Book Review #17

Dark Matter

It is no paradox that I like to read stories about paradoxes. In my list of books read in 2016, I included several time-travel novels. More recently, my Book Review #16 – The Whenabouts of Burr, was not really about time travel, but a voyage across parallel, but slightly different versions of Earth.

I recently read another alternate Earth novel. It was

The book: Dark Matter

The author: Blake Crouch

The review: This book is also about alternate Earths/Universes. The narrator is a man who might have been a great physicist, married to a woman who might have been a great artist. Instead, he is a university science professor, and she runs a graphic design studio out of their home, as they raise a beloved 10-year-old son.

He is kidnapped by Himself from a parallel existence, who never married or had a family, but instead invented/designed a device to make this transposition possible. He is thrust into the other’s frenetic life, while the imposter takes over his peaceful existence.

The ‘Burr’ book makes inter-dimensional travel possible by an electronic device that limits which realities are available. It is largely a discussion about social and political alternatives – USA vs. Russia vs. China – disguised in a roman a cléf.

This book is about infinity, quantum entanglement, and the definitions of ‘reality.’ The device is mostly an elevator-car-sized sensory deprivation chamber, because quantum theory says that merely observing an action, changes the outcome. Essentially, the traveller becomes Schrödinger’s cat. He got some help from a biologist friend who developed a serum that shuts down the section of the brain that accepts the remaining input.

Instead of electronic controls, where you end up when you open the door is controlled by the psyche, the subconscious. You go where you unconsciously want or feel to go. It takes him several months, in and out of the box, to train his mind to return to where he started from.

Just when the reader thinks that it is “Happily Ever After” time, the writer throws another curve-ball at reality. While there is only one ‘his world’, and ‘his wife’, and ‘his son’ to return to, decisions that he made during the months that he was gone, caused other versions of him to split off, and 110 of them return, most of them ready to kill to get the prize. How do you surprise, outthink, and win out over yourself??

I found that this was a great, thought-provoking Science Fiction novel, about something that may become science fact in the all-too-near future. What are you reading? 😕

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’18 A To Z Challenge – Z

Letter ZChallenge '18

 

Zat’s it folks. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, but I’m going to close out this year’s A To Z Challenge, with another word that doesn’t exist. I’m gonna call you a

Zwilnick

When a writer, particularly a science-fiction author, wishes to present a different culture, and needs words or phrases, it’s often easiest to choose and disguise one that already exists here on Earth.

In the Battlestar Galactica movie and TV series, the word for a long time period was ‘Jahren.’ In German, the word for year is jahr. Most German words which are plural, end in ‘en,’ but jahr is an exception. It means both ‘year,’ and ‘years.’ Jahren sounds German, but isn’t quite.

When E. E. (Doc) Smith wrote his Lensman series, he identified the bad guys as Zwilnicks. He even has one of the characters ask, “Why are they Zwilnicks? We call them Zwilnicks. They even call themselves Zwilnicks.” It sounds like it might be German, or Polish, but it’s just the imaginative invention of a great Sci-Fi writer.

The Star Wars universe introduced us to the planet Naboo, which may be a takeoff on Nauvoo (Illinois), one of the birthplaces of Mormon, a silly little Christian sect that promises each of its followers, an entire planet – like Naboo?? – when they die. Its original Human settlers arrived on it by accident, and it shows what a planet would look like if it were settled completely by Hindu Indians.

I am dismayed and disappointed at the number of Star Wars fanatics who refer to the ruler of the planet as ‘Padmé Amidala.’ I watched the movie (and paid attention.) She introduced herself clearly, giving both her name, and her title. She is Padmé Nabaré – Queen Amidala, – in the same way that the leader of the Catholic Church is Jorge Mario Bergoglio – Pope Francis.

