Harry Harrison and Science Fiction

I’m a fan of both science fiction and fantasy. These days, I end up reading a lot more fantasy than scifi though. There are two reasons for this. The first, and simplest, is that I’ve always leaned more toward the fantasy and supernatural side of things, and that tendency only grew once I discovered Stephen King.

The second, and probably more significant, reason is that a great deal of modern science fiction, in an effort to be scientifically accurate and/or interesting, tends to lose sight of the story that its trying to tell. Additionally, it frequently results in two dimensional characters, or at least ones that don’t feel very real or relatable. Sometimes, compounding this problem, the prose itself is weak or outright poor. The ideas might be wonderfully compelling, but without a strong story, characters, and at least competent narrative voice, a work of any kind of fiction is not going to hold my interest. Examples of popular science fiction authors who have failed one or more of these categories for me are Robert J. Sawyer, William Gibson, and Michael Crichton.

Scifi was always in the mix for me growing up, whether it was in whole or in part. I don’t remember a time before I knew Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and the rest of the crew of the USS Enterprise. (I had a paper model, the kind you cut out and fold into a 3D object, of that venerable starship hanging from my ceiling as a very small child.) I remember watching the original Star Trek series and, later, series like Blake’s 7. Blends of scifi/fantasy were huge, too, such as Masters of the Universe and Star Wars.

Among the very first novels I ever read that were intended for an adult audience were the works of Harry Harrison.1 He has remained among my very favorite science fiction authors for the last thirty years. He was born out of the golden age of science fiction, and though his work features much that is scientifically accurate (or what was accurate for the time), it never fails to keep the story moving and to treat its characters as more than automatons. In short, his books and stories were full of heart, humor, and wit, that, at least to me, feels sorely lacking in modern science fiction.2 Perhaps the best way to describe the difference is that his stories feel more human.3

I was thrilled over the last couple of months to find that Audible.com has been releasing a huge number of Harry Harrison’s back catalog on audio. I’ve been hoping for this to happen for quite some time. And, as a bonus, in addition to all his wonderful science fiction stories, they’ve also released his memoir.

So many classics are there, including The Stainless Steel Rat series, the Death World trilogy, the West of Eden trilogy, the To the Stars trilogy, and so on. If you are a science fiction fan, particularly a fan of the golden age writers, you owe it to yourself to experience his work. Some of his novels are lighthearted science fiction adventures, while others delve much deeper into scientific and philosophical quandaries. If you are a fan of the genre, there is almost certainly something you will enjoy in his body of work.


  1. The first novels I read growing up were The Hardy Boys, which I started reading at around age six. By the time I was eight, I’d begun enjoying Harry Harrison’s work, Sherlock Holmes, and the works of Mark Twain. I read my first Stephen Kin novel at age eleven. 

  2. While writing this piece, I started to wonder if this is partially the disconnect for me where regards Star Trek: the Next Generation. I’ve long maintained that TNG is the weakest Star Trek series, mostly because the characters feel very flat and lifeless to me. It occurs to me now that this may be due, in part at least, to the show taking a more modernistic approach to scifi in comparison to the other branches of the Trek franchise. 

  3. A more modern science fiction author who has never forgotten the human element in his work, and who is a damn good writer besides, is Spider Robinson

Feeling Ducky

I’ve documented my experiences switching away from Google services over the last few years. I couldn’t be happier with the results, and I feel like the combination of services from a variety of companies that I am now using are, on the whole, superior to what I had with Google.

Recently, two tech bloggers/podcast personalities that I greatly admire have written about their experiences switching to DuckDuckGo for web search. The first of these was Casey Liss. Casey is best known for co-hosting the Accidental Tech Podcast and Analogue (spelled the correct way.) The second was Marco Arment, Casey’s co-host on ATP and developer of Overcast, my podcast client of choice. (Marco also wrote the blogging engine that powers this site.)

These are two of the highest profile tech voices that I’ve seen talk about making the switch away from Google for search. Undoubtedly, part of why this is just happening now is that until Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite and iOS 8.0, making the switch required a bit of fiddling and too much thought by the end user. I wonder if, now that Apple is including DuckDuckGo as a default search option, we will see more users, high profile or otherwise, making the leap. I hope so. I’ve been using it almost exclusively for a couple of years now, and have never looked back.

So here’s to seeing more folks start to migrate with the ducks.

“You’ve gotta ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel ducky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”“”

(I offer no apology for the terrible joke above. Sometimes, I just can’t help myself.)

Dr. Seuss on Apple

I do not want this new iPhone,

My Razr’s fine; it’s what I own.


“But you can browse the Internet,

And play games you haven’t heard of yet!”


