Friday, 10 February 2012

Book Report #38 - San Francisco's Powell Street Cable Cars

Images of Rail
Emiliano Echeverria and Walter Rice

In preparation for my trip to San Francisco I bought this book for some insight into the famous cable cars.

The book itself is dedicated mostly to archival photos with lots of informative captions. What narrative there is in the book is used mostly to explain the differing eras of the system.

I had no idea their history would be so colourful. The system was always under threat of closure; it was first saved by the citizens of SF in a 1947 vote; then the system itself was designated a national historic landmark in January, 1964. From 1982 to 1984 the entire system was shut down and essentially replaced and rebuilt.

The book was wonderful; full of interesting stories. I'm glad I read it and I can't wait to step on to one. Considering what I now know about them, a ride will be very special to me.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Classic Science Fiction

Wow!  If you are in to classic/vintage science fiction then point your computer-machine to Armchair Fiction.

I found out about this publisher while reading the January/February 2012 issue of Analog magazine in the reference library section on page 181.

Armchair sells short story collections, novels and doubles.  Just look at some of these covers and you'll get the idea.  Sounds like campy fun.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Magazine Review #5 - Analog, January-February 2012

Triggers (Part 1 of 4) by Robert J. Sawyer:  I don't read enough of Sawyer's work; a Canadian SF author who has such a clean, easy to read way of telling a story.  Set in the near future USA, terrorists are hard at it; many bombings have occurred all over the US.  The story opens with the shooting of the president as he's delivering a speech at the Lincoln Memorial.  He's rushed to the hospital.

Meanwhile, at the same hospital, a doctor is trying to help a patient cope with post traumatic stress.  He's developed a new technology to help and is using it on his patient while the president is in surgery in the next room.

A bomb is detonated emitting an electromagnetic pulse that effects the treatment and has dire consequences that we only begin to understand in this installment.

This story should appeal to all kinds of people; action thriller types, conspiracy fans, medical science fans, etc.  I really enjoyed the story so far.  Lucky me I received the next issue in the mail last week!

An Interstellar Incident by Catherine Shaffer: The quite funny story of a person trying to host a dinner party for human and alien, the Tuladan, dignitaries.  The trouble comes in the form of how to host a polite, inoffensive dinner when each species is disgusted by each others' eating habits.

Listen Up, Nitwits by Jack McDevitt Another rather funny story; this one about how humanity is saved from World War III.  There is a rather hart-warming yet sad twist ending that I liked.

Probability Zero - Return of the Zombie Sea Monster by Michael F. Flynn:  A fun bit of two-page flash fiction about a cast of characters trapped in a world of cliches.

The Alternate View - Talking About My Generation by Jeffery D. Kooistra:  In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Kooistra, who is a freelance physics consultant, writes about changing the methods of producing electricity from current nuclear technology.  It's been long known that there are safer methods of producing nuclear energy and that is what is discussed in this essay.  I found it fascinating.

If the subject interests you Kooistra suggests you start at this website -

Special Feature - What Science Means to Me by Jerry Oltion:  The beauty of the scientific method and living in a scientific age is discussed.  Oltion also lightly touches on theology and its conflicting views with science.  A well thought out essay.

Humanity by Proxy by Mark Niemann-Ross This was a touching story that was connected by the invention of a useful military tool; something called a sawhorse.  Think of mechanical pack mule and you'll get the idea.  The story starts off in June of 2114 Tiffany is a healthy 111 year old but is suffering from Alzheimer's and along with medication is provided with a sawhorse to keep her safe in case she gets lost.

Tiffany's connection to the sawhorse is revealed as the story progress backwards in time to June 2092.

This was a touching little story that still proves how military spending can positively affect our lives. It's so ironic to think that tools designed to help us kill each other can then be turned around and used in a different way.

Ninety Thousand Horses by Sean McMullen An alternate history, steam punk story that was just wonderful.  I was completely taken in by it.  The story begins in the middle of World War II, 1943, Bletchley Park where a story is told about how a mad-scientist type invented a rocket back in 1899.

I don't usually read steam punk but I really do love the look and feel of it and I was not disappointed with this story.  The author has a fertile mind.

Special Feature - Theme: The Art of Writing "About" Something by Richard A. Lovett:  The creative process is endlessly fascinating to me.  I'm always watching the DVD extras and eat up interviews with authors.  Anybody who can site Joss Whedon in an essay has my attention.  I really enjoyed this piece.

Project Herakles by Stephen Baxter:  Another alternate history story this time set in 1960's Britain during Harold Wilson's time as Prime Minister.  It touches on the coup attempt of the time and adds giants to the story.  Yep, giants.

The story was okay, I enjoyed the story line that dealt with the coup more than the giants plot line.  The ending was quite cartoony but there was no other way to sort out the story.

Doctor Alien and the Spindles of Infinity by Rajnar Vajra:  Great title - too bad I couldn't make it past the first few pages of the story.  I found it so boring that I just gave up on it.


Confession time - I hate aliens.  They bore the fuck out of me.  So many pages are spent on describing alien physiology, alien culture, alien communication, alien history ..... Come on!  Get on with the story!  As soon as I see tentacles you've lost me.

I didn't mind the aliens of Star Trek simply because the were extrapolation, distillations, if you will, of the human condition.  Klingons = violence, war and honor.  Ferengi = capitalism.  Vulcans = intelligence and knowledge.  Romulans = suspicion and secrecy.  They help explore the human condition which is pretty much what all story telling is about.  Trying to talk to a big pile of goo is just not interesting.  Sure, if it really happened that way then yes, you'd have to figure it out.  But in a story, meant to entertain, it's just not interesting. To me.

Comment -  I'm worried that I'm getting too old for the Science Fiction of the day.  Having been born in 1965 I was surrounded by Soviets, Americans, Moon Landings, Space Probes and general Space Enthusiasm.  In the fiction of today, as in the reality of today, space seldom comes up in conversation or political policy so it probably makes sense that there are no longer stories of humans exploring or trying to make a living in space.  It saddens me because these are the stories I want to read and they are becoming less common.

I want to read stories where humans live, work and play in space.  The story could take place on Earth so long as there are ships out there that a character can board and get off-planet.  I want space travel to be as common as air travel as common a driving a car.  Rember the wonderful quote between Wash and  Zoe on Firefly?

Wash: That sounds like something out of science-fiction.
Zoë: We live in a spaceship, dear.
Wash: So?

That's what I'm talking about.

If anybody can make suggestions for my reading that will give me the above, please let me know.