December 11, 2017

Review: Blockbuster Science by David Siegel Bernstein

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So. The future is now. Is it what you expected? As a child of the 1970s, 2017 seemed like an imaginably far off date. Heck, 2000 seemed impossibly remote, a year straight out of science fiction. And while we’re not vacationing on Phobos and traveling via teleporter just yet, we are all carrying computers in our pocket, and everything is finally made of plastic. [Read more...]

Review: Raining Fire by Rajan Khanna

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There’s one small plus to the current worldwide wave of jingoistic nationalism currently sweeping the world: dystopian science fiction is sure to do really well. Science fiction tends to reflect the hopes and fears of contemporary society, and you can often chart the swing from a shiny white, Star Trek outlook, to a fighting over gasoline, Road Warriors doomsday vision by the fiction we create and consume.

One fine new addition to the dystopian genre is this past summer’s Raining Fire by Rajan Khanna. Out now from Pyr Books, Raining Fire features a horror vision world wracked by a global pandemic, which has reduced humanity to squabbling tribes. Airships and floating city tech provides a backdrop for a brutal drama of slavery and Feral humans driven insane and violent by disease, a sort of steampunk world thrust forward into a desperate future vision.

It’s against this formidable world that we meet Ben Gold, an airship pilot with nothing left to lose. Already stripped of his airship, his allies and his friends, Ben is definitely looking for payback. He also lost Miranda, the only true love of his life, and the story is speckled with diary and journal entries from her that gradually paints a picture of what has come before.

In the end, Ben must face off against the Cabal, a group of sinister scientists (why are scientists always sinister in scifi tales?) and the Valhallans, who are wreaking continent-wide havoc from the flying city of Valhalla.

A high functioning alcoholic, Ben is the archetypal reluctant hero, a man who’s drinking hasn’t quite caught up to him… yet. Raining Fire has lots of action, and is a great portrayal of a man pushed past the edge.

Be sure to read Raining Fire as a great addition to modern dystopian science fiction!

There’s lots more dystopian science fiction to be had… here are some of our faves:

-Earth Girl: This was a gem of a story a out few years back. Imagine getting exiled to the worst place of all: living back on ancient Earth.

-The Hunger Games: A classic… true story, the wife and I both read the books after we saw the first movie, a very rare occurrence. We usually feel that seeing the movie let’s us off the hook (think Lord of the Rings) from saying we’re going to get around to actually reading the books… someday.

-Stand on Zanzibar: A trip of a book, straight out of the groovy 1960s.

-1984: Everything you need to know about the 20th century, in one book.

-The Crossing: Blood of the Lamb: A scary world to contemplate.

And speaking of scary dystopian fiction, be sure to check out Hulu’s amazing adaptation of A Handmaid’s Tale… this one’s all the more frightening because it hits so close to home and the current political climate. I think I’d much rather live in a future with ravaging airships than a world with the brutal and callous repression of personal liberties depicted in the series.

Reader Feedback, New Changes and More

Observing ‘scopes are happy scopes…

(photo by the author).

You responded, and we listened.

Well, maybe complained is more the term. But after a short bit of consideration, we did indeed implement a few changes that we felt were warranted. Anyhow, if you’ve read this far, you’re not a spam-spewing robot, and maybe while you don’t necessarily agree with everything on this site, at least you’re paying attention… [Read more...]

Review: Masterminds by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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Never let it be said that we don’t get around to each and every review book sent to us… eventually. Such is the case with this week’s featured review, Masterminds by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, out from WMG Publishing. A Retrieval Artist novel and the final climatic installment of the Anniversary Day saga, Masterminds brings the action-packed saga to its thrilling conclusion. Fans of this saga and this space will recall our reviews of Blowback, A Murder of Clones, Search & Recovery, The Peyti Crisis, Vigilantes and Starbase Human. [Read more...]

Life Lessons From the Classic Strategy Game RISK

Prepare for battle…

Credit: Risk/Hasbro/SMG Studio

Leave it to technology, to bring back an old friend in a new way. We’ve recently joined the realm of the online gaming community, about a decade plus behind the rest of the world. I know, we finally got tired of having our computer beat us at chess. Anyhow, we noticed a free app featuring the game Risk while idly scrolling through the Google Play store, and decided to give it a try. [Read more...]

