Archive for August, 2005

Quest For Thrones

November 8th, 2005 is the (latest) release date for the oft-delayed next book in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series: A Feast For Crows.

Until then, fans can take part in the online adventure The Quest of Thrones, described as:

…a Quest to track down characters from this bestselling series hidden across the Internet. There will be successes and losses, decrees from your king, life and death, battles for dominance, and a multitude of power plays. But only those who remain loyal to the Quest during its five-week duration will be eligible to win.

And what do you win? A nice prize package with A Song of Ice and Fire theme:

  • A copy of A FEAST FOR CROWS, the new George R. R. Martin novel from Bantam Spectra
  • An autographed book plate for A FEAST FOR CROWS
  • A copy of The Hedge Knight trade paperback from Dabel Brothers Production
  • A Winter Edition starter deck for the A Game of Thrones CCG from Fantasy Flight Games
  • One of six limited edition resin figures based on A GAME OF THRONES from Testors
  • A free issue of Locus Magazine
  • A commemorative coin inspired by the fictional works of George R. R. Martin from Shire Post Mint
  • A Game of Thrones d20-based role playing game from Guardians Of Order

Deadline for registration September 16, 2005.

[Link via Slice of SciFi]

Saturn

The Cassini spacecraft is still orbiting Saturn and returning volumes of useful information. In case you weren’t keeping up on our changing understanding of the solar system, here’s a quick recap courtesy of NASA.

  • The Huygens probe landed on Titan and returned very cool information about its surface. Titan’s surface is remarkably Earth-like, with evidence of rain, erosion, drainage channels and a dry lake bed. Titan also seems to have a volcano, rain clouds, lakes, craters, and other puzzling terrain. True, the rain would be methane, but still – incredibly interesting.
  • The rings of Saturn aren’t uniform, but instead filled with clumps and waves.
  • Saturn’s moon Phoebe is an object from the outer solar system. Phoebe was not formed during planetary evolution but captured by Saturn much later during the object’s transit of the solar system and is likely older than Saturn itself.
  • Saturn’s surface changes dramatically over time – the northern hemipshere is now blue instead of tan (likely because the rings are shadowing the surface, changing its temprature.) This was highly unexpected because, of course, our view of Saturn has only been of the sunny side (the side that reflects light back to Earth.)
  • Saturn has a moon hiding it is rings! This tiny moon causes ripples in the rings as it moves by.
  • Saturn’s moon Enceladus has a thin water vapor atmosphere (no doubt along with other things.) It also has cracks in its icy surface (dubbed tiger stripes.) These are getting a lot of attention from planetologists because they aren’t exactly sure what is causing them, and if the area at the southern pole might in fact be in a liquid state instead of ice.

All this focus on Saturn’s moons is driven by the interest in discovering if any of them seem capable of supporting life. We have found life on Earth in some of the most inhospitable environments (from the bottom of the ocean near thermal vents to the inside of glaciers) and finding it here – even single celled bacteria – would be one of the most significant scientific discoveries of our lifetime.

Free Books Under Creative Commons License

Although we posted before about books that are available for free under the Creative Commons License, I thought I’d point out that the Creative Commons Wiki also offers list of free CCL books – and their list is more likely to be updated with fresh content than our original post. So there. Go read now.

POLL RESULTS: Fantasy Books Read in the Top 100

Here are the results of the latest SF Signal poll.

QUESTION
Along the lines a past poll about sf, how many books have you read that are listed the Top 100 Fantasy Novels list by David Pringle?

RESULTS

(50 total votes)

Thirty-six percent of respondents have read all 100 novels, eh? Perhaps they’ve also read Stuffing the Ballot Box?

Google Earth Video

I have yet to install and play with Google Earth, but this video showcasing some of its capabilities looks way cool!

