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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Glen Cook, Important Fantasy Writer: Part 1

I saw Glen Cook at the 2006 World Fantasy Convention in Austin Texas, where he was a Guest of Honor.  At the time, I simply couldn’t understand it.  I’ve read Science Fiction and Fantasy (SF&F) all my life.  At the time, I had been reading “Locus Magazine,” the monthly magazine that reviewed the SF&F literary market, for over ten years.  Yet I had never heard of him.  Glen Cook: Guest of Honor?  He couldn’t be that important, could he?

As the World Fantasy Convention is geared toward published authors, few sat in on more than one panel discussion, and many didn’t even snag a seat.  Yet because he was a Guest of Honor, Glen Cook sat in on several, giving attendees his opinion on the various topics being discussed.  Often one of his fellow panelists would turn toward him and say, “You know, Glen, I’ve read some of your Black Company novels, and I really enjoyed them,” as if wishing to go on record that he, and that series, were significant.  But when I saw Glen Cook at his table in the dealer’s room, the books arrayed before him sported not the dark, ominous artwork of the Black Company series, but lighthearted scenes featuring an overcoat-clad detective.  How could he have written that many books in a series without my having heard about him? I wondered.  When my wife bought Sweet Silver Blues, the first installment in what I came to learn was his Garrett P.I. series, I asked her why she had purchased it.  After all, the organizers had given each of us a bag of books at registration, and we would have to pack them into our suitcases for the flight home.

“It just looked fun,” she told me.

As I’ve followed the SF&F literary market over the years, I’ve begun to realize that no reader can possibly stay on top of everything that’s out there.  The publishers put out too many titles each month, and bookstores play it safe by buying multiple copies of the latest offering by top selling authors, and a smattering of anything else that seems different enough that it might become the next big thing.  Even older, established authors find that bookstores carry no more than a small percentage of their available titles.  Consequently, lots of authors go unnoticed, and book reviewers who promote authors who constantly attempt to challenge reader’s expectations through their fiction only perpetuate this trend.  The longer I study the market, the more confounded I am by this approach.  For most readers aren’t looking to have their expectations of Fiction challenged or overthrown each time they pick up a novel.  They’ve worked hard all day, or spent too many hours studying.  They want an escape from reality, not literature that will place additional demands on their already fatigued brains and bodies. 

After my wife read Sweet Silver Blues, the first Garrett P.I. novel, I read it too.  I wasn’t won over by it.  The novel combines two normally separate genres, the High Fantasy novel, with its fantastical creatures, swordplay, and magic-wielding sorcerers and witches, with a Mystery novel featuring a stereotypical hardboiled detective.  Cook’s minimal description of Garrett’s world prevented me from envisioning his Fantasy world.  His characters, variations on traditional trolls, elves, and dwarves, prevented me from taking the overall mystery plot seriously.  Yet as is sometimes the case, that isn’t the end of the story.  Sometimes you discover a particular author before you’re ready for him, and sometimes the authors that prove important to you are different from those the reviewers say you should care about.

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you why you should care about Glen Cook’s novels.  Or at least why I do…now.

Dragon Dave

Monday, April 29, 2013

No More Crying

A guest blog (and product review) by Dragon Dave’s wife.

Does the sight of an onion make you want to cry?  Do you end up throwing out your onions, because they went bad waiting to be chopped?  I understand completely, as chopping onions always makes me weep.  Last time, it got so bad that Dragon Dave finished the chopping for me as I escaped out to the yard.

I wondered why is that the onions make us cry, so I did a little research and found when you cut an onion, you break cells, releasing their contents which are enzymes and Amino acid sulfoxides in the form of sulfenic acids. Enzymes that were kept separate now are free to mix with the sulfenic acids to produce propanethiol S-oxide, a volatile sulfur compound that wafts upward toward your eyes. This gas reacts with the water in your tears to form sulfuric acid. The sulfuric acid burns, stimulating your eyes to release more tears to wash the irritant away. 

I found several folk remedies to keep the gases from getting into my eyes.  These included burning candles or matches nearby while slicing the onion, cooling or freezing the onion before cutting, and even slicing the onion underwater.  No matter what I tried, I always ended up crying.  Then one night, while watching "Castle" (one of our favorite TV shows), I noticed that Richard Castle and his daughter Alexis were wearing goggles while chopping onion.  This got me thinking,  “I need a pair of those!”

With two onions awaiting my attention, I decided the goggles were worth a try.  So I dug out a coupon for Bed Bath and Beyond, and off Dragon Dave and I went.  The first sales clerk had never heard of Onion Goggles, but the second led us to where the goggles were displayed amid a vast selection of kitchen gadgets.  They only had pink in stock, but I was thinking, “Yeah, they have the goggles!”  Then we headed home.  It was time to face the onions.

