Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Swanwatch by Yoon Ha Lee


This was a strange little piece that I really did not get.

People, who could be criminals or dissidents are sent to these ships, or maybe it's a space station, with the understanding that they will eventually kill themselves by flying a ship into a black hole.

But, while waiting for the ultimate day, they are free to pursue their passions, be it art or music or something else.

Honestly, I did not get this story as it blew right over me.

As always, I feel the weak link in the story was me.  For whatever reason I did not connect with it.  The writing was lovely but the characters did not jump off the page and into my brain here.

Yoon Ha Lee's website - http://www.yoonhalee.com/

Yoon Ha Lee

Monday, August 21, 2017

Infomocracy by Malka Older - Book Report #196

The future of politics and elections have evolved.

The people of Earth are no longer represented by elections within their own countries.  Countries as we know them today no longer exist, instead most of the world is divided into ridings of 100,000 people and an independent government is formed to represent them.

The whole planet has one election day to elect all these tiny districts.  It is a giant mess but it is supposed to be a purer way of working with democracy. 

All if this depends on a working and independent internet.  Tasked with keeping the election fair and legal is the corporation that succeeded Google, called Information.

But since this is a book about political elections shenanigans ensue.

The book was well written and I was thankful the author blended the exposition into the narrative of the story.

Sadly, it did not work for me simply because of the subject - politics.  The very thing that I love in fiction are stories about people being people; flawed and self-serving.  It is exactly that quality in humanity that depressed me in this book.

The new system of elections was created to eliminate corruption.  But guess what?  Somebody always finds a way to game the system.  It's one of these stories that made me feel like there is no hope for the future to be much better than today.

If you've ever wondered if there is a better way to govern this book will serve very well as a thought experiment.

I recommend the book even though it was not MY cup of tea.

Malka Older - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malka_Older

Malka Older



Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Warship by George R. R. Martin and George Guthridge

This was a quick six page story where, after a successful attack mission, the warship Alecto's crew succumb to an alien virus.

Lone survivor, First Dutyman Lewis Akklar, prepares for an act of self-sacrifice to protect the people of Earth.

There is also a nice twist ending here which gave the story some depth.

I liked it.

George R R Martin's website - http://www.georgerrmartin.com/

George Guthridge - http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?George_Guthridge

George R R Martin

George Guthridge

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Colour Of Canada by Roy MacGregor - Book Report #195

I don't usually review coffee table books.  Perhaps it's the size of them but they don't lend themselves to casual reading.  I made the effort with this one and I found that I was taken by MacGregor's quiet undercurrent of love of this country.

This was published to celebrate Canada sesquicentennial (such a fun word to say) the images within are as spectacular as the country.

Through MacGregor's prose I learned to see the red canoe in a completely different way.

Roy MacGregor

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Twilight of the Gods by John C. Wright

This was another cool story that played with an SF trope.

This time it is a multi-generational ark ship.

What if something happens to the ark en route to it's destination?  Here they are attacked and boarded.

Now think of this; the raid is not entirely successful and some of the inhabitants of the ark manage to escape and hide away for a generation.  It's an unbelievably large ship by the way.

Cut off from the technology of the ship, the events of the past fall into legend and the remaining people revert to a medieval society.

I loved how it read like a high fantasy story while being fully aware that the characters are in a ship in space.

It was a nice blending of the two genres.

John C Wright's websited - http://www.scifiwright.com/

John C. Wright


Monday, August 7, 2017

Bill Bryson's African Diary by Bill Bryson - Book Report #194

This is a lovely little 50-page book where all the proceeds go to support the Care charity.

CARE invited Bill Bryson to visit Kenya to see what life is like there and how the charity is working to help the people.

I was expecting that it would be dominated by the gloom of deep poverty and it was certainly described.  But then there is the effervescent personality of Bryson himself that can't help but see the quirks of humanity and the good that is all around.

I was happy that he wrote the book in the manner that has won him his dedicated audience.  It is a charming thing to follow a middle-aged and bewildered white guy into a wholly alien situation.

His intelligence, compassion and eye for the humanity of a given situation make this a book to search for and buy.

Recommended.

Bill Bryson's Wiki page - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Bryson

CARE website - http://care.ca/

Bill Bryson

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Different Day by K. Tempest Bradford

A three page story that broke with the SF trope of alien races being depicted as one culture occupying a whole planet.

