Book Report: Fire Time

Fire Time is a science fiction novel from the early 70s. It brings you back to an earlier kind of science fiction. The author Poul Anderson drew out a solar system based on a trinary star. Then he thought about how life might evolve on one of the planets--sometimes it gets close to two stars instead of to just one. That's a hot time, a "Fire Time", if you will. All this against a space-operatic backdrop of interstellar war and diplomacy. Sketchy characters, long stretches of exposition (usually preceded by an apology), interesting science to think about. It's a darned fine airplane book--you can read it and enjoy it if you're not thinking too hard. I picked it up as a used cheap paperback, read it on a plane, and left it behind in Texas. I have no regrets.

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Book Report: An Evil Guest

Amongst books set in the Lovecraftian "Mythos" universe, this is the best I've read so far. That's kind of a backhanded compliment. I dislike H.P. Lovecraft's Mythos books. I suppose it's guilt by association, but I dislike the Mythos universe so much that I occasionally go back to the Temple ov thee Lemur's War in Heaven just so that I can vote against the Mythos deities a few times. Yeah, so, backhanded compliment. But it is a compliment, and I enjoyed reading this book. It's set in a strange future in which humanity has traveled to distant stars but Baskin-Robbins and Applebee's still exist. There is also a musical play called "Dating the Volcano God", which begs the question of which Dead Milkmen song would be most apropriate here: Born to Love Volcanoes? or The Fez?

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Book Report: The Mote in God's Eye

Happy National Poetry Month! To celebrate, this blog post contains no poetry. You're welcome.

The Mote in God's Eye is a science fiction classic that I never got around to reading. Except that I finally got around to reading it. It was OK, as long as you didn't think through the premise very thoroughly. It's a first contact novel. The humans are a star-faring empire. They encounter the Moties, a species of alien with many specialized sub-species. The Moties have only ever been in one star system, because they [censored to avoid SPOILER, also thus concealing the not-so-believable premise]. The Moties have three hands, thus explaining some geek jokes. I guess that sums up why I stuck with reading this book. The characters seem pretty cardboardish. The premise leaves the audience going oh come on. But it was a quick read and now I understand some cultural allusions.

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Book Report: Matter

It's a novel of The Culture. If you didn't like other novels of The Culture, you probably won't like this one. If you like other novels of The Culture, you probably will like this one. If you haven't read any other novels of The Culture, it's worth checking out. This one is kind of on a Lovecraftian plot-line, with loathsome horror buried sleeping under the water... but it's better written than Lovecraft, and there's plenty else going on. Give it a whirl.

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Book Report: Cosmonaut Keep

There's a parallel story; humanity's learning the secret of a light-speed interstellar starship drive; humanity's rediscovery of same, hundreds of years later. There is politics, humor, ... I dunno, this book had a lot going for it, but I never got into it.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere: Iron Puzzler BANG

BANG 18, the Iron Puzzler BANG was last weekend and it was awesome. The excellent organizers--the Burninators, Coed Astronomy, BootyVicious, Evil Geniuses for a Better Tomorrow, Platonic Solids, and Wrong Ideas--say that other folks might want to re-use the puzzles in other puzzle hunts, and thus I have an excuse to skip writing a puzzle-by-puzzle recap. But there were some notes that I wanted to jot down.

For this hunt's team, I mixed together peer groups: Instead of playing with just friends-who-I-would-hang-out-with-anyhow; there was also one of of the Mystic Fish serious-puzzlers contingent. It was Peter Tang, Steven Pitsenbarger, and Alexandra Dixon. People seemed to get along pretty well, whew! But there was one puzzle, which had a crosswordish section... in hindsight, I noticed that Alexandra and I hogged that puzzle, old instincts kicking in, crowding out the less-pushy folks. But there wasn't much of that--and a good thing, too. This BANG called for insights, not just word puzzling skillz, and Peter and Steven delivered.

There was an interesting system of figuring out where to go for the next puzzle. If you'd figured out that the solution to the puzzle was LEMON, you'd look at a sheet of paper with ~50 definitions on it. You'd find a definition that fit LEMON, like maybe "Citrus fruit". That definition was associated with a spot on the map. If you'd asked me ahead of time, I would have guessed that this system wouldn't work well. I would have whined something like What if more than one definition fits the answer? But in practice, that didn't happen. And if it did GC had a good backup plan--there was a GC volunteer at each puzzle station. So if you had to ask "We think that the answer is 'LEMON' but is that the 'citrus fruit' or the 'automobile type'?" you could get an answer right away. "This is not supposed to be part of the puzzle." It's a good system--if you've got enough volunteers to staff every location.

Afterwards, Peter, Alexandra and I had dinner in the Marina district to work on the puzzles we didn't solve during the event itself. I walked home via the Lyon Street Steps. It was dark, which made them pretty scary. Rather, they weren't scary, but I bet that skunk wouldn't have been ambling around during the daytime. This skunk slunk out of a hedge beside the stairs. I was walking towards it--but decided to stop walking. The skunk saw me and eased back into the hedge. I wasn't really sure if it was heading far away, though. If I kept walking, was I going to end up walking threateningly-close to a hedge-concealed skunk? I kept walking, no skunk sprayed me, and all was right with the universe.

