I arrived early to the third of four lectures and discussions of Victorian literature hosted and promoted by the Kansas City Public Library. Kaite Mediatore Stover, the Readers’ Services Manager for the Library, was helping to setup the conference room for the lecture. I took the opportunity to discuss with her the recent news articles about a possible change in the Library’s policy with respect to online card applications for patrons outside the Kansas City metro area. The Library does not charge a fee to anyone who applies for a card and this has caused an unusually high volume of applications from the St. Louis area (where the local library system does charge for access to it’s system if a person lives outside it’s taxbase). The result has been a flood of online checkouts of ebooks from the Library’s Overdrive site, leaving some local patrons with no recourse but the waiting list for popular ebooks. I apologized for my earlier misunderstanding concerning the Kansas City earnings tax (a one percent income tax paid by anyone who works in Kansas City, Missouri, regardless of where you live – like me, who lives in Lansing, Kansas, yet works in KCMO). I assumed, wrongly, that the earnings tax collected out of my paycheck trickled down to the Library and offset my access to the Library’s resources and programs. The Director set me straight and reminded me that all libraries, including the wonderful Kansas City Public Library, accept donations and in fact, receive between five and ten percents of their total budget through charitable giving. Properly chastised, I went searching for information to help support the Library and found the Library Foundation web page, where I can donate conveniently online.
(To view spoilers, please highlight this redacted text.)
With the closing of the rift at the end of Magician, I wondered where Raymond Feist would take me in Silverthorn, the next novel in the Riftwar Saga series. The three brothers (Arutha, Lyam and Martin) spent a year touring the Kingdom and returned to Krondor to plan Arutha and Anita’s wedding. Jimmy the Hand, a young full-of-himself thief and rising star in the Mockers, foiled an assassination attempt upon Prince Arutha. Because Jimmy aided both Anita and Arutha in escaping Krondor during the Riftwar, he chose to warn Arutha before reporting to the Mockers, and for his divided loyalty he was branded a traitor by his Guild. Arutha haggled with the Upright Man, the leader of the Mockers and, unknown to Jimmy, his father. Arutha agrees to make Jimmy his Squire and the Mockers agree to hunt for the Night Hawk assassins. With the Mockers’ assistance, Arutha invades the Night Hawks’ hideout in Krondor, but what should have been a rout, instead turns into a zombie apocalypse melee until Jimmy burns the place down around them.
Thinking the threats to his life abated, Arutha and Anita proceed with their wedding. Jimmy gets a bad feeling and restlessly searches the upper galleries of the hall, stumbling upon a former high-ranking Mocker now turned assassin. Despite being knocked senseless, gagged and restrained, Jimmy manages to divert the assassin’s shot, which misses Arutha but strikes his bride-to-be Anita. Even the great Pug can’t cure Anita, so he places a spell upon her that slows time down to a barely perceptible crawl, allowing Arutha time to find an antidote for the poison. An interrogation session with the assassin reveals the name of the poison (and also the antidote) to be ‘silverthorn’ but no one on hand in Krondor has ever heard of it.
Thus, a quest is begun. Pug returns to Stardock to search Macros’ library and eventually discovers a way to return to Kelewan, where an even more comprehensive library exists founded by the Tsurani Assembly of Great Ones. Predictably, Pug is detained as a result of his last acts at the Imperial Games before closing the rift. Meanwhile, Arutha and a small party, including Jimmy, head to the Kingdom’s own repository of knowledge at Sarth.
Eventually, knowledge of the silverthorn is gleaned and Arutha’s party seeks it through elven territory in the west and the far northern reaches of Midkemia. Pug extricates himself from detention and goes on his own quest for the Watchers, also in the far northern reaches, but on Kelewan. Both storylines include action, adventure, danger, puzzles and more walking dead. Jimmy provides some sidekick humor to lighten the mood.
Arutha returns with the antidote and saves Anita. Jimmy continues his campaign to become Duke of Krondor. Pug finds the Watchers and agrees to be instructed in magic for a year.
