Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Choice by Paul McAuley


Set in post-apocalypse Scotland after the melting of the ice caps and after aliens have found earth and live among us in the ruins.

I often find these types of stories intriguing but often depressing; only because I very much want to live in the "shiny" future not the "grubby" one. 

Here we find two teen boys going on an adventure to see an alien sea-craft accidentally beached in some shallow water nearby. 

There is some perfectly incorporated world-building making the story incredibly rich.  In the spotlight you learn that there are many other stories set in this world. 

There are some ramifications to the boys' trip that make this a most satisfying read. 

One thing I must commend Lightspeed Magazine for is providing author spotlights and interviews.  I just love DVD extras and it is most welcome to find it in a print publication.

Highly recommended.

The author's website is here:

This was included as an ebook exclusive and is only available if you purchase the issue.

This story was first published in Asimov's February 2011 issue.

Asimov's February 2011

Paul McAuley

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Men of Unborrowed Vision by Jeremiah Tolbert


This was an interesting riff on the Occupy Wall Street protests. With a healthy dose of conspiracy theory.

Was it interesting?  Yes.

Was it science fiction?  Not even close.

Time to be fair - It was a really good story.  I found the characters interesting and I liked the friction between Mara and Adam.  It tackles the notion of inequality by taking a closer look at the people who participate in political protests.  There is even a nod to those folks who believe the government is trying to control our minds with "chem-trails", the CONtrails (short for condensation) that you sometimes see from overflying aircraft.  It is here that the story probably qualified as SF.
Yikes!  The government is out to get us.
The real trouble I had with the story is that it was published in a science fiction magazine.  So the difficulty I'm having lies with the editor and not the author.  I'm always happy when an author makes a sale but, as a reader, I question if this even qualifies as soft SF.

Opinions may vary.

Jeremiah Tolbert's web page is here:

The story is available to read online here:

Lightspeed Magazine is here:

Jeremiah Tolbert.  Love the hat.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

More Adventures on Other Planets by Michael Cassutt


This may have been the best SF story from this issue.

It was a real nuts and bolts exploration of Jupiter's moon, Europa. Set in 2026 it takes what we know about the Mars rovers to the next level. 

The two main characters were flawed and believable; rough personalities; failed marriages; tempers flaring, it all made for an authentic setting.  I also liked how the author personified the rovers; just like today each rover was given a name but, interestingly, they developed "personalities' of their own. 

From top to bottom this was a believable and touching look at the future of planetary exploration. 

If you liked The Martian by Andy Weir then you'll like this too. 


NOTE:  If you want to follow the real world attempt to explore Europa go to the NASA website and learn about the Europa Clipper Mission.
Europa Clipper

Michael Cassutt does not have his own web page; his Wikipedia entry is here:

The following picture of Michael Cassutt was lifted from the Tor Books blog:

Lightspeed Magazine:

Michael Cassutt

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs - BookReport #129

I guess I was expecting something else when I started reading this book. Instead of something that would give some insights into modern day reading what I got was a dry and ultimately uninteresting examination into the history and nature of reading itself.

The author explores the different kinds of attention needed depending on the types of texts being read. Fiction needs a different kind of focus than does a history or textbook. 

He did say one thing though; read for pleasure; follow your Whims (yes he capitalized this to separate this from blindly clicking on Facebook and Twitter links). I took his advice and, 15 pages from the end, abandoned this exceedingly tedious book.

Alan Jacobs

Sunday, February 22, 2015

He Came From a Place of Openness and Truth by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam


This whole thing started out as a YA teen angst kind of story that turned into an alien abduction with a twist.

I'm not sure if I liked it or not.  I've discovered, this past year, that I am not a fan of young adult fiction - since I'm nearly 50.

What I ultimately found disappointing was how it all ended.  I would rather have the author utilize some of the alien awesomeness she introduced instead of going for a cheap happy ending.  It's strange really, you would think this ending, which is kind of different, would work but, somehow, it just fell flat for me.

I decided - I'm still not sure if I like it or not.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about this story.

Maybe that's the point.

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam's website is here:

You can read her story here in the Lightspeed Magazine website:

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

Friday, February 20, 2015

Beautiful Boys by Theodora Goss


This was a fun story.

How often have we seen a perfect human specimen; either in a magazine add, television or in public?  Sometime we shake our heads and mumble, "That person must be from another planet."

What if that is the case. 

There was an ease to the writing that allowed me to instantly relax into the story. 

I liked it.  But ...

Was it really science fiction?

Well, maybe.  (Up next - a mini rant.)

Science fiction has drifted so far away from its origins, for so many years, that the term is becoming difficult to pin down.

It is appropriate that Beautiful Boys was first published in Asimov's which has become the gold-standard magazine in genre blurring.  Asimov's had done more to damage Science Fiction than any other publication out there.  I have personally found that all they manage to do is confuse readers.