My Dell’s all right for the Internet,

My Gameboy’s fine for the games I get.

I don’t want to play with Angry Birds,

I won’t annoy my friends with words.

I do not want a new iPhone,

My Razr’s fine;; it’s what I own.


“But it will guide you down the street,

And suggest great places to stop and eat!”


I can just use my Thomas Guide,

And look for signs inside my ride.

My Dell’s all right for the Internet,

My Gameboy’s fine for the games I get.

I don’t want to play with Angry Birds,

I won’t annoy my friends with words.

I don’t want the new iPhone,

My Razr’s fine; it’s what I own.


“The Music app plays MP3s,

Be they Bach’s, the Beatles’, or Kenny G’s!”


Who needs that? I have CD’s,

And on the air’s good old Rick Dees.

A Thomas Guide to tell me left or right,

A Mickey D’s at every light.

My Dell’s all right for the Internet,

My Gameboy’s fine for the games I get.

I don’t want to play with Angry Birds,

I won’t annoy my friends with words.

I don’t want the new iPhone,

My Razr’s fine; it’s what I own.


“It’s a camera everywhere you go,

For shots of kids or dogs or snow!”


I can get my pics taken at the mall,

No selfies mucking up my Facebook wall.

I have my Carpenters LPs,

And a strange soft spot for good old Rick Dees.

An atlas to the interstate,

All night diners when it’s late.

My Dell’s all I need for the Internet,

My Gameboy’s fine for the games I get.

I don’t want to play with Angry Birds,

I won’t annoy my friends with words.

I do not want the new iPhone,

My Razr’s fine; it’s what I own.


“But now with a contract, the iPhone’s free!

Try it! Try it! Please? For me?”


My Razr at last gave up the ghost,

So sad; it was the phone I’d loved the most.

I guess I’ll get the free 5C,

But it will only be a phone to me.


Oh, but I suppose I’ll take pictures of my dog,

Just to post on my Tumblr blog.

That’s it. No more … oh, wait … but damn …

I kinda like this Instagram.

iTunes has the Best of Gladys Knight and the Pips?!

You know, my vinyl copy always skips.

Siri will talk me down the street?

Huh … you know … that’s kind of neat.

My iPhone helped me win that bet,

When I looked up Rick Dees’s age on the Internet.

Now I have a plushy of a disgruntled yellow bird,

And four days left to think up a word.

It’s been two days, and with a groan,

I must admit, I love iPhone.


But wait, what’s that I hear you say?

Another gadget’s on the way?


I do not want an Apple Watch,

I’m quite contented with my Swatch …


Great Reads of 2014

I’ve always been an avid reader, and the flipping of the calendar is as good an excuse as any to take a look back at the titles I enjoyed most over the previous twelve months. This list is limited to just those books that I especially enjoyed.

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve read and/or enjoyed any of these titles, so feel free to hit me up on Twitter; discussing novels is always a ton of fun.

Links provided are for the Audible.com editions.

The Bloody Jack Series

The Bloody Jack series by L.A. Meyer begins (surprise surprise) with Bloody Jack. That link will take you to the audio book edition on Audible.com, which I highly recommend. The narrator, Katherine Kellgren, provides one of the finest audio book narration performances I have ever heard, and I’ve heard a lot of them.

The series follows the adventures of Jacky Faber, a young orphan girl living as a beggar on the streets of 19th century London. Jacky disguises herself as a boy and joins the Royal Navy as a ship’s boy. The entire series, consisting of twelve fantastic volumes, is pure fun. It ranks, personally, as one of my all time favorite literary series, which is really saying something, since my taste skews decidedly toward fantasy and science-fiction.

I truly cannot say enough good things about this entire series, nor the breathtaking performance of Katherine Kellgren. It’s fun, heartwarming, suspenseful, terrifying, hilarious, and endlessly entertaining.

Prince Lestat

It’s been a decade since Anne Rice offered up an installment in the Vampire Chronicles. Prince Lestat does not disappoint. It is refreshingly new, taking our beloved characters to new places and experiences that we have not seen hitherto. Judging by a few reviews online, some long-time fans of the series have found this chapter in the saga disappointing because it didn’t retread the old familiar ground, but I loved it precisely because it was new. Not only is it new, but it feels absolutely right. It’s a natural, authentic progression of the universe Rice created, far more so than 2004’s Blood Canticle.

Revival

It’s hard to go wrong with Stephen King, and Revival is classic King.

At its core, Revival is King’s take on the mad scientist trope from classic horror tales stretching all the way back to Mary Shelly. Its sprawling timeline, spanning from the early 1960s to present day, feels genuine, with King masterfully capturing the sense and flavor of each era he includes.