Silverthorn delivered an almost typical quest adventure, focusing on Arutha’s obsessive need to save Anita and Jimmy’s transition from thief to trusted companion and squire to Arutha. Even though Pug only popped in for a few chapters, I am positive his quest will result in further adventures in later novels. Tomas appeared only in a couple of brief cameos, but at least he’s settling in nicely among the elves and fatherhood agrees with him. Princess Caroline, twice bereft of lovers in Magician, sets her sights on Laurie and I see another royal wedding in the near future.
Probably not quite a four star rating, but definitely better than three or three and a half. Stop in at Fantasy Book Club Series group to review discussions of Silverthorn (with a Q&A thread monitored by Raymond E. Feist) from April 2011.
Destiny and the survivors from the drone-attacked planet, who were actually descendants of the ‘future’ Destiny crew thought lost back during the ‘Twin Destinies‘ episode, arrived at Novus to find it deserted due to a cataclysmic seismic event. The usual suspects take the shuttle down to the surface and find no people and no remains, but do find the archives in a bunker to which the fail to gain access. Matt asked Col. Young if the big guns on Destiny could be used to attempt to breach the bunker and one shot opens the doors to supplies and a vast store of data, two thousand years in the making thanks to Eli’s motto handed down through the Tenarans.
The rest of the episode boiled down to the crews’ fascination with their alternate selves diaries: who died, who got married, who had babies, who didn’t. All except Rush, of course, whose alternate self ‘married’ future Destiny and went down in flames at the end of the ‘Twin Destinies’ episode. Volker achieves a moment of greatness by leaving Rush speechless when driving this point home to the curmudgeonly Futuran ‘Messiah.’
If the series ended now, I could walk away without too much angst. Yes, there are many unanswered questions, but the achievement of the descendants transcends their harsh circumstances and the nay-saying of Rush’s camp so overwhelmingly and so courageously, like true pioneers on the galactic frontier plains, that I almost dread watching the next two episodes. I fear further disappointment and more loose ends never to be resolved.
I will give this episode four stars out of five, because Camille’s speech at the end actually brought a tear to my eye.
Just a few quick words, thoughts and questions about last night’s Doctor Who Season Six premiere ‘The Impossible Astronaut‘ (if you’re looking for a synopsis or re-cap of the episode, click on the episode name link). The Doctor, Amy, Rory and River hop across the pond to late 1960s America, unraveling (without alerting the younger doctor) the mystery surrounding the two hundred year older Doctor’s demise (yes, a bit of a spoiler but it happens within the first few minutes of the episode).
I enjoyed the nostalgic references to the space program (go NASA! to the moon and beyond!) and Nixon (as Doctor Who states ‘so much more happened in 1969 than people remember), but Moffat’s latest aliens didn’t seem as creative as his extremely creepy weeping angels (see the Hugo and BAFTA award winning episode ‘Blink‘ for further creepiness).
And it begs that question, if these aliens have the ability to make you forget them completely after you are no longer looking at them, why would one of these aliens command Amy to tell Doctor Who something? Don’t they realize she’ll forget whatever they told her as soon as she turns her head? Here’s an excerpt from Amy’s conversation with one of the aliens in a White House restroom:
Alien: You will tell the Doctor.
Amy: Tell him what?
Alien: What he must know and what he must never know.
Amy: How do you know about that?
Alien: Tell him.
After which Amy runs gasping from the restroom and immediately forgets what just happened. She did snap a photo of the alien with her cell phone, after she determined that humans forget the aliens as soon as they look away (thanks to a poor woman caught in the conversational crossfire as collateral damage). And was I the only one who that thought the electrifying moaning alien consuming said woman reminded you of Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall‘? Ew.
An intriguing above-average episode of Doctor Who (more than three, probably close to four out of five stars). I’m still having David Tennant withdrawals as I just can’t relate to a Doctor Who played by an actor born just a year before I graduated from high school. I loved having Mark Sheppard, one of my current favorite British (or is that Irish) actors who pops up on many of the shows I watch. The preview for next week’s conclusion entitled ‘Day of the Moon‘ look suitably time-twisty and action packed.
