Guardians of the Phoenix by Eric Brown

Guardians of the Phoenix by Eric Brown

Guardians of the Phoenix by Eric Brown

The novel “Guardians of the Phoenix” by Eric Brown was published for the first time in 2010.

Paul is one of the last survivors of the failed colony of Paris. Every day he looks for food for himself and for the elderly woman who raised him but now the ruins of the old city are giving more and more in to the desert. Even lizards are becoming rarer and rarer, making survival very difficult.

One day, Paul discovers a group of men who are chasing a girl. He realizes that he should move away immediately but he’s too curious and follows them, albeit with caution. When he finds them while they’re eating, he realizes that the remains of the girl make up their meal. The situation becomes very dangerous when he gets discovered.

“Guardians of the Phoenix” is a post-apocalyptic novel set decades after the climate collapse pushed humanity to near extinction. The struggle for the scarcer and scarcer resources led to wars and even the use of nuclear weapons with the only result of making the situation worse.

In the 22nd century, the world is reduced to a desert with very little water in which small groups of humans are trying to survive. There are still some small towns whose inhabitants are trying to make the most of the few resources available. often there’s so little food is often so poor that cannibalism has become normal.

Among the ruins of Paris there was a small colony of survivors but over time it collapsed due to lack of resources and only an elderly woman and a boy, Paul, remained. For some time the two of them have eaten especially lizards but they’re becoming scarce too.

Everything changes when Paul sees a group of men who are chasing a girl. This not only changes the boy’s life but also of many other people after meeting with other groups of survivors from colonies around Europe. The search for resources leads them to follow the clues found in old papers that could lead to an old warehouse.

This sort of treasure hunt marks what is a pretty standard post-apocalyptic adventure. Eric Brown gives us a really bleak portrait of this future world, in my opinion pushing it too far in certain cases. The problem isn’t in its brutality because unfortunately in such a situation it’s normal that there are people who usually behaves in a violent manner. However, there are elements of this portrait that make little sense to me.

First of all, in this future, all the seas are gone but it’s unclear what happende to all the water! If anything, one of the fundamental problems of global warming is exactly in the rising sea levels. The water can’t completely evaporate so this element seems to just make the situation more dramatic.

The leader of a group of survivors blames scientists for the catastrophe but today almost all scientists consider global warming a serious problem. Politicians are the ones who are doing little about it and there are people who believe that the alarm is exaggerated or even that it’s a conspiracy. The character in question is the son of a scientist so his attitude is even more bizarre.

In general, the characters of “Guardians of the Phoenix” don’t seem well developed. Paul is a boy who’s a little wild but good-hearted and many other characters in the novel tend to follow various clichés too. One of the problems of the story for me is that the villain Hans is a concentrate of depravity and I don’t understand how anyone can be duped by him.

Throughout the story various pieces of information about the ecological collapse and the wars that followed it are supplied but with no real insights. “Guardians of the Phoenix” is mostly an adventure novel in which there’s a lot of action and drama that partly cover its faults. The pace tends to be fast making even traveling around Europe look very fast.

In the and, at the base of the story there’s the search for a hope for a future. In a world where the situation is more and more desperate, something that was left over from the past that someone despises can be the key to the survival of humanity.

In my opinion, “Guardians of the Phoenix” has more flaws than merits. It may be a pastime for fans of Eric Brown or post-apocalyptic adventures.



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The arrival of three new astronauts on the International Space Station completes the Expedition 42 crew

Terry Virts, Anton Shkaplerov and Samantha Cristoforetti during a press conference on November 22, 2014 (Photo ESA–S. Corvaja)

Terry Virts, Anton Shkaplerov and Samantha Cristoforetti during a press conference on November 22, 2014 (Photo ESA–S. Corvaja)

A few hours ago the Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and after almost exactly six hours reached the International Space Station carrying three new crew members. The Soyuz traveled on the fast path normally used.

The three new members of the crew of the International Space Station, who complete the Expedition 42 crew, are:

Samantha Cristoforetti. Born on April 26, 1977 in Milan, Italy, and grew up in Malè, she graduated in mechanical engineering at the Technical University of Munich, in Germany. She enlisted in the Italian Air Force in 2001 and in 2005 graduated and earned a degree in aeronautical sciences. In 2005 she specialized at the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training in Wichita Falls, Texas, USA. In 2009 she was selected as an astronaut by ESA and is the first Italian woman to travel in space. Her mission was called Futura. In 2013 she received the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic. She’s a fan of Star Trek and also of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy so it seems destiny that she started her first mission with the Expedition 42.