Astronomy Video of the Week – Howling at Totality

Our grim view, moments before totality.

Screams break the silence…” So, where were YOU last Monday? If you were like us, you made the pilgrimage to stand in the path of the total solar eclipse. We’ll admit, we — like many viewers east of the Mississippi River — battled touch and go views of the eclipse through rolling clouds as we watched from the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute in southwestern North Carolina.

Luckily, one of the more unique events along the path had mostly clear skies, as totality crossed over the Moonstock music festival in southern Illinois. And Ozzy Osbourne opened his set right on cue just moments before the start of totality with Bark at the Moon. We’ve looked over about a dozen bootleg mobile phone videos capturing the event, and this is one of the best balances of the eclipse and the performance:

This isn’t Bonnie Tyler singing “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” that’s for sure… although that did indeed occur as well. Totality during Monday’s eclipse was indeed about one metal guitar solo long, and kudos to Zakk Wylde for shredding on while the Sun didn’t shine. Heck, Ozzy even timed the final howl at the Moon along with the audience just as a brilliant diamond ring signaling the end of totality split the sky. Here we are in 2017, still screaming at the sky and making a mighty din, beseeching the Moon to return our Sun.

Performances during a total solar eclipse give you one take and one take only to get it right. The 1960 film Barabbas, for example, features a crucifixion scene shot during a total solar eclipse in Italy. More recently in 2015, the band Hamferđ performed their song Deyđir varđar during totality over the Faroe Islands.

Kuddos to Ozzy for pulling this one off. What’s next? Well, you don’t have to wait until the 2024 and the return of totality to the United States, as we’ve got a total solar eclipse passing over several world-class observatories in Chile less than two years from now on July 2, 2019…

Any takers, in the newly minted next generation of metal fans and eclipse chasers?

 

Astro Video of the Week: Making a Binocular Solar Filter

From eclipse glasses to binocular solar filter…

Scrambling to prepare for the Great American Eclipse at the last minute? This final Friday before the August 21st 2017 total solar eclipse, we thought we’d share with you a fun and easy project. Lots of folks across North America just recently got their hands on a pair of solar eclipse glasses for the event. While millions are expected to stand along the path of totality, most folks will only witness varying partial phases of the eclipse, and will need to use eclipse glasses throughout the event. [Read more...]

Astronomy Video of the Week: Hunting for the Oldest Eclipse

Totality from the 1914 eclipse over Sweden.

(Credit: N. Nordenstrom)

An astronomical mystery came our way this past week.

If you’re like us, you’re gearing up to meet the shadow of the Moon in just 10 short days. While interest in the August 21st, 2017 total solar eclipse crossing the United States runs high, we wondered: what’s the oldest video of an eclipse featuring totality that is readily accessible online?

After numerous challenges and queries to the astronomical community, we came up with this old film seeming to show the total solar eclipse of August 21st, 1914 over Sweden.

Unfortunately, the team hosting the site declined to share the video with us for YouTube and a wider audience… on YouTube, the oldest video including totality seems to be this fine footage featuring the January 24th, 1925 total solar eclipse over New York City courtesy of British Pathe:

Now, video technology dates back to the 1880s… surely, someone must have tried to capture totality during solar eclipses in those early decades? More than likely, those early efforts have yet to be digitized, or are poorly indexed on ye ole web. Searching “total solar eclipse” of YouTube currently yields a flood of videos running the gamut from astrology and conspiracy theories to actual real science, a tough challenge to sift through to find anything of true historical value.

Back to the Swedish 1914 video. This eclipse occurred over war torn Europe during the opening months of World War I. We actually wrote about this eclipse and how the war foiled early efforts to measure Relativity from Crimea. Sweden was neutral during the war, and witnessed a fine spectacle just past local noon.

Now, there’s a cryptic statement at the end of the description of this video, claiming “the eclipse of this film is a fool in any case”. We ran this by a Swedish friend of ours in the event that Google translate was missing a nuance, and this does indeed seem to be the case…

The trouble is, if it is indeed a fake, it’s a good one. To the experienced eye, the footage showing totality and the corona of the Sun does indeed look real. Note the similarity of the 1925 footage above and the 1914 video in question. Also, timings given for the partial phases of the Sun are correct.

