Memories of the DK

The Passive Voice linked to an article in the Bangkok Post about bookstores.  For me it was very evocative.

I spent almost seven years in Thailand as a kid. I used to spend hours in the DK bookstore in Bangkok, one of the few English language bookstores at the time. It was probably not as large as I remember, but I think it was three or four stories tall, and I clearly recall where the science fiction could be found, on an upper floor toward the street side. It stocked British imprints, and I still have the Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert Heinleins I bought there, with the half-naked people on all the covers. It was always sunny and hot when I went there, and the store had a certain strange smell unlike other bookstores. I can’t describe it, but I’d recognize it if I came across it again ever. And, no, it wasn’t pot. That strange smell I finally identified when I went to college.

When we moved north to Chiang Mai, I would save my allowance and send it with my mother for a list of books I wanted her to get for me from the DK when my parent visited Bangkok. When I graduated from horse stories to science fiction and historical novels, I always needed more Heinlein and more Georgette Heyer.

I don’t recognize any of the names of the stores in the article, but I wonder if DK was a variation on or an Anglicization of Dokya.

Madeleines have nothing on the DK.

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ABA Air and Space Law Forum June 8

I am looking forward to the American Bar Association’s Space Law Symposium this Thursday, June 8, 2017, at the University Club in Washington, D.C.  The Symposium will be all day, and at 2:30 I will be on a panel called Mars, the Moon, and the Legal and Policy Implications of Human Space Exploration.  I will talk about the FAA’s human space flight requirements, pose a question about planetary protection in the context of human settlement, and maybe stray into the issues surrounding authorization and supervision of U.S. persons in outer space.

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Old Books with Awesome Covers

We’re on vacation, and I went into a bookstore in Brandon, Vermont, yesterday.  It’s called the Book and Leaf (tea leaves, that is).  It has a nice selection of books, including young adult books right at the front of the store.  It was a little upsetting that there didn’t seem to be a section devoted solely to  science fiction on the walls.  However, there are three drugstore-style book carousels that hold old, well-nigh vintage paperbacks, including pulp science fiction.

Oh, my goodness.  The covers on these things.  They’re intense, with livid colors, deranged damsels, and men with backstories.  Everyone is simmering or cowering, and there’s a lot of leaning and lunging.  So I bought Pagoda, by James Atlee Phillips. According to the back cover, the New York Herald Tribune described it as “Fierce…Swift…Electric.”  The blurb says “This is a tough, hard-hitting novel about a washed-up American flyer who gambled his life for a fortune in the broiling war-ravaged jungles of Burma.  Here are the hard-bitten and cynical men out for a quick million, and restless, avid-eyed women who are part of the winner’s spoils.”  Irresistible.  I spent a chunk of my childhood in southeast Asia, and my dad would tell stories of goings-on in Burma, so I picked it up.

It cost $5.00 plus tax (about the price of an indie e-book) and came in a nice plastic wrapper.  I felt some trepidation removing the wrapper, but finally decided I wouldn’t be able to read it unless I did.  It has that old book smell, and the edges of the pages are red and feel rough.  I’m a little afraid to read it, in case it’s better in my imagination.  I’ll report back if it’s awesome.  Read what you will into any silence.

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Book review: The Tally Master by J.M. Ney-Grimm

My friend and former college roommate J.M. Ney-Grimm just released her latest fantasy novel, The Tally Master.  Now that I’ve fully disclosed all biases, I will tell you it’s wonderful.

It’s set in the bronze age Northlands of some of her other novels, and this one is a mystery.  It’s a strange sort of mystery.  Our hero, Gael, is a former mage who now tallies the ingots for the citadel of a troll warlord who fights against the humanity that Gael was once a part of.  Gael keeps a narrow hold on his vision of his life, for it is full of questions that he would rather not face, until the day he realizes that ingots are going missing somewhere between his vaults and the smithies.  Then it all starts to unravel, as this seemingly simple problem leads him deeper into understanding his friends and all their secrets and what he himself must do with this life he’s leading.

We barrel along as all the politics of the troll citadel play out, as Gael remains ignorant of the secret of the person closest to him, and as the highly detailed, fully realized world unfolds before our eyes.  Do you ever read a book where you feel you are inside the world, not just inside people’s heads and hearts?  The Tally Master gives you that.  It also gives you a driving need, Gael’s driving need, to find out what is going on with those ingots, because the answer to that question gives you the answer to a lot more.  I’m being deliberately vague to avoid spoilers, but let me just say this one is worth checking out.

(And remember to leave a review.  If you like a book it helps the author even if you just leave two sentences.)

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Free short story by Sarah A. Hoyt

A free short story set in one of my favorite science fiction series, the Darkship universe, is available here:  Check it out.  It’s a real treat.


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Podcast for Hotel Mars Now Available

I had a fun chat with John Batchelor and David Livingstone about the Outer Space Treaty and related issues on their show Hotel Mars.  The podcast is now available on John Batchelor’s site here, where I understand it will remain for a week or two.  Just to be clear, I’m sure that I said the Outer Space Treaty was flexible, rather than that it contained loopholes. “Loopholes” makes something sound like a bug, not a feature. Also, the podcast is available permanently on David Livingston’s The Space Show site here.

