Apollo Rocket Engines Recovered from Seafloor

apollo_rocketThis past week, history was made when Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon.com) and his privately funded company, Bezos Expeditions, announced that they had successfully retrieved pieces of the very engines that had once launched Apollo astronauts to the moon. Using remotely operated vehicles and a series of slings, the crew members recovered enough parts to reconstruct the majority of two F-1 rocket boosters.

Bezos Expeditions announced last year that using state-of-the-art deep sea sonar, that they had discovered the remains off the coast of Cape Canaveral off the coast of Florida. And this past Thursday, and with NASA’s help, Bezos located the fragments at a depth of almost 4.8 kilometers (3 miles) and began hauling them to the surface. Bezos claims they belonged to the historic Apollo 11 spaceflight, but further study and restoration will be needed before their identity can be confirmed.

apollo_rocket1Regardless, this is an exciting find, and the nature of the rocket boosters confirms that they were at least part of the Apollo program. Between 1968 and 1972, ten missions were conducted that flew out of the Kennedy Space Center, each one using the Saturn V rocket, that used five F-1 engines to boost them into orbit. Once the rockets had spent their fuel, they were detached and fell into the sea.

That means that approximately sixty five F-1 engines reside in the ocean off the coast of Florida. No telling which of those these ones could be, but it is hoped that serial numbers will be retrieved from the engines that can connect them to a specific Apollo mission. But regardless, this is an exciting find, and could not have come at a better time since NASA is looking to embark on a renewed era of exploration.

saturn-v-rocket-engines-recovered-ocean-installed_65442_600x450All told, Bezos and his team spent three weeks at sea, working almost 5 kilometers below the surface. During this time, Bezos claims that his team found so much:

We’ve seen an underwater wonderland – an incredible sculpture garden of twisted F-1 engines that tells the story of a fiery and violent end, one that serves testament to the Apollo program. We photographed many beautiful objects in situ and have now recovered many prime pieces. Each piece we bring on deck conjures for me the thousands of engineers who worked together back then to do what for all time had been thought surely impossible.

Naturally, NASA was pretty impressed with the find as well. After the find was announced, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden made the following statement on behalf of the Agency:

This is a historic find and I congratulate the team for its determination and perseverance in the recovery of these important artifacts of our first efforts to send humans beyond Earth orbit. We look forward to the restoration of these engines by the Bezos team and applaud Jeff’s desire to make these historic artifacts available for public display.

Apollo_11Needless to say, this is an exciting find, regardless of whether or not these rockets were the same ones that sent Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the Moon. Naturally, I hope it is. I can think of no greater tribute to Armstrong’s memory so soon after his passing. I can imagine him looking down on this from the stars, where he now resides, with a big old smile!

And be sure to check out this video taken by the Bezos Expedition of the undersea find:

Source: nationalgeographic.com, universetoday.com

The First Science Fiction Novel Ever?

What do you think of when you hear the words Sci-Fi? Chances are, the words inspire images such as the one above, of nightmarish landscapes featuring clogged streets, flying cars, neon lights and massive skyscrapers. Or possibly you’re partial to the more utopian visions, with space travel, beautiful arcologies and happy shiny people who want for nothing and treat each other with peace and civility.

All good, but chances are, no one thinks of medieval literature from the Islamic world when they hear that term. Chances are no one thinks of anything other than the industrial age, of men like H.G Wells and Jules Verne. For most of us, these are the people who pioneered the field of science fiction, no doubt about it. But amongst scholarswho specialize in tracing literary genres to their roots, one book stands out as the possible progenitor of them all; a little known novel by the name of Theologus Autodidactus.

Outside of antiquarians and theologists, not many people have heard of this story, and up until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t either. So you can imagine my surprise when I learned about it. To me, science fiction was not something that could have predated the scientific revolution, or the age of industry when steam locomotives, steam ships, and a revolutionary understanding of the world and man’s place in it inspired flights of fancy which went well beyond our world. And yet, as it turns out, a manuscript which was written sometime in the 13th century by an Islamic scholar living in Egypt.

