Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Coma Kings by Jessica Barber

This was a heart warming story that seemed to go in one direction then made a quick twist into vulnerability.

I know that’s not much of a review.

What’s it about? You might ask. 

Jacking into a VR game and how easy it is to be lost in it. 

But that would have been too easy to write. Instead there is a poingnancy to it that was unexpected. 

It was very well done. 

It just goes to show that genre fiction can be much more than cliché. 


Monday, July 16, 2018

Brokenomics by Dina Gachman - Book Report #236

A light and fluffy self-help, personal finance book.

There was lots of humor but very little in the way of nuts-and-bolts money management strategies.

One of my favourites was the advice to think of your shittly little apartment as a vila and you'll feel better, thinking it's a quaint little place in an exotic location.

I laughed with the author, it's good advice - to make the best of things and not to focus on things you don't have.  So much of our problems stem from what our culture depicts as a success or "the way to live."  There is no right or wrong way.

The title of the book sums up the focus - how to live a happy life on what you can afford.  Don't go into debt, if you can help it.  Chasing The American dream is a fiction.

It was a good book to read, but I wouldn't keep it on my bookshelf.


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Anda’s Game by Cory Doctorow

A wonderful and inspiring story.

Since I agree with Doctorow’s stance with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, I enjoy reading these very same problems played out and solved in his fiction. 

Anda is a young English girl who loves gaming but struggles with the male-dominance of the culture. She is also struggling with her own real-world self-esteem. 

The story tackles balancing an in-game life with the real world.  And how the real world can intrude in the game world. 

There are some important subjects explored here, which makes reading it so very satisfying to me. 

Recommended. 

Cory Doctorow's website - https://craphound.com/


Monday, July 9, 2018

Waking Dragon by Prof. Peter Navarro - Book Report #235

This was a comprehensive look at the influence and future impact of a rising China.

The audiobook was part of the Modern Scholar Series which are recorded lectures taught by university professors.

It was primarily a course on the economics of a modern China.  But it also looked deeply into environmental and social impacts the country's role as the world's factory floor.

Let's face it, the world is a big, complicated and messy place.  So is China.

I liked the course, in that it illuminated the inner realities of the country and, if things are not managed carefully, how conflicts can arise.

I found it sobering.

The only downside to the series were the questions at the end of each lecture.  Which were not questions at all but a terrible way to recap the salient points the professor wanted to make. 

Prof. Navarro's Wiki page - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Navarro



Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Dreamer and the Dream by Derek Tyler Attico

Wow!

This took one of my favourite episodes of DS9, Far Beyond the Stars, and revisits the life of Benny Russell.   The 1950’s writer has spent the past six years in the Queens Borough Mental Institution. 

He’s been incarcerated there since being fired from his job at  Incredible Tales magazine.   He has fallen into his creations, that of a black captain of a space station, choosing to live in his mind's imagination. 

But now, 1959, he is on the cusp of being released.  However the power of the worlds he created are influencing his reality. 

Like I said - wow!

This was so much fun to read. I tore right through it loving every flashback to 1959.  I was completely taken in by the meta nature of the story and how the author tied the world of DS9 to Benny Russell and further tied his reality to how Star Trek influenced our own society. 

Well done indeed. 

I continue to be impressed by the quality of storytelling in this collection. 

Monday, July 2, 2018

Information Doesn’t Want To Be Free by Cory Doctorow - Book Report #234

This was a fascinating subject but, after a while it just went over my head.

Learning about how to deal with intellectual properties on the Internet, which is nothing more than a copy machine.

The basic thrust of the book was to say that it is better to allow the downloading and sharing of content on the Internet.  Treat it as advertisement and people will likely pay for more.

He used a street busker as an example, most people just walk on by, some stay and listen leaving nothing in the hat but others will.  Those that do will leave enough to pay for and make the effort worthwhile.  When you combine those that listened without paying and those that did, they may tell others about your work who may or may not pay but the audience will grow.

He also makes a good argument on how digital locks, DRMs, simply do not work.

The truth of things is that these are the Wild West years of the Internet and it will take time for things to shake out, correct themselves and develop fair (for the most part) structures.

One thing I found interesting was Doctorow's insight in the streaming music services.  The current belief is that these services are paying ridiculously low royalties to the artists.  But the truth is that it is the record labels that are collecting the royalties, getting fat in the process, and it is THEY who are not distributing the money.

