Graphic novels from NASA (!)

From Science 2.0:

“In 2010, to celebrate 50 years of Exobiology and Astrobiology research at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) they commissioned a graphic history of the people and events that have shaped the science of nascent Exobiology and Astrobiology research.

Of course, how we came to be is not a new field, for as long as mankind was able to take a break from grinding out life we’ve wondered how it all came to be.

They were well-received and they have continued to produce them and now they have out #7, Prebiotic Chemistry and the Origin of Life, which moves from telescopes to microscopes in order to see how prebiotic chemistry works and learn more about how life on Earth arose from chemical precursors, which is essential in determining whether or not life could originate on other worlds. 

Our own Professor Dave Deamer (well, not ours, U.C. Santa Cruz pays his bills, but if you are a scientist here you’re family) has written extensively on this fascinating subject and you can read his work here.

But if you also want a very elegant and informative graphical book, give NASA a try. If you liked the Avengers movies, yeah, it’s like that. It isn’t, but that’s okay, you will enjoy it.”

 

 

 

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Um….

 

So….I’m sampling different translations of The Brothers Karamazov in preparation for December’s  classics reading, and apparently it’s a wacky comedy!    This cover appears as the Kindle edition for the Peavers/Volohonsky translation, which is the one I’m most leaning towards.

 

 

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The Sky’s the Limit

Star Trek TNG:  The Sky’s the Limit
© 2007 various
400 pages

The original Star Trek struggled in ratings, especially after being shifted to a late-evening slot of doom in its third season, and was canceled prematurely in 1969.    It proved to be rather more difficult to kill than that, however,  flourishing in syndication and leading to persistent demands for a return, or at least a movie.   Surprisingly, The Motion Picture didn’t  smother interest in more, and in the 1980s Star Trek and the Enterprise returned with a new show.  Although it struggled in the beginning, hindered by manskirts and characters who weren’t quite sure who they were, it would be The Next Generation  that built the behemoth that was late-90s Star Trek.    Surely its 20th anniversary was worth celebrating! 

The Sky’s the Limit brings more to the table than Constellations,  spanning the entire TNG run from before its first season until after Nemesis, when Picard is  struggling with the question of what advice he might give to Captain Riker, now leaving the Enterprise for his own command.   As with Constellations, there are a variety of authors and genres,and most of the characters have their moment in the spotlight, even more minor ones like Barclay and Tasha Yar.  Unlike Constellations, here stories are closely mapped to episodes and movies;  the Barcley story, for instance, happens while the Enterprise is off doing something else, leaving him and Ro Laren to assist Lwaxana Troi (Hazard pay, anyone?).     Another  story is a direct sequel to “Darmok”, as the Enterprise continues to establish a means of reliable communication with a people who seem to speak only in literary references.  That one goes into the complexities of language-building and is penned by Christopher L. Bennett, who contributed to all four anniversary anthologies.    The collection is replete with fascinating stories, like one that puts Riker on his death bed, or another that follows Wesley in an alternate history where he tried to avoid his destiny — not to mention Picard’s Dominion War encounter with Gul Madred, the sinister figure so expertly played by David Warner.

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What We Left Behind

A few months back I caught wind of the fan-funded What We Left Behind: A Look Back at Deep Space Nine, and naturally  I preordered.  I watched (and loved) it tonight, and though it has nothing to do with books,  Star Trek is no stranger here, so I wanted to share the news of it with those who might be interested.   The documentary is a reunion show, of both actors and writers, as well as a review of the show’s unique history,  sharing all the new ground it broke that the other shows never dared near.  The writers’ reunion offers the bonus of a day-long brainstorming session in which five of the lead writers brainstormed the first episode of a speculative Season Eight,  one set twenty years after the end of the seventh season in which so many of the crew go their separate ways following the end of the Dominion War.

