Archive | January 2012

just some late January updates

Books – I’m reading Great Sky River by Greg Benford. I’m about 60 pages in, and I’m not sure how hooked I am. But at the very least, I’m intrigued.

The Galactic Center Saga by Greg Benford consists of six volumes. I happened to stumble upon all six volumes at a second-hand bookstore in DC a few years ago and, since they looked promising, bought them all. That was about four years ago — I hadn’t gotten around to them until last year. So far, I’ve gotten through In the Ocean of Night and Across the Sea of Suns. The former depicts humanity’s first encounter with an inorganic alien intelligence that enters Earth space and the subsequent fallout. The latter jumps forward two decades to humanity’s discovery of inorganic life systematically destroying organic lifeforms throughout the galaxy and the invasion of Earth itself. Great Sky River, flashes forward in time and space to an apparently (very) distant future on a planet where humanity is being hunted to extinction by inorganic lifeforms. The story follows one of the last bands of humanity (if not the last band, it’s not clear to me at this point, and I don’t want to spoil anything by looking it up!).

The premise is intriguing, but it hardly feels like I am reading the same series, which is probably a contributing factor to this being difficult to dive into. But I’ll soldier on, I have heard good stuff and it will likely be worth it.

Comics –  I’ve gone through Batman’s Contagion story arc which expanded across the Catwoman, Robin, and Azrael series in the late mid-90s.  I’ve also gone through the Cataclysm story line and am currently smack in the No Man’s Land arc. In Contagion, the Bat family have to deal with the effects and fallout of a biological agent released in Gotham City. Cataclysm deals with a massive earthquake that more or less demolishes Gotham City and allows Arkham inmates to escape. No Man’s Land is the subsequent arc that finds Gotham City cut off from the rest of America as an ancillary result of the earthquake, developing its own feudal(ish) system, with former members of the Gotham City Police Department and the Bat crew trying to maintain some form of order while villains like the Joker and Scarecrow try to cause their brand of trouble in what is essentially a new world. The dynamic shifts this story introduced in the late 90s is absolutely fascinating.

Music – I’ve been listening to Kaskade’s Strobelite Seduction almost non-stop since I purchased it. I’m in a distinct electro kick lately. Tiesto, Kaskade, Calvin Harris, Porter Robinson, Deadmau5, and a smattering of Skrillex songs have been racking up the play counts.

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gravity mapping the moon

Image via NASA/JPL

The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) probes, launched in September, kicked off the new year by going into operational orbit around the moon on December 31st and January 1st. The solar-powered probes are tasked with creating the most detailed map of the lunar gravity field to date, 100 times more accurate on the near side and 1000 times more accurate far side of the moon.

The results may provide insight into the the hypothesis that a low velocity collision between a former sibling moon and Luna is what creates the significantly more mountainous geography of the far side.

For more information, check out this article published by NewScientist and the GRAIL website at NASA.

robert charles wilson and gypsies

I would put Robert Charles Wilson as one of my top five authors in any genre. I would put him at number one for being strangely low-key and under the radar for how good he is. The guy has put out some of the most accessible character-driven, high-concept science fiction for about two and a half decade; but he barely registers a blip even among the genre fans with whom I’ve spoken. I’ve gone as far as to give away my own copies of his easier to find books (Spin and Darwinia, in particular) to people hoping to get them to read his stuff. This is all made stranger by the fact that he’s actually very positively reviewed in the professional and semi-pro critics’ circles (the Indelible being JV).

In an attempt to complete my collection of RCW books, I looked for the out-of-print ones the old fashioned way, scouring the shelves of second-hand bookstores in at least six major cities over the past three years: Boston, New York, DC, San Francisco, Denver, and Nashville. I was relatively successful with the exception of two of his earlier works: Gypsies and The Harvest. After failing in Nashville this November, I relented and used the wondrous Amazon marketplace to complete my collection in time to read Gypsies over the winter holiday.

Gypsies by Robert Charles Wilson

I wasn’t let down. A hallmark of Wilson’s work is stories about broken people. When I began reading his work with Spin, he had this motif more or less polished. In Gypsies, the plot revolves around three siblings (Laura, Karen, and Tim Fauve) who suffer from three particular fatal flaws that make them very broken people in their own ways. Oh, and they can all open doors into parallel universes. This power is limited by their flaws; for instance, one of the siblings can only open doors to parallel worlds that are distinctly dark and dreary; another can barely use it because of her flaw. Despite the fairly significant power and all the hokey possibilities that come with it, Wilson handles it with poise and grace. The story is really more about the flaws of those three characters, how they came about (daddy issues, mostly), and how the combination of those flaws affect Michael, the son of Laura, who also manifests the gift. Michael may seem like the focal point in the story (and some reviews I’ve read make it sound that way), but it is really less about him than the previous generation.

Within the story, the “ability” is often discussed as seeing “angles” and “dimensions” in the fabric of reality that others cannot see. I note this because it’s an interesting way to describe Wilson’s work in this novel and all of his other ones — you think you know what you’re going to get if you see the plot overview, but this author continually approaches his stories at angles unique among science fiction authors, adding some unforeseeable depth and dimension to his stories. His work, both in terms of ideas and character growth, is food for the imagination and sense of wonder shared by everybody, not just fans of science or speculative fiction.