Saturday, September 27, 2014

What I'm reading: 2312


When I finish a book I'm always straight onto the next one, so I'm writing about this book having started it recently. It's 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson. Here are some linked thoughts on it.

It's set two centuries into a future where the solar system is being colonised - planets, moons and asteroids. This is not a new theme, but I've read another book? about this recently so from that unrepresentative sample, it appears to be a popular topic. When I was younger happily read books about hyperspace and faster than light travel, and although I can't remember for sure, I probably assumed that someone would invent a way of doing it, or maybe I didn't care that it was actually impossible. Now that we're well into the 21st Century and physics has got pretty deep into the atom, and far back in time, it looks like nothing's going to happen on that front anytime soon. Travel to the nearest exoplanet is approaching feasible (conference on charlie stross's blog about this) but there are places to go nearer to home - planets, moons and asteroids. So it's an SF novel about a plausible future.

The plot also shares some similarities with another novel - Blue Remembered Earth - I've read recently, in that it's about the unravelling of a puzzle after someone dies by chasing round the solar system. I don't know if this is a coincidence or a new sub-sub-genre.

I saw Kim Stanley Robinson at a panel at Worldcon on "The Pleasures of a Good, Long Info-Dump". Cory Doctorow was also on the panel and asked him a lot of questions. It was interesting, but skewed the panel to mostly be about those two. He's one of those authors who I'd heard a lot about, possibly due to his Mars trilogy, but I've never read any of his books.This novel contains a few Info-dumps in interstitial chapters, showing his working on his world-building and filling in the history between now and when it's set.

I came across the word "spacer" in it, and it took me back to a song by Sheila B. Devotion with the same title. I remember being surprised when it came out in 1979. My experience of SF, apart from Star Wars and Close Encounters, was all in books so to hear a song about it was a genre-crossing experience. A couple of weeks ago I was listening to an Italo disco show by Ana Matronic and she played a song by Charlie called Spacer Woman, released in 1983. I've never heard of Italo disco, so there's a whole historical genre to explore.

Finally, for now, I came across this a couple of days ago - Habitasteroids. It riffs of the fact that in the books a number of asteroids have been hollowed out, or tented over, and contain human friendly habitats. It answers the question
If you wanted to start a colony with your friends on Twitter, which asteroid would you need?
When I ran it a couple of days ago the answer for me was Cambridge, and now it's Acapulco.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Meeting Maggie Philbin and Stephen Fry in my living room

Tomorrow's World (along with Top of the Pops) made Thursday evening the best TV evening of the week (in fact the best evening of the week, but that's another story). We would be shown some really cool new inventions, many of which had great potential to change things. I don't remember many of them appearing in normal life though. When I worked for a small electronics company I understood about how much is involved in bringing things to market, and making them on a big enough scale to make enough money to make more.

I remember when the Walkman was first shown, something which did change how music was listened to. My memory of the way it was presented, which many be flawed, was that the revolutionary part was not the small tape mechanism, but the headphones. The inventors had found a way to get good quality sound from a tiny speaker, because after all, who wants to walk around with a big pair of headphones on?



I also remember when the digital camera was first shown. Although it was new, I thought, "of course, break a picture down into pixels and store it digitally". Not that making it wasn't an achievement, but it was a logical outcome of pixels. Again, my memory may be frail, but I think at the same time they showed a thermal printer so you could get the pictures "developed" relatively quickly.

My Dad (he too was a fan) had a book based on the series which I read several times. The presenters that were on it when I was watching were Raymond Baxter, the founder of the show, William Woollard, Michael Rodd, Kieran Prendiville, Judith Hann and Maggie Philbin. Do those names bring back memories for you? I heard a story many years ago from someone who had an invention featured on the programme. Judith was demonstrating it and in order to make something happen she needed to press three keys. Someone thought this was too prone to failure, for whatever reason. So instead she pressed a key on fake keyboard and the inventor pressed the three keys on the real keyboard.

What I didn't know until I looked up the programme on Wikipedia just now, was that there were many other presenters, and it ran for many more years than when I stopped watching, which was probably some time in the mid-80s, while I was at University.

Given that history I was very pleased when Maggie Philbin appeared on Bang Goes the Theory earlier this year. The programme had transformed itself from a fun and games science show to showing the science behind the news. I'm happy with either, but I wonder if there was pressure to be more educational. I checked on Twitter and Maggie has a twitter account. When Tomorrow's World first came out it was all one way - from the TV (or the book) to our living room. Now I could, should I want to, tweet Maggie and maybe we'd have a conversation in our living room. Stephen Fry is a prolific tweeter and you may end up having a conversation with him too. How far we've come. It's like we're living in the world of tomorrow. Now there's an idea for a TV programme...

Friday, September 19, 2014

Re-entering fandom

Until I went to Worldcon I hadn't done anything you could call fannish for many years. The closest thing I got was reading the blog of someone I've been following for years. I discovered them on a blog directory (yes, such things existed) when I was looking for local people who also blogged. I knew them as Coalescent but I didn't know much about them. The blog was mostly book reviews

In hunting around the internet after Worldcon I found that he, for it is a he, is Niall Harrison, editor of Strange Horizons and he lives in Oxford, which is sort of local.

The Hugo Awards, voted on and awarded at Worldcon, includes entries for best fanzine. I wrote previously about how doing a fanzine required "confidence and work". That was in the days of paper, but now we have digital publications a blog counts as a fanzine, for the winner was (look a digital link) A Dribble of Ink edited by Aidan Moher. It has previews of cover art, guest articles, reviews, and other good stuff.

With blogs all that copying and distribution is done away with, so not so much confidence is needed. That doesn't mean it doesn't need work though, for here is Exhibit B, the second place fanzine, Book Smugglers. Not only does it have a fantastic rate of quality output it even has a publishing schedule every Sunday. The two people who run it have day jobs so they must spend a lot of time on reading and writing. I'm very impressed.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The seventh wave is not the biggest

Listening again to the Ninth Wave suite on Hounds of Love, and inspired by xkcd's graphs I drew this based on searches on allmusic.com.


Those slightly wiggly lines are drawn with more skill than it looks.

Raw data for those really interested.
1 132227
2 105959
3 75735
4 119380
5 71926
6 67014
7 108539
8 74096
9 64234
19 69869