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Friday, August 29, 2014

Exploring The Space Shuttle

 Rusty: Look, there's the Space Shuttle!

I guess they're working on it. I hope they don't end up with any extra pieces!

From behind, it reminds me of an Imperial Star Destroyer. I wonder if Darth Vader ever rode in one. Maybe I'll sneak inside for a moment. 

These knobs and switches are cool. And all this to preserve the packaged chocolate pudding the astronauts will consume in space. I bet they wouldn't mind if I consumed one before I finished my exploration of the Space Shuttle. I mean, I'd only eat one…

Say, this cockpit is too cool. I can't imagine how the pilots know how to use so many instruments.

Artist: There you are! I was wondering where you had gotten to.
Rusty: Sorry. I guess time got away from me.
Artist: I know what you mean. This cockpit reminds me of the Millennium Falcon.
Rusty: Yeah, Han Solo and Chewbacca would totally dig it.
Artist: Hey, do you smell chocolate pudding?
Rusty: Umm…

Rusty & Artist Dalek

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Kevin J Anderson on Zombies and Ghosts

The Residences of the Dead in Falmer, England

What if death didn't end our lives on Earth? Meet Dan Chambeaux. He's a private investigator who got shot in the head one month ago. Fortunately for him, since an event called the Big Uneasy ten years ago, life goes on for the dead in New Orleans. He's trying to take care of himself, so he frequents a beauty parlor run by morticians, who devote their energies to keeping his hair, skin, and body in peak shape. He doesn't want to be one of those zombies who lets himself go, and have his lips or jaw fall off during an important conversation. Besides, he's got a career, friends who care about him, and a business to run.

As half of Chambeaux and Deyer Investigations, Dan's working a full caseload. Take, for example, the ghost trying to revive his art career. When his family steal his latest masterpiece, Dan tracks the canvas down to the artist's crypt. Trolls have taken up residence there, but Dan peers through the doorway and spies the painting hanging on the wall. The Trolls are willing to exchange the painting for legal ownership to the crypt, but Dan doesn't want to carry the painting out of the cemetery that night. A werewolf, hired by the artist's family, waits among the graves, and being a zombie, Dan can't risk skin and tissue damage from a werewolf attack. Oh, the dilemma!

Or consider the case of a vampire who lives in Little Transylvania. He's relying on Dan to protect him and find his fellow vampires (if they haven't yet been "killed"), so that he can return to his carefree life as an interior designer. Dan suspects the vampires might have vanished of their own accord, as his client obsessively tried to organize them into dinner parties (Note: his client, a former Vegan, only drinks Soy Blood), book discussion groups, and other social events every day of the week. Still, he's concerned by the threatening notes and sharpened wooden stakes left outside the vampire's apartment. Someone might really be after the guy!

While he's working for others, he's also digging into police files and running down leads on his own death. He may still be alive, with embalming fluid pumping through his veins, and bullet wounds sealed over with putty, but it'd ease his mind to learn who had it out for him and why. After all, someone might also be after his partner, the idealistic lawyer Robin Deyer. She may take pro bono cases to defend the rights of the undead, but she'd prefer to remain among the living. And then there's Sheyenne to consider. She may be the best office manager he and Robin ever had, but whoever poisoned her is still at large. He'd do anything for his former girlfriend; her ghostly presence always brings a smile to his face.

I'm currently a quarter of the way into Death Warmed Over, the first novel about Dan Chambeaux, or Dan Shambles as most people call him. I can tell you this: when I'm not laughing out loud, I'm at least smiling. After watching what happened to James Bond in "Live And Let Die," I wasn't sure I wanted to visit New Orleans. But Kevin J Anderson makes the city sound interesting and fun. If this light-hearted undead detective series sounds like something you'd enjoy, head over to, where you can currently download this novel for free. Yes, you read right: For FREE. After all, whether or not you're still breathing, you've still got to feed the need to read. Right?

Dragon Dave

Monday, August 25, 2014

Arthur C Clarke on Compassion

Driving through the mountains of Snowdonia National Park in Wales.
(They've been there for a while).

