Monday, April 30, 2012

Examples of a Type

I've spent most of the last couple of weeks wandering around Arizona.

We had a long list of things we wanted to do. One of those things was to visit Tombstone, which has become something akin to a western RenFaire (except with fewer of the visitors bothering with costumes). The buildings are in great condition, and as much of the feel of the old mining town as possible has been preserved.

Of course, we can blame the Earps and the Clantons for this. If it wasn't for their famous gunfight, Tombstone would probably have dried up and blown away completely not long after the mines closed. The evocative name probably helps too. (The anecdote is that the guy who found the original silver claim was told that he would find 'nothing but your own tombstone out there'). It was probably inevitable that an old western town would be preserved in this manner, but the O.K. Corral made sure it was this one.

Another of our destinations was the one surviving Titan missile silo...a cold war edifice that carries with it a certain darkness. All of the other silos were deliberately blown up when they were decommissioned so they could never be used, and there are no longer any Titan missiles. They proved quite useful for launching satellites to low earth orbit. Except this one, which was deliberately preserved as a museum (the missile in the silo is a dummy that was used to train crews on maintenance and installing and removing the warhead, and could not be fired).

All of this got me thinking. It seems humans like to preserve what they consider to be 'classic examples' of a type. We like to make sure we keep 'at least one' of everything we've built. Just in case. To learn from, or whatever. Does this speak to some human tendency to just want to make sure that we have the things we have moved on from? Just in case we ever do need them again. I think that might well be the case. And in the case of things we want to make sure we never need again, like ICBMs, we preserve to remind ourselves why we don't want to need them again...

Friday, April 27, 2012

I'm back...

And unusually for me, I didn't ride any horses while on vacation.


No horses at all.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Heading out...

I'm heading out of town. This means there will likely be no more posts for two weeks. (Assuming I don't get inspired and post from a hotel somewhere).

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Tongues of Serpents (Review)

Since I was first introduced to them I've been a huge fan of Naomi Novik's Temeraire series. The best snap description I can give for the uninitiated is 'Master and Commander...with dragons'.

The series begins with Captain Will Lawrence of the Royal Navy capturing a French frigate. On it is a rare prize - an unhatched dragon egg. As everyone knows, if a dragon is to become civilized and manageable, it must be 'harnessed' at hatching by a human companion. (The harness is quite literal). Henceforth, its affection for its companion or 'captain' is what controls the great beast. And this egg is about to hatch. Lawrence's life is turned upside down when the dragon will accept no hand but his. As captain to Temeraire he must leave the navy to which he has dedicated his life to become one of the admired, yet shunned aviators of Her Majesty's Aerial Corps. He has to adjust to the lax discipline of the corps...and to the hidden, shocking scandal of female officers being held as in every way equal to men (Britain's most valued and feared dragons, the acid spitting longwings, will accept only women as captains).

From there it continues...a rollicking good read the entire way, with thematic undertones of racism and the evils of slavery.

Tongues of Serpents is the most recent volume...and I wish I could honestly recommend it.

Lawrence and Temeraire have been struck from the service in disgrace and exiled to Australia, where they must deal with the unpleasant governor Bligh, politics, rebellion and the monsters of the interior. Sadly? That's about all of a plot there is. The book reads like a travelog and an excuse to explore Australia, whilst really revealing nothing of actual interest. The ending is so wholly unsatisfying that I have ended up both afraid and hopeful that this is the end.

Novik has not entirely lost her touch. Her characters, both human and dragon, are deftly drawn in a few strokes. Temeraire is, as ever, far more adorably cute than a dragon the size of a small ship has any right to be (especially when, much to his mortification, the dragon surgeon forbids him to speak). It really is a lot of fun, but it lacks substance and satisfaction.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

An old theory...

One of the things that has fascinated scientists and science fiction types for a long time is the idea of seeding.

The base idea is that life on Earth did not start on Earth. In the more fantastic versions, an elder civilization planted life here. The more feasible ones blame comets and other interstellar debris.

Now a man named Mauri Valtonen has proposed an alternative - that other planets may have been seeded with life from Earth. He's looking for stars that formed close to the sun in hope of proving his theory.

Here's the thing, though. If we find DNA-based life on a star that formed close to the sun and it really looks like it's the same life - how do we know which was first? We're talking a very long time ago in the very early stages of the development of life.

It could give a new meaning to 'chicken and egg'.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Return to Space

How did we end up here?

We put a guy on the moon...and now the US has no manned space capability. The three surviving space shuttles...Discovery, Endeavour and Atlantis...are heading to new homes in museums.

Discovery will be ferried to the Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles airport next week. She will replace the Enterprise, which has been in display there for several years (The Enterprise was a test rig that never flew under its power and has no engines...she will be moved to the USS Intrepid).

Atlantis is staying put at the Cape, and will be housed in the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Endeavour will be sent to the California Science Center for the benefit of those on the west coast.

(And guess who cleverly planned a vacation and will miss Discovery being flown over the Mall).

So. Now we're reduced to hiring space on other people's rockets. Did we really win the space race?

Perhaps, right now, nobody did, but that may well change.

The earliest days of aviation began with a few adventurers. But then, it became the province of the military.

Now, an ordinary person can plan to fly halfway around the world...but the military did not do that. It was private companies that took aviation from something crazy people did to a routine matter.

