Monthly Archives: April 2011

What’s Up @ NASA?

Last week, I put on my first JPL Solar System Ambassador event for this year. It was a brand new presentation I put together called, “What’s Up @ NASA?”. The aim was to highlight some of NASA’s current missions (there is much more going on than just the Space Shuttle) and to talk about what’s to come in the future. We (and I say we, because I had much help from the fam) held the presentation at the New Albany branch of the Columbus Library (the best library in the country, and I’m not just saying that!).

I timed the event for 5PM to catch the after school crowd as well as after work people. And it was a huge success! We had about 65 people to attend. Students, parents, and even a few grand-parents.

Big contributors to the level of attendance were the middle and high school teachers at the New Albany school district. I sent a few teachers a flyer for the event and the week before the presentation they were sending copies home with all of the students! It helped that they offered extra credit to students if they attended!

This was my 3rd or 4th event in the last few years and it felt really great. A nice change of pace from the drudgery of building and loading millions of rows of data in my company’s Data Warehouse at the day job. A few students stayed behind to ask questions, which is always nice. It’s not every day you get to meet kids that are geeky and into the sciences.

I look forward to putting on my next presentation. If you are in the area, drop me a line and I’ll keep you posted on the date and time…

Review: Earth Strike, Star Carrier – Book One by Ian Douglas

Earth Strike: Star Carrier, Book OneSpace battles, future tech, hidden alien enemies. Earth Strike: Star Carrier, Book One by Ian Douglas is a good dose of space based action adventure for the military soul. And it’s just what I was looking for at the time.

This book has been showing up in my “You also may like…” rotation when I search for new books to read. The trilogy is the most recent incarnation of space militarism from Ian Douglas in a long line of his other future soldier series. The Earth Strike series focuses on Navy pilots and humungoid star carriers as opposed to the dirtside trodding space marine. So you can expect to see lots of “high flying” action and battle sequences. While the descriptive drudgery of the various space manuevers can get boring at times, it shows that Douglas put a lot of effort into translating his battles into real world physics. Even if that physics includes creating and manipulating mini-black holes at will.

I found the story quite engaging. I took a quick liking to the main characters (there are more than one) and Douglas does a great (but at times slow) job of delving into their backgrounds (at least one in much detail). Compared to other military sci-fi novels, I would place this to sit in the middle of the pack. A pretty good read. A definite weekender or vacation take-along. Just don’t expect to be wowed with any new or exciting concepts.

And what is it with scif-fi author’s and their 1990’s websites. Mr. Douglas (note: this is a pseudonymn for William Keith), please hire a fresh web designer to spruce up your site and bring it into the 21st century.

When Book Covers Fib

I know. I know. Don’t judge a book by its cover. This age old adage rings true in a number of life’s scenarios. And when taken literally with actual novels, the meaning really hits home. However, I recently read the novel, Kop by Warren Hammond (I finished it just before I started blogging again). This was a great book!

True grit, anti-heroes, and a great detective story to boot. I have to admit, the cover design (by the talented Christian McGrath, whose repertoire includes other popular titles like Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series) caught my eye. When I saw the book on the shelf in the bookstore, I thought, “Hmm. That looks quite interesting. Why is that city so dirty and crowded? Who pissed off that dude? Is that his girlfriend? Why is he carrying?”

KOP by Warren Hammond

After a quick barcode scan with the iPhone I pulled up the reviews on Amazon. From there it shot to the top of my must-read-next list.

So a few days later, I settle into the book and after reading through the “self-description” of the main character, I’m a little taken aback. Juno describes himself as:

“slightly darker than average skin and barely kinked hair were the last remnants of my diluted African blood.”

What?! This was certainly a welcome surprise. It’s not often that I read a scifi novel where the main character isn’t white.

But this description did not square with the cover. Juno is not some rough and tumble non-latin looking white guy that I originally imagined. After reading through the author’s description, my mind’s eye saw something like the picture of Laz Alonso at right instead…

Why is this? Juno’s ethnicity has nothing to do with the story. It’s just who he is. The fact that he is of African descent is only mentioned in the story when the author needs to describe how Juno looks to the reader. That’s it!

Personally, I was very impressed that most all of the characters in the book were of one hue or another and not just cornbread white with cornbread white names and cornbread white backgrounds: Jim, John, Robert, Sarah, Jane, Emily. In my opinion, Hammond did a great job with fleshing out a more realistic and likely future where all of humanity has expanded out into the stars and not just white Americans.

So why the switcharoo on the cover art? Why not use an image of Juno that the author writes as having “brown” skin? Would the novel have been less appealing to a book shopper with a “minority” on the cover? Does it matter?

The purpose of the cover art is to attract the eye of a casual browser (like me). It should say, “HEY! Over here!” And once it has your attention, it should give you some semblance of what you will encounter as you dive into its covers. The cover for KOP definitely did that for me. But…but….but….

I don’t have an answer for this. I don’t think I even have an opinion. I thought that I had long reached the place where these types of quirks about race and ethnicity didn’t bother me much. America will be America. But, here I am blogging about it. I would love to hear a comment or two from the author or the artist. Maybe they’ll stumble across this blog entry.

What do you think?

Drop me a comment…

Review: Ex-KOP by Warren Hammond

Ex-KOPWhat better way to get back into blogging than with a book review. Over the past year, I have read at least 30 books. And while, I’m not going to go back and retro-review each of them, Ex-KOP by Warren Hammond will give you a good insight into what I have been reading.

This novel is the sequel to KOP which I finished reading a few weeks back. It continues the story of the ultimate anti-hero, Juno Mozambe. Kicked out of KOP (the law on his planet Lagarto), Juno struggles to make ends meet while flying with no cover, a sick wife, and an even worse anger management problem than the last book. Hammond is a pretty good writer and the story plays out very well. I hate when a plot is so obvious that you always feel two steps ahead of the writer. And while you may think you know what’s going on in Ex-KOP, Hammond does a great job of reveals on a need-to-know basis.

I particularly love the characters and their language. Each one plays an important piece in the story and no one is wasted. All of the pieces in this puzzle fit neatly together.

With this only being Hammond’s second novel, he’s definitely hit a nice groove. As I told you a few years back, I am a hard scifi junkie. This book fits my tastes to a T. I’m definitely looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

My only negative. The novel cover matches the feel of the story in all aspects except for one. I’ll address that in another post…

On a sidenote, do not visit the author’s website (http://www.warrenhammond.net/index.htm). It’s stuck in 1998 and may cause your modern browser to laugh and cackle at you.

Note to Mr. Hammond: use some of your royalties and get someone to build you an updated site. Just 1 page or 2 will do.

OK. I’m back…

I doubt that I have many people on the internets checking this blog everyday waiting to see if I have any new posts. If you are one of those people, I love you! It’s hard to believe that it has been almost a year (to the day) since my last post. Things got busy at work, one thing led to another, and before I knew it, I had not posted anything to GC for a long while.

So, I’m back now. I’m still a reading fool, so you can still expect to see my book reviews (although I may switch to something other than LibraryThing). I’m also getting back into my JPL Solar System Ambassador kick. I have a few presentations lined up. I’ll post my thoughts and some pics here later.

And oh yeah…I will be experimenting with the theme for the blog (WordPress! You have come a long way…)

Image via Flickr user Jelly Dude…