Monday, 29 July 2019

Into the Black by Rowland White - Book Report #275

As a fan of all things NASA I am constantly surprised as to how much I do not know.

The length of time it took to decide to build the shuttle, the preliminary work involved before any metal was bent, the different entities within the US government that fought over it, the construction and the testing before it was finally launched was fascinating to me.

The shuttle program was decided to go ahead while men were walking on the moon during the Apollo 16 mission.

In the mid-sixties, reconnaissance satellites were so primitive that images were shot on film and the film parachuted down to earth to be picked up by specially designed aircraft that would pluck them from the sky.  The technology did not exist to wirelessly send images from space, which seems odd since TV signals were being beamed from the moon.  I'm sure it had something to do with encryption.

The thing about NASA and the space program is just how risky everything they do really is.  They just make it look and sound like it’s no big deal.  But all of the hardware is on the absolute bleeding edge of technology and engineering.

Everything about the Shuttle was new and it was BIG compared to anything else NASA had done.  Transporting the Shuttle on a 747 was not a new idea but noting had been tried at that scale.

The fully-assembled launch stack was completely new.

And that heat shield was a nightmare to design, test and fly.

The Shuttle became what NASA had wanted it to be; an everyday thing, routine and boring.  But it was nothing of the kind.

This was a thoroughly engrossing book.

Highly recommended.

Rowland White's website -

Rowland White

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

The Boat by Alistair MacLeod - A Short Story Review

I have never read something so tragic, beautiful, frustrating, and yet, hopeful.

The narrator describes what it was like growing up in a small fishing village in the Canadian Maritimes.  The story is not about himself so much as it is a contemplation of his father's life.  How he became a fisherman, the importance of "the boat" in the family and the relationship he had with his wife.

It was a beautiful story one that implanted itself vividly in my mind and stayed there for weeks.

I came to it in the strange way of "connections,"  I was listening to the CBC when a song was announced as being inspired by this story.  I have known of Macleod for years, I even had the collection, Island on my shelf for years but donated it away unread.

Through the Edmonton Public Library, I downloaded the ebook and was immediately transported to the small home on the rocks.  So far, it is the only story I've read and the book which is due back soon, but I don't want the memory this story to be faded by the others.  At least not for now.

Highly recommended.

Alistair MacLeod

Monday, 22 July 2019

Firefly: Big Damn Hero by James Lovegrove and Nancy Holder - Book Review #274

It was a joy to see the crew in the ‘verse once again!

This is the first instalment in a three-book run of tie-in novels in the Firefly universe.

I truly believed these stories were never going to see print.  Joss Whedon has been reluctant to open the universe he created to expansion.  Perhaps he’s come to the conclusion that this is the medium where Malcom Reynolds and the rest of the crew can “keep flying.”

As a story, it was pretty good.  Most of my giddy fan-boy self needed a few chapters to settle down and enjoy the story for what it is - a new adventure!

I do like how the book went back to the TV show’s roots and began the story with Badger consigning a cargo to the crew of Serenity.  It had a nice symmetry.

But things go wrong quickly when Mal is kidnapped, the crew is split up and Zoe must take the ship out to make the time-sensitive delivery.

If you’re a fan of Firefly do not hesitate to buy the book.  It is a lovely thing to hold and will make any Browncoat happy to have it on display.

The author had a perfect grasp of the characters and the universe they inhabit.  It also had fantastic passages that shed light on Mal’s early years.  This is where the book sang for me.  Getting to know these terrific characters a little bit better is welcomed.


James Lovegrove’s website -

Nancy Holder’s website -

James Lovegrove

Nancy Holder

Monday, 15 July 2019

Outbound by Brad R Torgersen - Book Review #273

This was a scary then hopeful story of a boy who is caught up in a civilization-ending war.

Why can’t humans get over their Earthbound problems?  Instead, war breaks out, like it always does, but this time the consequences are epically tragic.

Our young narrator survives the attacks and then takes up a quest to find a rumoured race of people living in the Kuiper belt.

I love these kinds of stories that take place on a giant canvas but are intensely personal too.

This was excellent stuff that is rich in possibilities of more stories to be enjoyed.

Seek it out.

Well worth the read.

Brad R Torgersen’s website -

Brad R Torgersen

Monday, 8 July 2019

Pebble in the Sky by Isaac Asimov - Book Review #272

Apparently, this was Isaac Asimov’s first published novel but certainly not his first published work.

It’s a terrific time travel novel, where an accident at a nuclear research facility sends an unsuspecting, retired tailor into a distant future where Earth is a backwater planet in a galactic empire.

Fish out of water stories are always captivating to me because they are a perfect vehicle for new readers to grasp a world they are unfamiliar with.  Instead of having to read through chapters of exposition the world building is achieved through the eye of a character who is as new to the environment as the reader.

Joseph Schwartz is minding his own business, walking down the streets of Chicago, when he is instantly transported thousands of years into the future.  What transpires next is a story of his wandering the much-changed Earth and how his chance meetings with people change his destiny entirely.

He learns that the Earth is a radioactive wasteland, apparently WWIII did occur but it is never mentioned because it is so far in the past that it is nearly forgotten.  In this time Earth is not alone, it is part of a galaxy-spanning empire which has changed the culture completely.

I found the story held up rather nicely for one published in 1950. In books this old it is often the female characters that make me cringe. They are usually looked down upon, weak, unintelligent, quick to fall in love with a man, or any combination of those traits.

In this book, the woman is a capable person who does fall in love rather quickly but, to be fair, the male character does too, so it’s a wash.

I found the story bogged down in the last quarter where a scene in a prison cell went on far longer than it needed to.  It felt like Asimov was padding his word count, something a lot of authors are forced to do and it drives me crazy.  Publishers need to get over trying to make books a certain length and allow a story to be well told.

Anyway, it was a cozy story and I liked it very much.

Isaac Asimov

Monday, 1 July 2019

Charlie 316 by Colin Conway and Frank Zafiro - Book Report #271

This story crackled from the page.  (I've always wanted to write that.)

I love a good police procedural because I like to see the behind-the-scenes work and influences at play.

Tyler Garrett is an exemplary cop and is often tapped to make public appearances to promote the Spokane Police Department.

One day, while making a routine traffic stop, he is ambushed and shots are exchanged.  By the end of the shoot-out, the man who was pulled over is dead, having been shot in the back by officer Garrett.

What transpires next involves politics, dirty cops, crazy theories and some damn cold decisions.

All of this felt very real and there were many moments where my heart beat just a bit harder.

One of my favourite passages described a bar where the powerful and connected go to have a drink;

Business and politics were discussed at every table.  If those subjects weren't to your liking, you could always move down the street to one of the cheap joints where depression and failure were served on tap.

Zafiro and Conway wrote a crystal-clear story and I found myself thinking how it reminded me of Robert B Parker's Spenser novels.  It was all about asking endless questions and tugging on threads.  You never know which detail will bring the whole mystery apart.

The twist of the story came as a complete surprise to me and I had to put the book down to catch my breath.  After that, the whole story took on a menace and I found myself physically leaning into the book while I read, my nose almost touched the screen.

This was a terrific read.

Highly recommended.

Frank Zafiro's website -

Colin Conway's website -

Frank Zafiro

Colin Conway