In an NPR article, Jacob McMurray, senior curator at the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle, says:

“A lot of books in the ’50s and ’40s don’t hold up at all now because, either the scientific advances that they’re talking about just never happened, or these sort of cultural things that were happening at the time are so different than what’s happening now that it seems absurd,” he tells Liane Hansen. “I think a lot of the stuff from the ’60s and ’70s, when authors were trying to focus on social aspects of humanity, I think those books hold up really well. You know, a lot of the science fiction that’s happening in the ’80s and ’90s today is less fantastic, sort of focused on scientific technologies that are happening today.”

Hmmm…interesting. I might disagree with Mr. McMurray but I’m not sure of his intended meaning of “don’t hold up”. If he’s referring to the science aspects of the books, sure, some of it was off the mark. Although science fiction writers are often hailed as oracles forseeing technology decades in advance, in reality that is rarely the case.

However, if the statement is to be taken literally that the book as a whole does not fare well over time, then I would say “Nonsense!” Many Golden Age books are still considered classics even to this day. So what if the science is a bit off? Golden Age is more than an era of sf – it’s a flavor. Perhaps it’s just not a flavor that suits everyone’s tastes. Wrong predictions can (and should) be taken with a grain of salt in Golden Age science fiction.

(See also the addendum to my review for Philip K. Dick’s Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said.)

SF author Ben Bova gets all political with his Naples Daily News article (registration required…or BugMeNot). Some excerpts:

Personally, I think the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were valid on political, military and ethical grounds…They ended the war…They saved lives…The nuclear bombs broke their will to fight.

It’s a big universe out there, with all the splendor and mystery and adventure that we could ask for — as well as such wealths of energy and raw materials that every man, woman and child on Earth could become millionaires if we would just go out there and start to use the natural resources that are waiting for us.

[A]s I watched newscasts about this Jagger-vs.-Bush controversy I saw clips of Jagger and the Stones in concert. And broke out laughing. Here’s a bunch of men well past middle age, gray and wrinkled, working up an audience with songs about how lousy their parents are. It’s ludicrous.

REVIEW: Spring-Heeled Jack by Philip Pullman

REVIEW SUMMARY: An entertaining, one-sitting read.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Legendary Victorian hero Spring-Heeled Jack helps a trio of orphan siblings fight kidnapper/thief Mack the Knife.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Interesting narrative/comic-strip format; deft handling of multiple characters and twisty plot.

CONS: Some of the panels contained a meant-to-be-funny cat whose jokes fell flat.

BOTTOM LINE: A fun and different read.

Read the rest of this entry

REVIEW: finding Serenity

REVIEW SUMMARY: An Firefly love-in that any true fan will love. Otherwise, I think you’d best give this one a pass.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Anthology of 21 essays examining the cult (and canceled) TV series Firefly.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Some very intelligent writing and analysis and some well-done humor

CONS: ‘Celebrity editor’ a distraction, all essays aren’t held to the same standards

BOTTOM LINE: Fans of the series will love it – all others should probably skip it.

SF Signal is made up of many affirmed Firefly fanboys (of which I am one!) and so I was very much looking forward to reading this book. It was a blast to remember the episodes while reading the essays and getting a good view of how others felt about the series. It is unfortunate the book wasn’t held to a high standard throughout.

The best essays are by authors David Gerrold, John C Wright, Keith RA Candido, and Lyle Zynda – I really enjoyed getting to read all these different viewpoints in one text.

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REVIEW: Ventus by Karl Schroeder

REVIEW SUMMARY: A high-tech story set in a finely detailed, low-tech world.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A rogue AI sends a cyborg to take over the planet Ventus in order to plant a “propagation seed” as a stepping stone to controlling the universe.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Detailed world-building; interesting plot with AIs and nanotech.

CONS: World-building often gets in the way of the story; less interesting plot involving civil war.

BOTTOM LINE: Holds a reader’s interest.

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MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In early 19th Century England, the only magicians left are those who study magic (theoretical magicians) with one exception: Mr. Norrell. Mr. Norrell embarks on a path to bring magic back to prominence in England, but without revealing its roots in fairy creatures and other lands. Jonathan Strange becomes Mr. Norrell’s pupil, but soon begins his own quest to revive magic by opposing Mr. Norrell’s view.

