update: posts to come

Thank you very much to those of you who follow/like my posts.

the Update:
Very likely, a continued focus on sci fi, poetry, and excerpts from writings about nature.
A mix of novels, novellas, short stories; some are re-reads, others are on “to read” list; and some are on the “track down to read again!” list. Great reading — all of it!
Planning to post (sequence will probably be different….):

Kristine Kathryn Rusch:
“Diving into the Wreck” 2009 (novel)
“The Spires of Denon” 2009

Nancy Kress: “Probability Space”  2002.
“Trinity and other stories” 1985; “Laws of Survival” 2007.

Greg Bear: “Hegira” 1987.

Dan Simmons: “Hyperion” 1989.

Ted Chiang: “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” 2007.

Chris Roberson : “The Sky is Large and the Earth is Small” 2007.

from Brian Aldiss, Editor: “Galactic Empires — Vol. 1 (1976)
Vol. II (1978):
R.A. Lafferty: Been A Long, Long Time; 1969

Joe Haldeman : “The Accidental Time Machine” 2007

Damian Broderick: “This Wind Blowing, and This Tide” (2009)

Michael F. Flynn: “Melodies of the Heart” .

Terry Bison: “Bears Discover Fire”; “The Hole in the Hole”.

A. C. Clarke ; “Rendezvous with Rama” 1973.

Steven Baxter: “Manifold” stories

Ian McDonald: The Dervish House; River of Gods.

Jay Lake

Alastair Reynolds

and …..


James van Pelt: “Solace” (c) 2009.

“Come, let us take our fill of love until the morning: let us solace ourselves with loves.
For the goodman is not at home, he is gone a long journey:”
           — Proverbs quoted in the sci fi story “Solace” by James van Pelt.

The Proverbs are # 18 and 19 from Chapter 7.


James van Pelt: “Solace” (c) 2009.

Source: “The Year’s Best Science Fiction:  Twenty-Seventh Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois (c) 2010.”
(from SF stories published in 2009).

“Solace” is a story of two people, living in two different centuries. The Proverbs scribbled on paper by a 19th century miner, Isaac, give courage and hope  centuries into the future to Meghan, a crew member of a space expedition to start a colony on a far distant planet.

The story is written in short sections to mirror the events in Megan’s space journey; and the determined and courageous struggle by Isaac to keep the mine’s power generator going in a ferocious winter snow storm.


Aboard the spaceship:

Meghan is a hydroponics specialist aboard a spaceship on a journey of 4000 years from Earth to Zeta Reticula, to establish a colony. A space journey of this length has not been done before: The ship itself is a prototype and no one knows whether they will make it to Zeta Reticula, or whether they will succeed in colonizing a planet there. The crew members include maintenance engineers, doctors, hydroponics specialists, and horticulturalists. Various experiments are planned including the impact of short and long sleep cycles on aging. There is no return journey planned.

During the journey, most of the crew members have long sleep cycles of a hundred years with intervening work cycles of 2 weeks. There are different crew shifts, sleeping and waking at different time intervals. A smaller number of crew members have short sleep cycles of 25 years or less, to maintain the ship’s propulsion systems, as well as life support systems.

After her first cycle of sleep, Meghan activates a 3D image on her room’s wall. The image is of a photo she took on Earth, prior to the space journey. She had gone hiking along Crystal River, near a 19th century mine. She can see and hear the river flowing, and the rustle of aspen leaves. A generator house stands on a rocky outcrop. A water chute drops from the generator to a pool below. Meghan had found an old iron candle-stick holder near the generator house and had brought it with her on her space journey as a memento of Earth.

After the second sleep cycle, Meghan cannot activate the image. She tries to recall the scene, but realizes memories of Earth are already fading. She becomes despondent as questions and doubts fill her mind: Will they even reach their destination? Will she even live to plant and see aspens growing on the new planet?


19th Century: Crystal River. Winter.
A snow storm has been raging for several days. Deep snow already covers the banks and the trees in the valley beyond. Inside the generator house, in the maintenance room, Isaac keeps the woodstove going, burning whatever furniture wood he can spare. There is no more firewood near at hand.