In the ‘60s, the Walt Disney television show expanded, what was to be a single episode, into a three-show arc, about a 20ish Mexican beggar/grown-up street urchin, named Elfego Baca. Later language study revealed that the initial V in a word like that is pronounced like a B in Spanish, so that “Baca” is actually “Vaca.” Vaca translates to ‘calf,’ and ‘elfego’ means flatulence. I believe that some of the Spanish-speaking writers slipped one over on the English-speaking producers and audience, and aired a “Disney” show about a Chicano, derisively nicknamed ‘Calf Farts.’

That’s all the alphabetic challenge for last/this year, in English, or any other language, real or imagined. Tune in again in a couple of weeks, and see me meander down some strange lanes with the 2019 version.

Ahhh, I managed to survive another year.  Here’s to the next one!  😀

A To Z - Survivor

Book Review #16

The Whenabouts of Burr

I just got back from a short time travel trip.

I recently visited the website of a female author. She has written 5 or 6 Young-Adult Sci-Fi books, all centered on Mars – ‘The Tunnel on Mars, A Ranch on Mars, Subduing Mars, etc.’  The post I read was her book-review of Time And Again, a seminal time-travel novel.

I told her that I was also fascinated with time travel stories. I showed a bunch of them in my post of books read in 2016. I remembered a somewhat different time-travel book, and suggested it to her. Later, I went back in time, dug it out of my hoard of old Sci-Fi books, reread it, and decided to do a book review of it.

The Book: The Whenabouts Of Burr (1975)

The Author: Michael Kurland

The review: The time travel in this book isn’t – quite. It’s a story about parallel Universes, and alternate Earths, created by different choices at significant historical nexus points, like the Aaron Burr/Alexander Hamilton duel. Like a deck of cards skewed sideways, each reality is just over nine hours from its neighbors. The more levels you travel through, the further back in time you go.

It’s a great device for the author to make sociological comments – a fun game of “What If”. In some levels, Burr lives, but becomes an exiled political outlaw. Some levels have benevolent, supportive democracies, others have restrictive tyrannies. On some worlds, Europeans did not reach the Americas, and the natives have developed their own civilizations.

The sharpest social comment/warning comes from the author’s description of Prime Time, the world which originally developed the Temporal Translation Technology. The people have become like professional Victorian tourists, slumming, and gaily gadding about the alternate words, observing. The entire society has become effete and static. There is no interest, or challenge, nor further research or advancement through struggle, because they now steal/import all discoveries and new technology from the other ‘Earths.’

Published only a little over 40 years ago, it’s not as old as many of my books. It was a fun re-read, and a warning reminder of how Western society may be going. I got back in time to publish this post, and I’ll move forward, to have another ready in a couple of days. See you then. 😀

2018 List Of Books Read

I read a book, once….  Others, I’ve read more than once.

My GP sees me so seldom that she forgets who I am, because my “yearly” physicals are often 18 to 24 months apart.  I continue to accrue a lengthening list of medical specialists for myself, the wife, and the daughter.  Because of this (and normal physical deterioration), available free time for reading diminishes.

Next year, instead of a list of books that I managed to read, I may just put up a list of all the medical appointments I had to drive to.  This past year’s list is down to 21 books – I think.  I’m too tired to check.  Someone add them up, and get back to me.  These are the ones that I managed to get through.

Eric Flint/Griffin Barber – 1636: Mission To The Mughals

Mission to the Mughals

This series was interesting Sci-Fi when it started out.  I’m done with it.  Now it’s just a 700 page excuse to publish a little political history of India around the time of building the Taj Mahal.

Chris Ryan – Stand By, Stand By – Zero Option – Greed

Stand by, Stand by

Zero Option

Greed

A very British men’s action series.  Not bad if you’re into that sort of thing.

Gregg Loomis – The Cathar Secret

The Cathar Secret

More suspense and plot development than any of the above.  A good way to waste an afternoon.

Douglas Preston/Lincoln Child – The Pharaoh Key

The Pharaoh Key

A suspense/action tale good enough to sink your eyeteeth into, but not deep enough to need to munch your molars.

