Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Size of New Horizons

New Horizons is often described as the size of a grand piano. Somehow it pleases me to come from a culture that calibrates the size of spacecraft in musical instruments.

Friday, July 10, 2015

On Pluto's Doorstep

New Horizons has entered Pluto's Hill Sphere, the space where Pluto's gravity dominates that of the Sun. Pluto and Charon are starting to look like actual places rather than discs covered with low resolution blotches. And it gets better. The closest approach will be July 14th.

New Horizons will streak through Pluto space at 13.8 km/sec. It left Earth faster than any other spacecraft, and it took almost 9 1/2 years to get there. Next stop, deeper into the Kuiper Belt.

These are the days of miracle and wonder.

What to expect when you're expecting a flyby.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Filking the 2015 Hugo Slates

Three pups for the Genius Club, no one knows why
Seven for John C. Wright and his Saudi prose
Nine for the Brad that calls you a CHORF
One for the Vox with a grudge he owns
In the noisy kennel where the puppies lie.
Two slates to rule them all, two slates to find them
Two slates to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the noisy kennel where the puppies lie.



At last we bared our fangs to bay
HOW I WISH I WAS IN SASQUAN NOW
Our noisy yapping made an awful din
But with one quick snark John Scalzi stove us in
God damn them all!
I was told we’d cruise the con and have rockets to hold
Be envied-by our peers
But I’m house-broken now with no Hugos to cheer
The last of Puppy Privateers

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Live. Die. Repeat.: Edge of Tomorrow

She's young Victoria in powered armor. He's a smarmy rear-echelon coward. Together they fight aliens! Time traveling aliens on a Groundhog Day time loop!

Emily Blunt is Rita, worn down by multiple trips through the the temporal wringer but fighting on without sentimentality or wasted energy. Also, with the kind of honking big sword that only makes sense of you are wearing powered armor.  Tom Cruise as Bill Cage is forged in the crucible of battle into something better than he was.

Friday, June 12, 2015

A Brief Review of Puppygate

Two small groups, calling themselves Rabid Puppies and Sad Puppies, used disciplined slate voting to dominate the 2015 Hugo final ballot. After some people refused or withdrew nominations, the Puppies gained 59 out of 85 slots: 45 from both slates, 10 purely from the Rabid slate and 4 from the Sads. Black Gate, a Fanzine nominated by the Rabids, also withdrew after the ballots were finalized. As little as 14% of the ballots cast in the novella category was enough to win the last of the slots, and the most popular Puppy novella got only 32% of the ballots in that category, so small minorities willing to use slates could dominate everyone else.

Many objected that the slate tactics, although legal, were mean, unsporting, pernicious, unethical and wicked.

Particularly after the voter packets came out, many complained that poorly written slate nominees kept better choices of the ballot. I would say that the slated writing nominees ranged from competent pieces by Butcher and English that didn’t quite rise to Hugo quality, to flawed or mediocre, to actively bad, and in the case of Williamson, unrelated to SF/F. And I’m seeing a ballot that’s slants more male than the prior year or the field and readership as a whole. Even if some Puppy motives were sincere, they had bad consequences.

On May 11 Irene Gallo, Creative Director in Tor’s art department, posted a comment on her personal Facebook page that, as she later admitted, painted the beliefs of the Puppies and the quality of the slate nominees with “too broad a brush”. This received little comment until Vox Day, born Theodore Beale, leader of the Rabid Puppies, released a screencap that he had been holding for several weeks for maximum effect, on the weekend of the 2015 Nebula Awards. Tor was also closed for the weekend. Of course, someone who genuinely cared about harm to the Puppies criticized would have simply sought an immediate correction.

Although Gallo rightly apologized for her statement on June 8, and Tom Doherty of Tor issued a statement that Gallo’s views in the comment were hers alone, and was if anything diplomatically deferential to Puppy views, enraged Puppies have continued to demand that Gallo be fired, as well as any other Tor executives that have said unfavorable things about puppies. This is in spite of the fact that judging by their nominations, the Puppies weren’t big fans of Tor books to begin with.

Like nominee Jim Butcher, I think Gallo’s apology is sufficient: Tor should not sacrifice a valued and talented employee to opportunistic Puppy baying.

Nonetheless, Vox Day is trying to whip up the threat of a Tor boycott. Of course, it makes perfect sense for him, since his tiny publishing house competes with Tor. But it won't be doing Tor's authors any favors.

Next year, I would love to see the Sad Puppies express their desire for more stuff they like on the ballot with an actual recommendation list: ten works or more in each written category. And they could improve their selection process: although they solicited recommendations, the final slate seems to have been chosen by the self proclaimed Evil League of Evil, apparently consisting of Correia, Hoyt, Torgersen and Wright. Details are murky for a process that aspired to be open and democratic*. That’s a small group that seems to have had a lot of overlap in their tastes. A committee that can only come up with a single choice for Best Graphic Story, and that a poorly drawn and unfunny zombie comic by one of Torgersen's neighbors, really needs more breadth.

*I welcome correction.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword

Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie, is a worthy successor to last years Hugo Awards best novel, Ancillary Justice. Breq, the protagonist, is a former starship A.I., a creation of the Radch, a sophisticated but cruel empire that doesn't use gender pronouns.

The Radch have found it expedient to use former humans as ancillaries, remote extensions of the minds that run their starships, convenient when they need to be in more than one place at a time. Did I mention the Radch were cruel?

When Justice of Toren is destroyed with malice aforethought, the person calling herself Breq of the Gerentate is all that survive's of Justice of Toren's intellect, a single ancillary pretending to be human.

