Wanderings

Anything you dream is fiction,
and anything you accomplish is science,
the whole history of mankind is nothing but science fiction.
- Ray Bradbury
September 4th, 2008

Murray Leinster – Invaders of Space

ml_invadersI finished Invaders of Space in one day with about 20 pages left over to help me make it through the RNC last night. Since Labor day it takes me an hour or more on the bus each morning and about an hour on the way back, so I am finishing the books faster. I received another 100 books from eBay Tuesday night, I am SF rich, at least until around Christmas.

First off, the title Invaders of Space is misleading. There are no invaders. I imagine that the title was changed by some editor to make it sound more like a Man vs. Alien story. This is a very typical space yarn by Murray Leinster. It is about 65,000 words and a nice relaxed read.

Murray Leinster is the very essence of Science Fiction. When you look up Science Fiction in the dictionary you should see a picture of Murray Leinster. He wrote hundreds of stories for all of the Golden Age magazines and dozens of books. You can see some of the wonderful vintage Leinster book covers at http://www.sfsite.com/~silverag/ml_gallery.html.

Invaders of Space is an adventure story complete with alien life forms on a remote planet and space pirates. I love space pirates, there should be a magazine devoted to space pirate stories.

The protagonist is the conventional well educated engineer type which is the standard for golden age fiction. These reasonable, analytic and logical white male protagonists are probably the chief flaw of the golden age of science fiction. The editors and target audience of the era were well educated engineering types and the fiction of the time reflects this. I can see why women, especially, have a problem with golden age fiction and even I, a reasonable, analytic and logical white male, find this type of protagonist a little tiring.

The plot is about an engineer who is waiting for his fiance at a space port. A ship with old engines comes in for a landing badly in need of repairs. The engineer, who happens to be a specialist in space ship engines, gives some advice. He is immediately shanghaied and forced to repair the engines. The ship is manned by space pirates and the ship they want to pirate is the one with the engineer’s fiance on it.

The plot moves forward with interesting twists and turns and the engineer manages to save the day, not by any technical feats, but by psychologically manipulating the pirates. It makes for an interesting plot.

On the plus side, the ingenuity of the engineer and the totally unexpected and interesting way in which he controls the crew makes for a unique plot. The planet where they are stranded has some interesting flora and fauna, but perhaps not that unexpected in a science fiction novel. The character of the pirate captain is truly nasty, although this is not really pursued. There is an alcoholic ships engineer, that is less interesting and more of a caricature.

On the negative side, the character of the fiance has only a few lines of dialog, no part on the plot other than a prop and is never actually described, although she is present in many of the scenes in the last part of the book. It is almost as though a woman has no place in science fiction. I don’t know why Leinster did this. The plot would have been much more interesting if the engineer’s future wife and the main reason that he was in all this trouble, could have had an important role in the book. Strong women dominated the movies in the 40s and 50s. Strong complex women characters were included in other fiction genres like detective fiction and even some westerns during this time. Why is it that SF seems to exclude women as being anything other than objects?

I love Golden Age SF. It annoys me to have to defend it against charges of sexism, especially when one of my favorite authors has written a book that is seriously flawed by what can only be seen as a sexist viewpoint.

There are at least 4 more Murray Leinster books that I have never read in the boxes out on the porch. I will be reading them soon.

Currently reading Hal Clement – Cycle of Fire.

(I am considering moving these little reviews to another blog. I am sure that no one who reads my blog really minds them, but these entries take up a lot of room. Let me know if you care one way or the other.)






August 28th, 2008

George O. Smith – Hellflower

hellflower The only things that I’ve read by George O. Smith were published in Astounding Science Fiction in the late 1940s and early 50s. John W. Campbell, jr. published many of Smith’s stories. As I remember, they were engineering stories and I especially liked the Venus Equilateral ones about engineering and human problems exploiting the planet Venus.

Smith stopped publishing in Astounding when he ran off with Campbell’s first wife. (A nice juicy bit of SF gossip).

Hellflower (1953) is a good space yarn with rockets and aliens and a bustling solar system where a ship could make it to Pluto in a few weeks. The plot surrounds the illegal smuggling of a narcotic flower that is destroying the stability of human society. This, of course, is an alien plot to take over Earth.

