Finding E-Readers in Unexpected Places

The first time I ever saw an e-reader with my own eyes was in the gatehouse at O’Hare around Thanksgiving 2009. I attended a friend’s wedding a couple weeks ago, and was surprised and amused that the minister was conducting the ceremony using her Kindle DX:

Technology evolves quickly, and sometimes even the most traditional institutions evolve right along with it. You can almost imagine the minister’s grandchild someday using a (sacred?) scroll screen linked to her MA…

Traveling Light

3-D printing may be more advanced than I had thought:

I am a little bit skeptical.  For example, how does the optical scanner determine the dimensions and configuration of individual internal parts, for which there is no line of sight?  That is not explained in the video, though perhaps it’s a simplification for the casual viewer.

Nonetheless, what a great technology for off-world travel. No need for spare parts.  Of course, you need a feed stock for the process that will meet the specifications for the end product, and it helps if that feedstock can be manufactured at your destination.  We already know that we can make breathing air and rocket propellant from elements readily available on Mars, so why not other compounds?

What I Did On My (Last) Summer Vacation

After about eleven months of problems with my DSL connection at home, I’ve finally finished uploading the HD video I shot while in Iceland at this time last year. The playlist is here, but this is probably the most relevant video for MarsBlog in the sense that aside from the prominence of water, it best […]

After about eleven months of problems with my DSL connection at home, I’ve finally finished uploading the HD video I shot while in Iceland at this time last year. The playlist is here, but this is probably the most relevant video for MarsBlog in the sense that aside from the prominence of water, it best captures the Martian-like feel of the place:


The End, or a New Beginning?

NASA has posted the following image of the return of the Space Shuttle Atlantis to Earth earlier this week:

Taken from the International Space Station, it’s a unique view of the craft’s fiery re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere.  Soon thereafter, Texas Governor (and likely presidential candidate) Rick Perry issued a strong statement that included the following:

Unfortunately, with the final landing of the Shuttle Atlantis and no indication of plans for future missions, this administration has set a significantly different milestone by shutting down our nation’s legacy of leadership in human spaceflight and exploration, leaving American astronauts with no alternative but to hitchhike into space.

Though it’s not just the Obama Administration.  There has been a lack of leadership in space policy since the end of the Apollo era.  The next few years will reveal the success (or failure) of efforts to shift the emphasis to the private sector.  While I do see the merits of such a move, I don’t foresee the economic incentives necessary for the private sector to reach Mars in my lifetime.  That’s profoundly disappointing.

On the other hand, I don’t trust NASA to manage such an effort within the austere limits the US Government will have to abide by for the foreseeable future.  So is there an alternative?  How about financial incentives for (American) private companies to meet milestones that get us progressively closer to the red planet?  Think a scaled-up version of the Ansari X Prize.  It’s not a new idea, but maybe one whose time has come.  Lots of private money going to work, with much lower risk and cost to the taxpayer.  What’s not to like?

PJ Interviews Sarah Hoyt on “Darkship Thieves”

Over at PJ Lifestyle, Patrick Richardson interviews author Sarah Hoyt about her SF novel “Darkship Thieves”, which recently won the Libertarian Futurist Society’s Prometheus Award for best novel.

What I found particularly interesting about the interview is Hoyt’s experience with other writers and publishers regarding her political leanings. Having grown up with Heinlein, I generally expect science fiction to be a pro-liberty, optimistic genre – even after cancelling my Analog subscription after 25 years because of its ongoing drift towards a “progressive” perspective.

She also makes some good points about the future of publishing, akin to what we have discussed a few times in this blog (prompted by her comments, appropriately enough). Who knows if or how much new science fiction is really being locked out of the market because of the political leanings of the publishing gatekeepers — but with e-books having such easy access and low prices, will it really matter much longer? All that is needed to ensure the circulation of such books now is a means to locate and promote authors and stories with desired points of view.

What I’m thinking of is along the lines of a talent scout crossed with a restaurant critic, where an motivated reader scours the field for new material, finds what he likes, and promotes it to others. If their reviews and recommendations prove useful and informative to a like-minded segment of readers, they can become a trusted source or “brand”. To some degree, I think Glenn Reynolds has happened into a role like this – his own known libertarian leanings give a certain weight to even his trademark “in the mail” references to SF books.

Further evolution of this concept might turn this figurative brand into a literal one – like a small-label music producer, this trusted scout/reviewer might take a more pro-active role, assisting the writers they discover with improving their work and promoting them with a label that unfamiliar readers might associate with quality and an amenable perspective. Hoyt’s publisher Baen Books appears to be reinventing itself along similar lines (albeit on a different foundation and on a different scale). Given the emergence of e-books and blogs, the only barrier to any random reader doing this from scratch would seem to be the time and effort it takes to find and review the material and develop the reputation. This means that rather than one perspective manning the gates to the entire industry (and keeping out unwelcome intruders), there is the opportunity for an enormous diversity of viewpoints to flourish and gain reader attention. These hypothetical “boutique e-publishers” could take up the editorial and marketing roles traditionally performed by the print houses, at lower cost and with better alignment to underserved micro-segments of the science fiction market.

I feel compelled to address at least one of Hoyt’s other points as well, that being the ‘science fiction is entertainment, not preaching’. As anyone who has read In the Shadow of Ares can attest, we do spend some time expanding on certain libertarian ideas. For a novel directed exclusively at adults, I fully agree: nobody likes to be overtly lectured on ideas or principles they already share, and blatant lectures will do little to persuade those who aren’t already like-minded. ITSOA has been criticized by a few readers doing just this, but then, our book is directed at the young adult market. We made the conscious decision to make some of the philosophy in the book a bit more overt than we otherwise might have precisely because we expected to be introducing these ideas to unfamiliar readers. So, if you haven’t yet read the book, be aware that it does include a few expository excursions…

* — The word ‘libertarian’ is used in the broad sense here, not referring to the Libertarian Party but to pro-liberty and small-government political, social, and economic ideals.