…and now, for a change of pace. Y’all know how much I enjoy sharing with you what I’ve been reading…but since the last time I wrote one of these was at the end of last year, it’s gonna be a long list. This last isn’t helped by the fact that I now have a regular job, and since I take the train to said job, I have a good hour or so every day to read; I do very much enjoy this. So, without further ado, here’s the list in (mostly) chronological order.

Starship Troopers; Robert Heinlein – As I’ve probably mentioned already, I make a habit of reading this book once per year; I read this at the end of last year (2011) while I was visiting my folks in Virginia.

A Christmas Carol; Charles Dickens – Also a yearly tradition for me…read, well. If you can’t guess when I read this story, I really can’t help you.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court; Mark Twain – Yes, I finally got around to reading Twain; as y’all may already suspect, it was, of course, bitingly satirical, and also rather interesting as a time-travel story that was written just as the genre of science fiction was in its infancy. This latter aspect is one of the reasons I selected this book over some of Twain’s more well-known books.

The Hunt for Red October; Tom Clancy – Back in the day (and I mean, really, really far back in the day…think high school), I was an avid reader of Clancy’s fiction. Most of y’all are probably more familiar with the film version of this story (which also stands out as probably the best adaptation of Clancy’s works), but the novel itself, as per usual with book vs. film adaptations, contains far more detail than the film could possibly convey. This also stands out as a rather odd re-read on my part, as I started re-reading my Mom’s copy of the book while I was visiting at Christmas (I had brought two books with me, but ended up finishing both too quickly – a common problem when I read – and needed something else to occupy my time), but didn’t finish. So, once I got back to Chicago, I dug up my old copy (that I’ve had since way back in high school) and finished reading it here.

Live Free or Die; John Ringo – The first novel in Ringo’s Troy Rising series. The story concerns the delivery of an interstellar FTL portal in Earth orbit, the aliens who decide to conquer Earth for our resources (mostly rare-earth metals…sound familiar?) and the ways that humans fight back…including the construction of a (privately-funded!) several-kilometers-diameter battlestation built from a hollowed-out and inflated (yes, inflated) asteroid. As with most of Ringo’s works, it was quite an entertaining read, though much different than his traditional military SF novels, in that it focuses far less on well, military matters.

The Three Musketeers; Alexandre Dumas – One of the most well-known adventure novels…and it doesn’t disappoint. From a historical perspective, no…it doesn’t work so well…but where’s the fun in thinking too much about that? As with a number of other literary titles, I selected this book more for the fact that I’ve never read it and figured I should, rather than because I had any strong interest in the subject. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth reading, mind you.

Eye of the Storm; John Ringo – Currently the last novel in his Posleen War series (though apparently, he’s working on more…which is good, since this book ended on a cliffhanger of sorts). The story pretty much concludes the Posleen War aspects and introduces a new enemy, the Hedren…who are arguably just as bad (or worse) than the Posleen; while the latter were more or less instinctively and genetically predisposed towards planet looting, the former are quite well cognizant of what they’re doing…and willingly enslave and / or exterminate entire sentient species and worlds. Good stuff, that. I’m curious to see where Ringo takes the series after this, but he’s been a bit distracted by his newer Troy Rising series, it appears.

Red Storm Rising; Tom Clancy – As I previously mentioned, I read a number of Clancy’s books when I was younger…unfortunately, I also didn’t pay particularly close attention to what I was reading at the time, so I barely remember these books. As such, I decided to re-read this one, which is a story about a conventional (i.e. non-nuclear) World War III scenario involving a Soviet invasion of Europe, Iceland (it makes sense in context), and massive submarine and surface fleet forays into the Atlantic…mostly as a diversion, if you can believe it. Some of the tech on display in the novel is a bit dated now, given that the novel was written a little over 20 years ago, but otherwise, it’s an interesting read…and let’s face it…the book has an awesome title!