The story starts out with an old tried but true plot device. A man ruined by a mistake in his past is offered a chance to redeem himself by working on the side of truth, justice and the American way. The love interest is a remarkably complex but believable drug addicted woman who hates the protagonist. I have known a few drug addicts and the painting of the character is right on the money. In the 1950s, as some might remember and others might know, American society was remarkably naive about drug fiends and how they behaved. Smith must have been close to someone addicted to hard drugs or else known a very bad alcoholic.

The Hellflower drug is all that the drug ecstasy is supposed to be and isn’t. It imbues the user with a sense of sensual well-being and a loss of inhibitions. It also seems to stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain or makes them more receptive. Overuse leads to the inability to feel anything except intense emotions and users become addicted to hatred. This is quite complex for an early Science Fiction novel, which is why I think Smith may have had some experience with addiction. The protagonist only drinks non-alcoholic beverages.

The plot carries the protagonist around the solar system and eventually out of it. He moves in and out of danger and escapes by good luck or quick wits. It is a page turner of a book. The characters are a little out of date (they dress for dinner and the women wear party dresses). The technology is never really gone into in detail. Efficient atomic rocket drives and later FTL travel are assumed, but not explained. The protagonist does some course calculations by looking up angles in an ephemeris and uses a slide rule to do the math. This doesn’t bother me that much. It seems to me that it was not too long ago that I used a slide rule to solve engineering problems.

Interestingly enough, the aliens aren’t any worse than humans. They have read earth history and realized that humans can never deal with aliens on an equal basis. Humans are not to be trusted and eventually, because of their greater numbers they would overwhelm the aliens and exploit their world and reduce the aliens to poverty. (Do Native American’s come to mind?) The aliens decide to do this to earth before it was done to them. This makes sense.

George O. Smith is mostly forgotten today. He wrote in the grand old Golden Age style (think Heinlein). Hellflower is only around 60k words and I finished most of it in just two bus rides. It is fast paced adventure. It is the kind of story I like to read and the kind of story that I would like to write. I am on the lookout now for more George O. Smith books.






August 27th, 2008

Gordon R. Dickson – The Earth Lords

earthlords When I think of Dickson, I think of the Dorsai books that I read a long time ago. These were military SF and probably Dickson, more than anyone else, has defined Military Science Fiction. The war in Vietnam soured me on militarism, so I only read a few of them, but I remember that the Dorsai books were very good.

The Earth Lords (1989) is one of the books I picked up a couple of weeks ago at a garage sale. It is a longish book, about 200K, and suffers a little from what I was talking to J. Erwine about on his blog. There is a general feeling that the prose is padded to make it a longer book. As one of J’s commenters was saying, it could have been edited down by 80%.

The characters are the usual suspects. I am going to write a paper some day on the curse of the reasonable protagonist. The best books have flawed characters. Science Fiction does not. Most SF books suffer from heroic characters who have all the fine characteristics that that author obviously sees in himself, or wants to.

The plot initially appears to be a pretense to paint the image that appears on the cover. It is about a race of super-human little people – the Earth Lords – that live underground and use regular people as "Steeds". They ride around on the backs of humans.

Once the key image is out of the way, the plot becomes the protagonist’s attempt to thwart the Earth Lord’s plan to ruin the earth with a machine that move the tectonic plates and create volcanoes and earthquakes. Yes, it’s a dumb premise. Since it takes place in the 19th century in Canada there are holes in the logic that you could drive a large horse through.

The good things about The Earth Lords is good prose. It reads well and the images are all well painted, although it uses a few too many words. It is hampered by the wooden characters and a love interest that seems illogical and one sided. The plot is not all that believable. A decent read, but not a book I’ll be reading again soon.

Next up is Hellflower by George O. Smith from 1953 – my kind of SF. It’s short, 60-70k so I might have it finished by Friday.






August 22nd, 2008

Buying Books by the Pound

Some of the 57 booksI bought 57 books on eBay – about 14 pounds. (picture is of a random sample) They arrived today. These are great books, most from the 1960s and 70s. Many are unknown or little known authors. I don’t think that I’ve read about three quarters of them. This is going to last me until around Thanksgiving.

