Monday, April 20, 2015

Murmurs Of Earth, The Voyager Interstellar Record by Carl Sagan - BookReport #133

Think of the Voyager record as a time capsule from Earth of the 1970's.

The book is really a collection of essays about the creation of the Voyager record.  Which itself is quaint, knowing how technology has progressed since then. Even now, with the current resurgence in popularity of vinyl records, a person would be hard pressed to even play the Voyager record if it was available to buy.  It was encoded at 16 2/3 RPM in order to pack as much information as possible into it.

For The Future Times and Beings by Carl Sagan. I was surprised and a bit disgusted by the politics that came into the project and by some of the vitriol that was launched at the project team for what was included and what was left out.  It is lucky it was made at all.

The Foundations of the Voyager Record by Frank Drake.  The second essay tackles the difficult subject of just how you compose a message to an alien race.  There have been other instances of humanity sending proverbial messages in bottles.  Notably Pioneer 10 and 11 have plaques attached that caused much controversy because they included nude figures of humans.  In November of 1974, from the Arecibo radio telescope, a message was sent to the globular star cluster, Messier 13, which will take 25,000 years to get there.  In this transmission was an easily decode-able binary message that I thought would be quite difficult to understand.  As a matter of fact, I certainly would not be able to understand anything that has been sent so far.  I shouldn't worry about that since the intended audience are the scientific minds of unknown alien races not regular alien folks like me.

The plaque attached to Pioneer 10 & 11
The message sent by the Arecibo Observatory

The Voyager golden record cover

Pictures of Earth by Jon Lomberg: explains each individual photograph that is on the voyager record.   Here, again I was struck at how much thought went in to selecting each photo.  

There was a considerable effort in making sure each selection built upon another. Even with the nearly four decades that have passed you can get the impression that this is really a time capsule of sorts. The technology in the images has certainly moved on. But there is also a timeless quality to most of it; images depicting human beings will never be outdated. Unless we tragically don't continue as a race. 

A Voyager's Greetings by Linda Salzman Segan: was probably the most touching section of the book.  I was not surprised, by this point, that there was an agonizing amount of thought put into this portion of the project.  The bulk of this essay was occupied by a chart depicting; the language the greeting was spoken in, what was said printed in the characters of that language, the English translation, the speaker's name, the countries where the language is spoken, how many millions of people speak that language and the percent of the world's population that represents.

I was quickly drawn to the English translation column and found the greetings to be very poignant, hopeful, funny and respectful.  If I take this book off the shelf to show someone, I will most likely flip the pages of this section first.


The Sounds of Earth by Ann Druyan.  On the Voyager record there is a collection of typical sounds from Earth; volcanoes, earthquakes, thunder, wind, rain, surf, crickets, frogs, footsteps, heartbeats, laughter, Morse code, train, truck, jet and many more.

All the sounds are laid out in a chronological order of life on Earth.  My personal belief is that this may be the most confusing portion of the record, just because sound effects, on their own require a familiarity with the source.  Many of the sounds tie with the pictures and are roughly in the same sequence as the photos so there is an elegance and logic to it.

Voyager's Music by Timothy Ferris.  I'll be honest here; I skipped most of this essay.  I love music and have something playing in the background as much as possible.  (I'm listening to some Gene Ammons as I write this). I am not, however, well versed in classical music, or traditional world folk music which comprises the bulk of the music selections.  I also am very weak in the terms used to describe music and its creation, so much of the discussion here just went over my head.

I do believe the addition of music on the record to be an inspired choice. Talk about putting our best foot forward.

The Voyager Mission to the Outer Solar System by Carl Sagan.  Since this book was published in 1978 and the first encounters with Jupiter did not happen until the next year the essay is worded in forward-looking language which made reading it quite special.  Sagan speculated on what would be learned based on what was then only theorized or remotely detected.  The flybys of Uranus and Neptune were still in the planning stages. 

