June 24, 2014

Relativity As Told By An Astronaut

Earth as seen from the Moon, taken during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969.

You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, "Look at that, you son of a bitch."
~Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 Astronaut,
People Magazine, 8 April, 1974

June 22, 2014

Storm Front - A Novel Of The Dresden Files

I must admit that it took me 4-5 tries before I managed to finish Storm Front (Dresden Files). I bought the book because I'm always curious to see what made one particular book so special that it shot to the bestseller lists (especially if it's in the sff genres), and this one even has its own comic strip and TV show!

This time, I finally managed to finish it. Perhaps because I was in a different frame of mind or perhaps because it had been a while since I'd read a CSI-style fantasy (this book reminds me a lot of Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series, which I greatly enjoyed before the latter turned into a XXX series).

Anywho, I thought this book was somewhat entertaining (though I already knew in the first couple of chapters whodunit). There wasn't anything surprising, the plot was fairly straightforward, and the magic was using tropes already employed before (should I blame my voracious reading for ruining the latter for me?).

Recommended for those who want a very easy read, and aren't too versed in the fantasy genre just yet.

Excerpt - Our P.I. Dresden decides to make a couple of potions, but first he needs to convince his interactive grimmoire-ish partner to help him out...

   The lights came up and revealed a long table in the center of the room, other tables against three of the walls around it, and a clear space at one end of the room where a brass circle had been laid out on the floor and fastened into the cement with U-shaped bolts. Shelves over the tables were crowded with empty cages, boxes, Tupperware, jars, cans, containers of all descriptions, a pair of unusual antlers, a couple of fur pelts, several musty old books, a long row of notebooks filled with my own cramped writing, and a bleached white human skull.
   "Bob," I said. I started clearing space off of the center of the table, dumping boxes and grocery sacks and plastic tubs over the brass circle on the floor. I needed room to work. "Bob, wake up."
   There was a moment of silence while I started getting some things down from the shelves. "Bob!" I said, louder. "Come on, lazybones."
   A pair of lights came up in the empty sockets of the skull, orangish, flickering like candle flames. "It isn't enough," the skull said, "that I have to wake up. I have to wake up to bad puns. What is it about you that you have to make bad puns?"
   "Quit whining," I told him, cheerfully. "We've got work to do."
   Bob the Skull grumbled something in Old French, I think, though I got lost when he got to the anatomical improbabilities of bullfrogs. He yawned, and his bony teeth rattled when his mouth clicked closed again. Bob wasn't really a human skull. He was a spirit of air--sort of like a faery, but different. He made his residence inside the skull that had been prepared for him several hundred years ago, and it was his job o remember things. For obvious reasons, I can't use a computer to store information and keep track of the slowly changing laws of quasiphysics. That's why I had Bob. He had worked with dozens of wizards over the years, and it had given him a vast repertoire of knowledge--that, and a really cocky attitude. "Blasted wizards," he mumbled.
   "I can't sleep, so we're going to make a couple of potions. Sound good?"
   "Like I have a choice," Bob said. "What's the occasion?"
   I brought Bob up to speed on what had happened that day. He whistled "no easy trick without lips), and said, "Sounds sticky."
   "Pretty sticky," I agreed.
   "Tell you what," he said. "Let me out for a ride, and I'll tell you how to get out of it."
   That made me ware. "Bob, I let you out once. Remember?"
   He nodded dreamily, scraping bone on wood. "The sorority house. I remember."
   I snorted, and started some water to boiling over one of the burners. "You're supposed to be a spirit of intellect. I don't understand why you're obsessed with sex."
   Bob's voice got defensive. "It's an academic interest, Harry."
   "Oh year? Well, maybe I don't think it's fair to let your academia go peeping in other people's houses."
   "Wait a minute. My academia doesn't just peep--"
   I held up a hand. "Save it. I don't want to hear it."
   He grunted. "You're trivializing what getting out for a bit means to me, Harry. You're insulting my
   "Bob," I said, "you're a skull. You don't have any masculinity to insult."
   "Oh yeah?" Bob challenged me. "Pot kettle black, Harry! Have you gotten a date yet? Huh? Most men have something better to do in the middle of the night than play with their chemistry sets."
   "As a matter of fact," I told him, "I'm set up for Saturday night."
   Bob's eyes fluttered from orange to red. "Oooooo." He leered. "Is she pretty?"
   "Dark skin," I said. "Dark hair, dark eyes. Legs to die for. Smart, sexy as hell."
   Bob chortled. "Think she'd like to see the lab?"
   "Get your mind out of the gutter."
   "No, seriously," Bob said. "If she's so great, what's she doing with you? You aren't exactly Sir Gawain, you know."
   It was my turn to get defensive. "She likes me," I said. "Is that such a shock?"
   "Harry," Bob drawled, his eye lights flickering smugly, "what you know about women, I could juggle."
   I stared at Bob for a moment, and realized with a somewhat sinking feeling that the skull was probably right. Not that I would admit that to him, not in a million years, but he was.
   "We're going to make an escape potion," I told him. "I don't want to be here all night, so can we get to work? Huh? I can only remember about half the recipe."
   "There's always room to make two if you're making one, Harry. You know that."
   That much was true. The process of mixing up an alchemical potion is largely stirring, simmering, and waiting. You can always get another one going and alternate between them. Sometimes you can even do three, though that's pushing i. "Okay, so, we'll make a copy."
   "Oh, come on," Bob chided me. "That's dull. You should stretch yourself. Try something new."
   "Like what?"
   Bob's eye sockets twinkled cheerfully. "A love potion, Harry! If you won't let me out, at least let me do that! Spirits know you could use it, and--"
   "No," I said, firmly. "No way. No love potion."
   "Fine," he said. "No love potion, no potion either."
   "Bob," I said, warningly.
   Bob's eye lights winked out.
   I growled. I was tired and cranky, and under the best of circumstances I am not exactly a type A personality. I stalked over, picked up Bob by the jaws and shook him. "Hey!" I shouted. "Bob! You come out of here! Or I'm going to take this skull and throw it down the deepest well I can find! I swear to you, I'll put you somewhere where no one can ever let you out ever again!"
   Bob's eyes winked on for a moment. "No you won't. I'm far to valuable." Then they winked out again.
   I gritted my teeth and tried not to smash the skull to little pieces on the floor. I took deep breaths, summoning years of wizardly training and control to not throw a tantrum and break the nice spirit to little pieces. Instead, I put the skull back on the shelf and counted slowly to thirty.
   Could I make the potion by myself? I probably could. But I had the sinking feeling that it might not have precisely the effect I wanted Potions were a tricky business, ad a lot more relied upon precise details than upon intent, like spells. And just because I made a love potion didn't mean I had to use it. Right? It would only be good for a couple of days, in any case--surely not through the weekend. How much trouble could it cause?