As a Niner of longstanding,  I was absolutely joystruck to see “my people” back on the screen.   The actors have all had careers after the show, of course, and I’ll watch a show just to see them show up, but it’s not the same as seeing them with their former coworkers, sharing stories of the old days.   Deep Space Nine was utterly unique, perhaps in part because the setting was ‘stationary’, if you’ll forgive the pun:  instead of having new stories and actors presented week by week, the writers had to create stories by fully exploring the characters and scenes at hand. It brought serialized storytelling to Star Trek, and was alone in doing so! TNG was episodic, and VOY and ENT stagnated in the same long after serial television had taken off in  protracted dramas like The Sopranos. Stories in DS9 didn’t happen and stop in one episode:  they’d weave in and out throughout whole seasons. The result was far and away the most completely human characters in all of Star Trek, as background characters would grow and grow  to comprise major parts. The  biggest example of this, of course, would be Glinn Damar — who, from being button-pusher in the pack, would become another recurring actor’s sidekick,  and further mature until by the end of seven he was the leader of a planetary resistance.

 

Nostalgia aside, What We Left Behind astounds from a production point of view.  I thrilled to see bits of DS9 in high-definition: unlike TOS and TNG, DS9 has never gotten that treatment.    I also LOVED LOVED LOVED LOVED the fact that it opens with Max frickin” Grodénchik singing, and closes with him joined by Armin Shimmerman (!!),   Casey Biggs (!!),   and JEFFREY COMBS (!!!)*  doing another song.  And in between there was so much wonderful-ness. The actors, writers, and (viewer) were all in tears throughout.

Definitely recommended.

 

(They played Rom, Quark, Damar, and Weyoun/Brunt, respectively.)

 

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ST: Constellations

Star Trek: Constellations
© 2006
400 pages

Forty years after its creation, Star Trek was something of a beast — running two tv shows simultaneously through the nineties and into the early 2000s,  and tempting Paramount with dreams of a cable channel grounded in its lucrative Star Trek properties.  Beyond the shows, Star Trek was the inspiration for a handful of novels every month, not to mention regular movies and a series of video games on all manner of platforms, ranging from the absolute crap to the mostly crap to the rare solid hit.  The Space Channel even did a commercial parodying this.   Anyhoo, hence Constellations,  an Original Series anthology of short stories celebrating the characters and spirit of Star Trek during the 40th anniversay celebrations.

Like the other anthologies,  Constellations is…enjoyable, if not memorable.    Like the others, its stories span both the life of the series, and the cast of characters,   so each member of the ensemble has at least one story focused on him (or her, in the case of Uhura).    I believe the celebration of spirit is an important aspect of these anthologies, because each of these stories ends with an optimistic, hopeful, or accomplished note  — there’s always the “boldly going” tenor,  sometimes with the characters ribbing each other a la so many TOS episode endings.   Those who have read quite a few Trek novels will notice veteran authors contributing, some of whom were then only beginning to make their names known: Bennett, Leisner, Lang, etc.       Perhaps the most memorable of the stories is “Make Believe”, which includes a perspective shift that reminded me strongly of the perspective shift induced by one of Redshirt’s codas, and is set partially in the “real world” — the one where Star Trek is fiction, but a tremendous inspiration.  The award for most memorable title, though, would go to “Where Everyone Knows Your Name”, which is more amusing when one realizes there are TNG/DS9 parody intros using the Cheers theme.    (It’s mostly memorable for the title, but in the plot  McCoy and Scotty get drunk in a bar on an alien planet and then mistaken for Kirk and Spock, with…results.)

All told, this is a solid collection for the fan, casual or otherwise.   Some of the stories:

– “The Landing Party”: Sulu faces a crisis of confidence when his first time leading an away team ends in disaster
– “As Others See Us”…an interesting take on the prime directive, probably the most substantial in the lot. By Christopher L Bennett, no surprise there.
– “Official Record”….Chekov, while serving as an observer during the IraqWarinSpace, is shaken by  some of his besieged Starfleet comrades’ behavior toward the enemy.
– “See No Evil”…an Uhura still trying to regain her memories and confidence after being attacked by the NOMAD prone is forced to overcome her self doubt when she realizes something is screwy about this latest diplomatic contact, in world where the truth constantly changes to protect people’s feelings
– “Anything But Alone”, mostly interested for being a manga story included at the end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Queen’s Shadow

Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow
©  2019 
E.K. Johnson
400 pages


“I suppose we can’t just burn down the whole Senate and start over again with a system that makes sense?” Dormé asked.
“I’m fairly certain that would be treason,” Padmé said. “We’re going to have to work with what we’ve already got.”

