Monday, December 28, 2015

Fiction River #15 Recycled Pulp

As I write this it is January 1, 2016 but I will post it in 2015.  My challenge to read 100 short stories in 2015 was ignored for much of the year but it was in the last two months that I made an effort to accomplish it.

I've been reading a few collections in those months and have been reviewing the stories individually, in draft form, with the plan to publish them once I completed the collections.  So, in the effort to track my reading in 2015, below is a review of the stories read from the collections I have not completed.  As I finish the collections I will count the remaining storeis towards my 2016 goal.

Cool?

Thanks.

* * *

I've been a long-time fan of Kristine Kathryn Rush's work, while on her website I found that she's been busy starting up her own publishing business.  From that I discovered the anthology magazine Fiction River where each issue focuses on on particular genre.  Being a fan of pulp I thought I'd buy this issue and give it a spin.

From the introduction I learned that this may not be exactly what I thought I was getting into.  There were some very special and interesting rules the editors put on the authors.  This I found intriguing and thought it would be a nice way to get some exposure to genres I would not usually buy.

That's the real reason to read anthologies; to be introduced to the new.

The Revolt of the Philosophers of Fomalhaut - by Phaedra Weldon.

91/100 - Angles are sent to Earth to kill.  Yup to kill.  This rubs our angelic narrator the wrong way and we discover with him what is going on and how to deal with it.

You know what?  This was quite a compelling story.  I enjoyed it and could see it on an episode of the Twilight Zone.  Not the old one but a new 21st century version of the show.  Putting this story to a visual medium would be interesting.

 http://www.phaedraweldon.com/

Marvelous Contrivances of the Heart - by Cat Rambo.

92/100 - Another quiet, elegant story about two people who have their own problems. An obsessive husband and a deeply sad, frustrated wife.

An then something strange happens and the entire story takes on a sinister feeling. 


The Flower of the Tabernacle  - by Annie Reed 

93/100 - This collection is turning into something unexpected.  I was sure it would be a collection of genre stories but it's looking like something much more compelling and heavy.

This on js a straight up police detective story.  I was reminded of Lawrence Block in the telling of the discovery of a dead woman in a church.  Murder? Suicide? Something else?  This was a story very well told.

https://anniereed.wordpress.com/

Lost in the Tarnished Cube - by Thomas K. Carpenter

94/100 - A wizard buys a tower.  His mortgage is backed by a magical bank.  It comes due unexpectedly.  He must handle the penalty in his own way.

Sadly, this story did not work for me.






Sunday, December 20, 2015

The 2015 Short Story Advent Calendar editied by Michael Hingston

As I write this it is January 1, 2016 but I will post it in 2015.  My challenge to read 100 short stories in 2015 was ignored for much of the year but it was in the last two months that I made an effort to accomplish it.

I've been reading a few collections in those months and have been reviewing the stories individually, in draft form, with the plan to publish them once I completed the collections.  So, in the effort to track my reading in 2015, below is a review of the stories read from the collections I have not completed.  As I finish the collections I will count them towards my 2016 goal.

Cool?

Thanks.

* * *

I read about this project a couple of months ago. I found it appealing because of it's limited print run, only 1,000 made, the project was created locally and it simply looked lovely.

1 Flamingo by Jessica Westhead - 
67/100 - This was a sad, touching, dreary story that left me wondering what I just read. 

Stories where nothing truly happens and characters are no different at the end then how they started make me feel like I've wasted my time. 

2 The Princess Doctrine by Chris Bachelder - 
68/100 - Part Princess Bride and partly a comical look at political decision making. 

In the world of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale the king and his lords must decide on a plan of action to protect the newly born princess. 

Very entertaining. 

3 Bison Burgers by Lee Henderson - 
69/100 - Two adult siblings are invited to their father's newly purchased bison ranch.  They miss the turn to the ranch house so they park and decide to walk across the pastures in an attempt to find the house.  

It's during that walk where we learn about the brother and sister, father and mother.  Conversation, speculation and realization come together on the brisk Alberta foothills afternoon.

Lovely.

4 Flex by Naomi K. Lewis - 
70/100 - This was a weird little time travel story about an out a college under-achiever working for his girlfriend's brother.

The brother is working a strange angle with flex-time on a contract job.  What I liked about it was how the author managed to tell the second half of the story backwards.

5 Americas by Jason Lee Norman
71/100 - This was a touching collection of "facts" from Central American countries.  I use quotes because I am not sure of any if these fascinating points, some sound like legends, some like hearsay, are true.  I suspect they are, which I would make me happy, because the world is a strange and beautiful place and it is good to hear about it. 

6 No One Else Really Wants to Listen by Heather Birrell
72/100 - I had to force my way through this one.  Firstly, it was written as a series of posts to a chat room, a venue I cannot tolerate. Then the subject did not capture me, simply because I am male.  Yup, it was a chat room full of pregnant women. In my own defense, I am a father of two girls so I have some experience with the subject but it never happened to ME, you know?