Tom Clancy’s Commander In Chief

Commander In Chief

Tom Clancy is long dead, but his ghost writers continue to grind out the pot-boilers and royalties.

Michael Kurland – The Whenabouts Of Burr

The Whenabouts of Burr

This is a re-read from 1975.  I was reminded of it because of a conversation with a lady author who said that she liked time-travel Sci-Fi, as I do.  It’s actually more of an alternate universe/history story, with minor temporal displacement.  I’ll publish a review on it soon.

Blake Crouch – Dark Matter

Dark Matter

This one is another alternate universe story like the above, but with no time travel.  I’ll publish a review on it also, in a couple of months, to compare the viewpoints and construction.

Steve Berry – The Columbus Affair

The Columbus Affair

Christopher Columbus and his navigator were both secret Jews, escaping the Inquisition…. and they hid the Temple Treasure in the New World??!  Okay, you’ve got my attention and interest.

Isaac Asimov – The Rest Of The Robots

The Rest Of The Robots

I thought that I had read every Asimov story in the Foundation series, about robots.  Turns out that I was wrong.  This book was published in 1964.  It contains 8 short stories, and two novellas about the positronic predecessor to Star Trek’s Data character.  I was able to purchase a Kindle version, and wallow in classic Asimov.

E. E. ‘Doc’ Smith – Imperial Stars

Imperial Stars

This is another Sci-Fi re-read.  This is the first in a series of 12 books.  In 1976, after the death of Doc Smith, his younger author friend, Stephen Goldin took notes, and drafts, and conversations/discussions with Doc, and assembled the story line as he felt Doc would have.  Performers from the interstellar Imperial Circus are used like James Bond, as intelligence gatherers and executioners.  Goldin has his own books, but he did well with this lot.  They still have Doc Smith’s feel to them.

E. C. Tubb – The Temple Of Truth – The Return – Child Of Earth

The Temple of Truth

The Return

Child of Earth

I read the first 27 books of this never-ending series years ago, but ‘life’ caused me to give it up.  When I heard that another author like Stephen Goldin above, had brought it to a post-mortem culmination after Tubb’s death, I bought the final 7.  I read four of them in 2017, and the final three last year.

James Rollins – The 6th Extinction – The Kill Switch

The 6th Extinction

The Kill Switch

A couple more rollicking-good men’s action books.  ‘The Kill Switch’ is the first of a series within a series, where the hero, introduced in a previous book, is an ex-Army, now-paramilitary, who has brought along his K9 partner, which the Government was just going to destroy.

Clive Cussler – Lost Empire

Lost Empire

All the old, well-known authors are increasingly, farming out the sub-series.  Grant Blackwood, who wrote this one for Cussler, also wrote Kill Switch, above, for James Rollins.

David Ignatius – The Quantum Spy

The Quantum Spy

One of the new type of secret agent books.  As you might guess, while there is lots of travel, suspense and physical action, much of the plot revolves around the World Wide Web, hacking, and code-breaking.

Nan Yielding – Things I Never Learned In Sunday School

Things I never Learned in Sunday School

The very-Christian wife of an author decided to do some research to prove the inerrancy of the Bible.  Along the way she turned up so many mistakes, contradictions and unprovable claims, that she turned herself into an Atheist.  I ran into her blog-site one night, and she was pleased that I had read her book, and gave it a recommendation.

James S. A. Corey – Caliban’s War

Caliban's War

This is the second book of a grand Sci-Fi series, recommended to me by my buddy BrainRants.  It is/was available as a series on SYFY, which I can’t access.  Even if you’ve seen some/all of it, I still suggest that you try the books.

2017 Books Read

That title is a calendar reference, not mathematical. I did not read two thousand and seventeen books – I’ve probably read twice that many in my lifetime – just not all last year.