As I finish these, I’m going to put them up for sale. I am well on the way of writing a world class storefront system in PHP (no database required). My system is unique in that it is for small stores with a small inventory that don’t want to have a complex database but still want a full featured system. I also want to to be easy enough to use that it will make selling one-of-a-kind items easy. I want to support only PayPal (and maybe Google Checkout) because I believe that accepting credit cards directly is too expensive for the average small store.

I was searching around for more books, and I found a web site that sells science fiction books by the pound (I am keeping its URL secret). An average paperback weighs about 4 ounces so that’s 4 books to the pound (including packing material.) At $2 a pound, that’s right in my price range. You can make an offer for less, so I will see it they go for $1 a pound for 50 pounds (200 books). The good news is that these are new books, and I probably have not read any of them. The bad news is that they include those ubiquitous D&D, TV show (trek, Dr. who, Buffy et al), Vampire, Zombie, and 6 part series books in the count and you don’t get to choose.

You can expect many more badly written book reviews in the next few months.






August 15th, 2008

Andre Norton – Forerunner Foray

anortonffOver the weekend I bought 6 paperbacks at a garage sale for a quarter each. A kid was reading every bit of trash he could find  and he was selling off the books that he didn’t want to read again. Well, his trash is my treasure and I found, out of the hundreds, a few that I might read or reread. The rest were the ubiquitous dragon/wizard/magic fantasy series books that I would rather avoid.

I started reading Forerunner Foray with the expectation that I would recognize the plot immediately. I was surprised to find that it was totally new to me. Published in 1973, the book must have been out just as I was married and I started working full time, when my life suddenly had no place for the very solitary act of reading.

Andre Norton is one of a handful of female Science Fiction writers in a field where male voices dominate. She even legally changed her name to Andre Norton from Alice Mary Norton. She wrote largely young adult novels and a very few short stories. Towards the end of her career she teamed up with several of woman writers, but I think little of the actually text was hers. I much prefer her early novels. I do not enjoy novels with feminist themes or ones that center on sexual politics. Though Norton was a pioneering feminist, her stories are for boys and girls and the lessons to be learned do not have the brute force of more modern writers. She teaches by example rather than condemnation and I have always felt comfortable reading her books.

Andre Norton has several overlapping universes where she sets her stories. Cats Eye and related stories are set in a world where young protagonists escape from The Dipple. The Dipple is a galactic slum consisting of worlds where the refugees from the ruined human civilizations live on poverty and crime (I think this is a wonderful sciencefictional setting). Another reoccurring element is the alien Forerunners. The Forerunners lived millions, perhaps billions of years in the past, but their artifacts are occasionally found and are often dangerous. Sometimes the Forerunners break through the barriers of time and threaten the the contemporary world. These are huge themes and they support many of her books.

Andre Norton tales are never complete without cats and a hint of magical powers. Often the power is telepathy or an empathy with animals.

Forerunner Foray has all of these elements. The protagonist is a young woman, marking a change in Norton’s books. Prior to this many of her characters were young men. After the success of the Witch World stories, she discovered she could write books that young women could enjoy as well as young men. Probably, libraries of the 1950s and 60s classified Science Fiction as boy’s stories and were hesitant to buy Young Adult Science Fiction with a female protagonist. Around 1970, this changed.

Forerunner Foray is less of an adolescent book than some of her others. The story is complex and even a little difficult to follow at times. I felt the writing in first few chapters was a little strained, as though Norton was working through a section that she was not entirely comfortable with. She eventually pulls out of it and the main character has as close to a romantic relationship as Norton ever has in her novels. The ending seems contrived with much explanation and filling-in of details. It seems like the ending was tacked on after Norton had finished enough words. (Books around 1970 began to get fatter after Tolkien and Herbert proved that readers would pay for longer books.)

Norton wrote other books in the worlds of Forerunner Foray. I read the first, Storm over Warlock and possibly the second, Ordeal in Otherwhere in the San Francisco Airport while stranded during a week long airline strike on my way back from visiting my Uncle. Both of these were written in the Early 1960s. I’ll have to keep an eye out for these so I can reread them.

Forerunner Foray is engrossing, but I did not feel much sympathy with the characters and the writing seemed a little forced in places. It had some good moments and I enjoyed rediscovering some classic Norton themes, although I would not classify it as one of her best efforts.






