Monday, September 26, 2016

The Soyuz Files - A Podcast Review

This may seem like a bit of a departure but I assure you it really isn't.

I have included audio books mostly because they have been readings of actual books.  But I am also a fan of good story telling and The Soyuz Files is definitely a very good story.

Any good science fiction will try to answer the question, "What if?"

What if the Soviet Union won the race to the moon?

What would that have looked like?  What would the ramifications have been?  How different would the world be?

In this wonderful audio drama the Soviets land on the moon on October 31, 1968.

Through a series of investigative reports from November 1, 1968 to July 18, 1969 (right in the middle of Apollo 11's actual mission, by the way) we learn of a conspiracy surrounding the Soviet landing.

The whole story is told over six episodes.  Podcasts are well suited for serialized stories and I found myslef binging on this one.  The sound quality is terrific and the acting is top notch.

I highly recommend this series.

The official website is here:  http://www.soyuzfiles.com/

You can also find it in iTunes here:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-soyuz-files/id1122132725?mt=2

If you are interested in real space adventures you should check out Planetary Radio, also a podcast, there you will learn all about what is happening in space right now.   There is a lot going on.

Planetary Radio can be found here:

http://www.planetary.org/multimedia/planetary-radio/

Ad Astra people!







Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Little Black Bag - A Short Story Review

29/150/2016

A little bit of time travel coupled with a little bit of dystopian present.  With the present being the 1940's

What happens to a down-on-his luck family doctor when a highly advanced doctors' black bag is sent to him from the future?

At first the author sets up a pretty bleak future for mankind but then never really follows up on it.  He does, however, present us with a hopeful look at what can happen when a person's self-esteem is restored.

A good read.



C. M. Kornbluth




Monday, September 19, 2016

Sahara by Michael Palin - Book Report #162

13/15/2016

What a wonderful opportunity to enjoy a book by the likes of Michael Palin and to have it read by to you by the man himself.

His voice lends itself to narration so well that I was sad when it was all over.

As in most of these kinds of journeys the trips seldom come about without a hitch, detours are encountered, weather, borders, conflicts, bureaucracy, breakdowns and scheduling all come to play in this circumnavigation of the great Sahara desert.

After listening to parts of the audio book I would spend time with the large format coffee table book and peruse the pictures to actually see whet Palin described.

But it is the people that join him along the way that makes this story so special.  The generosity of strangers to the traveler has shown itself in his and many other travel writers to be consistent through the world.

People are generally open and inviting and even eager to share their way of life.  It just goes to show that governments do not necessarily represent the people of a particular region.

We are more alike than we are led to believe.

That is the power of these kinds of travels: to show us that we are all human.

Recommended.




Saturday, September 17, 2016

Mars is Heaven! by Ray Bradbury - A Short Story Review

28/150/216

This was a fun story, then creepy.

A mission to Mars!

A landing on Mars!  In the middle of an American small town!

Excuse me?  What?

The air is breathable too.  The captain and two officers leave the ship to investigate.  What they find is peculiar to say the least.  While they try to rationalize what they see I was left with the feeling that something was terribly wrong here.

When the captain figures it out, well, it's a bit too late.

The only problem that I had with the story came from the first paragraph, where it stated that this was the third mission to the planet.  How could they not have communicated with the firs two missions?

The only explanation I can come up with comes from the publication date, 1948.  Sputnik launched in 1957 and Echo 1 not until 1960.  At that time only radio and the telephone provided the quickest communications.  But without the infrastructure of wires and radio towers, even terrestrial exploration would go months without communication with the outside world, so why not a trip to Mars?

Reading these old stories has to come with a certain forgiveness because they are a product of their times.

This was an excellent story.

Ray Bradbury website - http://www.raybradbury.com/


Ray Bradbury


Planet Stories Fall 1948


Monday, September 12, 2016

Red Rover by Roger Wiens - Book Report #161

13/15/2016

This a a fascinating story of how one particular science package, ChemCam, came to be built and installed on the Mars Curiosity rover.

What you will come away with is the incredible journey an instrument takes from concept, approval, build, installation and operation.  I was impressed at the dedication and effort that goes into such a project.  For years prior to launch there is a constant struggle for funding and crating the best possible science instrument that can be made.

Don't think for one minute that instruments are built from off the shelf components.  Everything is on the bleeding edge of engineering.  There is nothing about Curiosity that is ordinary.

