Follow by Email

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Stars are Ours; Andre Norton


The Stars are Ours by Andre Norton

This is one of a series of review of old favorites of mine that started me on my path to being an author and of books that I believe can still charm and inspire.

The Star are Ours is one of the first Norton books I read.  It’s set in a post apocalyptic world, where a terrorist incident has damaged the world in a number of ways.  Scientists rather than politicians were blamed for the disaster and became hunted.  This novel is set in what appears to be the northern middle states of the US near the Rocky Mountains.  Here that lingering strain of anti-intellectualism has given rise to the pernicious philosophy of Pax.  People are divided into Peacemen, peasantry and slaves (former scientists, teachers and anyone who disagrees with the Peacemen.)

 Struggling in poverty in a small cabin are Dard Nordis, who grew up in this fallen world with practical woodsmen skills, his brother Lars a scientist and Dessie, the youngest sister and a gifted child in the most meaningful way.  Dessie has an empathic gift that allows her to communicate on at least a basic level with most animals, less communication than a way to use her feelings to encourage trust. 

Lars, a cripple is in secret communication with the last Free Scientists hidden in their mountain fortress.  He is too ill to be taken there but he is essential to their plan, to escape the current Dark Age of Earth on the last starship, a sleeper ship.  Lars finishes his work on the plan just as the world comes crashing in on them in the form of the long dreaded Pax raid.  Lars dies but not before entrusting Dard and Dessie with the coded information.  A contact picks them up in the frozen woods and takes them to the mountain fortress.  Dard can only try to demonstrate his value to the Scientists, volunteering to a raid into Pax HQ to access the computer that the Peacemen have raised, in an unintentional irony, to the status of an oracle.  The raid is successful but brings a swift reprisal as Paxers follow them to the mountain fortress.  Dard fights with the rearguard to allow the ship to escape but the battle while successful is costly.  There is now room on the starship for him.  In perhaps the best scene of this type that I have read, the ship and Dard escape.  He falls into the cold sleep never knowing if he will awaken.

 He does and here is where the book goes into glorious overdrive.  Ad Astra “to the stars” we go.  The exhausted and now ancient ship finds a livable world after perhaps a century or more of travel.  A small group is awakened, Dard among them as the ship lands, on the world they name Astra.  They must land, they ship can carry them no further.

Astra is a fascinating world; they land in an isolated headland near a beach to begin their discovery of their new home.  Soon they learn that the world is not untouched, a great civilization of apparently ruthless power from its ruins. 

While Dessie fits in with the scientific community, short as it is on children.  Dard is restless not having the education to help the community, until he is recruited for the scouting party, other soldiers and hunters who will learn the world’s secrets.  Traps and monsters await them among the ruins, as well as unexpected treasures.  Finally it is Dessie who makes contact with the mer-people, former slaves of the master race who ruled and ruined the planet, determined to remain free of “Those Others” a species so alien that it may be that there can be no communication between them and others save with weapons.

So the scientists have fled one war-wracked world for another but with the help of their new found friends they hope to make a safe home on this ancient world.

The strength of the piece is Dard, the alienated teen, old before his years with the weight of suffering and woe, who none-the –less finds ways and places to fit in and contribute in a world he thought had no use for him.  Who among us has not felt this way?

The book as is usual for Norton is without romance but considering the POV of its main character and his harsh and narrow world.  Still this is a YA and sexuality was something Norton was always oblique about.  Some may find the language simple but there is strength to this basic clear writing.  Enjoy








Wednesday, December 21, 2011

In Defense of Human Spaceflight

“And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close, with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good earth.” Frank Boreman Apollo 8 “Robotic exploration is to real exploration as masturbation is to glorious, loving sex.”- Anonymous Nothing is more irrelevant than the supposition, even if true, that robots can carry out space exploration better than humans can. The exploration of space is not only a matter of thrust ratios, frequencies and angstroms; it is a matter both of our survival and of our spiritual and moral growth as a species. Are we merely dust that through some accident of cosmic proportions has become aware of itself? Are we the only life in all the long, lonely, light-years? Or are we travelers in time and space on a journey searching for “The Meaning of it All?” That search proceeds outward in every direction every day. Down into the microbe and the most basic bits of life, outward into the heavens at the limits of visual, X-ray and radio telescopes. In the quiet moments when we contemplate the universe in our individual lives, whether in a monk’s meditation at a monastery, a child’s prayer or the appreciation of some wild and untouched place. This is the distinction between us and our machines. The plucky rovers on Mars are not plucky- that is anthropomorphism. Nor are they exhilarated by the awe and mystery that reaches from, “the inner mind to the Outer Limits.” They will never call back from Mars saying, “Mars is so cool!” and refer to anything more than the temperature. They are not self-aware. They have no possibility of an existence after this, no chance that they could ever be more than they are at this moment.
Can’t we get our thrills secondhand? No. A camera is not an eye and a rover is not a person. Does anyone believe that Sojourner on Mars had the impact of Neil Armstrong’s “One small step for man?” on our moon? We go to the ocean depths, the clouds and the vacuum beyond, not merely for commerce, not only to fight our battles, but to gain new perspectives on our condition, and ourselves new measurements for our awareness. To anyone who has seen the Mona Lisa in person, seeing it on TV or in an art book is meaningless. The original cannot be captured, it must be experienced.


Perhaps a better example came from my own experience.  My wife and I were walking at the wonderful Asheville zoo.  We were on a stairway; unbeknownst to us we were just outside the lion’s exhibit.  A lion roared.  I’ve heard the MGM lion do it at movies for years.  But this wasn’t a recording.  It was a real lion at point blank range and it bypassed our conscious minds to hit our hindbrains first.  My wife flew up the stairs in a blur.  Black belt that I am, I snapped around in a fighting stance faster than ever before.  A classic example of fight-flight reflexes, for all that my only chance against the lion would have been to choke it to death by stuffing myself down its gullet.  You can watch “Animal Planet” until hell freezes over and it will not for one instant, approximate the reality of what is like to hear a lion roar in person.

There are of course the usual arguments against humans in space.  But let’s start with an examination of that statement, “humans in space.”  Humanity is now and has always been “in space.”  The thing in the sky is a G-2 main sequence star perhaps halfway through its lifespan.  Its attributes govern every second of our existence on this ball of rock we live on.  We are in space every moment of our life.  The so-called “realists” who think of space as something outré, that doesn’t involve them, suffer from myopia of epic proportions, like an astronomer who looks through the wrong end of a telescope.

Space has and can intrude on even their parochial world in an instant.  October 29, 2003 - the Halloween Storm - spawned auroras that were seen over most of North America.  Extensive satellite problems were reported, including the loss of the $450 million Midori-2 research satellite.  A huge solar storm impacted the Earth, just 19 hours after leaving the sun.  Days later on November 4, 2003, one of the most powerful X-ray flares ever detected swamped the sensors of dozens of satellites, causing satellite operations anomalies.  Astronauts hid as deep as they could go in the International Space Station, but still reported radiation effects including ocular “shooting stars.”

Meteor Crater lies thirty-five miles from Flagstaff, Arizona.  It dates from an impact 50,000 years ago.  We were here.  We just weren’t under that one as humans hadn't reached North America.  Which is good, as this was a 2.5 megaton wake-up call.  That was utterly dwarfed by the 1908 event in Tunguska, Siberia.  That event, thought to be an airburst of a bit of cosmic flotsam, was in the 10-15 megaton range, right up there with a strategic-level hydrogen fusion bomb.  These cosmic marbles aren’t gone and there is nothing that says Earth’s orbit is sacrosanct from them just because we have cell phones, cable TV and it would be gosh darn inconvenient for us to stop a thirty-five mile long rock at 45,000 mph. 