Thank goodness BBC America saved science fiction television from complete extinction. Heaven knows, I can’t count on Syfy for anything except fantasy (because what else do you call WWE or reality TV)?
My dad and I ventured out Saturday night to attend the April 2011 general meeting of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City, held on the fourth Saturday of nearly every month at Royal Hall on the campus of UMKC. Dad volunteered to drive from Lansing/Leavenworth to just east of the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri. We had a pleasant uneventful drive.
Once we arrived on campus and eventually navigated the one-way streets around Royal Hall to find the entrance to the parking garage, we entered the building and immediately recognized a couple waiting in the hallway outside the lecture room. We stumbled upon old friends from our amateur radio past. We spent several minutes getting reacquainted and catching up. We gravitated towards the lecture hall and sat together.
The first hour of the meeting involved various awards for observing activities, reports on scholarship funding and distributing, status of the DSS (dark sky site), encouragement to try an observing club or activity and brief demonstration of beta testing a recent kit from the NASA‘s Nightsky Network. There was also a brief commercial for a performance called ‘Orbit‘ by Dark Matter scheduled for the first weekend in May at Union Station‘s Gottlieb Planetarium.
The meat of the meeting came with a presentation on Solar Observing Basics by Neta Apple. Her talk covered safety, first and foremost, various filters (white light, calcium K and hydrogen alpha – her personal preference). an introduction to the interior of our closest star, umbrae, penumbrae, light bridges, granulations, prominences, faculae and solar flares. Neta mentioned a 19th century solar flare, commonly know as the Carrington Event, named for the British amateur astronomer who observed it in 1859. She asked the audience what we thought the result of a large or super flare of similar magnitude to the Carrington Event would do to our technology heavy civilization? While we might survive that Russian roulette with the Sun’s gun, we lack the stockpiles of electrical transformers to replace all those that would be destroyed (estimates predict it would take two years for the Mexican manufacturers to create enough to replace just those lost in the United States alone).
On a happier note, Neta wrapped up with some examples from NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO for short) web site and opened the floor for a brief question and answer period.
By this time, we were approaching the latter half of the nine o’clock hour, and the meeting coordinator (the President was absent, so there was a substitute) decided to de-formalize the scheduled town hall meeting to a social gathering, with refreshments, encouraging attendees to meet their board members and other club regulars. I took the opportunity to quickly skim through the available observatory activities, grabbing the Astronomical League‘s Urban Observatory Club handout, but forgetting to grab ASKC’s Astro Quest one.
I asked a question of the Membership Secretary and then said goodbye to our old amateur radio friends. Dad and I returned to the car and drove home, under cloudy skies. I’m looking forward to ‘opening night‘ at Powell Observatory on Saturday, May 7th, featuring the ‘Galaxies of Spring’ and I hope to see you there!
The second half of Magician became increasingly dark as I approached the climactic end to the Kelewan-Midkemian Riftwar. I observed definite growth to full maturity between Pug and Tomas, and perhaps that growth from boyhood through young adult into adulthood is what I lament – the rite of passage of most normal young boys, though Pug and Tomas could never be mistaken for normal. While everything seemed wondrous and adventurous in the first half of the novel (also known as Magician: Apprentice), I felt the oppression of circumstances, the collision of events and the machinations of a magician previously thought trustworthy. Not all was dark and gloomy, yet I didn’t walk away from this book thinking it ended on a resoundingly happy note.
A couple of scenes stood out as a bit over-the-top and stretched the envelope of believability: Milamber’s reaction to the Imperial Games and Tomas’ ability to overcome a dead dreaded god-like being with his boyish mental fortitude. And I can’t deny I felt gut-punched by the eleventh-hour betrayal by Macros. (to view spoiler, please highlight this paragraph).
For a debut work, I applaud Raymond Feist for a magnificent tale and the beginning to a well-loved fantasy epic. I’m continuing the Riftwar Saga by reading Silverthorn this month.
