Month: February 2013

Saturday Book Review: The Atlantic Abomination by John Brunner

The Atlantic Abomination by John Brunner

The Atlantic Abomination by John Brunner

What if a Lovecraftian horror actually made an attack on a modern mainland city? Find out in this hastily written trifle by John Brunner, from the glory days of the 75,000-word supermarket rack SF novel.

A few good details will stick in my mind — like “Old Hundred,” the hymn chosen by the citizens of Jacksonville to worship their new abomination-overlord, or the naked fat woman plugging the hole in a sinking boat with her own body. This book came out in 1960 with three others by Brunner, so you have to admire his industry.

Won’t stop me from reading more by him.

My future stock pick: asteroid mining companies

I read a science-fiction novel in January which turned out to be a realistic, engineering-heavy imagining of what it would take to mine near Earth asteroids.  This was followed by an article in Science Illustrated, another in TIME, and another in National Geographic, which pretty much confirmed the big-picture engineering facts from the novel.  The takeaway: near earth asteroid mining is highly likely in the next fifteen to twenty years. And the profits will be historic, on the order of what the Spanish lugged back from the Americas during the 16th Century.  While we are unlikely to find any undiscovered civilizations (though my 11-year old self still has his fingers crossed), we are likely to find actual mountains of rare resources.

It turns out that the biggest problem with near Earth asteroid mining is getting your operation into orbit the first time.  It’s expensive, risky because of unknown tech glitches, and a PR disaster if you don’t succeed right away.  But after that, the asteroids, which are thousands of times richer in things like gold, platinum, and iridium than earth’s soil, pretty much insure that your operation pays for itself and then some.  Asteroids are even rich in water, which is the most expensive thing to transport into orbit. Combine all this with the advances currently being made in drone technology (if we can send them across thousands of miles to kill people with precision, surely we can send them across hundreds of thousands of miles to dig holes in rocks), and you’ve got yourself a plausible near-future in which entrepreneurs with enough money and ambition become some of the richest people in human history. The only thing like it I can think of, for sheer craziness and payoff, is Cortez fleeing a prison rap sheet in Cuba in 1521 and coming back a few years later richer than the King of Spain. That’s the kind of historic wealth and fame we’re talking about with whoever mines the asteroids first.

But who is crazy enough to actually spend the money to do this, you ask? James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar, The Abyss), Larry Page (Google co-founder), Elon Musk (Paypal founder),  and Jeff Bezos (Amazon), make four I can think of just off the top of my head.

And if all this sounds crazy, just think how insane the Internet sounded in 1990.  And space tech is already fifty years old.  If anything, it’s amazing this hasn’t happened already.

Saturday Book Review: Over Sea, Under Stone

Over Sea, Under Stone

Over Sea, Under Stone

Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper is part of the five-book Dark is Rising fantasy cycle for children, and it’s one of the best examples of the kids-on-vacation-explore-kooky-relative’s-mansion-and-have-an-adventure genre that I’ve ever read.  Cooper makes a nod to Narnia, but her book is entirely different.  It opens with the arrival by train of Barney, Jane, and Simon in the sleepy coastal town of Tressiwick for their summer break.  They are met by Great Uncle Merriman at the train station and driven in his beat-up truck to the Grey House, a mansion overlooking the rugged, mysterious cliffs of Cornwall.  Bad weather ensues, and the children, trapped inside for the day, set to exploring the house.  They find that Tressiwick, Great Uncle Merry, and the Grey House itself have secrets.  Adventure ensues.

If all this sounds familiar, it is.  Over Sea, Under Stone doesn’t take risks, but it does deliver a familiar story with beautifully rendered realism and enough originality to keep you interested.  You get the sense that Cooper could have delivered more of a bang with the amount of fuse she laid down, but the book is still a deeply satisfying one.  A great fireside tale, well told.