Currently reading, In My Copious Free Time: Anathem.
I'm up to page 407, rather less than halfway through. Time to start guessing what's ahead!
Here's a guess: the Cousins are Russian-analogs (Russian on account of the writing on their ship). During the Terrible Events, some of them, foreseeing their annihilation, bunged themselves into an immense icosahedral Orion-drive spaceship and launched themselves into the void, perhaps on a lengthy trajectory which, all these centuries later, has brought them back into Ardre's neighborhood.
It could be a generation ship, or perhaps there's a Thousander longevity secret to which they're privy. Maybe both.
Anyway, it's a sort of flying near-quadramillennial math, about to open its gates to see what's happened in the world.
That seems to fit all the known facts up to this point. Reading time permitting, I'll eventually learn what the author thinks that stupendous stone spaceship is.
Just when more work shows up, so does my recent Amazon order: two volumes by Adam Smith, and one by Eric Hoffer.
I read The Wealth of Nations a couple of decades back, in a modern edition that omitted a large chunk of the text to make room for a lengthy introduction explaining how Smith couldn't possibly have meant what he wrote. (The freshly-arrived copy is over 1200 pages, all but a few of them Smith's own work.) I recall gaining some significant insights from that long-ago reading, and it's definitely time for a revisit.
First up, though, is The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which has been on my get-around-to list for a great long time now.
Eventually, I'll get to The True Believer.
Time and motivation permitting, there should be some bookblogging in the near future.
Update: just got an e-mail from Amazon announcing that
OnTrac attempted to deliver your package but was unable to leave the package unattended. If necessary, please contact OnTrac at 1-800-334-5000 ext. 4200 to make alternate delivery arrangements.
and describing the contents of the package that arrived earlier, while I was at home. Huh?
Wandering through Borderline Book Disorder yesterday, I came across the visually irresistible Weaponry: An Illustrated History, by Chuck Wills.
Lotsa purty pictures, but a bit deficient in editing, and some of the facts are just wildly off. Fer example:
With regard to the M1911/M1911A1: "The weapon's main drawbacks were its heavy weight (2.5lb/1.1kg) and the fact that as a double-action weapon, it had to be carried with the slide pulled back in order to be able to fire the first round quickly - something that could lead to accidental discharge in the hands of an inexperienced user."
Huh? The M1911 is single-action, not double. Slide pulled back? What's that supposed to mean? The ready-carry condition is chamber loaded, slide forward, hammer cocked, and safety engaged. While is it, technically, possible to carry it with the slide locked back and a loaded magazine in place, it's not designed for that mode (that's more of a machine-gun carry condition), and it'd be awkward, and dirt would get in.
With regard to the M1 Garand: "The rifle's magazine fed only from an eight-round stripper clip, so in combat it could not be topped off by inserting individual rounds into the magazine."
This is an error in terminology. The Garand uses an actual clip (or en bloc clip), which is inserted into the magazine along with the ammunition. Stripper clips (more properly, chargers) carry ammunition in a convenient manner for quick insertion, but are not inserted into the magazine - you set the stripper clip atop the weapon, strip the ammunition from the stripper clip, and into the magazine, with your thumb, and discard (or pocket for later use) the empty stripper clip. Some stripper-clip-loading weapons (e.g., bolt-action rifles) can be topped off with loose rounds; some (e.g., the Steyr-Hahn) can't.
This is just stuff that jumped out at me. Kinda makes me suspicious of any other information in the book. I think this is the sort of reference book that British thriller writers (Alistair MacLean, Ian Fleming) have traditionally used: enough detail to spice up the novel, but unfortunately the details are wrong.
OK, we've all read the sci-fi tales of
great ships of the void zipping hither and yon at extreme speeds,
whether it's Doc Smith or David Weber.
Often, the ships must accelerate to
some large fraction of lightspeed using some form of conventional
propulsion, before being able to zap into hyperspace. Or, they just go Really Fast in normal space.
So... just what are the energy
requirements here? How much of the ship has to be fuel, and how fast
can it go?
For simplicity, I'll examine the
as-built Skylark, in which Richard Seaton went gallivanting off to
Osnome. (This is based on the heavily-revised 1958 Pyramid edition
of The Skylark of Space, 'cause that's the one I've got in
front of me.) This is a fairly simple one, for various reasons:
Relativistic effects don't apply,
for reasons that are hand-waved away.
The propulsion system uses total
conversion of matter to energy, which saves me the trouble of
looking up the energy yield of fusion reactions.
The propulsion system is also,
presumably, perfectly efficient, and apparently reactionless.
The mass of fuel is stated in the
So, let's see now: “It was a
spherical shell of hardened steel of great thickness, some forty feet
in diameter.” Weight, “thousands of tons.” The energy source
is total conversion of copper: four-hundred-pound bars thereof; with
four bars aboard, the energy of one is available for outbound
acceleration, so we'll use that. When the Skylark is rebuilt
with an arenak hull, the “great thickness” of the original is
revealed to be four feet.
OK, now, we've got some numbers we can
work with. Converting to real units, we have a steel spherical shell
of outside radius 610 cm, and inside radius 488 cm, for a volume of
464 million cm3; taking the density of steel to be 7.86
g/cm3, that works out to 3.65E+6 kg, or 3650 (metric)
tons, for the hull, disregarding portholes and the massive internal
To accelerate this, we have the energy
a 400-pound copper bar, converted entirely to usable energy;
1.814E+2 kg converts, using the famous formula, to 1.63E+19 Joules.
So, when a 3.65E+6 kg object has a
kinetic energy of 1.63E+19 J, how fast is it going? Last I heard,
E=½mv2, so v=sqrt(2E/m) = sqrt(8.96E+12 J/kg) = 2.989E+6 m/s.
Just about 0.01c. Well, I guess we
didn't have to worry about those relativistic effects after all.
And so much for gallivanting around the
Note that none of this applies if the
hero has some sort of inertialess, or low-inertia, drive, such as a
Bergenholm; with those, the mass of the ship is eliminated or
reduced, so that kinetic energy ceases to be a consideration (or at
least is scaled down).
Update, a few minutes later: Corrected a couple of numbers; I forgot to apply the 2 in sqrt(2E/m) the first time around.
Is someone getting ready to remake The Maltese Falcon? For some reason, I've had three hits in the last day on this post, from searches on the name of the Greek dealer who found the bird in 1931 (according to the book; various other years are mentioned in the other hits for that search). Google News finds plenty of references to the Bogart film, but I don't see anything about a remake. (There was, though, an item about a play based on an incidental nebbish mentioned by Sam Spade.) So why are people suddenly looking for the Greek dealer? Is it some sort of trivia quiz? Is there a net.rumor that he's gotten hold of the bird again? What?
The Maltese Falcon is copyright 1929. The movie came out in 1941. The story is set in 1949:
For seventy years, sir, this marvelous item was, as you might say, a football in the gutters of Paris - until 1931, when a Greek dealer named Charilaos Konstantinides found it in an obscure shop. ... One year to the very day after he had acquired it - that was possibly three months after I'd made him confess to me - I picked up the Times in London and read that his establishment had been burglarized and he had been murdered. ... That was seventeen years ago. Well, sir, it took me seventeen years to locate the bird, but I did it.
OK, so Hammett was writing 20 years in the future. Does this have any implications for the story? Well, in chapter 15, Polhaus asks, speaking of the Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver, "You say you've seen them before: where was that at?" Spade replies: "In England before the war." Hmmm... if we figure Spade was in England as a young adult before the War, i.e., no later than 1914, that implies that he's in his mid-fifties here, and that an oddball gun stuck in his memory for at least 35 years, both of which seem a bit anomalous (the latter point only because he doesn't otherwise come across as a dedicated gun nut).
It would seem to make more sense if Spade had been in England before WWII... still a decade in the future when Hammett wrote the story. Or it could just be that Hammett, having seen a Webley-Fosbery himself before the Great War, wasn't careful about his timeline, and I'm being a ridiculous nitpicker here.
It's also a bit strange to realize that this tale of intrigue and international treasure-hunting in set in 1949, with no reference to that staple of international treasure-huntery of the era, the Nazis.
[Special note, 30 June 2005: will someone please leave a comment, or send me an e-mail, explaining why
I'm suddenly getting so many hits on this page from searches on the
name of the Greek dealer? Is there (shudder) a remake of the movie in
the works? Is someone spreading a rumor that the Greek has the bird
again, and everyone's trying to track him down to kill him again and
take the bird again? Some sort of Interweb treasure hunt?]
[Followup, 7 July 2005: OK, so it's some sort of Interweb treasure hunt; thanks to "Trail Tamer" for the explanation. The
Greek has been dead since 1932 since 1929, so looking for him now makes even less sense that the first part of this sentence. Here you will find no clue
as to the identity of the world's shortest river, at least since I
fixed the sprinkler system. Would you believe the treasure is hidden under a big "W"?]