Ready for the Solar Eclipse

So, with the solar eclipse arriving on 8/21/2017, the first thing you should remember is never to look directly at The Sun, even during the eclipse. There are commercial solar glasses available, but before you buy, make sure the lenses you purchase are really certified. There is an onslaught of counterfeit vendors of solar glasses now.

Also, note that looking at The Sun through a film (developed or undeveloped), polarized glass, or (even the best) sunglasses is NOT SAFE. Even if some light is blocked, there is a full electromagnetic spectrum that your retinae are exposed too.

There is, however, an excellent (and cheap) way of observing the passage of The Moon across The Sun. The simplest version requires two pieces of paper or cardboard:

Also, you want to be mobile in case the weather changes. Be flexible with your plans. Get wherever you are going early and be ready to move if necessary.
NASA is having cross-country events where they will have 1,500,000 solar viewers available. Here is a link to find an official viewing site nearby: