Archive for the ‘Science Fiction’ Category

The Ring is Destroyed, finally

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

I’ve spent the last two weeks tramping through Middle Earth. (Listening to mp3s on Justine’s iPhone.) Gollum just fell into the crack of doom and I’ve had it with Hobbits for another year. I have read or listened to LOTR probably over 100 times. There was a time, 20 years ago, that I know I passed the 50 count just on reading. At that time I obtained the tapes and listened two or three times a year as I commuted to work. I since found the audio in MP3 format.

I can get back to reading, again. I have rediscovered the simple pleasures of reading since I started taking the bus in the morning. My six months’ bus anniversary came and passed without celebration (I was still bummed about Christmas.)

Monday I start reading Black Glass, by John Shirley. This is billed as Shirley’s Lost Cyberpunk Novel. I like Shirley’s Science Fiction and I am a Cyberpunk kind of guy. Last Year I read Shirley’s Demons, and a couple of months ago I read an old copy of City Come a Walking by Shirley, and I thought it was excellent. I should reread his Eclipse books, since it has been a few years. I went through the link above and got a signed copy of Black Glass at the regular price, although I was raped on shipping. Media mail should have been about $1.50 not $6.50.

This and That

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

The house was too warm last night. The heat is working much better, although not balanced. It seems to only do one zone at a time and I am fiddling with the thermostats to set the heat on and off in different areas to keep the house comfortable. Last night it was a little cool downstairs, but comfortable. Upstairs was actually too warm, after a couple of weeks of being 62°. I am going to go on Google and see if there is a home thermostat with built in wifi and the ability to program from a remote site.

My brother Larry broke down and paid for cable internet. He got all three, Cable, Phone and Internet for the $99 package deal. It works for him because Mom can get on the phone to her sister in Florida and do $20 of gossiping without thinking. He is actually saving money. I have been collecting cheap wireless routers with the idea of flashing them with a super router software and reselling them on the internet, but I never have time. I gave him one that I bought for a $1. He no longer has to aim his antenna out the window at a weak signal to an open router. He is amazed at his speed and for the first time he can surf YouTube. He is taking lessons from a guitar player from Croatia that he says is the best teacher he’s ever had. Mom has rediscovered Turner Classic Movies and Larry says that she has been watching black and white movies 12 hours a day.

Electric Spec held my story “RepFix” for vote. They keep, so they say, about 20 stories and pick a few from these for the next issue. I submitted to Electric Spec because I saw Tyree Campbell there. If Tyree is submitting there then they might like my stuff because Tyree often accepts my stories. I read on the SamsDot discussion area that Tyree has also been held for a vote. At this moment our stories are duking it out in a cyber death match chamber.

My blogging software has made considerable progress. I still need to add all the standard blog features like rss, archiving, comments, pings, image upload, and link backs. This will be a lot of work. I have to do security next. I spent several days over the holidays working on this, but everyone is back into “work” mode here and the adult supervision has started again, so I may not get to it for a little while.

Koch called me. He is home, but goes to physical therapy at Burk three times a week. He has three vertebra fused in his neck and he can’t turn his head from side to side. He is feeling much better and says that he is coming back to work in a few weeks. If I were him, I would take this as a sign to retire and collect disability. He sent me his son’s laptop, which is so full of viruses and spyware that it stopped booting. He wants me to format the disk and reinstall XP. I will try to get to it one night this week.

I started working on my iPhone app. I discovered that to actually test on the iPhone I would have to pay Apple a $99 registration fee to be a certified developer. I have been testing the sample code apps on their emulator. I guess if I ever get my apps written that I will have to pay the fee.

The Home Inspection course that I wanted to take has been discontinued. It might not have worked out anyway because to be a certified inspector you have to have 40 hours of experience working with another certified inspector or else a PE license. I want to go back to school, but I am not sure what course to take. I don’t think that I want to take any more computer courses, unless it is for something fun. I am way over educated for what I do. I would like to have a fall back career in case the bottom falls out of programming. I don’t want to go back to work in the City.

The Infinity Concerto – Greg Bear

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

infinityconcerto I have received disparaging words from an unnamed sister-in-law about book reviews on my blog, so this will be brief.

I have always been a fan of Greg Bear, in spite of his novels being too long. The Infinity Concerto; not so much. I prefer hard science and I believe that Bear writes hard science fiction better than fantasy.

The basic story of the Infinity Concerto is that a boy enters the world of Fairy based loosely on Celtic mythology. Bear tries his best to create hard rules, but in a magical world that is difficult. I amused myself by deciding that the third law of thermodynamics didn’t hold in the land of the Sidhe, and then stopped thinking about science.

In a world where nothing is impossible, nothing is very interesting. I felt that Bear continually fabricated a new solution out of thin air whenever the protagonist got in trouble.

The book was well written with good characters and some interesting ideas, but was not my cup of SF. I am, however, reading the sequel, The Magic Serpent. There are entirely too many words where nothing much happens, but I want to find out how the plots all come together. I’ll have a review of The Magic Serpent by early next week. I may move these book reviews to another blog to satisfy in-laws only interested in cat pictures.

I am still on the "B" author row of my collection of unread books. The holidays have cut into my reading time. I am spending all of my spare moments on programming projects. I expect to have my iPhone app done any day now.

Call Me a Cockeyed Optimist

Monday, December 1st, 2008

I sent out my story Speed Trap to a new magazine today. This story has accumulated 24 rejections and a rewrite request (which I ignored). I refuse to accept that this is a bad story. Keep your fingers crossed. This could be the one!

Six Months and Counting

Monday, November 24th, 2008

Today marks 180 days that I have been waiting to hear from the Robert A. Heinlein Centennial Short Story Contest. Six months is a long time to wait on a story. Their website is never updated and there is no discussion board to check to find out what progress is being made. I think this is one of those where they don’t contact you if you lose. If you are not on the winner list, then too bad. My feeling is that they’ll announce the winners of the 2008 contest well into 2009.

Story finished and out the door

Monday, November 24th, 2008

I spent about 45 minutes on Thursday and and again on Friday writing a 3200 word cyberpunk story. I proofed it one more time today. I sent it to the first of two venues in DuoTrope that had the keyword cyberpunk. I expect to hear by Christmas, but my experience is that as soon as I send something out, the editors get behind in the slush.

The story is based an idea I got from reading that awful book, The King in Yellow by Chambers. The first story in the book, Repairer of Reputations, gave me the idea to write about a modern person who can erase bad reputations from the internet. My story is not as unpleasant as the Chambers story but I had to make the main character very nasty to make the story work, in other words a person who has a reputation he deserves, yet has the money to make it go away. I am afraid that I made the whole story a little too dark. It also uses some pejorative slang, which I normally avoid.

We’ll see.

Another Side of the Galaxy ed. Groff Conklin

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

anotherpart Another Side of the Galaxy (1966), edited by Groff Conklin is the second Conklin anthology that I’ve read in this series. The previous Conklin Anthology dealt primarily with golden age writers. I need to refine that a little in that following the incredible decade of the 1940s where John W. Campbell, Jr.’ s Astounding Science Fiction magazine created modern SF (the golden age), there followed the 1950s where Campbell, although still a powerful force, slowly lost his leading position. Readers began to tire of Campbell’s gadget based technology stories and new pulps like The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Galaxy and Worlds of If sprang up and presented alternative forms of SF. Campbell’s abrasive style and absolute certainty of his opinions  caused him to lose, one by one, most of his stable of writers. These were the same writers that he had discovered and guided into modern Science Fiction. By 1960, Astounding was still telling technological engineering based gadget stories while the other magazines were exploring characters, social issues and literary forms.

Groff Conklin’s Possible Worlds of Science Fiction presented stories from the 1940s and were mostly Campbell type stories. Another Side of the Galaxy contrasts these with the new writers of the 1950s who wrote about non-technical people with deep emotions, living in interesting societies and coping with problems that could not be solved with a slide rule.

Another Side of the Galaxy starts with a The Red Hills of Summer by one of my favorite writers, Edgar Pangborn. Pangborn produced two of my top 10 SF books, The Judgment of Eve and Davy, but was not as prolific as other writers. It is interesting that the protagonist in The Red Hills of Summer is named Davy. The story, set in a post apocalyptic future, involves humans fleeing a dying Earth, searching for planet where humanity can settle and grow and perhaps, correct the mistakes made on Earth. Four explorers are chosen to land on the planet to see if they can survive with the knowledge that they will never be allowed to return to space. The settlers cannot risk the future of the human race on a hidden disease that might enter the main ship and destroy them all.

The Red Hills of Summer is a love story between a couple who must face the unknown together, but are not quite committed to their love. Although there is little else to the plot other than coping with each of the problems as they arise, we become involved with the lives of the lovers and the story is how they finally come to grips with their own relationship. It is well done and first appeared in F&SF magazine, being the kind of transcendent writing and concepts that they looked for in a story. It was wonderful to find a new (to me at least) Pangborn story.

Paul Ash is in reality Pauline Ashwell, a Hugo nominated Science Fiction writer. Her story Big Sword was published in Astounding. I would guess that Campbell talked her into changing the gender of her pen name to appeal to his overwhelmingly male readership. The story is an odd choice for Campbell because it involves a child with emotional problems and the science is an ecological puzzle on a distant planet. Campbell was nuts about ESP, which figures in this story, and this might explain why he bought it. The conflict involves a child with ESP whose parents are divorced. He is taken by his unemotional and distant father, a spaceship captain, to a strange planet. In an alternate story line, the protagonist is an alien named Big Sword, who needs to communicate with the humans to solve his own serious ecological problem. The resolution is ingenious and satisfying.

The First Lady by J.T. McIntosh was published in Galaxy. It would not have fit in Astounding because the central conflict involves sociology rather than technology. The premise is that a pair of special government agents has to escort a young woman to a planet where she would be the first female on the planet. This would have been a reasonable plot line 1953, although ludicrous by today’s standards. McIntosh envisions a system where planets are settled by men only and then later a woman shows up to be the "First lady". She carries the first child and if it is healthy, the colony is allowed to continue. What makes this a good story, in spite of the silly premise, is the relationships between the male and female agent and the future first lady as they travel in the cramped rooms of the spaceship on the way to the new colony. It becomes a love triangle, which is intensified by the fact that it cannot continue once the planet is reached. The tension involves whether or not the future child will live and the colony survive, as well as the fact that one of the agents knows what the outcome will probably be.

J.F. Bone, Insidekick, is the story of a man who suddenly finds that he can do almost anything because a strange creature has entered his mind in a symbiotic relationship. The title is a pun on sidekick (in-sidekick, get it?). Jesse F. Bone was a prominent veterinarian and was nominated for a Hugo award. He must have been a friend of Robert A. Heinlein because he is mentioned in the Cat Who Walks Through Walls as the veterinarian fetched from another universe to help save the cat Pixel’s life after the raid to save Mike. He is known for his book of sexual mores and animal rights, The Lani People (Available at Project Gutenberg).

The Live Coward  by Poul Anderson is a Planetary League Story, one of a series involving diplomacy in a universe where there are literally millions of worlds settle by Humanity and their alien allies. It is an interesting story where Anderson get’s his character Wing Alak, into difficult situation and then bails him out with ingenuity. I first read this in the pages of a an old Astounding from my uncle’s collection that he kept in his attic. I was convinced that these old magazines were a thing of the distant past and did not exist any more, until I found Analog Magazine at a small soda shop down in the village of Nyack.

Eric Frank Russell’s Still Life is the weakest story in the bunch. It deals with the red tape of a huge and top heavy galactic empire and how a junior clerk goes about finding alternate paths through the miles of regulations in order to get a life saving piece of equipment to a distant colony. I work for the County Government and I am not interested in red tape, regulations or bureaucratic nonsense – I see enough at work.

These stories average around 13,000 words each and are Novelettes rather than short stories. The Edgar Pangborn story would be classified strictly as a Novella. I like these longer form short stories. Magazine editors seem to have liked them in the past, but modern editors, especially in the on-line magazines prefer shorter stories less than 5,000 words. The main pro magazines still regularly publish longer stories in the 7,000 to 15,000 word range. It is a conundrum that modern readers seem to prefer short-short stories over the longer ones, yet most modern novels are padded out from 120,000 to as high as 200,000 words. I have read that some romance publishers have gone back to the shorter snack-size 40k book. I wonder if anyone has test marketed shorter SF novels lately. 40k to 60K is a good length for a novel.

All the Colors of Darkness, Lloyd Biggle, Jr.

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

colorsofdarkness I thoroughly enjoyed All the Colors of Darkness. It was published in 1963 and is the second in Biggle’s series of books featuring a detective named Jan Darzek. Biggle was probably more famous for writing detective fiction than he was SF, so this novel is a good blend of Science Fiction themes with detective fiction characters. The emphasis is on characterizations and Biggle even does a good job creating believable alien characters with alien personalities.

The science fiction is limited to one SF element. The story starts out with the creation of a Teleportation Portal. This is stock SF and many stories have used it. It is the primary SF element in the book. The aliens, it turns out, are trying to prevent us from developing the portal. The rest of the world is just early 1960s America with women in cocktail dresses and men in ties all smoking cigarettes.

This limited SF-ness makes the story very enjoyable because the book concentrates on character and plot much more than in the average SF novel of the time. Because of the nerdy engineering tech slant to all the golden age stories, there was never much emphasis on character. Most stories spent all their time on describing technology. Being able to introduce SF elements without being bogged down in long explanations is called Heinleining, because Heinlein was so good at it. The prime example being Heinlein’s phrase: “The door dilated.” This expresses the science fictional element, a very high tech door, without wasting time describing the technology.

Because Biggle wastes no time describing the science behind his portals, his character can use them as a Hitchcockian McGuffin to create exciting and interesting plot points.

The writing is crisp and concise, without a wasted word and pulls you along through the plot to the point where I felt compelled to read it last night while Erica watched TV – something I hardly ever do.

I am going to keep my eye out for more Biggle books. (Notice that I am on the top shelves of my new collection. I will be reading A’s, B’s and C’s. There are a dozen Asimov’s, but I have read them all – so off to eBay with Isaac.)

This novel comes from a time when books were about 60,000 words long. Longer books were edited down and shorter books were padded up or had font adjustment so that they were 160 to 200 pages. I much prefer this short format. It is a good quick read. I am selecting the books that I read by number of pages. I have decided not to read books longer than 200 pages.

Yesterday I created 3 more auctions for books on eBay. I am selling off the High Fantasy, which I don’t have much taste for anymore, and I am selling off the fat books. All the Niven & Pournelle books are going into the sell pile. All the David Gerrold books are going on eBay. Stephen Donaldson books are on their way out. I like these authors, but I have read enough of their works that I don’t want to read more. For each one of their books that I sell, I get to keep two or three thin books, which I like much better.

Story ideas

Monday, November 10th, 2008

I was reviewing my “Idea List”. I have too many ideas to actually write them. It is more fun to think about them than to do the hard work of writing down the words.

Here are some interesting entries on my list. If you feel the need to “borrow” any of these, let me know first. I may get around to writing these some day and you don’t want work on a story when I have already sold it (very unlikely).