When you consider the efforts of the ChemCam team is repeated by every other team that has an instrument on the rover AND the team that built the rover itself AND all the components it took to get it to Mars, I was left wondering how anything actually gets built, flown and operated at all.

Usually the public is let in on the launch and landing days, but there is about a decade of work that has happened before the rocket is launched.

Roger Wiens

 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Eat for Health by Joel Fuhrman, M.D. - Book Review #160

12/15/2016

A while back I watched a movie called, Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead by Joe Cross.  In the movie Cross regains his health by going on a fresh juice fast for 60 days.  It was so inspiring that I went out and bought a juicer of my own.

I made maybe a dozen juices but kept thinking to myself that I would rather eat all that good food than drink it.  I went back to the movie and found an interview that caught my attention, it was with Dr. Joel Fuhrman who is the author of a best-selling book called Eat To Live.  Through exploring his bibliography I found the book that has changed my life: Eat for Health.

Instead of being a diet book, it is more a eating lifestyle manual.

I have tried many diets before and always kept thinking that there simply must be a better way to eat.  But with all the conflicting information out there it is easy to run onto the wrong track and simply gain weight year after year.

Like Joe Cross of the film, I was getting sick; overweight, a high-normal blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, sleep apnea and sore joints, I was well on my way to a life of pharmaceutical solutions.  I didn't want to have a bunch of pill bottles in my life.

It was in Fuhrman's book that he laid out a simple mind-set to food choice; what delivers the most nutrients per calorie?  If you look at the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients the body needs you need to choose the ones that provide the most for the least calories.  Natural foods tend to be low in calories as a matter of course so the calorie side of the decision making really does not enter into it.

I did not jump right into his eating plan but gradually introduced more and more nutrient rich foods while scaling back, and eventually eliminating, the nutrient poor ones.  He even has a three step plan on how to slowly move away from the traditional North American diet to one rich with plant-based foods.

It is in no way a vegetarian diet but you'd be surprised at just how much vegetarian foods go into this healthy way of eating.  To be honest it feels like I get to eat way more food than before.  However, it is a lot more work.  I have never spent so much time in front of my cutting board preparing fruits and veggies and making meals from scratch.

I've been working on this eating plan for six or seven weeks now and have dropped 25 pounds; from 243 lbs to 218 as of this writing.  ( Saturday, August 20, 2016 )  I don't feel deprived and I can indulge in a pizza and beer night once in a while without feeling guilty about it.  And that is the key to this kind of thing; don't beat yourself up if you fall off the wagon once in a while, just get back on the next day.

I borrowed the book from the public library and will soon by purchasing a copy of my own.  My wife is impressed with my progress and is thinking about following the plan too.

Highly recommended.

Dr. Joel Fuhrman



Monday, August 29, 2016

Orbital Decay by Allen Steele - Book Review #159

11/15/2016

Published in 1989 it is impressive how believable the story was. It was especially fun to look at '89's version of 2014 as I read in in 2016.  In Steele's universe there is far more commercial activity in orbit than there is presently but it is described just as things are being imagined today.

One plot point is the orbit insertion of a satellite known as Big Ear; designed to listen in on domestic telephone conversations, to combat terrorism, and run by the NSA.  Pretty spot on except, in reality,  they figured out how to do that without the orbiting hardware.

The station is populated by all kinds of misfits who are running away from parts of their lives on Earth.  They are also suffering from some form of cabin fever being essentially trapped in their work camp.

I was hoping for a bit more of the construction of the power satellite that is in background of the story.  Not that a whole novel could be hung on that element but I still would have loved to read about the nuts and bolts of the building of such a difficult and large project.

In any case I was very impressed and just how close Steele came to reality and I did enjoy how gritty and funny it could be.  It doesn't matter where you put folks; people will be people no matter what.  They may be in space but they are still dealing with the same old problems and just trying to get by.

Recommended.

The inner cover

Allen Steele




Monday, August 22, 2016

Sin City - The Hard Goodbye by Frank Miller - Volume One

Oh, my.

This was fantastic.  Such a dark story with a likable bad guy.  This is the story of how Marv uncovers the mystery of the murder of a hooker with a heart of gold.  Oh yea, and her name is Goldie.

Sure it's a cliche, but that is the point.  Get over it and enjoy the heightened emotion and a leading man who is unique and interesting.  It is a very violent comic, but isn't that what noir fiction is supposed to be like?  

The art was striking; black and white with no grey and razor-sharp lines. I don't know how much black ink it took to print but it must have set a record.  