7 Laplanders by Zsuzsi Gartner
73/100 - Here is another literary story where nothing really happens, except kind of.  Two young people meet on a trip to China.  They are very different from each other and her personality deeply affects him. They part after the trip but it is the boy who is changed by the encounter and from it others are also affected.

It was a rather dull story and yet somehow interesting.  Makes me think that even brief interactions can alter perceptions and that every person you meet can be important in your life.

8 When Orphans Glowed in the Dark by Heather O'Neil
74/100 - A heart-wrenching story about orphans returning from the war.  It is filled with tales about how these kids coped with their circumstances.

9 Wrestling by Rosemary Nixon
75/100 - Man I did not like this story.  Crazy, religious fanatics occupy the same room as serial killers in fiction for me.  Crazy people are crazy! There is no understanding them, just run away.  Thank goodness it was a short story; if it was a novel I would have thrown it across the room.

10 Two-Part Invention by Doretta Lau
76/100 - This was a cute story about a single woman who decides she would like to only date dead men.  In it she meets Glenn Gould.  Charming.

11 There Is Good in the World
77/100 - Man, there really is terrible stuff published everywhere.  I hated this one; it made no sense and was just stupid.

12 Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus by Eliza Robertson
78/100 Again, another bullshit story where a man has a nothing life and does nothing with a future that looks like he'll continue to do nothing.  What is the point of this thing?

13 Jobbers by Spencer Gordon
79/100 Finally a decent story.  A sad story of two kids coping with a dysfunctional family situation by pretending to be WWF professional wrestlers.  Touching.

14 Valerie's Bush by Nancy Jo Cullen
80/100 - An interesting story about how a "hair cut" can lead to a life change and a letting go of the past.  I liked it.

15 God Loves Hair by Vivek Shraya
81/100 - A touching story of a young Indian boy growing up in the neighbourhood of Millwoods, Edmonton, struggling to fit in and to understand and accept his own sexuality.  Coming of age is confusing and difficult.

16 The Story of Patricia
82/100 - A shepherd boy tells stories to his oxen.  They don't understand what he is saying but they ate very interested.  Seems strange but somehow it works.

17 The Prize Jury by C. P. Boyko
83/100 - What fun.  It really spoke to the world of literary fiction, novelists and literary prizes.  It was, funny, sad, enlightening and infuriating all at once. Very well done.

18 Statistical Abstract for My Hometown, Spokane, Washington/Addendum by Jess Walter
84/100 - A fabulous story. Written in bullet points I could not help but relate to everything the author said.  Spokane is much like Edmonton in so many ways.  The Addendum was the best part of it.

19 Robin by David Whitton
85/100 - A heart-thumping read.  We hear what is going through a young woman's mind as she plunges to her death from a seventh story balcony.

20 A Luckless Santa Claus by F. Scott Fitzgerald
86/100 - First published in 1912 it is still fresh and funny and relevant to today.  It's also the first Christmas story in the collection.

21 Raccoons by Russell Smith
87/100 - Yikes! Men can be so stupid.  Here is a man trying to end an affair while trying to cover it up from his family.  It as very well done. You just know the whole thing will blow up in his face.

22 What Tells by Jacqueline Baker
88/100 -  Yet another navel-gazing, nothing-happens and nothing-changes story about a normal, dysfunctional-feeling family going out for a picnic.   God another waste of my time.

23 The Pigeon Cove Festival of Lights by Kevin Wilson
89/100 - I really liked this one.  It had the feeling of being a fable.  All the families of a cul-de-sac decorate their homes with increasing amounts of lights, turning the little street into a tourist attraction.

24- How I Saved Christmas by Richard Van Camp
90/100 - This one was a bit off kilter until I found the voice of the narrator.  A young high-schooler trying to cope with the realities of living in a small community in NWT.  Here we learn how he himself has learned to cope and how he convinces a local to continue being Santa Clause for the yearly festivities.

This is where I ended in the collection.  Christmas was upon me and I had no time to complete it.  I will soon read and review the last story in the box.

25 Rock Crystal by Adalbert Stifter
Xx/100 -  




Friday, December 18, 2015

Star Wars Journey to the Force Awakens: High Noon on Jakku by Landry Q. Walker - A short story review.

66/100

What fun!

This was an old-fashioned wild-west stage coach bank heist story.

This time it involves a rogue droid named CZ-1G5 as the primary suspect.  There are chases, shoot-outs and even a stand-off between the good guy and the bad guy.

I loved it.

Even though it was set in the Star Wars universe it could have been played out in any genre.

I don't know if it helped me understand the new movie in any way.  The previous short did that very well by using a setting from the movie in it's narrative.  This one was so generic that it did not matter that it was a Star Wars story.