Citadel; John Ringo – The second novel in Ringo’s Troy Rising series…which pretty much picks up where the previous one left off (actually, somewhat in the middle, as it starts off during the climactic battle of the previous story, but told from a different perspective). Some of the highlights: humans have been building more Troy-class battlestations, and Troy itself has been made mobile thanks to a recently-installed Orion drive. It turns out that the aliens who previously enslaved Earth were just the galactic equivalent of a gang of thugs, and a rather more powerful race has taken interest in humanity’s rapid defeat of their previous alien overlords…and they’re none too thrilled about this.

Rendezvous With Rama; Arthur C. Clarke – Clarke, it seems, had a bit of a fetish for writing about Big Dumb Objects; the titular Rama is one such object: it is clearly artificial, but its purpose, age, destination, etc., are all mysterious both before and after the human mission to the ship arrive, enter, and explore it. Later novels explored these aspects of the ship (and eventually answered many of the questions surrounding them), though whether or not this is a good thing has been much debated. In some ways, I think the narrative is more interesting as a mystery than having everything revealed about it. Arguably, if we ever are visited by aliens (or discover them in our own travels), it is possible – even likely – that we will barely be able to comprehend them and their ways – if at all.

The Martian Chronicles; Ray Bradbury – On the occasion of Bradbury’s death earlier this year, I decided to try re-reading this story; I had once tried to read it many years ago, but only got a few dozen pages into it, and couldn’t finish. I got about halfway through this time, but I still couldn’t finish it. I give up.

The Chronoliths; Robert Charles Wilson – My brother suggested this book to me many years ago, and I read it at that time. I remember it being an interesting story, but didn’t remember it so well (yes, this is a common problem for me…possibly because I read so damn much, I can’t possibly remember it all), so I decided to re-read it. The story involves exotic matter monuments to military conquests being sent back in time. Yes, you read that right. It’s as much a detective and adventure story as it is a straight-up SF tale, but it was, I think, all the better for it.

The Cardinal of the Kremlin; Tom Clancy – This one, I didn’t actually read back when I was reading Clancy’s novels, so I decided to remedy that oversight. This one ends up being a bit more science-fiction than most of Clancy’s works, since the “star wars” (laser-based anti ballistic missile defense systems) were never implemented on the scale that Clancy depicts in the story (and, for that matter, were never as successful as he depicts, either). Doesn’t stop the book from being an entertaining read.

The War of the Worlds; H. G. Wells – One of the many, many books that I’ve previously read and decided to re-read. Pretty much the original example of an alien invasion of Earth. Fun stuff, that.

Fuzzy Nation; John Scalzi – This novel is a re-imagining of H. Beam Piper’s novel, Little Fuzzy; given that I haven’t read the original, I can’t say how closely Scalzi keeps to the original, but for the most part that doesn’t matter to me. As with Scalzi’s other works, this one was funny, sometimes absurd (seriously, having the narrator “interpret” his dog’s actions as though the dog were actually speaking to him – I know, like we all haven’t done that), and downright compelling all at once. I sometimes wish Scalzi were a bit more prolific with his novels, but hey. Beggars can’t be choosers, right?

Birth of Fire & King David’s Spaceship; Jerry Pournelle – Both of these novels were collected into a single volume, Fires of Freedom, published by Baen. The former deals with an uprising on Mars against the large multinational corporations that run the planet, while the latter deals with the efforts of a “backwater” planet to build a spaceship (but clearly not a starship) so as to illustrate that they are a high-tech planet at the point when they’re about to be inducted into an interstellar empire. BoF has numerous similarities to The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein (not that that’s a bad thing, mind you); KDS is interesting in that the empire depicted in the story is considered rather bad by the inhabitants of King David’s world, but if you’ve read The Mote In God’s Eye and Pournelle’s own Prince of Sparta series, you’ll know that the empire is actually not that bad…and is by far preferable to interstellar anarchy that would result from the lack of a unified system of government (somewhat similar to Hobbes’ view in The Leviathan, FWIW).

The Beautiful and the Damned; F. Scott Fitzgerald – Yes, I’m still reading Fitzgerald. The story starts off somewhat tragic and continues downhill for most of the narrative; the ending, however, is rather anti-climactic and rather unexpected, given the tone of the rest of the story. I won’t spoil it further than that, of course, but as with all of Fitzgerald’s works, the novel does do an excellent job of capturing the tone of the era in which Fitzgerald lived.

