Monthly Archives: November 2014

Thankful

Today I’m thankful that:

  • I have a computer, internet access, and freedom of speech that lets me write this blog.
  • I am able to read and write, and have been able to get a very good education.
  • I have a comfortable place to live and loving family members to share it with.
  • I am gainfully employed in a job that pays me the same as my male counterparts.
  • I have the skills to cook yummy food.
  • I excel in multiple male-dominated fields.
  • I have a wonderful spouse who helps me do the job I do without too much worry about what’s going on at home.
  • I have a daughter who lights up my world, with an exciting future ahead of her.
  • I live in an exciting time.  For better or worse, the world keeps changing – technology, societies, cultures.  I just have to keep hoping that the better will outweigh the worse.

What are you thankful for this year?

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Book Review – The Mercury 13: The True Story of Thirteen Women and the Dream of Space Flight

Apologies for the long silence here recently.  Work travel schedule has been a little crazy – in fact, there was only one day this week where I was not on an airplane.

But all this travel afforded me some good audiobook listening time in the various car and airplane rides, so I finally got around to one that has been on my list for ages.  I have wanted to learn more about the Mercury 13 for quite a while, so I used one of my stacked-up Audible credits to pick up The Mercury 13: The True Story of Thirteen Women and the Dream of Space Flight by Martha Ackmann.

Written with a beautiful forward by journalist (and NASA journalist in space finalist, before that program was canceled) Lynn Sherr, the book tells the story of some incredible pioneering women in the early days of manned spaceflight.  Their stories are interwoven with political and social context of the times, giving excellent perspective on what was happening – and why- with astronaut selections.

It’s amazing to me just how close we came to having a female astronaut in the early days of the Mercury program.  The Lovelace Foundation privately put thirteen women through the same testing as the male Mercury astronauts, and they excelled.  In many cases, the blew the men out of the water with their performance on those tests.  Mary “Wally” Funk, for example, stayed in the sensory deprivation chamber for a record-setting 10 hours, 35 minutes.  There was also a strong argument for using astronauts who were smaller and lighter in a time when the U.S. space program was having difficulty getting larger payloads to orbit.

The frustrations, challenges, and – in many cases – outright sexism and unfairness did not deter these women.  They continued their personal careers pioneering as champion air racers, military reservists, FAA examiners, flight instructions, and commercial pilots, while also hoping and fighting for the chance to go to space.  NASA’s blanket policy of only using military test pilots unilaterally barred women.  Since women were not allowed to be military test pilots, none would ever pass that wicket  – NASA didn’t need to specifically say “no women allowed,” they just had to include a prerequisite that already said it for them.  The all-white-protestant-male face of NASA would not change for many more years, but it’s important that we don’t forget that there were women who were more than qualified and fighting to go.

The program was kept pretty quiet at the time, and so has almost been lost in history.  I think it’s important to remember these stories.  This book is a well-told story of some amazing women.  I strongly recommend reading this book as a fascinating piece of our history with examples of amazing female role models, and a good story of fighting for equality for all.

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Review: Boston Metaphysical Society

love me some steampunk and gaslamp fantasy.  And webcomics.  So I’m always happy to check out a new series or comic in one of those genres, especially one that’s appropriate for both adult and youth audiences so that I can write about it here.  This week I checked out M. Holly-Rosing’s Boston Metaphysical Society, which is both a webcomic and a series of prequel novellas.  I quickly was sucked in to the comic and enjoyed the story immensely.

It’s more on the supernatural side of steampunk – the characters deal with demons, ghosts, and monsters but there are also lightning-powered weapons and airships.  It also has flavors of historical fiction and alternate history, and you’ll probably recognize some of the characters from your school days: Tesla, Bell, Edison, and Houdini.

The art in the comic reminds me of the style in the Batman graphic novels I loved as a kid, but a little more sepia-toned to give it that Victorian feel.  The art is very well suited to the themes and storyline, and the people are drawn as fairly proportional people in clothing that makes sense for their jobs and culture (i.e. no women in strange, anatomically impossible poses with their chests falling out, but you will see some corsets and even bustles).

The characters range from the guy with an enormous upper-class superiority complex to a quiet, flawed hero with a past, to the under-appreciated genius whose station in life keeps him from being the tremendous success he should be.  There is also a talented young medium who the hero reluctantly lets assist him out of desperation.  She’s the only female character in the webcomic so far, and only a sidekick, but I have high hopes that in the future of the series she’ll get an even bigger role and continue to defy the conventions of her society.

The accompanying novella to the comic, The Demons of Liberty Row, is a prequel that gives background info on the early days of the Boston Metaphysical Society.  It’s written in a style similar to the comic so it’s just a little bit dark, and it leans towards the melodramatic.

The Demons of Liberty Row was an engaging story with interesting characters, but at first I kept finding myself distracted by the need for a heavier hand at editing.   Things like typos, repeated words, irregular use of commas, and long, run-on sentences with frequent use of semicolons made it hard to follow and focus on the story.   The ratio of exposition and description to dialogue and action was also a little high for my taste.

About fifteen pages in, though, I mostly was immersed and stopped being quite as distracted.  I was able to enjoy the really cool devices and doodads all over the home of genius Granville Woods.  I would totally give my right arm to have something like Granville’s amazing house filled with gadgets, workshops, and secret passages.  I also liked his spunky young niece, Sarah, and hope she features again.

My favorite part of the novella was how well it brought the steampunk and gaslamp fantasy genres together.  It has tons of cool gadgets and a healthy dose of mad scientists (both the sort with questionable morals and the simply angry sort).  But it also has plenty of supernatural and spiritual elements that make it a unique cross-genre story.

I would recommend starting with the webcomic, and if you are the kind of person who really likes more background info, then look into the novellas.  The comic and stories contain some violence and a bit of gore, but nothing overtly sexual or over-the-top bloody.  I consider it geared towards adults but appropriate for ages twelve and up, or possibly younger if you have a kid who likes spooky stuff.

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