It is a treat to see just how well the scientist of the day predicted what they found.  I was especially taken by what they knew of Io, Jupiter's innermost moon; they knew it was orbiting through a doughnut-shaped cloud of material that was thought to come from its surface but not why.  How wonderful it must have been when Voyager showed it to be caused by intense volcanic activity.

A massive volcanic eruption on the surface of Io.

The final essay is the Epilogue by Carl Sagan. Here we get back into the romanticism of the project and where we find ourselves today (2015).  Now that both Voyager 1 and 2 have crossed into interstellar space the final question to answer is what to do with the remaining propulsion fuel?  Currently the spacecraft are headed to open space but there is some thought being made to alter course and send them to nearby star systems.

Sagan also speculated how long the Voyager records can physically last given the environment of space; radiation and micrometeorites will have the greatest influence on the durability of the messages it contains.

Final thoughts.  If you can track down a copy of this book it is well worth adding it to your collection.  I took from it a sense of satisfaction and pride from what it contained and the efforts of the project team. I can't think of a better way to introduce humanity to the galaxy.

Carl Sagan holding the Pioneer plaque.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Death in Winter by Michael Jan Friedman- Book Report #132

One of my reading goals is to read most of the post-Nemesis novels in the Star Trek universe.  This is quite the challenge, not only because there are so many books but also because the plots have become so intermixed and complex that I need a flow chart just to keep track of it.

Luckily there are two sources that offer such charts.  My favourite is from Jim's Books where he has taken the time and effort to create a beautiful map using the cover art of each book.

The other is provided by the Trek Collective and takes on the monumental task of charting all the books that fall outside The Original Series.  It's quite the head-scratcher, but also a lot of fun.


Death in Winter begins by explaining how Picard's genetic material was gathered in order to create Shizon from the movie Nemesis.

Crusher is on a mission to save a race of people who are suffering a plague while also suffering under Romulan occupation.  This is a covert operation that finds her held captive by the Romulans.  Call in Picard and two men from his past to rescue her.

The reason this book exists is to finally have Picard admit to Crusher that he loves her.  It is also the first treatment of the Star Trek universe free from the limitations placed upon authors of a TV or movie series that is still in production.  Death in Winter's job is to set up this new environment.  By doing so Friedman tells many important stories.  There is firstly the story of Picard and Crusher, which was the dullest of the plot lines that the whole book relies on to expose the other sub-plots.

Picard's two friends, from his days on the Stargazer,  Pug and Greyhorse, are re-introduced into the time line.  Tasha Yar's evil Romulan "twin", Sela also makes a welcomed appearance.  And the power vacuum in the Romulan Empire, that was created by the events in the movie Nemesis, is explored with yet more characters dredged up from the TV series.

The story of Picard rescuing Crusher was the least entertaining as it was used as a device to add exposition.  For the most part Picard and company spend a lot of time walking through snow storms and tunnels to avoid Romualn patrols.  While hiding, there was plenty of time to think about the past.

In the end, although I was disappointed with the Picard / Crusher thread, I was happy with the rest of it.  I was given a greater understanding of the bigger picture that is the Star Trek Universe.

Michael Jan Friedman's website is:

Michael Jan Friedman

Monday, April 6, 2015

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Missing by Una McCormack - Book Review #131

For 2015 I've decided to keep up with the Star Trek novels as they are published.  All but The Original Series; although I grew up with Kirk and the gang, I consider The Next Generation "my" Star Trek.  That means everything that is set in Picard's time period I will read.

The Missing takes place at exactly the same time as the previous release - Takedown.

I really enjoyed the Deep Space Nine series because it was such a rich setting for stories.  All the activity around the station makes for a wonderful mess of possible plot lines to follow.

In what felt like a slice-of-life story we find a scientific expedition preparing to embark on a deep space mission, a wandering  band of space-Gypsies, protesters demanding the release of prisoners of war, one refugee, one spy and a new alien race.


Through it all McCormack manages to mix these plots together into one novel.  She was able to capture the feel of what life on the station can be like.  It felt familiar, overwhelming and comfortable.  Through all the interactions and conflicts there was an inevitable feeling that everything will work out, somehow.  Just like life.