So, if it's purpose was to fill out the movie, it did not accomplish that.  But as pure entertainment it sure was a fun read.

Recommended.

Landry Q. Walker

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Star Wars Journey to the Force Awakens: The Crimson Corsair and the Lost Treasure of Count Dooku by Landry Q Waker - A short story review

65/100

Now this is what I'm talking about.

It's a tough, gritty and funny story set in a strange, dangerous world.

As the title suggests it's an adventure tale of hidden treasure. What makes this so much fun is that it expands things from the new Star Wars VII movie; in the trailer we see a crashed star destroyer on a desert planet.  In this quick read we learn which ship it is, why it crashed and what is supposedly on board.

The author found entertaining ways to introduce characters and ending them in quick succession.

It is not written to be taken too seriously, after all Star Wars does have a sense of humour and the author took the opportunity to tell a fun story without venturing into farce.  By the end you've had a small taste of a very large universe and you've been able to fill in a bit of the story.

Now when you see that crashed ship you won't just think that's a cool background but you'll know how it came to be.  That is the ultimate value of reading it.

Well done.

The author's website is here:  http://landrywalker.blogspot.ca/

Landry Q Walker

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

AB Negative, An Anthology Of Alberta Crime - Book Report #148

I first heard about this book from The Edmonton Journal.  I am a sucker for local stuff; too much media is set in New York or LA.  It's always refreshing to read something set in places I know.  Plus, I enjoy supporting local efforts whenever I can.

I can say the anthologist, Axel Howerton, who has a gritty entry here, does a terrific job of including a wide verity of genres to this collection.  That said the collection just kept getting better with each story.  I am so happy I bought it.

The book opens with Murder On The Mall by Randy McCharles.  52/100 - A straight up PI story, one of my favourites, our hero, Galloway, is on a case, trying to help a western wear retailer who is being shaken down for protection money.

It was a fine story, I liked that Galloway still has ties to the police department and there was a clever use of taxi cabs that could become a thing.

The only thing that took me out of the story was one bit of slang.  I have never heard a $20 bill referred to in much the same way Americans refer to their money.  That was a minor complaint, otherwise the story was very entertaining, quickly paced and believable.

Freezer Breakdown by Susan Calder - 52/100 - Vincent's mother has just died.  He's in his mid-forties and has spent much of it living with her. Now that she's gone how will he get by?

This was a quick read, a-day-in-the-life type of story.  It lacked a certain menace that I think the author was trying to convey. 

It felt more like a slice of literary fiction rather than crime fiction. 

Devil's Due by Axel Howerton - 53/100 - This was a fascinating story about a drug distributor, Devil, taking the time to give one of his underling-dealers a lesson about following rules. 

What comes is an epiphany of sorts for Devil. It's interesting how paradigm shifts occur. 

The story started out gritty and scary then took an unexpected turn. Well worth reading for anybody who is a fan of straight up crime fiction. 

Movable Type by S. G. Wong - 54/100 - There sure was a lot packed into this one. Nothing quite so satisfying than reading a story about corruption and it's uncovering. 

Plus it's set in a newspaper in the 1930's so it had some nostalgic charm. But the twist was the best. 

A Dead Reckoning  by Robert Bose - 55/100 - My goodness this was a fun story. It has very strong similarities to The Dresden Files and thankfully also had a good dose of humour. 

Tagged Boon is a fixer, of sorts, who is helping a woman to release a spirit from an artefact.  So there is a bit of occult here which is usually not my thing. But when it's done well, like this story, it can be a breath of fresh air. 

It was fun and I hope there is more from Bose out there. 

The Workman's Friend by Janice MacDonald - 56/100 - MacDonald's domestic flair is back in this quick cozy. 

Although the cozy is not my preferred genre of crime fiction, the author can create scenes that are vibrant in the imagination. 

A good addition to this volume. 

The Coelacanth Samba by Al Onia - 57/100 - Corporate shenanigans with an unusual murder. 

Darren McLean is an ex-RCMP officer gone private.  He is hired to find a missing executive from a small oil company. 

I found it very well written. Onia has a real grasp of who this character is and his confidence comes through in his writing. 

Cappy's Smart Monkey by Sharon Wildwind - 58/100 - What a cool, Calgary based Western this was.  I'm certain the recent flooding inspired this story of a planned heist upset by a storm. 

The characters were fully formed, believable and interesting. I felt like I was reading a classic pulp magazine story. I mean that in the best possible way.  Often short stories feel like they come from a larger work or stilted and rushed due to a short word count. This tale worked extremely well in it's space. 

Well done, indeed.

Silicone Hearts by Brent Nichols - 59/100 - A human PI is hired by a robot to find a missing robot. What follows is a violent and often funny exploration of the world of artificial humans.  Some are victims while others are heroes.

