Monday, July 24, 2017

Just Cool It! by David Suzuki and Ian Hanington - Book Report #192

I had to slog through the first three chapters before I could enjoy what I was reading.

Suzuki has a long, rich history of making you feel shitty for being human and alive.  In this book he has taken a new direction; instead of beating you over the head explaining how thoroughly we've messed up the planet he now gives suggestions as to how to fix the problem.

Climate change is a big, messy problem but, interestingly, the solutions all exist, it's just a matter of will to fix things.

One observation really stuck out for me.  No matter where you fall in the climate change debate you can't argue with this:  even if we go all-in on expanding renewable energy and find that we were wrong about climate change we would find ourselves with a new alternative energy source AND fossil fuels.  We would have employed countless people, created new technologies, modernized our electrical systems and increased available power.  

There is no down side to this.

Suzuki and his co-author Ian Hanington, tackle solutions that can be applied to four general segments of human existence: Personal, Agricultural, Technological and Institutional.

It's that last category that is preventing us from really digging in and implementing solutions.  There needs to be political will to nurture and direct a new way of living on the planet.

I found the book to be well thought out, easy to read and understand.  It gave me ideas about changes I can make myself and opened my eyes to the infrastructure around me.

If you care about the environment or are simply interested in getting a better understanding about climate change this is a great place to start.

Recommended.

The David Suzuki Foundation website - http://www.davidsuzuki.org/

David Suzuki

Ian Hanington



Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Someone Is Stealing The Great Throne Rooms Of The Galaxy by Harry Turtledove

This story was as cute as the hamster protagonist of it.

That's right - I said hamster.

It was delightful, irreverent and fun. 

The space cadet hamster is tasked to investigate the thefts. 

Lots of puns and playing with the tropes of the omniscient narrator. 

A joy.

Harry Turtledove's website - https://www.sfsite.com/~silverag/turtledove.html

Harry Turtledove


Monday, July 17, 2017

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers - Book Report #191

Oh my goodness - what a delight!

I've been reading for decades and there are only an handful of books that I can say I was sorry to come to the end of.  This was one of them.

It ticked most of the boxes that I am looking for in SF.  I love a lived-in universe and stories about people just trying to make a living I find particularly compelling.

The Wayfarer is a tunnelling ship that builds shortcuts in space/time.  This sounds very sci-fi, but in this book, it's just a way of life, a job and it is not that glamorous.  To paraphrase something from the story, "History remembers who fought the wars and signed the treaties but nobody remembers who built the roads."

I would have been content just to read about how hard it was to construct these tunnels, or to live on the ship and to keep it maintained.  But the author gave so much more.  Reading about the varied crew members and where they came from was equally fascinating.

There was a terrific amount of world building here but none of it felt forced or ever got boring.

Chambers has created a massive world, well, a galaxy actually that I look forward to visiting again and again.

Highly recommended.

Becky Chambers - https://www.otherscribbles.com/

Becky Chambers


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Aftermaths by Lois McMaster Bujold

What a wonderful story.

In the wake of a battle in space, a two-member crew are sent to a ship that has been destroyed to scan for and recover the dead. 

It sounds dark but is just the opposite. There is a quiet dignity and caring for the fallen that I found heart-warming. 

This is the kind of fiction that works for me.  It's about "people" living and working in the future. 

The best so far.

Bujold's website - http://dendarii.com/

Lois McMaster Bujold


Monday, July 10, 2017

The Truth by Michael Palin - Book Report #190

I'll start off by saying that I liked this book quite a lot.

There was a warmth to it that I enjoyed coming back to. 

The premise of a one-hit-wonder author having a lucrative offer fall into his lap from a position of obscurity felt a bit forced. But, since I read science fiction, I am comfortable with stories that start with "What if?"

All in all it was a lovely way to spend some time in the capable hands of an author I trust. 

There were some lovely English usage that made me very happy.  Palin can certainly turn a phrase. 

Would I recommend it?  Sure.  But it does play out a little predictably.

If you're interested in reading something cozy this book is a good choice.

Michael Palin's website - http://www.themichaelpalin.com/



Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Terra-Exulta by S. L. Gilbow

This was an odd little story.  It is told in the form of a letter to the Galactic Society of Ancient Languages on how to translate Archaic Planetary English into Galactic Standard.

It told of an interesting story of colonists who have coped with and influx of indigenous life forms that caused people to become sick and die.  Strangely, the focus of the story is the creation of new words to describe the tragedy and how it is important to invent words well.

Like I said it was an odd story.  Kinda cold, kinda interesting, certainly different.