Isaac goes down to the room below, to check the power generator. He spikes the sharp end of a candle-holder into the wood panel of the wall. The handle of the candle-holder is actually a hollow brass match holder with a screw-on cap. He lights a candle and checks the generator. Fast flowing water enters and exits the troughs around the wheel. As the wheel turns, the power generated is carried by cables up to the mines, for the compressors which ventilate the tunnels, and for the miners’ drills. Isaac breaks up the ice forming at the sluice gates. Without the fast flowing water, the wheel will stop.

In the maintenance room, Isaac draws strength from his recollections of his days as a novitiate in a monastery, of his solitary life, of meditation. He reads from his Bible, verses from Genesis, of the seasons, of day and night. Outside the storm continues unabated. A plank from the snow-laden roof collapses, hurling snow into the maintenance room.

Heavy snow blocks the door of the house. Isaac shovels a path from a window up to the surface. Outside, the snow is up to the eaves. Using his spade, he clears snow from a part of the roof, and the rest slides down. He digs his way back into the house.

Exhausted and freezing, he clears out the ice from the troughs of water in the generator room. The woodstove fire is out, and he struggles to light it with the few dry matches from the candle-holder. When he finally gets the fire going, he prays and opens the Bible at random. The first lines of verse he sees are the verses from the Proverbs:

“Come, let us take our fill of love until the morning: let us solace ourselves with loves.
For the goodman is not at home, he is gone a long journey:”

Thankful and filled with hope, Isaac scribbles the lines on a piece of paper and puts it into the match holder on the candle-holder. Perhaps one day those words will help someone else.

The storm finally breaks. The snow is very deep, and the upper branches of trees are now at the surface of the snow, within easy reach. Isaac will have enough firewood to keep the generator house warm, and maintain the power generator.


On the space ship, Megan and Sean Arnold, a doctor, have drawn close together. When Megan awakes from another sleep cycle, she is 722 years old in Earth years. Sean has died, as he has aged faster with shorter sleep cycles. She thinks about Earth. She still has the miner’s candle-holder and has the machine shop cut open the screw-cap on the handle. Inside the hollow space, she finds a piece of paper, almost a thousand years old. She reads the scribbled words and recognizes the verses from the Bible. In the hydroponic lab, Meghan starts an experiment and leaves instructions for the next crew to carry on the experiment.

When she wakes up from the next sleep cycle, she goes to the hydroponics lab. Her experiment has succeeded: A tall aspen tree has grown in the hydroponic plant tank, where she had planted its seed. Her colleagues have planted more seeds over the years: there are three more aspens growing in the plant tanks.
Meghan can smell the aspens, and hear the rustling of leaves.


Mike Resnick: “Robots Don’t Cry” (c) 2003.

“There will be rose and rhododendron
When you are dead and under ground;
Still will be heard from white syringas…”

A verse from “Elegy Before Death” by Edna St. Vincent Millay  (1892 – 1950).*
Quoted within the story “Robots Don’t Cry” by Mike Resnick.


Mike Resnick: American writer. Science fiction and fantasy. Nonfiction.
Author of several novels, short stories, editor of anthologies.
Winner of Hugo and Nebula awards. Major awards in the US, Japan, France, Spain, Croatia and Poland. His work has been translated into several languages.


“Robots Don’t Cry” by Mike Resnick won the 2004 Hugo Award for Best Short Story.

Set on a planet millennia into the future, when humans have colonized distant worlds:   It is a story about a robot named Sammy, a caregiver for Miss Emily. A story of a robot’s loyalty, honesty, and of the ability to think and feel.

The story is told in the first person, by the narrator, a human.
The narrator, and his business partner, a galactic alien called Baroni, are antique hunters, searching for millennium-old objects and collectibles, on old deserted planets, planets once settled and then abandoned. On one such planet, Greenwillow, an abandoned farming colony, they find a robot in a barn, under a pile of ancient computer parts and accumulated junk. Baroni figures that the robot is about 500 years old — a collectible.

The narrator contacts their ship to send robots, Mechs 3 and 7, to reactivate the antique robot. The robot comes to life and observes everything has changed. He tells the narrator his name is Samson 4133, but Miss Emily had called him Sammy.

Using holographic technology, Sammy creates scenes exactly as they had happened centuries ago. A young girl appears. She has a prosthetic left leg. In a happy voice, she tells Sammy she loves him. Sammy talks about Emily’s pain.