It reminds me of The Plutonium Blonde series of books (by John Zakour) blended with a bit of the Blade Runner movie. 

Very well done.

A Little Bit Easy by Therese Greenwood - 60/100 - A retired southern Alberta dairy farmer rents out a house on his property to a young woman from New Orleans.

She is very private and is doing some interesting improvements to the old house.  People being people it's hard not to get to know each other.

The story was vivid and well paced.

Butch's Last Lesson by R. Overwater - 61/100 - Oh my god. This one made my heart race. Not for fans of the "cozy."  This is hard neo-noir.

Fantastic.

Hell Hath No Fury by Dwayne E. Clayden - 62/100 - This was probably my favourite of the bunch.  It starts off with our narrator getting a beating from three brothers of a woman he is involved with.  We find out later that he is a PI with a half brother on the police force.  Our guy takes a "domestic" case that quickly spirals from one suspect to another. 

Throughout the case he is stalked by the brothers and he is having difficulties getting a grip on the circumstances. 

The whole story delivered all the satisfaction of a novel and even left a plot points unresolved setting up a possible follow up.

Sudden Death by Jayne Barnard - 63/100 - Nope.  I think this one is my favourite.  It is pretty much a crime comedy of errors, written much like an Elmore Leonard novel.  There are lots of not very smart characters, all trying their hands a different crimes during a storm and the NHL playoffs.

Classic.

The Mystery of the Missing Heir by Kevin P. Thorton - 64/100 - What fun, a Sherlock Holmes pastiche set in 19th century Ft. McMurray.  It also had a fun nod to the TV show Due South.

The real treat was in the merging of Holmes and northern Alberta.

This province has a lot of talent.










-

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Brisk Money by Adam Christopher - A Short Story Review

51/100

I love detective stories.  Science fiction detective stories are a special treat.

This one was quite clever; it's 1962 and our hero is a robot with a limited amount of data storage.  He must return to his office every night to have his memories downloaded to the mainframe.  Her name is Ada by the way.

Things start to get interesting when our robot PI's tapes are not wiped perfectly.  He has fragments of memories still on the tapes.  This is enough for him to become suspicious about the work he does so he investigates what he can.

I thought the premise and the story itself were just terrific.

There is a novel out with these very characters that I'm dying to read.

Recommended.

You can read the story here:   http://www.tor.com/2014/07/23/brisk-money-adam-christopher/

The author's website is here:  http://www.adamchristopher.co.uk/

Adam Christopher

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Analog Magazine The 1,000th Issue!

You may have noticed that my previous post included the first story of this issue.  I was toying with the idea of writing a separate post for each individual story.  This was simply because I've been randomly reading from the magazine, a collection of Alberta based mysteries and a non-fiction book about the food industry.  With three things on the go I haven't been posting here at all and I was beginning to feel that I should upload something.

Part of me wants to give proper credit to each author without making a post too long with pictures and website links.  Then, if I post for each short story like I do for novels, it seems I'm just trying too hard to add content.  It's a first-world problem to be sure.

It seems likely that my goal of reading 100 short stories in 2015 will not be met but I will come close, enough to be happy that I've challenged myself to it.  I tend to follow my nose when it comes to reading and that can lead to neglecting challenges that I've set for myslef.

But what about the June 2015 issue?

I read every page and found it to be wonderful.  This is the kind of SF I love and I feel lucky to have a copy in my sweaty hands.

I've subscribed to the magazine for years and only manage to read one or two issues a year.  Part of the reason I resubscribe every year is simply to support the magazine.  The other is that I love the cover art.  The stories become a bonus whenever I decide to read an issue.  Besides, paper lasts a long time, if taken care of.

One of the things I do not like about the physical issues is how fragile the covers are; they smudge, tear and fade while I read them.  Starting with issue 1000 I've doubled my subscription to include a digital copy that I read on my iPad.

Below are my thoughts about the offering of this installment to Analog's long history.

The Wormhole Wars -  by Richard A. Lovett - 42/100 - my god the science went right over my head. Thank goodness there was a scene at a bar with coins to explain things. It was a very good first contact story with crisp believable dialog and a good dose of wit.

 http://richardalovett.com/drupe/

The Very Long Conversation - by Gwendolyn Clare - 43/100 - Language.  What an interesting twist on our understanding of it.  This was a warm, gentle piece that takes its time to reveal itself. 

It reminded me how unprepared we are to encounter something truly alien.

 http://www.gwendolynclare.com/

The Kroc War by Ted Reynolds and William F Wu - 44/100 - If you liked World War Z, the book, not the movie, then you'll be happy to read a space opera done in thensame style.  

Like WWZ I liked how this story was able to capture so many stories in so few pages. 

Well crafted and left me thinking that this world they created could be just as big as Star Wars.

