Monday, December 15, 2014

Book Report #121 - Space Cadet by Robert A. Heinlein

Book 45 of 52
Page count - 223

Classic SF!  You know, for 1948, the author got much of his speculation right, except for Venus.

This is one of his juvenile books where we follow the adventures of Matt Dodson, a teenager who joins the Space Academy in the hopes of joining the Solar Patrol.

Matt is a very straight laced kid who makes good friends along the way.  The academy is not an easy place to learn and he is challenged continually.

I liked the book quite a lot but I found the ending bogged down and I did not enjoy it as much.  With the explosion of Young Adult fiction these days this book can hold it's own, even though it may read a bit stiff compared to more contemporary works.

Robert A. Heinlein

Monday, December 8, 2014

Book Review #120 - The Sins of the Fathers by Lawrence Block

Book 44 of 52
Page count - I don't really know; I read it as an e-book and the page count depends on the font size chosen.

This is the first Matthew Scutter novel; a series that is wildly popular with mystery fans.

Scutter is an ex-cop turned "private eye."  He is not a licensed PI but does "favours" for people for money.  By not being a legitimate investigator he is not restricted by the laws and regulations of that profession.  Even though he solves mysteries he is not doing it for the justice system (at least not in this book) but to help his client.

Scutter left the police department after a truly unfortunate accident.  He is an alcoholic; although he was never drunk he was never without a drink.

The novel was set in present day 1975 back when New York was a scary, dirty and dangerous place.  The sense of place was vivid in my imagination.  The story itself moved at a quick pace and was completely engrossing.  I tore through the book in a very short time.

A young woman is brutally murdered by her roommate.  She was estranged from her father and it is he who hires Scutter to discover what her life was like from when he lost contact to the time of her death.  This proved to be an interesting angle since he was not hired to solve the murder; the cops already had the man who was covered in her blood.

As Scutter learns about her life, he keeps bumping against the crime itself, which does not quite fit together neatly.

It's no wonder I like Block so much; his writing flows like water over a smooth rock - it is effortless to read.  I just love it.


Lawrence Block



Saturday, December 6, 2014

Winner Lose All - A Lando Calrissian Tale; Star Wars Legends by Timothy Zahn

Fun story (mine, I mean) I bought Scoundrels in paperback a few months back.  I've been looking over the bookcase, trying to find another book for the Book A Week Challenge.  The new trailer for Star Wars Episode VII was just released and it got me thinking that I'd like to read something in the Star Wars universe.

I went on line to see where Scoundrels fit in the time line when I found Winner Lose All described as a prequel to the book and since it was a short story it was only $1.99 for Kindle, so I bought it.  It was when I was half way through the ebook that I noticed a badge on the cover of Scoundrels that said: "Includes the bonus novella Winner Lose All."

Well, damn; I bought it twice.

No matter, it was a fun story and I enjoyed it very much.

I'm a sucker for a heist story and this one involves Lando Calrissian, high stakes gambling, a valuable work of art and two thieves who are trying to steal it.

Lots of fun.

If this is a taste of the book I bought I think I'll enjoy it very much.

Timothy Zahn

Monday, December 1, 2014

Book Review #119 - Hector and the Search for Happiness by Rancois Lelord

Book 43 of 52
Page count -164

What a lovely little book.   

Hector was recently made into a movie, which is how I came to know of the novel. 

Hector is a psychiatrist living a good, if dull life.  Like many of his patients he is not feeling particularly happy, so he sets out on a trip around the world to try and discover what makes people happy.

The chapters are short and told in a tone used in childrens' books.  I kept thinking that the book would lend itself to being read out loud.  The target audience is definitely adults even though there is absolutely nothing in it that would offend younger readers.

I found myself smiling throughout and kept looking forward to reading it every time I had to put it down.

Highly recommended.

NOTE - This novel was originally published in French in 2002 and was translated to English and released by Penguin Group USA in 2010.

