Monday, April 24, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Armageddon's Arrow by Dayton Ward - Book Report #179

I always find the books that have come out since the end of all the television series to be a bit daunting to read.  For years it's been a lot like comic books where the stories are tightly interlaced requiring the reader to read dozens of books to have a deep understanding of what is going on.

Even after I've written those words I'm thinking that it can be no other way.  The series have continued on in book form and the characters have been allowed to grow and change.  So if I feel like I've missed something it's because I HAVE.

A long time ago a book would be written as if it was an episode of the TV series.  More recently, it's all been about the "mini-series" where one story is told over multiple books and it's those stories that made reading current titles a bit daunting.

Which is why I enjoyed reading this book so much; it was one single story contained in a single volume.  Plus, it was written by one of my favourite Star Trek authors.

In this one, the crew of the Enterprise are finally back to exploring space and are now entering a region of the galaxy known as the Odyssean Pass.  As soon as they enter the area they discover a massive derelict ship and stop to investigate it.  On board they find a crew in hibernation and all kinds of shenanigans ensue once they've been revived.

Dayton Ward can write a story that is fast-paced, packed with humour and action.  He has mad skills to keep a story going but there were times where it was obvious that he was just padding to reach a contractual page count.  At one point it took an entire paragraph just to answer the door.  I am sure he could have trimmed the book by 75 to 100 pages had he had his way with it.

I am always happy to read one of his books and I am thrilled that Pocket Books has discovered his talents.

Dayton Ward


Monday, April 17, 2017

Mars by Ben Bova - Book Report #178

The first team of humans arrive at Mars and start to explore the planet.

Things do not go as planned, of course, and the crew suffers some damage after a meteor shower.

I liked the characters who spanned all the way back to Earth.  Everybody had their own motivations which added to the tension of the story.  Some of them were just silly but I don't think it took away from the story very much.

Something begins to impact the health of the entire ground crew and the mission is threatened because of it.  I found this part of the story very clever and thought it plausible today.

There was a tantalising discovery on one excursion that was left unexplored.  It was a nice cliffhanger for the next book.

All in all I found myself transported by the story.

Given today's activity in space I feel more confident than ever that I will live to see humans return to the moon and I hope to see them on Mars too.

Bova's website is here - http://benbova.com/



Monday, April 10, 2017

Star Wars: Agent of the Empire by John Ostrander - Book Review #177

I've always been a sucker for spy stories and one set in the familiar Star Wars universe had some appeal.

Volume One - Iron Eclipse

This was a straight up action adventure similar to a James Bond movie.  Our hero is deadly, capable, smart, funny, handsome and terrific with the ladies.

It was clever and fast-paced.  I liked how Jahan Cross, our spy, bumps into Han Solo and Chewie at a critical time in the story.

He also has a droid assistant that I really wish existed because I want one.

Volume Two - Hard Targets

Here we find Jahan Cross at a crossroads where he must choose between his duty as an agent of the empire and to do what is right.

I was less a fan of this one since in centered around politics and power.  There are murders and political shenanigans that I find exceedingly dull.  It's not a fault of the writer, it's a personal preference.

A young boy is caught in the middle and his life is threatened.

I found the first half of the story a slog but I enjoyed how it all came together.  There was a nice touch of humor in the plot development that allowed me to enjoy the story as a whole.

You can find out more about the author here - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Ostrander



Monday, April 3, 2017

Undeniable by Bill Nye - Book Report #176

Yes!


This was a wonderful treat.

It was read by Bill Nye himself, who has a terrific voice and was able to inflect a lot of humour.

The book is directed straight at the creationists of the world.  It debunks and exposes all the faults in their beliefs.

Nye is never afraid to stand toe-to-toe with them and tell them, straight out, they are wrong.

Science baby!  The scientific method.  This is the route to true knowledge.

What I found endearing was how he was able poke creationists in the eye instead of simply punching them in the jaw.

The book borrows heavily from his 2014 debate with Ken Ham at the Creation Museum.  He also follows Charles Darwin's On the Origins of Species throughout.

I was cheering him along all the way through.  It was refreshing to hear somebody simply say, "You are wrong, sir."

Point by point Nye was able to pull apart every belief brought forward by creationists and exposed them for the fiction it is.

Obviously I am not a creationist so the book spoke directly to my own beliefs.

At no time did I feel Nye was disrespectful to these folks but he wasn't afraid to point out where their beliefs depart from the scientific evidence.

