Monday, August 3, 2015

Triumph of the City by Edward Glaeser - Book Report #140

One more in my quest for the good in the world. Here Glaeser makes a compelling and well researched argument that the city is humanity's best invention.

I came to this book after listening to the Freakonomics podcast from May 6, 2015 titled Could The Next Brooklyn Be ... Las Vegas?!  Listen to that as a good companion to the book.  You can find it here:

http://freakonomics.com/2015/05/11/could-the-next-brooklyn-be-las-vegas-a-new-freakonomics-radio-podcast/

Everything you love and hate about city life is explored; the very nature of crowds,  people bumping into each other and exchanging ideas has led to advancements in science, business and the arts. 


By compressing people and building up, instead of sprawling out we take up much less land and reduce our individual carbon footprint. 

My favourite thought came from chapter 8, titled Is There Anything Greener Than Blacktop?  "If you love nature, stay away from it."
 

He also tackles the difficult subject of cities in decline, think Detroit of today and New York of the 1970's and how cities have re-imagined themselves over and over again. 

All in all I found this book to be a fascinating read. It made me think of where my city is doing things right and where it is not.

Edward Glaeser


Monday, July 20, 2015

Virgin Galactic, The First Ten Years by Erik Seedhouse - Book Report #139

Not to distance myself too far from my science fiction roots my next book to help restore my faith in humanity was the story of Virgin Galactic.

You may have heard about Richard Branson's next way-out business venture; after the success of the Ansari X Prize Branson invested in Scaled Composites to create Spaceship Two and sell tickets to space.

The book tells the story of suborbital flight from it's beginnings and of all the challenges faced with this type of flight.

But the author also delves deeper into the challenges of the first ten years of Virgin Galactic up to and including the tragic crash of October 2014.  Getting this business off the ground (take the pun if you want) requires patience, bravery and deep pockets.  Luckily Branson has all those qualities but I fear that the entire project is in danger of being abandoned - How much more money can he put into this?

Given that I grew up watching the Apollo program, I really want this project to succeed.  As far as I am concerned there should be moon bases all over the place and we should be on Mars by now. Opening space to commercial ventures is the only way space will be truly explored.  Why?  Because there is money to be made up there!

Back to the book - found it odd.  Don't get me wrong, I liked it very much and got more from it than I expected, it's just that it felt like I was reading a paper-bound version of a Wikipedia page.  Maybe it was all the website links listed at the end of each chapter, maybe it's the output the author, I can't put my finger on it. 

And speaking about the author, Seedhouse should be wearing a cape!  Author, astronaut, ultra-long distance athlete, master's degree in medical science, paratrooper -  how can a person like this not be genetically engineered?  Maybe he will simply explode from doing so much.

I kid, but really, this guy is a modern day version of Doc Savage.

Virgin Galactic

http://www.virgingalactic.com/

X Prize - Ansari X Prize

http://www.xprize.org/

http://ansari.xprize.org/

Scaled Composites

http://www.scaled.com/

Erik Seedhouse


Monday, July 13, 2015

Around The World In 80 Days by Michael Palin - Book Report #138

If you listen to the news you must feel, as I do, that we are living in a pretty shitty place and a pretty shitty time.  The world is not like that.  As a matter of fact it is much, much better than what we are being bombarded with in the media.  I'm not saying terrible things are not happening, they are, but it's not the only thing going on.

Because I needed to let some sunshine in and feel good about things I've turned to a few books that focus on the good that people do.

To start off I returned to my hero Michael Palin.  It was way, way back in 1988 that Michael took the challenge the BBC offered him to travel around the world following the path of Jules Vern's character Phileas Fogg.  Could the journey be done in modern times given how the world had changed since the book was published in 1873?

This book is the companion to the TV series and it is best if you take the time to watch that to get the full experience.  I read the paperback edition that holds a copyright of 1999. The original hardback was published in 1989.

The book is presented as a series of journal entries and included two sets of pictures of his journey.  Not only does Palin describe the places he saw and the food eaten but he also describes his own doubts of his ability to pull off being a presenter.  He also goes to describe the adventures of his crew, lovingly called Passepartout, after Fogg's companion in the novel.

The overwhelming generosity of strangers and the openness of people is something I found surprising and touching.  A wonderful tonic to restore your faith in humanity.

Michael Palin has made a positive impact on the world.

