Sunday, May 29, 2011

BYBS: A Deepness in the Sky

Image from Wikipedia

This week's BYBS is about the book A Deepness in the Sky by a favorite author of mine named Venor Vinge.  The book takes place in the same universe as A Fire Upon the Deep and is about two groups that are interested in trading with a culture that only becomes active once every 200 years or so.

The "good guys" are an outfit called the Qeng Ho, who have an enlightened approach to dealing with other civilizations.  The "bad guys" are from a group called the Emergents, they tend to enslave other cultures that they find.  The story revolves around the struggle for control of the operation between the two groups and the role that the alien civilization, called the Spiders, play in the whole thing.

The thing about this book was that I read it at a very stressful time.  While Venor Vinge is a very capable author, the thing that I liked was that it provided a way to get out of my head during that period, something that I find hard to do in that situation.

The real skill of the writer can be seen from the way that I wasn't able to get into another book that I read at the time, Quantico by Greg Bear (sorry Greg).  If I look at them objectively, I think that Deepness might represent a more depressing subject and the premise is less believable than Quantico; but I found myself liking Deepness better anyways.  Go figure.

Or perhaps this is not so surprising, since I managed to find another of Vinge's books, Rainbow's End to be very interesting despite the fact that the main character is a mean old man who just recovered from senility and is taking some classes at a high school.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Well, at least one word in this week's title isn't an acronym or abbreviation.

At any rate, this posting is about a very cool episode of This Week in Virology (TWIV); in particular it is about HIV and some recent discoveries.  From what I could gather from this episode...

  • HIV is a retrovirus, meaning that it becomes part of the host's DNA when it infects them.
  • Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy (HAART) can essentially halt the spread of HIV.
  • It appears that HIV can infect bone marrow cells that are stem cell like in that they divide to replenish  blood related cell types.
  • When a patient goes off HAART, the progenitor cells may be able to start up the infection again as they continually regenerate the host's blood cells.
One of the really interesting things about this episode was the notion that, if a way could be found to cause the virus to replicate while stopping it from spreading, it could be eliminated from the patient's system.  It already appears to be possible to halt the spread of the virus using HAART, so the piece that remains is something to make the virus more active in the remaining cells.

Another interesting piece of information from the show was the story about an HIV patient who required a bone marrow transplant to treat cancer that they had developed.  Part of the treatment for this was to irradiate the patient to kill off their bone marrow cells, then implant new bone marrow cells from a donor.  In this case, it was a person who was naturally immune to HIV/AIDS.  After the transplant, the patient went off HAART, but their HIV infection did not come back.

One has to take these advances with a grain of salt since a) my understanding of the ideas presented is at best flawed and b) just because it is possible or even likely that some idea will work, it doesn't mean that it actually will work when it is used.

Nevertheless, I like stories like this because they demonstrate creativity and cooperation used in a positive way.  After listening to a week of regular news I can end up thinking the world is going to end tomorrow, whereas stories like this give me reason to be optimistic.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

BYBS: Argh...and I Thought of it First

Now I'm running with the "in" crowd.

I was just searching on the web for "argh" and I came across a post by Neil Gaiman.  For those of you who don't know Neil, well...neither do I actually.  But nevertheless, since he co-opted my favorite phrase, I think that it's only fitting that I should be able to call him by his first name.

Now where was I?

Oh yes, you see, I was using "argh" long before this poser showed up on the scene.  In fact as early as January of this 2011,  I was regularly saying "argh."  Wait, according to his blog, Neil wrote that in January of 2010. I was saying, I having been using the phrase long before then, and if you don't believe me, then just take a look back at this post.

Oh what-ever.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

BYBS:The Works of Steven Brust

The Man in Black.  Image from Wikipedia
Steven Brust writes a swords & sorcery series about a fellow named Vlad Taltos.  Vlad, and his wisecracking lizard sidekick Loiosh, go about on various adventures through the world of Dragerea.  One of the reasons I like the books in the Taltos series is that Dragerea seems like a well thought-out place with its own rules and history that give the impression that the story is larger than the glimpse that you get through the books.

Another aspect of Brust's work that I appreciate is that he tends to avoid creating huge, 500+ page novels that so many other authors fall prey to.  Maybe I'm just lazy, but I prefer books without quite so much fluff.

Brust also has a good sense of humor.  For example, he has a number of "deleted scenes" in his book Iorich.  In one scene Vlad has an argument with the author.  In another Vlad is just so happy then he ends up skipping through clouds of butterflies.

According to Mr. Brust, he has 19 novels in mind for the series.  To date, 13 have been printed, so I estimate that I should be OK for the next 6 years or so.  My plan is to promise that as long as he keeps writing, I won't try to write a novel.  And that way everyone's happy :-)