Iain (M.) Banks - 1954-2013

posted in Obituaries by Cargo Cult on Monday June 10 2013

My heroes are dying. I knew it was coming, but now it's Iain Banks' turn.

At least I had the chance to thank him first.

I've never been able to look at furniture in the same way since.

I think my first exposure to his writing must have been a brief snippet of the Wasp Factory, late at night on Radio 4. It involved an open brain and maggots. It was very late at night.

While at university, following various upcoming computer games, someone online mentioned that the writing for the forthcoming 'Halo' kind of resembled that from a certain 'Iain M. Banks'. Ooh, I thought, let's investigate. A trip to the nearby Blackwell's resulted in a paperback copy of Consider Phlebas - which turned out to be much superior to the unreleased digital alternatives. I commenced the reading of everything else Banksian I could lay my hands on.

I was having a pretty difficult time at university - the escapism, pitch-black humour and leftist sensibilities helped me rebuild some semblance of a functioning mind. The full spectrum of conscious thought - from the breathtakingly ugly to the brilliantly sublime seemed contained within those books.

The novels stayed as an irregular rhythm to my life, an intermittent backdrop as I started to write fiction as part of another unconventional medium - being ever-so-slightly inspired by that Mr. I. Banks, with or without the 'M.'. Additional evidence - the username I go by on many online systems. It's not just a comment on other modders' game development practices...

Eventually, I inadvertently ended up with another job as a result of those spare-time efforts. And, shipped over to the USA, I’d quietly suggest the books of this almost-unheard-of ‘Iain M. Banks’ to friends and colleagues, quietly proud as his name spread through the efforts of publishing companies and others.

The older covers for Banks books in the USA are awful. Yes, I went to an American bookshop on my first trip to the USA - where I did manage to find numerous absent-from-UK-bookshops titles from Stanisław Lem, who'd had the temerity to die just days beforehand.

I never had the chance to meet him. And now I never will. I raise a (sadly American-sized, albeit with a Black Mesa logo) pint in his honour.

Sunday Things - quick edition

posted in Links by Cargo Cult on Sunday June 9 2013

Couple of links. You get the idea!

Ariane 5 rocket-o-matic

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On-rocket video of ATV-4 launch - 20-tonne European monster carrying supplies to the International Space Station, launched atop an Ariane 5 rocket. Extra: Dix - neuf - huit - sept - six - cinq - quatre - trois - deux - un - I didn't realise they did the countdowns in French!
We get signal! ... Main screen turn off. :-(
20 Seconds on Mars - discussion of the 20-second signal from the ill-fated Soviet Mars 3 probe, the first to land (semi-successfully) on Mars.
Secret Shots of Hitler's Bunker - taken in 1987 in East Berlin, shortly before the final annihilation of Hitler's last hiding place. Had it not been possible to destroy the place, could marking it like this have been an option?

Bonus More Programming Revealed by Radio-4-Matic corner:

  • Wireless Nights - Jarvis Cocker's explorations of the night, with musings on the National Grid, organ donors, disconnected islands and so much more. Perfect for listening to late at night. Sadly not followed directly by Sailing By...

Sunday Things - anniversary and disk crash edition

posted in Links by Cargo Cult on Sunday June 2 2013

Good news! This blog has been going for an entire year, and I haven't missed a single Sunday Things.

Bad news! My laptop's hard disk has just died, taking with it numerous bookmarks I'd been collating for this week's edition. I've got full backups of everything up to about a week ago; email and suchlike is unaffected. But still, there's the annoyance factor. Curse you, Seagate! The disk's just over a month old, too...

So instead, have a somewhat curtailed, text-only antiquated British technology edition:

Bonus Sunday Things anniversary corner:

Please feel free to post prior (and new) interesting things in the comments. I'll be busy attacking my laptop with a screwdriver.

Sunday Things - ruinous edition

posted in Links by Cargo Cult on Sunday May 26 2013

Various ruins, caves, bunkers and abandoned cities for this week's edition of ... the Sunday Things!

An echo of an image fished out of a dead area of the internet.
Guardian telephone exchange - huge Cold War facility underneath Manchester, kept secret for decades and then left unnoticed for decades more until it caught fire. Somehow aptly, the best source of information I've found on the place is on a website that no longer exists. Disappointingly few full-sized images of its construction have been archived...
Possibly not the next Fallout game.
The Ruins of Villa Epecuen - Argentinian tourist resort drowned by the salt lake it was built next to, steadily re-emerging from the brine. More recent images from the BBC. via Chris S.
My name is Ozymandias, king of kings etc. etc.
Ruined city of Ani, Turkey - ancient Armenian city with a complex history, abandoned and neglected for centuries and now located in a Turkish military zone. See also: Derinkuyu underground city.
If that rock ever moves, they're stuffed.
Setenil de las Bodegas, Spain - 'The Town that is Literally Living Under a Rock'. Ancient cave dwellings turned into rather more salubrious buildings. Compare Nottingham's caves for a subdued, dampened British version. via Erik W.

Bonus Flatulent HTML corner:

  • fartscroll.js - I've somehow managed to resist adding The Onion's venture into web frameworks to this blog. But I don't know how much longer I can hold this in...

Sunday Things - Soviet space edition

posted in Links by Cargo Cult on Sunday May 19 2013

Yet more space? Indeedy. This time with post-communist leanings.

Two-thirds the mass of Mir in a single launch.
The secret laser-toting Soviet satellite that almost was - in the late 1980s, the Soviets launched an immense testbed for a laser battle platform into space, a response to Reagan's Star Wars missile defence system. Perhaps fortunately for the world, while the Energia launcher operated flawlessly, Polyus-Skif itself just span right round before immediately re-entering the Earth's atmosphere. But despite the unfortunate ending, its long-lost descendant lives on at the heart of the International Space Station... The article's author, Ms. Teitel, operates the fascinating Vintage Space blog.
The fashion police have arrived and think this operation is awesome.
Orlan Space Suit Training - one of ESA's newest astronauts, Samantha Cristoforetti, being trained in the operation of an Orlan space suit. The suits haven't vastly changed since Soviet times. Rugged, reliable and far easier and quicker to don than the NASA equivalents. And I still haven't found out why they're always a certain off-white putty colour.
The diving bell and the butterfly, floating down through the Venusian murk.
Venera: The Soviet Exploration of Venus - the Soviets (and subsequently the Russians) never had much luck with exploring Mars, but excelled at Venus. Multiple landers making it down to a surface which would make Hell seem hospitable, Don P. Mitchell's website is a treasure trove of near-forgotten information. Definitely look at his reconstructions of surface imagery from original data!

Bonus 2001: A Children's Odyssey corner:

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey - Howard Johnsons Children's Menu - gloriously confused retelling of the film, from 1968. One of my first memories is of watching 2001 on telly. Given how much I remembered of it, from ape-men to EVA pods to space-baby, I must have seen all of it. Aged four. This probably explains a lot.