Cometary Tales Blog,On Books Rediscovering Old Books

Rediscovering Old Books

I spent my elementary-school years soaking up the very best in English literature.

For a preteen horse-mad bookworm that meant: Enid Blyton, Hilda Boden, Josephine Pullein-Thompson, her sister Christine Pullein-Thompson, and Many More. I didn’t notice at the time, but now it’s obvious:  all my early writing models were women. My very first book purchase was a pony book by Hilda Boden, who took up writing stories to help support her family. I kept that book–Joanna’s Special Pony–for years, and reread it many times, imagining the windswept Scottish coast populated with wild (but tameable) ponies and admiring the resourceful, determined heroine of the tale.

I’d nearly forgotten Lilian Buchanan’s illustrations–until I saw them again, and recognized them.

From that day onward, every smidge of my allowance (well, sparing a few pennies for sweets) went for the next installment of the Famous Five or Malory Towers or any number of pony books.

All of those books stayed behind in Yorkshire when my mother had to pack us all up for the move to the States. My British childhood was over, and military moving allowances are based on weight, so . . . my pony books, boarding-school novels, and mysteries went to the thrift store for some other child to collect.

“I thought you were done with baby dolls, you still have the Barbies,” my mother argued.

“Not all of them,” I countered. “I promised that one, the littlest one, that I wouldn’t ever ever give her away.”

But it was too late. 

I think maybe I broke my mom’s heart a little bit. Well, a little bit more. Motherhood involves a lot of heartache. Well, Baby Doll may have been lost to me forever, but I’m sure she had at least one more little girl make her similar promises.

The only good thing about the move was that all my friends had to study up for the Eleven-Plus, which would determine whether they’d go to a nice boarding/academic secondary school (like Malory Towers), get stuck in a dead-end “modern school” with no college track, or take up a trade and actually be able to earn a living. Me, I got to spend a couple of weeks coasting through the end of what Americans called “fifth grade” sitting in a classroom with children who–it seemed to me–hardly read at all, before being unleashed to a long, long American summer vacation. Luckily, my grandparents’ house was packed with books–mostly Reader’s Digest collections, but also a classic edition of One Thousand and One Nights and my dad’s stash of science fiction magazines.

Over the years, those old-style children’s books have been supplanted in the market by more literary-style books for children, others with science-fiction or fantasy roots, and thankfully many with more diverse casts of characters. A few have received a dusting-off over the years . . . there’s even a 2020 BBC-TV adaptation of Malory Towers that puts the storyline in a historical-fiction context while also envisioning a more diverse enrollment and faculty at the school.

Now, it’s my turn to have a house packed with books, and it’s an eclectic collection–not even taking into account all the books that aren’t technically mine, but my husband’s.  No matter–I put them on the shelf and dust them (occasionally), so they’re mine in that sense. I’ve launched a little Instagram project to share a few of those books, on a regular basis–mostly the out-of-print ones, the ones I inherited from my Dad (a fellow SF fan), and ones that may be old but that still speak to current issues.  The hard part is figuring out how to photograph them–top bookish instagrammers have such lovely still-life setups for their book posts. I’ll do my best to at least not to give people eyestrain.

None of that means I’ve stopped gathering-in books. Just in time for my birthday, my very first Quarantine Birthday, I retrieved a book long-lost in the move from England, my first book purchase, my favorite book from that day until the day it vanished to the thrift store with my dolls. 

The dolls are gone, my mother long forgiven, but the books never have left my mind. Just this month, I made a birthday present for myself of a copy of Joanna’s Special Pony, dusted off from some other collector’s shelf–one in better condition than the one I left behind, PLUS a copy of the sequel. That was a book I never got my hands on, because it was only in hardcover and my allowance was two shillings sixpence, exactly the price of a paperback (my, what a coincidence–almost as if my parents wanted me to buy books).

If you like Instagram, the series is here. I’ll try to remember to link to those postings from the Facebook page as well.

You might also like to read:

Two Poems by AnwegweTwo Poems by Anwegwe

Sunset #734

the fire dies down, and the colors rise up
rivers flow amber, gold, and blood-rose
cascading one upon the other
wave upon wave around the sky
pushing back the eastern dark
holding the light for one last hour
giving us time, time to remember
all of the days we have had together
the glorious days beneath the sun

The main character in my recent book, All That Was Asked, is a poet. It’s a first-person narrative, and he keeps mentioning how people reacted to a poem, or how much he enjoyed writing a poem, or that he likes to watch sunsets because they inspire poetry. But . . . there aren’t any poems in the book itself. It seemed to me I couldn’t quite measure up to the standard implied in the text . . . one gets the impression, although Ansegwe is self-effacing about it, that he’s actually rather good.

