Friday, June 12, 2009

Apollo 11 Owners' Workshop Manual

All you need to fix up that vintage rocket you bought in a garage sale, right here.

Via Bad Astronomy (which has a great post on ripples in Saturn's rings, too).

Just finished a story about zombies and the Royal family. It's almost the weekend, the sun is shining, reckon I'll take the rest of the day off.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Moon Shadow

Saturn is approaching equinox, when the sun will stand directly above its equator and ring system. This means that the moons and moonlets embedded in the rings are presently casting long shadows, and the Cassini probe has been capturing beautiful images of them - as above, where the tiny moon Pan, orbiting in the Enke Gap, casts a slender shadow across the A Ring. There's video too.

All Your Images Are Belong To Us

American family discovers they're in a Simpson's episode.

Still, at least they were offered a bottle of wine, rather than threatened with a law suit:

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

So Long, Selene

The Japanese probe Kaguya (Selene) has been orbiting the Moon since October 2007, and sending back gigabytes of information, including amazing HD videos like this one of Earth setting (you can find more here). It's now reached the end of its mission and will crash onto the Moon's surface at 18.30 GMT today, hitting the lower right segment of the nearside, at the edge of the Moon's unlit portion. But that's not the end of the probe's scientific usefulness: the scar left by its impact will be monitored to see how solar radiation and micrometeorite impacts will alter the exposed regolith over time. And it isn't the end of the new wave of Moon exploration, either. India's Chandrayaan-1 probe is still in Lunar orbit, and will be joined by not one but two US probes later this year. No-one has announced plans to return human beings to the moon yet, but it's only a matter of time...

UPDATE: first image of impact posted here.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Another Country

It's all Syd Field's fault. In 1979 he published a 'how-to' book on screenplays, based on his course in Sherman Oaks Experimental College, that first codified the three act structure of modern films - setup, confrontation, resolution - along with the carefully timed plot points on which the narrative turns. With added flourishes, this story arc dominates film narrative, and because film is the major fictional medium of the twentieth and (so far) twenty-first centuries, it has fed back into the novel form too (along with 'do you earn a living from writing?' and 'do you write under your own name?', 'how many books have you sold to the movie business?' is one of the most common questions asked of authors).

Fairyland's structure is a deliberate burlesque of the three-act structure. Sure, there are three acts. Sure, they follow Field's pernicious formula. But they aren't narrated from the point of view of what would be the traditional hero - in this case, a frighteningly bright little girl who achieves godhood, and along the way bestows consciousness on a select group of genetically engineered servants. Instead, the first and third acts are told from the viewpoint of a bit-player who's caught up in the little girl's cunning plans, and the second, while featuring our hapless hero, Alex Sharkey, is told from the point of view of an aid worker in Paris's bidonvilles. The 'real' story happens in the interstices of their stories; I was still, and still am, interested in people caught up in history, rather than the people who, supposedly, make history.

Fairyland was written in 1995, using a background I elaborated, in true SF tradition, in several short stories and novellas (collected in the out-of-print Invisible Country). I had decided to quit academia, and this freed me up to have as much irresponsible fun as possible with cutting-edge biology. It was also, very deliberately, set in London, Paris, and Albania, to get away, however briefly, from the American hegonomy. And it was my first near-future novel, which allowed me to warp and pour in as much as I knew of the present. Which is why, perhaps, it's written in the present tense (as are The Secret of Life and White Devils, which with Fairyland form a loose trilogy about biotech-dominated near futures)

It won a couple of prizes, which meant a lot to me then, if only because by the time they were announced I was a freelance writer. It was one of the first biopunk (or - tip of the hat to Paul di Filippo, ribofunk) SF novels. And it started out in London, not far from where I'm typing this, in the Ladies Smoking Room of the former Midland Hotel at St Pancras (which ten years later I visited, in its glorious decrepitude), where now, as in the novel, Eurostar trains set out for the continent.

And now, it's due to be reissued for the second time. You can read an extract here, or buy the first reissue (why not?) here.
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