Mars is due to get one of those later this year.  It will come in over one of the Mars rovers, who will not note it with anything other than detached mechanical efficiency, if their limited instrument packages allow them to take any note at all.  We will get to see it on TV, but there, my friends, for the grace of God, go we.

I remember looking up at comet Hale-Bopp during its last approach to Earth.  While others were enjoying the cosmic light show (and I won’t claim to be immune to that) I did realize that I was looking at global species extinction mere light-minutes away, had the orbit been a little different.  A miss is as good as a mile with cosmic bowling but you are playing for all the marbles.  When you look at the moon, realize that you are looking at a body created because something hit the good earth we’re standing on, hard enough to tear that bit off and hurl it into the sky.  If that is too big for you, too out there and distant for your contemplation, go stand by Upheaval dome in Utah. 

But a mere chunk of rock is survivable.  It’s not likely to get all of us.  Though it could.  Even if it didn’t wipe us all out, would a technic civilization ever arise again?  We’ve mined most of the easily reachable resources around.  Could we start over again?

There are greater terrors in space that could whiff out our planet like a child blows out a candle on a birthday cake.  We can protect ourselves and our genetic heritage from some of them.  Asteroids might be pushed or blasted away from us but if a gamma ray burst goes off in our local area of space, well, game over.  Even basic levels of local space control will entail investment in infrastructure in space that dwarf all we have done to date.  We will need stations and not merely something like the International Space Station, but true factories, colonial stations and deep-space ships.  This can’t be thrown together from nothing, despite what Bruce Willis’ did in “Armageddon.”



Some of the “robot-firsters” will decry manned space, their advocacy exceeding that of Asimov’s Susan Calvin, “It’s too expensive.” They will be joined by the social engineers, “We need all the money to solve our problems down here on Earth.” 

Disabuse yourself of the notion that if all Earth’s miniscule space budgets were plowed into the social budgets of countries, that there would be a measurable decrease in the world’s problems.  Trillions have been poured into anti-poverty programs.  Whether this has been effective or not is a discussion for another place- however one must notice that poverty, ignorance and warfare are doing quite well.  If they were a stock they might have gone up like you hope your 401K would.  In any event, the world’s space budget is a mere rounding error on social spending.

Even more fundamentally, the two issues are unrelated.  Space is a technological battle with a social component.  Poverty is a political and social problem and far less a scientific one.  It is related to the nature of our species and its existence.  Or as my Dad put it in the most basic terms, “ If at the beginning of time you gave everyone in the world a refrigerator, at the end of the first month there would be those with a thousand refrigerators and those with none.”  And so it will always be.

Space is not simply a hole into which money that could be better used for food stamps or worker retraining is flushed.  It fundamentally helps economies and the poor.  The single most powerful example of this is the weather satellite.  Storms that sank ships and destroyed cities are now spotted early enough for avoidance and evacuation.  Farmers have the ability to plan for weather and crop management in a way their ancestors could not have dreamed of. 

Communication satellites make the world one huge party line.  The president of the United States and the premier of China can speak in real-time.  A doctor in New York City can diagnose and help treat an appendectomy in Antarctica.  On a more basic level, electronics have become so reliable they are almost taken for granted.  We have computer chips, solar cells, biomedical sensors, cell phones, blackberrys and laptops from the space program’s drive for technology.

Other may piously intone that we should not go out in to space until we get our act together as a species.  The idea that we must somehow correct all of Earth’s ills or somehow evolve to a pure state of political organization is naiveté.  Or if it is not, it may well be that in exploring space we will gain the perspectives needed to allow change to come.  Perhaps we will truly come to see Spaceship Earth as the small fragile place it is, with no safe place to leave our hazardous junk and no crew who are unimportant.  Earthrise on the moon made a seachange in how we see ourselves and our little blue marble.  The rise of the world-wide ecological movement has some root in the arid soil of the moon.

But there is no sign on the cosmic rollercoaster that says you must be this tall and morally evolved to take this ride.  I do not see our species changing that much as we head to the stars.  We are man most mortal and doomed to die (for all we are putting it off as far as we can each generation).  We will lie, pollute and corruptly make our way among the stars.  And why not?  We were not made as angels and we will not become angels anytime soon.  We were not required to be angels when we left the cave, when we left Africa, when we walked the land bridge into America and when we sailed from Europe.  The sanctimonious, who set themselves over the rest of us in judgment, will probably never find us fit enough for the stars.  Had it been left to them we’d still be in caves. 

Our machines are our tools and servants, good ones too.  We will take them with us and occasionally send them ahead for there will be hells in the galaxy that no mother’s child should face.  We will leave some of those to our mechanical friends.  But if our footprints do not overtake their tires and tracks, if we do not confront God’s handiwork and wrest from it the “meaning of it all” then we might have as well stayed home with our Xbox, playing HALO and watching Lucas and Spielberg’s more interesting pictures of space.  Or perhaps in the anteroom to Hell we will meet the dinosaurs-they will look at us and say with sympathy born of a mutual fate.  “Asteroid?  Bummer.  So you didn’t have a space program either?”    









Sidebar Spacer Spinoffs (Editors Note this can obviously be as short or long as serves your purposes)



Computer Technology - NASA Spinoffs

SEMICONDUCTOR CUBING - NASA initiative led to the Memory Short Stack, a three-dimensional semiconductor package in which dozens of integrated circuits are stacked one atop another to form a cube, offering faster computer processing speeds, higher levels of integration, lower power requirements than conventional chip sets, and dramatic reduction in the size and weight of memory-intensive systems, such as medical imaging devices.

STRUCTURAL ANALYSIS - This NASA program, originally created for spacecraft design, has been employed in a broad array of non-aerospace applications, such as the automobile industry, manufacture of machine tools, and hardware designs.

AIR QUALITY MONITOR - Utilizing a NASA-developed, advanced analytical technique software package, an air quality monitor system was created, capable of separating the various gases in bulk smokestack exhaust streams and determining the amount of individual gases present within the stream for compliance with smokestack emission standards.

VIRTUAL REALITY - NASA-developed research allows a user, with assistance from advanced technology devices, to figuratively project oneself into a computer-generated environment, matching the user's head motion, and, when coupled with a stereo viewing device and appropriate software, creates a telepresence experience.



Consumer/Home/Recreation - NASA Spinoffs

ENRICHED BABY FOOD - A microalgae-based, vegetable-like oil called Formulaid developed from NASA-sponsored research on long duration space travel, contains two essential fatty acids found in human milk but not in most baby formulas, believed to be important for infants' mental and visual development.

WATER PURIFICATION SYSTEM - NASA-developed municipal-size water treatment system for developing nations, called the Regenerable Biocide Delivery Unit, uses iodine rather than chlorine to kill bacteria.

SCRATCH-RESISTANT LENSES - A modified version of a dual ion beam bonding process developed by NASA involves coating the lenses with a film of diamond-like carbon that not only provides scratch resistance, but also decreases surface friction, reducing water spots.

