Monday, June 26, 2017

Empire Builders by Ben Bova - Book Report #188

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ben Bova


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Carthago Delenda Est by Genevieve Valentine

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

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

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

This was another miss for me.

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

Genevieve Valentine


Monday, June 19, 2017

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

This was a fun play on a general science book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ben Miller

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Mazer in Prison by Orson Scott Card

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

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

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

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

It was a miss for me.

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

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


Orson Scott Card

Monday, June 12, 2017

Operation Paperclip by Annie Jacobsen - Book Report #186

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I highly recommend this book.

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

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

It is a difficult thing to learn.

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

Annie Jacobsen


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Minla's Flowers by Alastair Reynolds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alastair Reynolds


Monday, June 5, 2017

Strap Hanger by Taras Grescoe - Book Report #185

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

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

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

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


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

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

I liked the book very much.

Taras Grescoe


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Sommelier by Catherine MacLeod

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

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

It left me feeling pretty good about the world. 

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


Monday, May 29, 2017

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

This was a fine ending to the story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore


Monday, May 22, 2017

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

Book 2 of 3.

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

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

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

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

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

David Mack

Monday, May 15, 2017

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

Book One of Three in the Legacies series.


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

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

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

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

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

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

The key is behind this panel

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

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

But that is my only complaint.

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

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

Greg Cox


Monday, May 8, 2017

The Aviators by Winston Groom - Book Report #181

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I highly recommend this book.

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

Winston Groom


Monday, May 1, 2017

Red November by W. Craig Reed - Book Report #180

I can't help being fascinated by the cold war.

Submarines are so cloaked in secrecy that I simply find myself drawn to them.

I've read a few books on just how close we've all come to destruction and it leaves me chilled every time I hear such a story.  So it came as no surprise when close calls from the submarine fleet were revealed in this book.

What impressed me was how small innovations could have profound impacts on the opposing force.  When the Soviets moved to burst transmissions to communicate it sent the US into a massive effort find a way to locate the subs that suddenly became invisible.

Like a Tom Clancy novel there are no small players in the American military and it takes everybody doing their jobs to the best of their abilities to keep ahead.

What was revealed about the Cuban Missile Crisis surprised me leaving me thankful that the skippers of the Soviet subs were so clever and cool-headed.

The book reveals other mission right into the mid 1980's, anything after that is still classified.  Fair enough.

In the end I would dearly love to see a day where we put all this ingenuity to use as one people instead of constantly trying to find ways to undermine each other.

That said it is this very war against ourselves that moves our society forward as technologies become available commercially and the real work of peaceful progress takes place.  Our society lags about 30 years behind the advances made by the military.  So, in a weird way, we have managed to benefit from all of it.

The book was well written and at times felt just like a fictional thriller.  I liked the personal feel of the book as it started by first following the career of his father then moved into his own career in the submarine service.

I highly recommend this book.  Publishing it helps to make the world a better place.

W. Craig Reed's website is here - http://wcraigreed.com/

W. Craig Reed.


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.