Plus, it’s tough to shoot totality, as exposure times drop dramatically when the Sun is eclipsed. More than likely, the very first attempts to make a video of totality weren’t successful. A sequence towards the end of the clip does show the partial eclipse superimposed over the crowd viewing it… is this what the commentator is alluding to?

Or perhaps, the totality footage is spliced from a different eclipse. There were indeed total solar eclipses over Europe in 1912 and 1905 leading up to 1914. Apparently, video was indeed shot during the April 17th 1912 total solar eclipse over Costa Lobo, Portugal, though it hasn’t made its way to the web…

The book Catchers of the Light mentions astronomer Nils Nordenmark (also listed in the opening credits of the video) and his successful attempt capturing the 1914 eclipse.

Another thing worth noting is the solitary sunspot seen on the disk of the Sun during partial phases of the eclipse in the video. Any sketches of the solar disk from or around August could cinch this… tantalizingly, Mount Wilson observatory didn’t start doing daily sunspot sketches until a few years later in January 4th, 1917.

So for now, the title of oldest eclipse video featuring totality remains a mystery, an enigma that I’ll open up to the larger audience. It’d be great to put this one to bed in time for the Great American Eclipse… any takers?

 

Ghosts of Eclipses Past

Trouvelot’s classic view of the 1878 eclipse over Wyoming.

Image in the Public Domain.

Are you ready?

There’s a great line from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on the Three Stages of Sophistication which every civilization must pass: “1. How can we eat? 2. Why do we eat? And 3. Where shall we do lunch?” [Read more...]

Astro Video of the Week: NASA Opens the Archives

What a fun circus ride…

Ever wonder what sort of secrets NASA is REALLY sitting on? We got an early birthday surprise early this past week, when the Armstrong Flight Research Center (formerly the Dryden Space Center) released hundreds of old videos on YouTube, some of these have existed around the web on various sites, some are new to the online era. [Read more...]

Review: The Forgotten Genius of Oliver Heaviside

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Quick: who was the father of modern electrical theory? Talk about the early age of electricity and names such as Thomas Edison, James Maxwell and Nikola Tesla come to mind… all of these pioneers deserve their due, sure, but chances are, you have never heard of Oliver Heaviside.

The Forgotten Genius of Oliver Heaviside: A Maverick of Electrical Science by Basil Mahon seeks to change that, and presents the life story of the man who’s life work gave birth to modern electrical engineering. [Read more...]

Review: No Humans Allowed

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“Your droids,” says the unnamed bartender in a famous sci-fi flick, “they’ll have to wait outside.”

Perhaps, cyber-discrimination is a pressing social issue in a “galaxy, far, far away…” But what if those protagonists ever manage to turn in table on humanity? [Read more...]

Astro Video of the Week: White Dwarf, Brown Dwarf

+19th magnitude white dwarf WD 1202-024. (SDSS)

Wanna see a wacky planetary system? A recent discovery by MIT, Harvard/Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Bishop’s University researchers was announced at the 200th AAS meeting in Austin, Texas and made the news rounds last week, but I don’t think folks really got a good grasp on just how strange a binary system WD 1202-024 really is. [Read more...]

Catch a SpaceX Launch from the Space Coast this Weekend

Liftoff for BulgariaSat-1.

Credit: SpaceX

Ready for some Fourth of July fireworks? Elon Musk’s SpaceX has really been racking ‘em up recently, with two launches from either coast last weekend, one each from Vandenberg AFB in California and another from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center with BulgariaSat-1. It’s almost starting to seem routine now. And we’ve got another launch coming up this weekend for a perfect trifecta on Wednesday, July 5th, as a SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket hoists Intelsat-35e into geosynchronous orbit. Part of Intelsat’s “Epic” constellation of satellites, Intelsat-35e will provide mobile and video communications across Africa, Europe, the Atlantic region and the Americas. [Read more...]