POOL PURIFICATION - Space technology designed to sterilize water on long-duration spacecraft applied to swimming pool purification led to a system that uses two silver-copper alloy electrodes that generate silver and copper ions when an electric current passes through them to kill bacteria and algae without chemicals.

RIBBED SWIMSUIT - NASA-developed riblets applied to competition swimsuits resulted in flume testing of 10 to 15 percent faster speeds than any other world class swim-suit due to the small, barely visible grooves that reduce friction and aerodynamic drag by modifying the turbulent airflow next to the skin.

GOLF BALL AERODYNAMICS - A recently designed golf ball, which has 500 dimples arranged in a pattern of 60 spherical triangles, employs NASA aerodynamics technology to create a more symmetrical ball surface, sustaining initial velocity longer and producing a more stable ball flight for better accuracy and distance.

PORTABLE COOLERS/WARMERS - Based on a NASA-inspired space cooling system employing thermoelectric technology, the portable cooler/warmer plugs into the cigarette lighters of autos, recreational vehicles, boats, or motel outlets. Utilizes one or two miniaturized modules delivering the cooling power of a 10-pound block of ice and the heating power of up to 125 degrees Fahrenheit.

SPORTS TRAINING - Space-developed cardio-muscular conditioner helps athletes increase muscular strength and cardiovascular fitness through kinetic exercise.

ATHLETIC SHOES - Moon Boot material encapsulated in running shoe midsoles improve shock absorption and provides superior stability and motion control.



Environmental and Resource Management - NASA Spinoffs

MICROSPHERES - The first commercial products manufactured in orbit are tiny microspheres whose precise dimensions permit their use as reference standards for extremely accurate calibration of instruments in research and industrial laboratories. They are sold for applications in environmental control, medical research, and manufacturing.

SOLAR ENERGY - NASA-pioneered photovoltaic power system for spacecraft applications was applied to programs to expand terrestrial applications as a viable alternative energy source in areas where no conventional power source exists.

WEATHER FORECASTING AID - Space Shuttle environmental control technology led to the development of the Barorator which continuously measures the atmospheric pressure and calculates the instantaneous rate of change.

FOREST MANAGEMENT - A NASA-initiated satellite scanning system monitors and maps forestation by detecting radiation reflected and emitted from trees.

SENSORS FOR ENVIRONMENTAL CONTROL - NASA development of an instrument for use in space life support research led to commercial development of a system to monitor an industrial process stream to assure that the effluent water's pH level is in compliance with environmental regulations.

WIND MONITOR - Development of Jimsphere wind measurement balloon for space launches allows for making high resolution measurements of the wind profile for meteorological studies and predictions.

TELEMETRY SYSTEMS - A spinoff company formed to commercialize NASA high-data-rate telemetry technology, manufactures a high-speed processing system for commercial communications applications.

PLANT RESEARCH - NASA research on future moon and Mars bases is investigating using plants for food, oxygen, and water to reduce the need for outside supplies. This research utilizes Hydroponics (liquid nutrient solutions) instead of soil to support plant growth and finds applications for vegetable production on Earth.

FIRE RESISTANT MATERIAL - Materials include chemically-treated fabric for sheets, uniforms for hazardous material handlers, crew's clothing, furniture, interior walls of submersibles and auto racer and refueler suits.

RADIATION INSULATION - Aluminized polymer film is highly effective radiation barrier for both manned and unmanned spacecraft. Variations of this space-devised material are also used as an energy conservation technique for homes and offices. The materials are placed between wall studs and exterior facing before siding or between roof support and roof sheathing. The radiant barrier blocks 95% of radiant energy. Successful retrofit installations include schools and shrink wrap ovens.

purification.





Health and Medicine - NASA Spinoffs



DIGITAL IMAGING BREAST BIOPSY SYSTEM - The LORAD Stereo Guide Breast Biopsy system incorporates advanced Charge Coupled Devices (CCDs) as part of a digital camera system. The resulting device images breast tissue more clearly and efficiently. Known as stereotactic large-core needle biopsy, this nonsurgical system developed with Space Telescope Technology is less traumatic and greatly reduces the pain, scarring, radiation exposure, time, and money associated with surgical biopsies.

BREAST CANCER DETECTION - A solar cell sensor is positioned directly beneath x-ray film, and determines exactly when film has received sufficient radiation and has been exposed to optimum density. Associated electronic equipment then sends a signal to cut off the x-ray source. Reduction of mammography x-ray exposure reduces radiation hazard and doubles the number of patient exams per machine.

LASER ANGIOPLASTY - Laser angioplasty with a "cool" type of laser, caller an excimer laser, does not damage blood vessel walls and offers precise non-surgical cleanings of clogged arteries with extraordinary precision and fewer complications than in balloon angioplasty.

ULTRASOUND SKIN DAMAGE ASSESSMENT - Advanced instrument using NASA ultrasound technology enables immediate assessment of burn damage depth, improving patient treatment, and may save lives in serious burn cases.

HUMAN TISSUE STIMULATOR - Employing NASA satellite technology, the device is implanted in the body to help patient control chronic pain and involuntary motion disorders through electrical stimulation of targeted nerve centers or particular areas of the brain.

COOL SUIT - Custom-made suit derived from space suits circulates coolant through tubes to lower patient's body/ temperature, producing dramatic improvement of symptoms of multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, spina bifida and other conditions.

PROGRAMMABLE PACEMAKER - Incorporating multiple NASA technologies, the system consists of the implant and a physician's computer console containing the programming and a data printer. Communicates through wireless telemetry signals.

OCULAR SCREENING - NASA image processing techniques are used to detect eye problems in very young children. An electronic flash from a 35-millimeter camera sends light into the child's eyes, and a photorefractor analyzes the retinal reflexes, producing an image of each eye.

AUTOMATED URINALYSIS - NASA fluid dynamics studies helped development of system that automatically extracts and transfers sediment from urine sample to an analyzer microscope, replacing the manual centrifuge method.

MEDICAL GAS ANALYZER - Astronaut-monitoring technology used to develop system to monitor operating rooms for analysis of anesthetic gasses and measurement of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen concentrations to assure proper breathing environment for surgery patients.

VOICE-CONTROLLED WHEELCHAIR - NASA teleoperator and robot technology used to develop chair and manipulator that respond to 35 one-word voice commands utilizing a minicomputer to help patient perform daily tasks, like picking up packages, opening doors, and turning on appliances.







Industrial Productivity/Manufacturing Technology - NASA Spinoffs

MAGNETIC LIQUIDS - Based on the NASA-developed ferrofluid concept involving synthetic fluids that can be positioned and controlled by magnetic force, the ferrofluidic seal was initially applied in a zero-leakage, nonwearing seal for the rotating shaft of a system used to make semiconductor chips, solving a persistent problem‹contamination due to leaking seals.

WELDING SENSOR SYSTEM - Laser-based automated welder for industrial use incorporates a laser sensor system originally designed for Space Shuttle External Tank to track the seam where two pieces of metal are to be joined, measures gaps and minute misfits, and automatically corrects the welding torch distance and height.

MICROLASERS - Based on a concept for optical communications over interplanetary distances, microlasers were developed for the commercial market to transmit communication signals and to drill, cut, or melt materials.

MAGNETIC BEARING SYSTEM - Bearings developed from Space Shuttle designs support moving machinery without physical contact, permitting motion without friction or wear, and are now used in electric power generation, petroleum refining, machine tool operation, and natural gas pipelines.