Anyhow, I found the book interesting even though much of it eluded me.

I love learning about the worlds within worlds we live in.

Recommended.

Cory Doctorow's website - https://craphound.com/





Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Manhunt Pool by Nancy Debretsion

I enjoyed this one very much.

It had all my favourite characters from DS9; Odo, Bashir, Quark and Garak.

It certainly kept to the darker version of Star Trek that was the Deep Space 9 series.

There is death, intrigue, politics and humour.

Every time I read a quality short, it makes me want to either binge on some episodes or start reading a novel.

This collection of stories from "unknown" writers impresses me with it's quality.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Foodist by Darya Pino Rose, Ph.D - Book Report #233

This was a terrific book to give dieters a dose of reality.  To help people relax in pursuit of a new healthy eating plan.

In it she recommends eating real, whole, natural, unprocessed foods.  This is where the secret of weight loss without deprivation lives.   

You'll have to cook for yourself a lot more but you will benefit from all of the micronutrients and phytochemicals that are bountiful in fresh veggies and fruit.

One of her catchphrase is that "Life Should Be Awesome" - don't deny yourself the pleasures of life that food can provide.  You don't have to be an orthodox dieter.  Live life.  Have that burger, once in a while, if it makes you happy.  

You eat 21 meals in a week; if you slip from your path once or twice that means you've stayed true 90% of the time.

I recommend this book highly, especially for somebody who is just starting to venture into healthy eating.

Darya Rose's website - http://www.summertomato.com/foodist


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Façade of Fate by Michael Turner

I liked this one. It played with time travel and the Prime Directive.

Sisko, Dax and Worf are ambushed by the Jem’Hadar and, just when it looked like our heroes were at an end, they are hurled into the future.

There they find the Federation much changed.

How they react, the relationships they build and what they do about this future depends on their training and their values.

It was an interesting test of the Prime Directive.


The Seen and Unseen by Chris Chaplin

This was an exploration of the Reman society.

The species was introduced in the movie Nemesis.  They were an oppressed slave race of the Romulan empire.

I found the story a bit ponderous.  Although it did a good job of filling out the society in terms of the movie I wanted it to come to some more satisfying conclusion.

But it did what the best of Star Trek does, it reflects our past back to us, to allow us to see our mistakes.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Sunwalkers by Kelli Fitzpatrick

The Enterprise is dispatched to a world to lend assistance in a medical emergency.

The story centres on Beverly Crusher, her struggle to come to terms with having to say goodby to Wesley and how that separation speaks to her abilities as a mother.

The story felt like a found script for an episode that was never shot. But, I guess, all these stories will feel that way, considering the length of them. 

As in all good Star Trek this story works on more than one level. Sure there is the adventure of the mission, but from it there is character growth.  This made the story satisfying. 

Kelli Fitzpatrick's website:  https://kellifitzpatrick.com/

Kelli Fitzpatrick

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Ultimate Parent Guide for Protecting Your Child on the Internet by Ariel Hochstadt


I was delighted to receive an email from EB. 

She had read my review of Black Code by Ronald J. Deibert  and noticed that I had posted a link to Stay Safe Online and their initiative National Cyber Security Awareness Month.

EB encouraged me to read The Ultimate Parent Guide for Protecting Your Child on the vpnMentor website.

Don't let the title stop you from reading the post.  You don't have to have kids to benefit from it.  My kids are in their 20's but have suffered from some of the threats listed and I discovered that I was also quite vulnerable.

The blog post covered eight broad subjects:

1.  Mobile phones and apps
2.  Streaming content and smart TVs
3.  Gaming consoles and online games
4.  Social media
5.  Cyberbullying
6.  Privacy and information security
7.  Viewing inappropriate content online
8.  Online predators

It is surprising how much data leaks from our devices and how the default settings protect us very little.  It is important to take the time to tighten things up a bit.

I was captivated by topic 6 and followed many of the links in that section.  I spent at least 30 minutes exploring my iPhone's settings, turning off location services, creating a longer lock-screen password and beginning to set up the built-in VPN settings.

I would say, after reading how vulnerable we are on public WiFi hotspots, we are much better off paying extra for a bigger data plan from our carriers than the convenience of using such free services.