Gilbow's website - http://slgilbow.com/

S. L. Gilbow

Monday, July 3, 2017

Everything Bad is Good For You by Steven Johnson - Book Report #189

Steven Johnson the master of seeing what is underneath things and how they are connected.  Here he takes on the notion that pop culture is bad and making people dumb.

He makes a compelling case for the benefits of video games.  Not only do they improve the obvious, hand-eye coordination, but, especially with the first-person and simulator games, critical thinking and observational skills are exercised to a greater degree than people give credit.

He also takes on television, where the popular notion is that TV is just getting dumber and dumber.  The explosion of "reality" shows is often held as an example of this.  But there is something else happening in scripted television where plots are much more complex and demand a commitment from the viewer to keep up and to engage in a greater degree that the average sit-com demands.

And people are eager for this kind of engagement.  Console games are nothing like the coin-fed arcade games I grew up with.  The immersion is much deeper and this activates parts of the brain that benefit the gamer in other aspects of real life.

The book may be over a decade old but it is still relevant even if its references are a bit dated.  But those references, Lost and The Sopranos, are still being enjoyed today.  So there is something to be said about the quality of these shows.

Like anything Steven Johnson writes I come away feeling like I understand the world just a little bit better.

Recommended indeed.

Steven Johnson's website - https://stevenberlinjohnson.com/

Steven Johnson


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Life-Suspension by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

This was more to my liking.

There is a giant big alien threat that the officers of S.R.S Amaterasu are dispatched to deal with.

This could have been all about describing the aliens but instead it focused on the blossoming relationship between the commander of a fighter wing and an officer in charge of the life-suspension systems.

I liked that Modesitt didn't waste my time with explaining how "bad" the enemy was, I can take that as a given.  In the end, stories should be about people and how they are coping in a given situation.  The SF can take a back seat and be in the background and still be very effective as genre fiction.

I liked this story a whole bunch.

L. E. Modesitt, Jr's website - http://www.lemodesittjr.com/

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.


Monday, June 26, 2017

Empire Builders by Ben Bova - Book Report #188

Ben Bova has been writing my kind of science fiction for decades and I continue to enjoy every book I've read so far.

You have to approach his books with a pulp mindset.  The characters can sometimes be a bit one-dimensional which is okay with me.  In Bova's stories plot is king and characterization is secondary.  What you get are easily identifiable characters that behave and predictable ways, just like most movie thrillers.

I've been trying to read his Grand Tour series of books but he has written it out of order making it challenging to read in some kind of order.  Even the internet has difficulty putting the series in some kind of chronological order.

It is best to read each book as a stand-alone even though they are loosely connected.

In any case I liked Empire Builders, especially in a time with an Elon Musk in the world.  There are times I feel Musk has read Bova's stuff.

Dan Randolph, the owner of Astro Manufacturing loses everything and becomes a wanted criminal.  He finds his way into the underground society living on the moon where he plots his return and revenge.

I consider myself a futurist at heart and it hurts me to read about powerful people who try to prevent others from fulfilling their visions of a better place for humans by leveraging technology.  Power and money, baby!  Power and money corrupts so many minds.  Bova does a pretty good job of showcasing how powerful people control each other.

Yes, I liked the book.  But there are some flaws that many readers will have difficulty with; one-dimensional characters, obvious plotting and especially his treatment of some of the female characters will leave the reader wincing.

Overall, it still makes for a good read if you focus on the progress of humanity into space and how money can be made out there while solving some of our environmental problems.

Ben Bova


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Carthago Delenda Est by Genevieve Valentine

A message from the planet Carthage is received and delegates from every known world send a ship out to meet them.

Honestly, this was a mess of a story, which only came into some kind of focus in the last few pages. 

Once again so much word count was wasted on describing alien physiology and customs that it took too long before the aspect of a multi-generational (generations of clones) mission for first contact emerged.

This was another miss for me.

Genevieve Valentine's website - http://www.genevievevalentine.com/

Genevieve Valentine


Monday, June 19, 2017

It's Not Rocket Science by Ben Miller - Book Report #187

This was a fun play on a general science book.

Ben Miller is a British comedian and actor who has a love of science and has published two books trying the explain the complex scientific theories to the general public.

In the book he takes a stab at explaining DNA, Evolution, Black Holes, Relativity, Quantum Physics and Cosmology.

It was a refreshing approach to the subjects and I appreciated the humor infused in it.

At one point I had an "A-Ha!" moment when he explained the time paradox but then I lost it again.  The theory that time runs at different speeds depending on where you are still throws me.  Why should a clock run faster or slower if it is on a speeding spaceship or on a planet?

It is a good book to have on hand when the conversation turns to science.  It would make for an easy recommendation to somebody who is trying to get a better understanding of the large-picture aspects of scientific knowledge.

