June 27, 2005

The Honor of the Queen, by David Weber

This is the second of the Honor Harrington books, and though it has a few warts it's not at all bad.

Following her successful endeavours On Basilisk Station, Harrington is given command of a squadron carrying a Royal envoy to a nearby system. The Star Kingdom of Manticore is much smaller than the People's Republic of Haven with whom they will soon be at war, and Her Majesty's government is busily assembling an Alliance of other small star nations, especially those which lie between Manticore and Haven.

Two of these nations are the planets of Grayson and Masada, which orbit neighboring stars. Both planets were settled by a single colony ship; the colonists were all members of a sect called the Church of Humanity Unchained. The ship went first to the planet the colonists named Grayson, after Austin Grayson, the founder of their Church; later, there was a civil war and the losers (fanatical hard-liners), ejected from Grayson, went off to colonize nearby Masada.

Due to their religion, the Graysons hold to a wide variety of beliefs and practices that strike Manticorans as downright odd if not outright wrong. Polygamy is normal; and the protection of women is a cornerstone of society. There are many jobs (such as commanding warships) that women simply don't do on Grayson.

The arrival of Honor Harrington commanding an entire squadron, many of whose crewmembers are women, is rather a shock to Grayson society--and equally a shock to Harrington herself.

I have mixed emotions about the portrayal of religion in the Honor Harrington series; it's something of a Maguffin, something used to explain irrational behavior on the part of less enlightened people. To be fair, Weber does portray the Graysons warmly and positively for the most part; but at the same time, the Graysons he portrays most warmly and positively are precisely the ones who are most willing--or able, even if unwilling--to compromise their traditional mores in favor of more "modern" standards. Those who choose to hang on to those parts of Grayson tradition that Manticorans find objectionable are invariably the bad guys. As a religious conservative, I find that troubling, if typical.

All that said, there's a lot to like here, too; if you have any taste for military SF, it's well worth looking into.

Posted by Will Duquette at 09:05 PM | Comments(0)

June 24, 2005


If anyone's been trying to reach me, my home internet access has been down since the
night before last; apparently there's a local network problem. So if I've not gotten
back to you, that's why.

Update: The good news is, the net's working again. The bad news is, no one tried to reach me. Ah, well ;-)

Posted by Will Duquette at 07:41 AM | Comments(0)

June 21, 2005

Where's the Beef?

This is turning into more of a hiatus than I'd intended, and there are two reasons. The first is that my new project at work is still consuming almost all of my creative juices; and that's likely to go on for some time. It's also likely that my production of creative juices will increase after a while (I'm in a bit of a trough at the moment, creativity-wise), so I should have more surplus juices in a few weeks.

The second is that Lois McMaster Bujold's latest novel, The Hallowed Hunt, has just come out, and (as always) I'm reading it aloud to Jane in the evenings. That will end (as always) far too soon, but probably by the end of the week. Anyway, you should go find a copy.

Posted by Will Duquette at 06:36 PM | Comments(0)

June 16, 2005

Cocktail Time, by P.G. Wodehouse

It is the stated goal of one Frederick, the Earl of Ickenham and the uncle of Pongo Twistleton, to spread sweetness and light wheresoever he goes. And as he so seldom goes anywhere, being kept on a tight leash by his lady wife, he is all the more determined in his efforts when opportunity presents.

In the present instance, the good Earl has several aims. He wishes to find a source of ready funds for his godson, impoverished author Johnny Pearce, so that he can grant a decent pension to his old Nurse, so that she can marry the local constable, so that he can marry his beloved Belinda and offer her a home from which his old Nurse is thoroughly absent. Meanwhile, the Earl's old school chum, Sir Raymond "Beefy" Bastable the barrister, has written a scandalous novel about the evil ways of the younger generation. This work is entitled Cocktail Time, and should word get out that Bastable wrote it he will never be a Member of Parliament. Bastable wishes the novel to be suppressed; Ickenham wishes to see Beefy happily married to his old flame, editor Barbara Crowe. And then of course there's Albert Peasemarch, Beefy's butler and Ickenham's old army buddy, who wishes to marry (Wodehouse alone knows why) Beefy's not-very-bright sister. And then there's the con-artist Oily Carmichael, and his beloved wife and helpmeet (very handy with a cosh, she is); they've figured out who really wrote Cocktail Time, and figure there must be a pile of money in it for them--especially after Hollywood gets hold of it.

Wodehouse's Uncle Fred stories are always a treat; grab this one and enjoy it.

Posted by Will Duquette at 08:24 PM | Comments(0)

June 15, 2005

When I Was A Kid...

...most of the kids I knew walked to school. Now most of them get driven to school by their parents.

...kids didn't sit in carseats. They stood behind the driver and yammered in her ear.

...there weren't as many freeways.

...computers were fabulous, mythical objects. Now even your grandmother has one.

...JFK was already dead. (Yes, I do know where I was when Kennedy
was shot. I was in diapers.)

...and so was C.S. Lewis.

...the best cartoons were on Saturday morning. Especially the Bugs Bunny--Road Runner show.

...Quick-Draw McGraw and Huckleberry Hound were on TV right beside Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.

...there was a boring show called Viet Nam on TV the rest of the time.