What if?  And I love stories that ask this question.  What if an alien race makes first contact with us on Earth?  Who says it will be in the United States?

Then another race, from the same planet also arrives to make contact, but they are from a different country?

Race and political questions come to play in this very well thought out little tale.

I loved how it just blew apart the conventions of SF always being focused on the United States.

Nicely done.

K. Tempest Bradford's website - http://tempest.fluidartist.com/


K. Tempest Bradford

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson - Book Report #193

On the 20th anniversary of the publication of Notes From A Small Island, Bryson revisits the U.K. by following a path of his creation.

The Bryson Line describes the longest distance between two communities using a ruler.

What I love about Bill Bryson is that his books are less about the locations he visits and more about the people he meets and those that have been influential in the places he chooses to visit.

He is terrific at describing his interactions with the person behind the counter or a fellow tourist.  He also makes the effort to research who a building is named after or how a museum curated the treasures he has come to see.

It's a wonderful way of looking at the world because people are people no mater where they live or when.  Thorough it all there is his biting wit that I find inviting.

The book was lovely.

Bill Bryson

The Bryson Line


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Prisons by Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason

A prison planet revolts against it's keepers.

The success of the revolt hangs on the remoteness of the world and in keeping the prison's AI in control.  Guess how well that goes?

I enjoyed this story, it was well constructed and felt like it could easily be a movie.  I liked how the point of view changed from the AI to omniscient third person.

The twist worked for me and I found that I ripped through the story.

Well done.

Kevin J Anderson's website - http://www.wordfire.com/

Doug Beason's website - http://www.dougbeason.com/file/Welcome.html

Kevin J Anderson

Doug Beason


Monday, July 24, 2017

Just Cool It! by David Suzuki and Ian Hanington - Book Report #192

I had to slog through the first three chapters before I could enjoy what I was reading.

Suzuki has a long, rich history of making you feel shitty for being human and alive.  In this book he has taken a new direction; instead of beating you over the head explaining how thoroughly we've messed up the planet he now gives suggestions as to how to fix the problem.

Climate change is a big, messy problem but, interestingly, the solutions all exist, it's just a matter of will to fix things.

One observation really stuck out for me.  No matter where you fall in the climate change debate you can't argue with this:  even if we go all-in on expanding renewable energy and find that we were wrong about climate change we would find ourselves with a new alternative energy source AND fossil fuels.  We would have employed countless people, created new technologies, modernized our electrical systems and increased available power.  

There is no down side to this.

Suzuki and his co-author Ian Hanington, tackle solutions that can be applied to four general segments of human existence: Personal, Agricultural, Technological and Institutional.

It's that last category that is preventing us from really digging in and implementing solutions.  There needs to be political will to nurture and direct a new way of living on the planet.

I found the book to be well thought out, easy to read and understand.  It gave me ideas about changes I can make myself and opened my eyes to the infrastructure around me.

If you care about the environment or are simply interested in getting a better understanding about climate change this is a great place to start.

Recommended.

The David Suzuki Foundation website - http://www.davidsuzuki.org/

David Suzuki

Ian Hanington



Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Someone Is Stealing The Great Throne Rooms Of The Galaxy by Harry Turtledove

This story was as cute as the hamster protagonist of it.

That's right - I said hamster.

It was delightful, irreverent and fun. 

The space cadet hamster is tasked to investigate the thefts. 

Lots of puns and playing with the tropes of the omniscient narrator. 

A joy.

Harry Turtledove's website - https://www.sfsite.com/~silverag/turtledove.html

Harry Turtledove


Monday, July 17, 2017

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers - Book Report #191

Oh my goodness - what a delight!

I've been reading for decades and there are only an handful of books that I can say I was sorry to come to the end of.  This was one of them.

It ticked most of the boxes that I am looking for in SF.  I love a lived-in universe and stories about people just trying to make a living I find particularly compelling.

The Wayfarer is a tunnelling ship that builds shortcuts in space/time.  This sounds very sci-fi, but in this book, it's just a way of life, a job and it is not that glamorous.  To paraphrase something from the story, "History remembers who fought the wars and signed the treaties but nobody remembers who built the roads."

I would have been content just to read about how hard it was to construct these tunnels, or to live on the ship and to keep it maintained.  But the author gave so much more.  Reading about the varied crew members and where they came from was equally fascinating.

There was a terrific amount of world building here but none of it felt forced or ever got boring.