ENGINE LUBRICANT - A NASA-developed plasma-sprayed coating is used to coat valves in a new, ten-inch-long, four-cylinder rotary engine, eliminating the need for lubricating the rotorcam, which has no crankshaft, flywheel, distributor, or water pump.

INTERACTIVE COMPUTER TRAINING - Known as Interactive Multimedia Training (IMT), originally developed to train astronauts and space operations personnel, now utilized by the commercial sector to train new employees and upgrade worker skills, using a computer system that engages all the senses, including text, video, animation, voice, sounds, and music.

HIGH-PRESSURE WATERSTRIPPING - Technology developed for preparing Space Shuttle solid rocket boosters first evolved into the U.S. Air Force's Large Aircraft Robotic Paint Stripping (LARPS) system, and now used in the commercial airline industry, where the waterjet processing reduces coating removal time by 90 percent, using only water at ultra-high pressures up to 55,000 psi.

ADVANCED WELDING TORCH - Based on the Variable Polarity Plasma Arc welding technology, a handheld torch originally developed for joining light alloys used in NASA's External Tank, is now used by major appliance manufacturers for sheet metal welding.





Public Safety - NASA Spinoffs

RADIATION HAZARD DETECTOR - NASA technology has made commercially available new, inexpensive, conveniently carried device for protection of people exposed to potentially dangerous levels of microwave radiation. Weighing only 4 ounces and about the size of a cigarette pack, it can be carried in a shirt pocket or clipped to a belt. Unit sounds an audible alarm when microwave radiation reaches a preset level.

EMERGENCY RESPONSE ROBOT - Remotely-operated robot reduces human injury levels by performing hazardous tasks that would otherwise be handled by humans.

PERSONAL ALARM SYSTEM - Pen-sized ultrasonic transmitter used by prison guards, teachers, the elderly, and disabled to call for help is based on space telemetry technology. Pen transmits a silent signal to receiver that will display the exact location of the emergency.

EMERGENCY RESCUE CUTTERS - Lightweight cutters for freeing accident victims from wreckage developed using NASA pyrotechnic technology.

FIREMAN'S AIR TANKS - Lighter-weight firefighter's air tanks have been developed. New back-pack system weighs only 20 lbs. for 30 minute air supply, 13 lbs. less than conventional firefighting tanks. They are pressurized at 4,500 psia (twice current tanks). A warning device tells the fireman when he or she is running out of air.

PERSONAL STORM WARNING SYSTEM - Lightning detector gives 30-minute warning to golfers, boaters, homeowners, business owners, and private pilots.

SELF-RIGHTING LIFE RAFT - Developed for the Apollo program, fully inflates in 12 seconds and protects lives during extremely adverse weather conditions with self-righting and gravity compensation features.

.






Transportation - NASA Spinoffs

STUDLESS WINTER TIRES - Viking Lander parachute shroud material is adapted and used to manufacture radial tires, increasing the tire material's chainlike molecular structure to five times the strength of steel should increase tread life by 10,000 miles.

BETTER BRAKES - New, high-temperature composite space materials provide for better brake linings. Applications include trucks, industrial equipment and passenger cars.

TOLLBOOTH PURIFICATION - A laminar airflow technique used in NASA clean rooms for contamination-free assembly of space equipment is used at tollbooths on bridges and turnpikes to decrease the toll collector's inhalation of exhaust fumes.

WEIGHT SAVING TECHNOLOGY - NASA research on composite materials is used to achieve a 30-percent weight reduction in a twin-turbine helicopter, resulting in a substantial increase in aircraft performance.

IMPROVED AIRCRAFT ENGINE - Multiple NASA developed technological advancements resulted in a cleaner, quieter, more economical commercial aircraft engine known as the high bypass turbofan, featuring a 10-percent reduction in fuel consumption, lower noise levels, and emission reductions of oxides of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, and unburned hydrocarbons.

ADVANCED LUBRICANTS - An environmental-friendly lubricant designed to support the Space Shuttle Mobile Launcher Platform led to the development of three commercial lubricants for railroad track maintenance, for electric power company corrosion prevention, and as a hydraulic fluid with an oxidation life of 10,000 hours.

ENERGY STORAGE SYSTEM - The Flywheel Energy Storage system, derived from two NASA-sponsored energy storage studies, is a chemical-free, mechanical battery that harnesses the energy of a rapidly spinning wheel and stores it as electricity with 50 times the capacity of a lead-acid battery, very useful for electric vehicles.

NEW WING DESIGN FOR CORPORATE JETS - NASA-developed computer programs resulted in an advanced, lighter, more aerodynamically-efficient new wing for Gulfstream business aircraft.

AIDS TO SCHOOL BUS DESIGN - Manufacturer uses three separate NASA-developed technologies originally developed for aviation and space use in their design and testing of a new school bus chassis. These technologies are a structural analysis computer program infrared stress measurement system, and a ride quality meter system.

Other spinoffs in this area include: Safer bridges, emission testing, airline wheelchairs, electric car, auto








Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Intersection of Man and Machine By Edward McKeown

The Intersection of Man and Machine
By Edward McKeown




The intersection of Man and Machine has yielded countless stories in the field of science fiction and fantasy. From the early days of golems and other inanimate base matter suddenly imbued with life, to the modern tales of self-sacrificing terminators, we the living, have sought companions from unlife. We have created in fiction and reality simulacrums of ourselves, beings of steel, silicon and synthetic flesh.


Why do we do it? Why do we explore this heartless place? Why did Mary Shelly write Frankenstein? Why did Lang’s alluring robot haunt the Metropolis of the future? Why did Asimov devote a lifetime to the tales of the man-machine interface, even coming up with laws for a science that did not then exist?



Clearly we are seeking the “other” to hold up a mirror in which we can examine ourselves and our humanity, in the hope that we can better understand our existence and our place in the universe. We project onto our steel brothers many human traits, including the sin of Cain, from Frankenstein to HAL, to see how they struggle with these moral, ethical and existential dilemmas. Is Gort (from the original Day the Earth Stood still not the mindless remake) an ethical being responsible for a killing two soldiers, or is he like Oswald’s gun, a mere device and guiltless? The robots of our dreams take these situations to new heights, sometimes showing us the better side of ourselves as they face their fates without the frailty and fear that “man most mortal and doomed to die” may show in extremis. Who can forget the Iron Giant offering himself to destruction in an effort to save the humans of the town and thereby defining, who he was…Superman.


In the late 20th century the intersection of man and machine developed a new address at the home of the cyborg, that being born of woman who non-the-less is part machine. The cyborg is not a protagonist using technology, he is the technology.
With this breakthrough come a host of emotional, moral and social themes for the writer to play with. This seem very timely with the XXIX Olympiad going into the history books, where for the first time a discussion has been raised about whether a Para Olympian, with his prosthetic replacements is in any sense disabled. His artificial limbs do not fatigue, nor stress like mere flesh and bone. His heart, relieved of the need to pump blood to such a distance, operates more effectively. We still think of prosthetics as emergency replacements for body parts lost to disease or mischance, but for how much longer? What if our crackberry, I-pod addicted, spinnerhead children begin to look at these mechanical replacements as improvements on their healthy limbs? Maybe there should be a red-light at this part of the intersection?
Why not go even further and dispose of the whole ad-hoc, fragile and doomed human body? Evolution is a terrible manufacturer. It just gets you to breeding age. Period. Then it's done and cares not a jot if and when you die. But we care; we want to be immortal.


