Sunday, June 27, 2010

Science Fiction Writers

There several awards given to writers of science fiction(SF)with the most notable being the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award and the Campbell Award. Receiving a nomination and subsequent honor of being selected in one of the many categories can make a career much like the production of an award winning wine can make a winery famous. To a SF writer the awards represent their Oscar's, Golden Globes, Tony, Most Valuable Player and just about anything else. It gets attention and can get TV and movie deals.

I first became interested in SF as a youngster enjoying the movies. First was the string of poorly made Japanese films followed by all the domestic garbage of the 50s but some gems did surface. The first that comes to mind is The Day The Earth Stood Still followed by Forbidden Planet and War Of The Worlds. I actually discovered that many of the films I saw were based on books. What an awakening! That started me on Jules Verne to Heinlein to Arthur C. Clarke and why continue to name drop? Reflecting back I am amazed at how visionary some of the writers were.

One of the first books I remember reading is Earth Abides by George Stewart. This is a post apocalyptic book that presents that all popular theme in a fascinating and gripping manner so that the book has become a classic. I'd place that number one on my apocalyptic theme list. I enjoy that theme along with time travel and alternate history. Forget horror and fantasy. Elves and vampires just don't do it for me.

A popular theme is contact with aliens and Childhood's End was the first I read of this genre and was my first exposure to Arthur C. Clarke. I have since read everything Clark has written. Needless to say one of my favorite all time movies is 2001: A Space Odyssey. Of course when I got older and reread Childhood's End I realized there was a whole sub text I had missed the first time around. That was what happens when you also read Orwell.

I could go on and on about the Masters Of SF but will concentrate on who I prefer to read today.

Jack McDevitt has been around quite awhile and has some great material much of it centering around pilot Priscilla Hutchins who first appeared in Engines Of God. McDevitt creates a universe that was once alive with life but now is sparse. His novels Chindi, Odyssey, Cauldron, Omega and Deepsix are all intertwined. Excellent story teller and character development.

Stephen Baxter is like many in SF today in that he has a hard science background that he translates into his work. I just finished his Time's Tapestry series and consider it an excellent work. Baxter also co-authored the Time Odyssey series with Arthur Clarke. If you start on Baxter's work and enjoy it you will be very, very busy as he is a prolific writer.

Robert Sawyer created the The Neanderthal Parallax series but what caught my attention was his first work that I read - Calculating God. As you may imagine by that title Sawyer often explores science and religion in his work. The TV series FlashForward is based on his novel. Sawyer can make you think.

When I don't want to think I read Allan Dean Foster. Foster is an easy read and doesn't really try the mind but he has created one character I enjoy called Flinx. Foster wrote one of the funnest SF books I have ever read - Mad Amos. I'd put it right up with the work of the late Douglas Adams.

I first picked up a book by John Scalzi about a year ago and that book was Old Man's War. The universe he created in that book has been followed up by several others but his second novel after Old Man's War was Agent To The Stars. Was a complete switch from his first work and a very funny book. Scalzi is a quick and enjoyable read as his books are quite fast paced.

What would happen if a West Virginia mining community was dropped into the middle of the thirty years war? Historian/novelist Eric Flint has created a whole cottage industry out of it. If you enjoy accurate history, splendid character development and a bizarre concept this whole series is just for you.

My wife - The Lovely Cynthia - is Polish. As a joke a few years ago I got a SF work by the late Leo Frankowski that was the first book in his series Cross-Time Engineer. This is the adventure and mis-adventures of a young Polish engineer name Conrad Stargard who does a back in time to 13th century Poland. If you like blood, sex, humor, clever engineering and a bit of history this is for you. Most of his works are now after market.

Allen Steele examines colonization of space with an interesting insight in both his Coyote and Near Space series.

The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis is a great read that can be quite depressing but with an incredible grasp of the horrors of The Plague. Willis is a very accomplished writer but some of her works I have had to force myself to complete.