His pen name was Ibn al-Nafis (nee Ala-al-din abu Al-Hassan Ali ibn Abi-Hazm al-Qarshi al-Dimashqi), and he was what westerners would later refer to as a “Renaissance Man”. Not only was he an expert physician he also studied jurisprudence, literature and theology and became an expert on the Shafi’i school of jurisprudence before he died. In addition to writing many treatises on medicine, one of which was made famous for being the first in which pulmonary circulation of the blood was mentioned, he also wrote extensively on law and the world’s first coming of age tale/science fiction novel Al-Risalah al-Kamiliyyah fil Siera al-Nabawiyyah, which translated into Latin is known as Theologus Autodidactus.

Plot Summary:
Broken down succinctly, the story revolves around a protagonist named Kamil, an adolescent feral child who at the beginning of the story finds himself spontaneously transported to a cave on a deserted island. Almost immediately, it is clear that the boy is an autodidactic, a self-directed learner who has mastered several fields through independent learning.

Over time, he is met by several castaway who get shipwrecked on the island, learning and sharing from them. In time, the castaways band together to make a ship and agree to take Kamil with them back to civilization. As they return to the world of man, Kamil begins to see all the works of man, learns of philosophy, law and medicine remaining a self-directed learner all the while) and comes to several conclusions.

As he grows, he is taught the value of jurisprudence, religion, the necessity of the existence of God, and the value of the sciences, arts, and all other things that make man civilized. His own coming of age is reflected in explorations of the origin of man, the current state of the world, and predictions of the future. Towards the end, the plot develops from this coming-of-age scenario and begins to incorporate several new elements, such as the the end of the world, doomsday, resurrection and afterlife are predicted and scientifically explained using his own empirical knowledge of biology, astronomy, cosmology and geology.

Summary:
Ultimately, Ibn al-Nafis described his own work as a defense of “the system of Islam and the Muslims’ doctrines on the missions of Prophets, the religious laws, the resurrection of the body, and the transitoriness of the world”. Essentially, this meant presenting rational arguments for religious ideas, such as bodily resurrection and the immortality of the human soul, using both demonstrative reasoning and literary examples to prove his case. In this respect, he was not unlike Thomas Aquinas and a host of other western scholars from the High Middle Ages, men who would similarly try to defend reason based on faith and use empirical knowledge to defend the existence of a spiritual, universal order.

However, what set Ibn al-Nafis’ work apart was the way in which he expressed his religious, scientific and philosophical views through a fictitious narrator who went on to experience what the world had to offer. Rather than writing things in treatise form, which was the style for most philosophers of the day, he chose to do what only a select few of his contemporaries did and tell the story through a narrator who’s own journey illustrated one’s own journey of discovery. In that respect, he was like Voltaire, who’s fictional Candide had to venture out into the world in order to realize the truth about life and the order of things, though their conclusions were vastly different.

And finally, fact that he chose to speculate about what the future held, up to and including the apocalypse itself, is what makes this work classifiable as science fiction. Here, he was most comparable to men like H.G. Wells and Verne, men who looked to the future in the hopes of illustrating the current state of humanity and where it was likely to take them. And though these, and later generations of individuals, often had a negative appraisal of such things, Iban al-Nafis’ was arguably positive. His exploration was designed to affirm belief in the existence of something greater than material nature, but provable using the same basic laws.

I can’t imagine being able to find a copy of this book any time soon. It’s not like Amazon has copies on hold for anyone looking to a little cross-cultural antiquities reading. I checked, they really don’t! Still, I’d consider it a boon to find a translation and read the whole story for myself. What I little I learned can’t possibly capture the historic and cultural importance of the novel. Something to add to the reading list, right next to The Peach Blossom Spring and Beowulf!