Reynolds -  http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?232
Wu -  http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?1183

Strategies for Optimizing Your Mobile Advertising by Brenta Blevins - 45/100 Taking wearable technology and advertising to the next logical level.

Well thought out and seemingly inevitable.

http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?120346

The Odds  by Ron Collins - 46/100 - Ooh.  What a wondeful couple of pages!  This opens the door to en enormous epic. This could be the very beggining of a new novel. I don't know. I must look the author up on the internet. 

Hugely cinematic. 
The Empathy Vaccine by C C Finlay - 47/100 - Genetic modification through an IV treatment. What if you could change your personality traits with a visit to the doctor?  Would you try to become more assertive or compassionate?

It's an interesting question in a story that has an interesting answer.
Three Bodies at Mitanni  by Seth Dickinson - 48/100 - Picture humanity sending out seedships to colonize the galaxy.  Now imagine a trio of people sent out to check on and judge the results.  Their mission is to decide which colonies are a threat to the very society that sent them out.

A heavy subject, to be sure, and the author worked the story with the gravitas it deserves.  It had all the elements of a good science fiction story without it being about that.  No, it was an exploration of what it meas to be human and how we adapt to survive.

The story takes place late in the mission, having already visited and pasing judgment on two other worlds, we see how deeply the crew has been affected by their previous decisions. I came away from this story wishing I could have witnessed those previous decisions. 

"Always leave them wanting more," is the saying; I think seeking out the author's other works is recommended.
Ships In The Night by Jay Werkheiser - 49/100 - A spacer walks into a bar and begins to tell the patrons a story about one of his trips. 

I just love stories where people are people and space travel is as common as driving a car.  This makes way for human centric adventures.  I belive an author gets it right when the story can take place in the past, present or future because people are people, you know?

http://jaywerkheiser.blogspot.ca/

The Audience by Sean McMullen - 50/100 - A fasinating take on a first contact senario.  It takes the classic question of "how much information do we share with an alien race?" and boils it down to one person's decision.

http://seanmcmullen.net.au/


Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Wormhole War by Richard Lovett - Short Story Review

42/100

My god the science went right over my head. Thank goodness there was a scene at a bar with coins to explain things. It was a very good first contact story with crisp believable dialog and a good dose of wit.

Richard A Lovett's website is here:

http://richardalovett.com/drupe/

Richard A Lovett

Monday, October 12, 2015

Jamie Oliver, The Kitchen Crusader, Unauthorised Biography by Gilly Smith - Book Report #147


At first I was a bit wary of this book.  It was the word "unauthorised" that raised a warning flag.  To me, it sounded like a volume that would do nothing but tear the guy apart, otherwise why wouldn't it be authorized?  

What I found was a well researched story of his early life, culled from many print and TV interviews.  I found it was actually quite balanced in portraying the man.

I must confess that I am a giant fan of Mr. Oliver. He has changed everything about how I cook and how I purchase food. So I really wanted to just like the guy.  I really didn't want to find out that he was some kind of jerk you'd never want to be in the same room with.  According to Smith, Oliver is pretty much what you see on TV.  

The dark side that is Jamie Oliver, like many rebels (think Jobs or Musk), is that he can be single-minded in his pursuits.  This can lead to stresses in his marriage and create friction with the institutions he has targeted.  This guy has the ability of Thor and can come in with a great big hammer and smash things up.  But it is his passion that ultimately comes through and even though he may have upset people along the way, most concede that he is doing good things and is working form a noble place.

Much of the book dug deeply into his movement to improve food quality in the UK's schools and how it has impacted other movements, such as Slow Food and the local/organic trends in food culture.

It sure made me think more deeply about my own food hang-ups and gave me some positive energy to continue on the path of consuming better quality ingredients.  The local/organic thing is much more than eating healthier but there is also a very real economic impact that results from the purchases we make.  This should also be considered when deciding to buy local or not.

I would recommend this book as it will get you thinking about food culture, agriculture, pesticides and making informed choices.

The author's web page is:   http://gillysmith.com/


Gilly Smith



* * *

I found this at a lovely used book store on Whyte Ave, uninspiringly called The Edmonton Book Store, but don't let that discourage you.  I have never seen such an outstanding collection of non-fiction in one place, plus, the basement is a literal treasure trove of western Canadian history.  I must go back soon.  They are located at 10533 82 Ave.

Visit the website at -  http://www.edmontonbookstore.com/


* * *

I will be donating this book to my library in the hopes that somebody else can get behind the notion of paying attention to what we eat.




Monday, October 5, 2015

Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance - Book Report #146

Subtitle Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

Think what you will but you've got to agree that Elon Musk is a very interesting man.  He's often been described as a real world Tony Stark of the Iron Man comics and movies.  And in many ways he is; in at least how motivated he is to think outside the box and to see his vision come to fruition.