If you like a little science fiction with your space law, check out Manx Prize or The Sky Suspended.

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Hotel Mars

I’m looking forward to participating in the Hotel Mars segment of the John Batchelor Show tomorrow night, Wednesday, at 6:30.  John plans to discuss the Outer Space Treaty.

UPDATE:  It turns out that was the recording of the podcast, which will show up on the site later.  I will try to provide a link when it appears.

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The Poetical Stuff

All industries have their own lingo.  The space business does.

I left my job as a space lawyer at the Federal Aviation Administration last summer.  In addition to missing a whole bunch of people, I miss the language.  I remember in Scaled Composite’s early days for SpaceShipOne, which is a rocket that launches from a carrier aircraft, I was on an email chain between my space folks and some aviation people.  One of the aviation people called the carrier aircraft the “mothership.”  With my soul full of joy and gratitude both, I thought how lucky I was to work in a job that allowed me to see some technical dude using the word “mothership.”  I’ve been in arguments over whether to call something a “spaceship” or an “orbital transportation vehicle.”  (Being a simple kind of gal, I preferred the former because it’s more easy to understand.)

But these terms have nothing on what the guys at the ranges say.  A federal launch range is one place you can launch your rocket from.  A commercial launch site is another.  Following in the footsteps of Heinlein and other science fiction writers, we call them all “spaceports.”  But I digress.  What do the guys at the ranges say that is so charming?  First, there’s the minus count.  You know, “3, 2, 1…”  Then there’s the plus count.  That’s for after the rocket takes off. There’s GO/NO GO and others.   There are lightning commit criteria, hazard zones, flight termination systems, black assets, and jettisoned stages.  The range is red.  The range is green.

The risk criteria are expressed in terms of “expected casualty.”  Most of the ranges are run by the military, after all.  When the FAA borrowed that term for its own regulations, I asked if we couldn’t use something less gruesome, like, maybe an “isolation factor”?  No way. That’s the word.  Everyone knows what it means, and this is one the lawyer doesn’t get to touch.  I didn’t even get to say “I told you so” for years, because that’s how long it took for someone else to object, and at that point expected casualty was in the Code of Federal Regulations.  One of my favorites is “exoatmospheric.”  That one’s kind of intuitive and means you’re outside the atmosphere, of course.

Then there’s the MFCO, which is pronounced mif-coe and stands for missile fight control officer.  He’s the guy who sits with his finger on the button ready to destroy the launch vehicle if it goes off course. (One of the great things about America is that there are industries where safety is achieved by blowing things up.)  We got a bunch of the MFCO’s together to interview once, to match what they did with what their handbooks said they did.  The biggest question one other person and I had was what did we call them as a collective?  A herd?  A flock?  A gaggle?  Then it came to us.  They were a murder.  No one else has picked up on this, but it’s still right.

There are other words, mysterious words you think you know because they are in English, and that is your native tongue.  But, no.  They are used differently, mysteriously, in ways not encountered elsewhere.  They are words like “support” and “tools” which mean neither support nor tools. I still couldn’t tell you what they really mean, though I might be able to use them in a sentence.

As a writer I want to use these words to add flavor to the story, to sprinkle little details that add verisimilitude and credibility and make the readers think they are there.  It’s a fine line to walk, however, for one must be able to distinguish between those that are beautiful and obvious, like the “minus count,” and those that are just difficult jargon.

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A Little Space Law on the Radio

For anyone interested in issues concerning the regulation of outer space, the link to the episode of The Space Show with me on it is at: .

The background for the very narrow point I was making comes from Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty.  It says:

States Parties to the Treaty shall bear international responsibility for national activities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, whether such activities are carried on by governmental agencies or by non-governmental entities, and for assuring that national activities are carried out in conformity with the provisions set forth in the present Treaty. The activities of non-governmental entities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate State Party to the Treaty.

A lot of people take this to mean that if you want to build a habitat on the moon or mine asteroids you need to find someone in the government to approve you.  This is wrong for two reasons.  First, the words of Article VI don’t say you can’t go without permission, just that something is supposed to be authorized.  In the U.S., Congress requires authorizations for four space activities:  satellite remote sensing, satellite communications, launch, and reentry.  Until Congress passes a law that says lunar habitats require authorization from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the lunar construction is not forbidden.

Second, this provision of the treaty is not self-executing.  It is true the Constitution makes treaties the supreme law of the land, but only if they are self-executing. If a treaty promises that the signatories shall go off and do something to carry out whatever the signatories agreed to, it necessarily requires additional action by someone in the government. In the United States, that someone is Congress.  As the Supreme Court noted in Medellin v Texas in 2008, “not all international law obligations automatically constitute binding federal law enforceable in United States courts.”

If you are interested in this topic, I discuss it extensively at my law blog and again in my testimony to the Space Subcommittee in Congress.



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The Space Show

I will be on The Space Show tonight at 5:00 p.m. EDT to discuss commercial space regulation and Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty with host Dr. David Livingstone.  You can listen at  I’m looking forward to this!

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