August 11th, 2008

Married many, many Years

As an anniversary present, Erica bought me Through Space to Mars from 1910 by Roy Rockwood. It is the story of boys who build a rocket in their garage and pilot it to Mars. Before there was Science Fiction there were boys books.

Roy Rockwood was the house pseudonym at Cupples & Leon publishers for its boys books. This book was written by Howard Roger Garis, best known for the Uncle Wiggly Longears books. He wrote many of the original Tom Swift books under the name Victor Appleton, and many of the Bobsey Twins books.

It is a great present and I will be reading it soon. I only had to buy her expensive jewels. I got the better of the deal.

marsmars2






August 5th, 2008

Gthread – new automatic web pages

Erica had mentioned that one mention of Laser Eye Surgery had changed all of the Google Adsense links on one of her web page from the normal topic into Lasiks ads. These ads pay $10 a piece. Note: this is not necessarily per click. The target web sites usually have Google Analytics installed so that I think Google only pays on the click if the surfer clicks on a few pages and stays for more than a minute.

Working on another variation of my mad scheme to make a living off of the web I made several pages of medical, legal and other high pay search terms at my site Gthread.com. I’ve made a few dollars in the last month or so, but nothing beyond a few random clicks. This is the first time that I’ve actually tried to target a keyword for just money. In the past, I always was interested in the results. It’s not like String Theory or Telecommute writing jobs would make much money.

I did add one more personal interest web page. The Exploration of Jupiter Digest is for my own satisfaction (nothing there so far today except a test). I have 3000 words of a Jupiter adventure that is turning out far better than I expected. I have a lot of work to do. I just changed it so that the beginning has to be rewritten. I also just found out that Jupiter’s day is only 9 hours 55 minutes so this puts a new time limit on my adventure story. It has to finish just as it night falls on Jupiter.






July 31st, 2008

Alan Garner – The Owl Service

I bought a couple of cartons of books from Forest J. Ackerman’s Garage Mahal garage sale. Forey was moving and getting rid of his books. I bought some lots where there was at least one book that I was interested in. The other books were an odd mixture of whatever was on hand.

Since I’ve been reading during my commute, I have been trying to find books to read. I have read most of the books that I own and I don’t want to spend much on new books if possible. I’ve been looking in eBay for odd lots, but so far nothing looks good.

Most of the odd books in the Ackerman lots had titles like “Book 3 of the Magic Ring of the Dragon Wizard” or some such garbage. I don’t want to even try to read these. I will be creating a site where I will trade books or send out books at a minimal cost for mailing.

One book that I tried to read was The Owl Service by Alan Garner. This is a book about magic in Wales. It has lots of talk and nothing much happens. The text is well written, even beautiful in some passages, but it never grabbed me. I am not the intended audience. I like fantasy, but I need a little tension in the plot, but not this endless examination of the internal reactions of uninteresting people.

This is the first book on my commute that I decided that it was a waste of time to finish. Life is too short.

Anyone want it? I’ll send it out media mail for $1 (payment through paypal). It would be better to wait as I will put together a box and weigh it, soon.






July 11th, 2008

John W. Campbell, Jr.

JWC died on this day 37 years ago. He was only 63. He was an intelligent man. He graduated from Duke, my Dad’s Alma Mata. Unfortunately, 37 years ago, intelligent men were heavy smokers, lived sedentary lives, ate lot’s of red meat and drank their whiskey neat, so they died relatively young of heart attacks.

I think JWC’s influence in SF was pretty much over by the time he died. Heinlein wouldn’t submit to Analog Magazine and the better writers had moved to Galaxy, IF, and F&SF. Campbell had rejected two of Heinlein’s Hugo award winning stories (with long letters explaining what was wrong with them).

I wonder how SF would be different today if John had quite smoking, taken to long walks and started eating more fish?

In spite of all of the man’s personal failings, he is still a shining figure in the history of Science Fiction. He will always be a personal hero of mine.






July 9th, 2008

Mushroom Men

I received this today. I know nothing about Mushroom men and I doubt if I can come up with anything. Maybe you have an idea that will express well in an odd gamer world.