The Drought – A lake begins to recede revealing skeletons of people who have disappeared years ago. The further the waters recede, the weirder the skeletons. The last of the water in the lake disappears revealing the skeletons of monsters. It ends in a torrential rain.

“It’s a slide rule.” he explained, “An ancient calculating device, like an abacus only capable of much more.” He showed it to the ship’s engineer and explained how it worked. The engineer used it to compute the natural log of the arc-cosine of the product of three numbers and was duly impressed. This was the last anyone thought of it until the computer melted down about half way between Jupiter and Neptune (Uranus was on the other side of the solar system at that time).

The Ruby of Death – steampunk – Victorian inventor explores a Brazilian cave left by an ancient civilization. He makes a laser out of shaving mirrors, a large ruby, and the flash powder from his photography equipment and fights off the angry inhabitants.

GPS story. A couple on vacation plug in “somewhere different” into the GPS and have a weird adventure. Obvious ending is to press in “Go Home” and get a gun (book, large battery, long rope, change of underwear?) before returning.

Time travel story where a scientist couple are abandoned in time far in the past, only to be rescued years later. They are brought back, and are greeted on return by their children, grandchildren and their descendants, who have been working for a 100 years to rescue them, although in their time sense it has only been a few days.

From Louis L’Amour. Ghost Rocker, (Louis did Ghost Boxer) like a ghost writer, but someone who replaces a sick rock and roll star. (think RAH Double Star). Get’s good at it and plays as good or better than the original star. There is conflict and resentment within the band’s other musicians. Finally real rocker is dying, but shows up at a concert, but is actually a ghost, and has one last jam. I think Farewell Tour is a good title or Cover Star, but perhaps Ghost Rocker is better, even though it gives away too much.

From JWC, Jr. Letter: Cosmic rays are evidence of spacecraft engines

From JWC, Jr.. Letter: A World where only women duel.

From JWC, Jr. Letter: A soldier behind enemy lines like the Japanese soldier on the island. He must survive aliens until men come back, but it is 20 years and men have changed.

From JWC, Jr. Letter: Think of a quantum computer that can answer ANY question. What do you do when the device cannot lie and tells the absolute truth, without being asked?

Story of a man who is doing mysterious things – starts out “I’m sorry, but I don’t know why I did that.” He takes wrong turns and winds up in the wrong place. Buys newspapers and scans them quickly and throws them out. Stops mesmerized like a tourist by commonplace things. It turns out that he is being “run” by a time traveler/alien/computer/spirit tourist who views things through his eyes without him knowing it.

Story line about kids who go to the edge of their wireless interconnects to get high on the lack of signal from the central networks. (I wrote a version of this, but there are many other possible variations.)

Weird tale base on the song by Hal Ketchum:
Bobby told Lucy the world ain’t round
Drops off sharp at the edge of town
Lucy you know the world must be flat
Cause when people leave town they never come back

Eating your own babies: It’s a marketing concept. When you release a new product that is better or cheaper than your existing one, you basically destroy the market for the older product. You are hurting any future sales of it. Announcing a new product will freeze sales of the current product. What happens to Artificial Intelligence when the new version of AI is about to appear? What happens to obsolete robots when the next level robot is released?

In the 11th century, it was common for some disputes to be adjudicated by physical trials. Two conflicting Liturgies were decided by jousting knights. Two bishops had a dispute and they were ordered to use judicium crucis, which is when two men spread their arms out in the position of a cross and the first to drop his hands loses. There might be a good S&S story here. How could you modernize it?

“Christ is realized in evolution.” – Teilhard de Chardin

First line: “Eat your supper. There are children in space going hungry.” or “There are children on Earth going hungry.”

“Medium of Exchange” or “Unit of Work” Consider a planet where the unit of currency is not an arbitrary symbolic unit like the dollar, but a small elf like creature capable of doing work. Rich people expend these like burning money. Poor people try to breed them. What does an Earth man do when he buys something and his change is nine small green gremlins?

The Nigerian scam, only this time it’s an Alien or Demon or Time Traveler. Flash?

I think Artie went too far when he hooked the Voder up to Big Jim’s brain. Big Jim is the ugliest and meanest old bull west of the Pacos, and I do not care to hear his opinions about anything.

Beyond Time and Space ed. August Derleth

Monday, November 10th, 2008

There are two August Derleth anthologies with the name Beyond Space and Time. The one that I read is the later and much shorter one published in 1958. There was a longer one, full of poems and excepts and even some Jules Vern and Wells that was published in 1950.

August Derleth is a good writer and is known as the publisher of H.P. Lovecraft. His milieu was the world of 1930s Weird Tales and he published many of the Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction writers from this era. This anthology largely reflects the 1930s, but has a few later stories thrown in, possibly to attract more readers.

The first two stories are from the late 1940s and do not much fit with the rest of the book. Heinlein’s The Long Watch and Theodore Sturgeon’s Minority Report (no relation to the Philip K. Dick story) start the collection. We all should have memorized the Heinlein story – I practically have, but the Sturgeon story might be new to you. It is the most interesting story in the anthology, and might be a considered a bridge between the formal style of the other stories and more immediate style of later SF. Sturgeon presents a fascinating story, partly told by a historical narrator, and partly through the newly discovered words of a mute servant named “Grudge”. An obsessed inventor builds a space ship only to discover a terrible secret that will isolate Earth from the rest of the galaxy forever. This information is filtered through the disturbing mind of the deformed servant that he wrote and hid so well that it was not discovered for centuries. It is an interesting approach with surprising characters and plot.

The rest of the stories are mostly from the 1930s and all are Derleth’s cronies. They are told either in a high fantasy style similar to Lord Dunsany or in a mythic narrative as though it were a retelling of an ancient tale. These formal styles were all the rage in the pages of Weird Tales, but to the modern reader are terribly dated.


Colossus [Doane Sharon] – Donald Wandrei – Astounding Jan ’34
Very early SF which describes the incredible shrinking man, only in reverse. It is interesting in that it describes an earth just as it destroys itself in a war. The story wanders off describing wonders of a huge universe where our universe is just an atom. It meanders, and nothing much else really happens.

A Voyage to Sfanomoë – Clark Ashton Smith – Weird Tales Aug ’31
An allegorical trip to Venus without much characterization or plot. Its style is a mythical narrative.

Seesaw [Isher] – A. E. van Vogt -Astounding Jul ’41
The short story which later became The Weapon Shops of Isher. Not as interesting as the novel.

The Flying Men [from Last and First Men] – Olaf Stapledon – London: Methuen, 1930
No story at all, just a description of a race of Flying men told in a mythical narrative.

Fessenden’s Worlds – Edmond Hamilton – Weird Tales Apr ’37
A man creates a universe and then plays god with it. One of the better stories, although in a dated style.

Humpty Dumpty Had a Great Fall – Frank Belknap Long – Startling Stories Nov ’48
Not good SF, but more like a good horror tale told with SF elements.

I chose this anthology because I had it in my head to read lots of short stories and learn from them. This collection was interesting and fun, but it was no help in writing. The best story, Minority Report is so unique that it would be very hard to imitate. Sturgeon is known for looking at a story from an odd angle and approaching ideas from left field. That is not something that I set out to do as a plan of action. The Heinlein story is so imbued with his personality that it would impossible to use as a guide without sounding like bad Heinlein. The other stories are an interesting read, but are obviously from another context.

Garage Sale Science Fiction Books

Saturday, November 8th, 2008

DSCN0431 I bought 337 SF books for $20 including the bookshelf.

I just lugged them out onto the enclosed porch. I’ve read about 1/4 of them and at least half I don’t think I will read, but at 6¢ a book, I have no choice.

These are mostly 1980’s and 90s, but there are many old books from the 1960s and a few from the 1950s.