Chambers has created a massive world, well, a galaxy actually that I look forward to visiting again and again.

Highly recommended.

Becky Chambers - https://www.otherscribbles.com/

Becky Chambers


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Aftermaths by Lois McMaster Bujold

What a wonderful story.

In the wake of a battle in space, a two-member crew are sent to a ship that has been destroyed to scan for and recover the dead. 

It sounds dark but is just the opposite. There is a quiet dignity and caring for the fallen that I found heart-warming. 

This is the kind of fiction that works for me.  It's about "people" living and working in the future. 

The best so far.

Bujold's website - http://dendarii.com/

Lois McMaster Bujold


Monday, July 10, 2017

The Truth by Michael Palin - Book Report #190

I'll start off by saying that I liked this book quite a lot.

There was a warmth to it that I enjoyed coming back to. 

The premise of a one-hit-wonder author having a lucrative offer fall into his lap from a position of obscurity felt a bit forced. But, since I read science fiction, I am comfortable with stories that start with "What if?"

All in all it was a lovely way to spend some time in the capable hands of an author I trust. 

There were some lovely English usage that made me very happy.  Palin can certainly turn a phrase. 

Would I recommend it?  Sure.  But it does play out a little predictably.

If you're interested in reading something cozy this book is a good choice.

Michael Palin's website - http://www.themichaelpalin.com/



Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Terra-Exulta by S. L. Gilbow

This was an odd little story.  It is told in the form of a letter to the Galactic Society of Ancient Languages on how to translate Archaic Planetary English into Galactic Standard.

It told of an interesting story of colonists who have coped with and influx of indigenous life forms that caused people to become sick and die.  Strangely, the focus of the story is the creation of new words to describe the tragedy and how it is important to invent words well.

Like I said it was an odd story.  Kinda cold, kinda interesting, certainly different.

Gilbow's website - http://slgilbow.com/

S. L. Gilbow

Monday, July 3, 2017

Everything Bad is Good For You by Steven Johnson - Book Report #189

Steven Johnson the master of seeing what is underneath things and how they are connected.  Here he takes on the notion that pop culture is bad and making people dumb.

He makes a compelling case for the benefits of video games.  Not only do they improve the obvious, hand-eye coordination, but, especially with the first-person and simulator games, critical thinking and observational skills are exercised to a greater degree than people give credit.

He also takes on television, where the popular notion is that TV is just getting dumber and dumber.  The explosion of "reality" shows is often held as an example of this.  But there is something else happening in scripted television where plots are much more complex and demand a commitment from the viewer to keep up and to engage in a greater degree that the average sit-com demands.

And people are eager for this kind of engagement.  Console games are nothing like the coin-fed arcade games I grew up with.  The immersion is much deeper and this activates parts of the brain that benefit the gamer in other aspects of real life.

The book may be over a decade old but it is still relevant even if its references are a bit dated.  But those references, Lost and The Sopranos, are still being enjoyed today.  So there is something to be said about the quality of these shows.

Like anything Steven Johnson writes I come away feeling like I understand the world just a little bit better.

Recommended indeed.

Steven Johnson's website - https://stevenberlinjohnson.com/

Steven Johnson


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Life-Suspension by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

This was more to my liking.

There is a giant big alien threat that the officers of S.R.S Amaterasu are dispatched to deal with.

This could have been all about describing the aliens but instead it focused on the blossoming relationship between the commander of a fighter wing and an officer in charge of the life-suspension systems.

I liked that Modesitt didn't waste my time with explaining how "bad" the enemy was, I can take that as a given.  In the end, stories should be about people and how they are coping in a given situation.  The SF can take a back seat and be in the background and still be very effective as genre fiction.

I liked this story a whole bunch.

L. E. Modesitt, Jr's website - http://www.lemodesittjr.com/

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.


Monday, June 26, 2017

Empire Builders by Ben Bova - Book Report #188

Ben Bova has been writing my kind of science fiction for decades and I continue to enjoy every book I've read so far.

You have to approach his books with a pulp mindset.  The characters can sometimes be a bit one-dimensional which is okay with me.  In Bova's stories plot is king and characterization is secondary.  What you get are easily identifiable characters that behave and predictable ways, just like most movie thrillers.

I've been trying to read his Grand Tour series of books but he has written it out of order making it challenging to read in some kind of order.  Even the internet has difficulty putting the series in some kind of chronological order.