Still . . . it’s nagged at me, that I didn’t have any poems by Varayla Ansegwe. After spending hours and days and weeks and months with him, I’m sort of a fan, if you will. If I were a real fan, I’d have his work, wouldn’t I?

So I gave it a try. It’s interesting, to try to write personal-style poetry from someone else’s perspective. The one above results from all those mentions of poetry related to watching sunsets. Imagine our hero trotting down the hill after enjoying a really nice day’s-ending light show, muttering to himself, wriggling his fingers, anxious to scribble down this latest idea. We can leave it to your imagination how he improved this “draft”.

For a second poem, I tried to combine two things from his background. First, it seems Ansegwe had a fairly decent collegiate-level ranking in, well, whatever ball game is popular in Korlo. I envision it as sort of like baseball, maybe like an upsized version of kickball, with a larger, rugby-sized ball. Lots of running, jumping, catching, throwing–very energetic. Second, it’s evident that he was quite the one for romantic entanglements.

If I can gather enough of these, I’ll put together a little “collection” that I can share at events and such. Oh, and as a reminder . . . consider these as translated from Korlovian.

(Photos are mine. All from our own universe, alas.)

Intercept

In this moment,
there is only the ball, gliding on its parabolic arc.
It requires all of your mind to calculate the leap
the extension of your arm, the stretch of your fingers
the breath you draw at its approach
the strength you need to hurl it to your comrades.
 
For this moment, you do not know that she is gone.
For this moment, your heart is no more than a muscle.
Whether the ball glides into your hand
whether it skims your fingertips and caroms off under the lights
either way, you will crash to earth again
the world's gravity will bear you down
the moment will end
and you will know.
 
But in this moment, you leap
and time stretches to meet you.

Avoiding HyperboleAvoiding Hyperbole

OK, right, it’s been so long since the last post that even my backup program is writing me off as too far gone. Too bad, Updraft, back to work, you lazy batch of code.

True, some comets hare off to interstellar space on hyperbolic orbits. However, two or three things:
1) There’s much to be said for the sweet homey stability of an elliptical orbit.
2) On a hyperbola, there are two arms, and who’s to say if you’re on the right one?
3) My top speed is less than 2 m/sec whereas an escape trajectory on Earth demands moving at about 11,500 m/sec.
4) I’m not actually a comet, I’m a human being who is interested in comets both as astronomical objects and as metaphorical images.
5) That’s four or five things.

Aiee Hyperbola Wiki

Redlining on a hyperbola. Aieeee!

Stuff happens, and it’s not exactly a huge crime to neglect a blog that no-one is reading. Last year, I whined about the inconveniences of having a broken arm. Well, there’s worse stuff than a broken arm. Besides, I needed time to read other people’s websites. Like catching up on the doings at Gunnerkrig Court. Like reading anything about robots that turns up on IEEE Spectrum. Or reliving grad school days on Jorge Chan’s Ph.D. comic. Or vacillating between reading Allie Brosh’s hardcopy book or her online stories at Hyperbole-and-a-Half.

In the meantime, I’ve managed to keep up a little better on the easier-to-maintain Facebook & twitter side of things, under the Pixel Gravity moniker.

But it’s time to dump more stuff out on the world and see if anyone who isn’t a spammer notices.

Here’s the deal:  I’ve got a year’s worth of science projects for kids that I want to share.  Maybe they’ll be a book too, some day.  (Insert self-knowing laugh here.)  I’m a year behind on delivering my Grand Canyon stories & pictures, which I promised my fellow-travellers would be “up” by the end of last summer.   But there’s other stuff I want to address as well.  So there will be a little discipline applied, in a way that would help any of my imaginary readers look ahead for the next entry in a category of interest.

First week of the month:  One “Messy Monday” project

Second week:  One “Grand Canyon” entry–either a half-day of storytelling or a photo album.

Third week:  Science & fiction stuff–the science fairly topical, the fiction

Fourth week:  An extra week to play catch up, first on the Grand Canyon, and later on Messy Monday, but also a piece of flexible time for interesting stuff of the moment.  For instance, Memorial Day Weekend will yield four days of BayCon 2014.

Next up:  Comets in orbit…

 

 

 

Groundhog Day at NASA-Ames: Episode 1, The State of NASAGroundhog Day at NASA-Ames: Episode 1, The State of NASA

NASASocial116

At Ames: “The Big White Dome”

This is my second “NASA Social”, part of a new(ish) PR program at NASA which is (successfully, I should add), linking the venerable government institution with this modern social-media-dominated universe. At Ames Research Center, which just celebrated its 75th birthday, I even qualify as “younger generation.” That alone is worth the price of admission. Last time, I stayed in the Facebook & Twitter world; this time I worked on my photos & videos for the blog.  While I may not tweet as rapidly as those youngsters sporting Google Glass, I hope I’m bringing a relatively-informed viewpoint to the show along with my fangirl attude.

