The Cruel Stars

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So let me drum up a little early excitement for a new book and universe being launched by John Birmingham on the 20th of August, 2019.

As you can see from the above image, the book is called The Cruel Stars. It is the first in a series of books based on humanity’s far future. You can read the premise on the link I included above, Lord knows the professional marketing types do a better job with that stuff than I.

Full disclosure: I was part of the beta process for Cruel Stars. I’ve read the first draft of the book, and it is pretty damn good. Read a lot of sci-fi, and JB nailed it with this space opera.

Of course it bears the hallmarks of Birmingham’s style. Hard hitting action. Realistic good guys and bad guys, with plenty of shades of gray. A living “world,” or worlds, rather. ¬†Excellent scenes, memorable lines and solid interaction. A well planned plot that drives implacably to a can’t-put-me-down ending. What this guy writes is worth reading, there is a reason he is one of my top three authors.

Me, I’m putting my money where my mouth is and I’m pre-ordering two hardcopies. One for me, one for my dad.

Sometimes the wait is worth it, and this is one of those cases.

Go ahead, pre-order a copy. You know you want to.

Some other stuff I’m keeping my eye on.

An article¬†caught my eye the other day, it seems that another object is hurtling toward us from deep space, and if it impacts the planet it will carry quite a punch. A 50 megaton punch. I rather dislike large meteorites, they can cause no end of trouble. However, we’d still be huddling in caves from the dinosaurs if one wouldn’t have really smacked us 66 million odd years ago. If a big enough one hits us again, it’s back to the caves.

Also, read about a Chinese researcher who has done the first gene-editing on a human embryo, the purported purpose of the experiment was to prevent future HIV infections. Hate to say it, but gene editing is the wave of the future. And it’s a wave we may not want to ride. However, the curious tinkerer types simply must keep messing with the latch to Pandora’s box. Read the article and ask yourself if a child is a suitable vehicle for an experiment- the parents opt in, but the kid has to deal with any unforeseen effects. Unethical seems an understatement.

Finally, another probe has landed on Mars. The Insight probe will be drilling down into the surface and relaying data back to scientists here on Earth. My mind boggles at how you can shoot an unmanned spacecraft to a planet hundreds of millions of kilometers away, hit the target, successfully decelerate, land, and deploy a sensitive scientific instrument.

I know I’ve been critical of NASA from time to time on this site, but hats off to the team responsible for the latest of a string of Mars exploration vehicles.

Bravo!

Blood of Heirs, a review

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BLUF- An excellent debut fantasy novel by Alicia Wanstall-Burke. Read it.

Well readers, it’s not every year that I spend the day before Thanksgiving reading like a madman in a fantasy novel, and staying up late into the wee hours penning a review. Blood of Heirs was worth it. What an excellent novel. Really.

Ok, let me throw out a few facts. First, fantasy isn’t really a big thing of mine, but I read the premise to this novel along with a sample and I was hooked. Second, I am very glad I bought this book and read it, and it’s a pleasure to review.

Ms. Wanstall-Burke did an amazing job with her world-building, and there are no flies on her characters, either. Both the world and the people in it were realistic, identifiable, and sympathetic. These were not cardboard-cutouts. No, the world and personalities in it came alive in my mind as I feverishly burned through the pages.

The plot was excellent, the book was a great page turner. I liked how the two chief protagonists, Lidan and Ran, would switch off, this helped expand Alicia’s world, and kept me constantly engaged.

Also, I enjoyed the interplay of the supernatural with the “earthly” action- I thought this was very well crafted, and displayed real storytelling mastery on the part of the author.

For a debut novel, this one smoked it out of the park.

If you are a fantasy fan, this is a must-read. Hell, if you’re a fiction fan of any genre, the same.

Go out and get a copy, I think you’ll be well-satisfied. I know I was.

Name change

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Elon Musk’s BFR project has undergone a name change- it will henceforth be called the Starship. At a mighty hundred odd meters in length with a projected payload of 100 passengers and crew, if successful, it will live up to its name.