As they watch the holographs, and listen to Emily and Sammy talk, Baroni senses that Sammy is capable of emotions — he understands pain causes discomfort. Baroni recognizes that Sammy does not wish Emily to know he feels sorrow and compassion for her. He tells her he is a robot and cannot feel sorrow.

When Emily is about thirteen, her face is disfigured by a fungus disease. The farming colony is a small one and a doctor comes to visit once a year, and when the colony’s population declines, no doctors come.

At twenty, Emily is emaciated, and her hands and face are ravaged by disease. She sobs that no one can stand to be with her. Sammy touches her gently on the shoulder. Emily pleads with him to promise her never to leave her. And he promises.

Various catastrophes wipe out crops, and the families begin leaving the planet. Emily has lost both her parents: her mother died when Emily was 19, and two years later, her father died. Emily chooses not to leave the planet.

When Emily is about 30, she is very weak. She is dying. She has become blind, and she asks Sammy to read to her. The poem she wishes to hear is by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Sammy protests that the poem is about death. But she tells him all life is about death. Sammy reads the verse:

“There will be rose and rhododendron
When you are dead and under ground;
Still will be heard from white syringas…”

When Miss Emily died, Sammy buried her beneath her favorite tree. It is now a barren spot. On her tombstone, he had carved:  “There will be rose and rhododendron.”

Sammy stayed in the barn, until his battery power ran out. He knows that the antique hunters want to sell him, but he wishes to keep his promise to Emily, never to leave. He offers a compromise: He wants to be able to cry. If they can wire him to be able to cry, he will leave with them. The narrator says that robots don’t cry. Sammy corrects him: Robots cannot cry.  Baroni knows at that moment that Sammy loved Emily.

The narrator’s robot Mech 3 deactivates Sammy, and puts in tear ducts with a supply of saltwater solution for tears. But Sammy cannot cry: He remembers that Miss Emily said that tears come from the heart and the soul. Sammy says he is a robot, he has no heart and no soul. He cannot cry.

The narrator is moved, by Sammy’s loyalty and honesty. He decides not to take Sammy away, but instead, to bury him next to Miss Emily. Sammy knows he cannot be reactivated ever again, but in this way, he will keep his promise to Miss Emily. He is not afraid: she was not afraid to die.

At Sammy’s burial spot, the narrator places an engraved tombstone with Sammy’s name, and a tribute: Australopithicus Robotus.

* Coming up — separate posting for the entire poem
“Elegy Before Death” (1921) by Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1892 – 1950.

Charles Sheffield: “Georgia on My Mind” (c) 1993.

Charles Sheffield (1935 – 2002) was   a  mathematician, physicist and science fiction writer.   He served as  president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America,    and also  as  president of of the American Astronautical Society.

In 1992, his sci fi novel “Brother to Dragons” was awarded the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.   He won the Nebula and Hugo awards for his sci fi story “Georgia on My Mind” (1993).


“Georgia on My Mind” by Charles Sheffield (c) 1993.

A few notes:
The “Georgia” of the title is South Georgia Island, in the southern Atlantic Ocean,  north of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Charles Babbage (1791 – 1871): English inventor of the first mechanical computer. Babbage’s Analytical Engine was his concept of a programmable computer, and preceded modern computers in its basic ideas.

Ada Lovelace (1812- 1852): English mathematician and writer.
She was Lord Byron’s daughter and her education included mathematics. She had a long term working relationship and friendship with Charles Babbage. In particular she worked on the concept of the Analytical Engine. In 1842, Luigi Menabrea, an Italian mathematician, wrote a paper about Babbage’s Analytical Engine. Lovelace translated the paper from French into English. And significantly she added her own detailed notes, including an algorithm or computer program, to be carried out by the Engine to perform calculations. Ada’s computer algorithm was the first ever written and she is recognized as the first computer programmer.


“Georgia on My Mind”  is a sci fi story of a scientific mystery. And it is also a story of friendship, and of love.

Two computer scientists are faced with a startling scientific mystery: They find machine parts and written materials indicating that a more advanced and working version of the Babbage Analytical Engine was invented in New Zealand in the 19th century. And the mystery deepens and turns more intriguing, when they find journal entries of a meeting with the “Heteromorphs”, intelligent space aliens, on MacQuarie Island, in the southwest Pacific Ocean, about halfway between New Zealand and Antarctica, in the 19th century.