There is an old saying; "Good fences make good neighbours" (Most notably attributed to Robert Frost's poem, The Mending Wall.  This is also true of genre fiction - if you stay true to the tropes and characteristics of your particular corner of fiction you can create excellent stories.  Some genres blend exceedingly well together: Private Eye with SF comes immediately to mind but others don't.  Blending literary fiction (where plot is dirty word) does not mix well with SF and neither does fantasy.

One can argue that Star Wars is a blending of Fantasy and SF, what with swords, monsters and The Force.  Which, I guess is true, but it's the Science Fiction that ultimately dictates the world.  It is filled with space, planets, star-ships and technology.

Years ago, The Twilight Zone created it's own niche by blending genres. Call it Weird fiction.  Beautiful Boys, while very good, belongs in the Weird category.

You can find Theodora Goss here:

Lightspeed Magazine can be found here:

Asimov's Magazine can be found here:

Theodora Goss
Asimov's August 2012

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Cold Solution by Don Sakers


I came to this story from an article by Mike Brotherton in the Lightspeed magazine July 2011 issue, which discusses the history and impact of the original Tom Godwin penned The Cold Equations.  In it he mentioned some other authors who took a stab at The Cold Equations inspired stories.

Unlike The Old Equations by Jake Kerr,  which was a re-imagining, this one is a retelling of the original. By changing the characters Sakers convincingly twists the original into a different outcome.  All the other details are the same. 

My particular edition was purchased as a Kindle ebook which included a short essay by the author that I found very interesting. 

Don Sakers website (which desperately needs to be refreshed) is here:

The story was originally published in the July 1991 issue of Analog magazine.
Analog, July 1991
Don Sakers

Monday, February 16, 2015

Lightspeed Magazine, July 2011 - Fiction Recap

I enjoyed every story presented in this issue.  My heart lies in hard science fiction which is well represented here.

I am a big fan of humans; I like stories that involve people; I prefer it when the future is the setting and humans are involved in the drama or conflict.  With aliens, often too much word count is wasted on describing how strange or icky the creatures are, rather than pursuing a story.  I was happy that Face Value did not fall into that trap and we were given a compelling story, involving aliens, but focused on the two humans in it.

I purchased the issue primarily for The Cold Equations and the re-imagined The Old Equations.  I must say; The Cold Equations has lost nothing of its ability to grip the reader since it was first published in 1954.

Below are links to my thoughts on each story in the issue.

The Cold Equations -

The Old Equations -

Sweet Sixteen -

Face Value -

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Star Trek: The Original Series: Seasons of Light and Darkness by Michael A. Martin


This is a very good Leonard McCoy "origin" story.

I'm using quotes since the novella explores McCoy's first mission as a member of starfleet, not so much his complete back story.  Here we find him trying to put some distance between himself and a difficult period in his life.  He is accepted into starfleet medical and immediately sent to Capella IV for an extended medical/diplomatic mission.

In the TV series and movies McCoy has a very strong belief in what is right and wrong and his own roll on the Enterprise.  If I want to be flip about it; this is the story that explains his saying, "Dammit Jim!  I'm a doctor not a ..."  But I don't want to trivialize this, McCoy came to this saying in a deeply difficult way.  If anything, reading this story will make that line less of a joke and give it a deeper meaning.

Yup.  I liked this one a lot.

Read it.

The opening scene of the book.
Michael A. Martin

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Veldt by Ray Bradbury


First published in 1950 this story still resonates today.

At first it's a cautionary tale of technology but then it also touches on how parenting is still very much needed.

Though the gadgets of the story are very different then ones we enjoy today; the parallels to our smart phone, internet-obsessed society are easy to see.

The whole story revolves around a holo-deck gone wrong.

Although the story was first published in The Saturday Evening post of September 23, 1950 it is most easily accessible from The Illustrated Man collection.

I was led to this story from my daughter who had it assigned to read during her junior high school years.  (That's middle school for those of you in the US.)  It certainly stayed in her mind for at least the past five years.

Ray Bradbury's official website is:

To hear the radio drama of this story go to (this is where I found the interior art):

Ray Bradbury

September 23, 1950

Alternative title and interior art.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Face Value by Karen Joy Fowler


What an interesting story.

Two explorers, Hesper a linguist / poet and Taki an xenologist are embedded in an alien community trying to communicate with the native beings.

The story is interesting on two levels.

First, the team is trying to make, not so much first contact, as they are already accepted within the strange community, but first communication. The residents know they are there and interact by touching each human and going through their things.

Second, we witness the changing dynamics between Taki and Hesper: their relationship becomes strained by the frustrating lack of progress.

Stories like this one expose the fallacy of our current TV science fiction trope; that all we need to communicate is a universal translator.

Well worth reading.

This story was originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November 1986.

Karen Joy Fowler's website is here:

Karen Joy Fowler
Fantasy & Science Fiction, November 1986

Monday, February 9, 2015

Book A Week Challenge - A Recap.

What fun this was.

There were times I thought I wouldn't make it.  I kept it simple by only reading books I had a real ability to finish in a week. Some books were quicker than others giving me some breathing room to tackle more challenging ones.

I also included two audio books that I was able to listen to while working.  They felt like a bit of a cheat but I decided they counted because I absorbed the information as if I had read them in book form.