I will make boxes of 10 or so books each that I want to sell, during the next few weeks. For instance, I like Robert Asprin, but I am not interested in reading the Thieve’s World Books. There are a dozen or more of these, so I will be selling them as a lot.

I now own about 600 books, not counting my original stash. I will read about 300 of them, maybe more.

I have been too busy at work to finish my book selling web site. It is about halfway through. I will sell the books there for a dollar or less, and figure the cheapest way to ship. I want to make it so you get a discount for buying more books, as well as saving on shipping. One good thing is that most books weigh about the same so shipping is easy to calculate.

It is interesting that the person that read these (sadly, it was an estate sale) had very similar tastes to my own. I am not as much into Niven and Pournelle as he was, and he had literally everything by M.Z. Bradley. He did, however have lots of great Ace Doubles (always a good trashy read), and stuff by George O. Smith, H. Beam Piper and Murray Leinster (my sf spirit guide). He had a least 30 Andre Norton’s including a few that I’ve never read. He had all of Bradbury and all of Heinlein and most of these were early first edition paperbacks. I’ve already thrown out the L. Ron Hubbard’s and I hope to make more room I as I read and sell them.

Ray Bradbury – Quicker Than the Eye

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

bradburyquicker Continuing with reading only Ray Bradbury books in October – This is the fourth book that I’ve read. I am averaging a little less than a new book every two days (not counting weekends when I don’t have much time to read).

I have the feeling that I’ve read some of the stories in Quicker Than the Eye. The stories were published in 1995 and 1996, but I don’t remember where I would have read them. I don’t read Playboy or American Way, but many of these appeared in F&SF and Omni, so I might have read them there.

Comparing these stories to the stories in Golden Apples of the Sun, you realize that Ray has mellowed over the years. There is no lurking danger or hidden fear in any of these stories. They, for the most part, are much happier and romantic than the earlier works. Many of the stories are downright maudlin (Maudlin: Extravagantly or excessively sentimental; self-pitying; Affectionate or sentimental in an effusive, tearful, or foolish manner, especially because of drunkenness).

To give you an example, in the story Another Fine Mess, Ray writes about a pair of ghosts haunting a stairway in Hollywood. The ghosts are Laurel and Hardy trying to move a piano. You can’t be afraid of the ghosts of Laurel and Hardy. At the end, the two women who try to banish them invite them to come back once a year. Maudlin, I said. Maudlin, I meant.

There are other stories about the ghost of Bradbury’s mother and the death of a dog, but the sweet sentimentality ruins the stories for me. I smile when I read them and I did enjoy them, but I am eager for the chilled spine or the goose bumps on my arm. I don’t want these feel-good stories.

There are a couple of more chilling stories. Dorian in Excelsus is about what happened to Dorian Gray’s portrait, but it is a one dimensional story where just the one thing happens and then it ends, no real plot to it, just an interesting idea. There is also The Finnegan about a hidden monster in the woods, but that too is over quickly and the final revelation is telegraphed a little too early in the plot to have an impact.

I am going back to his earlier works. I still have a couple of new books in the queue, but I want to cleanse my pallete a little and read some stories from Weird Tales before I get back to the more recent Bradbury.

Mission of Gravity – Hal Clement

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

mogravity Mission of Gravity is considered one of the best Science Fictions books ever written and is always cited as an example of what Hard Science Fiction is supposed to be. You will forgive, me I hope, for the fact that this is the first time that I’ve read it. I honestly thought that I had read Mission of Gravity and I knew the plot, but when I picked it up, I realized that it was completely new to me.

As in most Clement books, the protagonist is an alien. The humans are reasonable, unconflicted European-American engineers, and as such, are not very interesting characters. Clement removes them from the the action leaving the humans as mere observers about half way through the book. The scene on the cover (shown left) is one of the only times that the human and alien characters have direct contact. It looks like a dangerous episode, but it is over with quickly and the resourceful aliens save the day.