Gearing-up For Hazardous Duty

At home, I got out the onion, chopping board, and knife.  Donning the goggles I got started chopping.  What a great experience it was: no tearing up, no crying, and zero pain.  I can now chop onions anytime I need to.  The only drawback is that the goggles don’t fit over my glasses, so I have to be a little more careful when chopping so I do not chop off any fingers.

Mission Accomplished!

The next test will come when I harvest the dozen or so onions out in the garden.

Dragon Dave’s Wife

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Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Space Shuttle Escape System Test Vehicle

No signs accompanied this curiosity at the Joe Davies’ Heritage Park in Palmdale.  Lacking evidence to the contrary, I assumed it was a mockup to assist engineers during the design phase, or used by the astronauts during preflight simulations.  When I did a little Internet-investigation, I discovered I was wrong on both counts. 

During the Space Shuttle's design phase, NASA conducted numerous safety tests.  In 1977, four years before the first shuttle flight, this test vehicle was bolted onto a rocket sled.  According to Robert Pearlman at, “The test worked fine with the overhead hatch blowing off and the ejection seat with a dummy shot out and the chute opened.  Then you could see the hatch fly down and slice the dummy in half.  OOPS!”

This, and more great photos, can be found at
Robert Pearlman's forum.

Test crash dummies lead incredibly dangerous lives, do they not?

Due to the way it blasted into and returned from space, NASA chose not to incorporate an escape capsule into the Space Shuttle’s design.  They installed ejections seats on Columbia’s first four flights, though.  And what kind of ejection seats did they use, you ask?  As far as I can ascertain, the ejection seats used for the crash tests, and those they later installed in the Columbia, were modified versions of those in the SR-71 Blackbirds.

Just another way that those beautiful reconnaissance planes served our country.

Dragon Dave

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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Steve Austin in Palmdale

After studying the SR-71 Blackbirds at the Blackbird Airpark, we walked across to the adjacent Joe Davies’ Heritage Airpark, where we saw a large number of other aircraft.  They had been parked out on the desert in this arid environment, which should preserve them from rust and decay better than if they were left in a more cold and humid area, such as San Diego.  It was interesting to see these planes up close, read about them, and see the engines that powered them.

Another plane being readied for display.

After our tour, we ate lunch, and then walked into the museum gift shop.  As we had a long drive ahead of us, we intended to have a quick look around.  But Bob, a retired wiring specialist who had worked on the SR-71s, noticed my “Six Million Dollar Man” T-shirt.  He told me that he had met Lee Majors once, the actor who played Steve Austin, while the TV show was filming an episode nearby.  The conversation gradually shifted to the space shuttles, which he had also worked on.  He confessed that he cried when the decommissioned Endeavor arrived in California to become a display piece in a museum.  He had helped the space shuttles embark on so many missions, and taken great pride in his involvement with the program.  Now that grand era was over. 

Bob had told me that Frank, the man sitting behind the counter, had piloted the SR-71s on some of their secret reconnaissance missions.  But he was talking with a family, and my wife had signaled her readiness to leave.  As I stepped into the doorway, Frank broke off his conversation and called to me.  He told me that he had known Bruce Peterson, the pilot who had piloted those heavy lifting test vehicles like the M2-F2 and the HL-10, just as Steve Austin had in the TV show (and in Martin Caidin’s original novel Cyborg). 

Peterson flew the HL-10’s first test flight.  According to Frank, Peterson had been preparing to land when the vehicle suddenly turned upside-down.  During preflight simulations, he had been forbidden to use any controls unless specifically directed by ground control.  But at this point, he started working with the controls, and figured out to right the aircraft before it touched down.  After that, Frank said, the “wiring folks” had some sorting-out to do!

In addition to his two previous flights, Peterson flew the sixteenth and final test of the M2-F2.  These heavy lifting bodies minimized the wing structure by shaping the fuselage to maximize its lifting capacity, but the M2-F2’s shape was rounder than that of the HL-10.  The vehicle began to roll from side to side, and while Peterson fought for control, he spotted a rescue helicopter in his path.  As it turned out, he wouldn’t have hit the helicopter, but by changing course while wrestling with the controls, he touched down before the landing gear had fully extended.  This was the crash made famous during the opening of “The Six Million Dollar Man” TV show.

After that, Frank and I spoke about the X-2 and X-15 rocket plane programs, and the missed potential of the Dyna-Soar X-20 rocket plane program that was cancelled to make way for the space shuttle.  Intensely interesting stuff, but my wife was waiting patiently in the doorway, and I knew we had spent far longer in the gift shop than we had planned.  Still, I felt enriched by those two conversations, neither of which would have occurred had I not worn my T-shirt advertising a forty-year-old TV show.

Isn’t it amazing how the stories we love help us connect with others?

Dragon Dave

Related Internet Links

Related Internet Links