Mr. Mercedes

The first entry in a projected trilogy by Stephen King, Mr. Mercedes is a mystery/thriller that is one of the most suspenseful stories King has produced in years. It will keep you at the edge of your seat, frantically turning pages, be they of the virtual or paper varieties. The second installment should be released in 2015. Only Stephen King could release two fantastic novels with less than six months betwixed them.

The Silkworm

The Silkworm is the second installment in the Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith, better known as J.K. Rowling. The series takes the very classic detective fiction genre, a class of stories most purely embodied by the indomitable Sherlock HOlmes, and places it squarely in 21st century London. Full of Rowling’s trademark wit and clever storytelling, this volume is every bit as good as the first, if not better.

The Etymologicon

The Etymologicon is a self-proclaimed “”Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language”” by Mark Forsyth. Told with a light and extremely humorous and entertaining style, Mr. Forsyth explores the origins of everyday words in the English language.

Must-Listen Podcasts

Since the release of Overcast, my new favorite podcast client, I’ve been reevaluating the podcasts I subscribe to, as well as deciding which ones are shows that are “must listens” for me, as opposed to shows that I dip into only on occasion.

One thing that I’ve noticed is that my taste, or perhaps it is my mood, for certain types of podcasts is very cyclical. I might listen to a particular show obsessively for a while, forget about it for a few months, then return … or not.

I wanted to document some of these shows here, in the hopes that it might, perhaps, help someone find a new show they enjoy. I plan on revisiting this topic periodically as shows catch, or lose, my interest.

The podcasts below are listed, roughly, in the order by which I, personally, enjoy them. All are shows that I have listened to consistently for at least six months and are still currently being produced. Great shows that have ended their run are not included.

  1. IRLTalk, Formerly Geek Friday, Is a Geek-Centric Comedy Show … Sort of. Really, It Doesn’t Matter What They End Up Discussing, and Believe Me They End Up Discussing Everything, Because It Is the Chemistry and Personalities of Its Hosts, Faith E. Korpi and Jason Seifer, that Carry It. It Took Me a Few Episodes to Get a Feel for the Show, and I’ve Been Hooked Ever Since.
  2. The Accidental Tech Podcast Is a Technology Discussion Show Hosted by the Incomparable Marco Arment, John Siracusa, and Another Guy. (Just Kidding, We All Know Who You Are Now, Casey Liss).
  3. GrammarGirl provides tips and tricks for writing, not always restricted to just grammar. Mignon Fogarty has been doing this successfully since the early days of podcasting, and is there any wonder why? This show is a fantastic resource that she manages to keep both informative and entertaining.
  4. NPR Ask Me Another is a trivia game show for geeks by geeks, featuring the music of the talented Jonathan Coulton.
  5. The British History Podcast covers British history in a fascinating, conversational way. The show’s host is engaging, funny, and an incredibly talented podcaster. There is also a members’ only feed with additional content that I highly recommend as well.
  6. The Talk Show, hosted by John Gruber of Daring Fireball, includes discussion with a range of guests on all things Apple and tech.
  7. The Frequency is a news and talk show covering stories from the real world, the tech world, and sometimes the weird world. The show is fun and entertaining. Dan Benjamin, of 5By5 fame, hosts the show with Haddie Cooke, but Haddie steals the show every time with her energy, wit, and humor.
  8. Mission Log chronicles the Star Trek franchise, one episode at a time. They’ve already covered the entire run of TOS, TAS, and the first six films. Recently, they’ve begun examining the TNG era, which is a bit difficult for me, since I find TNG to be the weakest of the Trek series. Apple fans may recognize the voice of Ken Ray on this show from the popular Mac OS Ken podcast. John Champion, the show’s other host, provides a wealth of Star Trek trivia.
  9. Stuff to Blow Your Mind provides fascinating looks into a wide range of topics, most scientific in nature, that will often surprise you. The material is great and the show’s hosts, Robert Lamb and Julie Douglas, have engaging personalities, great chemistry, and are fantastic at framing difficult or complicated subjects in a way that’s understandable to all.

Thanks to Overcast’s Recommend feature, I’ve recently been discovering new shows that I’d either forgotten about or which had just never hit my radar, so I expect this list to change and grow. For instance, I just began listening to Just the Tip, a comedy podcast that is, so far, proving very entertaining, and Mac OS Ken, a show that I used to listen to regularly and which got lost in the shuffle at some point.

If you check out and enjoy one of the podcasts above, or if you have a podcast you’d like to recommend to me, feel free to hit me up on Twitter.

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