Anton Nikolaevich Shkaplerov. Born on February 28, 1972 in Sevastopol, in the then USSR and now in Ukraine, he started flying when he was very young, so much that he completed flight training on the Yak-52 at the Sevastopol Aviation Club in 1989. He graduated from the Kachinsk Air Force Pilot School in 1994 as a pilot-engineer. He served as an instructor pilot in the Russian Air Force piloting various airplane models and as a parachute instructor. In 2003 he was selected as a cosmonaut candidate and started training. He already served on the International Space Station with the Expedition 29/30 also performing a spacewalk. He’s married to Tatyana Petrovna and together they have two daughters.

Terry W. Virts, Jr. Born on December 1, 1967 in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, he earned a degree in mathematics US Air Force Academy in 1989 and a master in aeronautical sciences from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 1997. In 2000 he was selected as a pilot by NASA and was part of the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavour on mission STS-130.

According to schedule, the new crew members will return to Earth in May 2015. On the International Space Station, they’ll perform routine maintenance, a huge number of scientific experiments and will handle the arrival and departure of various spacecraft.



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Switzerland wins Davis Cup 2014



This weekend in France the 2014 Davis Cup Final was played in France between France and Switzerland.

France reached the final defeating Australia 5-0 in the first round, Germany 3-2 in the quarter-finals and the Czech Republic in the semifinals. France won the Davis Cup nine times, the most recent one in 2001.

Switzerland reached the final defeating Serbia 3-2 in the first round, Kazakhstan 3-2 in the quarter-finals and Italy 3-2 in the semifinals. This is its second Davis Cup final after the one lost in 1992.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – Stan Wawrinka

Stan Wawrinka starts the match well and has a break point in the second game but Jo-Wilfried Tsonga wins his service game. The tension is palpable but the Swiss seem to manage it better and breaks the French in the fourth game and again in the sixth game going 5-1. Wawrinka serves for the set, offers a break point but cancels it and wins the first set 6-1.

In the second set, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is still struggling to get into the match and Stan Wawrinka has a break point in the first game but the French wins his service game. But now there’s a match, the Swiss has a moment when he doesn’t serve so well and in the fourth game Tsonga breaks him. The situation seems reversed compared to the first set and the Swiss can’t win many points on his opponent’s service. The break is decisive and Tsonga wins the second set 6-3.

The third set is balanced and neither player has break points for a number of games. In the sixth game Stan Wawrinka breaks Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. In the eighth game, the Swiss has two break points which are also set points but the French wins his service game. In the ninth game Wawrinka wastes a set point with a double fault but eventually wins the third set 6-3.

At the beginning of the fourth set Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has some problems wth his service and Stan Wawrinka breaks him in the first game. The French tries to fight back but can’t even get a break point. In the seventh game Wawrinka breaks Tsonga again and in the next game closes the fourth set 6-2 conquering the match and giving Switzerland a 1-0 lead in the Final.

Gael Monfils – Roger Federer

After the firsts game dominated by the service, a very intense Gael Monfils breaks Roger Federer in the fourth game. In the fifth game, the Swiss has a total of two break points but the French wins his service game. In the sixth game Monfils breaks Federer again then closes the first set 6-1.

In the second set, Gael Monfils breaks Roger Federer in the third game. The Swiss doesn’t seem to have the reactivity to fight back and can’t problems to his opponent’s service. The break is decisive and Monfils wins the second set 6-4.

In the third set there’s more balance until the fifth game, when Gael Monfils breaks Roger Federer. The Swiss is in the match but the French show more reactivity and energy than him. In the ninth game Monfils breaks Federer again to win the third set 6-3 and to conquer the match giving France the tie at 1-1 in the Final.

Julien Benneteau / Richard Gasquet – Roger Federer / Stan Wawrinka

At the beginning of the match the services dominate until the sixth game, when Julien Benneteau loses his service game for France. The French couple can’t create problems to their opponents’ service and Switzerland closes the first set 6-3 with Roger Federer serving.

In the second set the French couple reacts and in the second game has a break point but Roger Federer wins his service game for Switzerland. In the fourth game the French have two more break points but Stan Wawrinka wins his service game for Switzerland. In the eighth game the French have a total of two break points but Wawrinka wins his service game for Switzerland. In the ninth game the Swiss couple has two break points but Julien Benneteau wins his service game for France. In the eleventh game Richard Gasquet loses his service game for France. In the twelfth game the Swiss win the second set 7-5 with Wawrinka serving.

