RIP Fluff, 2011-2018

Losing a beloved animal friend is always hard, but it is even harder when they are taken from you too soon.  Last night, unexpectedly, our beloved kitty Fluff passed away at the age of 6.

Fluff in December.

He apparently passed very quickly, and without any warning signs. He had just had a vet checkup the week before, and even the morning he passed he was energetic and happy.  It seems likely that the cause of his death was a congenital heart or brain defect that caught up with him suddenly.

It is impossible to truly convey in words what a special kitty Fluff was.  He was a perpetual kitten, looking for and giving love to whomever he could.

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Posted in Animals, Personal | 5 Comments

Fred Saberhagen’s Swords Trilogy

At the end of 2017, we were treated to the news that Amazon was planning a new series based on Tolkien’s classic Lord of the Rings series. The response on the internet seemed to be a bit of a collective groan, as the last Hobbit movie just came out four years ago, and the last of the epic Lord of the Rings movies was only 15 years ago.  Many, including myself, asked: aren’t there any other epic fantasy series that could be adapted instead?

Of course there are many. One example that I think would have a lot of promise for an incredible screen adaptation is Fred Saberhagen’s Book of Swords trilogy, which I finished reading a week ago.

The trilogy, called first Swords here, first appeared over 1983-1984; of course I came across it after I finished reading Saberhagen’s Berserker and became curious about his other works.

The series is a lot of fun! There are some things I think are lacking, which I discuss in this post, but overall it is an enjoyable and intriguing read.

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Non-Stop, by Brian Aldiss

I often come across classic books to read through unexpected, even surprising, avenues. An example of this is Non-Stop (1958), by Brian Aldiss, which I just finished reading the other day and enjoyed immensely.

I only learned about Non-Stop because it ended up being the inspiration for the very first science fiction role-playing game, Metamorphosis Alpha, a classic in its own right.  (I discussed Metamorphosis Alpha in a recent blog post.)  It is a magnificent and unusual science fiction novel, and well-worth reading. Some thoughts follow.

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Posted in Science fiction | 3 Comments

Fred Saberhagen’s Berserker

They are intelligent machines the size of a small moon, packed with enough weaponry to cauterize the surface of countless planets and destroy any defenders. They bear the scars of countless battles, which they have always won.  They were built millennia ago by one alien empire to eradicate the other — the doomsday weapons followed their programming to the letter and eliminated both.  They have one purpose: the extermination of all life.

And now they have come across the human civilization, spread across the cosmos. Humanity calls them “Berserkers.”

Such is the overarching premise of the Berserker series of books, by Fred Saberhagen; the first of these, simply titled Berserker, I finished reading recently.  Saberhagen eventually either wrote or contributed to 17 books, the last appearing in 2005.  I don’t know if I’ll read all of them, but I really enjoyed the first. Some thoughts follow.

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Spoiler-filled The Last Jedi thoughts and open discussion thread (updated)

When I saw The Force Awakens two years ago, I needed a place to share my thoughts without sharing Star Wars spoilers all over the internet, and my blog turned out to be the perfect place to do it. The same problem arises for The Last Jedi which, on a whim, I went and saw super-late on opening night Thursday. My only twitter comment:

This response also seemed appropriate:

So, below the fold I’ll share more specific, COMPLETELY SPOILER-LADEN, thoughts on the newest Star Wars movie!  You can also use the comments to share your own thoughts. Though don’t be a jerk.

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Posted in Entertainment, Personal, Science fiction | 29 Comments

Keepers of the Flame: The vintage RPGs that still survive and thrive

I’ve been on a bit of a nostalgia kick lately, investigating (and buying) copies and components of those classic pen-and-paper role-playing games that I played or always wanted to play. Along the way, I’ve learned that quite a few of these early RPGs still have dedicated communities and fan followings that keep them alive — “keeping the flame burning,” so to speak.  I thought it would be fun to talk about a few of these in a short post!

Dawn Patrol, aka Fight in the Skies (TSR, 1975).  Fight in the Skies did not start as a role-playing game, and spent years being distributed by its designer, Mike Carr.  Inspired by the 1966 movie The Blue Max, Fight in the Skies is a World War I air combat boardgame, in which players dogfight over the European countryside.  The first professionally published version — the 4th edition already! — game out in a limited run in 1972. But the game had caught the attention of Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, and when he founded his gaming company TSR, he reached a publishing agreement with Carr. This 5th edition came out in 1976.

I was born in 1971, and missed the early history of the game; I personally didn’t come across it until the 7th edition came out in 1982, when it had been renamed Dawn Patrol.  I still have my copy, in excellent condition, with the cover pictured above.

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Posted in Entertainment, Fantasy fiction, role-playing games, Science fiction | 1 Comment

1965: Rabbits versus relativity

One of a number of posts that I’ll be sharing based on things discovered during research into my book on cat physics, coming next year!  The previous post on the Chandler wobble is another post in this series.

The ability of cats to land on their feet when they fall from a height, no matter how they fall, is almost legendary.  It has been explored by scientists and engineers for a variety of reasons for at least 150 years (though I have found that scientific interest actually dates back 300 years).

Cats are not the only animals to have a so-called “righting reflex,” however.   Étienne-Jules Marey, the French physiologist who produced the first high-speed photographs of a falling cat righting itself, also demonstrated that rabbits have the same ability, as seen below.

A series of falling rabbit photographs by Marey, c. 1894.

The initial interest in falling cats and rabbits focused on the physics of the problem: what sort of motions does an animal need to make in order to properly flip itself over?  Later research, however, starting in the early 1900s, asked a different question: how does the animal know which way it needs to turn in order to land on its feet, i.e. how does it know which way is down?

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Posted in ... the Hell?, Animals, History of science, Physics | 4 Comments