Kecksies, by Marjorie Bowen

I suspect that most people are unaware of the pivotal role that publisher Arkham House played in the history of weird fiction.  Founded in 1939 by authors and H.P. Lovecraft fans August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, the original goal of the publishing house was to preserve the fiction and legacy of Lovecraft.  It did not take long, however, before they branched out to publishing a wide variety of weird fiction by a variety of authors, often providing the opportunity for many new authors to get established in the field. Arkham House is evidently still in existence today, though they do not seem to be producing much new right now.

I’ve been cultivating a collection of Arkham House hardcover volumes, which are distinguished by their high quality and their often beautiful covers.  Recently, I went on a short buying spree of Arkham classics, and among those I purchased was Kecksies and Other Twilight Tales (1976), by Marjorie Bowen.


Though published in 1976, the collection was in fact put together in the 1940s, not long after Bowen’s other two collections of “twilight tales”: The Last Bouquet (1933) and The Bishop of Hell (1949).   Of the twelve stories in Kecksies, seven of them come from these earlier volumes.

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The Hunt for Vulcan, by Thomas Levenson

Some of the most interesting stories in the history of science are those where investigations take a wrong turn.  Scientific progress is filled with red herrings, failed assumptions, and wild guesses that rarely make it into the science textbooks.  When I first started this blog, for instance, I talked about the ridiculous number of atomic models that were proposed before Rutherford finally discovered the atomic nucleus in 1910.

It’s a shame that these stories are often overlooked, because they can often tell us more about how science is done than the famous success stories can.  And, as I said above, these failures are often fascinating, and in the hands of a great writer can be utterly compelling.

I was therefore really excited to read Thomas Levenson’s most recent book, The Hunt for Vulcan (2015):


The Hunt for Vulcan tells the curious story of how physicists and astronomers became convinced of the existence of a planet that orbits closer to the Sun than Mercury, a planet that never existed.   The search for Vulcan would eventually lead to one of the greatest scientific discoveries in history: Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which unifies gravity with Einstein’s special theory of relativity and truly transformed our understanding of the universe as a whole.  Along the way, there were personal squabbles among scientists, failed searches, mistaken discoveries, and a World War that altered the course of science.

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Posted in History of science, Physics | 2 Comments

Chuck Wendig’s Invasive

Insects have long been ready protagonists for horror and thriller fiction.  A few famous examples that come to mind are H.G. Wells’ 1903 story The Valley of Spiders and Carl Stephenson’s 1937 story Leiningen Versus the Ants. In the wild and terrifying days of the nuclear 1950s, it seemed that the only way that people could imagine insects as truly scary was to make them gigantic:


But the more science learns about insects, the more we learn how amazing they are, and the more their natural behavior provides imaginative fodder for horror fiction. Wells and Leiningen, for instance, didn’t need to introduce any supernatural behavior to make their insects terrifying.

Now, in this fine tradition, comes Chuck Wendig’s Invasive:


As is quite clear from the cover, the primary threat of Invasive is ants… lots and lots of ants.

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Posted in Horror, Mystery/thriller | 1 Comment

Light, by Kimberly Arcand and Megan Watzke

I have a lot of catching up to do in terms of popular science books, so I’ve recently been doing an intense amount of reading.  A lot of my focus has been on reading books by people I’m acquainted with through social media.  A few weeks ago while at the bookstore, I happened across the beautiful book Light (2015), by Kimberly Arcand and Megan Watzke.


The cover, which is an image of the Sun pieced together from images over a range of wavelengths, is a perfect preview of what to expect from the book itself. Light is a full-color exploration of electromagnetic radiation in all of its forms, describing the science behind such radiation as well as its use in a variety of applications.  The result is a beautiful and compelling book which can appeal to the public and scientists alike.

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Posted in Optics, Physics | 1 Comment

A personal note

Those who have been following me on this blog or on social media recently know that I’ve been under a lot of pressure lately and have had trouble focusing on writing, or work in general.  About 3 months ago, my wife and I agreed to separate, and the past few months we have been preoccupied with finding new places to live and planning for our lives apart from one another.

Today, I finally (more or less) moved into my new townhouse, completing our separation, and it seemed a reasonable time to just let people know what has been going on.

I didn’t plan for or look for a separation, but I understand that my relationship with Beth had to end.  In any case, we remain friends and I hope we will remain friends as we move forward.  (We had dinner together tonight, if that is any indication that we’re okay with each other.)  I hope that those who have us as mutual friends will remain so.

I can honestly say that I learned a lot from my time with Beth, and that our marriage helped me grow and mature as a person. In fact, I would say that she helped me fully become an adult, something I struggled with for years. I will always be grateful for that, and consider those years together to be among the happiest of my life.  I wish her the best.

Now that the time-consuming move is mostly out of the way, I’m hoping to get back to writing some substantive blog posts in the near future.

Posted in Personal

“Singular Optics” is available for pre-order!

Those who know me well know that I’ve been working hard for several years on a new optics textbook.  Well, I can finally say that it is available for pre-order on Amazon!  The book is Singular Optics, by me: Gregory J. Gbur!


“Singular optics” is a subfield of optics that covers the properties of wavefields in regions where the wave can be said, in various senses, to be “singular.” This includes the study of optical vortices, where light swirls around a central axis and often has orbital angular momentum associated with it, but much more beyond that.  I wrote a blog post explaining the basics of singular optics some five years ago; since then, I’ve learned so much more in the process of writing the book, and I hope to share some (non-technical) explanations in the run-up to publication.

The book is aimed at graduate students in optics, but I have endeavored to make it accessible to advanced undergraduates as well.  The writing and explanations are benefited by my nine years of experience blogging right here, which has taught me to give intuitive explanations for phenomena, whenever possible.

I designed the cover image myself! It is based on my own published work on the manifestation of “Hilbert’s Hotel” in vortex systems; I wrote an early blog post on this that can be read here, or you can read a more up-to-date post I wrote for American Scientist.

I’m really pleased with the blurbs I got for the book from colleagues, which I reproduce from the Amazon page below:

“Not just the first complete overview of Singular Optics, but also eminently readable!”
–Taco Visser, Professor, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

“This new book provides a firm and comprehensive grounding both those looking to acquaint themselves with the field and those of us that need reminding of the things we thought we knew, but hitherto did not understand: an essential point of reference.”
– Miles Padgett, Kelvin Chair of Natural Philosophy, University of Glasgow

This engagingly written text provides a useful pedagogical introduction to an extensive class of geometrical phenomena in the optics of polarization and phase, including simple explanations of much of the underlying mathematics.
– Michael Berry, University of Bristol, UK

All three are important experts in the field of singular optics.  Taco Visser, admittedly, is my former postdoctoral advisor, but the other two are not!  Michael Berry is one of the founders of singular optics, and I am humbled and flattered that I received an endorsement from him.

The book will be available on November 28 of this year! If you’re an optics person, please consider taking a look.  I consider it my best work!

Posted in Optics, Personal | 2 Comments

Twitter Weird Science Facts, Volume 13

Been a crazy few weeks for me, and I’ve barely had time to sit down, much less blog! But at last I’m going to catch up on compiling my Twitter #weirdscifacts!  Read below to find out what this tiny crab looks like it’s cheering on its favorite football team.


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