Everything about this book is unique and I was sold by the third page.

I am looking forward to reading volume two.

Frank Miller

Monday, July 4, 2016

Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson - Book Report #158

10/15/2016

Oh my god.  What a terrible book.  This has got to be the worst thing I have slogged through in years.

Robinson continues his exploration of a plot-less, meandering, point-less, navel-gazing, landscape-describing, list making and thesaurus using non-story of what should have been a compelling tale of humans moving beyond Earth.

The amount of time he spent re-exploring places he had described previously was stunning.  As a matter of fact, after his endless descriptions of the place, I don't want to go.  He bored me to death with his endless descriptions of sand, the colour of the sky and the kinds of snow on the surface.  This would go on for ever without once MOVING THE PLOT FORWARD.

Why is this trilogy so highly regarded?

Sure Robinson is an incredibly smart guy.  He has incredible depth of knowledge of humanities, science, engineering, geology, biology, chemistry and orbital mechanics but he can't tell a story in an interesting way.

He has managed to write over 1,500 pages of "story" that could have easily filled 400 and been far more interesting.

Each book simply gets worse in the telling and I cannot recommend the series.

Sorry, Mr. Robinson.


Monday, June 27, 2016

Star Wars: Smuggler's Run by Greg Rucka - Book Report #157

09/15/2016

As you might have noticed by what I've been posting lately, I am in a bit of a reading slump. I can't concentrate on things for very long and I am finding it difficult to discover something that can keep my attention.

I am not usually a fan of YA stories, but I have read Rucka's work in the past and know that he is also a novelist.  If anybody can make a story hum and move the plot forward, he can.

This book is part of a publishing push to fill in voids in the space of time between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.  Strangely, this one takes place between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.  So we will see how this ties in.

Taking everybody's favourite characters, Chewie and Han, and sending them off to the Outer Rim on a rescue mission we are also introduced to a formidable villain.  Commander Alecia Beck is at once a typical baddie with a big scar on the face and an artificial eye but is updated for today by being female.  This actually makes the character more menacing as she is also very smart and calculating.  I liked her very much.

The story moved along very well, giving the reader a glimpse into events right after the first Death Star was destroyed.  Han and Chewie are packing up their bags and cash, ready to settle their debts with Jabba the Hut.  But Princess Leia has a problem that only they can help with.

I liked the story very much; the interplay between Han and Chewie was spot on and the Milennium Falcon was lovingly written as a third character.  It was interesting to get an insight on how the ship was flown and how much knowledge they had about her.

The only thing I felt didn't work, and this is a very minor thing, was how often Han called Chewie "pal." From the movies I got the impression this was a term he would use on strangers not on somebody he knows or trusts.  Somehow, it just wasn't in character.  That said, Rucka got their voices perfectly and it was a treat to get an insight into Cewbacca's thoughts.

It was a good book and stands on it's own perfectly well. If it informed something about The Force Awakens, I missed it completely.

Greg Rucka -  http://www.gregrucka.com/wp/


Greg Rucka


Monday, June 20, 2016

Star Wars: Princess Leia by Mark Waid (writer) and Terry Dodson (artist) Graphinc Novel


This is a collection of the single issues of Princess Leia #1 through #5.

It takes place between the movies A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back telling the story of how she worked hard to unite the remaining people of Alderaan in the fight against the empire.

I thought the art was bold and clean without being overly cartoony. The book fit right in with the universe George Lucas created.

A ripping yarn, if you will.






Monday, June 13, 2016

Star Wars: Shattered Empire - Graphic Novel by Greg Rucka

With all the attention given to the Star Wars universe with the release of Episode VII it is no surprise the comic publishers are pumping as many titles as can be sold.

Shattered Empire tries more to expand the stories of the aftermath of Return of the Jedi than to fill in the gaps of the main characters from the first trilogy of movies.

We generally follow Lieutenant Shara Bey and how she must deal with the inevitable mopping up of resistance from the Empire and to try to re-unite with her husband and to stand down from war.

I liked the story very much.  It added a touch of reality and complexity that the movies simply could not address, without being six hours long.

Since this story was a mini series, only running four issues, Marvel Comics added the first issue of the new Princess Leia series and the first issue of the classic 1977 adaptation of A New Hope.

This served to up the page count to an acceptable level given the $18.99 cover price and to whet the appetite for more buying of the books.  On it's own the added stories only made the reading disjointed and leaving me a bit puzzled.  I am not sure it worked. 