10 Sci-Fi Novels People Pretend to Have Read

Came across this article in Io9 recently, then again over at Scoop.it. You can tell something is important not only when it speaks to you, but when like-minded individuals begin referencing it! And if you own a blog, you definitely want to get on that! In any case, I found the list especially interesting for two reasons. One, many of the books I have already read. And two, I haven’t even heard of the rest.

I’d say a list like this is long overdue, but it’s still highly subjective isn’t it? The books we pretend we’ve read all comes down to what we consider important and relevant, not to mention popular. And even within the genre of sci-fi, I’d say that list is too big to boil down to a simple top ten. Even so, it’s interesting to read and compare, and find out just how many you’ve read yourself. So please, check this out and tell me which of these you have read and which you think you’ll want to check out:

1. Cryptonomicon:
Read it! This book is Neal Stephenson’s groundbreaking piece of historical fiction, combining narratives involving World War II cryptographers with modern day IT geeks who are looking to establish a data haven in the South Pacific. The story tells the tale of a massive shipment of Nazi gold that got lost on its way to Japan, ran aground in the Philippines, and remained hidden until the late 90’s.

Personally, I loved this book because of the way it weaves history, both recent and distant, into a seamless narrative and draws all the characters into the same overarching plot. One would think that Stephenson was making a point about how we are all subjects of our shared history, but it could just be he’s that good a writer!

2. Dune:
Read it thrice! In Dune, Frank Herbert draws upon an immense store of classical sci-fi themes, a grand awareness of human nature and history, and a keen grasp of ecology and the influence environment has on shaping its inhabitants to create the classic that forever established him as one of the greatest sci-fi minds of all time.

Sci-fi geeks everywhere know this one and it saddens to me to think that it’s even on this list. Anyone who’s willing to pretend that they read this book clearly considers it important, which is why they should have read it, dammit! Not only is it a classic, it’s from the guy who literally wrote the book on science fiction that was meant to be taken seriously.

3. Gravity Rainbow:
Never heard of it! Apparently, the story came out in 1974 and deals with the German V2 rocket program near the end of World War II. Pat Murphy, author of The City, Not Long After and The Wild Girls, went so far as to compare this book to James Joyce, a the great Irish modernist writer who was also renowned for being brilliant and inaccessible.

In addition to be classified as enriching, it is known for being odd and hard to get through, with many authors themselves claiming to have started it several times but never being able to finish it. The plot is also rather unique, combining transgressive sexuality with the idea of total war and technological races. But one look at the dust jacket will tell you all of that, right? Crazy Germans!

4. Foundation:
Read it myself, and also am somewhat sad that it made the list. Sure, the fact that it’s a classic means that just about everyone who’s eve shown the slightest interest in sci-fi would want to read it. But I can’t for the life of me understand why people would claim to have read it. Jesus, it’s not a hard read, people. And Amazon sells used copies for cheap and handles shipping. No excuses!

And having just reviewed it, I shall say nothing of the plot, except that it in many ways inspired fellow great Frank Herbert in his creation of Dune. Like Frank, Asimov combined the idea of a Galactic Empire with a keen awareness of human history, eternal recurrence, and prescient awareness.

5. Johnathon Strange & Mr. Norrell:
Now this one I have heard of, but never felt compelled to pick up and read. Apparently, its size and bulk are the reason many people react the same. This 2004 book is the first novel by British writer Susanna Clarke which deals with the nature of the English character and the boundary between reason and irrationality.

Set in 19th-century England during the time of the Napoleonic Wars, the story is an alternative history that is based on the idea that at one time, magic existed in England and has thanks to the help of two men – the namesakes of the story, Jonathan Strange and Gilbert Norrell. At once interesting and speculative, it also presents the rather romantic vision of romance returning to a world increasingly characterized by modernity and cold reason.

