Is That an Ice Cap? New Horizons Detects First Details on Pluto

Lights in the Dark

A full rotation of Pluto and Charon, captured by New Horizons from April 12-18, 2015A full rotation of Pluto and Charon, captured by New Horizons from April 12-18, 2015

Taken from a distance of about 69 to 64 million miles – just about the distance between the Sun and Venus – the images that make up this animation were captured by the LORRI imaging instrument aboard the New Horizons spacecraft and show its first detection of surface features on Pluto, including what may be the bright reflection of a polar ice cap!

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The 50th Anniversary of Frank Herbert’s Dune

A great review of one of my favorite novels from one of my favorite series (funny how it works out like that).

Alastair Savage

Where the dunes began, perhaps fifty meters away at the foot of a rock beach, a silver-gray curve broached from the desert, sending rivers of sand and dust cascading all around. It lifted higher, resolved into a giant, questing mouth. It was a round, black hole with edges glistening in the moonlight.

The mouth snaked toward the yellow crack where Paul and Jessica huddled. Cinnamon yelled in their nostrils. Moonlight flashed from crystal teeth.

Back and forth the great mouth wove.

Paul stilled his breathing.

Like one of the massive sandworms that stretch across the desert planet of Arrakis, Dune is a vast creature. It looms over the bookcase, dark and forbidding, its very girth putting off the casual reader who dares to dabble with its 200,000 odd words. Finally, after forty years, I have dared to pick up this huge volume, only to find the novel to be a surprisingly…

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Do Fences Make Good Neighbors?

I think I’ve mentioned it before, but for those who don’t know, I work third shift. Working in the wee hours of the morning has its advantages, but they rarely outweigh the disadvantages.

One of the disadvantages is sleeping until 4 pm. When I get up, most of the day has already passed by, and by the time I’ve had a cup of coffee, my daughter is ready for dinner (she’s two, so she’s hard to argue with). Also, not only has my wife decided what needs to be done around our house, she’s already well into the project. This afternoon, I woke up to this…


Here’s the story. We bought our house 2 ½ years ago, and since then we have made several discoveries that proved that few upgrades had been made to the house since it was built in 1972. We’ve replaced windows, rewired the kitchen, installed lighting in nearly every room, and a host of other things. We have a list of improvements so long that Bob Vila and Tim “The Tool Man” Tailor (with help from Al) couldn’t complete in six months.

One of the things we’d been putting off has been replacing the privacy fence. This past weekend, however, I discovered that our privacy fence had begun to collapse. The fence has been patched, propped, and supported many times, which is what you’d expect from a fence erected over thirty years ago. (I spent one late December weekend digging holes and pouring concrete because the gate and the section that abuts the house fell over during a storm.) I’d planned to pull the fence down over the coming week, but my wife decided that she wasn’t going to wait on a graveyard shift zombie to crawl from his grave.

I have no problem with my wife taking the initiative. She was a sergeant in the Army, and I only made it as far as Third Class Petty Officer in the Navy, therefore, she outranks me. I follow her lead. My problem is the neighbors. Those to our left have a pool, so we left that side of the fence up until they can put one up of their own. We don’t know our other neighbors (perhaps because of the fence) and I don’t think we’ll be fast friends just because we can now see each other better.

While I was stacking up sections of the fence—neatly, as to not offend my neighbors—I couldn’t help but think about Robert Frost’s Mending Wall, and the old adage about good fences making good neighbors. I guess my wife and I will find out this summer, because we have no plans to put up another one.

by Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

Aqua Vitae: A Practical Recipe

by Kurt MacPhearson

Ponce de Leon sought the Fountain of Youth
upon the Isle of Bimini, but instead
he ran aground in Florida
and founded St. Augustine. Ever since then,
people have flocked south,
as if those waters bubble up from the Everglades,
or, perhaps, the dank recesses
of a central Floridian swamp—where cypress stand
a stoic watch, arms outstretched
and roots exposed like legs poised to dance
with demons driving men to drink
without fathoming their thirst for an impossible elixir,
or chemicals churning in an I.V. drip.
Such youth is stale. Like a cracker left out of the box.
Yet south they still go, as if word of this fountain
were only now trickling out
to hospitals,
to clinics,
and gated retirement blocks:
promises clutched in gnarled fists,
orthopedic shoes shuffling to a doctor’s didactic chant.
But the aqua vitae they seek
could never be extracted from a marshy bed,
or by metaphorically delving
the depths of an ailing heart.
Instead, distill legend from bitter truth:
And to this essence apply alchemical flame;
close eyes, conjure Caribbean thoughts,
then sprinkle these ashes
upon a moistened tongue.