You could split hairs and say that a “starship” is an interstellar vessel, but I think it’s a pretty cool name and a vast improvement over other competing designs. Plus, I thought BFR was kind of a funky name.

Production is due to start next year, with initial flight testing to begin in 2020 or so. If all goes well, and its a big if, there’s supposed to be a moon tourist flight by 2023.

Long time readers know that I’m a fan of Mr. Musk’s accomplishments and plans. I’ve really got my fingers crossed that this one will pan out.

Beats the hell out of some billionaire buying yet another yacht.

Extinction

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My eye caught a news article the other day which should have been pretty big news, but wasn’t. It seems that we are losing our global biodiversity at an alarming rate. This phenomenon has a name, it is the Holocene Extinction. Apparently it is the sixth mass extinction event in our planet’s geologic history, and we are behind it. Ever since our distant ancestors discovered that wooly mammoths made for tasty treats, we have left a trail of barbecues behind in our march to global ecological dominance.

Well, we have dominated the planet. With some eight billion members, our species sits firmly entrenched across the food chains of Planet Earth. This has come at a price- nearly all the megafauna are gone, and the other small animals are under pressure from habitat loss.

You can clearly see this where I live. It is routine to see a number of different species dead at the side of the road, their forests are bisected by high speed avenues through the woods. Where car and wildlife meet, roadkill happens. A lot. On a daily basis, one can see dead groundhogs, raccoons, possums, chipmunks, foxes, turtles, chipmunks, and whitetail deer. I’ve never seen a statistic for roadkill, but I’ll bet it easily exceeds the numbers lost to hunting, trapping, disease or natural predation.

A memory that sticks with me is the night I was driving my daughter to a band concert. We were traveling along a steep, curvy road on the side of a hill. It was pitch black. I saw movement in the road ahead, as we drew closer I realized that it was a deer that had been struck by someone, her legs and back had been broken. She was going to die, there was no doubt. Painfully, slowly. I couldn’t stop and finish her off because of how dangerous that section of road was. All we could do was look.

And that’s one instance out of thousands.

Come to think of it, I’ve been to few places on Earth that were truly wild. Out of the 43 countries I’ve visited, the hand of man was omnipresent. Even the national parks weren’t wild. In fact, those were some of the worst places. Yellowstone? Long convoys of tourists forming traffic jams to photograph a few tiny herds of bison, where those herds were once millions strong. The Smoky Mountains? LOL, worse crowds snapping pictures of token elk.

I think of countries I’ve visited. A few examples. Egypt, with its teeming masses concentrated along the Nile. At first I thought the mountains in the Sinai were snow-capped, it turned out to be drifts of plastic trash. Holland and Germany- perfectly manicured pasture and forest. Wild? Not at all. Islands in the Caribbean; beautiful beaches awash in medical waste with desperate poverty hidden outside of gated resorts. Afghanistan- a land as remote as any on the planet. Stripped bare until you get to truly impassible mountain regions. The United States? Nearly all of the Eastern virgin forest gone.

There is a long litany of things we’ve lost. The passenger pigeon. The chestnut tree. The Irish Elk. This list could extend for thousands of pages. I’ll spare you that, you surely get the idea.

What is to be done?

I don’t know. It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to set aside some more land for habitat. Also, we need to do more with aquaculture as opposed to wild harvests in the sea. And the development of the rain forests is crazy; those last bits of virgin forest are literally the lungs of our planet. Denuding them for short term economic gain makes no sense.

There is a solution which dovetails nicely into the theme of this website. Extrasolar exploration and colonization. Unfortunately, I don’t see us sending waves of colonists into interstellar space within my lifetime, but it would be an elegant solution. All of our eggs would no longer be in one basket, and we’d reduce the population pressure on Earth. And let’s face it, humans will not fail to exploit anything. So we may as well spread out some.

