Archive for May, 2012

Word came this afternoon that the Dragon spacecraft has returned safely to Earth. An unmanned craft, she completed her assigned maneuvers and proved her capability to operate without a crew. Dragon delivered 1,000# of supplies and equipment to the International Space Station, then returned home with 1,400# of carbo.

Dragon made a water landing and was retrieved by divers working from several boats. She will be returned to Texas for inspection and repair before making her next flight. Future missions are expected to touch down on land rather than water.

Dragon is the only recoverable craft currently flying. Russian, Japanese and European rockets fly just one mission and burn up in re-entry.  SpaceX may not be dominant for long, however. Orbital Science Corp. is scheduled to lauch its Cygnus vehicle later this summer.

For now, I wish Dragon and her future sisters of the SpaceX fleet many safe and productive flights.


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With some hesitance, I broach the topic of dragons in A Game of Thrones. I’m hoping to connect with kids through this blog, and this series is assuredly not for kids. It’s sold as high fantasy, but really it’s about as dark as fantasy can go in the depths of human evil and how far people will go to claim power for themselves or their political faction. These books are brilliant, and brutally honest, and I can only read them in small doses.

That said, there are dragons in A Game of Thrones. As far as I’ve read, they are merely babies, so they aren’t very active as characters in their own right. However, dragons are a powerful presence from the outset. They are the symbol of House Targaryen, cruel rulers of Westeros who were deposed a generation ago when the series begins. Two members of this household survive, Daenerys and her older brother, Viserys.

Much is made of who is a “true dragon,” the person who has the strength of will to take back power in Westeros. Initially Viserys claims this title; he bullies and threatens to lose his temper, warning “you don’t want to wake the dragon.” Viserys orders Daenerys to marry Khal Drogo, who is himself an exceptionally brutal ruler over a Dothraki horde (think Genghis Khan, founder of the Mongol Empire). As the first book progresses, Viserys becomes shriller and more of a brat, while Daenerys grows into the true dragon.

I’m looking forward to reading more of this series, and especially how the dragons develop both metaphorically and as characters. And, incidentally, I was lucky enough to meet the author, George R. R. Martin, last weekend at the MisCon SF convention. There’s nothing at all dragonlike about Martin. He was gracious and approachable all four days. Martin’s books may not be for everyone, but if you ever get the chance to see Martin speak, you should take it.

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Q: What is a dragon’s favorite candy?

A: Red-Hots.

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The Dragon spacecraft rose in fire this morning, launched after a last-second scrub over the weekend. Developed by the SpaceX Corporation, Dragon will partially replace the retired space shuttles of NASA’s fleet.

For those like me, who watched Gemini and Apollo launches while growing up, it’s a blast from our past. Dragon has a classic “bullet” shape  similar to those spacecraft. A recoverable craft, she will also splash down in a very familiar manner.

Space exploration was a dream of my youth, though life led me to take up the pen instead. I, personally, was sad when Nasa had to step back from actively launching rockets. That was a loss to national prestige and a huge hole in the future we imagine for our country.

Perhaps it’s a natural progression from rockets being a military product and expression of national ambition to an everyday, commercial vehicle. Still, the storied NASA program fired imaginations in a way “space trucking” surely cannot.

Dragon’s flight today is un-manned and remotely operated. Its current mission is simply to demonstrate its capabilities — that it can go where needed without a human crew aboard. May she return home safely and as scheduled.

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Here we begin a fun alternative history, where the Napoleonic Wars included an air force — of dragons! This is the first in the best-selling Temeraire series. As a disclaimer, I don’t know enough about the Napoleonic era to tell how closely the author follows history. The books also have a nice period flavor with echoes of Jane Austen and C. S. Forester.

The main human character is a British naval officer, Will Laurence, who captures a dragon egg from the French and ends up bonding with the creature when it hatches. This is portrayed as a disaster for his career, as the dragon aviators are held in very low esteem. (This was something that struck me as quite odd; doesn’t everyone know that riding on a dragon is the coolest thing imaginable?) I had a bit of trouble connecting with Will, actually. He’s so noble that he’ll even take care of someone else’s neglected dragon, yet such a perfectionist that he’s constantly incensed when people don’t behave as honorably as he thinks they should.

Fortunately, Temeraire is the real star of the show. Temeraire is of unknown stock; his origins are one of the mysteries of this first book in the series. He loves reading, music, and science, speaks two languages and has a knack for asking all those awkward questions, like why Laurence doesn’t hook up with women in bars. Temeraire teaches everyone a few things about dragons, even those who think they know dragons.

Novik does a good job integrating dragons into the military forces of her period. Each dragon has a crew to support it in battle and there are some interesting apparatuses to make this possible. Her dragons have been bred into a variety of sizes to suit different functions. Ultimately, though, it was sad to think of dragons being turned into livestock and treated as expendable. I found myself wishing that Temeraire would organize a rebellion among dragonkind and stop the war. (I’m pretty sure that isn’t where Novik is going with the series, however.)

The books so far are His Majesty’s Dragon, Throne of Jade, Black Powder War (all in 2006), Empire of Ivory (2007), Victory of Eagles (2008), Tongues of Serpents (2010) and Crucible of Gold (2012). There are scenes of warfare, but they aren’t handled in a prurient way. Parents can be comfortable letting their kids 12 and over read these books.


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I mentioned in my previous book review (Janet Lee Carey’s Dragonswood) is set at a crossroads of history and folklore. There are many references to actual Medieval European history in her setting.  Interestingly enough, I’m currently finishing the first book in Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series. It, too, has a strong historical setting, this time in the Napoleonic era. There’s a strong flavor of Austen as well, with many exchanges about what constitutes good manners and personal honor.

It interests me that authors should choose to rely so much on historical accuracy, when one of the glories of fantasy is that you aren’t tied to hard fact. Perhaps it’s an influence of SF; although, I must say, the attempts at explaining how dragons could be real are often so complicated that they fail to convince. For me, fantasy is better if the dragons, magic, or what have you, are simply stated as real. Then the author can concentrate on their characters and themes, which is where the meat of the story lies.

Come back in two days, for more about Temeraire.

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Here we have a tale of tangled webs binding humans, dragons and fairies on the magical Wilde Island. It’s a setting at the crossroads of history and folklore, with elements of the Crusades and Arthurian legend blended into a spicy brew. I didn’t realize this book was the second in a series before I got it from my library, but it stood well enough on its own.

The main character, Tess, has a slight power that lands her in terrifying danger. She stumbles at first, and ends up running away with two friends, all of them in disguise. They are rescued by a man with his own secrets to hide. In fact, disguises and lost identity are a major theme of the book, as only one of the four main characters ends up to be who she thought she was in the beginning.

What about the dragons? They’re suitably magnificent, yet vulnerable to attack by an encroaching human population. Likewise their fey allies, who are able to mingle more freely with the humans, but the dragons don’t exactly stay in their caves and hide. They to come out to rescue the innocent — a nice role reversal there — and it’s the dragons who devise the complicated plan which Tess falls into.

Kingmakers the dragons may be, but it’s Tess who finds her own solution to the riddle of the Dragonswood. Perhaps I guessed most of the surprises, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment.

This book is not for younger kids. Some frighteningly accurate scenes of Medieval tortures and witch-hunting techniques make it more suitable for teens over 12. There’s more suspense and romance than violence, though, or I wouldn’t be able to recommend it.

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