Thursday, February 22, 2007

Science News

Posted by Trent Walters at 4:57 PM
Mag-lev system may assist in lowering costs for future space expeditions:

"The main cost-saving areas would come from reduced fuel consumption and
the reduced mass of the spaceship. "

Weather in Greenland affects the rest of the world:

“If things are happening near Greenland today, probably two days from now that
[air mass] will move down over Europe.... Two or three days after
it’s affected Europe, it affects Asia and then ultimately comes around and
affects North America. So Greenland ultimately affects the whole Northern
Hemisphere … our knowledge will potentially help improve forecasts.”

New understanding of subglacial lakes in the Antarctic (presumably have they not always existed and interfered?):

sudden pulses of fresh water could potentially interfere with nearby ocean
currents that redistribute heat and carbon dioxide around the globe, disrupting
the Earth's finely tuned climate system. "It's almost as if the lakes are
capturing the geothermal energy from the entire basin and releasing it to the
ice stream."

Yet another model proposing the origin of cancer:

[otherwise] harmless.... viruses... fuse cells.... abruptly unit[ing] two or
three cells under the same membrane, a change that triggers massive [chromosomal instability (CIN) and cancer].

Hold on to your lie-detecting hat, bub.

The Atlantic-to-Pacific exchange of water vapor:

might be an important feedback mechanism for abrupt climatic changes.
Researchers say the global ocean circulation during the past 90,000 years has
varied between warm and cold periods, some lasting thousands of years....
during warmer phases, moisture export from the Atlantic increased, which
reinforced the salt buildup in North Atlantic surface waters. The reverse
situation occurred during cooler periods, with decreased fresh water flux across

Genetic hearing loss? Connexin26 may help! Troublesome old gene-therapy may not be needed.

Superbot can reconfigure himself for different terrains.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Elizabeth Bear's "War Stories"

Posted by Trent Walters at 11:25 PM
Baen's Universe isn't the most easily accessible electronic magazine. After a number of failed attempts and numerous contacts with the zine, I finally got in. I have to thank Bear for helping me connect initially with someone who could help. It may just be an isolated incident--although they do time you out after an hour or two.

The upside is that they provide quite a bit of content. The latest issue has five SF stories, three fantasy, three stories by new writers, serials, a classic, and a few other odd bits.

Elizabeth Bear's "War Stories" is reminiscent of Lois McMaster Bujold but told through a war-jaded protagonist hopped up on cyberpunk. The story has two threads--one where Jenny Casey as a member of the Canadian troops has moved into Hartford, Connecticut, the other where she helps care for the dying wife of a friend. In the Hartford thread, she runs across an orphan shot non-lethally in the head. She briefly takes him under her wing as he heals--he reminds her of herself at that age, coarse--but she eventually abandons him to his fate. When they reunite a decade or so later, it's as drinking buddies. It's more a personal story than SF, but that's pretty standard for much of Bujold's work--military life played out on the future stage. A solid work.

Peter Friend's "Minature" in Feb 2007, IGMS

Posted by Trent Walters at 10:32 PM
IGMS is a nifty little ezine. Cheap, too: $2.50/issue.

In "Miniature," Peter Friend takes on the alien-knocking-on-your-door trope (which as we all know is anathema to Mundane SF, so it is evil. Okay, now that that's dispensed with, on to the review).

Here the door knocked on is that of a crochety gentleman who--unlike most elderly folk--wants no visitors. The alien's attempt to get inside the door gives the story its best line:

"We may talk please, random human," it said, each word in a different voice.

When the alien flips him a C-note, the old man finally relents. From here, however, the story gets sentimental as the old man describes his meeting his wife and regretting her passing. It isn't necessarily sentimental in a bad way, but it might have explored the old man's personality more--or something. Still, the story has lots of heart.

Diana Rowland's story in Writers of the Future, volume XXII

Posted by Trent Walters at 8:23 PM
In "Schroedinger's Hummingbird," Diana Rowland has written a sort of tragic-domestic/magical realist/interstitial/SF story. A woman has lost her child due to an accident of either her or her husband's leaving the child-gate unlatched. In her grief, she revisits the past, but each time she goes back it changes. She tries to reset the past to where it was so that she can change it back to what it should have been without the mistake, but she keeps failing.

At times, this piece is genuinely moving. But the impact it has often gets diluted with wordiness:
at the bright red plastic feeder she'd put out the day before. That long-ago day before. She barely remembered that yesterday anymore, it had been so long since she'd lived it.

This says the same thing about four different ways when one or two would have worked (after all, the structure of the story and the story itself goes into this in some detail). This is not to say that repetition is always ineffective--Joyce Carol Oates has demonstrated otherwise throughout her career, but if you look closely, each of her repetitions is slightly different, shading a bit differently.

Also, while "telling" or explaining one's emotional state to one's self in the interior of a third-person limited POV is necessary, it sometimes goes on a bit long or isn't as sharp as it might be:
she sipped her tea and pondered the bright futures stretching before her and her wonderful family.
Nonetheless, Rowland makes the story worth reading by capturing some of the spirit of churning over the same old events with the frustration that such behavior entails:
She lost six months of her life that way--six months that had never happened except in her memory.

Text of Greg Bear's "Blood Music" now online at Tor

Posted by Trent Walters at 7:59 PM
The original story, "Blood Music," that precursor to what some think of as nanotech and what some once thought belonged to cyberpunk (although the humanists laid claim to it as well), is available at the Tor website. It's meant to entice you to buy Bear's entire collection. It should do the trick.

(I have a minor quibble with the reading format. You may want to reformat it yourself in your word processor if you have difficulties.)