Fred Saberhagen’s Brother Assassin

An army of intelligent war machines are dedicated to the utter annihilation of humanity.  When they begin to lose their war in the present, they send an unstoppable cybernetic assassin back into the past to kill a key figure in humanity’s history, in order to destroy their resistance before it can begin. Humanity’s only option is to send one of their own back as well, to protect the key figure no matter the cost.

Does that story sound familiar?  It very well may, but I’m probably not talking about the one you’re thinking of!  I’m summarizing Fred Saberhagen’s Brother Assassin (1969), the second in his long-running Berserker series of books.

For those unfamiliar, the “Berserkers” are a fleet of massive and intelligent machines, mostly spacecraft, that were created by an alien empire millennia past in order to destroy their enemies.  The Berserkers did their job too well, though, and destroyed both civilizations, and then moved on to relentlessly hunt down and eradicate all biological life in the galaxy.   And they were incredibly successful at it — until they finally met effective resistance in the form of humanity, whose violent tendencies ironically made them the galaxy’s best hope for survival.

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Chladni patterns, now in color!

One of my favorite physics demonstrations to perform at local schools, conventions, and expos is the production of Chladni patterns, such as the one shown below.

I’ve blogged about these patterns before. They are formed by vibrating a metal plate at one of its special resonance frequencies, which causes the plate to form standing waves.  These waves have some locations — antinodes — where they vibrate a lot, and other locations — nodes — where they don’t vibrate at all.   By sprinkling sand over the plate, the sand will be pushed to the nodes allowing the otherwise invisible vibrations to be visualized.

This technique is remarkably old, first published by German physicist Ernst Chladni in 1787; the patterns created are therefore known as Chladni figures.  Chladni used a violin bow to excite his plate, but today we can use a speaker and frequency generator to produce the effect more readily.

I’ve been doing Chladni pattern demos for nearly five years, and when I recently did them again at a local school, I decided to spice things up with colored sand, to produce multicolored patterns.   This results in lovely things such as the pattern below!

This became a bit of an art project for me, and I spent a couple of hours over the past few days making pretty colored Chladni patterns!  I thought I would share the results here. In addition, I learned a little bit more about the physics of these patterns that I will share along the way.

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Somnium, by Johannes Kepler

I’ve had an interest for a while in ridiculously old science fiction, such as Margaret Cavendish’s 1666 novel The Blazing World, as well as science fiction written by prominent scientists, such as Simon Newcomb’s His Wisdom the Defender (1900), Robert Williams Wood’s The Man Who Rocked the Earth (1915), and Fred Hoyle’s The Black Cloud (1957). But if I want to combine “ridiculously old” and “prominent scientist,” there’s no book that can beat Somnium, written by Johannes Kepler in 1608!

Often billed as the earliest science fiction novel, Somnium provides probably the earliest descriptions of a journey to the Moon and the beings that live there. But is it really science fiction? Let’s take a look at it more closely…

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The Stories of Ibis, by Hiroshi Yamamoto

I have a long backlog of book blogging to do, but I had to jump and do the back of the queue first.  Every once in a while I read a book that is so thought provoking and moving to me that I have to write about it right away while the multitude of ideas are fresh in my mind. That book for me is Hiroshi Yamamoto’s The Stories of Ibis (2006), which I just finished yesterday.

The novel is set in a future in which the human population, and its civilization, has collapsed.  Artificial intelligence, in the form of androids and robots, is now the dominant intelligence on the planet, with its own massive cities, technology, and civilization.  Humanity scrounges a living in small communities around the world, making regular raids of android supply trucks and warehouses for needed supplies.  They have never forgiven the AI for rebelling against them in the distant, almost legendary, past.

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The Cadaver of Gideon Wyck, by Alexander Laing

Got a few physics blog posts in the pipeline, but in the meantime I’m still catching up on a lot of book blogging!

I’ve had The Cadaver of Gideon Wyck (1934) in my library for some time, as I picked up the new Valancourt edition when it first came out in 2016.  However, I got side-tracked in my first attempt to read it, as the book has a very slow, methodical start. I am happy that I came back and finished it, though, as it is a quite unique and weird novel, albeit with some flaws that I discuss below.

As noted on the back cover, the book was lauded by none other than famous horror author Robert Bloch, who called it “A genuine tour de force… grisly and evocative.”

The book is depicted as a true manuscript penned by a student (known as David) at a rural medical school who has opted to share what he knows of horrific events that have recently occurred, as he has concerns that the “climax could yet be my own death.”  The story centers around the cruel and brilliant doctor Gideon Wyck, who seems to be the focus of numerous disturbing events in the town.  It is whispered that he performed an unnecessary amputation on a patient, and that patient now raves that devils are trying to steal his soul through the stump of his arm.  Babies begin to be born in town with hideous deformities, and Wyck supervised the medical care of the mothers.  When Wyck is found dead under impossible circumstances, everyone in town is a suspect, including the narrator — and the deformed children continue to be born. Can David unravel the various threads of the mystery before even more horrible things happen — and before he loses his own life?

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City of Darkness, by Ben Bova

I’ve recently been in a mood to shop used bookstores as well as read obscure science fiction. This dangerous combination has resulted in me purchasing a number of books by well-known authors that have been forgotten, probably for the best. I have decided to add a new category of book blogging to my blog categories, namely “I read it so you don’t have to.”

The first of these that I purchased is City of Darkness (1976), by famed sci-fi author Ben Bova.

As the book cover indicates, the book is set in a — utopia? dystopia? — in which all major cities have been closed and sealed under domes due to rampant pollution and disease. However, every two months of the year, New York City is opened up to tourists, and the city comes alive in a wild recreation of what it must have been like in its heyday.

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Larry Blamire’s More Tales of the Callamo Mountains

Larry Blamire is a very good writer. That is the first thought that came to mind when I sat down to blog about his recently published collection, More Tales of the Callamo Mountains (2017).

As the name suggests, this collection is a followup to Blamire’s excellent Tales of the Callamo Mountains, which came out a decade earlier.  It is a set of fourteen stories set in the haunted fictional Callamo Mountains that explore ordinary frontier folks’ encounters with the unknown, the horrific, and the monstrous.  And as I have already hinted, the stories are very, very good.  I was one of many fans of the original who hoped for, and cajoled Blamire about, a second volume, and we were not disappointed.

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