Remember, if a service is free - YOU are the product.  Gmail, Facebook, Twitter all the things we download, use, but do not pay for are mining our data for their own purposes.  It is a sobering thought.  We are living through the Wild West phase of the internet and it is a pretty lawless environment so far.

I highly recommend reading the article, but try not to lose faith.  You may read it and think that things are hopeless.  But with organizations like vpnMentor and Stay Safe Online there is a wealth of information that you can use to minimize your exposure.

Some of the advice given is as simple as tweaking a setting and forgetting about it.  Other protections take a bit of work on your part but it really is worth it.

I want to thank EB for the email and for reinvigorating my desire to make things a bit more difficult for the hackers.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A Christmas Qarol by Gary Piserchio & Frank Tagader

This was a fun riff on Charles Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol.

In it, Q decies to throw Picard into a simulation of the classic tale.  But something goes wrong - when he snaps his fingers it's not Jean-Luc who is forced to play the role of Ebenezer Scrooge but Q himself!

Honestly, this was an absolutely charming story. Not only did it capture the spirit of Christmas it also was a story of hope for the Star Trek universe.

Hard to believe these writers are amatures. 

Very well done indeed.

Gary Piserchino's website:  http://garypiserchio.com/wp/

Frank Tagader has no dedicated website but his Goodreads link is:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13994748.Frank_Tagader


Monday, June 4, 2018

Star Trek: Enterprise The First Adventure by Vonda N. McIntyre - Book Report #232

I won’t lie: I found this book tedious. Mostly because I was uninterested in the guests aboard the Enterprise. 

It made perfect sense; a new captain should be assigned an easy, shake-down cruise. Time to get to know the ship and its crew without putting much stress on them. 

So, brand new Captain Kirk takes on a traveling Vaudville show and is instructed to visit all the distant star bases to lift morale by taking the act “on the road.”

The idea of the book was a good one but I did not enjoy the circus performers and the fact that Kirk was instantly attracted to one of them.

There are some added characters; a Vulcan juggler who is emotional, a new alien race is discovered drifting through Federation space and Klingons come to mix it all together. 

Sounds like it should work, right?  Except it doesn’t.  It was exceedingly slow, far too introspective and just boring to read.  I’m not the kind of reader that needs a fistfight in every chapter but this book takes its time to get going. 

Having been published in 1986 it’s conceivable the author was under strict control not to do anything alarming to the franchise. So maybe I’m not being fair. 

But it all comes down to whether I enjoyed the story or not. 

I didn’t. 

To bad too. I was really hoping for something a bit more fun. 

Okay, that was quite a bit of bashing the book. It wasn’t all bad: there were some parts of the book that I did like. 

Since this is an origins story it was a lot of fun to read how Sulu came aboard, the bad feelings the senior crew held comparing Kirk to the departed Captain Pike, how Scotty treated the new captain and how Chekov was always on board the ship. 

That last point filled in the gaping plot hole from The Wrath of Kahn.  How Kahn recognizes Chekov even though he wasn’t on the TV show until the season after his appearance. 

So it did work on some levels.  It just didn’t capture my imagination. 

Vonda N. McIntyre's website - http://www.vondanmcintyre.com/

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Stars, Won’t You Hide Me? by Ben Bova

For a last installment in a very good collection this one was mind-blowing in its scale.

Holman wakes with the ship's computer AI asking for instructions.  Where should we go?  The ship has been damaged in an attack but it is repairing itself.

Humanity has been at war with The Others and they have come back to exterminate every last person left alive.

Not only did the include faster-than-light travel but  it is an intergalactic chace story.  Humanity has been judged as unworthy to continue existing.

This was a terrific epic that could easily have been made into a complete series of novels.  Bova did a great job of succinctly telling a giant story by showing us what happened to one single man.

Monday, May 28, 2018

The 50-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years, Book Two by Mark A. Altman & Edward Gross - Book Review #231

This was a giant addition to the previous book.

Once again it is just packed with insights some readily known others scathing.  But it still manages to make me wonder how the shows ever made it to the screen.  There was so much interference by the creators, studios, networks that all managed to dumb down the product.

What rally made me unhappy was how the powers that be consistently underestimated the audience.

As I've mentioned before, I love the DVD extras that are part of most movies you can buy.  This filled that desire so very well.