It is best to read each book as a stand-alone even though they are loosely connected.

In any case I liked Empire Builders, especially in a time with an Elon Musk in the world.  There are times I feel Musk has read Bova's stuff.

Dan Randolph, the owner of Astro Manufacturing loses everything and becomes a wanted criminal.  He finds his way into the underground society living on the moon where he plots his return and revenge.

I consider myself a futurist at heart and it hurts me to read about powerful people who try to prevent others from fulfilling their visions of a better place for humans by leveraging technology.  Power and money, baby!  Power and money corrupts so many minds.  Bova does a pretty good job of showcasing how powerful people control each other.

Yes, I liked the book.  But there are some flaws that many readers will have difficulty with; one-dimensional characters, obvious plotting and especially his treatment of some of the female characters will leave the reader wincing.

Overall, it still makes for a good read if you focus on the progress of humanity into space and how money can be made out there while solving some of our environmental problems.

Ben Bova


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Carthago Delenda Est by Genevieve Valentine

A message from the planet Carthage is received and delegates from every known world send a ship out to meet them.

Honestly, this was a mess of a story, which only came into some kind of focus in the last few pages. 

Once again so much word count was wasted on describing alien physiology and customs that it took too long before the aspect of a multi-generational (generations of clones) mission for first contact emerged.

This was another miss for me.

Genevieve Valentine's website - http://www.genevievevalentine.com/

Genevieve Valentine


Monday, June 19, 2017

It's Not Rocket Science by Ben Miller - Book Report #187

This was a fun play on a general science book.

Ben Miller is a British comedian and actor who has a love of science and has published two books trying the explain the complex scientific theories to the general public.

In the book he takes a stab at explaining DNA, Evolution, Black Holes, Relativity, Quantum Physics and Cosmology.

It was a refreshing approach to the subjects and I appreciated the humor infused in it.

At one point I had an "A-Ha!" moment when he explained the time paradox but then I lost it again.  The theory that time runs at different speeds depending on where you are still throws me.  Why should a clock run faster or slower if it is on a speeding spaceship or on a planet?

It is a good book to have on hand when the conversation turns to science.  It would make for an easy recommendation to somebody who is trying to get a better understanding of the large-picture aspects of scientific knowledge.

If you like Bill Nye then you will like this book too.

Ben Miller - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Miller

Ben Miller

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Mazer in Prison by Orson Scott Card

I don't really know what I think about this story.

On one side, it's an interesting take on suspended animation. Instead of freezing an individual he is put on a ship and sent out on a long journey at near-light speed.  This is to take advantage of the space/time effect that Einstein discovered. 

Then it is also a critique of military decision making and authority structure. 

There was a story of sorts in there, but I was not captured by it. 

It was a miss for me.

It should be noted that this takes place int the Enders Game series and this may be why it did not work for me.  I have not read the books.  As a matter of fact, this was my first story by Card.

Orson Scott Card - http://www.hatrack.com/


Orson Scott Card

Monday, June 12, 2017

Operation Paperclip by Annie Jacobsen - Book Report #186

This was a difficult book to get through, not because it was a hard read (I experienced it as an audio book) but because the subject matter was so difficult to digest.

The author, Jacobsen, did a staggering amount of research which I was so very impressed by.

I had a vague notion of Operation Paperclip - I knew it had something to do with the assimilation of Nazi scientists, the most notable of them all was Wernher von Braun who was instrumental in the design of the Saturn V rocket that took Americans to the moon.

But what did he do during the war?  What did he see?  What was he responsible for?

The questions were repeated many times for a surprising amount of men who were moved to the United States and exploited for their knowledge.

This book brought me to wonder just how important is it to stay ahead of the "enemy?"

Some good has come from all of this but the source material is truly terrifying and made me feel that there is no real hope for humanity.  We are so consumed with gaining power and killing each other that I wonder if there is any real hope for our species.

And much of the methods of killing, poison gas for instance, was simply added to the arsenal and perfected by the West.

I highly recommend this book.

It is truly a work that will help to heal the world that is, surprisingly, still influenced by the horrors of World War Two.

But be ready for it, Jacobsen does a commendable job of staying neutral in her reporting.  She just lays it out from the records that have been recently declassified.

It is a difficult thing to learn.

Annie Jacobsen website - http://anniejacobsen.com/

Annie Jacobsen