SPACE SQUID, in association with GamecockMedia.com and RevolutionSF.com, announces the Mushroom Men fiction contest, a free writing contest! First prize is a free Wii game console and a copy of the new Wii videogame Mushroom Men!
Other prizes include Les Claypool Mushroom Men rock posters, Mushroom Men baseball caps, trading cards with sweepstakes codes, Mushroom Men squeezy toys, and copies of Mushroom Men for the Wii and for the Nintendo DS. Runner-up stories will appear on the fiction page of RevolutionSF.com and in a special supplementary issue that will be seen by hundreds of people at gaming events like the Penny Arcade Expo.
The first-prize story will appear in the supplementary issue, RevolutionSF.com, Space Squid issue #6, and may appear as promotional material for the game elsewhere.
Contest Details:
-Deadline August 1st, 2008
-Write a story that incorporates the universe of the Mushroom Men console game, published by Gamecock Media. Entrants should read the game background information at SpaceSquid.com or MushroomMen.com before submitting their entries.
-Free writing contest entries should be between 500 and 1500 words.
-Submit entries to squishy@spacesquid.com as an attached RTF file. Please put "Free Writing Contest: YOUR STORY TITLE" in the subject line.
-Submissions will be judged according to
a.) How well they adhere to the game universe, and
b.) How much they rock.
-First prize is a free Wii game console, the Mushroom Men videogame, and publication in Space Squid.
-Runners up prizes TBA and publication in RevolutionSF.com.
-This is a free writing contest; multiple entries encouraged.
Additional information and updates at:
http://www.spacesquid.com/free_writing_contests.htm
http://www.revolutionsf.com/bb/weblog.php?w=5&category=Space%20Squid






July 6th, 2008

Panasonic "Let’s Note" is Back

Last Winter, the little Panasonic ToughBook “Let’s Note” that Justine brought back from Hong Kong, rolled over and played dead. I took it apart (like a puzzle box – about 30 screws) and I pulled the hard drive. I was able to pull lots of information off of it and then format the drive, but I was never able to get the little ToughBook to work.

Yesterday afternoon, it was raining and I didn’t fell like doing anything ambitious, so I thought that I’d try one more time before I put it up for sale on eBay for parts. I put it on the dining room table and operated on it for an hour.

It now works!

It is a nice little machine, but the drivers are not to be found anywhere. Panasonic acts like this version of the ToughBook (called Let’s Note in Hong Kong) does not exist. I can not find the drivers for it.

I have drivers for the video, the wireless and the touchpad because they are made by other manufacturers and I got their drivers, but the Ricoh card reader seems to be Panasonic specific and I can’t get the Sound to work. The drivers at Panasonic are all keyed to a bios model number and don’t load if you use the wrong one.

It is good for the bus, though because it is very light and small. The keyboard is cramped and I can’t touch type on it because the punctuation, delete and backspace are all in the wrong places. I might get used to it, though – I was pretty good at it last Winter when it died.

Tomorrow morning I will use it to try to write a “Stranded” flash for AR. I have a few ideas so I will “blue sky” them into a document and then on the way back, look and see if any of them have wings. So far, my ideas have been bland. I need a conflict that can resolve in under 1000 words. I don’t like flash that are like extended jokes. I don’t like flash where the resolution is to reveal a hidden fact: e.g. the narrator is dead or is an alien or is in a VR game. A flash with a punch line sucks. I want to make it a real story.






July 4th, 2008

4th of July Quote

I am a big John W. Campbell, Jr. Fan. As a person, he seems to have been a jerk, but as an editor, he created modern science fiction. As a writer, he was mostly readable. He’s  known mostly for writing Who Goes There?, which has been made into a movie called The Thing, twice.

History doesn’t always repeat itself. Sometimes it just screams, "Why don’t you listen to me?" and lets fly with a big stick. – John W. Campbell, Jr.






June 8th, 2008

Happy Birthday John W. Campbell, Jr.

Today is John W. Campbell, Jr.’s birthday. He was born June 8, 1910.

Campbell was the editor of Astounding Stories and pretty much invented modern Science Fiction – or at least he attended at the birth.

Soon will be the JWCjr 100 year birthday. I hope someone remembers and does something cool.






February 22nd, 2007

Wil Wheaton Links In

Wil Wheaton’s blog linked to this site (the cliches list) and instead of 300 distinct users and 500 page views a day, I jumped up to 1500 distinct users and 3000 page views per day for the last few days. Actually that’s not a lot compared to my other sites, but it is interesting that a Trek star reads my site.