The Legacy of Heorot; Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, & Steven Barnes – This novel starts out as a fairly straightforward tale about humans first attempts as extra-solar colonization…and turns into something of surrealistic nightmare when the colonists encounter a native reptilian creature about the size and ferocity of a crocodile…that also happens to have evolved a natural blood-borne “super-oxidizer” chemical that allows them to move faster than a cheetah for short stretches of time (at the expense of potentially cooking themselves in their own waste heat). The life cycle of the creatures plays a central role in the narrative, for which the authors consulted with a reproduction and fertility expert. In keeping with the theme of the title, the creatures are aptly-named Grendels. Again, I read this book several years ago, but since it’s been a while, I decided to re-read it.

Into the Looking Glass; John Ringo – This is the first in Ringo’s Looking Glass series; the story revolves around a boson experiment gone horribly wrong when the experiment produces an unexplained anomaly that starts spitting out bosons that function as interplanetary portals, most of which are inactive, but some of which start spewing out hordes of hostile aliens that bear some superficial resemblance to the Zerg of Starcraft fame. It is also notable for featuring a protagonist based on real-life scientist / author / etc. Dr. Travis S. Taylor…who himself became a co-author for later books in the series. This story plays out much closer to Ringo’s other military SF stories in the description of the fighting against the alien invasion; it’s also notable in that the series seems to suggest that Ringo has some interest in Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories – all the titles in the series are based on things found in Carroll’s work.

Fahrenheit 451; Ray Bradbury – Having felt a little disappointed that I couldn’t slog through The Martian Chronicles, I decided to re-read this book, instead. This one is as good as I remember it.

The Hot Gate; John Ringo – The third story in Ringo’s Troy Rising series; this story features a rather impressive escalation in the hostilities between the humans and the Rangora (the aliens who supersede the original alien overlords from Live Free or Die). The climactic battle of the story involves several tens of thousands of missiles being thrown by both sides…among other rather impressive matters. Pretty much what one could expect from a slightly less soft-SF version of Star Wars (though still not particularly hard-SF, either)…except in this case, the Death Star is on the side of the good guys! And yes, it IS loosely analogous to the Death Star, in that the Troy-class battlestations each feature laser systems whose output is measured in petawatts (that’s one quadrillion – as in 1,000 trillion – watts…the prefix is rarely used because, well…we don’t really have that many things on Earth that require its use)…not enough to destroy a planet, but these lasers (and yes, they are lasers, and not some sort of funky visible particle beams) can easily punch through the armor and shields (I mentioned it’s not a full-on hard-SF story, right?) of a warship…and through the rest of the ship, as well and exit the other side…

The Death of Ivan Ilych and Other Stories; Leo Tolstoy – A collection of four short stories by Tolstoy, Family Happiness, The Death of Ivan Ilych, The Kreutzer Sonata, and Master & Man; I’ve been considering for some time that I should probably read War and Peace, but not having the courage to start that just yet, I found this collection and decided to read it, instead. Turns out, Tolstoy isn’t much harder to read that Dostoevsky, so I suppose I’ll be able to get through War and Peace…eventually. (Yeah…watch: next year, when I write up another reading list, it’ll just be War and Peace, and nothing else!) The stories themselves are pretty much what one might expect from 19C Russian literature; I’m not sure how to describe it, but they just seem…Russian.

Vorpal Blade; John Ringo & Travis S. Taylor – The second in Ringo & Taylor’s Looking Glass series; this novel takes a bit of a detour away from Ringo’s more traditional military SF and goes into more straight-up Star Trek type space exploration…albeit with a bit more “realistic” elements (for values of realistic, anyways…who knows if they’re truly realistic given what little we know of extra-solar locations in our galaxy). As with most of Ringo’s stories, the titular spaceship (the Vorpal Blade – see, I did mention something about Ringo being a fan of Carroll, right?) starts out fairly realistic (being an modification of a U.S. Ballistic missile submarine into a spaceship), but then goes a bit off the rails with the imported alien tech that powers and propels it (necessary, of course, as we clearly don’t have the tech to do it ourselves – yet). Oh, and it also features space chinchillas. No, seriously. Ringo also obviously has a bit of fun in his afterword by addressing potential criticisms of the novel’s protagonist as being unlikely by providing an excerpt from Dr. Taylor’s own resume…