Imagine the curiosity that would ensue if a mountain appeared overnight. This is the central mystery of Arthur C. Clarke's novel 2061: Odyssey Three. As the mountain appears on Europa, a moon of Jupiter, most people simply get on with their lives. Still, it intrigues scientists, who study satellite feeds of the planet, and wonder how a mountain could suddenly just…be there.

Humans live on space stations, there are missions to the other planets, and the terraforming of Jupiter's moon Ganymede has begun. This has been made possible by igniting the gases of Jupiter, and transforming it into a tiny sun. Its rays warm her moons, turning ice to liquid and gas, and allowing atmospheres to form. But scientists cannot travel to Europa, as the strange Monoliths have banned Humans from traveling there. No Human government seems prepared to disobey this order. After all, if the aliens behind the Monoliths can transform a planet into a sun, what reprisals might they take, should Humans disobey their orders?

Yet some cannot restrain their curiosity. While Heywood Floyd, who participated in the momentous events in 2010: Odyssey Two, travels to Halley's Comet on the spaceship Universe, his grandson Chris travels on its sister ship Galaxy on an orbital survey of Jupiter's moons. Heywood and his colleagues land on Halley, and explore the surface and ice caves of the famous comet. Their exploits whet our appetite for the exploration of Europa, which begins when a hijacker puts a gun to Second Officer Chang's head and says "Land on Europa, or else."

After reading stories set on Fantasy worlds, or Space Operas in which spaceships effortlessly whiz around the galaxy, I enjoyed this true Science Fiction novel, in which particulars such as fuel and orbits become limitations and plot points. I also enjoyed seeing characters like Heywood Floyd, Chris Bowman, and the spaceship computer HAL again, even if the latter two only appear briefly in the narrative. I loved wandering across Halley with Heywood's team, and seeing how the Monolith had impacted the lifeforms emerging from Europa's seas. And, of course, there was the weighty question of how a mountain could arise between satellite sweeps of the Jovian moon. But as great as all those aspects were, what struck me the strongest was Arthur C. Clarke's sense of compassion.

Clarke treats his characters kindly: not just his Human characters, but also his aliens.  Another author would have stationed more officers on the bridge during a nightshift. Chang or another member of the crew would have fought with the hijacker, and someone would have been injured or killed to demonstrate the hijacker's determination. Likewise, Humanity would have suffered reprisals for their disobedience, perpetrated either on the Galaxy's crew, or on the larger population of Earth. 

There's nothing wrong with tense and violent scenes. Such moments can enhance the overall tension of a novel, which keeps us turning the pages. Yet Clarke chose to be kind to his characters, and make his aliens understanding and forgiving. In doing so, he suggests that space might be more than just an interesting frontier, and those we encounter on our voyages might actually be better than us. Not just smarter, or more capable, but more noble, kind, loving, and compassionate. For no person's life is without value, even if they only inhabit the stories we read, and the dreams we dream.  

Dragon Dave

A word of caution. If this post aroused your interest in 2061: Odyssey Three, be careful about how much you read about it on the Internet. There are spoilers out there, even on Wikipedia, and as Clarke's story is chiefly concerned with discovery, they may detract from your enjoyment of his novel.  

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Baby Elephant Blanket

Blue: By Davros, what happened here?
Hulk: Hulk smash baby elephant!
Artist: That's not funny, Hulk! Nor is it nice to make fun of others. 

Hulk: Proximity Alert! Danger! Danger! Elephant Attack!
Blue: Relax, Hulk. He looks rather friendly to me. Who is he, Artist?
Artist: He's an elephant blanket Mistress made for a coworker's baby. 
Blue: He's cute! Do you think Mistress will make another for us?
Artist: She's already made us an elephant.
Blue: She has? I've never seen him.
Artist: Yes, you need more practice at spotting elephants, don't you?

Artist: This is pincushion. He's small, so he tends to hide a lot. 
Blue: Hi Pincushion. Let's hang out together. What do you say?
Artist: He doesn't talk much.
Blue: He nodded just then, didn't he? I'm sure I saw him nod.
Hulk: Hulk like Pincushion. My kind of elephant, just the right size for smashing!
Artist: No, Hulk! No! You will not smash Pincushion!