The Alien protagonist, Barelennan, a Melkinite, is a small lobster-like alien that lives on a weird planet with gravity up to 700 time that of earth. The planet is disk shaped and spinning at a tremendous rate so that the gravity at the equator is only around 3 times that of Earth.

Barlennan has learned to speak English without any problems and is a roaming trader who sails the methane seas of the planet in search of profit. He is a good enough person, but he is not above taking advantage of this relationship with the humans. He stands to become rich from the technological information given to him by the humans. All the humans want is for the Melkanites to rescue a probe that has crashed into the heavy gravity polar regions where man cannot go.

Barlennan is an alien Odysseus, traveling unknown seas and encountering strange beasts and civilizations and survives with the aid of the god-like humans. He communicates through a remote communications device that he carries around. Like Odysseus, Barlennan is a bit of a trickster and risk taker. He will lie cheat and even steal in order to make a profit, but his dealings with the humans are mostly on the up and up. One thing that puzzles me, is why did Barlennan go so far to help the humans when the risks were so high? I am sure that he thought that he would profit handsomely from contact with them. I think though that an experienced trader and adventurer might have quit while he was ahead rather than undertake the last dangerous part of the journey.

Mission of Gravity reads much like Jack London or Joseph Conrad novel, without the internal struggles of the protagonists. Science Fiction, in those days, was all about adventure and there is plenty of it here. The Aliens are not rich characters, but endearing. If anything they are too human. Clement wrote a sequel in 1971.

Mission of Gravity was first serialized in 1953 in Astounding Magazine by the editor John W. Campbell.

Last Day of Summer

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

We went up to Connecticut to the flea market today. Last year we went up at least ten times and in previous years we have gone as far as Pennsylvania to shop flea markets. Because of the price of gas, this trip costs about $50, so we may not make it up again this year.

The Elephant’s Trunk Flea was quite full. Here are some shots from the north side up on the hill.

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I did very well. At one table a nice couple sold me some Weird Tales Magazines and a vintage 1948 JT-30 microphone. Since I collect both vintage microphones and vintage pulp SF magazines this was an incredible coincidence. I bought a J.J. Cale album for poker for a quarter – it would have been too weird if I had found it at the same table.

The Weird Tales pulps were from 1951 ad 1952, which is not Weird Tale’s best period. The stories are mostly, if not all, reprints. Weird Tales was digging into their contracts and finding stories that had been purchase with All Serial Rights or First and Second Serial Rights. This means that the authors gave Weird Tales or one of her sister publications the right to print their story again and in some instances as often as they wanted.

The magazines were OK quality, but would not be rated good or fine if I wanted to sell them. I thought that I was getting a bargain, but I probably paid just what they were worth. They are the same age as I am, but they are too fragile to take the bus with me.

The JT-30 is a military version called a model 80.  It came with a long cable (missing) and had a rising response element. The element, of course, has been dead for 25 years. Some day I’ll find a 60 year old microphone that works. I made up for not getting a bargain on the magazines and got the JT-30 for $10, which is a very good deal.

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Erica had some good luck and found some vintage quilts, which she was able to get for a very good price. They are all in need of a good cleaning, but there are not that many bad stains. The binding on the pink quilt is shot, but there are only a few small spots on the quilts themselves that need repair.

The first is a Basket Quilt top, made with Cranberry red cloth and muslin. Erica dated it from the patterns of the pieces as 1880 to 1910.



The next is an Indigo Quilt in a "9 patch" pattern (I think that this was called flying geese, but Erica isn’t sure). This was about 1890 from what Erica can tell from her pattern references. It has feed sack, Victorian shirting, and several kinds of Indigo.





Ollie and Gracie were helping us photograph the quilts.


The next quilt is an "Around the World" which Erica dates it possibly the 1920s, although some of the patterns are much earlier. There is cheddar type material and some double pink from 1880s. It also has Indigo and Victorian shirting.