6. 1984:
Yep, read this one thrice as well! And given it’s reputation and place in the annals of literary history, I can totally see why people pretend to have read it. Oh, and let’s not forget the way people love to reference and abuse it’s message for the sake of making a quick and easy political point! But none of that excuses not reading it.

Set in an alternate history where WWIII and revolution have led to totalitarian governments in every corner of the world, the story tells the tale of one man’s quest to find answers and facts in a world permeated by lies and absolute repression. Of course, this meager description doesn’t do it justice. In the end, so much comes into play that it would take pages and pages just to provide an adequate synopsis. Suffice it to say, it’s a book that will change your life. READ IT!

7. First and Last Men and Star Maker:
Another one which I’m not too sure about. Much of what is described within are concepts I have heard of in other places, and some of the content sounds familiar. Still, can’t say I’ve ever heard of Stapledon or these two works by name. But after reading about his work, I’m thinking I ought to check him out now. Tell me if you’d agree…

Published in 1930 and 1937, these two books tackled some rather broad ground. The first deals with the history of humanity, covering 18 species of humanity from the present to two billion years into the future. Based on Hegelian concept of history, humanity goes through several different types of civilizations and passes between stability and chaos over the course of it all. However, undeniable progress is made, as each civilization reaches further the last, culminating in leaps in evolution along the way.

In Star Maker, the plot revolves around a man who is able to leave his body and venture throughout the universe. He is able to merge with more minds along the way, a snowballing effect which allows him and his companions to explore more and worlds through time and space. This leads to a climax where a cosmological mind is created and makes contact with the “Star Maker” – the creator of the universe.

Sounds cool huh? And they appear to have no shortages of accolades. For example, Arthur C. Clarke called Star Maker one of the finest works of science fiction ever written, and the concept explored therein had a profound influence on many subsequent sci-fi minds, not the least of which were Gene Roddenberry and J.M. Straczynski.

8. The Long Tomorrow:
This one, I have heard of, mainly because it’s on my list as an example of post-apocalyptic fiction. I have yet to read it, but after reading about it, I think I would like to. Set in a post-apocalyptic world devastated by nuclear war, the story takes place within a society that is controlled by religious groups preaching a technophobic message.

Inevitably, the story comes to a head when young people, intrigued by stories of a neighboring community, go out in search of it, braving punishment and even exile. Sounds familiar? Well, it should. This book, which was published in 1955, has gone on to inspire countless variations and pop culture renditions. It also attempts to illustrate the connection between natural disasters and regression, traditionalism and repression.

9. Dhalgren:
Yet another book that’s compared to James Joyce, largely by people that haven’t read it. I’m one of them! Apparently, this 1975 story by Samuel R. Delany takes place in a fictitious Midwestern town that has become cut off from the outside world by an event horizon. All communications are cut off, and the population become frightened by the night sky reveals two moons, and the morning sun is many times larger than our own.

More strange is the fact that street signs and landmarks shift constantly, while buildings that have been burning for days are either never consumed or show signs of damage. Gangs also begin to roam the nighttime streets, their members hidden within holographic projections of gigantic insects or mythological creatures. Against this backdrop, a group of people come together and try to make sense of what has happened as they struggle to survive.

Told from the point of view of a partial amnesiac, dysmetric, schizophrenic, as well as a bunch of other people who find themselves stranded in the city, the story is an exercise is confusion, dissociation, and a really just a big mystery. In the end, what is truly going on is never revealed, thus leaving the reader with their own interpretations. This is one of the selling points of the book, with William Gibson himself saying that it was “A riddle that was never meant to be solved.” Yeah, I definitely need to read this one!

10. Infinite Jest:
This last novel is more recent, having been released in 1996. Once again, haven’t heard of it, but given its content, praise, and the fact that the author’s low life was cut tragically short, it doesn’t surprise me that its one of those books that everyone feels they must read. But given the length, complexity and the fact that story contains 388 numbered end notes, I can see why they’ve also held back!