I may have been more satisfied had there been some extras like sketch art and an interview with the author about the series.  I found the added stories took away from what was otherwise and excellent exploration of the Star Wars universe and the complexities of winding a war down.



Monday, June 6, 2016

Analog Magazine April 2016

Seven Ways of Looking at the Sun-Worshippers of Yul-Katan by Maggie Clark - 020/150/2016 - I really don't know what to make of this opening story.  At first, I felt as if I might be missing something, as if this might be a recent installment in a series of stories.  It was very much in the Space Opera genre in that there were multiple cultures, religions and points of view.  Much like Star Wars there was one overarching governmental power, the Allegiance.

A small scientific crew hears an old distress call from the small moon they are surveying.  They discover it is coming from a pod, containing a sun-worshiping cleric, who is many star systems removed from where he should be.  Trying to solve the mystery of how he got to where he is proves dangerous and complex.

My Star Wars reference was intentional; just like that movie, the reader is given a bit of background and then dropped in the middle of a story.  It's a small story that takes place in a large universe filled with societies, religions, politics and danger.

After chasing the author down to her website I discovered this was her intention from the start, to make the reader feel that the story takes place in a vast and complicated world.  The only only aspect of the story that I struggled with is that I am attracted to science rather than theology.  Although there was a lot in the story that I did like; small exploration ships, a space-based military establishment, large space cruise ships, long-duration stasis pods, large economies and rules of law.  The religious framing of the story made me impatient.

In my case, the story may benefit from being reread.

Maggie Clark - https://respace.wordpress.com/

Soap Opera by Edward M. Lerner - 021/150/2016 - Set in a Manhattan radio station in the 1920's the engineer is asked to help a lovely young actress stop the unwanted advances of a sponsor.  It was a charming story and I loved the nostalgia of the period.  It came complete with a high-tech solution too.

Edward M. Lerner - http://www.edwardmlerner.com/

Alloprene by Stephen R. Wilk - 022/150/2016 - Hmm.  It's an interesting story about a man who is recounting his experience in a lab experiment which included social interaction with a robot.

I'm not sure I really get this one, other than what is presented. Perhaps it's trying to answer the question of how to best integrate machines into our lives.  I liked it.

Stephen R. Wilk -  http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?192332

Early Warning by Martin L. Shoemaker - 023/150/2016 - A man goes back in time where he feels his life pivoted by making the wrong decision.  He warns himself to change his decision.  I loved how the advice was followed.  Wonderful and unexpected.

Martin L. Shoemaker -  http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?159203

Sleep Factory by Rich Larson - 024/150/2016 - A beautiful, dark and sad story.  Two co-workers are in love and planning for the future.  This was a fully-realized world that grabbed me in seconds, was over in just a few minutes and stayed in my mind for days. The best one so far.

Rich Larson -  http://richwlarson.tumblr.com/

Most Valuable Player by Eric Choi - 025/150/2016 - This was another heart-warming, human story.  Being a baseball fan, I enjoyed it very much.  I am not entirely sure it's science fiction but I am happy it has seen print.  It can easily be submitted to other fiction publications.  

Choi has a gentle way of telling this story. Well done.

 Eric Choi - http://www.aerospacewriter.ca/

Diamond Jim and the Dinosaurs by Rosemary Claire Smith - 026/150/2016 - With a title like that I was expecting an irreverent action story, why I got was Jurassic Park coupled with time travel.  For some reason this story simply did not work for me.

Rosemary Claire Smith -  https://rosemaryclairesmith.wordpress.com/

Playthings by Stephen L. Burns - 027/150/2016 - This is my favourite genere: SF Detective fiction.  In a rigid, class-based society we follow Officer Blank as he is assigned to uncover the recent murders of local "regulators" those individuals who offer services from lower classes to upper classes.

The mystery Blank is assigned to solve is intersting in and of itself, but it is the uncovering of the world Officer Blank lives in.  Navigating this strict society was fasinating to me.

I would love to think that this short story will serve as an introduction to a novel.  I woukd love to dig into that.  I envisioned the Los Angeles of the movie Blade Runner for the look and feel in this story.






Monday, May 30, 2016

Batman: Black and White, Volume 1, by Mark Chiarello and Scott Peterson- Graphic Short Story Collection.

I found this volume to be a joy to dip into, I would enjoy a story or two then get on with my day.  It also served me well as a quick diversion when I had a few minutes that I did not want to spend watching TV.  I liked being able to pick the book up, spend ten minutes with it and enjoy a complete adventure

The sequential art is wonderfully diverse.  Each story worked so well with the art that accompanied it.