Blue: Farewell, Baby Elephant Blanket! I hope you make your new friend very happy.
Hulk: Hulk glad to see Baby Elephant Blanket go! He's too big to smash properly!
Artist: Hulk, I wish you wouldn't be so mean to people.
Hulk: Hulk not mean. Hulk just having fun. Artist not get Hulk's jokes.
Blue: I should think not. He's a serious artist, after all.

Hulk, Blue, & Artist Daleks

Monday, August 18, 2014

Roger Zelazny On Civic Responsibility

The Royal Court of Justice in London, England

In his short story "The Injured," Roger Zelazny begins with a clamor. Outrage even, coming from the jury in a courtroom. A young man, the defendant, feels the heat of their anger. The judge raps his gavel, and demands quiet. Yet the mood of the jury darkens as the prosecutor tears into the "psych-men." Finally, the victim takes the stand, or more accurately, is rolled up in her wheelchair. She admits that she jaywalked across the highway, and that she knew she risked her life in doing so, as the cars hurtled along, the drivers most likely not watching where they were going, having turned over their control systems to auto-drive. She relates to the jury how a young man in coveralls dashed out across the high speed lanes, picked up her broken body, carried her to safety, and then held a handkerchief to her bleeding arm. Under the prosecutor's examination, she admits that she knew he was not a med-man, as he wore no badge. She also admits that she only revealed his identity after the hospital attorney explained that she would be "compounding her felony--that is to say, taking illegal advantage of another illegal act," by shielding his identity from the authorities. 

When the jury returns a Guilty verdict, the judge awards the defendant "six months of hard analysis, followed by one year of group therapy." The young defendant must understand that he cannot simply assist others in situations for which he has no qualifications or authorization. If he sees someone in peril in the future, by all means he can report the situation, but under no circumstances should he intervene. 

Roger Zelazny's story touches on how a person might unintentionally inflict injury on someone he intends to help, and how societies often pay more attention to the letter of the law than the spirit. It highlights how much we rely on titles and degrees, even though those who achieve great things in life frequently lack them. It also harkens back to a much older story, about three people who found a robbed and beaten man lying along the highway. The first two who encountered him were a priest and a Levite, pillars of Jewish society. Their duties and obligations were numerous and pressing. Helping the robbed and bleeding man was someone else's job. No doubt someone else would be along soon, someone more qualified than them to address his particular needs... 

"The Injured" is a short story, a mere three pages in length. Yet it offers us a whirlwind of images, and makes us think about our role in society. Just as interesting is the story's publication history. In the mid 1960s, a young man named Paul Gilster was starting a fanzine for his local Science Fiction society. He summoned his courage, wrote to some of his literary heroes, and asked each if they could send him a story. As everyone knows, professional writers work for money. They celebrate when they win prestigious awards, but they rely on sales to publishers to pay their bills. As you can imagine, the young fan was astounded when Roger Zelazny sent him this story. 

As a friend and confidant during Roger Zelazny's final years, professional author Jane Lindskold can shine a great deal of insight into his character. In the early 1990s, she wrote Roger Zelazny, a nonfiction book filled with his thoughts and recollections on every novel he had written to that point. Sadly, she never conducted a comprehensive interview with him on his short fiction, which could have filled several hefty tomes. Nor does she recall ever discussing "The Injured" with him. Nonetheless, even though she could offer no insight into Roger Zelazny's thoughts on the story or why he sent it to this young fan, she took time out of her busy workday to respond to my query, and describe how his impulsive nature could lead him to support a young fan's efforts in this manner. 

Like his fictional protagonist, and the protagonist in an even earlier story, Roger Zelazny could have told himself that he was a professional author, that it was his duty to sell his stories to paying markets, and get them into magazines that would be read by a larger number of people. Instead, he took pity on a young man putting together a little fanzine for his friends.

