Friday, June 26, 2009

Essential Sci-Fi

Recently, I was talking to another student who was a big fantasy fan, but had no actual experience reading science fiction. It just so happens that this has happened to me before, and I happen to have a list of essential science fiction lying around (who doesn't?) which, naturally, I was more than willing to share... cause my opinions are more valid than everyone else's. Then I thought, why not share the wonder of my judgment with my adoring throngs of blog readers (do 6 people constitute a throng?). The list is intended to serve as a starter set of novels that provides an orientation to the genre, introduce some of the legendary authors and works, show how varied the genre is, and includes additional related works (including fantasy works by the same author).

Criteria for inclusion:
1.) Novels only (or short story collections from a single author). No individual short stories, novellas, movies, manga, or plays (sorry, Flowers for Algernon).
2.) I need to have read it. Why are there no Neal Stephenson, Larry Niven, Lester Del Ray, or Phillip K. Dick? I haven't gotten to them yet (and won't until after graduation and tenure review... or later). Others may be intentional slights of may fall into this category.
3.) Quality (duh).
4.) Novelty helps.
5.) Winning an award helps.
6.) Character development is a big plus (sorry, Victor Vinge) but being a landmark/seminal will work just as well, usually (hurray, original Foundation trilogy).
7.) Should be science fiction, not humor with sci-fi trappings (sorry, Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett)

The List:

Robert Heinlein
Essential: Stranger in a Strange Land, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Starship Troopers
If you like these, also read: The Past Through Tomorrow, Time Enough for Love, Farnham's Freehold, Double Star, The Unpleasant Profession of Johanthon Hoag (a.k.a. 6xH), The Door into Summer, Podkyne of Mars, Tunnel in the Sky, The Star Beast, Job: A Comedy of Justice (fantasy), Glory Road (fantasy)

Issac Asimov
Essential: Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation (The Foundation Trilogy - actually a series of 8 novellas organized into 3 volumes), The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, Nightfall (novel version with Robert Silverberg)
If you like these, also read: Foundation's Edge, Foundation and Earth, Prelude to Foundation, Forward the Foundation, The Robots of Dawn, Robots and Empire, Nemesis, The Gods Themselves

Arthur C. Clarke

Essential: Rendezvous with Rama, Childhood's End, The Fountains of Paradise, 2001: A Space Odyssey, 2010: Odyssey Two
If you like these, also read: Against the Fall of Night, 2061: Odyssey Three, 3001: The Final Odyssey, Rama II (with Gentry Lee), The Garden of Rama (with Gentry Lee), Rama Revealed (with Gentry Lee)

Ray Bradbury
Essential: Farenheit 451
If you like these, also read: The Martian Chronicles, Dandelion Wine

Orson Scott Card
Essential: Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead, Maps in a Mirror (the collected short fiction of Orson Scott Card)
If you like these, also read: Xenocide, Children of the Mind, The Homecoming Sage (5 sci-fi novels retelling the Book of Mormon, so I'm told), The Tales of the Alvin Maker (7 fantasy novels set in an alternate mid-1800s America, in progress)

Joe Haldeman
Essential: The Forever War
If you like these, also read: The Forever Peace (not a sequal, actually)

Kim Stanley Robinson
Essential: Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars
If you like these, also read: The Martians, The Years of Rice and Salt

Frank Herbert
Essential: Dune, Destination Void
If you like these, also read: The Jesus Incident (with Bill Ransom), The Lazerus Effect (with Bill Ransom), The Ascention Factor (with Bill Ransom)

Walter M. Miller, Jr.
Essential: A Canticle for Leibowitz

Connie Willis
Essential: To Say nothing of the Dog, The Doomsday Book

Stephen R. Donaldson
Essential: The Real Story, Forbidden Knowledge, A Dark and Hungry God Arises, Chaos and Order, This Day All Gods Die (The Gap Saga)
If you like these, also read: Lord Foul's Bane, The Illearth War, The Power that Preserves (fantasy: The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenent), The Wounded Land, The One Tree, White Gold Wielder (fantasy: The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenent), The Runes of the Earth, Fatal Revenent (fantasy: The Final Chronicles of Thomas Covenent, in progress), The Mirror of Her Dreams, A Man Rides Through (fantasy: Mordent's Need "Series")

David Brin
Essential: Sundiver, Startide Rising, The Uplift War (Uplift Novels)

Dan Simmons
Essential: Hyperion, The Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, The Rise of Endymion
If you like these, also read: Illium, Olympos

Ted Chaing
Essential: The Stories of Your Life and Others

You additions, insults, and quibbling should go in the comments.