Yeah, I know. I have my own engineering Ph.D., but I’m still a fangirl when it comes to space stuff, science stuff, and robot stuff.  And the best place to find all that stuff is still NASA.

OK, so, I’m expecting this one to be relatively dull, as the thrilling event of the day is The State of NASA (insert non-martial fanfare here) address being livestreamed from Kennedy on the big screen at the Ames Exploration Center. The last-minute info email the Ames team sent out last night hints at more than that: a “preview” of the ATV-5 re-entry, a “tour” of the Roverscape (a dirt lot with rocks in it), and (oh, joy) all about the new budget proposal.

Waiting for the livestream from Kennedy Center to get under way, it becomes clear we’re really just watching NASA TV, only without access to the DirecTV remote. There’s a very brief, flashy video of inspiring fun NASA images: think ooh! ahh! all accompanied by the voice of the lovely Peter Cullen (aka Optimus Prime). But then NASA TV switches to their familiar old-style rolling globe image with a static “coming next” title. No sound, just a slide. Not something that would get a channel-skipper to pause and watch. A teasing view of the crowd jostling for seating and the Director finding his spot in front of Orion would be more engaging. Maybe they could bring in an intern from a college media studies program to keep viewer interest up when there’s a little delay in an event startup.

Meanwhile, here’s a party game: What did you recognize in that rapid-fire video with Optimus Prime narrating? Here’s my list:

Orion completes first EDL (Courtesy of NASA)

Orion bobbing in the sea

Curiosity exploring Mars

Entry!Descent!Landing!

 

 

NASASocial115

Scott Kelly with SPHERES on the ISS (Courtesy of NASA)

Astronaut Scott Kelly elated for a yearlong mission

ISS’rs playing with SPHERES and R2 the Robonaut

SpaceX and Saturday’s Launch of SMAP

 

 

The View from Ames

The View from Ames

Well, you can watch the State O’ NASA message yourself on YouTube, to get the full effect. It’s only a half-hour, plus that four-minute preview video featuring brief glimpses of the work NASA is doing, with Real Scientists and Engineers. And robots. And Astronauts. Run it in the background while you’re updating your Facebook. Make the kids watch the preview, maybe inspire them to consider training to work at NASA someday.

What you get here is a few my own off-the-cuff reactions and observations.

No surprise, The Journey To Mars is still a core theme. If you’re down on manned spaceflight, one thing I’m noticing is that there is a heck of a lot of science being packed into these projects. It’s almost as if the popularity of the notion of sending human beings to Mars is being leveraged to get more actual discovery accomplished. Hmmmm. As always, at least since Apollo ended, NASA’s a shoestring operation, and it’s rather astonishing just how many things are going on under that big umbrella.

If you haven’t been paying attention, you might not know that our current NASA Fearless Leader is a former astronaut, Charles Bolden. He flew on four Shuttle missions between 1986 and 1994, so he was part of NASA for Reagan, G.H.W. Bush, and Clinton. Ten years after Bolden had left the astronaut business to go back to his first career (the U.S. Marine Corps), G.(noH.)W. Bush got so inspired by the success of the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers that he decided NASA’s new mission should be to get people back to the moon and on to Mars. And just five years after that, Obama put Bolden in charge of that mission, as well as the rest of the tasks NASA manages with a budget equal to about 3% the size of the defense budget.

The fun part of the State of NASA speech was not the words, because they were pretty much what you’d expect: upbeat, replete with “Reach for New Heights” inspirational affirmations. The fun part was the setting: they talked the engineers who’d been happily disassembling the Orion capsule to put it back together, and Bolden gave his talk in front of the blackened shell of the successful first trial of NASA’s new system designed to carry humans into space…even to Mars. To add flavor to the show, the organizers commandeered a space large enough for not one but three future human vehicles. There was a SpaceX Dragon C2+ capsule

Dragon Hangs Out

Dragon Hangs Out

—said to be the actual capsule used for the first successful ISS resupply mission flown by SpaceX—and, for fair balance, a Boeing CST-100 capsule

CST-100 Shows Off Innovative Structure

CST-100 Shows Off Innovative Structure

showing off its innovative weld-free design structure.

Oh, and there were lots more people at Kennedy than we had at Ames. But at Ames, front-row seats were very accessible and anyone wanting to spread out over several seats was just fine.

