Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Katrina and the Waves

I had trouble getting to sleep last night (I've reached the point where I wonder whether I should keep trying to get on local time, or start moving back to home time), so I turned on the TV. Sky TV was showing the CBS Evening News, and the news was, of course, almost entirely about Hurricane Katrina. The scenes of devastation were just jaw-dropping.

The news reminded me of a scene from Kim Stanley Robinson's book Forty Signs of Rain, where large parts of the Washington, DC metro area are underwater after
hurricane. The book meandered through a bunch of global warming policy stuff that was mildly interesting, but not gripping, until it got to the last 50 or so pages, which was a really fascinating story of a disastrous flood hitting DC. far as I can tell, Katrina is worse. It's been a while since I've read the book, but I don't remember the death, the lack of clean water, and all the other horrors we're hearing about on the news. You know things are bad when a disaster outdoes science fiction.

On a literary note, if you're looking for weather-related science fiction, I definitely recommend Forty Signs of Rain over Mother of Storms, which to me was just ridiculous. It started out kinda interesting, but then blundered down a "nanotech is magic" path that (in my mind) ruins so many promising books. Forty Signs of Rain was much more realistic...I'm almost afraid to read the sequel, Fifty Degrees Below. It's coming out right before winter sets in.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Well, I'm in Edinburgh right now, waiting for the conference dinner to start. First of all, I've got an excellent view from my hotel room.
I really like the castle, and it's great to just glance out at it.

Yesterday was my "free" day, so I decided to head to a pair of modern art museums. I actually just enjoyed an excuse to wander through the streets of Edinburgh. First up was the Dean Gallery. Mostly the usual gang of surrealists.

The one "find" of the day was Yves Tanguy, whose work I enjoyed more than most of the surrealists. I can't find web versions the paintings I saw, but this one gives the general feeling.
Then it was across the street to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Here my favorite piece is actually visible in the picture. It's Jencks' Landform...a beautiful green spiral-ly landscape feature in front of the museum. I particularly liked how it evoked the green hills of the Scottish Highlands, while it rose to a perch from which you could view the museum, just like you can view Edinburgh from Arthur's Seat.


Sunday, August 28, 2005

Fitzpatrick's War

Tomorrow, I head into the actual city of Edinburgh, which I recall (it's been 10 years) as one of the cooler cities I've visited. For today, however, I'm safely ensconced in Hilton-land. I'm ordering room service, going to the hotel pool, surfing the Internet -- I could be practically anywhere (well, I did order fish and chips). Part of me feels like I should be off sight-seeing, but I really need a day to relax and get adjusted.

On the plane ride over, I finished Fitzpatrick's War. Lately I've been choosing my reading a bit more carefully than I used to -- there's only so much time for reading, after all. With this book, however, I picked it up because I became intrigued by the cover while we were waiting in line at Mysterious Galaxy last month for the Jasper Fforde book signing.

It turned out to be "future history" book about a 25th century where electricity was unusable due to the machinations of an elite technocratic secret society. In fact, the elite secret society schtick gets a bit tiring in SF novels, and it's probably the weakest point of this book. Fortunately, the society is not the primary focus of this book. Instead, it tells the story of one of Fitzpatrick's compatriots, Robert Bruce. Fitzpatrick is a latter-day Alexander the Great, conquering the world at a young age (and dying before he gets to enjoy his rule). Lest you think I am giving away too much, this is all revealed in the prologue, which is written by a 26th-century historian. The historian's frequent footnotes attempting to discredit Bruce's story add a bit of levity to the book.

The book takes place in a well-imagined future world -- probably the best part of the book. The plot is mildly interesting (maybe more so for Alexander devotees), and the characters are well-drawn enough. The ending doesn't really leave room for a sequel, which is probably just as well...the author could probably do a better job in his second SF novel setting things up.

Scottish Fire Drill

I know I'm not supposed to be napping right after I cross the pond. Not the way to adjust to jet lag, and all that. But did they have to set off the fire alarms in the middle of my nap? Just what I need, to be standing in front of the Hilton Edinburgh Airport in my pajamas and bare feet. (I did have time and the sense to put a shirt on.) You know, it may say summer on the calendar, but it's not that warm here in Scotland.

Oh, well. Besides this and the security breach at Dulles that caused them to evacuate the terminal (doesn't even make the news any more, does it?), it's been an uneventful trip. The last time I flew anywhere and connected through Heathrow was December 1993. This was much the same -- same airlines, same riding around in shuttle buses. My luggage made it this time, though.