Michael Palin has two websites.  The first one is dedicated to his travels and you can read each book on-line!

http://www.palinstravels.co.uk/

The second one is also very, very interesting if your are interested in the man himself.  Wonderful. Check out his Ramblings page.  Also wonderful.

http://www.themichaelpalin.com/


Michael Palin


Monday, July 6, 2015

Star Trek: Typhon Pact: Rough Beasts of Empire by David R. George III - Book Report #137

This is an interesting series in that it is much more an exploration of the adversaries encountered in the Star Trek universe than it is stand alone adventures from the different shows.

Each book so far, has taken individual characters out of their usual environment and entangled them into a specific culture that has been at odds with the Federation.  So far we've scrapped with the Breen, the Gorn and now the Romulans.

There are really two stories here; first, Spock is still on Romulus still trying to re-unify Vulcans and Romulans.  This was established in the TNG television shows and makes for a nice transition to the book.  The other plot line follows Benjamin Sisko as he continues to struggle to define his life and move on from his experiences in the Celestial Temple.

Both these plot lines happen at the same time as the Romulan Empire tries to avoid a civil war.

By the end of the book I have acquired a deeper understanding of the Romulan culture which will help underpin future novels.

To be honest, I'm a fan of Star Trek, but I find myself wondering how big a geek I really am.  I read these books to try and recapture a bit of the sense of wonder and excitement I got from the television shows.  This series definitely pushes our characters forward and it is those Federation characters I come to the books for.  I am less interested in the political structures of every bad guy we've encountered.

That said it just means the series is not my cup of tea -  it is not a reflection of the author's ability to write an interesting story.  In each case so far, I've wished I was following the story from the bridge of a Federation ship but I've always come away feeling like the universe has been made richer for it.  I just personally find it a bit of a slog to get through.

David R. George III

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Human Division/Episode 2 - Walk The Plank by John Scalzi

31/100

Yikes! What a gritty story.

Unlike Episode 1 we are presented here with an audio transcript of an interview from a dying man who survived an attack by pirates. (yes! space pirates! cool.)

The poor survivor thinks he made it to safety but he, quite literately, dropped from one dangerous situation into another.

I was hoping we'd pick the story up with the same cast of characters from Episode 1 but instead I found the universe Scalzi has created expanded before me.  I loved the grittiness of it.  Space is hard and it takes tough people to occupy it.

I am now a giant fan of Scalzi.  This guy can write in any style he wants and make the story a pleasure to read.

John Scalzi's website is here:

http://whatever.scalzi.com/

John Scalzi

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Human Division/Episode 1 - The B-Team by John Scalzi

30/100

Scalzi is a fantastic writer.  In no time at all he can build a believable world filled with likable characters.  The disadvantage I had with this story is that it is deep into the Old Man's War series.  But even by dropping into the middle of the story The B-Team was a small enough that I could grab on to the plot points of this particular mission and enjoy it thoroughly.

I really enjoyed this one; the dialog was crisp and fun and I particularly liked that these people were not considered the best-of-the-best which made the whole thing sing for me.  But there is a lot of information to gather to fully understand what is going on in this little adventure.  There are enormous political divisions that gives the whole thing more meaning.  Space opera is like that and space opera is good, it's just a bit intimidating knowing there are many books that I missed.

The trick is to whet a reader's appetite to dive into the world that was created.  Scalzi did a fantastic job in getting me interested in the story as a whole without taking anything away from the short story I was reading at the time.  It did it's job; it entertained me and got me hooked on the back list as well.  I will read one more from the Human Division then put it down to read the first books of the Old Man's War series.

John Scalzi's website is here:

 http://whatever.scalzi.com/

John Scalzi


Friday, June 12, 2015

Sentience Signified by J. L. Forrest from Analog Magazine, May 2015

29/100

Another first professional sale!  At least according to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database.

This was a well-realized First Contact scenario.

What I loved best was the ease the author wrote this story.  It felt like Forrest has been writing, and publishing for years; there was nary an info dump or needless exposition anywhere.  The story was paramount and details were revealed as needed an in the context of the story.  This is an author to keep an eye on.

I loved the interaction of the main character with the AI of the orbiting ship.  There was structure and protocols in every aspect of the mission that I found reassuring.  I found that I just slipped into the story without having to spend much effort getting my head around the rules and ways of the world the author created.

Lovely.

