May 7th, 2002

The first great SF novel of the 21st century?

Yesterday afternoon I picked up my copy of Michael Swanwick's Bones of the Earth. This morning I finished it, as I rode up the escalators from the Central Line platforms of Bond Street tube station. That was an hour ago. If I hadn't had too much to do (and sleep), this would have been a single sitting book

I have to say, I haven't felt this way after reading an SF novel for some time. Swanwick has always been a wonderful storyteller, but here he is at the very pinnacle of his art, spinning words into a gripping, and moving, tale. This is a book about real science, scientists given the opportunity to study in the flesh things they have only been able to recreate from fragments of bone and speculation. This is dream made real, one of my childhood dreams: the chance to meet dinosaurs. From the opening chapter, where the only way a palaeontologist can be recruited to the project is to be presented with the chilled head of a stegosaur, Swanwick drags you into an ever widening spiral of discovery, realtionships and temporal paradox that swings from the deep past to the deep future. It's even easy to forgive the re-rewriting of the wonderful short story Schezro with Tyrannosaur as an underwater vignette...

This isn't just the best SF novel of time travel I've read; it's also one of the best novels about scientific research. Where most SF about science focuses on the physical sciences, this is a tale of observational biology. From field studies to peer review, to academic politics, it's all here. A warts and all picture that succeeds in humanising what the media too often treats as religious dogma.

Ah, damn. I don't think I can do it justice. Just read it.
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What I don't like about cities...

I grew up on a small island, I now live in a big city.

Normally I like the city, it's busy, bustling, exciting. But there's one thing that I find increasingly annoying. No one takes turns. They rush off the tube, crushing into narrow doorways, something that would be made so much simpler if people just filtered in turn by turn. It's a logical and simple way of working that shows consideration for their fellow human beings, but they just focus on their destinations and tune out simple considerations that would actually make their journeys easier.

Perhaps it's just me...
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Ooops. I seem to have forgotten all my trigonometry...

I was doing some thinking about the Big Fermi Paradox Space Opera idea I'm playing with (those who've heard me discuss the Deepships idea will know the story I'm talking about) at lunchtime, and realised I'd completely lost a whole pile of mathematical knowledge. While I can design architectures for complex web systems, I don't seem to be able to recall how to calculate how big a 65km long artifact in a 100 Km orbit will look...

Especially as I need to think of it in terms of spherical geometries. I've worked out that it will cover 32 degrees of sky when viewed from the equator using simple trig after a quick web refresher (and some emails with Charlie), but the tricky bit is trying to understand how big it will look when viewed (for perfectly valid plot reasons) from the Canary Islands. I think it will still be a "chicken little" moment for the characters though, especially as the artifact was an asteroid only a few minutes before.

I'm now thinking if one of these shareware/freeware 3D astronomical viewing tools will help me out. I remember looking at one a while back that allowed you to place viewpoints and objects anywhere, and that handled most of the 3D graphics formats around.

But I'm still left wondering what happened to my mathematics O-level...
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