How many of us would opt for life “in a can?” This theme was explored by Neil R Jones in his Professor Jameson adventures in which the brain of a dead human is resurrected by aliens, who add him to their crew of sexless, robotic adventurers as they wander the universe in search of scientific discoveries.




In a more sophisticated treatment, Shirow's anime/manga “Ghost in the Shell” introduces us to Major Motoko Kusangi, a cyborg anti-terrorist warrior. Born a human, she was “decanted” at an early age into a cyborg body after an airplane crash. Who wouldn’t want to be her? Beautiful forever, linked into every net and database either directly, through ports in her body, or by radio frequency. What she needs to learn, she downloads. She is strong enough to bend steel and leap from building to building, no red cape though. But she is troubled. There is nothing left of her original human body but some gray matter and she is not sure she believes even that. As she says to fellow cyborg, Batou, “Have you ever seen your own brain? How do you know it is there?” She does not know if she is the original human or a copy. In that question is the critical definition of who she is: a human and a free being, or a machine and property of the state?


We do not believe a human becomes less human for the loss of a limb or an eye, but what of when the whole body goes. How much can you lose before you escape humanity? If “you”-- your uniqueness, your “soul” or your “ghost” or however you define it--is not resident in your body, where then does it reside? For Kusanagi the answer is found when she loses her corporeal cyborg body and exists only as conception of herself in the Internet, the sea of data in which the modern civilization floats.
The intersection of man and machine has thus become fraught with a new level of terror. Can the mind survive the mutilation of the body and if so to what degree? There are cautionary tales in science fiction that lead us on several forays into this heartless part of the intersection. Where some, given the life of a Kusanagi or Professor Jameson, reject it in favor of the peace of true death or are forced through grim necessity into battle again and again to save the truly living from the crucible of war. I remember one SF short, probably lost in the mists of an Ace Double, of a soldier activated only for combat, who has so forgotten his biological origins and his past, that he does not realize that he is attacking his own homeworld. Beware the yellow light in this intersection.


At the other side of the intersection, coming our way are the artificial intelligences. Neither sons of Adams or Daughters of Eve but most often made to look such. Is R Daneel Olivaw of the Asimov’s “Caves of Steel” a person or a device? What of Data from Star Trek or the Cylons of Battlestar Galactica? Is consciousness something that can be made just by adding layers of complexity? At what point in the mechanical process of laying down layers of silicon does God’s finger finally transmit the divine spark that makes the Terminator noble, Robbie the Robot of the Forbidden Planet lovable, or any of the robots of our dreams into friends and lovers? Is it even possible that we can create something out of steel and synthetic that deserves the dignity of human rights?


Perhaps we won’t even control or intend this transition. Artificial Intelligence may generate not from our intention, but spontaneously from the sheer complexity of computer nets in the future, such as the Puppeteer in Ghost in the Shell, Skynet in Terminator or in the countless other examples where we design a tool and end up with unexpected company. Our own history is pretty bloody. Even while we struggled for a recognition of the concept of universal human rights, something our Roman, Greek, Chinese, Egyptian etc, ancestors would have regarded as absurd or even immoral, we have had the greatest blood-lettings in the history of our species in our World Wars. It might be a bit much to expect that this new intelligence would be gentle, beneficent or even aware of other “life” so unlike it.


Today these are speculation in the works of hundred of writers, including me. Tomorrow, these may be questions that demand answers. Green light-go.





Edward McKeown
Author of the Fenaday Chronicles, the adventures of Shasti Rainhell, and of Maauro my own contribution to this question of ethical existence. You can see my conception of this ancient android who patterned herself on a game simulation and her friend the spacer, Wrik Trigardt (image by Michael Church)
I also edited Sha’Daa: Tales of the Apocalypse and the upcoming Sha’Daa: Last Call and have contributed to many anthologies.
My first novel, Was Once a Hero (Fenaday Chronicles) will be released in January by Hellfire publications.


http://www.sfreader.com/authors/edward-mcKeown
http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B004NM9ZU2
http://www.hellfirepublishing.com/hero.html
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Edward-McKeown-Author/128235997209701

Monday, December 19, 2011

Stargate, no not them, the original


Stargate by Andre Norton (1958)

Long before anyone has the idea for SG1 and Stargate series, a writer used the title and idea of gates through time and space. Andre Norton (1912-2005) is a writer whose work should be better known by a new generation of readers. She wrote over 200 works of science fiction and fantasy from the 40s to the end of the century, frequently blending the two in a unique way. You might wonder what a writer of that time would have to say to 21st century audience but Norton can reach across generations, as there is a timeless quality to her writing. This timelessness arises out of very basic themes. Andre Norton’s protagonists are often young people, alienated or disadvantaged on some basic level from the society that they are in, hunting for belonging and meaning in their worlds, living often on the edge of poverty or disaster.

Stargate was a gate for me in a personal way as it was the first book of science fiction that I ever read and began my life long love affair with the genre. As with any other first love I may not be totally objective about it.

In Stargate we meet a young alien, Kincar s’Rud on the world of Gorth. Kincar is small humanoid, heir to an isolated mountain fortress. His life is that of a medieval warrior, hunting and bearing a sword in his guardian’s service. He has always known that he is somehow apart from his fellow Gorthians. This lonely existence has drawn him to his closest friends, a mord (fearsome combination of a hawk and a lizard) named Vorken and his larng a six legged, horse-like creature.

His world is in turmoil. Five centuries ago Terrans landed in their great ships. While it was they (called the Star Lords by the Gorthrians) who raised the native people from primitive savages, they have begun to realize that the native culture will never develop as it should while the Star Lords remain. They are withdrawing in their ships to launch off in hope of finding an uninhabited world.

Kincar learns to his surprise that he is a half-breed child of a Star Lord and a Gorthian woman. He has no place on Gorth and must leave with the others of his kind. Caught on the border between cultures and species, he is literally a man without a world and is turned out of his uncle’s keep. He is torn between a fascination with the star-faring Terrans and the powers native to his own world. As a parting legacy from his uncle, Kincar bears a talisman of that Gorthian power, called a Tie, it’s an amulet from the prehistory of his species and in that odd blend of fantasy and SF that Norton practiced, it possesses real power. Whether this power is purely of magic or of some earlier technology from another race lost in time, we do not learn. Andre Norton’s loosely “shared story”-galaxy was once home to great and mysterious aliens referred to as the Forerunners, now vanished from the spaceways but whose implements sometimes survive in the lost corners of the universe. That history is absent from this story but the Tie is real and it is antithetical to the powers of the Star Lords.

But such a decision is never unanimous and factions break into open war as the Star Lords launch into space. Power abhors a vacuum and the Gorthians are drawn in as a rebel faction of Star Lords seek to retain power on Gorth. There is a second group that Kincar falls in with, who have a different objective. These Star Lords have grown to love Gorth and its world, following native ways and religions. They understand the need to leave their present Gorth to develop in its own way. This group of Star Lords and other “halflings” like Kincar will seek another Gorth in an alternate dimension in the multiverse, where intelligent life did not develop.

Pursued by enemies, Kincar’s little band fights their way to an installation in the wastelands. A desperate holding action buys time while the gate between dimensions is prepared. The fight is carried even to the opening of the Stargate and the evil Starlord Herk dies under beamfire as Kincar’s party flees.
But the haste of their departure and firefight at the gate disrupt the interdimensional transit. They arrive in a Gorth very different from their own but not uninhabited. Perhaps it is a karmic demand of the universe but their new home is one where a native culture had arisen to greater heights than on Kincar’s birth world but fell to a greater depth when the Star lords of this universe attacked, enslaving the Gorthians and setting up a helot state.