NOTE 2 - If you enjoyed the movie of Hector you may also like the Bill Murray version of The Razor's Edge.

Francois Lelord

Movie Poster




Monday, November 24, 2014

Book Review #118 - Star Trek: Enterprise: The Good that Men Do by Andy Mangels & Michael A. Martin

Book 42 of 52
Page count - 446

I really enjoyed this book. 

This is truly the first book in the continuing story of Star Trek: Enterprise with Jonathan Archer and his crew.

Most people agree the last episode of Enterprise; "These Are The Voyages ..." was terrible.  What made this book so enjoyable was how the authors used the same kind of framing of the story as the TV finale but tweaked it to give us a more satisfying story and jumping off point for the next "season."

The entire book is really a reworking of the finale; setting the story straight and allowing the authors to set the scene to continue the stories of the crew of the Enterprise NX-01.

I look forward to more in this time period of Star Trek.

Andy Mangels

Michael A. Martin

Mangels and Martin with Armin Shimerman AKA Quark

Monday, November 17, 2014

Book Review #117 - Insanely Simple by Ken Segall

Book 41 of 52
Page count 213

I'd have to say that this book is a good read.  However ...

The author spends a lot of time beating you over the head with his Simple Stick; constantly repeating the idea that Simplicity Is Very Important.

The book is also a bit of a gushing love letter to Steve Jobs.  Man, the author loved Steve.

Okay, enough basing the book.  There were many insights into Steve Jobs and Apple that I found very interesting.  The best take-away from the book is: Keep It Simple and Stick To Your Guns.

I most enjoyed the many comparisons between Apple and IBM, Dell and Intel.  Apple is a unique entity in the business world.  It will be interesting to see if they can survive without Jobs in the picture.

Unfortunately I found the book a bit preachy.  I only skimmed the conclusion because I really, really wanted it to end.



Monday, November 10, 2014

Book Review #116 - Black Code by Ronald J. Deibert

Book 40 of 52
Page count - 312

The author tackles a very large and very complex subject here.  On-line security means something different depending on who you are addressing.  Individuals may not want to use their credit cards on dodgy websites; national leaders may want to protect military secrets; criminals may be looking for ways to exploit vulnerabilities.

Since the world is largely migrating to the internet the subject of security needs to be studied very seriously.  We are living in the cave-man days of the internet and it's very important to remember that and to understand just how vulnerable things really are.

Black Code is a scary book.

My blood was chilled after reading Chapter 3 about big data and how all these cherished free services (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) are just sucking up so much information about us, individually.  What we choose to share on-line can go further than we know;  upload a picture and all the meta data goes up with it.  This includes the date the photo was taken, the GPS information, the type of device used to take the picture.  Facial recognition software can work to identify everyone in the photo ... and on it goes.

It's not just what were posting but many mobile apps are also uploading our contact lists, our movements in and out of cell towers and WiFi hotspots. 

It truly feels like an invasion of my privacy when my whole day can be reconstructed from where my phone has been and how I've used it.

The book continues to expand on the subject by moving into the world of governments, hackers, military espionage, organized crime and oppression.

The subject is so large I found myself starting to gloss over what I was reading.  But I believe it to be a very important book if you are interested in the subject.  What it will do is change how you look at what you are doing with your cell phone or computer.  It will also point you in directions for further reading.

Here are some websites I visited after reading this book.

The Citizen Lab

Canada Centre for Global Security Studies

National Cyber Security Awareness Month. 

Ronald J. Deibert

Paperback cover


Monday, November 3, 2014

Book Review #115 - The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe

Book 39 of 52
Page count - 352

It is hard to review a book which has an iconic movie attached to it.  It is the wonderfully interesting story of the Original 7 astronauts and the race to send Americans into space.

That said the movie practically used the book as a script.  Next to nothing was left out.  What the book highlighted greatly was the attitudes of the government to the program but, more importantly, the attitudes of "career" military test pilots and this new rocket-propelled civilian agency.