If you like Bill Nye then you will like this book too.

Ben Miller - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Miller

Ben Miller

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Mazer in Prison by Orson Scott Card

I don't really know what I think about this story.

On one side, it's an interesting take on suspended animation. Instead of freezing an individual he is put on a ship and sent out on a long journey at near-light speed.  This is to take advantage of the space/time effect that Einstein discovered. 

Then it is also a critique of military decision making and authority structure. 

There was a story of sorts in there, but I was not captured by it. 

It was a miss for me.

It should be noted that this takes place int the Enders Game series and this may be why it did not work for me.  I have not read the books.  As a matter of fact, this was my first story by Card.

Orson Scott Card - http://www.hatrack.com/


Orson Scott Card

Monday, June 12, 2017

Operation Paperclip by Annie Jacobsen - Book Report #186

This was a difficult book to get through, not because it was a hard read (I experienced it as an audio book) but because the subject matter was so difficult to digest.

The author, Jacobsen, did a staggering amount of research which I was so very impressed by.

I had a vague notion of Operation Paperclip - I knew it had something to do with the assimilation of Nazi scientists, the most notable of them all was Wernher von Braun who was instrumental in the design of the Saturn V rocket that took Americans to the moon.

But what did he do during the war?  What did he see?  What was he responsible for?

The questions were repeated many times for a surprising amount of men who were moved to the United States and exploited for their knowledge.

This book brought me to wonder just how important is it to stay ahead of the "enemy?"

Some good has come from all of this but the source material is truly terrifying and made me feel that there is no real hope for humanity.  We are so consumed with gaining power and killing each other that I wonder if there is any real hope for our species.

And much of the methods of killing, poison gas for instance, was simply added to the arsenal and perfected by the West.

I highly recommend this book.

It is truly a work that will help to heal the world that is, surprisingly, still influenced by the horrors of World War Two.

But be ready for it, Jacobsen does a commendable job of staying neutral in her reporting.  She just lays it out from the records that have been recently declassified.

It is a difficult thing to learn.

Annie Jacobsen website - http://anniejacobsen.com/

Annie Jacobsen


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Minla's Flowers by Alastair Reynolds

The protagonist, Merlin and his AI equipped ship are thrown from their flight path and have to land on a planet to make repairs.

There they discover a society on the cusp of an industrial and technological revolution.  Merlin also discovers that the entire system is threatened by a coming natural disaster and takes it upon himself to help these people.

It was an interesting story that, if you are a Star Trek fan, takes on the implication of a "prime directive."  How far should you go to help nurture progress to help a society?  What are the consequences if you succeed?

I enjoyed this story because, as the anthology suggests, this is just one small corner of a much larger universe that Merlin is part of.

Reynolds has used this character in other books so it's inclusion in this anthology does its job of whetting an appetite to discover what else he's written.

As a stand alone story it worked very well and hinted at the larger universe that is out there in the author's imagination.

Alastair Reynolds' website - http://www.alastairreynolds.com/

Alastair Reynolds


Monday, June 5, 2017

Strap Hanger by Taras Grescoe - Book Report #185

Being a daily commuter who travels by bus I found this book to be quite satisfying.

In it the author explores the rapid transit systems of New York City, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Paris, Copenhagen, Moscow, Tokyo, Bogota, Portland, Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.

All of these cities, including my own, have a combination of busses and rail as part of a larger public transportation system.

What was interesting was how some cities get the rail right and others simply don't.  It was interesting to learn how each system came about and how they evolved.


I read this book entirely on my commutes and felt pretty good about myself in that I am using a system that will play a bigger part in our lives in the future.

Not only was it informative on the subject of transit but it also worked as a travel book.  In each city the author gives a history of the city and a bit of the flavour and how the population lives.

I liked the book very much.

Taras Grescoe


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Sommelier by Catherine MacLeod

This was a warm and delightful story about a shopkeeper who provides speciality wines for those who need to remember, to feel a lost emotion, to experience a missed opportunity or to find release.

To say much more would take away from the joy of reading this story for the first time. 

It left me feeling pretty good about the world. 

I read it months ago and it has stayed with me for that entire time.  I don't know why it took me so long to post a review of it.


Monday, May 29, 2017

Star Trek: Legacies: Purgatory's Key by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore - Book Report #184

This was a fine ending to the story.

But I will be honest here, when it comes to science fiction I like mine hard.  Hard boiled is even better.  (But that is a very thin slice of the SF pie.)

Because I like my fantastic stories to be as plausible as possible I am not a big fan of; aliens with convenient "super powers", time travel, mystic powers (like the force) and alternative dimensions.