The debate itself can be found here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6kgvhG3AkI

Bill Nye's website is here - http://billnye.com/#home

Monday, March 27, 2017

To The Stars by George Takei - Book Report #175

Man I hate it when I listen to an abridged book.  I have no idea what I am missing.

Still, I enjoyed this version.  Who wouldn't?  I had the deep, rich voice of George himself in my ears for three hours.

Sublime.

This abridgment, not surprisingly, spent most of its time describing the Star Trek days in Takei's life.

What I personally found more compelling were his early days and the struggle he had to elevate his character, Hikaru Sulu.  It was frustrating to hear how many times Sulu came close to being promoted only to have it edited out due to on-set politics.

This was a terrific insight for any fan of the original series.  But if you are more interested in the man himself, I would suggest seeking out the dead-tree version of the book.

You can find his website here - http://georgetakei.com/



Monday, March 20, 2017

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow - Book Review #174

I found this to be a terrific book.

It was fast paced and pertinent. 

It explores how our society is moving more and more into a surveillance state.   We are inexorably losing our freedoms. 

We follow the adventure of Marcus Yallow and his friends after his hometown of San Francisco suffers a terrorist attack. 

It is a subversive novel designed for young readers to take seriously their privacy and right to use encryption. 

Interestingly, even though the story itself was very entertaining I found the essays and bibliography at the end to be just as compelling.

Recommended.

Cory Doctorow's website is here:  http://craphound.com/

Cory Doctorow


Monday, March 13, 2017

The Laws of Lifetime Growth by Dan Sullivan - Book Report #173

I needed a break from the depressing world of geopolitics and warfare.  I needed to hear about being able to take control and improve my own little world.

Years ago I went through a self-help phase and found the subject to be interesting and helpful but it can get to be a bit preachy.

I came to Dan Sullivan through Peter Diamandis and their Exponential Wisdom podcast.

If you listen to the podcast you will hear Dan's laws echoed there.

Basically Dan expands on 10 rules that help to align your attitude to expose yourself to growth.

1- Make your future bigger than you past - Dream baby!  Where do you want to go?

2- Make your learning greater than your experience - You need to feel out of your depth.  Learn.

3- Make your contribution greater than your reward - Give away your ideas without the expectation of reward, or money, or recognition.

4- Make your performance greater than your applause - If you get recognition, great!  It's a byproduct of what you do.  Don't do something just for the recognition.  You will stagnate.

5- Make your gratitude greater than your success - You got to where you are from the help and work of others.  Never forget that.  Thank them.

6- Make your enjoyment greater than your effort - This is hard.  Everybody says "Do what you love."  Not easy to do that but always try to get to that state.

7- Make your co-operation greater than your status - Related to #5 help others as others have helped you.  Don't try to steal credit.  Be about the project.

8- Make your confidence greater than your comfort -  Related to #2.  If you feel like you can handle anything that comes to you, you are not being challenged and not growing.

9- Make your purpose greater than your money - Related to #6 don't just work for money.  If you won't do something because you're not being paid enough or at all, then your focus is not on the purpose.

10- Make your questions greater than your answers - If your question leads to an answer in one or two steps you are not asking big enough questions.  Your questions should lead to more questions.

That last one is a bit fuzzy but basically it's designed to get you to keep learning.

If you keep learning you keep growing.  If you keep growing you keep living.  If your lucky, the person most surprised about your death will be you.

Is that dark?  It wasn't meant to be.



Monday, March 6, 2017

Drone Warfare by Medea Benjamin - Book Report #172

This book tied in nicely with The Next 100 Years and Wikileaks.

It was also just as depressing.

Drones, also called UAVs are remotely controlled pilot-less aircraft.  For the most part they are used for surveillance and intelligence gathering.  But they are becoming more common as hunter-killer, weaponized platforms.

It was a well-researched book and touched many aspects of their development, their use and the effects on the people in the gun sights as well as those pulling the triggers thousands of miles away.

Some of it can be quite horrifying; not only for the targeted but for the innocents that happen to be nearby to a strike. Collateral damage is much more common than we are lead to believe.

But what really strikes the heart cold is how many international laws the use of this technology breaks.  The Obama government cared little of the many extra-judicial killings it sanctioned.  With seemingly indifferent disregard to sovereign air space and laws of the domestic country it goes about targeting and killing people with impunity.  When does protection of domestic security become state sponsored assassination and, in turn, become murder?

The United States used to stand for adherence to the rules of law.

There is no doubt that the people being chased and killed are bad people and need to be stopped.  But mistakes are happening and innocent people are being killed through bad or weak intelligence and by the excessive use of force. Missiles are not bullets, they are not as precise and therefore many non-combatants are left killed, injured or maimed by being in proximity of a target.