I also thought, of course, about how to figure out which team should run the next BANG. I kinda liked the rule in recent BANGs that if your team had hosted a BANG, you were immune from having to host another. In BANG 18, that rule wasn't in place. I don't ?think? it made a difference--I don't think those guys have hosted a BANG yet (unless maybe Nick Baxter worked on a Burninators BANG?). But... I worried about the effects of that lack-of-rule. Team Blood and Bones, who've run many BANGs, were drinking shots after each puzzle. By the end of the game they were staggering. This ensured that they wouldn't win, wouldn't be obliged to run the next BANG. But I wonder if there's some other way, some healthier way. Like, maybe if your team is one of the top three in the Hall of Fame of teams who have run the most BANGs, then you're immune. Something like that.

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Book Report: Seabiscuit

This was a fun read about horseracing.

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Book Report: Iron Council

I read a lot on the bus. Today, I didn't take the bus and yet I've been able to get yet more reading in. My secret? I'm staying home today with food poisoning. I'm not trying to read anything too deep; my lack of caffeine isn't helping my concentration.

The book Iron Council is a fun piece of science fiction trash. it features popular uprisings, more than meets the eye, desperate chases across a mysterious and unforgiving landscape, and graffiti fashions which could lead to the downfall of a mighty civilization. You can't go wrong with that. Check it out.

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Book Report: Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers

Context matters. At work, I'm sitting in a new area with some folks who don't know me very well. Today, someone asked for some help making a decision. I didn't have an opinion, so I sought an executive decision-maker. That is, I stuck a finger into my pocket to fish out a coin. But instead of encountering any coins, my finger encountered only a hole in my pocket. My jeans... Uhm, I'm in a delicately-balanced laundry situation right now, wearing a pair of jeans poised on the edge of total systemic failure. Anyhow, I didn't have a coin. Thus, I had no fast way to make binary choices.

So I said, "I can't make any more decisions until I change my pants."

In context, this statement made complete sense. From the remarks of people sitting nearby, I learned that this statement also made complete sense out of context, but it was a different sense. I tried to clear things up, saying, "Well, I've got a hole in my pocket--", but this was, apparently, "Too much information."

Now I forget what my point was. Oh, right, context.

As for the book Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers, it's a tongue-in-cheek pulp science fiction novella. At the time it was published, this might have qualified as parody--this was 1973. It was probably a good parody--Harry Harrison has written some good stuff. Nowadays, this book seems almost cruel--it pokes fun of works which have been largely left behind, kicking them when they are down. But maybe when this book was kicking them, they weren't down yet? I don't know.

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Book Report: The Algebraist

I walked several miles today so that I could fail to see a calligraphy exhibit. In theory, it has some work by Tauba Auerbach. In theory, it was open today, but a sign on the door said it was closed. I guess I could have tried the door, anyhow. This was on the campus of San Francisco State University. Often, school doors are unlocked. Kids need to study on weekends. It didn't seem worth the risk, though. The risk was: I really didn't want to deal with any security guards. I smelled funny. I smelled like mineral oil. I'd dropped my magnetic compass, it had broken, it was full of mineral oil, now I smelled like mineral oil. So I didn't see the calligraphy exhibit. But that was OK, it was still a fun walk.

The Algebraist is Iain Banks science fiction, but it's not a Culture novel. Instead, it's a tale of exploration, war, and intrigue set against a backdrop of galactic empire. There are twists, there are turns. It's jolly good fun. Some of the plot strands don't really seem to fit. There's a revenge-driven character who flies across the galaxy chasing someone. (I'm exaggerating, but not by much.) The confrontation between this revenger and revengee seems tacked-on, and you wonder why it's there. But then, you might wonder why you're reading a fluffy bit of science fiction in the first place. The answer is: it's fun. It doesn't all have to make sense.

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Book Report: Out of Eden (an Odyssey of Ecological Invasion)

(or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Invading Species)

This is a fun book on a serious subject. Alan Burdick traveled the world, talking to scientists about invading species. Sometimes people bring plants and animals from one place to another, and next thing you know, cane toads overrun Australia.

But it's not so easy to get a handle on invading species. People have been traveling longer than they've been studying biology. So someone in Puget Sound might think that some species of slug is native to the area--since it's in all of the local literature about animals found locally. But someone at the mouth of the Hooghly river might think that same slug is local to their neighborhood for the same reason. Back in the 1700s, some ship picked up a slug as a hitchhiker and took that slug from point A to point B. But which where was that slug originally from? Which was point A and which was point B?

This book looks at the Brown Tree Snake which ate most of Guam's birds. It looks at the pigs of Hawaii. You hear about introduced pigs in Polynesian climes causing destruction--I heard about this when I was in New Zealand. But people were very ready to blame pigs on very little evidence. This book shows you some scientists who are now measuring the impact of pigs on an ecosystem.

Burdick also visited some biologists in the San Francisco Bay Area. It turns out that San Francisco Bay may be the most invaded water system in the world. We've done a good job of bringing in ship traffic, its ballast bursting with life. We've done a good job of keeping the bay clean--compared to other harbors. So critters that show up here have an OK chance of not being poisoned. When you swim in the bay, you swim through a cosmopolitan soup of foreign diatoms, invertebrates, and stranger things.

In theory, this is dry reading material. In practice, I enjoyed reading this book. I recommend giving it a whirl.

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Link: Sam and Max Game Announcement

Holy moly, it's an announcement of intent to produce a game starring beloved freelance police officers Sam & Max!

OK, I concede that the last few such announcements haven't led to any games that, uhm, actually got published. But I'm still excited.

I heard about it on Chuck Jordan's Spectre Collie blog, so it must be true.

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Book Report: Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man

This comic book by John Porcellino was informative and thought-provoking. The mosquito abatement men walk through nature, learning its beauty. And they slaughter millions of insects along the way. John met interesting people and insects.

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