Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Lighter Than Air

Author: David Owen
Published: 1999

An illustrated history (lots of pretty pictures). A few technical tidbits and pointers to contemporary airship companies, most of which have since gone bankrupt.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Airship

Author: Basil Collier
Published: 1974

Very dry account of the history of airships. At times, it goes into excruciating detail, especially in accounts of airships used by Germany in both World Wars.

In a sense, very objective and academic, but in no way tells a story about the craft. Useful for some technical data, but very much outdated info.

Friday, September 21, 2007


Author: Pete Jordan
Published: 2007

Very cool memoir by a very lazy man. Pete Jordan gets into dishwashing (aka suds busting or pearl diving) because it requires little training or thought, he gets free food, and he can quit whenever he wants to.

He sets himself a challenge to wash dishes in all fifty states of the U.S. Along the way with his 'zine, he learns about the proud role dishwashers have had in forming unions in U.S. history and fighting for workers' rights. Not to mention the various celebrities who have busted suds on their way up the ladder of fame.

The descriptions of the 'Wash Tub Buffet' might leave some queasy. His lack of work ethic is extreme, but is balanced by a very thoughtful set of plongeur ethics. In the end, he works as hard as any one, and discovers a place where he is over qualified for the simple task.

Green Plastics

Author: E. S. Stevens
Published: 2002

There is a lot of science in this book. Skimming those sections is okay. The point still comes across that plastic materials can be made not only biodegradeable but also compostable. What is required is markets and the will.

Interesting to learn that the problem with plastics is not their feedstock necessarily, although the petroleum, natural gas, and coal are limited resources. The toxicity of the stew is due to the additives included to make the plastic stable and durable. The danger of leaching later is compounded by the difficulty to recycle some plastics due to the additives fouling the plastic stew during reprocessing.

Stevens makes the point that current plastics are simply over-engineered for their purpose. A sandwich bag doesn't need to last 50-100 years. Some applications for plastics could be re-engineered right now to starch based products which have very short shelf lives.

And corn starch is, as of the writing, the cheapest and therefore most economically viable option. I thought I had read about problems composting corn starch, but searching around proved my memory faulty. This seems to be the way to go in the short term. Some kind of new 'chasing arrows' labeling system is needed though so that mass produced products will have a clear indication of their compostability.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Big Papi

Author: David Ortiz with Tony Massarotti
Published: 2007

About what I expected. Not an in depth analysis of Ortiz' life, but honest and upbeat. The auto/biography (a third of the chapters are by Massarotti) doesn't go into much detail about Ortiz' childhood. It does cover the last three seasons in some detail, and some key at bats over the years.

Good, quick read, especially for a Red Sox fan.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand

Author: Samuel R. Delany
Published: 1984

This year I read The Left Hand of Darkness which does well to portray the otherness, for lack of better vocabulary, of a truly alien human culture. Stars In My Pocket ... by comparison is like being in an alien culture. It is like reading an account in English translated from Russian about the gift economy of an aboriginal people. The book describes human beings, but in a culture and technology that is, to paraphrase Clarke, indistinguishable from magic.

This book is mind-blowing.

At times, it is a hard read, the jargon and alien cultural references so thick it is difficult to keep up. There are rewards when the mists lift and the story unfolds further. And several cool moments.

The Story:
Humans mix with aliens on thousands of worlds. Human behavior remains that, elevated and tolerant here, ignorant and violent there. A political struggle is heating up, an entire planet's worth of people are boiled away. Gender references are generically female (e.g. people are referred to as women, a reversal of mankind in a way) and are specified only when the narrator feels the need to clarify his relationship with he or she. Or needs to describe, if you will, the naughty bits.

The heart of the novel is about intense, pure, sexual desire. The two men involved are oblivious to the storm that roils around and ultimately separates them.

Cool moment number one:
In the city of Morgre the tracer cooperative "form the primary advisory council for the domestic and industrial boroughs that govern our complex." The tracers provide vital information about what is going on, past and present, that informs the culture.

They do this by collecting and cataloging the city's trash.

Cool moment number two:
Technology is incredibly advanced, mind-computer interfaces the norm. Passwords are thought out as a string of numbers/words/tastes/smells. At one point, an ancient recorded personality asks to be shut off. The main character hesitates, not knowing the proper sequence to think; tomes of ancient knowledge must be consulted. The personality makes it simple:

Push the off button.

I started reading knowing there was a second book which might have to be read. I finished this knowing I had to read the second book.

Except Delany hasn't finished writing it! It's been 23 years, man. Polish off that puppy!

Friday, September 7, 2007

How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy

Author: Orson Scott Card
Published: 1990

In the first half of the book, a very slim volume and a quick scan/read, there are interesting bits. Some history of SF, the distinctions between SF and Fantasy and why they are important and why, ultimately, they don't matter much. Pleasant to read.

The second half pretty much focuses on how to write, though not as much about how to write SF and Fantasy.

Which brings up the second book (this is a two-for-one bonus post!): Characters and Viewpoints.

Cheryl Mills cautioned me it was quite basic stuff, and it was. A curious choice on Card's part was many (many, many) examples from movies to explain points about writing fiction. Okay book, very much for the beginning writer who does not know the difference between first and third person.