Harry Turtledove is "The Master of Alternate History" but I find that his series often can be tedious after the first few books. This has happened with his Worldwar & Colonization series that I have found to be of most interest to me. I know Civil War buffs enjoy his endless Timeline - 191 series. Not me.

Ben Bova has been churning out books for four decades and the series he created that I have enjoyed the most is Orion with a good nod to the Grand Tour series.

I'll stop here as there are many more I could and probably should cover. What I usually do is find collections of short stories and if I find a writer I am unfamiliar with and enjoy I will then look into their works with a bit more depth.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Obama/Celts/Middleboro IT/ CPA/Hillary/Teacher Pay

The Obama Administration has proposed another bailout - is that number 4,567? - designed to keep pubic employees employed. This is for 50 Billion and part of it will target teachers, police officers and firefighters. Almost forgot there is also another bill designed to provide an addition 23 Billion for teachers. What about the 100 Billion that was in the stimulus bill for education? In Middleboro the money was put to good use from that bill - they moved classrooms under the smokescreen of “improving MCAS scores,” What all this amounts to is a huge payback for past and future support of the most massive special interest group in the country - public employees unions.

President Obama managed to use China as a shinning example of a nation fighting pollution. Huh? That disjointed speech on the crisis in the Gulf was a thing of beauty complete with a real nice plug for cap and trade. Well…they can’t cap a well but we’ll certainly have the opportunity to “trade” Obama.

A disappointing finish for the Celtics but an enjoyable run. They certainly are having a better season than Obama. Heck…the Baltimore Orioles are having a better season than WOW.

Interesting report on the IT abilities in Middleboro. We are on the cutting edge of technology providing this was 1985. In a previous life this was actually my job! When RB was appointed to that position I remember writing several letters to the editor questioning the competency of appointing someone who apparently had such a limited technical and management background. I was far from alone. IMO being a member of the FC or BOS does not mean one is qualified nor does being a “volunteer” mean one is qualified.

After an airport run I stopped at Round Pond in Duxbury for a run. This is a beautiful nature area funded by CPA. After the run I returned to the parking lot and there was a Volvo station wagon, two BMW’s and a Pirus parked in the lot with my Chevy Monte Carlo. That describes the difference between Middleboro and Duxbury.

Hillary Clinton made a statement that the Justice Department was examining the Arizona immigration law - an area that is not part of her responsibilities. I quote form a new article: It's unclear why Clinton made the comment since it's not her area. She couldn't be reached Thursday for comment. The reason she made the comment was she was in Ecuador and was playing to the Hispanic audience at home.

Foregoing a raise for a year has been a subject that many public service unions have been faced with and teachers are one. What that means is if a 3% raise was bargained it will be put on hold but from what I have been able to gather is the normal step increases will continue. Each year you teach you go to the next step or higher salary level. As your education expands with graduate degrees that also brings you to a higher level within each step. The steps in most school systems are ten to twelve years and then you reach your maximum level. When you look at the salary charts a beginning teacher with a BA will earn about half of what a teacher at top step with a BA will make. This holds true right across the board for an MA, CAGS or Doctorate. Now when you max out what do you get? Are you perpetually on hold relying on bargained raises that will pump up each step by the negotiated percentage? Nope. The key is longevity pay. Once you have been in a system for - and I will use the usual bargained years - 15 years you get longevity pay each year. It can vary but generally it is between 2-4%. Back to foregoing raises. From what I understand longevity pay and step movement have not been - in most circumstances - been placed on hold.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Assorted Clutter

Great photo op of President Obama touring the Gulf as he has no tie, his shirt sleeves rolled up and picking up sand with a tragic look on his face. Made me just do a Bogo back flip with the sudden rush of confidence.

President WOW (Walk On Water) distanced himself from the issue since it was a BP problem until the PR crap hit the fan along with oil seeping into wetlands and wildlife being inundated with oil. What could the government do about the first problem - the well. Nothing. What could they do about the second problem? Plenty. Are they starting to react? IMHO they are but it was quite slow on the switch. Should have been far more pro active. Should have had the same response regarding resources and response that they had towards Haiti.