In the third set, Switzerland has a total of two break points in the third game but Richard Gasquet wins his service game for France. In the fifth game Julien Benneteau loses his service game for France. After the seventh game Benneteau gets a back massage. In the ninth game, Switzerland has a break point which is also a match point but Benneteau wins his service game for France. Switzerland closes the third set 6-4 with Roger Federer serving to win the match and giving Switzerland a 2-1 lead in the Final.

Richard Gasquet – Roger Federer

Roger Federer starts well and in the third game breaks Richard Gasquet. The French tries to react but the Swiss plays much better than him. In the seventh game after being 40-0 Gasquet offers a break point but wins his service game. In the ninth game the French offers a total of three break points but wins his service game again. In the tenth game Federer wins the first set 6-4.

At the beginning of the second set Richard Gasquet keeps on struggling and Roger Federer breaks him in the first game. The French tries to be more aggressive but the Swiss’ back seems to be really well because in the seventh game Federer breaks his opponent again and then wins the second set 6-2.

At the beginning of the third set Roger Federer has a total of four break points in the first game but Richard Gasquet wins his service game. The French captain Arnaud Clement tries to help his player complaining on situations that are actually normal but Federer doesn’t get distracted and breaks his opponent in the fifth game and again in the seventh game then closes the third set 6-2 winning the match and the decisive point to win the Davis Cup for Switzerland.

The French hoped to have an advantage from the Roger Federer’s physical problems but they were offset by those suffered by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. There will certainly be some controversy about the players choices by the team’s captain Arnaud Clement but with hindsight it’s easy to criticize. France has several good players so the team will have other opportunities to get ahead in Davis Cup, the problem is to have them at their best.

For Switzerland this was probably the last chance to win the Davis Cup. Stan Wawrinka’s great performances in the ATP and Grand Slam tournaments convinced Roger Federer to participate and eventually they did it. Perhaps it was the last match played by Federer in Davis Cup but now that he has won one of the very few titles he lacked he and his teammates can really enjoy a great victory.

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Wilson Tucker was born 100 years ago

Wilson Tucker in 1988

Wilson Tucker in 1988

Arthur Wilson “Bob” Tucker (photo ©Judy Mays) was born on November 23, 1914 in Deer Creek, Illinois, USA. Generally he used the name Wilson Tucker for the novels and short fiction published in books and professional magazines but in fanzines he generally used the name Bob Tucker. Occasionally he used other pseudonyms.

Wilson Tucker started collaborating with the science fiction fandom in 1932 but for a few years writing was a pastime, although after a few years he started collaborating with conventions, another activity that went on for all his life. In 1933 he started working as a projectionist in a cinema and that was one of his official jobs until his retirement in 1972.

In 1937 Wilson Tucker got married for the first time, with Mary Joesting. The two of them had a son and a daughter but their marriage only lasted until 1942.

Wilson Tucker published his first science fiction story, “Interstellar Way Station”, in 1941. In that year, he invented the expression “space opera” for a certain type of space adventures. As a professional writer, in the early years he wrote especially mystery stories, beginning with “The Chinese Doll” in 1946.

In the ’50s, Wilson Tucker also started writing science fiction novels, beginning with “The City in the Sea” in 1951. Of those years his best known one is “The Long Loud silence” (1952).

In 1953, Wilson Tucker got married again with Fern Delores Brooks: the two of them had three sons and their marriage lasted until the writer’s death.

In those years, Wilson Tucker also published other noteworthy novels such as “Man from Tomorrow”, also known as “Wild Talent”, in 1954 and “Time Bomb”, also known as “Tomorrow Plus X” in 1955.

Wilson Tucker went on with both his writing career and his participation to fandom and conventions. In the ’60s he published other novels, including “To the Tombaugh Station” in 1960, the spy story “The Warlock” in 1967 until the one that is probably his best-known novel, “The Year of the Quiet Sun” in 1970, winner of a retroactive John W. Campbell Memorial Award as it started a few years later.

In 1970, Wilson Tucker won the Hugo Award as Best Fan Writer for his activities in the fanzines.

Wilson Tucker wrote a few more novels of various genres publishing his last one, “Resurrection Days”, in 1981. He kept on writing articles of critics for many more years. In 2001 he won the Retro-Hugo Award for the Best Fanzine of 1951, “Science Fiction Newsletter”. In 2004 he won again the Retro-Hugo Award as the Best Fan Writer of 1954.

Wilson Tucker died on October 6, 2006. Today probably few people would consider him among the best writers in science fiction history but in his stories he always expressed several ideas and he was very important for the decades of activity in fandom and conventions.



