Friday, August 28, 2009
The first image taken by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration's newest weather satellite GOES-14. So what? you might think. There are zillions of photographs of Earth from space, and this one's not even in colour. Well, I strongly urge you to click over to the NASA site, and check out the resolution of the large version for a little dose of awe.
Gardens Of The Sun, Part Two, Chapter One
Uranus's axis of rotation is tipped at right angles to the plane of the ecliptic: while the other planets in the Solar System spin around the sun like tops, Uranus rolls around it like a ball. When the refugees from the Quiet War arrived, Uranus's south pole was aimed at the sun, and the retinue of moons rotating about its equator inscribed paths like the circles of an archery target, with the blue-green ice giant and its slender graphite rings at the bull's-eye. One by one, a ragtag procession of ships dropped around it and swung out around one or another of the five largest moons in spiralling periapsis raise manoeuvres to achieve a common equatorial orbit. An erratic and shell-shocked flock of the dispossessed cleaving close in the lonely dark, chattering each to each, trying to decide what to do next, where they should make their home, how long they should stay.
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Thursday, August 27, 2009
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
So Okay, Let's Raise The Bar
"The uses of technology figure large in [Margaret Atwood's] new novel, The Year of the Flood; it is a richly imagined vision of the near-future and is a sister volume to an earlier Booker-shortlisted work, Oryx and Crake. Indeed, some of the characters overlap. Here, through the eyes of two female characters, Toby and Ren, we learn of the days that lead up to a horrible pandemic that ravages humanity – forget coughs and sneezes, here people melt. There is enviro-religion, overweening science, hideous sex clubs, nightmare food, grotesque cosmetic surgery. And there are also bees.I don’t see Sinclair McKay's silly, snobbish broadbrush generalisation as an insult. I see it as a challenge.
"If any of this were to come from a male sci-fi author, one’s heart might, perhaps, sink a little; we have never been short of fictional futuristic dystopias to choose from. But the prolific and acclaimed Atwood – she won the Booker in 2000 with The Blind Assassin and has been shortlisted on several other occasions – brings colourful humanity, formidable intelligence, and also some sly satirical humour to this vision. And, as with The Handmaid’s Tale, this is not sci-fi. It is, to use her term, “speculative fiction’’."
(Atwood isn't in any way to blame for this breathless panegyric - although I have to say that enviro-religon is hardly a new idea. Been there, done that. As have many others in the 'sci-fi' field. (Atwood has incoporated enviro-religion hymns in her novel. Spookily, there's a fragment (I wimped out on writing an entire hymn; kudos to Atwood for going the whole hog - and giving a book tour with actors and choir!) of an enviro-religion hymn in Gardens of the Sun - set to Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy'. No melting people, though. So 1970s.))
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
SF Writers on SF Films
Adopting the format of Mark Morris's Cinema Macabre, the British Science Fiction Association's Martin Lewis asked a bunch of British SF authors to write about their favourite SF film. The resulting booklet has just been distributed to members of the BSFA. Non-members can read Adam Robert's essay here. As for my selection:
For anyone like me, born just after the hinge of the last century, there’s only one candidate for best science-fiction film. Some may make quirky or contrarian choices -- Dark Star, say, or Alien3 -- and there are certainly cogent arguments to be made for films like Blade Runner or Children of Men (which I reckon to be the best sf film of this century, so far), but my personal favourite is 2001: A Space Odyssey.I'll put up my essay on the web site in due course. Meanwhile, here's Terry Gilliam's brilliant condensation of Kubrick and Clarke's masterpiece. To paraphrase Brian Aldiss, one of sf's (especially British sf's) best and most enduring themes is hubris clobbered by nemesis.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Gardens Of The Sun, Chapter 7 (ii)
The room where Yuli was being questioned was as bright and sterile as an operating theatre. White walls, white floor, a ceiling that burned with bright and even white light. No shadows anywhere. Everything lit with stark particularity. The girl was encased in a machine like a coffin or an iron lung of the long ago, with only her head showing. An MRI cap clamped over her shaven scalp. Her skin pale and perfect as porcelain. Her eyes large and green. The lids were taped open and a delicate apparatus dripped artificial tears so that her corneas wouldn't dry out, and her head was secured so that she had to stare at the memo space hanging above her, which was presently showing a slow parade of faces while a lilting voice asked her to identify them. She said nothing. Her jaw was clenched and a muscle jumped and jumped in her cheek. It was the only indication that she was suffering a tremendous white-hot bowel-ripping agony. The machine was playing on her nervous system like a concert pianist, subtle ever-changing variations and arpeggios that ensured that she could not grow accustomed to the pain.
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