J.L. Forrest's website is here:

http://jlforrest.com/

J. L. Forrest







Wednesday, June 10, 2015

No Gain by Aubry Kae Andersen from Analog Magazine, May 2015

28/100

Another sports related story, this one made more intense in that it is at the Olympic level.

With all the testing that goes on to discover cheating how does a coach find an edge? 

An intriguing story, well written and well worth reading.   

According to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database this is Andersen's first professional published work.  Congratulations!

Aubry Kae Andersen's website is here:

http://www.akarchy.com/





Monday, June 8, 2015

Silent Night by Robert B. Parker and Helen Brann - Book Review #136

Don't let the title fool you, this novel is all Spenser and should be read by anybody who is a fan of the series.  The story only takes place during the Christmas season.

Slide, a street-kid staying at Street Business, a local shelter that tries to offers a safe place to stay and help the kids get jobs, comes to Spenser looking for his support.  Street Business is being threatend and may close, throwing all the kids back on the street.

Once Spenser and Hawk start poking around they discover that things are not as they seem and the problem is much more complicated than first suspected.

This was the book Parker was working on when he passed away.  His long-time literary agent was given permission to complete his work.  She did a wonderful job of it too.  Although the book was shorter than most of his previous novels Brann was able to channel Parker's economy of words into a fine addition to the cannon of Spenser stories.

Perhaps the only part of the story that was a bit too easy to come by was how quickly and readily Spenser was able to enlist the help of Quirk and Belson.  But, they all go back a long way and perhaps the spirit of the season made them more agreeable and willing to help.  This is a small complaint and I have no idea if that was part of the original manuscript or what Brann brought to the table.

I am still grateful that Spenser has been able to continue without Parker, he is in good hands with Helen Brann and Ace Atkins.

Robert B Parker's website is where is work is continued.

http://www.robertbparker.net/

Robert B Parker
Helen Brann


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Arnheim's World by Therese Arkenberg from Analog Magazine, May 2015

27/100

FTL and terraforming are the principal SF elements in this quite story of personal desire, professional expertise and responsibility to the greater good .

Josua Arnheim has terraformed a world for his own personal use.  He is intensely proud of his accomplishment an shares it with a close friend.  Outside circumstances put the friendship and the notion of personal freedoms to the test.  To quote Star Trek; what do you do when "the needs of the many" imposes itself on your plans?

It was a lovely story of human desire, compassion, responsibility and loyalty.  That's a lot to pack in to a short story but this one works very well.  This was a very satisfying read.

Therese Arkenberg's blog can be found here:

http://www.theresearkenberg.com/

Therese Arkenberg

Monday, June 1, 2015

Cetacean Dreams by Robert R. Chase from Analog Magazine, May 2015

26/100

Sense of wonder abounds in this story of undersea exploration on Europa.

We join a scientist and his team of dolphins who were sent to the Jovian moon to track down an elusive life form.  The story is set in and around an operational science station under the ice.  The setting feels plausible with the outside cold and pressure threatening everything.
To me, the best qualities of hard science fiction is how it takes known science and technology to the next logical step.  There is nothing in this story that you can't already see right now; best of all the author took exoskeleton technology in a new and exciting direction. 

It was a well realized story that I enjoyed very much.

For more on his other writings go here:

 http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?371


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Slider by Bud Sparhawk from Analog Magazine, May 2015

26/100

It seems some situations are universal and may never change.

A man, now in midlife, transfers his desires to his son and pushes him in directions he may not want.

I slowly realized this story was bigger than its word count.  There were some profound questions raised by it that I found myself wondering; how much have I tried to transfer to my own daughters?

Does the urge to reproduce not end with the birth of a child?  Or is the impulse a bit more sinister than that, even if it's unintentional?  Are we, as individuals, compelled to create surrogates for ourselves?  Do we implant our underachieved goals and desires into our offspring in the hopes that we can see them realized in our lifetime, even if by someone else?  Is that even fair?

A wonderful story.

Bus Sparhawk's website is here:  http://www.budsparhawk.com/

His personal blog is here:   http://budsparhawk.blogspot.ca/

Bud Sparhawk

Monday, May 25, 2015

Star Trek: Deep Space 9 - Lust's Latinum Lost (and found) by Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann - Book Report #135

I had so much fun reading this book.  It was a wonderful departure from so much of the Star Trek books that usually deal with very heavy topics and large stakes.