Ish has suggested the inclusion of some cyberpunk works. This is not my particular favorite sub-genre, but it is an important component of the overall genre and I wholeheartedly agree that it should be included. His suggestions are below (not all of which are cyberpunk, none of which I have read yet):

William Gibson
Essential: Neuromancer (book 1 of the The Sprawl Trilogy), The Difference Engine (with Bruce Sterling)
If you like these also read: Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive (books 2 and 3 of the The Sprawl Trilogy)

Neal Stephenson
Essential: Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon (not Cyberpunk)
If you like these also read: Quicksilver, The Confusion, The System of the World (The Baroque Cycle, not Cyberpunk)

He also suggests Phillip K. Dick, but with no specific suggestions, I won't add him. I could guess based on which ones have been made into movies or won awards, but having had someone actually read them would be far preferable. Now if I can only get some steampunk on the list. Is there any example of steampunk in novel form that is not just the novelization of some other work?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Coffee from People Who Hate You

As a grad student, I have a minor coffee habit. There are about 8 area coffee stands I frequent, I have customer loyalty cards (buy 10, get one free) from 4 of them. One thing they all share is the paper cup/plastic lid coffee disbursement system that features the built in dribble effect. You probably know what I mean. The system works fin unless you align the hole in the lid that you drink from with the seam of the paper cup (or it is within +/- pi/4 rad. of the hole). If you have it so unfortunately aligned, coffee invariably dribbles down your shirt/pants/naked chest (don't ask) as you sip. Often, the cups are handed to you with the lids already in place leading careless people (me) to begin drinking before checking their alignment.

I have developed a theory about why cups are handed to you in dribble mode. It's a simple theory that, I think, accounts for at least 98% of unfortunately aligned drinking apparatti.
1.) The person handing you your coffee has just started and doesn't know about the evils of hole on seam alignment.
2.) The person handing you your coffee hates you, deeply and personally.

My theory is supported by loads on undocumented anecdotal evidence. That may not sound impressive, but several people I've heard of used the same standard to decide not to have their children vaccinated because they'll catch the autism.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Crackdown Begins

“I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to get killed. I’m listening to all my favorite music. I even want to dance to a few songs. I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows. Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow! There are a few great movie scenes that I also have to see. I should drop by the library, too. It’s worth to read the poems of Forough and Shamloo again. All family pictures have to be reviewed, too. I have to call my friends as well to say goodbye. All I have are two bookshelves which I told my family who should receive them. I’m two units away from getting my bachelors degree but who cares about that. My mind is very chaotic. I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so they know we were not just emotional and under peer pressure. So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them. So they know that our ancestors surrendered to Arabs and Mongols but did not surrender to despotism. This note is dedicated to tomorrow’s children…” - an Iranian blogger, with more courage than most of us will ever know.

Posted on The Daily Dish (obviously).

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Time to Reload

There are a lot of problems with the NHL and the direction it is heading (toward NBA-style terribleness), too many to list and explain without devoting a good 2-3 of hours that I don't have to writing, editing, and research. As Ish said though, it is still the most exciting and entertaining spectator sport entertainment option available today.

Instead of fixing the NHL, let's take a look at what the Wings have to do (roster wise) to get ready for next year and prepare for the incredibly difficult task of making a third appearance in the Finals round in a row.

No discussion of their needs should take place without taking the cap into account. Fortunately for Wings fans there is some online help with that (fanatical Red Wings fans with some time on their hands and some Java experience are pretty helpful):

A quick look at the chart shows that the Wings have the following players with contracts that are expiring (RFA indicates players who will only be restricted free agents when their contracts expire preventing them from actively negotiating with other teams and necessitating that any team that tries to sign them owes the Wings some draft picks if they succeed):

Hudler (RFA)
Leino (RFA)

Any signings they do make need to fit into the roughly $9.4 M they will have available under the projected salary cap for next year. Looking at this list, I would resign Leino and cut the rest free. Hossa was great during the regular season and an underwhelming distraction during the post-season. I think they can get better value for the roughly $7M he may command on the market. Samuelsson is just too streaky for his price tag. Hudler is a good player, I like him, but he spent the entire playoffs being pushed off the puck. Kopecky made some bad decisions about who and when to fight and could be upgraded by playing Helm more regularly. Chelios should probably retire now. Conklin is OK, but if Howard is ever going to be the goalie of the future, it might be time to let him have the backup job. Downey is fine for his role, but an enforcer type that can be trusted to play playoff games would be a much better choice. McCarty: ditto, retirement looms.

Adding by Subtracting:
Stuart has three years left on his contract. He is a physical "defenseman", likes to jump into the play, and makes incredibly costly defensive mistakes at the worst possible moments. Given how much money/attention other "defensemen" of this type have received lately (Campbell, Phaneuf, and Green come to mind) I have to believe that someone will be willing to trade a last round draft pick (Red Wings gold) and the obligatory bag of pucks to get him (clearing his $3.8M cap hit from the Wings' books and freeing Detroit from the turnover machine). If not, demote him to GR.

Promote from Within:
Howard (replaces Conklin)
Ericsson (replaces Stuart)
Helm (replaces Kopecky)
Leino (replaces Hudler)
Abdelkador (replaces Samuelsson)

The Wings' needs are pretty slim, really. This is what I think they need; I have no idea what of this is available.
1.) More depth at defense. They lost Quincy to waivers last year, which hurt. A tough, defensively sound guy or two would really help. A legit top four defenseman would be even better. They should have the cap space to get one.
2.) A legit enforcer. One who scares people but can also play in important games. Pay a lot to get one, if necessary (probably necessary, they are rare and coveted).
3.) A veteran guy near retirement trying to win his first cup seems to be a necessity.

Questions Going Forward:
1.) Will the famous Red Wings loyalty to former players hurt them this year encouraging them to bring back Hudler, Samuelsson, or Chelios for another year when it is really time to go?
2.) Is Holmstrom still capable of being effective?
3.) Will Lilja's brain ever stop bleeding?
4.) Are the remaining goal tending prospects ready for 3rd string duty?

Brad McCrimmon's first year as the defensive specialty assistant coach was not particularly special. Was it so bad as to deny him a second try? Maybe. See penalty kill, goals-against, team defense, Stanley Cup Finals round play.

Ken Holland, of course, will do something entirely different than I think he should do. Largely, he will be right and I will be wrong. That's why his job is to evaluate talent and manage the roster while my job is to do research, teach classes, and write papers not relating to hockey.

Update (06/19/2009):
The Playoffs beard-themed marketing slogans:
"The beard is back"
"Shave the best for last"
Totally lame. Do better next year. I'm not sure anything will top the brilliant marketing move of unilaterally declaring Detroit to be "Hockeytown" leaving fans in other cities sputtering for years that they deserve to be called that as though it were some award or title that can be won.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

NRO wants US to Openly Support Iranian Opposition

Specifically, Peter Wehner thinks so.

This is an important, and potentially a decisive, moment in Iran; it is hard to know what will eventually emerge from the popular uprising we are witnessing. The situation is quite fluid, and may be for some time to come. How President Obama deals with this matter — whether he takes actions that show tangible support for the forces of liberation or whether he sits passively by as events unfold, nervous to offend cruel regimes — will tell us a lot about him and his core commitments.

Is he retarded?

The best way to help crush an opposition movement in Iran is to give credence to the inevitable charges that the reformers are agents of Teh Great Satan.

Anything we do should be done quietly, very freaking quietly.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Hitchens on Iran

Hitchens gets straight to the point in a typical (to him) piece that's brilliant, difficult to read, and likely to turn off anyone who doesn't already agree with him.

He does manage to get in the best quote, thus far, though not directly attributable to him:

For a flavor of the political atmosphere in Tehran, Iran, last week, I quote from a young Iranian comrade who furnishes me with regular updates:

I went to the last major Ahmadinejad rally and got the whiff of what I imagine fascism to have been all about. Lots of splotchy boys who can't get a date are given guns and told they're special.

This appears to be be the sum total of original Slate content on the revolution (or smackdown of potential revolutionaries) that is currently happening in Iran. It comes up in their summaries of other publications, but no analysis. I suppose that American Health Care and Japanese "Grass Eating Men" are more important anyway.

I'm sure they can fit it into the Kinsley template (delayed effects man!):
Human civilization is threatened by [insert headline issue here]. This is a problem exclusively caused by the Bush administration because they are stupid and evil. Using that as an assumption, I will now prove to you that the Bush administration is stupid, evil, and to blame for [insert headline issue here].

What Fascism Looks Like

Most Americans are pretty sheltered (S.W. incl.). They don't particularly know what fascism looks like so they say, "Republicans are fascists," "Democrats are fascists."

Images escaping Iran show what fascism looks like. Please don't make that mistake again. The regime has shut down cellular phones, opposition newspapers, facebook, and a myriad of other possible communication sources so, out of necessity, this revolution is happening in 140 character chunks via Twitter. I may not make fun of it (Twitter) again.

Sorry for this, but CNN and the like can't be bothered:

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Incumbant Coup in Iran

We are either witnessing the end of the Islamic-Republic in Iran or the crushing of another generation or reformists. The ruling party was caught so off guard with how badly their election (rigged as it was) was going for them they've shut down communications throughout the country and announced the saddest, most transparently fraudulent election results ever put forward by a tinpot dictatorial regime. They are so at odds with reality, it makes me wonder if the idea is to claim power and provoke riots by to opposition (working) in order to generate an excuse to arrest, beat, ad kill them.

Andrew Sullivan has devoted his blog to covering this story which is helpful because the mainstream media in this country appears to still be unaware that there is a story to cover here.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Wings Equal Toast II

They couldn't close them out in game 6. They will not be able to do it on the mulligan try. Gary's whiny little golden boy will lift the cup apparently vindicating the guy who thought the Dallas and Phoenix were better Hockey locales than Minneapolis and Winnipeg.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Freedom to Look Good

I like freedom. I like it a lot. I don't like to listen to crappy songs that blather about it in the abstract, or watch overwrought movies which breathlessly laud it without ever defining/examining it, but properly contextualized and coupled with responsibility, I'm a fan.

I'm not such a fan when a court invents a "freedom" for one man in order to find a reason to throw another man in jail for an, admittedly juvenile, act of political expression.

Story from Taiwan (it's short).

Seems like a very Orwellian use of the word to me.

One Thing Mickey Does Know is Cars

And he knows why the GM and Chrysler restructuring plans as currently envisioned will not work. Hint: he cites the reason why I will not buy GM or Chrysler.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Wings Equal Toast

I watched the Wings completely fall apart in the 2nd period of Game 4.

I don't really know what's wrong with them. The Pen(i)s aren't that dominant. Injured? Don't really care? They're slow and lackadaisical.

This series will be tied tonight, but it's really over.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Ambi-Post of the Day

Rather ambiguous post on Will Wilkinson's blog. The take home message, depending on your point of view is either: 1) don't get too excited for the prospects of a more liberal foreign policy under Obama, he's not really in charge and the world will not be made a better place, or 2) don't get too excited about the prospects of a more liberal foreign policy under Obama, he's not really in charge and the world will not go to hell in a hand-basket. It's hard to read an endorsement of either point of view here, I'm ambiguous myself... meh (see).

I'm posting this comment about it though just as an excuse to provide you with the closing quote which made me giggle:
The message, I take it, is that the damn hippy kids can appoint bisexual robot Latinas to the Supreme Court and tell GM to make cars that run on fairy kisses as long as they know the Serious People will continue to control the power that matters. All signs point to Obama going along, which, as Nixon knew, is what you can expect from self-impressed Ivy League assholes.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Justice Works Again

The Sarcastic Weasel has me'd (weaseled) out of jury duty!


Actually, since it was district court, they had all of two cases that had the potential to go to a jury trial this month. Both settled this morning, so weaseling out for everybody!

The American system of justice is the greatest in the world.


Suck it, Sweden!

Peace and Quiet At Last

Blogging from the office. Just wanted to mention how very peaceful it is here.

As I've mentioned before, The Sarcastic Weasel works in what is, truth told, a hole. Actually, a basement with frequent flooding problems. As a result, I cannot leave my computer tower on the floor. Granted, for fan, heat, and dust related reasons, you're not supposed to do so anyway, but who ever does what they're supposed to do?

Instead of being out of sight, out of mind, and out of earshot on the floor, my PC tower lives on top of some metal shelving nearly at ear level. The problem I have with this is that the processor is loud... freaking loud and annoying. Furthermore, it runs all the damn time... ALL THE DAMN TIME! It's always processing something... some damn system idle process.

First, I killed the distributed computing task (goodbye SETI at home... the BOINC is silly Berkeley nonsense anyway).

Next, I went on a total spybot killing rampage followed by an obsolete programs, files, and registry entry holy war (none survived).

Finally, I went into the process tab of the task manager and noted which processes were running and how much of the CPU they were claiming: nothing terrible, just 2-4%... all of the goddamn time.

Turns out the culprits were all related to Microsoft's indexing services. Indexing services are these neat software things included in Windows that run while you system is (theoretically) idle (and that hold a death-grip on your resources for quite some time after you try to use you system again) in order to make and store fancy lists of all of your files. The idea is that you can trade reduced system performance 100% of the time that you are trying to do crap, for a faster Windows file search those one or two times a month that you need to do a search. Also if you processor buzzes right in your ear, it makes sure that never shuts up.

To kill or not to kill? Not much of a decision, really.

For those that would like to kill the damn things on their own machine, follow this advice (Tweak #2 on the linked page):

It's totally worth it... My God, is it worth it. I can just sit here and bask in the silence... ahh... wait, is that the wind tunnel I hear?