Wednesday, December 7, 2022

RIP, Queen of the Skies

The last Boeing 747 left the Everett, Washington factory yesterday, 2022-12-06. The pioneering and now-venerable design will continue to fly for at least a couple of decades for cargo operators and in government fleets, but as of this writing there are no American passenger aircraft of the type. This makes me a little sad, as the 747 is so impressive and iconic, symbolizing in every image the promise of the jet age. Its most direct replacement, the 777, is incredibly impressive in its own right, but it just isn't as distinctive as the 747. I would have liked for the 747 to be built forever, but commercial quad jets are doomed by the relentless logic of accounting. I hope that Boeing can at some point recover from the disastrous reverse takeover by McDonnell-Douglas so that it can engineer and produce the next great icon of the skies. But until then, blue skies and tailwinds to all the remaining 747s.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Predictions Are Hard - 2022 Edition

Predictions are actually easy; it's accurate predictions that are hard.  I'm only going to make inaccurate predictions today, since I haven't paid any attention to polling this year.

Senate - 47 D+I, 53 R

House - 208 D, 227 R 

Update 2022-12-07:

Senate - 51 D+I, 49 R

House - 213 D, 222 R 

Better than I expected!  That will teach me to not be lazy, if I ever get around to learning the lesson.

The loss of the House is a big blow, but the Dems over-performed relative to the baseline.  And a gain of one Senator will not only prevent a flood of shitty bills emanating from Congress, it will diminish the power of any narcissistic Dems who would annoint themselves co-President.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Random Book Review - A Song of Ice and Fire (so far)

Author: George R. R. Martin
Released: 1996-2011
Format reviewed: Mass-market paperback
Pages of content: 5,285 (per internet sources)
Rating: incomplete

I started re-reading the ASOIAF books and stopped because I realized I would be disappointed... again.  While Martin is under no legal obligation to his readers to complete the series, he is at risk of betraying a promise implicit in the beginning of every story: that there will be an end.  Sure, the GoT television series provided an end, but to a different story, one that was heavily re-written to meet the needs of the format.  I (and a great many other readers, I suspect) want to be given the end to the original work, in the original format.  (It was obvious by books 4-5 Martin was writing with an eye to creating an episodic television series, and it was part of the reason those books weren't as good as the first three.)

It is hard to recommend that a reader of speculative fiction not read what is one of the best high fantasy novels ever written (book 1, A Game of Thrones), so I can only ask that readers who haven't encountered the series not start it until Martin shows he is serious about completing the work.  Instead, they should invest in completed series or other ongoing series where the author is likely to finish the story.  Martin has for years stated on his blog that he is continuing to write the next book and has completed many hundreds of manuscript pages.  Those claims, to me, indicate that the author isn't really in control of his material, and that his editor(s) have no leverage over him that will force him to focus.  The latter is unsurprising, as Martin is probably the second most successful living speculative fiction author, trailing only J. K. Rowling, who has become a billionaire on the back of her very popular (but much less inventive) Harry Potter series.

Martin's continued involvement in many other projects, ranging from an ASOIAF prequel series to a dinner train in New Mexico, is an indicator he is bored with his creation.  That is his prerogative - it is his life to live and, as I said, he is under no legal obligation to complete the series.  But I think it is bad for speculative fiction in general that such a famous series can be so neglected that it risks being left unfinished.  Readers will be more hesitant to plunge into a new mega-series if they don't believe it will be finished.  While mega-series are not the end-all and be-all of the speculative fiction genres, they have drawn in a lot of new readers, and are an important part of the industry, much as Hollywood blockbusters are important to the movie industry.  I hope for the sake of his readers and speculative fiction in general that Martin finishes ASOIAF.  I just don't really expect him to do so at this point, and that disappoints me.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Random Book Review - The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano That Darkened the World and Changed History

Author: William K. Klingaman and Nicholas P. Klingaman
Released: 2013
Format reviewed: Hardcover
Pages of content: 283
Rating: 2/5

The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano That Darkened the World and Changed History is an interesting but poorly edited book that doesn't prove its overly long title.  It covers the effects of the 1815 eruption of the Mount Tambora stratovolcano on the island of Sumbawa, Indonesia, which is by current consensus the largest eruption of at least the past 1000 years.  It focuses in on the details of the weather in 1816 in eastern North America and Northwestern Europe, and on the subsequent effects on food availability

Unfortunately, the descriptions of weather often run on far longer than they really need to, and only the authors' engaging writing style save large portions of the book from extreme tedium.  In some cases the details of a single day can run to several pages.  The book is also completely lacking in graphics, even basic maps, which can be frustrating to someone who hasn't memorized the location of minor European cities such as Glarus.  Yes, the internet exists, but a book is still a low tech device that can be used anywhere there is light, and a non-fiction book should not shun visual information so completely as this one.