Some of the kind of people that fear the feminists lurking under their bed see the Radch lack of gender pronouns as a weird culture war stunt, but as world building goes it isn't that much of a stretch. Estonian, Finnish and Hungarian all lack gender pronouns, and that's just the European languages.

Indeed, you could read the stories as a clever subversion of feminist tropes: the Radch have imperialism, oppression and sexual exploitation, but they don't even have a word for patriarchy.

It requires the usual suspension of disbelief required for interstellar empires, FTL, artificial gravity and decanting extensions of machine intellects into human bodies; in short, what is normally required for space operas.

Ancillary Justice

Ancillary Sword and another review by Lis Carey.

Night's Slow Poison is a 2012 short story set earlier in the same setting.


Friday, June 05, 2015

Introducing ScapeBook™!

Has this happened to you? You're reading a new book, and you have a sudden desire to introduce Mr. Book to Mr. Wall. At high velocity. Is it the cardboard characters? The intrusive message? The pathetic world building? The wordy but unspecific setting? Perhaps it's the plot hole big enough to sail interstellar dreadnoughts though in line abreast. Perhaps the eight deadly words "I don't care what happens to these people" have come unbidden to your lips. Maybe it's just pompous verbosity or excessive weapons porn.

Traditionally, this is followed by the consoling thump of the book hitting the wall and a moment of healthy catharsis. But what if you are using an e-reader or, worse yet, your computer?

Now, ScapeBook™ offers the answer. Handy, sacrificial ScapeBook™ sits within easy reach when you read digitally. Available in hardback, trade and mass-market paperback and Neal Stephenson doorstop, ScapeBook™ mimics the look and feel of a traditional book. Interior text is lorem ipsum filler and the back cover is equipped with the usual non-specific and deceptively edited blurbs. The generic cover can be customized with self-adhesive stickers printable on your home printer to more closely match the work you are currently reading digitally.

ScapeBook™. Your e-reader will thank you, and you'll just plain feel better.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Nutty Nuggets

"What are we looking for again?" said Liu, the technician from Mars Spacefleet.

"Ejecta from Perdita, of course.You saw the images we got from Alaunt. One of what hit Perdita shredded the cargo module and blew debris on a diverging course. The hydrogen tanks were holed too, but we're not going to waste time looking for hydrogen in space. You have the cargo manifest." Church, agent for Tranjovian and its insurance agency, was a stubby, thick-lipped, stocky man with heavy eyebrows. Perdita had gone silent on an unmanned low-energy trip to the Jovian moons and Alaunt had found what was left of her hull after a tedious search of her extrapolated course.

"Right." said Liu,  as a document came up on his screen. "Spare parts and luxury goods: fine wine, single-malt scotch, Napoleon brandy, macadamia nuts and cashews."

"The liquids will have frozen that far out, so we'll be looking for nutty nuggets. A pretty unique spectral signature beyond Ceres."

"Another 20 minutes until the next data from Baskerville. The time lag...."

"Your people willing to pay for a manned mission?"

"Hell no!"

"Mine neither. We'll live with the time lag"

"That rock pile tore up Perdita pretty bad" said Liu as they waited for the next data feed. "Tough luck!"

"Luck! You know, you ought to take a look at the statistics on loss of mission beyond LEO some time. You might learn a little something about the insurance business. We probably have ten volumes: manufacturing defect, processing error, design fault, system failure, programming error. Even inputting the wrong measurement units. You know what we don't have actuarial data for on loss of interplanetary missions?"

"Asteroid impact?"

"Bingo. Space is big."

Three weeks later, Church was back in the control room.

"Eight confirmed tracks of, uh, nutty nuggets" said Roberts

"Good. That will give us a sense of the limits of the debris field. Now we switch our search filter: aluminum, plastic, semiconductors"

"Mr. Church?"

"What's left of the bus, Liu. You don't think the Belters hit Perdita with unguided rocks do you?"

"The Belters? You think the Belters looted Perdita?"

"Hell no! You read too much classic SF. Do you have any idea how much delta-v they'd need to match courses from inside the belt and get away afterwards? How long a manned mission would take? Go ahead and look it up. God knows we've got plenty of time before we hear anything from Baskerville. But putting a few hundred kilograms of rocks on a collision course with Perdita? Piece of cake"

Several minutes later, Liu looked up from the screen. "Ok. Looting doesn't make sense. What's their game?"

"Well, you know the Belters have been trying to sell us navigation hazard warnings for the smaller asteroids, for a lot more than we think they're worth. We could read this as a bid to convince us that that threat is bigger than we think. Or just as 'Nice shipping line you got there, sure would be a pity if something were to happen to it accidental like'. But we think they were playing an even bigger game."
"
Oh?" said Liu.

"Somebody shorted Transjovian shares before Perdita was lost. To prove who was behind it we need to show the courts that it wasn't an accident. Alaunt needs to find some bit of manmade hardware in the debris cloud that isn't from Perdita. Fortunately, the debris from the places that were hit on Perdita won't look much like part of a midcourse  and terminal guidance multiple kinetic weapon bus. But now we will need some luck."

Five weeks later, they had it.








Monday, June 01, 2015

The Medieval Longsword, by Guy Windsor

Mastering the Art of Arms, Volume 2: The Medieval Longsword Guy Windsor, 2014 The School Of European Swordsmanship.

This teaches the early 15th century Italian style of Fiore dei Liberi, with more general advice on sources, swords, clothing, protection, footgear, general principles of time, measure, structure and flow. debatable issues, drills, freeplay and its limitations, and warming up exercises.

Windsor promises to cover the German school in Volume 3.

Volume 2 is reviewed here and here.