I enjoyed the range in tone.  Some were over the top action while others contemplative.  The editor did a fine job of collecting a wide range of stories.  It gives you an appreciation that comics are not all fisticuffs and super powers.

Batman is also a good choice for this kind of exploration, in that he is the closest thing in comics to a regular guy.  Sure, he's strong, smart and rich but those are not super powers and that's what makes the character relatable.

If you don't read comics or know much about Batman this book makes for a fine introduction to this form of story telling.



Monday, May 23, 2016

Halfway to Hollywood by Michael Palin - A Partial Book Review

I've been a fan of Michael Palin's for many years, not for Monty Python but his world-spanning travels.

Around the World in 80 Days captured my imagination and I was completely taken by this charming man.  I have followed all his journeys, purchased every book and was gifted a beautiful collection of all his BBC trips.

I've known of his diaries for a while now, these have inspired me to write my own journal as a blog.  

I downloaded a sample of his third volume, The Traveling Years, only to discover we are two weeks into the first journey on page one.  I requested his second volume from my public library, Halfway to Hollywood, and began reading the final two years of it.  I wanted to read about how the whole thing came about.

The life of an actor is a chaotic thing.  It is filled with meetings, rehearsals, charity events, script writing, telephone calls and always there is the feeling that he had at least five projects on the go.  It was fascinating and I was convinced I could never cope with that kind of life.

What I discovered about the 80 Days journey is that it came about just like everything else; a phone call followed by weeks of nothing, then a meeting followed again by weeks of nothing.  All the while he continued to work on his various projects. 

The diaries went to show how his life is just like anybody else's in that living is not a linear thing.

He had to deal with tragedy, confusion, frustration, worry, humour and professionalism.

This kind of raw presentation takes some getting used to. It's not a guided tour of one's life but more like being given a box of accumulated memories sorted in chronological order.  It's up to the reader to connect the dots.

I may not have read most of the book but I can say that it was a wonderful experience to be allowed a glimpse into an interesting man's life.

It is not the kind of book you need to read all at once.  You can put it down and come back to it when you want.  It's okay, Michael understands and he'll wait for you.  I kept it in sight and within easy reach because I found myself wanting to turn a few more pages pretty consistently.

Michael Palin



Monday, May 16, 2016

Q Are Cordially Uninvited ... : Star Trek: The Next Generation by RudyJosephs

019/150/2016

This was a fun story of Q giving Picard and Crusher a gift on the eve of their wedding. 

As tends to happen in the Star Trek literary world, a minor character is brought back to play a role in the story. This is part of the fun and serves as a tip of the hat to fans who might remember the character in question. 

The story was charming and the pay-off was well done. My only complaint was the lack of Q in the story.  He's there to get the story started and at the end but otherwise he was nowhere to be enjoyed. 

It was a shame, really.  But, as I mentioned, he is terrific in the end.


Firestar by Michael Flynn - Book Report #156

Audio book cover
08/15/2016

I read this book a long time ago, see book report #52

It has been over three years since I read the first installment in the Firestar series.  I thought it would be a good idea to relive that book in audio form with the intention of listening to the entire series.

After reading my original thoughts on the book I am looking forward to my enjoyment of it now.  In the intervening years Elon Musk and SpaceX have made great strides in the expansion of commercial access to space so it will be interesting to compare how close his path has come to the this particular story.

It was a 30+ hour investment in listening to the book.  My goodness was it good.  I would call it literary science fiction.  It really was grounded in the here and now.  It had all the frustrations of naysayers, political influence, financial realities, personal and professional rivalries.

It really is a massive subject if you want to try to capture almost every aspect of pushing humanity off the face of the earth.  It is made more challenging by making it a private effort which adds the governmental challenges that can be encountered.

I found the characters believable and well rounded.  Some were frustratingly stubborn, just like real people.

What struck me was how the endeavor becomes exponentially more complex as you move forward.

This feels like an important book to read if you are interested in today's space program.  Much like the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson it deals with the known realities of the day.  In this book Flynn does not push the technological speculation very far beyond what was know and proven.  He took results from NASA's X-plane program and pushed them into production instead of the reality of cancelled programs.  Which is much like the environment of today's commercial space efforts who are mining the past efforts of NASA and turning them into private companies.

It's all very exciting.

Paperback cover

Michael Flynn