With the daughter’s power wheel chair missing, the wife’s two knee replacement surgeries, more visits to more doctors, and the discovery of yet another crossword puzzle site, my book reading fell off significantly. From 51 books in last year’s post, I was down to about 25 in 2017.

I also reread a few old sci-fi books that I didn’t count, and a few on the list are 700/800 page – one even 1200 page – super-books, the equivalent of 2 or 3 books each. Here’s what occupied some of my time

Charles E. Gannon -Commander Cantrell In The West Indies

1636 Commander Cantrell in the West Indies

Another in the ‘1632’ series about a modern Tennessee town transported back in time, and how the inhabitants struggle to survive, both politically and literally.  Sadly, it’s all alternate history, and no real action, just a reason to sell another 800-page blah book.

Mark Greany – The Grey Man – On TargetOn Target

The Gray Man

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the ghost writers for the now-deceased Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan Jr. series, this author has one of his own action series about an ex-CIA assassin, forced to go independent.

Tom Clancy’s – Full Force And Effect – On Target

Full Force And EffectUnder Fire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Clancy’s name is the one that still attracts readers, but Mark Greaney and Grant Blackwood are two of 3 or 4 contract writers who pump them out.

Lee Child – Night School

Night School

After four years, I’m caught up.  It has been a most enjoyable series.  There will be one more Jack Reacher book this year, one more Dan Brown novel, and one more Ilona Andrews ‘Magic’ book in 2018.

Ilona Andrews – Magic Binds

Magic Binds

I got out of ‘Magic’ Sci-Fi about 30 years ago, but this series has lots of diverse character and plot development, thought and planning, and action.

Steve Perry – Patriot Threat

The Patriot Threat

A Dan Brown type of author, with a wide range of plot ideas, very enjoyable, but with just not quite the same OOMPH.

James Rollins – Blood Line – The Eye Of God

Blood Line

The Eye Of God

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like Steve Perry, above, a good, solid action/adventure author.

Clive Cussler – Plague Ship

Plague Ship

While not dead, like Clancy, Cussler is old enough that he is co-writing with his son Dirk, and a couple of other commercial writers, as well as establishing the story arc and parameters, and letting them loose.

Will Adams – The Lost Labyrinth

The Lost Labyrinth

A fresh young writer who isn’t likely to die before I do.  His books (so far) are about action and intrigue around Middle Eastern archeological sites.

E.E. (Doc) Smith – Subspace Encounter

Subspace Encounter

A re-read that I downloaded a cover for.  I also re-read his ‘Skylark’ series, The Skylark of Space, Skylark Three, Skylark of Valeron, and Skylark Duquesne.  This year I hope to re-read all 12 of his ‘Family D’Alembert’ series.  While not as prolific as Isaac Asimov, Doc still pumped out almost 50 novels in four different series.

E.C. Tubb – Earth Is Heaven – Melome – Angado – Symbol Of Terra

Earth Is HeavenMelome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AngadoSymbol of Terra

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I lost this series about 20 years ago, after reading the first 26 episodes.  I recently thought of it again, and found that there were seven more available on Kindle.  The original author wrote to number 31 before he died.  He left notes for novel number 32, which his estate hired another commercial writer to assemble.  The story arc almost got the hero home to Earth, so he wrote a happily-ever-after finale to this epic tale.  I read four of them in 2017, and plan to finish the other three this year.

James S. A. Corey – Leviathan Wakes

Leviathan Wakes

Recommended by BrainRants, this is the first of five books, being made into a television series on SYFY, which I can’t get here in Canada.  The hero ‘acquires’ a slightly outdated destroyer spaceship, and renames it Rocinante, after Don Quixote’s horse, establishing the whole ’tilting at windmills’ flavor of the story.

Robert Asprin/Linda Evans – Tales Of The Time Scouts II

Tales of the Time Scouts II

Another adventure into the paradoxes of time travel.  This is actually 800 pages of two related stories in one (large) book.