A Fire Upon the Deep; Vernor Vinge – Space opera in all its awe-inspiring glory…and Vinge does an excellent job of telling it. I could go into details, but if you’re at all a fan of space opera, just go out and buy a copy and read it for yourself. It’s a bit of a doorstopper, but trust me…it’s worth reading. Bonus points for the author’s name…I mean, come on. Vernor Vinge? It just sounds awesome saying it!

The Tuloriad; John Ringo & Tom Kratman – This is more of a spin-off from the main Posleen War series than a true novel from the series; it follows the few Posleen who do survive the war and their interstellar quest for discovering their origins (being primarily composed of semi-sentient idiots, their race isn’t particularly keen on writing things down – or recalling their history in any great detail…for the most part), and concurrently, a human expedition that follows them in the hopes of bringing religion to their masses. No, really.

The Eternal Husband & Other Stories; Fyodor Dostoevsky – Like the Tolstoy collection above, only this one is a collection of Dostoevsky’s stories; this particular volume contains the following stories: A Nasty Anecdote, The Eternal Husband, Bobok, The Meek One, and The Dream of a Ridiculous Man. Also similar to the Tolstoy collection above, there’s just something…Russian about these stories. I really don’t know how else to describe it.

The Call of the Wild; Jack London – Notable for being a novel told from the perspective of a dog…and doing a fairly convincing job of it. (Note: this one is not in chronological order, as I forgot when I read it)

The Collected Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald – This collection contains two previously-published anthologies of Fitzgerald’s short stories, Flappers and Philosophers and Tales of the Jazz Age. If you have any interest at all in Fitzgerald’s work, these stories are also worth reading. (Note: this one is also not in chronological order)

…and that’s it for the year so far. Yes, I know…haven’t I read enough already? Well, apparently not, since the following are on my to-do reading list:

The Last Day of a Condemned Man; Victor Hugo (surreal note: this book is referenced in The Meek One, from the Dostoevsky collection above; I bought this book recently while I was still reading that collection, but I had not yet gotten to The Meek One…I didn’t read this short story until after I had bought TLDOACM with the intention of reading it after the Dostoevsky collection).

Poor People; Fyodor Dostoevsky

1984; George Orwell (I read this once a year)

Starship Troopers; Robert Heinlein (as mentioned above, I also read this book once a year)

Given how much I read, I’m fair sure there will be more on this list, but I haven’t figured out what else I’ll be reading yet.

Enjoy.

Actually, I shot this photo on August 9th, not today.

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Photo Information:

Location: Chicago, Illinois
Camera: Samsung Moment (SPH-M900)

The main reason I wanted to post this photo (other than it being a truly stunning view) is as proof that the best camera is the one you happen to have with you when a moment like this arrives. Could I have shot this view “better” with my DSLR or one of my fancy film cameras? Probably…but I didn’t have any of them with me when I saw this (I was at work…a catering job, so I don’t much get the opportunity to carry around my camera pack), and I did have my phone in my pocket (no, I don’t use the phone itself while I’m working…I keep the network turned off, but I keep it in my pocket for the clock). Granted, if I had brought my DSLR with me, I could’ve gone and fetched it, but that would’ve taken me several minutes…and this view only lasted for about five minutes before the sun slid below the clouds and horizon. So, I shot the photo with what I had.

I did adjust the photo a little in post-processing, but mostly, this was to adjust contrast a little. I didn’t actually have to adjust the colors much, as they were pretty spectacular already…limited though it is, the camera on my phone does tend to capture color pretty well. I also cropped the photo to square format…just because.

Enjoy.

Why yes, I do have more photos to share!