PROS: Incredibly detailed world building, interesting characters, filled with humor.

CONS: A very long read, system of magic isn’t really detailed, can be somewhat dry.

BOTTOM LINE: I can see why this book won the Hugo based on it’s world building alone. The humor and characters are icing.

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REVIEW: Road to Mars by Eric Idle

REVIEW SUMMARY: A solid sci fi book with some statements about comedy and humans.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:2 comedians and thier robot (who attempts to unravel the secret of comedy) become embroiled in a terorrist plot.

PROS: Some great characters and decent action once you get past the slower parts of the book.

CONS: Starts out a bit slow for me, and the narrative of the secondary story gets annoying at some points

BOTTOM LINE: If you like Eric Idle and are looking for some light science fiction, this would be a book to read.

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Along the same lines as its Masters of Horror series, Showtime will soon be adopting short science fiction stories for the small screen in an anthology show called Masters Of Sci-Fi.

Michael Tolkin (The Player) will adapt Heinlein’s “Jerry Was a Man.” John Milius (Conan the Barbarian) will rework Lem’s “The Hunt.” Bradbury will adapt his story “Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed.” Similarly, Ellison will adapt his short story, “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the TicktockMan,” [producer Keith] Addis said.

Harlan Ellison is quoted. Interesting trivia: A request to purchase Ellison’s “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the TicktockMan” was made by…Michael Jackson.

Libraries Offering Audiobook Downloads

From CNN:

…libraries from New York City to Alameda, California, are letting patrons download Tom Clancy techno-thrillers, Arabic tutorials and other titles to which they can listen on their computers or portable music players — all without leaving home.

There’s still one big hitch, though: The leading library services offer Windows-friendly audiobook files that can’t be played on Apple Computer Inc.’s massively popular iPod player.

Vendors such as OverDrive Inc. and OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc.’s NetLibrary have licensing deals with publishers and provide digital books using Microsoft Corp.’s Windows Media Audio format, which includes copyright protections designed to help audiobooks stand apart from the often lawless world of song swapping.

A patron with a valid library card visits a library Web site to borrow a title for, say, three weeks. When the audiobook is due, the patron must renew it or find it automatically “returned” in a virtual sense: The file still sits on the patron’s computer, but encryption makes it unplayable beyond the borrowing period.

Serenity World Premier Footage

In order to maintain that Firefly fanboy status we all so desperately wish to have, I have found this link to the footage from Serenity world premiere. The link is courtesy of Sci-Fi Heaven. I will note that the footage is encoded as MP4 and requires Quicktime and there are spoilers in the Q and A sections.

We’re Doomed

The newest Doom movie trailer has been released on Yahoo! Movies. The interesting thing here is the inclusion of several first-person scenes, where the film is mimicing the feel of the Doom games. Interesting, but I can’t tell how effective a movie technique that wil be. It feels weird. Although I will say the final scene has a lot of possibilities…

REVIEW: Touch by Gayleen Froese

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Anna Gareau can, with a touch, read a person’s past, whether she wants to or not. After a woman is drowned at the hotel where she is staying, Anna is drawn into investigating the murder.

PROS: Clear writing style, easy read, lots of humor, potentially interesting magical setting.

CONS: Flat characters, humor wears thin after awhile, a weak ending.

BOTTOM LINE: Not a bad read if you like supernatural murder mysteries.

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Octopulps!

And you thought SF was only for squid! Not so. Octopus Pulp! shows us old pulp SF covers featuring octopuses (octopi?) in all their science fictiony glory.

8 Stupid Mobile Technologies

Mobile Magazine has an article listing the 8 Stupid Mobile Technologies. The winners?

  1. MP3
  2. Bluetooth
  3. Cell Phone Service
  4. Microsoft Windows
  5. The Internal Combustion Engine
  6. Batteries
  7. Spam
  8. The QWERTY Keyboard

[Link via MobileRead]

River on iFILM

From our friends at /., we have some links to video of River during some time she is imprisoned. They are called The River Tam Sessions. I know not very creative but a bit more firefly news for you all…

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