Kincar’s allies are dismayed to find different versions of themselves as the warlords and oppressors and quickly are drawn into a rebellion. Given strength by the Tie, Kincar befriends the locals and penetrates the Star Lord fortress, to face his enemies in a test of will and power.

The Pros: Kincar sS’Rud is us as a teenager, struggling to fit in, uncertain of himself and his world. He is alone, hoping for friendship and acceptance but afraid to try for it. His struggles are the outward aspect of our own at his age. Gradually by belief (in his heritage through the Tie) and by courage he moves from a swept-up refugee to a leader among the travelers. Andre Norton’s particular magic is to bring us to a universe of genuine danger and struggle in the company of people who we would face that danger and struggle with. In small and unexpected moments that are my favorite part of her writing she shows how even in the danger and the dark there are moments of beauty, perhaps made more so by that contrast.


The Cons: Andre Norton wrote for a young adult audience, though she did not do so in a condescending manner. The characters face death. This is not Hogwarts. Kincar’s ordeal in the arena of the evil Starlords is harrowing and could have taken place in a concentration camp. Norton is always circumspect about sex, and it is largely absent from this book. Generally in her work, sex is romantic, abstract and handled off-stage. So if you are looking for a book with a hot-blooded alien bounty hunter reminiscing about her last three way with a bargirl and a shapeshifter you can pass on Norton.

She has a tendency to hang an “er” on any bit of machinery: blaster, flitter, reader etc. This can get a little annoying at times. Kincar being a primitive has no idea how any of this works and as a naïve narrator can’t explain any of it to us. CJ Cherryh used the same device in Jewel of Ivrel with Morgaine and Vanye. To Vanye, the native swordsman, Morgaine is a witch, her sword magical, the gates she passes through, are demonic. But Morgaine is a scientist, she carriers a laser, the gates are mechanical transports through time and space and the sword possesses a gate opening in its tip. Fantasy or SF? It may be a matter of whose eyes you see it through.

In about the only passage where I found my suspension of disbelief waning, Kincar and other natives take over the repair of a downed flitter from Star Lords Dillan and Bard. The idea of a couple of medieval swordsmen making repairs to a 737 is just a bit much.

In sum, Stargate is a sound adventure novel with a young man you will feel for and perhaps recognize.

By Edward McKeown

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hot reads!


Editorial Reviews
Product Description
This spectacular collection contains Lair of the lesbian Love Goddess, Into the Robot Harem, and Mars Needs men.


Lair of the Lesbian Love Goddess

Lair of the Lesbian Love Goddess introduces Brian McManus, everyman cop and later private detective, and his sexy partner, Regina Del Mar, and transgender sidekick Freddie Bouvier as they defend the 22nd Century spaceport of New York from alien bad guys. Crime and kinky fun in the shadows of Brooklyn as they hunt an Arcturian smuggler with a very unusual cargo!


Into the Robert Harem

Into the Robert Harem, continues the adventures of Brian McManus, everyman cop of the 22nd century New York Port Authority Police, his sexy and ambitious partner Regina Del Mar and their transgender informant Freddie Bouvier. Regina must infiltrate a Robot Harem as a sexbot after Freddie discovers a plot to assassinate the UN president after a particularly kinky night. McManus has to save them both and prevent interstellar war! Another chapter in the “Lair of the Lesbian Love Goddess” series

Mars needs Men

“Mars needs Men” is a sexy spoof of the noir detective story set in the twenty-second century spaceport of New York City. Port Authority officer Brian McManus, a mature, “everyman” officer, and his young and attractive partner, Regina Del Mar, are assigned the weirder aspects of interstellar relations. This mission is to quietly locate and recover the visiting Martian governor’s nymphomaniac daughter, Avalie. The governor is here to recruit men for Mars after a plague by Sapphist Terrorists wiped out the male gender there. But, while Mom is recruiting volunteers, her daughter Avalie is shopping for studs, whether they want to go or not.
With their transgender informant, Freddie Bouvier, who looks more like a girl than many girls do, they search the New York underworld for Avalie, finding smugglers, firefights, and general mayhem in the process.

Uncharted Stars by Andre Norton a review


Uncharted Stars by Andre Norton

Uncharted Stars is the superior sequel to the Zero Stone and continues the adventures of Murdoc Jern, itinerant jewel dealer and his companion, Eet the mysterious mutant born from a ship’s cat. Eet is not merely a mutant but is the reincarnation of an alien from the time of the Forerunners ancient and powerful aliens long gone from the spaceways.

Jern had obtained a Zero Stone, an artifact of the Forerunners, as an inheritance from his father. The elder Jern was the owner of a pawn shot in a spaceport but is revealed to have been a retired VIP (Veep) in the quasi government of the Thieves Guild. Jern's father collected more than gems and curiosities- he collected secrets and mysteries. One of these, the Zero Stone, cost him his life and set his adopted son wandering the stars, looking for answers.

Zeros stones are sources of power augmenting any ship or weapon they touch. Murdoc learns this in the first book as he is pursued across space by both the Guild and the Space Patrol. At the end of the first book Jern and Eet have won a truce with the Patrol, escaping imprisonment with a reward and a single small zero stone.

Jern and Eet purchase a small ship, with a pilot of dubious character and set off hunting zero stones while trying to make a living off of lesser gems. In this they are frustrated by the fact that the Patrol still lists them as criminals and the Guild still hunts them. Their initial successes come to nothing against this institutional hostility, they are driven further and further into the shadows and closer to the Guild.

But a chance encounter with pirates and a massacred expedition of archeologists put Eet, Jern and their pilot on a course into the depths of space, to the fabled pirate base of Waystar, in the company of a Zacathan scholar they rescued. The lizard being is of an old and honored race still not evolved when the Forerunners roamed space but who hold most of the galaxy’s history in trust and pursue knowledge for its own sake. At Waystar, Jern poses as his father, the former Thieves Guild Veep, to recover a bowl that is actually a star map, showing the homeworld of the Zero Stones.

After many narrow escapes the small expedition heads to that lost and forbidden world and a date with living history.


The Pros: As with the Zero Stone- Norton’s description of gems and gem lore seduces us. There are times that we almost resent the main plot line dragging us away from the various gem-trading expeditions Jern takes us on. We learn to love the flame-tipped zorans and revel in the adventure where we acquire the fabled greenstones of the ice-world. Norton's galaxy doesn’t merely serve the plot line. It is rich and varied and we feel these worlds have their own fascinating histories. We wish we could turn aside and study them more. It’s like a good dinner that tantalizes the pallet but does not quite fill the stomach, leaving us wanting a little more. We sense sometimes that we are on the edge of adventures of other characters that we meet, notably on the ice-world, and that their adventures are as desperate and meaningful to them as Jern’s is to him.

Waystar, the pirate hold is well and vividly described. With its outer shell of dead and looted ships, it’s a place to haunt the imagination.

Yes it is the burgeoning relationship between Eet and Jern, with its highs and lows, its silences, angers and devotion that is the heart of this novel. Jern is determined not to be junior partner in that relationship, despite Eet’s powers and encyclopedic knowledge. The nature of this relationship will be so obvious to you in retrospect, after the big reveal, that you will wonder how you didn’t see this coming.