Thomas Cathcart/Daniel Klein – Plato And A Platypus Walk Into A Bar

Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar

Another recommended book, although, with apologies, I can’t remember the nice gentleman’s name.  (Stand up Sign in and take a bow.)  This one explores the philosophy and psychology of jokes and humor.  I can’t find its companion, ‘Aristotle And An Aardvark Go To Washington’ in Canada.  I’ll wait till the next time we order something from Amazon, and add it to the order to get free shipping.

Well, that’s (more than) enough about me.  Besides my output, what did you read last year??

Reading Challenge – 2016

Reading challenge

Oh wow, yet another post about what I read last year.  Last year, I threatened vaguely hinted that I might list what I did/did not read, that filled the above Challenge list.  Not being a great team-player/rules-follower, the results are not impressive.  The covers are all shown back at ‘It’s All Newton’s Fault’, if you want another look.

A book published this (2016) year.
N/A I’m too busy trying to catch up on about four series, so that the next ‘unread’ one is less than 5 years old and I can borrow it from the library at no charge, to be bothered with anything less than a year old.

A book you can finish in one day.
Henry Freeman – The Crusades From Beginning To End
A 156 page disappointment, with no real information, not worth the price.

A book you’ve been meaning to read.
Jonathan Kellerman – Flesh And Blood
After owning it for 15 years, I finally got around to actually reading it. (See below)  A somewhat pedantic little procedural, nowhere nearly as interesting as his wife’s mysteries.

A book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller.
N/A Years ago, there was a TV ad which touted, “You can always tell a Heinz pickle, but you can’t tell a Heinz pickle nothing.”
Heinz pickle = Grumpy Old Dude

A book you should have read in school.
N/A See last year’s statement.  Perhaps some of the Sci-Fi that I’m now rereading.  Maybe I should have got to them sooner.

A book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFF.
Jared Diamond – Guns, Germs And Steel
More ‘recommended’ than ‘chosen’, by my online BFF, BrainRants, it was an enlightening treatise showing how White Europeans ended up owning or controlling so much of the world.

A book published before you were born.
E.E. (Doc) Smith – The Spacehounds Of IPC
With Jim Wheeler’s prompt, I am rereading some old Sci-Fi.  I think I should get extra points for this one.  It’s hard to find books that were published before I was born.  This one was from 1931.  I also reread the original Buck Rogers, from 1928.  I refuse to reread The Bible.

A book that was banned at some point.
N/A I probably have read one at some point, because some of the most supposedly inoffensive books have been banned, somewhere, sometime, including Harry Potter.  I just didn’t actively search one out.

A book that you previously abandoned.
N/A

A book that you own, but never read.
Jonathan Kellerman – Flesh And Blood
I can’t believe that I was always so far ahead with books to read, that I didn’t get around to this one for 15 years.  Then I read it, and realized why.

A book that intimidates you.
William Patterson – Robert A. Heinlein biography – Part II
This was big, and dry – but ultimately, very rewarding.

A book you’ve already read at least once.
Aside from IPC and Buck Rogers, I also reread;
Isaac Asimov – Pebble In The Sky, and Nemesis
Robert A. Heinlein – Tunnel In The Sky
A. Bertram Chandler – The Far Traveller
John Brunner – To Conquer Chaos, The World Swappers, and The Super Barbarians as well as 10 other classic science fiction books.

With all those N/As, if I hadn’t seen the list of books I did read, I might have thought I didn’t really read much.  I just don’t read a lot of what some others feel is acceptable.  You read my posts last year.  Did you have time to read anything else?  😕

Ars Est Celare Artes

olympic-rings

The above title is a Latin motto which means ‘The Art Is To Conceal The Arts’. To properly awe an audience with the performance of a difficult task, it is often necessary to make it appear easy.

A comedian, commenting about the Olympics, said that all he understands about gymnastics is this; he hopped into the air, and landed on his feet, perfectly erect, and said, “That’s good!”  He hopped into the air again, and landed leaning slightly backward, so that he had to put a foot back to keep from falling over, and said, “That’s bad!”  To win gold, you have to make it look easy.