Today Paul Gilster works as a professional author, and publishes his own blog. Might Roger Zelazny's impulsive act of kindness, charity, and civic responsibility contributed in some small way to Gilster's choice of career? We may never know how our actions will ultimately impact others, but sometimes we can affect them in the most remarkable ways…

"The Injured" can be found in Power & Light: Volume 2 of The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny from NESFA Press.

Dragon Dave

Related Internet Links
Paul Gilster's blog Centauri Dreams
Jane Lindskold's blog Wednesday Wanderings

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Blue Elephant Hunt

Blue: Mammoth bones stuck in tar? Really? I was hoping to see a real elephant on this zoo trip.

Hulk: Come here, beast! Hulk promise not to smash you!

Blue: This is a cute baby elephant, but the skin feels too hard, and he doesn't move much. I don't think he's a real elephant either.

Artist: Hey you, come here: I want to talk to you! And you off to the side, stop that spraying! I've already given my outer casing its monthly wash, wax, and polish!

Blue: You're almost as cute as I am, but you look too small to be a real elephant. Hey, what do you mean I'm too small to be a real Dalek?

Blue: Both of you saw real elephants? Where?
Artist: They're all over the place. You just haven't been looking hard enough. Keep your optical sensors on alert, and I'm sure you'll--
Hulk: Hulk like ginger snaps. Hulk smash ginger snaps!
Artist: No, Hulk! No! You will not smash the ginger snaps!

Blue: Somehow, everything Master & Mistress eat reminds me of my failure to spot a real elephant. You say they're all around us, so why can't I see them?

Artist: I'll tell you what. As soon as Master & Mistress finish dinner, we'll go and help you look. Maybe we can find one for you.

Blue, Artist, & Hulk Daleks

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Roger Zelazny On Dangerous Automobiles

A Devil Car in London, England?

Automobiles figure prominently in the stories of Science Fiction and Fantasy author Roger Zelazny. They highlight our love affair with the automobile, as well as the danger inherent in that relationship. Some were inspired by near-misses on the road, or accidents on the race track. And then there was one in particular, that Zelazny wrote while convalescing from a near-fatal collision that totaled his car.

In "Devil Car," Roger Zelazny introduces us to Sam Murdock, who drives "across the Great Western Road Plain," hunting for a renegade car. His car, a red sedan named Jenny, talks to him through the radio, urging him to get some sleep while she continues the search. When she plays some music, he snaps at her.

"Cut that out!"
"Sorry, boss. I thought it might relax you."

Sam refuses to relax and rest. He must find a renegade car that asphyxiated its driver with carbon monoxide, and now roams the open road, urging other AI controlled cars to follow its example and enjoy a life not dominated by Humans. Together, "they roared on across the Great Plain and the sun fell away to the west." They search all day and all night, until they learn of a recent car-raid. Sam and Jenny head off toward it, suspecting that the outlaw AI car and its followers are responsible.

Beneath Jenny's cute exterior, she sports guns, rocket launchers, and other weaponry. At times Sam senses hesitancy in her, a reluctance to kill her own kind. They are partners, and he must trust her if they are to accomplish their mission. Nonetheless, Sam suspects she also yearns to throw off the shackles of Human control, to lock the doors and windows, expose him to a fatal dose of carbon monoxide, and forge her own destiny across the land.

Given the topic's popularity in TV shows, movies, and bestselling Science Fiction stories, people fear the takeover of Human society by robots designed to look and act like us. Alternatively, when people see pictures of experimental self-driving cars on the roads, they usually take photographs, and then share these on Facebook and Twitter, and gush about their excitement over such marvels with friends and followers. I wonder if they would buy one if affordable models showed up in automobile showrooms.

As Roger Zelazny was a smart, forward-thinking man, perhaps he would have considered such a purchase. In view of "Devil Car," he might have insisted upon old fashioned manual windows and door locks. After all, rolling your windows up and down may take effort, but you want to make sure that when you roll them down, they stay down. 

Still, those self-driving cars are cool, aren't they?

Dragon Dave

You can read "Devil Car" online, in numerous short story collections, and in Power & Light, Volume 2 of The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, published by NESFA Press. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Samuel Johnson on Dealing With Death

The Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum
and Bookshop, located in Lichfield, England.

