Space shuttle crash description in Niven/Pournelle’s Inferno

A thread on rec.arts.sf.written excerpts a weirdly prescient description of a space shuttle re-entry crash from Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Inferno:

“One of those days,” Corbett said. “First, a twenty-six hour hold while we replaced one of the solid boosters. That was only irritating. We lost one of the three main motors going up. Then after we made orbit one of the fuel tank clamps jammed. Either of you know what a space shuttle looks like?”

“Yes.” “No.”

“Well, the tank is big and bulky and cheap. We carry the main motors down aboard the dart, the winged section, but we leave the tank to burn up in the atmosphere. If we couldn’t get the tank loose there wouldn’t have been any point in going down.”

“Did you?”

“Sure. We fired the orbital motors in bursts until the clamp sprung open and let us loose. Then we had to use more fuel to get back to our orbit. We were supposed to dump cargo and change orbit, but there wasn’t enough fuel. We had to go down.”

“What happened?”

“I don’t know. I spacewalked out and looked at the fuel tank clamp. I swear there was nothing wrong. But maybe the metal fatigued, or maybe the hatch over the clamp lock got twisted–anyway, we were halfway down and going like a meteor when we got a burnthrough under the nose. I heard the maintenance techs– they were the cargo I couldn’t jettison– screaming in the instrument room, then the whole nose peeled back in front of me. I woke up by that ferryboat. The crowd pushed me along to Minos, and he threw me into the whirlwind.”

Lovecraftian Deep Thoughts

Some selections from Lovecraftian Deep Thoughts and More Lovecraftian Deep Thoughts:

I always thought that after the Old Ones got the Earth cleared off, it will leave a lot more parking space for owners of big cars.

Whenever I read the word “eldritch” I get hungry because it reminds me of “sandwich.”

If Miskatonic Library had been guarded by cats, Wilbur Whateley might still be with us today.

I think the Deep Ones should change their name to the Deep Many, because, for heaven’s sake, there’s more than just one of them.

I think that Cthulhu can beat up Godzilla because Godzilla is a lizard and Cthulhu is an octidragopulp and a pursuing jelly.

I always thought that an angry mob of Vermont farmers should have attacked the winged crabs and sold their meat as seafood.

What’s so great about the Great Old Ones, anyway? They’re all locked away under the sea or in outer space or in other dimensions. Sometimes I want to stick my tongue out at them and yell, “Nyah, nyah, nyah, look at the high and mighty Great Old Ones.”

Although it is true that I just sent six bullets into the head of my best friend, I hope by this statement to show that I am not his murderer. No, just kidding.

Gene Autrey and Roy Rogers met H. P. Lovecraft in heaven, and quite frankly, he spooked them.

I always thought it must be very boring to be a Great Old One. I mean, Yog-Sothoth is conterminous with time and space, but what does he DO?

I once sent Azathoth an invitation to play chess. But then I remembered that he is the blind idiot god. So then I sent him a picture of himself upon which I drew a silly mustache and clown nose. But then I remembered again that he is the blind idiot god and wouldn’t “get” the joke. So then I bribed his amorphous flute players to play a month’s worth of Zamphir just to see what effect it would have. I haven’t noticed anything yet, have you?

This morning I was awoken by the thin, piping sound, “Tekelili! Tekelili!’ But I wasn’t scared because I knew it was just my nose whistling.

Wouldn’t it be awful if the Great Old Ones cleared off the Earth, and then decided that they had made a terrible mistake.

If you went into the Miskatonic Library, and stole the NECRONOMICON, and were later caught, would they fine you or would they just be happy the thing was gone and ignore the whole thing?

What were the Great Old Ones called when they were young anyway?

I think it would really nice to have an audio-book version of the NECRONOMICON on tape. But then, I suppose it would use up an awful lot of narrators just making it.

Do you think Nyarlathotep, he of a thousand forms, might actually be schizophrenic?

If Cthulhu calls, should we answer or should we just let the answering machine pick it up?