I found the book to be one-sided.  Even though you cannot argue with the research and the facts that were revealed, the author's ultimate goal is to get UAVs banned.  The argument being that they are just like land mines, cluster bombs and poison gas; far too many innocent non-combatants are killed by their use.  I agree completely.  That said, I would like to be allowed the chance to make up my own mind on the subject.

If you're going to report on something let it be balanced.  My complaint is more about the construction of the book rather than it's content.  But Benjamin is not a reporter.

Google the author and you cannot be surprised that she spends a lot of time promoting activist groups that are campaigning against the use of UAVs.  Had she been a reporter these groups would certainly have been written about in a dedicated chapter but it would have been presented as just another aspect of the subject.

Do I recommend the book?

Absolutely.

There are so many details revealed that were surprising and frightening that I am thankful for being made aware of it. The next time I cross a border I will be sure to look up to see what is looking down on me.

Medea Benjamin - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medea_Benjamin

Medea Benjamin co-founded the anti-war group Code Pink: Women for Peace - http://www.codepink.org/

Medea Benjamin


Monday, February 27, 2017

Wikileaks by David Leigh and Luke Harding - Book Report #171

This book lined up nicely with The Next 100 Years, once again proving how the world of geopolitics strives to keep the world "safe" by maintaining the balance of power that benefits the United States.

Julian Assange is an interesting person, certainly intelligent and also just a bit strange.  That said, he had a cause he believed in and he pursued the release of classified documents with care.  He employed The Guardian, The New York Times and other publications to vet and publish the documents in a safe manner.  It was chiefly the newspapers that insisted and carried out the redaction of names and details that could possibly put innocent peoples lives in danger.

Obviously what Assange wanted to do was to expose the questionable actions of the United States and other countries.  What was surprising was how unsurprising the details were.  Perhaps we've been conditioned to expect these kinds of dirty deeds from the movies and books but it is sad and depressing to discover the truth of it.

It was interesting to discover how this level (governments and geopolitics) of society operates.  They seem unstoppable but with whistle-blowers like Assange and Snowden light is shined onto these secret dealings and perhaps change can be made.

Ultimately I just found the knowledge of this kind of power and how it is expressed, depressing.  We will never - ever - progress as a species if we keep killing and suppressing each other.

Being a science fiction reader I am constantly surprised how all we do is look at ourselves and all of our attention is focused inward and just on this planet.  If we could turn our gaze to the stars we'd discover that we are very much alone in the wilderness and need each other.  Imagine the possibilities for advancement if we focused our energies on expanding outwards.

By reading this kind of stuff I realise that we are very far away from the future of my imagination.  Thank God there are people like Elon Musk and Peter Diamandis who are trying to blaze trails despite how the world is run today.  These guys are the true visionaries.

Is it worth reading?

Yes.  If anything it should motivate people to help change the world in any way they feel best.  Protest, invent, live, change - anything will help to inspire others and to erode this backward and power-hungry world.

David Leigh

Luke Harding

Monday, February 20, 2017

Star Trek: Titan - Sight Unseen by James Swallow - Book Report #170

Meh.

I mean.  It was okay.

Two things worked against this novel; first, I read it in little bits for over a month.  It was read to fill the time at work, when waiting for a late truck to arrive; in the car, parked, while waiting for my wife to emerge from work and in the grocery checkout line.  So I never gave it a sustained reading.  That said, I never had trouble flipping through a few pages days after the last time I'd read it.

Second, this book is deep into the post-TV and post-movie era of TNG.  Most of the books are tightly interwoven and many characters have moved on, been promoted or reassigned so it is sometimes hard to catch up.

In the case of the Titan series, I think I read the first one, which came out in 2005.  Riker was then captain of his own ship.  This new book was published 10 years later and now Riker has been promoted to admiral.

The strange thing here, in Sight Unseen, is that Riker, being an admiral is still on board the Titan.  This is also the first mission since his promotion so there was an interesting tension between the new captain and Riker.  But this felt a bit forced, having not read the previous book in the series, and odd since it seem unlikely a new admiral would stay on board the very ship he used to be captain of.

This book expands from a previous episode of The Next Generation TV series, where Riker and other crew members of the Enterprise were abducted and experimented on by beings who live in subspace.

Well now they're back and abducting entire ships.  First they attack a vessel from a non-Federation species and then a Federation star ship that was sent to help.   Now Titan is sent to investigate and save the universe.