He is a billionaire who is unafraid to risk all of it to make things work.  To him, it seems, money is only a tool, much like a hammer, to achieve his ultimate goals for humanity.  Money is a luxury most people lack and he is using his for a greater good.

I was fascinated by this book.  I took every opportunity to read a page or two when I could not devote a nice slice of time to it. He is also sometimes compared to Steve Jobs, at least in how abrasive and quick to fire people who do not meet his expectations.  Unlike Jobs he is motivated by forcing humanity into a sustainable and space faring world of the science fiction he read in his youth.  Not by creating a gadget.  He is not content with the pace of progress we've been experiencing for the last 50 years.

I've got to say; I agree with him.  Ever since Apollo ended the promise of  a technological, space-traveling future has withered away.  The world needs risk-taking, motivated individuals like Tesla, Edison, Bell, Diamandis, Branson, Jobs, Berners-Lee and Musk.  These folks, and so many others, have transformed our world in profound ways, making the world a better place.

On the subject of Musk; only time will tell what his contributions will do to transform our live.  He certainly knows what he wants to get out of his endeavors - nothing less than Mars!  Just think about all the ancillary benefits this kind of goal would bring to people around the world.  The massive effort needed would employ so many folks that it is staggering to even contemplate.

Think about how many new jobs, jobs that did not exist 30 years ago, have been created by the adoption of the Internet. Musk will not be satisfied with anything less than a paradigm shift in humanity's direction as a single people.

In any case I found the book fascinating and I am so glad I had the opportunity to read it and learn about this interesting man.

Ashlee Vance's web page is here:  http://www.ashleevance.com/

Elon Musk
Ashlee Vance



Monday, September 28, 2015

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin - Book Report #145

Is there anybody who hasn't been touched by Steve Martin's work?  Stand up comedy, movies, books and music; this guy has pretty much done it all by following his passions and his heart.

This memoir chronicles his early years, from childhood to the height of comedy stardom.  In it he talks about his personal life without ever getting creepy about it.  His style is straight forward and honest much like he was telling you stories after dinner, in the living room.  His intelligence, thoughtfulness and humour seep into every passage making this a wonderful experience.

Hearing how he felt and dealt with lack of fame then and abundance of it was refreshing.  I was very happy to get the pay off I wanted from this: why did he turn his back so completely from stand up?  His answer is honest, intelligent, understandable and respectful to his audience.  I have come away from this only wanting to know more about this unusual man and with the desire to embrace the other aspects of his entertainment career, namely his novels and music.

I experienced this as an audio book and I recommend anybody to do so as well.  There are many benefits from this format; firstly it is read by Mr. Martin with his rich, warm voice, plus he also replays some of his best bits on stage and some things that did not make the show.  With his ability to deliver lines, you don't want to leave it to yourself to get it right.  The added bonus of the audio book are the musical interludes between chapters and the short performance at the end, all performed by Martin.  The audio book is a very rich experience.

Better yet buy the paper book and the audio version, it would make a terrific set.



Monday, September 21, 2015

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline - Book Report #144

This novel has been on my radar for a while.  When I heard Steven Spielberg was set to direct the movie version (2017) I decided it was time to read it.

The story takes place in the near future (2044) where climate change has destroyed the economy as we know it today.  There is more poverty than North America is used to and people escape their unhappy lives through a virtual reality version of Second Life, known as the OASIS.



That time period's Steve Jobs, who created the OASIS, falls ill.  Upon his death it is revealed that he has left his vast fortune hidden somewhere in the OASIS.  But it's not THAT easy, whoever is lucky enough to find it has first to find three hidden keys to unlock three hidden gates where he or she will be challenged solve the various puzzles and tasks within the gates.

The story begins five years after the "game" was revealed and no one has found the first key.  Our narrator is Wade Watts, a teenager who lives in "the stacks", poverty stricken and living without his parents in an aunt's trailer.  Life is not pleasant for Wade and he spends as much time as he can in OASIS within the relative safety of his secret lair buried deep within a pile of junked cars.


The story leaps off the page in a very cinematic way making it easy to envision Spielberg's touch.  The novel is steeped in 1980's pop culture and video game history.  What I found interesting is that the book is considered YA making me wonder what the appeal could be to Millennials with such a dense reference to those days.  It felt like it was written for me by an author who is only 7 years younger than me.

And yes, I got almost all the references and enjoyed this story very much.

I certainly recommend it.  It is an easy read and flows quickly.  There is not a lot of dialog but the narration is effortless.

The author's website is here:

http://www.ernestcline.com/

Ernest Cline



Friday, September 11, 2015

Physics of the Future by Michio Kaku - Book Report #143

Once again, in an effort to see the good in the world, I turned to Kaku's book about the future.