They say that Hastur is called “He Who Cannot Be Named,” but when I visited him last week he told me to just call him “Sam.”

If I could be a character in a Lovecraft story, I think I would want to be one of the monsters. Then I could really scare people at Halloween — plus, I wouldn’t get eaten.

Cover stories

1930vogueMy copy of Cover Story: The Art of American Magazine Covers 1900-1950 arrived this morning and the outside world disappeared for a bit while I flipped through it. I was tipped off to the book by a feature over on PopCult’s site which details the decline and eventual fall of western magazine design. An excerpt (but you should really go to their site and see the cover design face off)

Take a look at your local newsstand and here’s what you’ll see: racks upon racks of magazines that look almost identical. Whether they focus on music, fashion, cigars, fitness, women, or men, most magazines typically feature a grinning celebrity on the cover peeking out from behind squadrons of coverlines. It wasn’t always like this.

From the “golden age” of magazine popularity in the 1920s-’30s and on through to the early ’60s, even the most mainstream of magazines tried to lure in readers with distinctive design, original typography, and striking artwork. The cover was considered a canvas–rather than merely a billboard–by groundbreaking art directors like Mehemed Fehmy Agha (Vogue, House & Garden, Vanity Fair), Alexey Brodovitch (Harper’s Bazaar), and Eleanor Treacy and Francis Brennan (Fortune). These and other designers of that era transformed magazines into works of art in themselves. As Owen Edwards writes in The American Magazine, these designers and their magazines of the ’30s “exerted a visual influence on Americans no less potent and persuasive than that of Hollywood.” They commissioned covers by the finest artists, illustrators, and photographers of the day, such as Diego Rivera, Antonio Petruccelli, and Margaret Bourke-White (among many, many others). The design principle of that era seems simple enough: create the most ravishing covers possible. That was the way to distinguish your magazine from its competitors.

Today, the art of the magazine cover has been vanquished by celebrity worship and bad taste. Designers are simply fulfilling the dictates of their industry, not unlike the paint person on an auto assembly line. Innovation, creative expression, or even cleverness has been mostly abandoned. Artistic considerations are limited to how much retouching the celebrity headshot requires in Photoshop and how many headlines can be crammed in before the cover looks too “busy.” The result: A world in which it’s difficult to tell the difference between Playboy and Harper’s Bazaar without cracking them open.

What I find amazing is the quality of design standards across all of titles – not just the iconic Life photo covers, Norman Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post, the New Yorker cartoons, and countless crime and science fiction pulps that most folks think of. A forgotten theater art magazine called Shadowland had a beautiful neo-cubist deco cover every month. Cover Story is a good start, but damnit, I want more now!

What’s the deal with Enoch Root?

Tons of thoughts about the Enoch Root character in Neal Stephenson‘s Cryptonomicon. I figured there was something up with Root because of his name: Enoch, a Biblical character that gains some sort of transdimensional Enlightenment. And Root, which is the name of the superuser administrative All Powerful account on *nix systems.

Enoch Root, the shadowy deus-ex-machina/Ascended Master of Neal Stephenson’s brilliant Cryptonomicon is the subject of much debate. Root appears to die midway through the book, in a scene set during WWII, only to reappear in modern times. Inquiring minds want to know: did Stephenson make a boo-boo? Is there more than one Enoch Root? Is he immortal? Here is a great deal of speculation on the subject, from both informed sources and astute guessers:

Here’s my guess: Enoch Root is an alchemist who carries the philosopher’s stone around in a cigar box. He really did die in WWII but was re-vivified by the stone. Consider:

  1. Enoch’s age is difficult to discern, and he does not seem to get older.
  2. The contents of the cigar box seem to have healing powers.
  3. When Detachment 2702 is in Italy, Enoch Root says that he can speak Italian but would sound like a “16th century alchemist” or something similar (don’t have the book in front of me). At first, I assumed that he learned scholarly Italian, but perhaps he was telling the literal truth.
  4. The symbol on the cover of Cryptonomicon is one used by alchemists.

[via Boing Boing]