Conservatives - naturally - are doing everything possible to hammer away at WOW and his foundlings over the handling of the situation. Payback for criticism of the passive reaction of the Bush (R - Texas Oil) to the Katrina mess. Somehow I just don’t buy into their sudden righteousness.

Rep. Joe Sestak was offered a nice federal appointment if he dropped out of the race against Arlen Spector (D- Screw Loose). The offer had the fingerprints of the White House all over it with even former President Bill Clinton (D - BJ) as the conduit for this offer. Naturally the WOW administration is saying they did nothing wrong. What is interesting is that some Democrats have also joined in to ask for further information since this could be a violation of the following law - 18 U.S.C. Section 201.

The nutrition police have targeted Ronald McDonald as the poster child for the fast food industry attempts to make us all porkers with a variety of diseases that can be traced to out consumption of their products. I was at McDonald’s the other day getting my usual unsweetened ice tea and did notice that they have alternative choices on their menu. Customers don’t want it. Stay in line for five minutes like I did and I didn’t see any salads being purchased. I also saw one of the nutrition police on TV and she looked like it was time to practice what she was preaching.

$10,625,053,544,309.79 was the national debt when Obama was coroneted . Today it is 13 Trillion. Debt is rising at about twice the rate as during the Bush years.

BB is parading around in his spiffy Calter shirt. Times like this make me elated that I vote in precinct two.

The “Religion of Peace” executed a seven year old boy in Afghanistan suspected of spying for NATO on the Taliban.

The message now quietly being circulated is a double-dip recession that some economist - usually with a Obama bumper sticker on their Volvo - are downplaying. Well just gander at the continuing fluctuation of economic data and our economy is economic molasses at this point. The “job creation” bills have simply failed. Unemployment hovers around 10% - Say, WOW, how did that 8% cap work out?. This administration has managed to turn out legislation that has between 1,000 and 2,000 pages each to cover cap and trade, health care and financial reform.

The World Cup is with us again and I am proud that America has continued to reject this silly sport. Soccer is great for young kids until they get old enough to choose a real sport.

In 1996 seven year old Jessica Dubroff was killed along with her father and flight instructor as she was in the second leg of an attempt to be the youngest to make a cross country flight. Yes….send a 16 year old girl on a solo round the world sail.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


They’ll be here - those pesky casinos will arrive and by here I do not mean our isolated little community of Middleboro. As a NIMBY I applaud the grassroots efforts to slam the door shut on this beleaguered community getting the former billion dollar destination casino-resort - NEVER resort-casino - to be elsewhere along with all the pluses and minuses.

Now the other part of the picture is that casinos will be somewhere in the state and so - maybe - will slots. Once the infighting between House and Senate is resolved the fast track to gaming will be a fairly smooth ride since voters want it, legislators want it and, of course, unions want it. This is where various anti organizations have totally and utterly failed. A classic example of trying to legislate moral behavior to those who reject it. Gaming is a full blown state sanctioned operation and casino/slots are just another step forward - or backward - to get what the masses want. I can eventually see frustrated Carry Nation types wandering past security to take their axes to a roulette or craps table. Beware of the indignation of the self-righteous.

IMO the Middleboro collapse of our billion dollar “destination casino-resort” failed for some rather obvious and simple reasons. Start with the “It’s the economy, stupid!” Bad time to invest when discretionary spending is being contained. The second is “The Raven.” Need I say more. “The Raven” has made the Tribe look like a Central American Banana Republic. The third is the state itself. The actions of the Tribe via recognition forced the hand of the state into moving forward on this issue since money was being siphoned away to other states. Keep the suckers home! Keep the Tribe locked down.

I love the fact that some rather misleading stats were employed by - again, IMO, by the anti’s to discredit gaming. This very blog focused on some of the more outrageous ones but that reaction is expected and all it does is show the inability to formulate a constructive argument based on pertinent facts and not self created fiction. That those very “facts” were allowed to percolate certainly says all one needs to know about the anti movement. Most don’t mind a local crusade to keep our community as pristine as possible but care not to be involved in an operation that actually counteracts the fact that many actually support gaming - NIMBY’s to the core.