Destiny is back to falling apart, the breathable air on board needs scrubbing and dodging drones is not nearly as fun as it used to be. Thinking the dead drone might be phoning home, they jetison it, during an ongoing drone attack, destroy it and attempt a feeble launch into FTL flight. Destiny finds a couple of planets, one with a working gate, and one blocked, and Young agrees to drop out of FTL to solve the scrubber situation before everyone suffocates.
The expedition to the planet surface encounter English speaking humans who recognize members of the Destiny party. And no surprise to myself (or Eli), these humans claim to be descendants sixty or so generations removed from the current members of Destiny. And you thought the ‘future’ Destiny crew went through that unstable wormhole into oblivion? Ha!
Everyone but Rush reacted with excitement and interest in the plight of the stranded settlers. A friend of mine at GoodReads connected the dots before me, observing that since Rush remained behind on the ‘future’ Destiny, he sired no offspring (but did foster a philosophic debate of near epic, even Biblical, proportions). This reminded me that the other Rush actually achieved his (or is that their) dream and ‘married’ Destiny … so who knows what kind of offspring might crop up for Rush?
This episode had a bit of everything: some science (time travel), some action (dodging drones and their command ships), some humor (Futura is a font!), some drama (‘ancient’ keno footage from the ‘future’ Destiny survivors original settlement), a bit of mystery (how are these drones finding Destiny?), and of course some political unrest (fostered two thousand years ago by the current uncomfortable philosophical disagreement between Rush and Young which results in a highly polarized schism developing among their descendants to the point where Rush is either worshiped as a near Messiah by one half or demonized, literally, by the other).
Even though this episode ended prematurely, I thoroughly enjoyed it and for the first time this spring I’m excited and anxious to watch next week’s ‘Epilogue‘ episode. I give ‘Common Descent’ a solid four star rating out of five stars.
A good, but somewhat sporadic, book on astronomy by one of the astronomers who discovered the comet Shoemaker-Levy (yeah, the one that crashed spectacularly into Jupiter). The information seems a bit dated, even though this is a second edition (or a reprint ten years later). I went in search of astronomy books on the shelves of my local library and gave this a whirl.
I rode the astronomical roller coaster yesterday. I started Wednesday with an e-mail from Celestron warning me of a week delay in shipping my new finderscope. Since the forecast for the rest of the week looked thunderous, I shrugged my shoulders and moved on. Later, in the afternoon, I received the first of many calls from my father, reporting he had received the ‘new’ ETX-90 base motor drive he won on eBay last week. He hooked up the optics from the other ETX-90, trained the motors per the manual, and happily reported smooth, quiet operation. He trained the telescope on the Moon later in the afternoon to study the tracking capabilities of the drives.
I found one of my expected shipments when I arrived home from work. I ordered the Meade specific cable and serial adapter for the Autostar from a telescope/optics supplier. I also found a large manila envelope from the Astronomical Society of Kansas City. It included details about my new membership, upcoming meetings, local observation sites and other benefits and learning opportunities. The next general meeting, open to the public, is a week from Saturday (April 23rd at 7:00 pm), held in room 111 of Royal Hall on the campus of UMKC, about a block west of 52nd Street and Rockhill Road. A talk on Solar Astronomy entitled “Solar Observing Basics,” will be presented by Neta Apple.
My husband and I ate a quick easy supper of frozen pizza (yeah, so healthy, and we forgot to start off with a salad!). The band started arriving, so I settled down in the great room to catchup on three days worth of missed Jeopardy! episodes. Monday’s game, first round, included a tricky River City category that stung one contestant several times, since the first four of the five answers were ‘What is the Rhine?” Other fun categories were Homer (Simpson)’s Odyssey, Ends in “SS” and Measure This! which included the clue “Contrary to its name, this signature cowboy accessory would actually hold about 96 ounces.” Monday’s Double Jeopardy! round had some great categories, some of which I cleaned up on, including “EU” first, Blue Literature, Amendment Highlights and Ancient Egypt. Final Jeopardy! round: Goegraphic Adjectives stumped me but all three contestants answered correctly. Tuesday’s game had some tough first round clues in A Capital Idea? and the Autobahn Society. Double Jeopardy! Round fun categories included Fictional Movie Bands and Men in Pink. Final Jeopardy! Round: Baseball & The Presidency again stumped me and one contestant.