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Photo Information:

Location: Chicago, Illinois; Lincoln Park
Camera: Zeca Bettax
Lens: Schneider-Kreuznach 105mm f/4.5 Radionar
Film: Kodak TMax 100 (120)

The subject of the first photo is the Century Theater on Clark Street just north of Diversey. My AIA Guide to Chicago does not contain any information about this building, but I did find the following website with some information about the theater’s history. As noted on the website, the original interior no longer exists, and the shopping center that now takes its place is also rather uninspiring; the one time I went inside, I was rather unimpressed by the design, and the fact that many of the shops were vacant.

I also don’t know anything about the building in the second photo; all I know is that it now houses, as you can see, a Starbucks. Yup…they’re everywhere. One interesting matter though, is that in the older neighborhoods of the city, this is a fairly common sight, not just for Starbucks, but also for a number of other chain restaurants / retailers that would otherwise stick to standardized designs for their various locations. I like the fact that in the older neighborhoods, places such as this tend to be a little less obtrusive, and a little more respectful of the existing buildings they inhabit.

The subject of the third photo is a lantern on the bridge over the entrance / exit for Diversey Harbor. The bridge and particularly this lantern (there are four total, one at each corner of the bridge) have a vaguely Art Deco appearance to them, which is why I wanted to photograph them.

Enjoy!

See? I told you I’ve got more photos to post!

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Photo Information:

Camera: Zeca Bettax
Lens: Schneider-Kreuznach 105mm f/4.5 Radionar
Film: Kodak TMax 100

Photo 1:
Location: Chicago, Illinois; Near West Side

Hey look…a concrete factory! I have mentioned before how much I like industrial settings, right?

Photo 2:
Location: Chicago, Illinois; Chicago Loop

This is the Rookery (designed by Burnham & Root and completed in 1888; it has also been renovated a number of times since its completion) at the southeast corner of LaSalle and Adams. As impressive as the outside is, the light court in the center of the building is the real attraction of the building; I’ll have to get in there one of these days with faster film to shoot it.

Photo 3:
Location: Chicago, Illinois; Chicago Loop

This fine looking building is the Washington Block (designed by Frederick & Edward Baumann and completed in 1874) at the southwest corner of Wells & Washington. You can see part of the Loop elevated tracks in the upper left-hand corner of the photo. And yes, I did shoot this photo from the mdidle of the street…but don’t worry; I timed the traffic so that I could do this with relatively little risk of harm.

Enjoy!

Okay, so I’m really, really going to try to make some progress with that massive backlog of negatives I still have yet to scan from last year. There’s also the small matter of the rolls of film I need to process from earlier this year, too, but I’ll get to those…eventually. I hope. On that note, here are some of those photos.

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Photo Information:

Location: Chicago, Illinois; Near West Side
Camera: Zeca Bettax
Lens: Schneider-Kreuznach 105mm f/4.5 Radionar
Film: Kodak TMax 100 (120)

Photo 1:
Hey look…barbed wire. Actually, it’s barbed and razor wire…fun, right?

Photo 2:
Hand-painted sign for G&Z Restaurant & Bar; those of y’all who’ve been reading these posts long enough will know of my fixation on hand-painted signage. Those of y’all who don’t? I like ‘em. They’re examples of a dying art form, and those that remain are slowly fading into obscurity. It’s impressive and depressing at the same time.

Photo 3:
Yup, a loading dock…and a fire escape. I love old masonry structures, and I really loved the interplay of shadows and shapes in this photo.

More will follow, I promise. Enjoy!

Yes, I know…I’m finally getting around to posting the last of my fireworks photos. It sure is a good thing I don’t do this for money, because I don’t know that I’d ever get paid on anything like a regular schedule! Okay, okay…to be fair, if I were getting paid, I’d have more incentive to actually get things done on time, so there’s that. Anyways, enjoy the last of the shots. Til next year, that is.

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Photo Information:

Location: Chicago, Illinois; Lincoln Park
Camera: Nikon D80
Lens: Nikon Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX

Enjoy!

Yup…more photos of the fireworks show in Lincoln Park.