So, here’s my dirty secret:   I got into Star Wars a few months before Attack of the Clones came out.  I’m not sure how I got started — it would have been between my online best friend’s passion for it rivaling my Star Trek obsession, or my watching Star Wars on VHS during a Thanksgiving break —  but I rented The Phantom Menace the week after I finished watching Empire and Return for the first time,    so for me they’re part of the same experience, one shinier than the other;   I don’t have animosity towards the prequel trilogy that the original fans do.  (I more than make up for it with my contempt for the Disney movies. )

Padme Amidala has long been one of my favorite characters in the series, her reduction in Revenge to crying-and-dying excepting.   I was therefore excited to spot a novel following her as she left leadership of Naboo behind to take her place in the Galactic Senate.    Although full of interest for those who really like Padme, as I do,  the novel only covers her first year, and little actually happens.    At its best, the story explores how “Amidala” is a separate persona from Padme, one she has deliberately developed;  and The Queen’s Shadow follows how Padme has to learn to adjust her Amidala persona for the new challenge of the Senate.  The book also fleshes out odds and ends from The Phantom Menace.     All the good bits are background, though; the actual story here is lacking…movement.   It’s chiefly about relationships, personal and political, as Padme tries to create a role for herself at the Senate, one that won’t be overshadowed by her countryman Palpatine, or her former job position. If you really like Amidala, it’s a nice book to read, if only to learn more about her background. If you’re looking for an actual story, though…..it’s lacking.

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How To Be Your Own Bodyguard

How To Be Your Own Bodyguard: Self defense for men and women from a lifetime of protecting clients in hostile environment
© 2011 Nick Hughes
326 pages

What can you do to protect yourself in the event of a natural disaster, a home invasion, or an active shooting? Nick Hughes served in the French Foreign Legion prior to putting his security skills to use as a professional bodyguard for celebrities and other prominent personalities.  In How to Be Your Own Bodyguard, he urges readers to look beyond self-defense:   from the perspective of a bodyguard, the best way to prepare for conflict is to avoid them when unnecessary. To that end, most of this book consists of ‘soft skills’, advice on conflict deescalation, reading rooms and personalities for signs of trouble, and general preparation. Only at the very end does he review weapons, tactics, and melee training.

From the outset, Hughes divides conflicts into those that  develop — the kind that erupt from arguments between people in bars or traffic or wherever — and those that are preplanned, like ambushes.    After separate sections on each, he examines special situations, like travel, or active shooting instances — before moving on.   Time and again Hughes stresses the importance of avoiding conflict: ego is the enemy, whether in a baroom or during a traffic jam.  Hughes urges concerned readers to strive to be the ‘little grey man’ who is never noticed, avoiding wearing clothing that would cause offense or gather too much attention.   He also advises readers to maintain a state of background alertness, being aware of  people in their room, moving in and out —  keeping an eye out for anything abnormal.  In addition to this background awareness,  Hughes  stresses preparation in general, giving suggestions for  what to keep in one’s car in case of an emergency.    The book’s hard-skills section reviews weapons and their best uses (hand guns are recommended over shotguns  in home defense scenarios, for instance,   and knives are surprisingly ineffective at stopping adrenaline-charge attackers)  before advising readers on what areas of the body are the most vulnerable to specific kinds of attacks.

Although the cover doesn’t do the book any favors — I would have ignored it had I not encountered the author being interviewed, and been impressed by the author’s specific approach and his background  —  How to Be Your Own Bodyguard   is most helpful to anyone — though, moreso for those who  live or work in areas where crime is common.   I was most impressed by the variety of content here, from interpersonal conflict to home security to  disaster preparedness.

 

Related:
Inside the Mind of a Thief”,  some notes I shared last year after watching an interview between a chronic home invader and a sheriff.
Verbal Judo: The Art of PersuasionGeorge Thompson.   Read, reread, but not reviewed. I’ve watched the lecture this is based on numerous times. 
Kick-Ass Home
Security.  Read but not reviewed: this is a very functional book written more like an instructional manual,  educating readers on the best practices for making their homes more burglar-proof.

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