Healing Scars Though Robot Apocalypse

I’d like to introduce a fellow poet of mine, James D. Fuson. He writes mainly in the speculative genre; however, he hasn’t allowed labels to define his work. Nor has he allowed them to define him as a person. Labels are easy to come by these days, especially in James’s case.

Image via OTIS

Image via OTIS

In 1995, James was sentenced at 17 to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He’s still there. And unless sentencing laws are changed and made retroactive, he will stay there for the rest of his life. He makes no excuses for his actions, which led to the deaths of two innocent people. He also understands that he can never make up for any of the pain and suffering he’d caused.

Because of his actions, several labels [insert your favorites] are tattooed across his back. These tattoos glow with a virulent florescence. No matter what good he does, he will most likely never outshine them. But that doesn’t stop him from trying. Even in a place as dark and morally devoid as prison.

20 Years cover

In the introduction to his haiku collection, Twenty Years: Reflections of an Empty Sky (Soft Sculpture Press, 2014), James writes:

“’Prison is not for the naive, and a kid, regardless of how much he thinks he knows or how wise he thinks he is, is not ready for it. One of two things will happen to that kid: he will either break and become part of the machine or get tough and grow into a stronger individual. Either way, prison will leave a black stain on his soul. Regardless of what he grows to be, no matter what he learns or becomes, the abuse, alienation, loneliness, and frustration will leave a scar that remains until he dies. It then comes down to this: How does he heal this scar?”

While not all of James’s work focuses on prison or other dark topics, he loves to write about apocalyptic landscapes—zombies, plagues, aliens, you name it. When we discuss collaborating, he always manages to slip in a shambling corpse or other such device that indicates humanity’s impending doom. His favorite apocalypse, however, is the robot apocalypse.

There isn’t enough robot apocalypse stuff out there. Even reading social lit that uses comparative references to genre themes, robots never come up, although the menace of heartless, emotionless, sometimes faceless, machines are a no-brainer for comparisons for some social ills. They give you that relentless, unrelateable threat to which there is no negotiation or plea. It’s scary enough when they’re our own creation, but when they come from beyond, from some unknown source, they’re even scarier. And not those robots that are a “metal endoskeleton surrounded by living tissue.” Gears and hydraulics, wires and blinking lights. Totally inhuman.

Okay, maybe a little bio-organic mass is cool; metallic grayish with some kind of moisture covering it. Whatever brings out the nightmares.

I’ve invited James to contribute to A Speculative Poetry Blog. In fact, he may occasionally appear as a guest blogger. Until then, here is a sample of James’s robot apocalypse haiku (none of which appeared in the collection Twenty Years).

giant robots
invading earth
childhood fantasy

(Originally appeared in Star*Line 38.2)

doomsday robot
unleashed on the populace
zombies scatter

fall from the sky
robot apocalypse

Dawn Emerges from the Darkness to Send New Views of Ceres

I love the term “dwarf planet.” It is much more descriptive than “humongous asteroid.”

Lights in the Dark

Animated sequence of images from NASA's Dawn spacecraft showing northern terrain on the sunlit side of Ceres. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDAAnimated sequence of images from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft showing northern terrain on the sunlit side of Ceres. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

After a brief period of silence (due to its position on the dwarf planet’s night side) NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is now sending back images from orbit around Ceres, revealing amazing details of its surface and giving another look at those mystery “bright spots” that have intrigued scientists since their discovery in 2003.

The animation above shows Ceres’ northern hemisphere as it rotated into the sunlight on April 14. The brightest bright spot can be seen in the crater at right – as Dawn was on approach earlier this year it resolved that spot into two distinct regions.

Scientists still aren’t sure exactly what those are, but soon Dawn will be getting an even better look.

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My Singularity

Image via

Image via

My Singularity
by Kurt MacPhearson

At this point, everything slows
spaghettification rends
meaning from words
as they plunge
one by one
into the

Nothing escapes

Not even the light of your heart

Scifaiku #6

Titan's seas

Image via

amino acids
in a hydrocarbon stew
Titan’s methane seas

Teach your children about Taxes – some good advice


bill murray taxes

I think he may be low balling this but we don’t want to see children cry. At least not as much as the adults when they get their tax bills.

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Poetry Slot Machine: A Triptych

Poetry Slot Machine: A Triptych
by Kurt MacPhearson

feeding                 poised                 wife
coins                     with                      bars
to a                         open sack           front
one-armed         as windows        door
grocer                   display                 I don
for                           abundance        sackcloth
promised             in                            and
cherries                lemons                ashes

I worked on formatting this for 20 minutes and I gave up trying to get the columns to match up. Oh well, that just follows along with the poem’s theme: Nothing works out like you plan.