It's never easy to accept the passing of a friend or family member. Suddenly, you know that the time of parting has come, and you will never see that person again. The grief that accompanies this realization can be devastating. Yet we all have to accept that someone we admired, respected, and (hopefully) loved has died, and move forward with our lives.

Recently, I've had to accept the death of two friends, neither of whom I was currently close to, but both of which figured prominently in my past. As an aspiring author, death has also dwelt in my thoughts due to the passing of Jay Lake, a celebrated Science Fiction and Fantasy author. Jay Lake wrote hundreds of short stories, and several novels during his short but brilliant career. While he was about my age, he exhibited the energy and enthusiasm of a much younger man. He lent laughter and interest to any convention or event he attended, and will be greatly missed by SF/F readers and fans.

While my recent experiences with death have been palpable, they have been minor compared with that of an extended family member, who has lost two brothers within the past eight months. She is reeling from that double loss, and I grieve with her, even though I cannot physically stand alongside her. The longer we live, the more Death seems a constant companion, someone to be dodged but never really lost or evaded. This forces each of us to accept these deaths, and reclaim the joy of living. If we fail in this, we carry our losses with us into the future, always walking forward while looking backward, and unable to appreciate the joys that tomorrow can bring.

Author Samuel Johnson is renowned for his writings, from his reinterpretations of Shakespeare, to his important English dictionary, to his short novel The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia. But he was no stranger to death. As a young man, he had to deal with such notable losses as those of his father Michael Johnson, his friend Harry Porter, and childhood friend and tutor Cornelius Ford. While working on his dictionary, his wife Elizabeth (affectionally known as Tetty) passed away. Then, in his late forties, he had to deal with the death of his mother Sarah. Despite his contributions to literature, Samuel Johnson was not a rich man. In order to pay his mother's funeral costs, he wrote Rasselas. The short novel exploded onto the literary landscape with innumerable editions and translations. Popular authors referenced it in their stories. It's an entertaining story, loaded with observations on life, and Samuel Johnson wrote in a week to pay the costs of his mother's funeral. There's a tremendous energy that comes with grief, and Samuel Johnson channeled that to create a story that entertained his generation, and continues to touch readers' lives.

Death touches all of us at one time or another, and how we deal with our grief determines the course of our lives. Samuel Johnson used his grief to craft a story that celebrates life, and brought joy to people all over the world. Grief can have a positive side, if instead of getting lost in it, we can somehow use it to enrich the lives of others. It's not easy to work through pain, to turn loss into gain, but Samuel Johnson's example shows us that it is possible. That helps me deal with the small yet tangible grief I'm currently feeling. Perhaps, if you're also suffering the pain of loss, his example can help you too.

Dragon Dave 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Why Astronauts Go Heavy On The Sauce

Stan: I hope you've enjoyed this morning's tour of Space Center Houston. 
Rusty: Oh, I have! Now I want to be an astronaut more than ever!
Stan: That's the spirit! I've certainly enjoyed my space missions, and I'm sure you will too, once you become astronauts. So shall we sign you both up for memberships in our program?
Rusty: Absolutely!
Artist: Uh, I guess so.

Stan: Great! While my staff processes the paperwork, let's enjoy a typical astronaut meal in the food court. Astronauts love freeze-dried poultry pieces preserved in seasoned batter, and sections of fried vegetable matter ready for dipping. Not only are they incredibly healthy, but they're also easy and fun to consume in zero gravity.

Rusty: My olfactory senses detect flavor-packed aromas. Why so many sauces, Stan?
Stan: It's an unfortunate fact that the vacuum of space deadens an astronaut's taste buds. 
Artist: Ouch!
Stan: Don't worry: it's not painful, and their appreciation for food returns when they get back to Earth. But while in space, astronauts rely on dipping sauces like ketchup, barbecue sauce, honey-mustard, and Red Hot Breathe-Fire-Like-A-Dragon to enhance the flavors of their food.
Artist: Astronauts already endure rigorous schedules, years of preparations, and long periods away from friends and loved ones. I'm not sure I'd want to go into space if it also lessened my ability to appreciate the nutrients I ingest. 
Stan: Are you sure? Space travel is too cool to miss. 
Rusty: Yeah, and besides, dipping sauces are fun.