Just as I notice a poster peering out from the edge of the Orion capsule, with logos and addresses for all NASA’s social-media connections, the feed goes down. The smartphones rotate 90 degrees and are all searching for the livestream. OK, it’s not just Ames, it’s NASA TV. But, really. Hire that intern, guys.

Well, it’s up again within a few minutes, though the audio is sketchy for a bit. What do interns get paid? Like, minimum wage, right?

So here are the highlights picked up in between tweets:

  • The Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) gets first mention in the context of pathway to Mars—though we still haven’t decided if the plan is to capture a whole small asteroid or to extract a chunk from a larger asteroid.
  • A glimpse of the budget comes next…there’s a bump-up of $500 million for fiscal 2016, though who knows what Congress will do with the budget request. Keep in mind that NASA’s proposed $18.5 billion is about 3% of the proposed defense budget and about 0.04% of the overall budget. How NASA can do this much with peanuts is amazing. Oh, wait. Suddenly I understand the peanuts ritual at JPL launch & landing events.
  • There’s a return to the Mars topic with shout-outs to all our Mars explorer robots, including a total brag on the U.S. having the first and (so far) only Mars landers. (OK, yes, we still love our friends at ESA, who landed on a comet.)
  • Then we get a reminder of the brilliant science from our telescope projects

    Hubble Reveals the Butterfly Nebula

    Hubble Reveals the Butterfly Nebula (Courtesy of NASA)

    from Hubble (which Bolden helped launch) to Kepler to James Webb. Even Chandra, which does superb work in the X-Ray spectrum, gets a mention this time. And the Solar Dynamics Observatory scores a slot in the closing segment.

    Chandra X-Rays the Universe

    Chandra X-Rays the Universe (Courtesy of NASA)

     

  • The Shuttle program is over, but it still makes it into the talk. Keep in mind Bolden is a shuttle veteran but also remember that, like his boss, he’s the first African-American to hold his job. Bolden flags the Shuttle program as the one that brought diversity to NASA, since it finally opened up space to women, minorities, and others who previously “wouldn’t have a chance to fly”. That is the thing he tells us to view as the crucial long-term legacy of the shuttle program. (Side note: Bolden’s Deputy Administrator for 2009-2013 was the first woman to hold that position, Lori Garver.)
  • There’s a reminder that the money spent on space is money spent in the U.S., from small business to large ones, from textile mills to welding shops. And the cash gets shared out, with 37 states having a stake in the commercial crew mission.
  • Education gets a nod, though to be honest I’m a little disappointed that what gets the splash are the student science program at ISS and the flight of a student project on the Orion test flight. Those big projects still tend to end up at private and/or privileged schools, since it takes resources to play. I might have gone for a specific shout-out to one of the schools for which participation was a big leap, like Oakland’s Urban Promise Academy Still, if there’s a kid doing a science report who hasn’t logged into a NASA website, then that kid doesn’t have internet access.
  • All right, then we get a round of teasers on upcoming technological developments: “green” (less-polluting) propellants, advanced autonomous robotics, high-power solar electric propulsion, aviation advancements.
  • NASA’s moving forward in its ongoing role in earth and climate science. We’ve got that successful launch of the SMAP climate science satellite (http://smap.jpl.nasa.gov/), just a week ago, which has both direct practical applications for agriculture. And the Airborne Snow Observatory has already produced data to help with the drought in the West, especially California, where snowpack is key to water supplies.
  • True to the core message, the closing draws focus back to Mars, promising a geophysics mission with the InSight lander scheduled to launch in March of next year.   And a taste of special features planned for the Mars 2020  successor to Curiosity, including a way to shoot a sample back home to Earth.

The Core Message

The Core Message

 

One last item in the dark hall of the Exploration Center: we get to watch a video from the re-entry of ESA’s ATV-1.  Kinda cool, but old-school, dating back to 2008. But this is just a teaser, for the upcoming re-entry of ATV-5. Here we’re working at the opposite end of the scale from Orion and Dragon, where the concern is careful braking and heat-shield materials and safe landings. These re-entries are in the realm of Design for Demise, in which hardware at the end of its life is sent down to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. It’s not as simple as it might seem, when your goal is to NOT have bits of debris landing on the surface. I snipped together my video of their video to make a one-minute infomercial for ATV-5. Well, one does what one can:

There are two instrument packages onboard ready to monitor descent. ESA’s contribution is a video camera (wow!) while NASA’s package records acoustic data, temperatures, deceleration info and more. ESA's Camera Setup for ATV-5Both will “phone in” their results using the Iridium satellite network. Yep, ESA and NASA will be totally outclassing everyone else’s phone video uploads that day.  (ESA’s page is complete with a countdown clock. The twitter tag will be #bigdive.)

 

Next up:  At the Roverscape

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