He covers eight broad subject areas, looks at where the technology is today and a year or two from now.  Then he takes on the futurist role and expands the subject to the near future (present to 2030) followed by mid-century predictions (2030 to 2070) and ending with speculation on the far future (2070 to 2100).

The book looks at the future of:

The Computer
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Medicine
Nanotechnology
Energy
Space Travel
Wealth
Humanity


He ends the book with a bit of creative fiction; a day in the life of a regular office worker which brings all the technology discussed and shows how he interacts with it.

I liked the book but I did not love it.  But that's not really a flaw of the author or the book, it's just that some areas, like nanotechnology and space travel, are either in their infancy or have been so neglected that it's difficult to believe some of the changes predicted.  Some of the topics lent themselves to believable extrapolation while others felt like pure guesswork. 

Each topic is its own entity and does not lead into the next, meaning you can pick and choose which chapters to read without losing anything by skipping one or reading them out of order.

The strength of the book is that it will give you a sense of wonder and hopefulness for the future.

Now if only we can get humanity to just get along with each other we can get down to the business of creating the future depicted by Kaku.

You can find the author's website here:
http://mkaku.org/


Monday, August 17, 2015

The Further Adventures of Slugger McBatt by W P Kinsella - A Short Story Collection - BookReport #142

Before I get into the stories let me just say that if you love baseball, the history of it, the pace, the slow understanding of it; you will love this book.  The collection is about people, legends, history, summer heat, scams and troublemakers.

It is a wonderful collection.  Kinsella can tell a story.

Distances - 32/100. A stranger comes to town and befriends two young men.  Together they arrange a challenge game made up of the local high school team and a Division One team.

The stranger treats the boys well but he's certainly up to something. 

This was a wonderful story, perfect for a sunny day with a cold beer.  Good thing that's how I read it.

Reports Concerning the Death of the Seattle Albatross Are Somewhat Exaggerated - 33/100.  Wow.  This story took me by surprise but I liked it.  Just sit back and enjoy a story of an extraterrestrial who just happens to look exactly like sports mascot.

The Further Adventures of Slugger McBatt  - 34/100- A touching story of an awkward boy who befriends the jocks of his school through his cartooning abilities.  It is a universal coming of age story that is directed to those of us who struggled with athletics. 

Frank Pierce, Iowa - 35/100- This story read like poetry, a lazy remembrance of a hot, midsummer day on the prairies. It's about the legend of how a small Iowa town just - disappeared. 

Of course it's more than that; what truly stuck with me was the heat of a blazing hot afternoon. 

K Mart - 36/100 - This was an emotionally complicated story about a high-schooler growing up in a remote town, his friends, a young girl and a suicide. 

Regret and release. Memories and diverging paths. 

Sad and lovely. 

The Valley of the Schmoon - 37/100 - A one sided conversation in the dead of night driving to Seattle. The driver, an old player turned catcher's coach, is telling stories to his passenger, a rookie about to play his first games in the big league. 

The world is passing our narrator by as he reminisces on how life used to be and how the game has changed. 

It seems to be a truism of aging that the world can somehow leave you behind without your realizing it. 

Punchlines -38/100 - There's one on every team - a trouble maker, somebody who always winds up in some kind of trouble either with the law, a husband or in a hospital.  The kind of person who has never grown up can be fun in small doses but can wear a team down if he can't be controlled.

There tends to be a reason these types of guys keep acting out and in this story it still kind of works but it won't be long before in makes a reader groan.  Still it's a good read.


The Eddie Scissons Syndrome. - 39/100 - I'm not quite sure how I feel about this story. It ends too soon and too abruptly.

A college student and former designated hitter prospect is injured and takes a job as a teacher's aid with a professor studying pathological sports liars: people who brag about playing in the big leagues but haven't.

They track down an old man in a VA hospital to uncover his story.

The professor's motivation is never made quite clear and the reaction of the student made little sense to me either.

Sadly, this is the first story that did not work for me.

Come to think of it, the opening paragraph was wonderful. I must have read it four or five times just for the joy of it.

I could have been another Greg Luzinski.  A sportswriter wrote
about me that I run forward with the same speed a mixer full of
concrete moves backward.  I'm built close to the ground; my
teammates used to call me Dumpster.  Just like the "Bull" I was big
and slow, but I could hit the ball a mile with great regularity.

Diehard - 40/100 - An old friend has died.  What to do with the ashes.

Beautiful, hopeful and heartwarming. A lovely story.

Searching For Freddie - 41/100 - A sports reporter chases a base stealing legend across time and across America.

Yet another hart-warming story about a baseball legend who spent very little time in the Bigs but made an impression on people.   There is an understated magic to this story that made me sigh and sit back in my chair with a smile.

Conclusion - 

Let me say this book was a joy from start to finish. Highly recommended.