Review: Being in the Shadow by Dr. Kate Russo

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Headed to the August 21st total solar eclipse? You could do well to listen to those who have stood in the shadow of the Moon before. Like many other umbraphiles (those who chase after eclipses), we’ll be headed northward to greet the Moon’s shadow two short lunations from now as it races across the contiguous United States from coast-to-coast for the first time in nearly a century.

This will be the first total solar eclipse for us, and the celestial spectacle is sure to mint a whole new generation of eclipse chasers… but what is totality really like? Dr. Kate Russo’s Being in the Shadow gives us a glimpse of how the November 13th, 2012 eclipse unfolded through the testimonies of several individuals who share their experiences leading up to, during and after the eclipse. These aren’t astronomers, scientists or even veteran eclipse chasers: rather, these are all eclipse neophytes who, for one reason or another, decided to witness the event. These testimonies offer a unique perspective on the eclipse. They also give you a sense of what so many other eclipse chasers reiterate: it’s hard to describe the eclipse experience, a “false dawn” at midday where reality turns on its head.

These stories also underscore two key facets of a total solar eclipse that are sure to come into play this August: 1. getting into the path of totality is a must for the true experience. We saw the 1994 annular solar eclipse from the shores of Lake Erie, and can attest that a 99% eclipsed Sun is still pretty darned bright. And 2. While all safety precautions need to be undertaken during the partial phases of a solar eclipse, you can indeed look at totality (the solar corona is about twice as bright as a Full Moon). Often, the public gets bombarded with “don’t look at the Sun” messages leading up to an eclipse, to the point that people hide inside and shutter their windows. But if you fail to see the ethereal glow of totality, you’re missing the key climax of a total solar eclipse.

Being in the Shadow is an essential read leading up to the Great American Eclipse. I’d also recommend Dr. Russo’s Total Addiction. And us? We’ll be waiting for the shadow of the Moon in Columbia, South Carolina on August 21st, a fine display of hubris owing the the possibility of clouds on a summer afternoon, we know… hey, we’ll have our trusty Fiat handy, ready to dash down (or up) the path as needed on eclipse day. And then just seven short years later April 8th, 2024, the United States gets another total solar eclipse crossing from the southwest to the northeast, right over my hometown of Presque Isle, Maine… where will you be?

- Also: Read our free e-book 101 Astronomical Events for 2017, for a tale of eclipses, Edison’s Chickens and more.

- Check out 12 Great Eclipses in History via www.listosaur.com

- Eclipse… science fiction? Check out our original tales: Exeligmos, The Syzygy Gambit and Peak Season.

Video: Catch a Spectacular Launch From Wallops

A rocket at the ready. (NASA/Wallops).

Live on the mid-U.S. Eastern Seaboard? Wanna see a rocket launch? We’ve go one for you, coming live from NASA’s Wallops flight facility tonight. We’ve actually been chasing this one for about a week now and conditions need to be just right for it to happen. We’re talking about a sub-orbital flight of a Terrier-improved Malamute rocket. The mission is a short up and down flight, meant to test new ampoule dispensers aboard. This will shoot out chemical tracers high in the Earth’s tenuous upper atmosphere, creating a brief false aurora for researchers to track the movements of air currents high up. [Read more...]

Review: Wilders by Brenda Cooper

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What’s it like to live in a technological bubble?

We recently finished one of the best science fiction books we’ve read thus far this year, and wanted to share it with you in time to make your summer reading list. We’re talking about Wilders: Project Earth Book One by Brenda Cooper, out next week on June 13th from Pyr Books.

Fans of science fiction author Brenda Cooper and this space will recall our reviews of her previous books, The Diamond Deep, The Creative Fire, Spear of Light and Edge of Dark. [Read more...]

Observations: On the Beach

On the Beach…

(photo by author)

Astronomy isn’t the first thing you think of when you consider spending the day at the beach.

We recently moved our Astroguyz mobile HQ to Pass-a-Grille Beach, a small community in Saint Petersburg, Florida. A small spit of land jutting out into the Gulf of Mexico, Historic Pass-a-Grille has thus far resisted the encroaching sea and the creeping Florida gentrification that has plagued much of the state and Tampa Bay in particular… yes, you can still find lazy, quiet corners of beach, even in the looming shadow of the twin cities of Tampa/St Pete. [Read more...]