Overall, I found The Year Without Summer readable but disappointing.  Its description of the details of the eruption is cursory, and it doesn't attempt to link climate to the weather that fills so many of its pages.  The book is almost exclusively focused on Northeast America and Northwest Europe, which may interest readers of an English-language book printed in America more than other places around the world, but the limited geography betrays the title.  And it does very little to prove that the eruption changed history.  I can't recommend this book to anyone other than specialists who might find use for the detailed description of the weather in the time period.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Random Book Review - The Dirk Gently Novels

Author: Douglas Adams
Released: 1987 / 1988
Format reviewed: Mass-market paperback
Pages of content: 306 / 320
Rating: 3/5 / 3/5

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul are two* nominally science-fiction novels by the late and very much missed British author, Douglas Adams.  More accurately, they are comedies with a smidge of science fiction and/or fantasy to help the absurdist humor along.  In that aspect, they are similar to Douglas's more famous Hitchhiker's series.  However, the setting is primarily on Earth in this series, and there is considerably less action.

Both of the books are called detective novels, but as such the clues are a little obscure, at least to this reader, who may not have approached the books in a sufficiently adversarial manner.  The pacing of LDTTS is the better of the two, as there are more jokes sprinkled throughout and the setup portion of the book moves a little better.  DGHDA doesn't really come alive until the last 80 pages, but it's fairly fun once it does.  Both have interesting endings, though neither are entirely satisfactory.

Overall, these are fun, readable books that anyone who enjoys either speculative fiction or British humor should consume.  They don't rise to the level of the early HHGG books, but unlike a lot of recent speculative fiction, they are easy to finish without getting frustrated.  I recommend them for anyone who doesn't have a hangup about reading only 'serious' literature.

* An partial draft of the third novel in the series was published posthumously, but I felt it inappropriate to include it here.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Random Book Review: The Wheel of Time series

Author: Robert Jordan (0-11) / Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (12-14)
Released: 1990-2013
Format reviewed: Mass-market paperback
Pages of content: 11,898 (per internet sources)
Rating: 3/5

Avid and even moderate readers of the fantasy genre are probably familiar with The Wheel of Time, a 15 books series that is one of the top 10 best-selling of all time.  It is also one of more frustrating, with the middle books being interminable slogs of padding and poor editing.  The energy of the early books leached out by book 5 or 6, and Jordan's infamously similar descriptive passages make some of the chapters feel like they were written with word processor macros.  Bringing Brandon Sanderson in to finish the series would have been a good idea even if Jordan had not passed away in 2007, as the new author managed to fill out pages without employing Jordan's literary tics.  He also recaptured some of the energy of the early books, though he didn't always sustain it through all of the plot threads that needed to be resolved in plausible fashion.  And the ~200 page chapter of the final battle is ridiculous, though perhaps inevitable given the multi-book build-up.

For readers who have limited time and/or budget (the complete series will set a reader back by at least $150), I recommend steering clear of this series in favor of smaller series and stand-alone works.  During my recent re-read, I was able to skip several dozen chapters in books 8 through 11 because I knew basically nothing happened.  What's the point in paying for all those words if they are basically useless?  For readers who feel they've read all the other major series, or who want to read one that has been completed, The Wheel of Time is a decent if somewhat mindless way to fill up time.  Readers should keep internet access internet handy, as they are likely to want to look up characters vaguely remembered from previous chapters without having to pick through the earlier books.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Top 3 Superpowers

I am interested in stopping an apparently imminent war.  Would a supernatural deity/technologically advanced race please grant me one of the following abilities:

1) Omnipotence

2) Mind control

3) Teleportation

Thank you in advance.