Reading this book was like sinking into a warm bath.  I felt like I was home again.

McCormack's website is:

Una McCormack

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Long Haul by Ken Liu

Issue 98, Nov 2014

Alternate history stories can really make you think.

Here the question of, what if the Hindenburg never crashed and burned?

There would be Zeppelins everywhere is what. 

In this story Liu shows us an impeccably realized time where a world that has embraced green energy and transportation solutions created a market for heavy-lift cargo Zeppelins. 

It is written like a magazine article where a reporter accompanies a married couple, who operate their own independent ship, on a typical run from China to the U.S.  

I loved this story, it showed what could have been just a normal slice of life. 


Ken Liu's website is:

Ken Liu

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Pernicious Romance by Robert Reed


Presented here is a mystery. What seems like a terrorist attack at a college football game has very unusual results. 

The blast at centre field was an unusual explosion. Those closest to the epicentre died but most of the 70,000 fans were knocked into a strange kind of unconsciousness. 

I liked the way the story was structured and I found it very entertaining. I could certainly see it developed as a movie. It's very cinematic in the telling and there is a lot to consider here. It's definitely something you can spend some time discussing with your friends. 

Robert Reed's website:

 Robert Reed

Monday, March 23, 2015

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Takedown by John Jackson Miller - Book Report #130

Oh my god - what fun.

It's Riker vs. Picard in a battle to save the Federation.  Yup William T. Riker is in a battle against our beloved captain.

What's going on?  Why did Riker sneak off to a super secret meeting and why is he and others from that meeting now attacking key infrastructures?

It's a mystery and a race against time to figure it all out and stop the attacks.

The novel was pure, thumping good fun.  I found the voices of the main characters were well captured and the plot felt like it could have come from a two-part episode of the TV series.

This is John Jackson Miller's first Star Trek novel and I believe we will be hearing more from him in the future.

Never a dull moment here.


Miller's website is:

John Jackson Miller

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Cameron Rhyder’s Legs by Matthew Kressel

November 2014

What a strange time travel/alternate reality story.

A rock concert is the ultimate battleground in a war to preserve True Time.

In this battle technology so advanced is used to instantly occupy and control minds.  Warriors from the future try to change the outcome of the concert by manipulating small details of the lives of people in the concert hall.

Sound confusing?  Well, it kind of is but the author does a great job of keeping the story from spinning out if control.  It's disorienting enough to make you feel like you've had one too many drinks before you started reading.

This was definitely strange and fun. 

Matthew Kressel's website:

Matthew Kressel

Friday, March 20, 2015

Dancing in the Dark by Ramona Louise Wheeler

April 2015

The ship Roaring Candle is much like a whaling ship of old; in deep space looking for comets to bring back to the home world of Tarse. The comets are then carefully landed onto the surface where water and atmosphere are extracted in a process of terraforming that has been going on for 700 years.

The story opens with them finding the biggest one yet recorded. What follows is the discovery of a cluster of such comets. This would constitute the discovery of the Mother Lode. But there is a complication when a unique form of life is discovered there.  

These lifeforms are like nothing yet imagined; and they can herald a new epoch for the planet Tarse and the humans who live there.

A bold a beautiful story.  To call it Space Opera is to diminish the scope and hope of the story.


Ramona Louise Wheeler's website is here:

Ramona Louise Wheeler

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Last Days of Dogger City by Mjke Wood

April 2015

Global warming?  What global warming?  In the future it's a freaking ice age.

Deep in the North Sea is a conglomeration of oil derricks tied together to form a city.  The city no longer produces oil, that's all gone.  Here they produce wind generated electricity and ship it to mainland Europe.

The trouble is; the ice is shifting putting Dogger City in danger.

This was a good, straight forward action piece that I found compelling.  When I read it I envisioned the same types of settings as Aliens 2.  Lots of steel and dim lighting, no monsters though.

I found the story very fun and kept me turning pages.

Well done.

According to the ISFDB this is Wood's third published story.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Astounding Armstrong by Jeffery D. Kooistra

April 2015
This was a very interesting bit of history.

