Newsletter December 6, 2022
The little rover that could
The Lampworks Lamplighter SF & Fantasy News & Reviews
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Good Night Oppy
This week, my wife and I watched Amazon’s new documentary, “Good Night Oppy.” The movie chronicles the development of the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers that explored our neighboring planet from 2004 until 2018, far exceeding their original design specifications for a 90-day mission. The shared vision and camaraderie of the scientists and engineers who conceived and carried out the mission come through in interviews, historical footage, and dramatizations of the little Mars rovers facing and overcoming one obstacle after another, courtesy of fantastic CGI from Industrial Light and Magic.
There’s a lot of heart in this movie. As you hear the team talk about how the identical twin rovers developed their own quirks and personalities, you’ll start rooting for these brave little machines too. The producers didn’t have to manufacture an anthropomorphic storyline to hook viewers. They just had to capture the one that was already there in the hearts of the team. Just watch them bite their nails as the rovers struggle with steep slopes, shifting sands, broken wheels, and mammoth dust storms. Listen to their nearly parental concern as the rovers grow old and develop “arthritis” and start traveling with a limp. The ending is both poignant and triumphant as they celebrate their accomplishments but know they’ll never hear from their rovers again.
The film is fast-paced for a documentary, punctuating the science story with the crises surmounted along the way. The vibe is similar to “For All Mankind” without the politics and the drunken astronauts, and the production values are at least as high.
The film featured Steve Squyers, a professor of Astronomy here at Cornell, where I work. That also reminded me of the time I took an astronomy class from Carl Sagan when he was still here. He was deep in the preparations for the Viking mission, the first landing of a craft on the surface of Mars. No one knew what they would find. In one lecture, he quipped, “Our greatest fear is that every morning we’ll see footprints in the sand around the lander and never catch a glimpse of what makes those footprints every night while the craft is sleeping.”
A short story for the holidays in the world of Knots. Escher and Emeline have brought a tree into the house to decorate, and Trefoil the cat must investigate, of course. There’s something not quite right about this tree – they’ve brought trouble into the house along with it. It’s up to Trefoil to guard the house against the mayhem that ensues. If he doesn’t get put outside first.
Free download from StoryOrigin
Monsieur Resche is an art thief. He has crossed a bridge into a quaint town that disappeared from Switzerland four centuries ago. All the magic that our world once had has ended up there. A precisely tied knot, an exactly folded paper, or a cunningly drawn figure can unlock wonders and horrors.
Resche has a mind that lets him excel at this new craft, but that brings him to the notice of powerful mages who play a great game of geomancy with tiles the size of countries. And when he looks for the bridge back to Geneva, it is nowhere to be found.
The Fractalist priest offers aid that may not be what it appears, the Jeweler has intricate schemes, the newspaper editor has taken an interest, the Astromancer had good advice before she was murdered, and Resche’s cat just makes wisecracks.
Knots is a compelling story filled with unexpected characters, plot twists, literal location twists, mystery, and redemption.
Have Kindle Unlimited? Read Knots for free on Amazon!
Buy on amazon Bookshop.org
What We‘re Reading
Visit our archive of reviews and recommendations on the Books We Like page of our website. You‘ll find over one hundred recommendations in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Non Fiction.
The Spare Man
Mary Robinette Kowal
Inventor and socialize Tesla Crane is on her honeymoon cruise, bound from Earth to Mars on a luxury liner when her new husband is locked away for the murder of a passenger. Tesla is partially disabled by pain and PTSD from a horrific accident and functions with the help of a pain management implant and a charming service dog. Since the ship’s security staff is convinced they have the right suspect in custody, Tesla must do her own investigation to find the real killer before they kill again. Her only support is her lawyer, who, thanks to interplanetary distances, is increasingly hard to reach as Earth recedes astern.
This is inspired by the classic movie The Thin Man, with the banter, social glitz, fancy cocktails, and cute dog of the original, though the solution to the mystery is different. Each chapter is headlined by a classic or made-up drink recipe. The reader can have fun discovering the connection between the name of the cocktail and the theme of the chapter.
Buy on Bookshop.org amazon
There’s a Human/Goblin war, because how could there not be? Even though it’s all based on a misunderstanding. Kingfisher turns most tropes about how Goblin/Human/Troll/Elf relations should go, if not quite upside-down, at least sideways. Of course the Goblins are blamed for the town full of murdered people that they had nothing to do with, but the Goblins know it was a Mage, and unless they act to stop them, the Mage will kill again. Clearing their own name is a nice benefit, of course.
The story is full of wry observations about people (green-skinned or not), prejudices, and conflicts. The Goblins are funny and relatable, under a leader, Sergeant Nissilka, who is just trying to do the best for her company. (Sergeant seems to be where the pinnacle of military competence lies, with steep drop-offs both above and below.)
I enjoyed this little novella. It’s not the deepest, most thought-provoking thing that Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon) has written. Still it’s got her signature wit and kindness in it. Recommended.
Buy on amazon
The age of super-powered humans has dawned, but there are no heroes. Those who gain powers lose all empathy for others, especially those puny normal humans who pose no threat to them. Entire cities are destroyed as the Epics, as they are called, struggle to carve out their own empires to rule.
David Charleston lives in Newcago, what’s left of Chicago after Steelheart to control. David’s father died in the first moments of Steelheart’s rampage, right in front of his eight-year-old son. Ten years later, David has devoted his life to studying everything about the Epics and finding their weaknesses. He wants to join the Reckoners, one of the only bands of Normals who still opposes the Epics. He doesn’t fit in with their cautious tactics, though. He’ll stop at nothing to kill Steelheart for revenge.
Be warned, if David does have a super power, it’s the ability to mangle any metaphor that crosses his path. Just grin — or groan — and roll on. It’s a fun ride.
Buy on amazon
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Loss of the Unbound
Chaos in the making…
One year has passed since the terrible events at Eldenhaven–one year since the bond shared between Kalindra and Rina was severed. One year since war was declared by Lundell upon Dracomancers, and one year since Parthenis has known nothing but war…
What will become of them as they learn who’s behind the Final War?
Buy via StoryOrigin
Fighting the Silent
Bruno Martins Soares
In a distant solar system, a war breaks between the Webbur Union, its ally the Kingdom of Torrance, and their rival, the Axx Republic. Byllard Iddo is a young man who accidently killed his father in a martial arts training session. He left to join the Space Navy.
Now a lieutenant in the powerful Webbur Navy, Byl will serve in different ships and face danger as the war grows in violence. Refusing to disappoint his new family, the Navy, he embarks in a desperate mission to diminish a ruthless threat: the invisible Silent Boats that prey on the convoys that cross the void Dark Sea space between Webbur and Torrance.
He is sure of only one thing: many will die in the battles ahead and he will do whatever it takes to bring the war closer to an end. As he walks this path, through tales of love, pain and sacrifice, he becomes the youngest and most decorated Captain in Webbur Space Navy’s history.
Buy via StoryOrigin
Moon Hunters Preview
Finding three missing girls shouldn’t be so hard.
A rough place in space leads to action and adventure for these bounty hunters.
Free via StoryOrigin
Mars didn’t work out. We’re all packing up and going home. My estranged dad is refusing to leave, so I’m out travelling the Martian landscape to his solitary outpost to bring him back.
If it were up to me, I’d say he’d made his choice. But my sister, back on Earth pleaded, “The kids want to see their Grandpa. I want to see him again.”
I’ve always had a soft spot for my baby sister…
Free via StoryOrigin
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