Reading SF: Galactic North, by Alastair Reynolds

Now Reading: Galactic North by Alastair Reynolds

I’ve just bought a very nice collection of SF stories by leading British/Welsh “hard” SF author Alastair Reynolds. A signed 1st edition hardcover of Galactic North, a collection of stories set in his Revelation Space universe. I’ve been a fan of Alastair’s SF going right back to “Spirey and the Queen” in Interzone 108 (June 1996). I began to take note of any other Reynolds stories that appeared, but it was with “Galactic North” in Interzone 145 that he became one of my favourite SF authors.

It was like being shot between the eyes, and just pushed all the right buttons for me. The blend of hard SF and exciting action adventure was like a breath of fresh air, and I began to hunt eagerly for every SF magazine that I could find containing Alastair Reynolds stories, followed by every Reynolds novel that was released. At the time, I didn’t realise it, but this was the real start of my love affair with the then-relatively new sub-genre of New Space Opera.

Now I’m delighted to get my sweaty, eager paws on Galactic North, his first collection. I’ve already read almost everything in this, with the exception of the newer stories, but it’s really nice to get all of these Revelation Space stories in one lovely hardback book, instead of having to hunt through back issues of SF magazines such as Interzone, Asimov’s SF and Spectrum SF for individual stories. A must for all Alastair Reynolds fans, and I’d recommend it to any fans of hard SF and ripping yarns who may have had the misfortune to not have read any Reynolds yet.

Now I have to find Zima Blue and Other Stories, his second collection, this time of a selection of his non-Revelation Space short fiction. Hopefully, some of these days, we’ll finally see all of his short fiction collected in book form.

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Comics and Sci-Fi: A Marriage Made in Heaven

One day a guy who works at the local comics shop (hi Chris!) made a comment that left me completely dumbfounded. He stated that he didn’t like SF. He didn’t like to read it, or to watch it, either on TV or at the movies.

After I’d picked my jaw up from the floor, I managed to utter a few words, stammering…

“But… but… but, you’re a comics fan! How can you not like sci-fi? All those comics you read are full of sci-fi stuff – robots, spaceships, time travel. You sure you don’t like SF?”

“Sorry, nope”.

“You don’t like Star Trek, or Star Wars, or Babylon 5, or Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, or…”

“Nope. I’m not into that kinda thing”.

“But… but… that’s impossible. You can’t be a comics fan and not like sci-fi. Man, you must be an alien or something… ” (Phil wanders off, shaking his head in bewilderment and disbelief).

I’d met something/someone I thought couldn’t exist. A paradox. A comics fan who actually, really did not like SF! I’ve been a comics fan myself for over forty years, and I’d never ever met anyone who liked one and didn’t like the other, at least to some extent.

As far as I’m concerned, they are inextricably linked. The first big daily newspaper SF comic strip, Buck Rogers, was inspired by Armaggedon: 2419 AD, written by Philip Francis Nowlan, an SF novella which appeared in the classic SF pulp magazine Amazing Stories in August 1928. The Buck Rogers comic strip first appeared in 1929, followed by the rival Flash Gordon strip (started 1934) in a competing daily newspaper published by the King Syndicate. The huge popularity of these strips led to the first sci-fi movie serials of the 1930s, the three Flash Gordon serials (1936, 1938 and 1939) and Buck Rogers (1939).

These serials were the progenitors of pretty much every interplanetary sci-fi and space opera TV series and movie that followed. So it can be argued without much disagreement that SF comics were inspired by SF literature, and spawned a lineage in US sci-fi movies and television that leads right up to the massive money-spinning SF movie blockbusters of the current era.

Most mainstream comics are steeped in SF imagery. Even the good old superhero strip is full of it, with all those aliens, and spaceships and robots and time travel, etc. The origins of most of the main Marvel superheroes are right out of the 1950s sci-fi monster movies: giant ants created by nuclear tests/Peter Parker changed into Spider-Man after being bitten by radioactive spider, giant tarantula created by nuclear tests/Bruce Banner caught in gamma bomb explosion and becomes the Hulk, nuclear tests on remote island turn iguana into Godzilla/four astronauts caught in cosmic ray storm become Fantastic Four, the list goes on and on…

I’m not saying that all comics have SF elements – many of the classic comics are from other genres or “real life” (Berlin, Maus, Palestine, A History of Violence, and many others). But with most mainstream comics and superhero comics, the SF link has always been historically very strong.

And I still say that any mainstream comics fan who doesn’t like SF is a mutant abberation… 🙂

Fossilised Remains of Giant Dino Bird Found in China

I’m just sitting back, having a late-night cup of tea, and browsing the Ceefax pages on TV (Ceefax is the teletext service of the UK’s BBC TV), and I’ve come across a fascinating page.