Here we find Quark, arguably the most "average Joe" of any character in Star Trek, searching for a rumoured sequel to a very popular holo-suite title.

Yup Quark is still trying to increase his profit at his bar on DS9.  I always found Quark to be one of the best realized characters in the show and to have an entire book devoted to him was a welcomed change of pace.  The authors nailed his voice and I found myself laughing and completely losing myself in the story.

This book is really a gift to the fans.  It is not trying to welcome new readers to the world of Star Trek but is, instead, rewarding those that are already hooked.

Buy this book.  Encourage Pocket Books to contract with these authors by making it a best-seller.

Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Zen Angel by Rajnar Vajra from Analog Magazine May 2015

25/100

I recently read a book about the Voyager missions, specifically about the messages that are attached to the space crafts.

In this story a similar device is found, this one is from another universe.  The outer message has been decoded and states that there are artifacts inside from the previous universe.  These items can be retrieved but only by species deemed worthy.

Big topic, one that would need the space only a novel can provide.

I liked the story, even though it is not my cup of tea, too many aliens, too many "magical" technologies and the premise of a competition to determine who gets to look inside the probe, well it was a bit much to swallow.  What I enjoyed most from this novella was the narrator, he was refreshingly irreverent and likable.

Even though I did not like the story itself I did enjoy how Vajra wrote.  I would like to find more of his stuff, I think he could be an author to look for.

Rajnar Vajra's website is here although it is not dedicated to his writings:   http://www.rajlessons.com/

To find out a bit more about his bibliography try going here:  http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?15728

Rajnar Vajra



Monday, May 18, 2015

Star Trek: The Original Seires: From History's Shadow by Dayton Ward - Book Report #134

Holy throwback Thursday, Batman!

Some of my favourite episodes of any Star Trek series are when they go back to a past era of Earth.

In this book Ward takes aspects of DS9's Little Green Men plus Carbon Creek from Enterprise and made it his own by following the lives of two human investigators searching for proof of alien contact on behalf of the US government.  They work from the first days of the Majestic 12 organization and through Project Blue Book.

I'd never heard of Majestic 12 (also know as MJ-12) and that's because it lives in the world of conspiracy theorists but Project Blue Book was real.  I also remember watching a TV show called Project U.F.O that followed two Project Blue Book investigators.  I was always disappointed that swamp gas seemed to be the answer behind most of the UFO sightings.  To be fair, Blue Book debunked most sightings it investigated.  Nine-year-old me really, really wanted to meet an alien.  In any case, you gotta love an author that can seamlessly blend fact and fiction to create, well, better fiction.

The story did bounce back and forth between Kirk's Enterprise and the Earth from the 40's to the 60's and made my head swim a bit.  Time travel stories have a way of spinning out of control if the author is not careful.  I did appreciate some of Kirk's musings on how time travel gave him a headache.

All in all the book was very entertaining and I highly recommend it.  As long as you have a passing knowledge of Star Trek you'll be fine.

Dayton Ward

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Wilderness by Ray Bradbury

24/100

A charming story about two women spending their last evening on Earth before they board a rocket destined for Mars.

This story is the first entry in the Fourth Planet From The Sun collection of Mars stories from the lovely people at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine.





Ray Bradbury

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Star Trek: S.C.E: Invincible by David Mack and Keith R.A. DeCandido

23/100

A classic of pure science fiction.  This story felt like a throwback to the days when the monthly pulp magazines ruled the genre.

The first officer of the da Vinci, Sonya Gomez, is sent alone on a mission the "strange new world" of Sarindar, to help the locals complete a massive engineering project.  The planet is crystalline in structure, the people are somewhat primitive and superstitious, the government is not entirely friendly to the Federation and the pervading culture is misogynistic.

This project, when completed, will help relations between Sarindar and the Federation.  This puts a lot of pressure to succeed on Sonya and she has much to overcome.

I really enjoyed this story.  Like I said, it has the feel of classic SF dressed up in Star Trek garb; what could be better?  I simply sat back and let David and Keith tell me a story.  It was a nice escape.

I was happy to see that the entire story, which was originally published in two parts, was collected here.

I must say: The Core of Engineers series is starting to hit its' stride and I am looking forward to e-cracking the e-spine of the next e-book collection of stories.
Keith R.A. DeCandido
David Mack

Collection #2