You can find Kinsella's website here:

http://www.wpkinsella.com/

W. P. Kinsella



Monday, August 10, 2015

Star Trek: The Typhon Pact: Paths of Disharmony by Dayton Ward - BookReport #141

Let me first say that I love Dayton Ward's work but I hated this book.

I so wanted to like it, I really did but the plot was so dull and you can tell that Ward's hands were tied behind his back. 

The plot revolves around the Andorians and their eventual backing out of the United Federation of planets. 

What?! You think I spoiled it? This is the fourth book in the series - knowing that you can bet that the alien race being explored is, or will be, in the Typhon Pact. The whole "Gasp!" surprise was telegraphed in the title!  Which made the first 400 pages nearly meaningless. 

The best parts of the book, and what I love about Ward's writing, is how real and believable the secondary characters were; conversations and humour came naturally and made me believe in the Star Trek universe. 

That boring political shit that Ward was forced to write about felt stiff and unnatural.  I could only read ten pages at a time before I would either fall asleep or wish I could do something more interesting, like clean the toilet or, well, clean the toilet again. 

Hey, you can't win them all. But after this one I am considering donating the rest of the un-read books in this series to my local library. Or I might just recycle them; so far this series is beyond dull. Every author has been shackled by the editors at Pocket and made to row the ship in their decreed direction. There seems to be far too much editorial control going on. 

Dayton Ward is a fantastic author who can plot and pace a book like no one else and I love his ability to breathe life into characters.  His ability to create believable and humorous dialogue is his best quality as an author.  To be honest I think I need to read is non-tie-in books to get the true measure of the man.  Reading this particular book I can hear him pounding his fists against the walls of the tiny editorial cell he was dropped in.  There is a large talent lurking here and it needs to be set free.

Don't be afraid to visit Ward's blog, The Fog Of Ward, you'll get a measure of the man there.  Trust me, he's worth reading.

http://www.daytonward.com/

Dayton Ward


Monday, August 3, 2015

Triumph of the City by Edward Glaeser - Book Report #140

One more in my quest for the good in the world. Here Glaeser makes a compelling and well researched argument that the city is humanity's best invention.

I came to this book after listening to the Freakonomics podcast from May 6, 2015 titled Could The Next Brooklyn Be ... Las Vegas?!  Listen to that as a good companion to the book.  You can find it here:

http://freakonomics.com/2015/05/11/could-the-next-brooklyn-be-las-vegas-a-new-freakonomics-radio-podcast/

Everything you love and hate about city life is explored; the very nature of crowds,  people bumping into each other and exchanging ideas has led to advancements in science, business and the arts. 


By compressing people and building up, instead of sprawling out we take up much less land and reduce our individual carbon footprint. 

My favourite thought came from chapter 8, titled Is There Anything Greener Than Blacktop?  "If you love nature, stay away from it."
 

He also tackles the difficult subject of cities in decline, think Detroit of today and New York of the 1970's and how cities have re-imagined themselves over and over again. 

All in all I found this book to be a fascinating read. It made me think of where my city is doing things right and where it is not.

Edward Glaeser


Monday, July 20, 2015

Virgin Galactic, The First Ten Years by Erik Seedhouse - Book Report #139

Not to distance myself too far from my science fiction roots my next book to help restore my faith in humanity was the story of Virgin Galactic.

You may have heard about Richard Branson's next way-out business venture; after the success of the Ansari X Prize Branson invested in Scaled Composites to create Spaceship Two and sell tickets to space.

The book tells the story of suborbital flight from it's beginnings and of all the challenges faced with this type of flight.

But the author also delves deeper into the challenges of the first ten years of Virgin Galactic up to and including the tragic crash of October 2014.  Getting this business off the ground (take the pun if you want) requires patience, bravery and deep pockets.  Luckily Branson has all those qualities but I fear that the entire project is in danger of being abandoned - How much more money can he put into this?

Given that I grew up watching the Apollo program, I really want this project to succeed.  As far as I am concerned there should be moon bases all over the place and we should be on Mars by now. Opening space to commercial ventures is the only way space will be truly explored.  Why?  Because there is money to be made up there!

Back to the book - found it odd.  Don't get me wrong, I liked it very much and got more from it than I expected, it's just that it felt like I was reading a paper-bound version of a Wikipedia page.  Maybe it was all the website links listed at the end of each chapter, maybe it's the output the author, I can't put my finger on it. 

And speaking about the author, Seedhouse should be wearing a cape!  Author, astronaut, ultra-long distance athlete, master's degree in medical science, paratrooper -  how can a person like this not be genetically engineered?  Maybe he will simply explode from doing so much.

I kid, but really, this guy is a modern day version of Doc Savage.

Virgin Galactic

http://www.virgingalactic.com/

X Prize - Ansari X Prize

http://www.xprize.org/

http://ansari.xprize.org/

Scaled Composites

http://www.scaled.com/

Erik Seedhouse