The first half of the book read like a lot of filler since the plot of the book was a cookie cutter story.  It only became interesting when Titan and her crew force their way into subspace to confront the baddies and rescue their missing Starfleet officers and destroy the threat.

The other factor that was in play here, that took away from my enjoyment of the book, is the series itself.  There is so much going on and dependent on having read the previous books that it becomes daunting to invest in them.  That is less a flaw in the author's story and more an aspect of reading tie-in books to begin with.  They are meant to reward the dedicated reader over the casual or new one.

And that is okay.  It's just that you can feel it while reading.

I don't know.

It was okay.

James Swallow - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Swallow
and - http://jamesswallow.blogspot.ca/
and - http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?James_Swallow

James Swallow


Monday, February 13, 2017

The Next 100 Years by George Friedman - Book Report #169

This was a terrific listen.

Once again Friedman put together a compelling case that predicts the United States will be the dominant political power this century.

Predicting the possible path over the next 10 to 20 years sounded very plausible.  Even though the predictions 50 to 100 years out seem too much like fiction, Friedman reminds us that our present day could not be predicted 50 years ago, never mind 100 years ago.

Once again, I found myself getting just a little bit depressed.  The power games will continue, the targets will change but the game will not.

It just reminds me that we seem to be a pointless species; we are forever taking advantage of each other.  We are not united, we war amongst ourselves and that is unlikely to change.

That's not to say that the book flawed, oh no - we are.  Friedman did a terrific job of putting his vast knowledge of geopolitics and took a careful stab at predicting the future.

I recommend the book highly.

George Friedman -  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Friedman





Monday, January 30, 2017

The World of Star Trek by David Gerrold - Book Report #168

This was the second edition of Gerrold's original insight into the Star Trek TV show.  This volume also included insights into the making of the first three movies in the franchise.

It was a terrific read.  It wasn't just gushy about how wonderful the show was.  As a matter of fact he goes into great detail to show how there were more bad episodes than good.  What made Star Trek so good was that, when an episode worked, it worked very, very well.

Even though it predates The Next Generation it is still a relevant book today.

It was interesting to read that the frustrations the fans had with NBC and Paramount are the same today with Paramount and CBS.

The book was written with warmth and love to the actors, crew and fans.  As it was admitted by the author; he is a fan as well and holds the creation in very high regard.  He blames the faults of the shows on the producers and the pressures the studios pressed onto them.

Gerrold expressed hope for more Star Trek to be produced in the future.  In the fullness of the 33 years that have passed since this edition was published we know that the franchise certainly enjoyed years of unimagined popularity with The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise.

I enjoyed this book very much and would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the show.

David Gerrold



Monday, January 23, 2017

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume I edited by Robert Silverberg - Book Report #167

I've decided to collect all the reviews of each individual story from this anthology into one post.

This may make it easier to read my thought on the book instead of trying to search out each story from the blog.

Fun fact:  I started to read this book in August of 2012.  That's right, it took me nearly five years to get through it.

A Martian Odyssey by Stanley G. Weinbaum

Twilight by John W. Campbell

Helen O'Loy by Lester del Rey

The Roads Must Roll by Robert A. Heinlein

Microcosmic God by Theodore Sturgeon

Nightfall by Isaac Asimov

The Weapon Shop by A. E. van Vogt

Mimsy Were the Borogoves by Lewis Padgett

Huddling Place by Clifford D. Simak

Arena by Fredric Brown

First Contact by Murray Leinster

That Only A Mother by Judith Merril

Scanners Live in Vain by Cordwainer Smith

Mars is Heaven! by Ray Bradbury

The Little Black Bag

Born of Man and Woman by Richard Matheson

Coming Attraction by Fritz Leiber

The Quest For Saint Aquin by Anthony Boucher

Surface Tension by James Blish

The Nine Billion Names of God by Arthur C. Clarke

It's A Good Life by Jerome Bixby

The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin

Fondly Fahrenheit by Alfred Bester

The Country of the Kind by Damon Knight

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

A Rose for Ecclesiastes by Roger Zelazny

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A Rose for Ecclesiastes by Roger Zelazny

A poet laureate is sent to Mars to translate ancient religious Martian texts.

While he is there he discovers the fate of the inhabitants and falls in love with one.

Through his experience he finds his humanity.

The poet, who was also the narrator, was an unlikable person; difficult and arrogant.

To be honest the story did not work for me.  I simply found myself uninterested in this character.

Roger Zelazny - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Zelazny#Bibliography


Saturday, January 14, 2017

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

This is a real hart-ripper.

Charlie is a mentally challenged adult working as a janitor in a factory.