I've enjoyed these volumes as audiobooks and I must say that the productions was very well thought out.  It was not just read by one person.  Since the books is nothing more interviews thoughtfully laid out to make a cohesive narrative, the producers of the audiobook hired a cast of narrators which made following along that much easier.  It would have been very easy to lose track of who was doing the talking had it been read by only one person.

I had no idea how scripts were written for the show, when you have that many people writing and making changes along the way to production, the original idea of an episod was often completely lost in the process.  How I would love to read the originally intended stories in book form, just to get an idea of what could have been.

The only example of that is Harlan Ellison's City on the Edge of Forever, which has been made into a comic book and released as a novela under his own name.  What was intended and what was delivered is actually quite disappointing in comparison.

I loved this series of books.  If you like knowing what happened on the set an in the writers room, then you'll love these books.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A Long Way Back by Ben Bova

I found this story less plausible, so I had trouble getting behind the premise.

In America, after a nuclear exchange, society has devolved as you might expect - into tribal behavior.  One enclave is formed where the leadership decides to rebuild society by first scavenging rocket parts and then sending one volunteer into orbit to assemble a power satellite that has been parked there since before the war.

He has been trained by hypnosis (really?) and barely has enough oxygen to get the job done (odd).

Once the true nature of the mission is discovered, and the manipulations that took place to get it done, our poor hypnotized astronaut changes the rules.

There was something that could have worked in the story but placing it in a post-apocalypse setting threw the whole thing off balance .  At least for me.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Star Wars: Aftermath, Book One by Chuck Wendig - Book Report #230

This is an interesting series.  In the run up to the much-anticipated release of the new Star Wars movie The Force Awakens Chuck Wendig wrote a trilogy that bridges the time between since Return of the Jedi.  32 years is a lot of time to play with.

The only downside to the story is the filler.  There are so many action sequences, that felt unnecessary, it quickly became boring.

But it was the narration, done by Mark Thompson, that kept the story lively.  He is a terrific voice actor with a complete command of accents.  This was impressive considering how many characters the author used.

It should also be said that the music and sound effects were amazing.  It was a complete experience.  It is unusual to hear a full audio drama.

There was a lot of exposition to cover, but since the leadership of the Empire is dead, Wendig chose to focus on one splinter group which control three capital ships.  During a secret meeting with this group of Empeirals an unlikely group of people come together to thwart their plans.

I loved the formation of that rebel team.

Chuck Wendig's website:  http://terribleminds.com/ramble/

Chuck Wendig


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Sword Play by Ben Bova

This was not a SF story but more a coming of age one.

Luckily Bova writes an introduction to each story in this collection. Otherwise, I would have been left wondering why it was included. 

It deals with boys coming to terms with things they don't currently understand, about being open to others and willing to learn.

It was a warm story.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Count Backwards To Zero by Brett Halliday - Book Report #229

I must admit that I spent a lot of time rolling my eyes while reading this book.

Sure it's a hard-boiled detective story, which is something I love, but I couldn't help thinking about how it just did not stand up to what transpires today.  Okay, I know it's not fair, it was written in 1971 and things were different.

I may also have suffered by the fact that this is the 62nd volume in the series so there are many relationships in the book that seem so very convenient that they took me out of the story.

Here's the premise: an British scientist, suicidally depressed, is convinced to smuggle plutonium into the US on board the RMS Queen Mary.  Mike Shayne boards the ship in Bermuda and immediately becomes entangled in the conspiracy.

The moment the story had Shayne doing some pretty heroic automobile maintenance in the hold of the ship, I was out.  There is no way one man could do what he did, and talk about a dangerous job to boot!

Once he is on his home turf of Miami the level of suspension of disbelief I needed was too much.  It started with his personal car, which had a car phone - in 1971!  I had to Google when car phones first made it to market.  Yup, that fit reality, but it must have been incredibly expensive.  This Mike Shayne guy must be very successful and have tons of money.

This was further proven out when his car is shown to have a booby trap right out of James Bond.

It goes on - his reputation is so good that the local police allow him to investigate the conspiracy.  When the FBI become involved the local cops convince the feds to let Shayne continue.

The sex was unbelievable, the relationships and deals Shayne creates out of nothing were also impossible to buy.

In short, this book is terrible because it was written straight.  Today, with only a little bit of rewriting, it would make a terrific comedy.

Funny how nearly 50 years can change a story.

Brett Halliday