The story focuses on the lives of a celebrity family known as the Incandezas, a clear pun on their, shall  we say… luminous fame? The family is deeply involved in tennis, struggles with substance abuse, and in a state of disrepair since the father – a famous film director – committed suicide with a microwave. His last work was apparently a film (entitled “Infinite Jest”, but known throughout the story as “The Entertainment”) which is so entertaining, it causes viewer to lose all interest in everything besides watching the movie.

Clearly meant as a satire on North American culture, particularly celebrity families, entertainment, substance abuse and the sideshow that is celebrity rehab, the story is all about various people’s search for the missing tape of “The Entertainment” and what they plan to do with it. The novel received wide recognition and praise after its publication and became a testament to Wallace’s talent after he committed suicide in 2008.

Okay, that’s four out of ten for me. How did you do? And even if you could say that you’ve read most of the books on this list, or at least the one’s you’ve heard of, I’d say we’ve all come away with a more additions to our reading lists, hmmm? Yeah, I guess its back to Amazon for me!

New Cover/New Book!

With all the work and build-up to the release of Data Miners, I’ve been somewhat lax in working on my other projects. Like I say, I suffer from a specific kind of ADHD that only attacks the literary part of the brain. As a result, I tend to take on too many projects at once, always start new ideas when I’m in the midst of one, and seem to work on them in a rather cyclic fashion. But during the last few months, I somehow managed to buckle down to complete my novel, and now my attention is roaming free again.

And so I find myself returning to the project of “Fortress”, which for the past two years has been the work-in-progress title for the sequel to Source. The other day, I noticed a comment on free-ebooks where a reader wondered when the sequel would be coming. To answer his question: Soon! The nearly-completed manuscript has been sitting in my file folder for almost two years now. Back then, I attacked the idea of some Source sequels with abandon, having finished the original story not long before. However, the project soon lost momentum as new ideas came to me (of which Data Miners was but one!) But now, having freed up a portion of my creative gland (you don’t need the whole thing for editing, I’ve found) I will be getting back on it and finishing it just as soon as possible.

In the meantime, I also created a cover for it, to be made available on Kindle, Nook, Lulu and Smashwords. Here she is, my first conception of what “Fortress” will look like:

Reviews are In!

Reviews are In!

Recently, I had the honor of enlisting the services of a freelance critic and literary enthusiast named Katy Sozaeva. After our initial meeting and some back and forth regarding what she does and what I write, she agreed to take on some of my work for the sake of giving it all a professional. Naturally, I volunteered my earliest stuff, the short stories that have been available online for some time: Source, Liability and Smartbomb.

Even though she was quite busy and had a stack of books a mile high, she swore to me she’d get to my stuff sooner other than later. Well, I had almost forgot about our discussion, being a man who clearly suffers from ADHD when it comes to my writing. And then, wouldn’t you know it, I happened to be checking out Goodreads and noticed she had reviewed all three in full and posted her thoughts! Here’s what she said:

Source:

“The Earth and its colonies are running out of water. The government, left with no options, decides to hedge its bets by creating a colony ship and sending off the best and brightest to colonize the stars, while at home strict rationing and a lottery system to decide who should live and who should die will be instituted. Millions will die, either of thirst or through violence. However, a scientist comes up with a daring idea in order to provide additional resources and keep humanity alive in the Sol system – reclamation. All bodies will be reclaimed for the source, providing fluids, minerals and other essentials. How will humans develop, at home and in the stars?

This was an interesting science fiction story, as well as showing the dangers of continuing to destroy the environment for short-term gains. To us, it seems almost impossible that we could ever run short on water, but it will happen if we don’t stop polluting the water sources and start paying attention. However, the book is not a sermon – it is also entertaining with an intricate plot and plenty of suspense. Fans of sci-fi should definitely check this book out. Williams also has some short stories, including “Smartbomb” and “Liability,” which I will be reviewing over the next few days.”

And sure as shooting, she did!