Apparently the fossilized remains of a giant bird-like dinosaur have been recently uncovered in the Inner Mongolia region of China. This guy belongs to the same group of dinosaurs that includes the much smaller feathered dinosaurs, some of them as small as chickens, a group which is supposedly linked to (or were) the ancestors of birds. But the other known dinosaurs of this group are all relatively small, while this specimen is a big beast.

Complete with beak and feathers, this monster weighed about 3,080lbs (1,400kg), which is about thirty-five times heavier than other similar feathered dinosaurs. It was 26ft (8m) long, and stood twice as tall as a man at the shoulder. Yet this one was only a young adult when it died, so we can expect an adult specimen to be considerably larger.

Now that would be a real big Christmas Turkey! 🙂

I don’t know how reliable this information is (I usually follow good advice – don’t believe everything you see on TV or read in the papers), but, apparently, the original source is the prestigious science journal, Nature. I’m definitely intrigued enough to look for more information, so this might be something to watch out for.

If You Can’t Stand the Heat…

Man, it is hot, really hot. We’ve had several days of scorching sunshine and high temperatures that are definitely not the norm in this usually damp and miserable part of the world.

And I am suffering in this heat, like all overweight people tend to do in soaring temperatures. I’m sizzling like a large banger cooking under a grill. Every window and door in the house is wide open, and it’s still too freakin’ hot! I’m reminded of the old saying “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” – well, I’m nowhere near the kitchen, and the temperature hasn’t gone down any. Short of climbing into the freezer for a few days, there’s no escaping it.

So I’m sitting at my computer, cooking in my own juices, and blasting rock music loudly on the hi-fi – “Shadow King” by the group of the same name (with ex-Foreigner vocalist Lou Gramm and ex-Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell). Not a bad album. It’s the weather for cold drinks, ice cream and music, with a computer thrown in for good luck. Whatta way to live!…

Might as well enjoy the sun while it lasts, which won’t be long. We’re lucky to get a couple of weeks of bright sunshine per year. Next time I post, it’ll probably be back to wet and miserable again… (moan, gripe, bitch…)

Hello from a Grumpy Old Git!

Hello there! Welcome to the GrumpyOldGeek blog, where you’ll find me wibbling on about all and sundry.

Initially, my reason for setting up this blog was quite mercenary: get my API key and forget about it afterwards. I needed the key because I recently started up my first WordPress blog, a self-hosted one at SFreaders.com. But now that I’m here at WordPress.com I’m finding myself thinking “What the heck! I’ve got a blog, so I might as well use it!”

The reasons?

Well, number one, I feel that it’ll put me in closer contact with the great WordPress community, something that’s severely lacking at the moment with my self-hosted blog (have to give it time – it’s only been live about a month). Hopefully I’ll find out more about the community and learn a lot as I go along, and maybe down the line I’ll start making contributions of my own. I’m a “community” type of person, particularly of the free and “open” (unsullied by commercial greed and perversions) kind. I’ve long been (in spirit) a great fan of the Open Source philosophy – maybe some of these days I’ll gather up the courage to shift totally away from Windows XP to either Linux or FreeBSD.

Secondly, I’d really like to get into the nuts ‘n’ bolts of WordPress (what better way to become an artisan than know your tool well), and I reckon that the best way to learn something is to watch how others use it. Learn from more experienced users, and maybe help others out in turn as I become more experienced. As well as the general chit-chat, I’d like to use this blog to talk about the WordPress specific stuff, and maybe practice my (hopefully) growing skills.

Thirdly, I can rant on about any old thing. My self-hosted blog is a bit more specialized in nature, so I tend not to stray too far from the various subjects in the categories I’ve created. On here, I can be a bit less restrained and wibble on about any old thing that takes my fancy. Fire off a few rants – I love ranting when the blood gets up. Even when nobody’s listening. But I gotta watch the blood pressure.

Finally, and this is a purely selfish motive, I want to “put myself out there”. To use my blog on WordPress.com to let people know about me and my other blogs, maybe gaining a few visitors in the process. My main blog is a bit quiet as yet, and, although I’m not obsessed with stats and huge numbers of visitors, it would be nice to have a few.

None of my blogs are (or will ever be) money-making ventures, and SFreaders.com is aimed at fans of science fiction literature, sci-fi movies and TV series, comic books, music, general science, history and a few other things. It’s mostly the SF literature, sci-fi movie and comic book fans that I’m trying to attract. So if anyone reading this is of that particular grouping, please take note.

Well, enough from me for now. Hopefully some of you guys will take pity on me and leave a few comments. 🙂

Phil