Midway through Wednesday’s game, I received my second call from my father, crooning about the moon. I knew I had some work to finish remotely last night and some more DVR cleaning to accomplish, and I thought the forecast for last night included increasing cloud cover, so I declined his invitation to come join him in lunar observation. Even though I had paused the replay of Jeopardy!, I didn’t really pay much attention to the first round, besides the categories Thinking Green and Virgin Berths. I paid more attention to Double Jeopardy! round including the fun category Lost Texts from Ben Franklin, Picture “D”is and You’re So Colorful. Yet another difficult Final Jeopardy! Round category: Nobel Peace Prize Winners, where all three contestants and myself could not guess the correct two Prime Ministers.
The band took a break from rehearsing and I decide to forgo working remotely. I changed clothes, hopped in the car and phoned my dad. I arrived at his house around half past eight o’clock, with a sky still showing after sunset glow and the moon diffused by some scattered thin clouds. I had brought the box with my cable, the USB/Serial converter cable, and a couple of Astronomy books with me: a small throw-it-in-your-purse Field Guide and a large lift-with-your-legs-not-your-back full-color Backyard Astronomer’s Guide, which I hadn’t even cracked open yet since I checked it out from the library a few days ago.
Rather than traipsing through his house, which appeared to have many bright lights on in the living room, dining room and perhaps the kitchen, I slipped through the east side gate and made my way cautiously past the thorny rose bushes to his backyard. Even though last week was the ‘official’ Global Lunar Week, we gazed at the moon, watching the clouds pass quickly in front of it’s bright surface, still giving us ample detail to review. I noted the quietness and ease of movement in the motors and looked forward to attempting an actual alignment, if the clouds cooperated. Eventually, the northern celestial hemisphere cleared enough for us to dimly spy Polaris (the clouds, the streetlights and the US Penitentiary conspire to enhance the glow north of my father’s house). Once we could see Polaris, we adjusted our polar mounting and attempted an alignment (as best we could since Arcturus was obscured by thin clouds and trees to the northeast and Capella was the only star visible in it’s constellation, making it difficult to determine if in fact, it was Capella).
To test the alignment, we told the Autostar to “goto” or find Sirius, colloquially known as the ‘Dog Star’, the brightest star in the night sky in the constellation Canis Major, and a near neighbor to our solar system at a distance of only 2.6 parsecs (or 8.6 light years). Considering we were unable to confirm the actual alignment through Arcturus or Capella, the Autostar still managed to get Sirius in the viewfinder scope field of view, allowing us to fine-tune and center Sirius in the eyepiece of the telescope. We had difficulty finding Orion, not usually a problem since Sirius and Orion’s belt ‘line up’ in the night sky. Dad finally spotted Orion’s belt, among the trees to the west and partly obscured by the clouds. So, continuing our alignment test tour, we selected Betelgeuse as our next stop from the Autostar. Again, the viewfinder held the image of the star, but not quite in the eyepiece. We centered and synced again.
The only other star visible to us, thanks to the moon’s continued brilliance, was the last point of the Winter Triangle, Procyon in the Canis Minor constellation. Yes, in honor of my two Rottweilers, Roxy and Apollo, we spent some time in both the ‘greater dog’ constellation Canis Major and the ‘smaller dog’ of Canis Minor. While we were in this section of the sky, I pulled out the Field Guide to see if there was anything worth hunting to test the telescope and Autostar alignment further. Using the red flashlight, I found the appropriate star atlas and read the accompanying paragraph of local attractions. The Beehive Cluster, also known as Praesepe (and so listed in the Autostar, but we used it’s Messier objects number (M44) in the menu system). This cluster, in the constellation Cancer, can be viewed under dark skies with a low power telescope or even binoculars. However, the Moon’s brightness and the hazy thin clouds were conspiring to grey-out everything in the area, except lone Procyon.
