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.
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.
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.
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?
Sometimes, in science, it turns out that the best way to find something is to not be looking for it at all.
This is more or less what happened in 1891, when an amateur astronomer and full-time insurance actuary observed and correctly interpreted a small anomalous motion of the Earth that other astronomers had been looking for decades, a motion now known at the Chandler wobble.
No, not this sort of Chandler wobble.
This is a fun story of serendipitous scientific discovery, and highlights a little-known movement of the Earth! Let’s take a look at the science and the history of the Chandler wobble.
The first time I encountered Orrin Grey’s work, it wasn’t even his fiction! He wrote the introduction to the Valancourt edition of J.B. Priestley’s 1927 novel Benighted, and I was struck then with his knowledge and insight into classic horror. Since then, I’ve been following his work with interest and enjoyment, and was delighted to support the Kickstarter for a reprint and expansion of his original short story collection, Never Bet the Devil and Other Warnings (2012). Last night, on a flight back from Minneapolis, I devoured the entire collection in one go!
This is really such a lovely book, both in contents and presentation! It features a cover and illustrations by artist M.S. Corley, who Grey also collaborated with on the charming haunted house chapbook Gardinel’s Real Estate (2014). The book overall has an atmosphere that really makes it a great little book of creepy stories to read at night, in bed, with a fire in the fireplace and a chill wind whistling outside.