Liability:

“With crime spreading out of control, and martial law proving ineffective, the US passes the Libertarian Act, which allows private citizens to become bounty hunters and earn a living by bringing in criminals, dead or alive. While the crime rate has dropped substantially, there are some who feel that this method infringes on their right to due process and an individual’s protection under the law. Now, with the crime rates falling, the bounty hunters don’t have as much work, and are looking for ways to maintain their lifestyle. What sort of solution will they come up with? And why are bounty hunters now disappearing?

I was interested by the idea of the Libertarian Act – I’m one of those who believes that people should have the right to protect themselves and that by making guns difficult or illegal to own, all that will be accomplished will be ensuring that only criminals will have them, which hardly solves the problem. I was interested in the fact that this situation was presented in such a way as to make the common hunter, as they call themselves, seem like a decent person just trying to do their part for community and country. A well-written short story that raises interesting questions – recommended!”

Smartbomb:

“The major alliances in the world have developed Smartbombs, bombs with artificial intelligence that are controlled by a Central AI and designed to carefully destroy only enemy targets while keeping civilians and architecture safe. However, a major crisis is arising and suddenly the Central AI has denied access to everybody. What has happened? Has it been hacked into? And what will happen to the armed forces without the protection of the Smartbombs?

An interesting what-if situation regarding the evolution of warfare and the evolution of artificial intelligence, this short sci-fi story packs a lot of pop into a short piece. Those with an interest in sci-fi, short stories, and the evolution of awareness should find this piece interesting.”

How nice! Glad she liked them, really glad she found the time to take them on. Speaking of which, another review has shown up for Source over at free-ebooks.net.  I’ve been meaning to take it down that site, but wanted to keep it up a little longer. Good thing, because then I saw this one:

“Great read. Took a few pages to get into, but well worth it. Understand there is to be a sequel; however, still wish the ending had not been so abrupt. That being said, definitely look forward to the reading the continuation.” – J

And he’s right, I’ve been tinkering with a sequel to Source for some time, by the name of Fortress.  I guess I’ll have to get on that now. Can’t disappoint a reader, even if it’s just one, dangit! But Source is definitely coming off soon so get your free copies while you can!

For those interested in more reviews by Katy Sozaeva, check out her site. No spamming please, I have a reputation to uphold ;)!

Katy Sozaeva at Livejournal

And of course, where to find my stuff:

free-ebooks.net

Amazon-Kindle

Lulu.com

Smashwords.com

Data Miners… coming in 2012!

Data Miners… coming in 2012!

Well, its official now… My latest full-length novel, Data Miners, is set to be released in January  2012! In the coming weeks, expect podcasts (available here and on iTunes), sample chapters, and links to where you can obtain the first few chapters for FREE! This book has been many years in the making and I’m quite excited. I hope people enjoy it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it and thanks in advance to those who contributed their time and energy in helping me to create, edit and polish it up! You know who you are… But just in case, thanks to the following people:

Carla Jack (my love!)
Ben Stone
Katrina Cain
Anik Gour
Anne Koke
and Jasper (who’s caused a couple of crashes that made me rethink my plot lines!)

Couldn’t have done it without you. And just for fun, here’s a gander at what it will look like in paperback, plus the contents of the dust jacket. Paperbacks will be priced at $12.99 (available through Amazon, Lulu, and Createspace), and $2.99 for ebooks (available through Kindle and Nook)

Dataminers:

Prad is a member of the Deemarchy – an elite society dedicated to finding patterns in the chaos and fighting the power! Or so he thinks. In reality, he is a second-rate programmer who works for a faceless company and is obsessed with a woman he can’t possibly have. Until one day when a mysterious package arrives, throwing him into a mystery ten years in the making. Whoever knows about it is not safe, as the case is a matter of national security… and treason. If he can crack the code, he just might be able to save his friends, but if he can’t, he and his friends are screwed! Like everything else in Prad’s wireless world, the answer is out there, just waiting to be mined!