Saturday, August 08, 2009

Pretty Polly

A great performance of the greatest of all murder ballads, by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. Based on the English folk song, 'The Gosport Tragedy'. Virginia coal miner and banjo player Dock Boggs recorded the definitive version in the 1920s.

U2: Modern Toss

Cover for U2's The Joshua Tree, reimagined by Modern Toss for Beck's Music Inspired Art project, reducing Bono's pompous attempt at transcendence to a squawk of mundane frustration. I'm a big fan of the Modern Toss duo's wonkily drawn, silly, frequently violent, and sweary cartoons: dada satire applied to the frustrations of everyday life. They do film posters, too.

Friday, August 07, 2009

The Plains Of Titan

With so many detailed maps of so many planets and moons being produced by interplanetary probes, task groups in the International Astronomy Union responsible for assigning names to features have strip-mined myths, Greek and Roman literature, Shakespeare's plays, lists of distinguished artists and scientists, and so on, and so forth (complete list of sources here). Now, the IAU's Working Group for Planetary Nomenclature has just announced its approval of the use of the term planitia for the dark plains Cassini has mapped on Titan, with 'the theme "Names of planets from the Dune series of science fiction novels by American Author Frank Herbert (1920 - 1986)."'

And why not? After all, those dark plains are covered in strings of giant dunes, albeit ones composed of grains of frozen hydrocarbons rather than sand. A pity this wasn't done a little earlier, though - I could have dropped in a neat bit of science-fictional recursion into Gardens of the Sun. First to be named is Chusuk Planitia, located at 5.0S, 23.5W - it's at the righthand edge of this map of Titan, just below the equator, or close to the centre of the disc of Titan in the photo at the top.

Actually, Herbert isn't the first author to be honoured in this way. Titan also features Xanadu and Shangri-la.

(Via Universe Today)

Gardens Of The Sun, Third Chapter

Some fifty days after he’d defected, the spy at last returned to Paris, Dione.

It had not been an easy journey. He’d fallen from orbit in a stolen dropshell, skimming through a hole in the Brazilian surveillance-satellite network, landing inside a small impact crater in the high northern latitudes of Dione’s sub-saturnian hemisphere, walking away across a frozen, gently undulating plain. He was short of air and power and had to reach a shelter or an oasis as quickly as possible, knew that his former masters would be searching for him and that he faced disgrace and execution if he was captured, yet in those first hours of freedom his heart floated on a flood of joy. All around, beyond the shell of his pressure suit, with its intimate chorus of clicks and whirrs, the tide of his breathing and the thud of his pulse, the moonscape stretched silent and still, lovely in its emptiness. The dusty ground glimmering golden-brown in the long light of the low sun. Saturn’s swollen globe looming half-full above the curved horizon, bisected by the black scratch of the ringplane, which printed crisp shadows across smoggy bands of butterscotch and peach and caught fire with diamond light as it shot beyond the gas giant’s limb towards the tiny half-disc of one of the inner moons. He felt as if he was the emperor of all he surveyed. The only witness to this pure, uncanny beauty. And for the first time in his brief and strange life, master of his fate.


Wednesday, August 05, 2009


First flight of the X-51A scramjet demonstrator is now on track for early December while captive carriage tests on the NASA-operated B-52H mothership at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., are set to begin in October.

A joint effort by the U.S. Air Force, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, and Boeing, the hypersonic vehicle is designed to be the first air-breathing craft to demonstrate sustained speeds in excess of Mach 4 using a “logistically friendly” hydrocarbon fuel.

(via Aviation Week)

Needs a boost from a rocket stage to get going, way too slow to achieve low Earth orbit, and probably going to be used for long-range cruise missiles or something equally gung-ho but it's a start . . .

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Gardens Of The Sun, First Chapter

Now online, in the fourth issue of Journey Planet.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Gardens Of The Sun

As with the last three novels, I'll be posting chapters from Gardens of the Sun over at the website every Monday and Friday all the way up to publication on October 1st.

I'm starting with the second chapter because I promised the first, short chapter as an exclusive to the good people at Journey Planet. I'll let you know when that's up. Meanwhile, you shouldn't have any problem starting here:
Sri Hong-Owen was on Janus, climbing the outer slope of a big crater stamped into the moon’s anti-saturnian hemisphere, when General Arvam Peixoto reached out to her. ‘Get back to the Glory of Gaia as soon as possible,’ he said. ‘I have a little job that requires your peculiar expertise.’

‘I have plenty of work here. Important work,’ Sri said, but she was speaking into dead air. The general had cut his end of the connection. She knew that if she tried to call back she wouldn’t be able to get past his snarky aides, and she also knew that she couldn’t risk the consequences of disobeying him: out here, in the aftermath of the Quiet War, Arvam Peixoto’s word was law. So she switched to the common channel and told the three members of her crew that she’d been recalled.

‘Drop whatever you’re doing and pack up. We’re leaving in an hour.’

‘We’re already on it, boss,’ Vander Reece said. ‘We got word too.’

‘Of course you did,’ Sri said, and switched off her comms.


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