One day he has the opportunity to have an operation that will make him smart.

Throughout the story he is compared to a  lab mouse, Algernon, who has had the same operation before Charlie.

You already know how this will go; whatever happens to the mouse eventually happens to Charlie.

The story was gentle, hopeful and tragic.

It was a terrific read.

But now I feel I need a breath of fresh air.

Daniel Keyes - http://www.danielkeyesauthor.com/dksbio.html

And - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Keyes




Friday, January 13, 2017

The Country of the Kind by Damon Knight

This was a quick and odd little one.

In a society where violence and cruelty have been eliminated (genetically, I suppose) what does a community do with a person who has crossed a line that is incomprehensible and thought to have been left generations behind?

Our narrator committed an act of violence as a result of passionate youthful emotion.  But because cruelty has been eliminated from society they could not imprison him and instead set him free.

He as genetically altered so as not to be able to commit the same kind of crime again but in crafting their sentence they inflicted a subtler kind of cruelty.

In the story we get to see how our narrator has adapted and learned to cope with his unique situation.

It was not one of my favourites but writing this post has helped me to understand it better.

It was certainly thought-provoking.

Damon Knight



Sunday, December 18, 2016

Fondly Fahrenheit by Alfred Bester

51/150/2016

This one really did not work for me.

At first I just found it confusing as the narrator switched from one character to the next to third person omniscient; switching perspectives, even within one sentence, from the android to it's human owner.

We follow the pair from planet to planet as the human tries to cover up for the actions of the android.

It was all a bit forced and gimmicky.




Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Inevitable by Kevin Kelley - Book Report #166

This was an important book to put today's technology and it's underlying trends into focus.

Kelly showed me how the new normal needs to be accepted, maintained and upgraded.

Staying up to date requires a constant willingness to learn and adapt.

What really hit me was chapter 5 - Accessing.  It is here that he laid out why streaming music is such a strong trend.  Without even being conscious of it we are shifting from a society that owns things to one that pays to have access to things.

The "sharing economy" fits into the world of access over ownership.  You don't have to own a car if you have access to Uber.  You don't need to buy a DVD if it is available, on demand, on Netflix.

I paid for Apple Music just to see what the fuss was about but I kept thinking that I didn't OWN the music which plays contrary to how I grew up.  You build a collection, it sits on a shelf, it's something you access and it's something that speaks to others of your tastes.

The difference is, with ACCESS to everything, you can let your imagination run wild.  You hear an old Willie Nelson song in a movie and you look it up.  You can then add the song or the entire album to your virtual collection.  If it is there.

In the fullness of time everything will be available for access.  Today it is kind of lumpy and you might have accounts with more than one service.

Anyways.  The book put the trends into focus and also gave me some idea of where things are going.

Kelley explores such subjects of AI and it's inclusion into everyday objects.  Tracking and surveillance.  How screens are changing the world.

As the subtitle says: Understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future.

The future looks pretty cool.

Recommended.

Kevin Kelly's website is here -  http://kk.org/



Thursday, December 15, 2016

Rat Catcher's Yellows by Charlie Jane Anders

50/150/2016

This was a sad/hopeful story. 

Or maybe it was hopeful/sad.

Nope.  It was sad then a little bit hopeful in a sad and defeated kind of way.

Shary is suffering from a degenerative mental disease and Grace, her wife, is coping with it as best she can.

Grace introduces her to an immersive video game that she connects to quickly.

Somehow this game connects with others suffering from the same condition.

It was a heart breaking story that will ring true with anybody who has a loved one suffering from dementia.

The collection can surprise in that there is some real depth in the story selections.  I am very impressed with the scope the editors have included in this volume.

Charlie Jane Anders - http://allthebirdsinthesky.tumblr.com/




Desert Walk by S. R. Mastrantone

49/150/2016

This is the first story in the collection that did not work for me.

The focus of it is a long-lost video game where the player is walking in the middle of the desert.  Nothing really happens in the game although the player sometimes runs across an object but mostly there is just the walking.

Somehow it is a very addictive game and our narrator plays it for hours at a time without noticing the passage of time.

He seeks out the game designer and it is there that the story takes a turn into the paranormal that immediately lost my interest.

The ending itself seemed forced and simply silly.

Too bad because it was very good until then.

I usually look for an author's web page after I've written the review.  The paranormal thing about the story should come as no surprise if you are familiar with the author; he seems to write quite a bit of it.  It is a genre I tend to stay away from, just like I do with fantasy.

In any case, you can find the author here:  http://thewrittenabsurd.blogspot.ca/