What was most interesting was how the pecking order of the Original 7, and test pilots in general, was fiercely fought over.  Everything rides on being first.  It drives every decision pilots make and effects their wives and families in the process.  Climbing to the top of the pyramid and trying to stay up there is what motivates these incredible people every single day.

The competition between the astronauts was wonderfully paralleled by also following the career of the man who, arguably, started it all; Chuck Yager.  Yager was the first to break the sound barrier but kept his career on the track of fixed-winged aircraft.  He was at the very top of the pyramid and kept on fighting to stay there for as long as he could.

Chuck Yager and the Bell X-1
Ultimately the story focuses on the original Mercury astronauts but the author never forgets the larger picture.  He kept his eyes on the Russians, the president, the military, the scientists and the doctors who played large roles in this adventure.

The whole thing was wonderful.

Read it.  Watch the movie.  Be inspired and reassured that humans can do wonderful, wonderful things when we want to. 

Project Mercury mission patch

Mercury 3 Alan Shepard's mission patch

Alan Shepard inside Freedom 7

Movie poster

Tom Wolfe


Monday, October 27, 2014

Book Review #114 - Red Moon Rising by Matthew Brzezinski

Book 38 of 52
Audio book - 9 discs

A previous book I reviewed called Command and Control showed just how paranoid the Americans were during the Cold War.  The story of the space race is closely tied to the creation of ICBMs and the days of nuclear proliferation.  As a matter of fact, the space race and the missions to the moon may not have happened had the Soviets not been having technical difficulties with a heat shield.

With the Americans constantly testing Soviet air pace with bombers and U2 over-flights they felt pressured to develop a capable missile.  The flight of Sputnik was a project promoted and engineered by a single man, Russia's Chief Designer, Sergei Korolev, who believed that satellites would be very valuable.  Since there had been no satellites to date, neither the Americans nor the Soviets could imagine the usefulness of one.

But Sputnik did go up and it changed the world.

Sputnik 1
 Before the race to the moon there was the race to orbit and before the race to orbit there was the race to perfect missiles.  This is the story of how missile technology almost accidentally created an industry that, it could be imagined, that has made our world a better place.

The book follows both sides of the missile race, concentrating on the Soviet side, we discover that they were not nearly so advanced as the United States declared.  Money, politics and pride were all very important factors on both sides of the race.

The story sheds light on yet another facet of the Cold War and I found it fascinating.  The book does not stop at the Sputnik 1 launch but continues well past Sputnik 2 and on to the successful launch of Explorer 1.

Explorer 1


An interesting point to know is variants of the R-7 are still in operation today transporting material and crews to the International Space Station.


Matthew Brzezinski



Monday, October 20, 2014

Book Review #113 - The World America Made by Robert Kagan

Book 37 of 52
Page count - 140

What would the world look like if America were to reduce its role as a global leader in order to focus all its energies on solving its problems at home?

Is America really in decline?

These are the two fundamental questions this brief book tries to answer.

Of course, the answer is - it's complicated.  However, Kagan does a nice job of putting the United States current role in historical context which shines a bright light at how fleeting power structures are in human history and how unique the current order is.

I felt the author's look at what our modern world could look like if the United States were to reduce it's influence to be balanced and well thought out.

I found myself stopping my reading simply to think about some of his observations.

Well worth reading.

Robert Kagan


Monday, October 13, 2014

Book Review #112 - No Place to Hide, Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Serveillance State by Glenn Greenwald

Book 36 of 52
Page count - 253

The last book I read that scared me was Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm.  This one scared me more because it's happening to all of us.

Here is presented the account, from the journalist who broke the story, of domestic spying by the NSA, of how Edward Snowden blew the whistle and made public this illegal activity.

The first part of the book described how Snowden approached the author to help him reveal the domestic surveillance taking place.  The second part looked more closely at the documents themselves while the third looks at how living in a surveillance society effects the behavior and attitudes of the population.  The last part of the books looks at how journalism in the US has changed over the past decades and just how it's independence has eroded.

It is a chilling story that should make anyone who reads it look at the nightly news and general main stream reporting with a cautious eye.  Everything revealed in the book was previously embedded in my subconscious but it took reading it on the page to make me notice just how journalism favours the government.  We seldom see the rogue journalist chasing corruption.  Instead journalists are threatened personally and the owners of media corporations are coerced to sit on news items, sometimes for months at a time, or prevented from reporting outright.



Anytime you read a book like this you have to take a cautious approach so as not to get sucked in completely by the author.  It's an important part of reporting but it is also a one-sided read.  That said, what is truly important here,  is the fact that these things ARE taking place.  The NSA is gobbling up nearly all communications data on everyone.  The government of the USA is funding and using all this information.  Anything we do online, including reading this review, is tracked and recorded.  Independent journalism is under great threat; there are only a few truly independent reporters left in the world.

But you can't let these revelations scare you into curling up in a ball and giving up on the Internet.  It is also important to know that since the revelations of Snowden have been made public the tide is showing sign of turning.  We live in a period of time that will eventually pass; it is always difficult to have perspective when we are in the middle of things. 

What you will come away with is a new awareness of everything you say and do on-line.  Every time you post on Facebook or do a Google search you will think of what you read in this book.  Maybe it will stop you or maybe it will awaken a need to get a different view of things from sources that are defying the pressure to conform.

Very interesting reading.

You may also be interested in a current article of Snowden from Wired magazine.

August 2014 issue of Wired Magazine - Edward Snowden


For some independent journalism try The Intercept website in which Greenwald is a contributor.


Glenn Greenwald


Monday, October 6, 2014

Book Review #111 - Ocean Titans by Daniel Sekulich

Book 35 of 52
Page count - 242

This book was published in 2006 and looks at modern commercial shipping.  The twist here is in the sub title; Journeys In Search Of The Soul Of A Ship.  Most times a ship is humanized first by giving it a name and then by referring to it as "she."  Emotional connections are often formed with vehicles, from bicycles to cars, planes and ships, even spacecrafts; they take us from one place and, hopefully, safely deliver is to another.

Sekulich begins his journey where it all ends; the ship-breaking yards of Alang, India, where we find him searching for clues about the last crew of the tanker SS Sag River.  He wanders the vessel looking through the various areas finding small, personal items left aboard by its last inhabitants.  It's really is quite a sad scene but from it we are shown the wonderful and largely invisible world of commercial shipping.



Just about everything we own has spent some time aboard a ship, transported from a factory to a dock, a rail car and or a truck and delivered to a store to be purchased by us.  It's a system that is vital to our economies and yet we only hear about them when disasters happen.

The author takes us around the world searching and experiencing the impact a ship has on people.  We start at the design phase to the fascinating world of ship building; from the first cut of steel to sea trials.  We get an understanding of the ship owners, the captains, the engineers who keep the vessels running and to the deck hands.  We also learn about the sea itself and how people cope with the weeks and months of isolation.  Finally we see the last days of a ship; from being beached to being taken apart by the folks who's lives depend on recycling these gigantic machines.  We are also treated  to a glimmer of life in the creation of something new from the scrapped, forgotten and yet wonderful boats.

From the title I expected a romantic view of the subject and I was not disappointed.  It was also a well researched and interesting subject, I can't recommend it enthusiastically enough. It was a charming, understanding, respectful and hopeful read.  I've come away with a well rounded understanding of this nearly invisible, world-spanning industry.  Through it all the book is deeply infused with humanity; it would have been easy to get lost in the numbers and the technicality of it, but the author never lost sight of the fact that it is people that make the whole damn thing work.

Wonderful.

Daniel Sekulich
You can find his blog HERE.