Honestly, and I am sorry if you don't agree, but these are just conveniences that allow a writer to escape from well, reality.  If you want a dose of true hard science fiction try reading The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin.  It's in the public domain and can be easily searched.  Here is a link to a PDF copy of the story - http://photos.state.gov/libraries/hochiminh/646441/vantt/The%20Cold%20Equations.pdf

Okay, the story.  Our heroes have shaken off the Romulans now they have to convince the Klingons that the work they want to do on the planet will not harm the Empire nor give the Federation an unfair advantage going forward.

Kirk and Spock have to use the Transfer Key to locate and rescue their friends from the other dimension.  Loads of time is spent showing just how strange the other dimension is, which I found exceedingly boring, but the conflict between the Klingons was very entertaining.

In the end it was the talents of Ward and Dilmore that kept me engaged.  Their sense of humour lifted the story many times when I was just about to roll my eyes.

Yes, I liked the series.  The stories were at their best when we were in our own universe  I found the characters true to their TV roots.  Interestingly I thought the narrator channelled Karl Urban's performance of Bones rather than DeForest Kelley.  But it worked for me.

I must mention the talents of Robert Petkoff who narrated all three books.  He had perfect characterisation throughout.  He convincingly channelled the original actors of the series which was a talent that needs to be recognised.  I was transported into the story by his abilities.  Excellent work.

Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore


Monday, May 22, 2017

Star Trek: Legacies: Best Defense by David Mack - Book Report #183

Book 2 of 3.

We continue with the adventure, with Captain Una trapped in the other dimension attempting to rescue her friends.

Meanwhile, the Romulans have the key and are making a menace of themselves with it by disrupting peace talks between the Klingon Empire and the Federation.

With David Mack writing the story you know there well be mayhem.  There is lots of action to occupy the story culminating in a spectacular battle between the Enterprise and a Romulan Bird of Prey.

The story mostly is dedicated to the recovery of the key and solving the mystery of its power.  There was some interesting tension on the Romulan vessel that I enjoyed a lot.

The book teed up the next and final instalment in the series nicely and I started listening to it right away.

David Mack

Monday, May 15, 2017

Star Trek: Legacies: Captain to Captain by Greg Cox - Book Report #182

Book One of Three in the Legacies series.


I liked this one, it really felt like characters jumped out fully realized.

The dialogue was perfect although there were times that I felt that Spock spoke a bit too much.  When that happened it usually was in the service of some humor.  So I found my self forgiving him.

One of the things I love about these books is how little details from the TV show or movies are used and expanded to create interest.

The MacGuffin in the story is a special key that activates an alien machine which has the ability to send a person into another dimension.

The part of the story that stretches plausibility is that this device has been hidden on the Enterprise for a very long time.  Two captains ago actually.

The story then travels back in time, to the era of Robert April, the first captain, and the adventure that brought the key to be hidden in the captain's quarters.  And, this is the part I liked, it was hidden behind a piece of art that was in the television show.

The key is behind this panel

What I found implausible was that after finding the key Robert April kept a promise not to reveal it's existence to his superiors.  Then told the next captain, Christopher Pike, about the key and the reasons not to divulge it's existence to Starfleet Command.  Then Pike did the same with Kirk. And none of them turned the key over!

Well, to be fair, they never were put in a situation where the key was a factor.  Until now...

But that is my only complaint.

I found the story a bunch of fun and I can't wait to listen to the next installment in the trilogy.

http://www.gregcox-author.com/

Greg Cox


Monday, May 8, 2017

The Aviators by Winston Groom - Book Report #181

The subtitle says it all; Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Doolittle, Charles Lindbergh, and the Epic Age of Flight.

These three men came of age just whey flight itself was born.  They were instrumental in the progression of aviation.  All were heroes.

Each man should and actually have had books written about them individually. What made this book so compelling was how intertwined their lives were.

Coming into this book I only knew one name, Lindbergh and only for his trans-Atlantic flight ("Only," let's not belittle what he did here.)

I felt rather lucky that I had only vague notions of these three men, which made the book so fascinating and entertaining.  Really, these guys lead the kinds of lives that are works of fiction today.

There is no way I can sketch a brief bio of each man and I won't try.

Let me just say that if you are even the slightest bit interested in the the history of flight and the history of World War Two then this is the book for you.  Not only will it entertain and inform but it will leave you wanting to learn more.

The period from World War One to the end of World War Two changed everything about life.  It created the lifestyle we have today.

I highly recommend this book.

I enjoyed it as an audio book but I have already placed my order for the physical book as I can't imagine not having it on my bookshelf.

Winston Groom