By this time, Saturn had risen high enough in the east-southeast, and the clouds had receded, for us to observe it. Again, the Autostar successfully re-oriented on the ringed gas giant and we spent quite a while and several eyepieces basking in the glory of it’s rings. Using the 9mm eyepiece, I was able to see the shadow of the rings upon the surface of Saturn and the gap between Saturn and it’s rings (but not the gaps between the rings). A large tree limb interfered for ten or fifteen minutes with our further observation, during which I never really did find Titan. In checking Sky & Telescope‘s web applet for Saturn’s Moons this morning, and subtracting about twelve hours, Titan may have been behind Saturn or it’s rings for me to find it in my telescope.
We returned triumphantly to the lunar landscape, glowing gloriously almost directly overhead by this time (sometime after ten o’clock or even half-past ten). I again used the Field Guide to locate a map of the moon so we could identify some of the craters near or on the terminator. We gravitated towards the craters around Mare Imbrium, spotting Plato (the dark ‘spot’ in the upper right-hand portion of the picture), Archimedes, Artistillius, Autolycus, Copernicus and Kepler (perhaps … not completely sure and it’s not strictly near Mare Imbrium). As the clouds were closing in on the moon, Dad and I started tearing down the telescope and relocating all the equipment, lenses and books inside and I finally headed home for a mere six hours of sleep, dreaming about rings, impact craters and distant binary stars.
Within the first scene, one of my previous questions (from the ‘Hope’ episode) was answered, albeit unsatisfactorily. If all Destiny inhabitants have been vegetarians for over ten months, then definite weight loss would have occurred across all crew members, with the exception, perhaps, of those who already practiced vegetarianism. What little ‘science’ we get from this ‘science fiction’ series should at least reflect an observable phenomenon, correct?
My earlier unvoiced surmise that Greer and Varro would be the ones captured in this episode quickly proved incorrect. My second guess proved partially correct in that TJ was abducted. The second abductee I didn’t recognize and fear he would not make the credits, reminiscent of the expendable ‘red shirts’ in the Star Trek (TOS) landing parties.
After the original landing part sent to explore the planet returns (minus two members) to Destiny, Col. Young leaves Matt in charge and takes the lead on the search and rescue mission. Greer keeps second guessing himself because he hesitated when confronted with alien during the first attack. Young attempts to mentor Greer, who is unusually aggressive/assertive towards his superior officer.
The rescue proceeds slowly and we see Varro volunteer himself and the rest of the Lucian Alliance personnel to help track the creature. He successfully convinces Matt (and assumedly Col. Young) to gate down to the planet.
Meanwhile … (there’s always a ‘meanwhile’ subplot or two on a television show) back on Destiny, Rush, Eli and Brody are exploring new sections of ship and stumble upon a stasis chamber. Rush uncharacteristically urges cautions to Eli and Brody in tampering with the stasis equipment. This turns into a slight and well played comedic subplot with a moral. Another version of the ‘kindler, gentler’ Rush? At least this one was easier to stomach.
I felt Chloe overstepped her boundaries by discussing Volker’s love life with him directly. Ew. Very awkward. Later, Rush deigns to give Volker romantic advice, in a reverse psychological sort of way. Sadly, once Volker girds on his courage (and his vest) he stumbles upon his first setback in that he’s not along in pursuing the woman in question.
Back on the planet, the alien creature manages to ambush the expanded search and rescue team, eliminating several members, including all of the Lucian Alliance leftovers except for Varro, who has replaced Young (injured in the ambush) as defacto team leader and mentor for an increasingly stressed Greer.
When we finally see the alien creature, something unexpected occurs from many unexpected corners. I’ll leave it to you to watch that for yourself and make your own conclusions about first contacts between humans and aliens, between herbivores and carnivores (or omnivores), between nature (hunting/killing/eating ‘unintelligent’ animals?) and nurture (protecting your offspring (instinct) yet recognizing intelligence (tool making, fire starting, non-verbal communication).
I look forward to re-watching this episode later in the week. At first blush, I’ll give it four out of five stars for a well rounded enjoyable thought provoking episode with some punch. And starting next Monday (for the last few episodes of this series) Syfy is moving SGU one hour earlier, so I can get some much needed sleep!