Now, it's time for the same thing to happen with spaceflight. We will remember Armstrong and his fellows the way we remember Lindbergh or Earnhart.

We don't really remember William Boeing or Henri Ziegler, but they are just as important...Henri Ziegler founded Boeing's major rival Airbus.

But I hope that we *will* remember some of these names: Burt Rutan, Richard Branson, Elon Musk. These are the men who are putting their money where their mouth is and forming the companies that will take us into the era of routine, commercial space flight. Rutan's Sealed Composites and Musk's SpaceX may well be the Boeing and Airbus of space travel and Branson's Virgin Galactic is the world's first commercial space carrier.

If any of us set foot on Mars, it will not be because of pure science, as worthy a goal as that is, but because we want to go there and there are those willing to make it first for the rich, but eventually for the rest of us.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Thoughts on Hunger Games

I've been something of a 'bad' woman...I haven't read Hunger Games yet. This has more to do with my still massive reading list than anything else.

I have, however, seen the movie. Which I'm told is considerably inferior to the books. Hopefully I'll manage to confirm that for myself soon.

What struck me the most is that my understanding of the books was wrong. Of course, given I always intended to get around to reading them, I've tried to avoid detailed reviews and spoilers, but honestly?

I thought it was YA Running Man. Who remembers that movie? Arnold Schwarzenegger and lethal game shows. Part of the message of Running Man was competition taken too far.

The same message lies in Hunger Games, but it's not about game shows. It's about the pageant industry. (And yes, it is also about class warfare and poverty, but...) The entire format of the Hunger Games as shown in the movie was that of a pageant. And every year, young women (mostly) do crazy things to win pageants. And mothers do even crazier things to get their daughters, sometimes their very young daughters, to win pageants. Who remembers the fake boob incident?

That's all I'm going to say, except to also note that the concept owes a lot to the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Why I don't have a long blog post today...

...because I spent all morning buying a new water pitcher. No kidding. It's just been one of those days. Now about all I want to do is veg, and I have a script to edit.

Ah well. Life goes on.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A cool anthology idea

L.D. Robwell is putting together an anthology he calls 'Mystic Punk'.

I'd explain it, but he does a far better job of it on the Indie-Go-Go page here.

Indie-Go-Go is a little bit like Kickstarter and the campaign is to pay the authors and to advertise the anthology. There are some really cool perks on offer including home made post cards and promotion for your own projects. And copies of the book, of course. I don't normally ask for money, but this is a fun project and I'd like to see it go ahead in full force. Especially as it will contain my literary (eek, yeah, I wrote something that could be called literary) urban fantasy short 'Shards of Color'. If the goal isn't met, then the book will have to be smaller and some stories may have to be left out. If it is, then Robert's going to take more submissions. Sounds good?

Okay...I need to go back to editing stories now.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Characters and Gender

I just got into an interesting conversation on G+.

One of the BBC's April Fool's jokes this year was that the next Doctor after Matt Smith would be a woman. It's already been canonically stated that Time Lords can change sex when they regenerate.

This opened a discussion on changing historically and traditionally male characters to females. Generally, this is seen with older books being adapted to movies. Modern writers tend to assume that if they do not have a strong female character, they will lose the female audience.

In the case of the Doctor this is a stupid argument - the Doctor himself is truly alien and the characters the viewer identifies with are his Companions - who have included many strong female characters such as Donna, Ace, Sarah Jane or the delightful Jo (and many who were not so strong - Tegan and Mel come to mind).

It's no doubt the argument used by the makers of the American Sherlock Holmes series to transform Dr Watson into a woman (uh, no). In the new BSG, Starbuck became Kara Thrace (although the actress did a bang up job of it, so I don't mind that one so much).

Here is the thing. Women and men are not interchangeable. If you change a character's sex, they become a completely different character. Furthermore, Lord of the Rings proved that you don't lose the female audience - Tolkein wrote very few major female characters and the only change made was to give Arwen a slightly larger role. They did not turn any of the Company into women. Thankfully.

I'm a woman and don't get me wrong, I love to see strong female characters. However, when you change a character's sex, you change all of the dynamics. How can Holmes and Watson have the relationship they do if one of them is a woman? A better approach would be to add a new character or give a larger role to an existing female character, if you really feel that you 'need' a strong woman to attract a female audience.

And guess don't always.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A while ago...

A while ago I blogged about prospective employers demanding Facebook passwords...and got comments on G+ in which I wasn't believed.

Now, the story has exploded. A teacher has been fired for refusing to provide her password (Admittedly, the school district had probable cause, but...)

So, I'm going to, once more, remind that giving anyone your Facebook password is breach of your contract with Facebook. you really want somebody working for you who will break a contract with somebody else?

Facebook is also threatening to sue companies that demand that users hand over their passwords. Whatever you feel about Facebook, they're definitely on the side they should be - that of their users.

Monday, April 2, 2012

My dirty secret...

Look who didn't post yesterday.

My dirty secret - I don't like April Fool's Day. On the face of it, an entire holiday devoted to laughter is a good thing. However, my sense of humor is so off-ball that I find 99% of April Fool's day pranks to be just plain annoying rather than remotely funny.

Ah well. It's another month, and more chances for success.