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Photo Information:

Location: Chicago, Illinois; Lincoln Park
Camera: Nikon D80
Lens: Nikon Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX

Enjoy!

So, as I mentioned previously, after the official fireworks show at Navy Pier concluded, the neighborhood show in Lincoln Park started up. Since I was sitting at the tip of northern end of the Belmont Harbor breakwater, the Lincoln Park show was much, much closer – just based on what I could see of it, I suspect it was staged somewhere near the Lincoln Park Zoo. Anyways, here are the first of the photos I shot of that show.

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Photo Information:

Location: Chicago, Illinois; Lincoln Park
Camera: Nikon D80
Lens: Nikon Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX

You’ll have to excuse the people standing in the bottom of the shots; they didn’t know they were being photographed, and I suspect they (like I) were surprised by the startup of the Lincoln Park show…the standing guy had originally gotten up to go, and stayed to watch after the show started. It’s also a bit of my own fault; I didn’t know that the show in Lincoln Park was going to start up, so while I chose my shooting location to have an unobstructed line of sight to the show at Navy Pier, when I turned my camera towards Lincoln Park (which was slightly southwest of where I was sitting), I was facing the backs of some folks who were sitting further south of where I was.

Note also that these photos, unlike the Navy Pier ones, were shot with my 35mm normal lens, not the long telephoto lens I was using to shoot the Navy Pier show. This is a good example of why it’s a good idea to carry a selection of lenses. Not knowing that the Lincoln Park show was going to start up, I could very easily have just carried my 300mm telephoto lens and no other (lord knows that lens alone is very weighty), but then, I would not have been prepared to shoot the Lincoln Park show. As it was, I actually had pretty much my entire lineup of lenses along for the ride (including my wideangle lens – that got no use at all – and two other, shorter telephoto lenses; I was fair sure I’d need the 300mm, but I brought the shorter ones in case I wanted wider shots of the fireworks and Navy Pier)…so, as you can imagine, along with my 2L Camelbak bladder and 10-lb tripod, I had a pretty hefty pack to shoulder…on a night when it was 95 degrees and humid. Yes, I know…I’m crazy. But hey, OTOH…fireworks!

Enjoy.

Yes, I know…my ability to post stuff here on anything resembling a normal schedule really, really, really sucks. Sorry about that, y’all. Anyways, here are photos of the finale of the official Chicago fireworks show on July 4th.

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Photo Information:

Location: Chicago, Illinois; Navy Pier
Camera: Nikon D80
Lens: Nikon Nikkor 300mm f/4

Impressive show, wasn’t it?

Oddly enough, the fireworks show in Lincoln Park – which started after the official show (and was also much, much closer to where I was sitting) was nearly as impressive. I’ll (hopefully) get around to editing and posting those photos soon.

Enjoy.

Oh yes, I have more fireworks photos for y’all!

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Photo Information:

Location: Chicago, Illinois; Navy Pier
Camera: Nikon D80
Lens: Nikon Nikkor 300mm f/4

As for how I shot these photos, well…first and foremost, you need a tripod, there’s just no other way to do this. Not only is this night shooting (and over long time periods, but I’ll get to that later), I was also shooting with a large, unwieldy telephoto lens; don’t get me wrong…I love the lens for what it allows me to do, but it’s damn near impossible to hand-hold; luckily, the lens has its own built-in tripod mounting point (the lens itself is heavier than the camera it was attached to, so you need to support the weight of the lens, not the camera). I kept the lens aperture set at f/16 or f/22 – it’s difficult to determine critical focus at night and at a distance, and even more so when your subject doesn’t appear for very long; the small aperture gives you maximum depth-of-field, and greater likelihood that if your critical focus point is slightly off, it won’t matter so much for the final results. I used the ‘B’ or Bulb setting for the shutter speed, and just counted off 5, 10, or 15 second exposures; naturally, this means that you’re basically hoping for the best with each shot. The subject being fireworks, however, it’s impossible to predict what the shots will look like beforehand, so you just have to cross your fingers and hope they turn out. During the more active portions of the show, I didn’t stop to check the results of each shot, and just kept sequentially shooting until the show ended.

Enjoy!

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