Sadly there are legions of people who are forgotten in the popular consciousness.  People whose work is still felt and used today.

If you say "radio" you'll think Marconi.  

If you say "FM radio" you'll probably come up with a blank, I know I did.  

Edwin Armstrong is not a household name but it should be.  In our home and cars, we benefit from Armstrong's work.

Like so many folks, Armstrong's story does not end well.  He was defeated by patent trolls and greedy corporations.  And yet we benefit where he did not.

Take the time to read Kooistra's article.  Then perhaps read a bit more from Wikipedia. As mentioned in the article, there is not a whole bunch written about Armstrong but it is worth knowing a bit more about a man who has impacted all of our lives.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Down Please: The Only Recorded Adventure of Lars Fouton, Captain's Lift Operator on the Starship MAGNIFICENT by Adam-Troy Castro

April 2015

I just love the title.

Yes, indeed, a starship that has a lift operator. 

All the questions that pop into your mind are asked in this irreverent and clever story. 

It left me with a smirk on my face for the rest of the day. 


Adam-Troy Castro's website:

Adam-Troy Cast

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Partible by K.J. Zimring

April 2015

This was a surprising delight.  It was touching, sad and hopeful throughout.

The science in it is so subtle that is melts into the background and what you are left with is a moving story about love, missed opportunities and chances taken. 

I wasn't expecting to find such a humane story in this magazine. The author has excellent skills. I found myself thinking about it for many days. 


According to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database Zimring has not been publishing for very long.  Here is hoping for more.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Hiding the Info Dump by Stanley Schmidt

April 2015

I must say that I agreed with the writing advice Schmidt shares in this article.

In it he lays down some rules and suggestions on how to incorporate exposition without boring the reader or interrupting the narrative. 

As a reader, exposition and description can easily take me out of a story.  A good example of poor exposition, in my opinion, comes in movies that open with a blank screen and a long winded explanation of the setting in text form.  (Of course, now that I think of it, Star Wars made the text-based opening iconic. Let's call that the exception that proves the point.)  In books, I'd much rather start right in with the story by focusing on an opening piece of action or a character that will see us into the adventure.

Too much explanation (telling) takes away from the narrative (showing).  It is a difficult balance to make but Schmidt does a good job of explaining how to work non-narrative information into stories. 

I'm not a writer but I'm always interested in finding out about the art of it.   I am happy it was included here. 

Learn more about Stanley Schmidt:

Stanley Schmidt

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Transfer Point by Barry N. Malzberg and Bill Pronzini

April 2015

This was s cool story. 

Think what immigration and border control would be like in a situation like Star Trek, with many different alien species, flying back and forth to and from Earth. 

What I like best was how it gives an appreciation to current border protection services. Plus, there is also a mystery to solve. That part of the story suffered a bit from the confines of a short story.  Had this been a novella the authors would have had the space needed to flesh it out. The way it stands the resolution came a bit suddenly.

There is a certain ease and confidence in the work, you can feel it in the humour that is just below the surface.  In many ways it has a tone that reminded me of the movie Men in Black.  It is a bit irreverent without being overly so.

A joyful, entertaining work.

Here is something I've discovered from reading these short story magazines: some of the contributors have careers spanning decades and are so accomplished that I am shocked I've never heard of them before.  These guys have been collaborating since at least the early 70's and this is my fist look at them.  What an educational experience reading Analog can be.

Barry N. Malzberg

Bill Pronzini

Barry N Malzberg

Bill Pronzini

Friday, March 6, 2015

Daily Teds by Ron Collins

April 2015

This is a fun time travel/cloning mash up. 

What if you can travel forward in time? 

What if you can only travel a short distance forward?

What happens when you catch up with yourself?

Human nature and math is what. 

An entertaining and thought provoking story.

Gather your best geek friends and have each of them read the story.  Then sit down at a table together, pour your selves some drinks and start talking about it.  You'll be discussing it for hours. 

Ron Collins web site:

Analog Magazine:

Ron Collins