Charles Sheffield builds the tension of the mystery, and its unraveling, in two ways:
One is through the reactions of the two computer scientists, longtime friends, as they try to understand their discoveries. The other is through the entries in the 19th century journal they find. The journal entries tell the story of Luke and Louisa Derwent, of their scientific work, and their life and love for each other.

The story is narrated in the first person.

Bill Rigley is a computer scientist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. He has many interests, in particular  in the history of science. In a farm house near Dunedin on the South Island of New Zealand, he makes an incredible discovery: components of an Analytical Engine apparently built in New Zealand in the 19th century. There are machine parts dating to around 1850, detailed drawings of an Analytical Engine, a hand written manual, dated 1854, on how to program the Engine, a manual that goes beyond the original 1842 Ada Lovelace manual. There are also drawings of curious-looking animals, and a journal that is also a personal diary.

But Rigley wants an independent opinion, before he makes his discovery public. He contacts his longtime friend, the narrator who lives and works in the US. Rigley and the narrator had been colleagues many years earlier, working together in developing digital computers.

When the narrator arrives in New Zealand, Rigley takes him to to the farm house, to a cellar, where he has found the machine parts, and the books and journal. Rigley is tense as the narrator reads through the journal. And together they begin to fit together the pieces of the puzzle.

Luke and Louisa Derwent had lived on the farm in the 1850s. They were from England. They were half brother and sister, and when they fell in love, they fled to New Zealand, to marry and live together.

Louisa was the mathematician and engineer, the builder of the Analytical Engine. She wrote the 1854 manual. The journal was kept by Luke, a biologist, and explorer of the islands in the southwest Pacific.

Louisa had corresponded with Ada Lovelace and Alexander von Humboldt. Using Babbage’s incomplete work on his Analytical Engine, she made the necessary changes to invent a complete and working version.

Luke’s Maori guides had taken him on voyages to their islands in the southwest Pacific, and told him of “the cold loving people” on MacQuarie Island. His guides said that although these people did not look like humans, they were very intelligent. They spoke with the Maori through a box, and had medical skills to heal even the dying.

In 1855, during the Southern winter months from May to August, Luke met the “the cold loving people” on MacQuarie island. He made drawings of their  insectile appearance. Their highly developed intelligence was evident in many ways: portable language translators; tools and machines to generate very quickly whatever they needed for their survival; and advanced medical knowledge and skills. On Earth, they had a permanent base farther south, closer to the Antarctic Peninsula, and their original home was in an even more remote place (outer space). Louisa named the aliens Heteromorphs.

Shortly after Luke returned from his explorations, Louisa fell very ill. She had less than six months to live. Luke was desperate to save her life, and decided to take her to the Heteromorphs, to their Earth base near the Antarctic peninsula. Louisa had worked out the co-ordinates of the Heteromorphs’ permanent base, from information they had provided. But there was no specific information in the journal of the exact location.

The Derwent journal entries ended in October 1955, when Luke and Louisa left with their Maori guides for the Heteromorphs’ base. Rigley and the narrator assume the Derwents took the Analytical Engine with them. Since there were no records of the Derwents after 1855, it was very likely they  never made it to their destination.

Where would the base be located? Rigley and the narrator realize the numerical tables in Louisa’s volumes are the key. They would need expert computer help to decode the tables. Rigley has already documented their discoveries, and sent the necessary photos and copies of materials to the University of Auckland, the British Museum, and Library of Congress.

Now they contact their friends in the scientific community, to help with the necessary computer expertise and equipment. They provide enough information to indicate the significance of their request.

The data analysis shows the Heteromorphs’ permanent base was on South Georgia Island: For the Derwents, the shortest route would have been to sail east, and then southwards through the Drake passage, between Cape Horn and the Antarctic Peninsula. It would have been a dangerous sea voyage through frigid stormy seas.

As Rigley and the narrator make the necessary travel plans to go there, they discover that the cross-talk within the scientific community has already occurred: Virtually overnight, South Georgia Island becomes the destination of scientists from Stanford, MIT, JPL, Lawrence Livermore…. This would be the most significant discovery in Earth’s history.