I have blogged here and elsewhere on my visits to casinos across the country and they are not exactly evil incarnate. Most run a solid operation with decent pay and contribute to the communities they are in. It is neither the end of the world scenario painted by the anti’s or the golden goose one painted by the pro’s. Most of the ones I paid a visit to are Native American operations that were mid sized or smaller when compared to the proposed operation in Middleboro or the mega casino-resorts sprouting up world wide. I guess size does matter.

I really never have seen any drug dealers or prostitutes roaming the parking lots. I saw no swan dives off the 8th floor over gambling losses. I’m sure these issues do exist and will exist in any place when large sums of money are being exchanged and people are “enjoying” themselves. I see some rather exotic behaviors at Fenway around the 7th or 8th inning. I don’t dismiss the impact of gaming but I am not willing to accepts cherry picked “woe is me” stories designed to place everyone who walks through the faux golden doors as entering into a bed of moral depravity and fiscal doom. Somehow a good potion of the customers seem to be doing what they wish to do and I for one really can choose to participate or not. So can they.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


"...but it's a real good thing you did. A real good thing. That is one of the classic lines directed at the character “Anthony” played by Billy Mummy in the Twilight Zone episode “It’s A Good Life.” Anthony is a six year old ultimate brat with the mental abilities to do virtually anything he wants. His actions usually result in a comment like the opening line. Intense fear does that.

That brings me to President Obama or as I prefer - WOW (Walk On Water). I have a good friend who is an Uber Liberal whose defense of the crumbling administration is now you will see the results of his “bold and courageous” moves in ten to twenty years. Well, a statement like that certainly limit’s the debate. No matter how foolish this administration meanders about the fall back is just wait a few decades. I’m sure those who are unemployed or underemployed will delight to know that hope and change is just a few decades away. The Obama apologists have to really, really work exceptionally hard attempting to put a shine on this first year and a half.

I will give WOW credit for two significant pieces of legislation - health care and financial. With health care I am concerned about quality of care eroding and substantial costs. The bill for uninsured and under insured has to be paid by someone and that someone will be the taxpayers. I have been posting regularly on the sidebar bits and pieces from Congressman Lee Terry - a conservative Republican from Nebraska. Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.

With financial reform my concern is how long will it take for Congress, compliant regulators and the major financial players to weasel around this legislation? Sooner or later business as usual will resume. Just remember that Barney Frank - a major player in the meltdown - was an instrumental force in this legislation.

When you get to other issues of significance three pop out - the economy, illegal immigration and foreign adventurism. On the first the party line has been to spend our way out with a series of stimulus bills that have been pork enhanced. Take about adding fat to a diet! So far this version of trickle down - which the administration will never use - has been a resounding failure. The second forces an administration to look at reality and to choose between what is legally correct and fiscally necessary or offending a Hispanic voting block. Arizona had the right idea and even Massachusetts legislators see which way the wind is blowing on this one and are hastily cobbling together legislation to address the issue. The final issue is war. The administration has done some saber rattling the last year or so in regards to Afghanistan. IMO this is a venture that one must enter into with heightened trepidation. History is not on our side.

Transparency was front and center in the campaign and it has vanished as quickly as jobs and stimulus money. The highlight - to me - is the attempted backroom deal to get clear sailing for the Spector campaign. Toss in a healthy dose of closet meetings on health care and you get a idea of what WOW and his fellow travelers consider to be transparency.

I was a lukewarm supporter of WOW back when his machine was doing the best to deep six the Clinton campaign. But then came his vote on TARP, support for the Patriot Act and the emergence of Revered Wright. With Wright I just wondered how someone could sit in a pew year after year while this racial hater tossed out his BS. WOW did nothing until finally confronted by a fawning press.

Cronyism, partisan politics, lack of transparency all show that some things never change.