The Cons: Not many. The book could be longer and more detailed. Norton was not a scientist or a physicist, she never really troubles herself about how any technology works. She has a tendency to hang an “er” on any bit of machinery: blaster, flitter, reader etc.
Sex and sexuality are largely absent from her work, though in this case… well, I will let that be a bit of a surprise.

In sum, Uncharted Stars is the quintessential Norton and loses nothing to being a YA book. I give 9 of 10 stars to this work.

The cover of this old hardbacked version is one of my favorties though the Zacathan looks more like the Jolly Green Giant's cousin than the Gorn-like creature I had envisioned.

By Edward McKeown

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Zero Stone by Andre Norton (1958) review



Zero Stone by Andre Norton (1958)

Zero Stone opens with a man fleeing for his life down the darkened alleys of a primitive alien city. He’s a Terran, younger half of a team of jewel dealers. His partner has been murdered when the priests of an alien religion, in an unheard of act, select an off-worlder for a sacrifice and are answered with lasers. His partner dead, Murdoc Jern flees to an alien sanctuary and uses his store of jewels to bribe his way to a Free Trader space freighter and escape offworld.

But it is not an escape, a net is being drawn around Jern. The net has spanned the gulfs of interstellar space as the Thieves Guild reaches out in search of the Zero Stone, an ancient and mysterious artifact that is Jern’s prize possession, a heritage from his father.

Jern’s father was a passionate collector of jewels, secrets and mysteries, particularly those associated with the ancient and long disappeared races called the Forerunners. These aliens reached incredible heights of technology ages ago before disappearing, destroyed in wars or leaving space-time for unguessed of destinations. The Jerns are perfectly positioned to learn these secrets positioned in a “hock-lock” (pawnshop) near a spaceport.

Murdoc’s world collapses around him after a particular stone is brought into the shop, a colorless, lifeless lump on a large ring. It is a zero stone, an artifact from the time of the Forerunners, found on a drifting spacesuit and alien corpse. With the stone comes the death of Jern’s father after a mysterious meeting with an offworlder. Jern learns his father was a former Veep (VIP) retired from the shadowing quasi-government of the Thieves Guild. Now that Guild has reached out for the Zero Stone. Bur the killers do not find the stone, which Murdoc takes from his father’s hidden safe.

Other blows fall. Jern learns from his mother that he is a contract child, a test-tube baby decanted on this world for genetic diversity. His “mother” makes it clear that his younger brother, her natural child, is to inherit all. Jern who has always and only been his father’s son has never cared for either mother or brother. He leaves to become apprenticed to Vondar Ustle a master jeweler with wanderlust. They journey and trade in a life Jern comes to love before it ends in a dagger thrust in an alien bar.

The Free Trader Jern escapes in, lands on various worlds. On one, the ship’s cat eats what appears to be a stone from a riverbed. Days later the cat is pregnant. The spacers, fearing, some alien contagion, isolate the beast which gives birth to an oddly shaped mutant. But it is more than that. The mutant is something ancient, reborn, powerfully intelligent, armed with telepathic ability and knowledge of things Forerunner. Jern falls ill with what seems a fever. The crew’s fears are confirmed. They are determined to kill both Jern and the mutant.

Jern, delirious and suggestible, follows the voice in his head and escapes with the mutant out into space protected only by a spacesuit and with a container holding the mutant. Then the Zero Stone ring plays a part. It begins to glow and drags the pair through deep space to the site of an ancient forerunner wreck where they find an operational lifeboat.

Jern’s recovery is abrupt. The illness was a telepathic manipulation by the mutant who calls itself Eet. It learned that the Free Traders were actually Thieves Guild from the minds of the crew. It knew that they were responsible for killing Jern's partner and planned to deliver Jern to their bosses. Eet also knows of the Zero stone and its almost limitless power.

The pair are forced into an alliance to fight for their lives and freedom when they land on an unknown world where there is a store of Zero Stones. They are caught between the Thieves Guild and the Space Patrol in a battle for possession of the ancient artifacts.


The Pros: The relationship with Eet is the strength of this book. Maddening and intriguing, Eet is a recreation of a Forerunner, a personality hidden in the seed eaten by the freighter ship’s cat. Smug, superior and yet somehow endearing, Eet is full of surprises.
As Jern plunges ahead on his own adventure, he touches those of others. These alien worlds, cultures and peoples are not mere devices but are rich and complex and we sometimes want to turn aside and spend more time exploring them. This is also true of the gem lore, the little we learn makes us fascinated, even covetous, the gems begin to wink in our minds, sensuous and seductive.

The Cons: Andre Norton’s books are usually devoid of sex and sexuality and Zero Stone is no exception. One sometimes hungers for a little higher degree of complexity or sophistication which with Norton simply is not there. Dialogue is sometimes clumsy with odd turns of phrase such as “my hurt” as opposed to “my wound.”

The Space Patrol which in Andre Norton’s books is a combination of police force and navy is unsympathetically portrayed. The Patrolman they meet, Hory, is violently xenophobic, which seems odd in the pluralistic galaxy that Norton describes. However she develops this theme in other books in this shared universe, notably Last Planet, wherein the Patrol is rather isolated from Galactic life and human-dominated. When one realizes that the Zero Stone’s function is too make almost any machine or weapon more powerful, one can understand the Patrol’s desire to not leave such power in the son of a Thieves Guild Veep and an unknown mutant. Still Hory, the “double star” patrol agent (equivalent to a double-00 operative in James Bond’s universe) is a one note performance and without empathy or depth.

In sum, I love the book and forgive it the minor transgression above. There is high adventure and a fascinating universe to explore with pirates, ancient ruins, mysterious weapons and devices. Yes, it could use a green Orion slave girl or two.

Stay Tuned for the sequel “Uncharted Stars.” This is a rare case of the sequel being better than the original, rather like the second Terminator movie.

By Edward McKeown

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lawyers in Hell


My involvement in Lawyers in Hell came about as do many of my adventures in life, by way of my sense of humor. I was playing with Facebook one day trying to figure out if this was the biggest waster of human time since Rubik’s Cube or God’s gift to enterprising networkers (it’s both) when I chanced across Tempus Thales, the alter ego of Janet Morris. Having read a number of her anthologies and other works, I started corresponding by Facebook with her. Eventually the subject of the Heroes in Hell series came up. As a joke I told her that this field was not exhausted and that I could see room for many other volumes, especially Lawyers in Hell. Three of four rounds of bad lawyer jokes later she suddenly switched gears on me and sent “you’re on.” Next thing I knew this new anthology was taking off around my ears like the spaceship in “When Worlds Collide.”
I’d been in anthologies before and in fact edited two the Sha’Daa series which like the “In Hell” series has common premises and characters. However I was stunned by the wealth, depth and sheer complexity of the Hell series. A lot had come before and a lot more was subtext or implicit.
Well now that I had gotten myself into this I had a story to write. I started thinking of my own hellish experiences of the American legal process. No I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, but I have hired and fired my share of them, the latter is fun, sometimes they sob on their Gucci’s. I’d tell you what I do but then I would have to kill you. A quote came to me, that despite the wonders of the Internet I could not pin down, “Due Process is not endless process.” It occurred to me that if that was our goal on earth, in Hell it would be the opposite. So I came up with the idea of an appellate process in Hell and the appellate angel who served in it. The rest came fairly easy.
You might think that in hell “Due process would be a bullet” (Green Beret movie – thank you Internet) but I am sure it is a long and unending series of court dates, postponed motions, and indifference, in short much like the current Italian court system. If you think I am kidding, I was involved in a case of a traffic accident in Italy that was 25 years old when I inherited it, where half the parties had passed on due to to natural causes, and three years later when I left the case, it had no trial date set.
All kidding aside I have a great deal of respect for the legal profession. Rule of law beats the alternative, which is clubbing each other. And as for the lawyers themselves, lawyers don’t sue people, clients sue people, for coffee being too hot, toasters not being safe for bathtubs, and cars accelerating when they claim they are standing on the brake (they’re standing on the gas). Lawyers are a lot like guns, useful for good or evil, but you can’t blame a gun for shooting straight, or a lawyer for representing a wacky client. Well at least I don’t.
Have fun in Hell,
Best
Edward McKeown
http://www.sfreader.com/authors/edward-mcKeown





Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Betrayer by C J Cherryh


Betrayer by C J Cherryh (Spolier Alert!)
In my prior review of Deceiver I commented on how impossible it was to enter the series from that book because of the sheer weight of all that had gone before and how nobody should expect a writer to be able to do that. Then at the beginning of Betrayer, CJ Cherryh pretty much does so and makes it coherent and cogent with little evident effort. Drat.
Now that said, a summary is not a substitute for knowledge. If I told you War and Peace was essentially, “Napoleon invades Russia, goes badly” you’d have the essential plot, but so what? Even there you are starting with the information that most people, other than American college students know: Napoleon was French, Russia and France are countries and they fought a war with bright uniforms, tall hats, horses, cannons and a lot of snow. An SF writer has none of that built in and has to do all of that and not bore you. CJ succeeds though I still think a reader who had not read the earlier work will still be at sea, but maybe at least in sight of landfall.
Betrayer plunges us further into the battle to stabilize the Marid province and prevent most of the Atevi world from going up in a civil war that would threaten to destabilize the prospace, pro-human government of the Tabini and his human ally and lead diplomat, Bren Cameron. War among the Atevi is conducted within strict bounds as different groups of the Assassins Guild struggle against each other to carry out or prevent judicially approved Filings of Intent to Kill. The isolated human colony on its island of Mospheira is sitting this one out but in understandable nerves about anything that happens with the planet full of Atevi.
But the Guild itself has been split by the recent coup and counter coup against Tabini and many of the Pretender Murini’s Guild fled after Tabini’s return, to Marid province finding this nest of internecine family struggles, ripe fruit for the plucking. They insert themselves into existing plots and organize new ones, spreading conflict and unrest and having it blamed on Machigi the existing Marid clan chief, whose fall would allow them to essentially take over the clan from the inside. These Guild renegades would then own their own country.
Ilsidii, Tabini’s grandmother and power in her own right and ruthless cunning, believes Machigi is being set up. She had sent Cameron and his small but elite team of Guild guards into the Marid to settle the Deceiver Pauit in the first book and they now proceed to Mashcigi to establish relations with him. Cameron is Mashicigi and the Marid clan’s way out of the traps closing in on as the Guild frames Machigi for war crimes and the other Marid lords seek to replace him.
But the fires of conspiracy and rebellion outrace diplomatic efforts. Cameron and his team flee with Mashigi’s aid as a Guild-conducted purge of the rebel Guild explodes among conspirators and loyalists alike.
Isilidi and Cajeiri along with Barbara and Toby are besieged in Cameron’s home while Cameron must flee afoot through the badlands separating him from home and safety. Action and adventure abound in the second half of this book in sharp contrast to Deceiver.
My chief frustration remains how little we see of the love-interest (in itself the wrong word as the Atevi Jago has no word for love in her language) between Bren and Jago. There is a rich and unexplored field here. Bren and Jago are lovers, something of a scandal in itself. However we spend little time exploring this at all. Why would an Atevi woman begin this association (i.e. fall in love) with what to her is a Halfling? Jago is about eight and half feet tall, her father Bianchi seems to be about ten feet. You would think that the intimacies of relations between a giantess and a human might yield some moments of humor. Beyond that does anyone ever look askance at her for her relationship?
Imagine if you had a perfectly proportioned partner of another color who was still only three feet tall to your six foot or better? Would the world take so little notice or comment? Is she never embarrassed by it? In short, the difficulties inherent in an interracial relationship, much less an interspecies one seem glossed over. It doubtless helps if your girlfriend is a Guild assassin.
Another means of looking at this is the character of Barbara, Cameron’s ex-girlfriend and now his brother’s (an agent of the human government) girlfriend. Other than a tinge of jealously and contempt, Jago seems to have little reaction to her. How much more interesting could it have been if there were scenes between these two as they struggle to understand each other and Cameron.
Barbara as written is largely an emotional, grasping nuisance who seems somewhere between a stalker and normal jilted female character, but point is, she is a real human woman. She has love, affection, tears, kindness and on an instinctive level is the more rational choice for Bren, or could have been had she been expanded into three dimensions. Does Bren never long for a person who would understand him in a way no alien could? Never long for that comfort?
Don’t get me wrong. I am not dissing the character of Jago but rather wishing she had more of one and I had some access to it. She is the powerful ebony princess, always there and always at Cameron’s beck and call, for all that he defers to her in all matter of security. She is mysterious and deadly, but to me to the point of abstraction. Who are you, Jago? What do want and long for and why did it take the shape of Cameron? What does mother think of your new boyfriend? Do you ever dream of children? Will you know what to do if Cameron was crying by a graveside? What would you need from him if you stood over your father Bianchi’s grave and he was in there because he died protecting Cameron? All undiscovered country, but one that beckons.
Another area and this may just be the military geek in me, but when CJ does small unit actions, the running and gunning on the Guild level it is well done and plausible. There is a paucity of detail on the larger scale. Machigi for example comments that his people are a naval power. In a world that varies as wildly for levels of technology as does the Atevi one, I have no idea what that means: ironclads with steam power and Dahlgren guns yet still using sales, like the Abraham Lincoln in 20,000 leagues under the sea? Dreadnaughts of the WWI or II era? Or are we talking about armed fishing trawlers? It may seem odd with a space station and a starship above them but most Atevi live in the equivalent of our later 19th and very early 20th century.
Most of the fighting, which happens usually at the distance, is in deadly small unit scuffles between Guild. Occasionally one sees a mob of hunters or other militia. From the military point of view the war is rather confusing and devoid of detail. Do they have tanks, artillery? Do they operate in divisions, battalions or mere companies? The military of all sides again seems sketched rather than drawn.
Betrayer pumps up the action quotient and the fast cutting back and forth between Cameron’s point-of-view as he escapes Marid and Cajeiri as he juggles his deadly grandmother and his promise to Cameron to look after Barbara and Toby during the siege are compelling. When young Cajeiri ends up in combat for the first time, you are truly fearful for this brave little boy even if he is the size of Cameron and Toby.
Betrayer is a strong entry in this series, enjoyable in all respects. It features a well done Todd Lockwood cover, though not as good as the Whelan for Deceiver in my view. I would have enjoyed a more leisurely denouement with more scenes between the principals. Of course I also like the ending of the Lord of the Rings, so go figure. It’s probably a good thing that the ending leaves you wanting to see and hear a little more but in typical CJ fashion, when we wrap, we wrap damn fast.