...and all the shows were in black-and-white--even the ones that said they were in living color.

...I hated math. Later, I majored in it. Go figure.

...8-track tapes weren't cool yet.

...we were going to the moon Real Soon, and when I grew up I'd go too. We did, too, but I haven't yet.

Posted by Will Duquette at 07:07 PM | Comments(2)

June 13, 2005

Summer Sunset on Mars

The following picture was taken by the Spirit rover. Click on the image to see the whole thing.

Posted by Will Duquette at 09:10 PM | Comments(0)

The Course of Empire, by Eric Flint and K.D. Wentworth

This is an interesting excursion into hard science-fiction from an author whose usual output is quite a bit more rollicking. Twenty years before the main action, Earth was conquered by an alien race called the Jao. The battle was quite fierce, and pockets of resistance still linger. The bulk of mankind, however, has been forced to labor for the Jao; the stated goal is to produce weapons so that Earth may defend herself against the even more alien Ekhat. No one knows quite what the Ekhat think or what their goals are, but according to the Jao they don't like company; periodically they sweep through the galaxy sterilizing any planet they find that harbors life. That's the Jao's story.

For their part, the humans tend to doubt it. They find the Jao to be bloodthirsty, ruthless, arrogant, and willing to squish humans like bugs; and most of them suspect the Ekhat to be a boogeyman conjured up for propaganda purposes.

The Jao, on the other hand, find the humans to be unruly, unpredictable, and far too unwilling to be of use--being of use is the first moral principle among the Jao. And surprisingly, everything they have said about Ekhat is true, for the Jao are not given to prevarication. They do not understand humans, and they especially do not understand why humans are not willing to work harder. For the Ekhat are coming, and if the humans do not do as they are told, there will no hope of saving the planet.

In short, there is great distrust, hatred, and resentment on both sides--and into this stew is dropped a new official, the leading youngster of his clan, a clan that has generally been at odds with the clan that administers Earth for the Jao. Conflict is inevitable...but will the new official be able to turn things around, or will he be destroyed?

It's an interesting book, as I say, and I quite enjoyed it. The Jao are actually rather different than they first appear or than the humans think them; and the reasons for the discrepancy are fascinating. I won't go into details, as the reasons emerge over the course of the book and I hate to spoil the surprises. But it was a reasonably tasty treat, and a pretty-good page-turner as well.

Posted by Will Duquette at 09:08 PM | Comments(0)

June 07, 2005

Military Advice

I'm now working on a military project; this came around in our e-mail today.


"Aim towards the Enemy."
- Instruction printed on U.S. Rocket Launcher


"When the pin is pulled, Mr. Grenade is not our friend."
- U.S. Army


"Cluster bombing from B-52s is very, very accurate. The bombs are guaranteed to always hit the ground."
 - U.S.A.F. Ammo Troop


"If the enemy is in range, so are you."
- Infantry Journal


"A slipping gear could let your M203 grenade launcher fire when you least expect it.  That would make you quite unpopular in what's left of your unit."
- Army's magazine of preventive maintenance


"It is generally inadvisable to eject directly over the area you just bombed."
- U.S. Air Force Manual


"Try to look unimportant; they may be low on ammo."
- Infantry Journal


"Tracers work both ways."
- U.S. Army Ordnance


"Five-second fuses only last three seconds."
- Infantry Journal


"Bravery is being the only one who knows you're afraid."
- Col. David Hackworth


"If your attack is going too well, you're probably walking into an ambush."
- Infantry Journal


"Any ship can be a minesweeper  ... once."
- Anonymous


"Never tell the Platoon Sergeant you have nothing to do."
- Unknown Army Recruit


"Don't draw fire; it irritates the people around you."
- Your Buddies


(And lastly)


"If you see a bomb technician running, try to keep up with him."
-U.S. Ammo Troop

Posted by Will Duquette at 08:18 PM | Comments(0)

Opportunity is Free!

The Opportunity rover on Mars got stuck in a dune some weeks ago; after a lot of hard work, the MER team at JPL managed to get her out again. Here's a picture of the spot where she was stuck. (Click to get the full-size picture.)

Posted by Will Duquette at 08:06 PM | Comments(1)

Diet Watch

I had my monthly checkup with the doctor today; I'm down another five pounds, for a total of 39 in four months.

And while on that topic, I've resolved not to become either a bore or a zealot on the topic of diet or exercise. Anyone who notes any such tendencies on my part is welcome to clout me upside the head.

Posted by Will Duquette at 08:00 PM | Comments(0)

June 04, 2005

Snit V1.0

V1.0 of Snit's Not Incr Tcl, my Tcl object framework, is now available. From a usage point of view it's identical to V0.97; it includes some minor optimizations and two minor bug fixes. If you're happy with 0.97, there's no rush to upgrade--except for the glory of typing:

package require snit 1.0
Posted by Will Duquette at 03:01 PM | Comments(0)

June 01, 2005

Ex Libris Reviews

The June issue of Ex Libris Reviews is now on-line. As usual, all of my reviews appeared here first; but also as usual, Craig Clarke has a number of reviews that didn't.

Posted by Will Duquette at 07:52 PM | Comments(0)