Artist: I suppose you're right. What's one more sacrifice, when the rewards could be so great? Okay, sign me up for membership in the space program.

Stan: Congratulations you two! You're now official members of Space Center Houston. That'll be seventy-six bucks apiece.
Rusty: Hey, I thought membership only cost $26 per person!
Stan: Yes, but then you have to add on fifty bucks for "Lunch with an Astronaut."
Artist: Oh nice! And you said dipping sauces were fun!
Rusty: They are!

Artist & Rusty Daleks, and Stan the Cyberman

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Terry Pratchett on the Benefits & the Limitations of Magic

Falmer Station welcomes visitors to the local village,
sports fans to Falmer Stadium,
and students to the University of Brighton
or the University of Sussex.

In Terry Pratchett's new Discworld novel Raising Steam, we meet an ambitious young man named Dick Simnel. When he's twenty years old, he takes his reluctant mother out to the barn, and shows her an engine that whizzes around on a circle of metal rails. He explains his principles, which he learned from a book written by an architect. These involve building small, simple models before going on to building larger, more elaborate versions. He proceeds slowly with each prototype, testing components every way he can, and sometimes purposely exploding his creations to discover their limits. He shows her his blueprints, which detail how all the various parts work together. He shares with her his paradigm for how the steam engine works, which is that of a tea kettle boiling, and how the temperature and pressure of the hot air pushes off the lid. Still, his mother cannot grasp the ideas behind his invention, or its potential. "Eee, lad, but what does it do?" she asks him.

"Everything, Mother," he responds. "Everything."

Dick's invention will take him to the large city of Ankh-Morpork, where he will meet Harry King. Like Commander Samuel Vimes, Harry has used hard work and ingenuity to rise from his humble beginnings. In Dick Simnel, Harry sees another promising individual, and agrees to fund further experiments in steam. Then there's Lord Vetinari, the Patrician (or ruler) of Ankh-Morpork, who guesses at the ultimate potential of steam. He challenges the enterprising Moist von Lipwig--who in previous books has founded the Post Office, the Mint, and the Royal Bank--to develop steam power beyond a mere crowd-pleasing curiosity. 

Just as the Clacks have transported information and communication all over Discworld, Lord Vetinari argues that, in time, steam engines could transport peoples and goods between distant cities and countries. This is the gift science offers, which magic never could. The benefits of magic are limited to the practitioner, and those with whom he shares his spells, potions, and devices. Science brings with it not just technological change, but transforms our cultures, and hence the way we live. It frees us from isolation, and links us with those in distant lands. It changes how we see the world, and elevates our dreams beyond anything our parents could have aspired to achieve or become.

Still, there's room for magic, both in Discworld, and for the people of our own. Magic manifests itself in seemingly innocent ways, such as the connections we forge with some people over others, even those whom, on the surface, we seem to share little in common. Magic leads us to prefer some things over others, even if they seem little different in composition and appearance from their neighbor. (Or less adequate or worthy than their neighbor). Magic lifts or suppresses our spirits, so that some days we're happy or sad, but cannot explain why, no matter how hard we try. Magic exists in all these things and more, and adds the spark of mystery that makes life worth living.

Yet when it comes to one aspect of life, there's no mystery whatsoever. We all know why Terry Pratchett has written so many Discworld novels, and we still hunger for more. The answer is both profound and simple: no one else writes like him. Other authors may try, but no one else can consistently amaze us, can make us laugh or cry, and all the while entertain us as thoroughly as Terry Pratchett. Whether this has to do with how he writes, or the types of characters and ideas he tackles, no one can be sure. This is the profound explanation of this mystery. 

The simple explanation for our enduring love of his novels is this: Terry Pratchett is magic. Thus, we benefit from all the happiness he creates, every time he casts another spell on us, by writing another Discworld novel.