I recently had the chance to read the beginning of an online novel by a writer who, like many of us, hopes to be a published author. He’s a member of a highly respected profession.  He’s intelligent and well educated.  He has a (reasonably) good vocabulary and grasp of grammar and composition.  What he is not, is an author – or writer.

I only managed to read the first three paragraphs, before I had to stop, or suffer nausea and vertigo. Here are the three paragraphs.  Remember to take Gravol. (Americans may take Dramamine.)

You are on the beach, watching the swaying of the waves. The waves sweep across the steeps like a flock of stampeding sheep speeding over the steppes, the snaking waves hissing over the driftwood steeped in the sandy wrack.

A squadron of gulls lifts uneasily into the air and then dissipates against the grey sky. You look meaningly at the gulls. They hover, the flurry of gulls. The gulls lull heavily in the air, squealing their dull squeals.

You incline your head downward and stare at the inrushing waves, each one a hungry-mouthed sheep, coming toward you ravenously. The water is deliquescent twenty feet from the shore. Beyond the shoal the surface seems lacquered, solid, unbreachable, enameled, brackish, thick, as if it were a spreading mass of viscous aquatic jelly. From the shore you cannot fathom, through the spume lid, the pelagic fathoms. The lake’s lid is swarming with wavelets, each one undulant and alive—afroth, the lake’s lip, frosting wisps.

That opening is almost as bad as, “It was a dark and stormy night.” This thing has more verbiage slathered on than icing on a Wal-Mart birthday cake.  This is like the parlor of a Nevada brothel – cheap, gaudy and ostentatious.  Typos, overdone alliteration, excess words, redundant words, repetitive words, overly ornate words, eight-dollar words, employed to seem interesting and impressive, but used incorrectly.   Steppes, and steeps, and stampeding sheeps – oh my.

To ‘look meaningly’ is to use a facial expression to convey information to another person. You cannot look meaningly at seagulls, because their tiny bird-brains don’t get it. And speaking of seagulls, I can think of five verbs to describe the noise they make.  ‘Dull squeals’ is not on the list.

Deliquescent means; The process of a solid dissolving or becoming liquid through the absorption of moisture from the atmosphere. That obviously is not happening here. It’s a good, solid, proud word.  It’s just hanging out in the wrong neighborhood.

Instead of smooth, clear, economical communication, this writer seems to have gone out of his way to confuse and impress, and say, ‘Look how much work I went to, to attract and hold your attention.’ It is not concealed. (But it should be!)

spacehounds-of-ipc

I recently re-read E. E. ‘Doc’ Smith’s Subspace Encounter. Doc was the mentor who taught Robert Heinlein much about writing.  An engineer by trade, Doc always used the exactly correct word, and the exactly correct number of words.

In this book, he has Mankind meet another galactic civilization. Physically, they are Human, but their society is vastly different.  Not cruel, but they are pragmatic to the point of making the Spartans look like soft amateurs.

To identify their empire, he coins the word ‘Justiciate.’ This is literary irony.  It is like referring to The People’s Democratic Republic of North Korea.  It is not ‘for or by the people.’  It is not a democracy, and it is not a Republic.  There is little ‘justice’ in a society, where the ruler of 180 planets is identified as the Supreme Tyrant.  And the supreme ruler of the red-skinned sect, who wants to kill 90% of those of other skin colors and keep the rest as slaves – identifies himself as The Grand Justice.

Having invented the Justiciate, Doc went on to invent an interplanetary monetary unit for them – the Junex, meaning the Justiciate Unit of Exchange.  For an imaginary empire, he created imaginary money to give believability.  No sheeps or steeps or gulls were needed.

As a young adult, I missed much of his precision. Re-reading it now, with life experience, I have a greater appreciation.  He made it look easy, when it really wasn’t.  I’m glad Jim Wheeler made me do it.  😀