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A geological map of the giant asteroid Vesta

Geological map of the giant asteroid Vesta. Brown colors represent the oldest, most heavily cratered surface. Purple colors in the north and light blue represent terrains modified by the Veneneia and Rheasilvia impacts, respectively. Light purples and dark blue colors below the equator represent the interior of the Rheasilvia and Veneneia basins. Greens and yellows represent relatively young landslides or other downhill movement and crater impact materials, respectively (Image NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU)

Geological map of the giant asteroid Vesta. Brown colors represent the oldest, most heavily cratered surface. Purple colors in the north and light blue represent terrains modified by the Veneneia and Rheasilvia impacts, respectively. Light purples and dark blue colors below the equator represent the interior of the Rheasilvia and Veneneia basins. Greens and yellows represent relatively young landslides or other downhill movement and crater impact materials, respectively (Image NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU)

A little over a year ago, an atlas of the giant asteroid Vesta was presented but the analysis of the data collected by the Dawn space probe went even further. A special issue of the journal “Icarus” was all about Vesta presenting a series of geological maps that show details never seen before the characteristics of its surface.

David Williams of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University led a team of 14 researchers in a task that lasted about two and a half years. The team used the photographs taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft when it spent more than one year orbiting Vesta to create a geological map.

Vesta is probably a protoplanet that couldn’t complete its development due to the interference of Jupiter’s gravity. It’s exactly for this reason that it’s so interesting, a kind of fossil of the early history of the solar system. Unlike other celestial bodies such as some comets or some asteroids, which have remained almost unchanged for a few billions of years, Vesta suffered several impacts because it’s part of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

All of that makes Vesta worthy of the many thorough studies carried out in recent years. In the case of this geological study, the researchers studied the surface of the giant asteroid to determine the chronology of events that made it what we see through the photos of the Dawn space probe.

This work was made difficult by the fact that the researchers had only images available, not Vesta’s soil samples. For this reason they developed models based on the frequency of impacts on the Moon and asteroids. The conclusion is that the crust of Vesta has an age between 2.1 (according to the asteroids model) and 3.7 billion years (according to the lunar model).

Vesta has three very large craters. The age of the crater Rheasilvia has been estimated between 1 and 3.5 billion years, depending on the model applied. The age of Veneneia is estimated between 2 and 3.7 billion years. The age of Marcia crater is estimated between 120 and 390 million years, which means that it’s fairly recent in geological terms. Therefre those are far from accurate estimates showing that the models have to be adapted to an object different from normal asteroids and the Moon.

The researchers, however, were able to create a geological map of Vesta using panchromatic images obtained by the Dawn space probe’s framing camera. It also provided a context for a lot of information obtained by the VIR (Visual and infrared spectrometer) and Grand (Gamma Ray and Neutron Detector) instruments.

This and other research on Vesta can be difficult to understand because it’s an asteroid really far away. They’re important because the nature and history of the protoplanet left there many signs of the solar system’s history. Studying Vesta, scientists are learning something new about the formation of planets in general and those of the solar system in particular.



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CERN opens the Open Data Portal to make Large Hadron Collider data available

CERN Open Data Portal Home Page

CERN Open Data Portal Home Page

CERN has announced the opening of the Open Data Portal. It’s a new website that is part of the organization’s Internet infrastructure where the data produced by the experiments at the Large Hadron Collider will be made freely accessible to anyone. Many details of CERN’s ALICE, ATLAS, CMS and LHCb experiments experiments will be made available and among them there are those that led to the confirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson.

CERN Director General Rolf Heuer stated that the launch of the Open Data Portal is an important step for the organization. The data from LHC are among the most important assets of the LHC experiments and are beginning to be shared openly with the world. Heuer said he hopes that this portal will support and inspire the global research community, including students and citizen scientists.

The Open Data Portal was built according to the principles of openness which form part of CERN’s founding Convention. All publications related to LHC are free for everyone to read and re-use. Let’s always remember that CERN is the organization that created the world wide web and released it to the world freely and free of charge.

The first data released are those of the CMS experiment and date back to 2010, during the first LHC run. These data are now publicly available on the Open Data Portal. There’s also an open source software to read and analyze those data along with its documentation.

The primary purpose of the Open Data Portal is to spread those data to make scientific research easier for any intersted organizations. The world wide web project was also created to spread knowlsedge in a better way among scientists.

This new portal will be useful for educational purposes as well. The data are very complex but were processed in a format suitable for simple applications. In this way, they can also used by students to get progressively into the field of physics.

The Open Data Portal is built on the Invenio Digital Library open source software, the same as other Open Science toos and initiatives at CERN. This new initiative brings the state of the art of science to everyone in the most appropriate form: free and available to anyone.



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