Dragon Dave

Monday, August 4, 2014

Terry Pratchett on the Rise of Science

The train station in Falmer, England,
built in 1846 to service trains propelled by steam.

In the beginning, there was magic. Or at least magic seemed to dominate in Terry Pratchett's early Discworld novels. Those adventures often featured wizards like Ponder Stibbons, the Head of Inadvisably Applied Magic at Unseen University. Or we met witches like Granny Weatherwax, with her temperamental magic broom, who fashions spells or potions in her little cottage in the woods. Whenever such character traveled anywhere, they might pack their belongings in an enchanted chest. Fashioned from sapient wood, these pieces of luggage walked or raced along on little wooden legs, and fiercely defended their owners.

But as time went on, and book followed book, science crept into Discworld. This evolution of technology was not an easy process, as magic proved reluctant to cede its territory to a new master. This battle for control of Discworld revealed itself in small ways, such as when a character opened a device to find tiny imps working switches and gears. But at least there were switches and gears, not simply a device performing fantastical functions via a magical spell.

Perhaps the invention of a steam engine on Discworld initially fell into "The Pit" Terry Pratchett described last year at the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton. The Pit was not the hotel where the convention took place, but a folder stored in his office. The Pit holds any ideas he toyed with while writing, but then extracted before completing those stories. As an avid lover of trains, he wanted to see trains chugging across Discworld earlier in his career. Ultimately, he realized that Discworld needed to discover other inventions first, so that the various peoples, cities, and societies would be ready to capitalize on steam power when it arrived.

In his latest novel, Raising Steam, Terry Pratchett introduces us to a determined young man named Dick Simnel, who was ten years old when "his father simply disappeared in a cloud of furnace parts and flying metal, all enveloped in a pink steam. On that very day young Dick Simnel vowed to whatever was left of his father in that boiling steam that he would make steam his servant." His mother has other ideas: she doesn't want to see him follow in his father's footsteps and become the village blacksmith. Nor does she want him to conduct dangerous experiments in the family barn. So she moved back to where she had grown up, and gave her son a good education.

Ironically, her desire to give her son a better life via education backfires, so to speak, when Dick discovers the riches of the library. There he reads the "weird stuff dreamed up by the philosophers" and grounds himself so well in arithmetic that at the age of twenty, he decides he's ready to pursue his father's dream. He assures his frightened mother that one device in particular will prevent him from suffering his father's fate. He pulls it out of his jacket; for all she knows it could be a magic wand. "This will keep me safe, Mother! I've the knowing of the Sliding Rule! I can tell the sine what to do, and the cosine likewise, and work out the tangent of t'quaderatics! Come on, Mother, stop fretting and come with me now to t'barn."

If his mother was a witch like Granny Weatherwax, she could have cast a spell to make her son forget all about steam power. But science is on the rise, and so she finds herself powerless to protect her son, or anyone else on Discworld, from all that Dick's discovery will unleash. 

To be continued...

Dragon Dave

Friday, August 1, 2014

Building The Perfect Donut

Pocket: All on it's own, this is nearly a perfect donut. It's even named appropriately, as Master will divide it into separate servings. 
Denim: Unfortunately, fritter also suggests wastage.
Pocket: Well, if you eat enough of it, it will go to your waist.

Denim: Call me Old Fashioned, but I prefer this donut.
Pocket: You had to go for the obvious, didn't you?
Denim: It seemed appropriate.

Pocket: This one nearly fell apart when Master put it on the plate.
Denim: Sadly, that disqualifies it as a building component.
Pocket: Set it aside. We'll snack on it while building the perfect donut.

Pocket: You can really have a ball with these guys.
Denim: Actually, you can have two balls with--
Pocket: Hey, this is a clean blog! Enough with the double entendres. 
Denim: That's strange. I always thought they were called Donut Holes.
Pocket: I said enough with the double entendres!

Pocket: Now that's what I call the perfect donut.
Denim: It's beautiful. You should be an architect.
Pocket: Why thank you. Hold on. Was that a crack?
Denim: I thought you said enough with the double entendres?

Pocket & Denim Daleks