A bit of a breakdown:
17 were Star Trek books
12 were non-fiction/memoir
8 were mystery/crime
7 were science fiction
3 were young adult
3 were literature
1 was humour
1 was a thriller

Below is a list of each book that made up the challenge.

1 - Angle of Investigation by Michael Connelly
2 - Monitor by Janice MacDonald
3 - Star Trek: Chain of Attack by Gene DeWeese
4 - The Max by Ken Bruen and Jason Starr
5 - Fifty-Two Pickup by Elmore Leonard

6 - Homeworld by Harry Harrison
7 - Cinnamon Skin by John D. MacDonald
8 - Farside by Ben Bova
9 - Command and Control by Eric Schlosser (audio book)
10 - Wheelworld by Harry Harrison

11 - Ice Station Zebra by Alistair MacLean
12 - The Last Quarry by Max Allan Collins
13 - The First Quarry by Max Allan Collins
14 - Train by Tom Zoellner
15 - Redshirts by John Scalzi

16 - Who Could That Be At This Hour by Lemony Snicket
17 - When Did You See Her Last? by Lemony Snicket
18 - Star Trek: The Covenant by Howard Weinstein
19 - Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
20 - Star Trek: A Time To Sow by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore

21 - Star Trek: A Time To Harvest by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore
22 - An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield
23 - Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: Forgotten History by Christopher L. Bennett
24 - Starfleet Academy: The Assassination Game by Alan Gratz
25 - Starfleet Academy: The Gemini Agent by Rick Barba

26 - Star Trek: Destiny: Gods of Night by David Mack
27 - Starworld by Harry Harrison
28 - Star Trek: Seekers: Second Nature by David Mack
29 - Starfleet Academy: The Delta Anomaly by Rick Barba
30 - Starfleet Academy: The Edge by Rudy Josephs

31 - Star Trek: Destiny: Mere Mortals by David Mack
32 - Star Trek: Destiny: Lost Souls by David Mack
33 - Star Trek: Typhon Pact: Zero Sum Game by David Mack
34 - Star Trek: Typhon Pact: Seize The Fire by Michael A. Martin
35 - Ocean Titans by Daniel Sekulich

36 - No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald
37 - The World America Made by Robert Kagan 
38 - Red Moon Rising by Matthew Brzezinski (audio book)
39 - The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
40 - Black Code by Ronald J. Deibert

41 - Insanely Simple by Ken Segall
42 - Star Trek: Enterprise: The Good That Men Do by Andy Mangles and Michael A. Martin
43 - Hector and the Search for Happiness by Francois Lelord
44 - The Sins of the Fathers by Lawrence Block
45 - Space Cadet by Robert A. Heinlein

46 - The Ten, Make That Nine, Habits of Very Organized People. Make That Ten. by Steve Martin
47 - Star Trek:  Seekers 2: Point of Divergence by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore
48 - This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
49 - The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
50 - The Martian by Andy Weir

51 - Steal Like An Artist and Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon
52 - The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sweet Sixteen by Kat Howard


An interesting story about genetic manipulation and a society that forces young girls into career rolls.

Forces is a bit strong, but not by much; at sixteen years of age girls are genetically and psychologically tested to determine what career she is best suited, for the betterment of society.  She does have input into this decision by listing her top three career choices.

It was a bit dystopian in feel, especially in that self-determination seems to have been lost.

It was a quick and easy read, definitely a nice addition to an issue that seems devoted to exploring situations where choices are limited.  There is a lot of subject matter to think about here, enough that expanding it to novel length would be welcomed.

Kat Howard's blog can be found here -

Kat Howard

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Old Equations by Jake Kerr


Here is a fun alternative history story.  What if Einstein's life was cut short and his theory of relativity was ignored?

In this future quantum mechanics is the basis of all physics. Now see what happens to a mission, headed to a nearby star, as it accelerates closer and closer to light speed.

I've always had trouble getting my head around the effects of speed on space-time, known as time dilation, and these poor souls must struggle with it too.

It was not what I expected for a re-imagining of The Cold Equations but it was very satisfying in that ignoring the laws of physics can have a very serious outcome.

I liked this one.

Jake Kerr's website is:

Jake Kerr

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Landing on Mars.

It's funny; knowing we've landed on the moon and dropped rovers on Mars, I thought it wouldn't be that difficult to land humans.

After reading The Mars Dilemma from the October/November 2014 issue of Air & Space Smithsonian magazine, I was surprised to learn how little we know about landing humans there.  The two factors coming into play are: the thinness of the atmosphere and how massive a manned vehicle would need to be.

The article was written by co-authors Robert Manning ad William L. Simon who also wrote the book Mars Rover Curiosity, something I must read soon.

I found this article particularly insightful especially after reading The Martian by Andy Weir.  You can find my review of Weir's book is HERE.

The article in question can be found here :

Air & Space Smithsonian magazine is something I'm subscribed too and enjoy the mix of aviation history and new space exploration news.  Their website is here: