Wednesday, June 17, 2015

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

31/100

Yikes! What a gritty story.

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

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

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

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

John Scalzi's website is here:

http://whatever.scalzi.com/

John Scalzi

Monday, June 15, 2015

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

30/100

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

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

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

John Scalzi's website is here:

 http://whatever.scalzi.com/

John Scalzi


Friday, June 12, 2015

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

29/100

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

This was a well-realized First Contact scenario.

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

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

Lovely.

J.L. Forrest's website is here:

http://jlforrest.com/

J. L. Forrest







Wednesday, June 10, 2015

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

28/100

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

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

An intriguing story, well written and well worth reading.   

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

Aubry Kae Andersen's website is here:

http://www.akarchy.com/





Monday, June 8, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.robertbparker.net/

Robert B Parker
Helen Brann


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

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

27/100

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

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

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

Therese Arkenberg's blog can be found here:

http://www.theresearkenberg.com/

Therese Arkenberg

Monday, June 1, 2015

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

26/100

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

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

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

For more on his other writings go here:

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


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Slider by Bud Sparhawk from Analog Magazine, May 2015

26/100

It seems some situations are universal and may never change.

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

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

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

A wonderful story.

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

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

Bud Sparhawk

Monday, May 25, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Zen Angel by Rajnar Vajra from Analog Magazine May 2015

25/100

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rajnar Vajra



Monday, May 18, 2015

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

Holy throwback Thursday, Batman!

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

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

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

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

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

Dayton Ward

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Wilderness by Ray Bradbury

24/100

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

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





Ray Bradbury

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

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

23/100

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collection #2

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Star Trek: S.C.E.: Cold Fusion by Keith R. A.De Candido

22/100

A nice tie-in with DS9 where the crew of the da Vinci, with the help of Lieutenant Nog, go on a salvage mission to the abandoned Empok Nor, the sister station to DS9.

While attempting to salvage some spare parts they discover the station has been greatly modified. It is not long before some baddies from a previous S.C.E. story show up to complicate things.

I enjoyed the pacing and the appearance of Nog was most welcome. There is some nice character development with members of the da Vinci crew. I also appreciated how the end of this story sets up the next one.

This whole serialized series is a wonderful nod to the classic publishing model.

Keith R. A. DeCandido

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.

Voyager

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.