Maybe the next time we land upon virgin ground we’d treat it with more care, having learned the lesson of what happens when you ruthlessly exploit the one planet you are given. I’ve read in places that capitalism is to blame for all of our ecological woes. Surely this is partially true, one need think no further than the near-extinction of Eastern US waterfowl at the turn of the 20th century. It seems that plumes of feathers were the height of fashion, so market hunters went out and shot millions of migratory birds. Strict hunting regulations and a change in fashion saved our geese, but it was a close-run thing.

However, communism bears plenty of ecological fault as well. Simply reference the Chernobyl disaster, massive strip mining in Eastern Europe, and the Aral Sea. These are but a few examples. Look, and you’ll find them everywhere, like termites in a damp basement. Whether socialist or capitalist, people are still people.

I was trained as a geologist at the university. One of the first things I learned is that “if you don’t grow it, you have to mine it.” There is no such thing as a free lunch.

We are running out of wild resources. The sixth extinction is upon us. We have been blessed with intelligence, it’s time to start really applying it toward this problem. Because it is a problem, and it affects us one and all.

Who wants to go for a walk in the woods and see no animals?

Not I, and probably not you, either.

 

 

Progress

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OK, so years ago I was blown up by an RPG, sustained some blunt force trauma injuries and a TBI. As a result, I’ve had a medical issue or two. When I returned to the ‘States, it was nothing but one hospital visit after the next. Eventually I was medically retired, and the Army and I parted ways. A lingering aftereffect of that period was that I had become sedentary, unsure of what I could safely do in the manner of exercise. Also, after so much bad food overseas, delicious ‘Stateside food (Taco Bell, I’m looking at you) became a real crutch. I was eating like a horse with little exercise.

You see where this is going, right?

I packed on the pounds and lost all my conditioning. After a lifetime of heavy physical activity, I turned into a couch potato. It was pretty bad. My doctors at the VA saw what was going on and threatened to put me on statins for high cholesterol.

It was as if someone dragged a needle across a record. No way was I going to take more pills if a change in lifestyle would reduce my pants size and my cholesterol count.

About a year ago, I started running again, then I ran into issues with a trick knee. I had injured it on a winter ruck march in 2006, it plays up from time to time. Well, high impact wasn’t going to work out in the long term; I really don’t want a knee operation or a joint replacement.

So I looked at my options and evaluated my lifestyle.

First, it was time to lay off on the delicious fatty foods. So I did that. Not only better for the waistline, it helps the wallet, too. Second, I grabbed every chance I could get to walk. Set up a new rule. If I have business in my hometown, I walk. Trips to the post office, the bank, the car garage, everywhere. Finally, I experimented with an activity that I enjoyed from the service, ruck marching.

Strangely enough, I always enjoyed walking with a pack. Most people hate it, but I never did. Mile after mile with “the big green tick,” or the ALICE pack. Some of my fondest memories of the service were doing those long walks. I think the furthest I ever walked in one go was some twenty odd miles, I was carrying the 240B that day. I remember when my feet lost their callouses- I had an appointment at the hospital, they were checking me out for something. A nurse glanced at my feet and said “Wow, you’ve done a lot of walking.” It was true, the hard skin was peeling off my feet six months after I left Afghanistan.

So sometimes I put on an ALICE pack and walk a few miles in the park by the house. I’m mindful of the nerve damage to my neck and shoulder, so I don’t load very heavy, maybe 30 pounds. It’s enough to work up a sweat and remind my body that it’s not time to quit.

And it feels good when I’m done. I always had the idea that you need to push yourself to the limit when exercising, and that’s fine for a young soldier. However, I had to adjust my perspective after I was hurt, and that took some time. I think that I’ve got a pretty good plan now, and it seems to be working. Next month I go in for another check-up, and I’ll be curious to see where my cholesterol is at.

Hopefully my numbers are down.

Re: writing. At the moment I’m in a bit of a tactical pause. Catching up with my reading, some of which is in preparation for a pretty cool classified project slated for this winter. Also, there’s a new book out that shows much promise, “Blood of Heirs” by Alicia Wanstall-Burke. I bought a copy and I’ll read it soon. Give it a look, y’all.

JL