   I struggled to rationalize the action. It would appease Bob, and give him some kind of vicarious thrill. Love potions were about the cheapest things in the world to make, so it wouldn't cost me too much. And, I thought, if Susan should ask me for some kind of demonstration of magic (as she always did), I could always--
   No. That would be too much. That would be like admitting I couldn't get a woman to like me on my own, and it would be unfair, taking advantage of the woman. What I wanted was the escape potion. I might need it at Bianca's place, and I could always use it, if worse came to worst, to make a getaway from Morgan and the White Council. I would feel a lot better if I had the escape potion.
   "Okay, Bob. Fine. You win. We'll do them both. All right?"

June 21, 2014

A Warning At The Beginning Of Summer

I know you're all super excited to start vacation, go to the beach and all that, but please remember one thing before you go...


June 17, 2014


A couple years' back, one of the interns at my company was found sleeping on the job. And not just once or twice, but regularly. Needless to say, he didn't stay long. But, perhaps that wouldn't have been the case if he'd done it in another country...

...like Japan!

That's right, ladies and gentlemen. Inemuri is the art of "sleeping while present" aka sleeping on the job to show how committed you are to it. 

The logic is that the worker's so exhausted from working so hard, practically 24/7, so he/she can't help but fall asleep at work. Some people even fake it, to impress the others. 

However, things aren't that easy, because there are certain rules to follow as well (which isn't too surprising). So before you decide to try it out, know that only those on the higher rungs of the corporate structure or organization can do it, and you must do it while remaining as straight as possible in your seat.

So, who's napping for real or faking it?


June 10, 2014

The Faery Folk

While in the midst of my research, I've stumbled upon this evocative poem which I reminded me, in some respects of a passage I wrote in Rise of the Fey. The question I asked myself while reading this tale, however, is what can such enchanting music hide? What if the children are to the faeries what the rats were to the Pied Piper of Hamelin? And what happens once the music stops--do the children get to go back to their homes, or do they wake up instead to a living nightmare?

The stuff that dreams are made of
by John Anster Fitzgerald
The Dream of the Children

The children awoke in their dreaming
While earth lay dewy and still:
They followed the rill in its gleaming
To the heart-light of the hill.

Its sounds and sights were forsaking
The world as they faded in sleep,
When they heard a music breaking
Out from the heart-light deep.

It ran where the rill in its flowing 
Under the star-light gay
With wonderful colour was glowing
Like the bubbles they blew in their play.

From the misty mountain under
Shot gleams of an opal star:
Its pathways of rainbow wonder
Rayed to their feet from afar.

From their feet as they strayed in the meadow
It led through caverned aisles,
Filled with purple and green light and shadow
For mystic miles on miles.

The children were glad; it was lonely
To play on the hill-side by day.
"But now," they said, "we have only
To go where the good people stray."

For all the hill-side was haunted
By the faery folk come again;
And down in the heart-light enchanted
Were opal-coloured men.

They moved like kings unattended
Without a squire or dame,
But they wore tiaras splendid 
With feathers of starlight flame.

They laughed at the children over
And called them into the heart:
"Come down here, each sleepless rover:
We will show you some of our art."

And down through the cool of the mountain
The children sank at the call,
And stood in a blazing fountain
And never a mountain at all.

The lights were coming and going
In many a shining strand,
For the opal fire-kings were blowing
The darkness out of the land.

This golden breath was a madness
To set a poet on fire,
And this was a cure for sadness,
And that the ease of desire.

And all night long over Eri
They fought with the wand of light
And love that never grew weary
The evil things of night.

They said, as dawn glimmered hoary,
"We will show yourselves for an hour;"
And the children were changed to a glory
By the beautiful magic of power.

The fire-kings smiled on their faces
And called them by olden names,
Till they towered like the starry races
All plumed with the twilight flames.

They talked for a while together,
How the toil of ages oppressed;
And of how they best could weather
The ship of the world to its rest.

The dawn in the room was straying:
The children began to blink,
When they heard a far voice saying,
"You can grow like that if you think!"

The sun came in yellow and gay light:
They tumbled out of the cot,
And half of the dream went with daylight
And half was never forgot.

~George William Russell, July 15, 1896

June 3, 2014

A Bloody Snowball Effect

"Naturally, the common people don't want war but, after all, it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag people along whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country."
~Hermann Goering, Hitler's Reich-Marshall,
Nuremberg Trials after WWII