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Timeline was first published in 1999 and, having read most of Crichton’s books, I head read it right away. I remembered it vaguely as a time travel thriller. So I picked it back up again a couple of weeks ago.

In France, a group of archeologists are studying a medieval village, complete with two castles and a monastery. All the buildings are ruins, of course, but they have a rich history dating back to the 14th century, while the Hundred Years’ War was raging, and England was routinely attacking and invading France.

Their research is being funded by a multinational corporation. The company is led by a self-obsessed science tycoon in his mid thirties. It has developed a technology based on quantum science that allows them to travel in time. When one of the archeologists goes back to 1357 and does not come back, the company coerces some of the young scientists to follow him and bring him back.

To avoid anachronisms, they are not allowed to bring any technology, modern weapons or any objects from the future. When they arrive, practically in the middle of a battle, trouble starts quickly and the race to get back home begins.

Timeline is less of a time travel novel, and more a historical novel. The majority of the story takes place during a mere 39 hours starting on April 7, 1357. The protagonists have to battle knights, solve riddles, and play the opposing parties of the war. The whole thing is reminiscent of an episode of the modern television series The Amazing Race: “And now the contestants have to invent gunpowder to impress Lord Oliver. They only have two hours to do it or they’ll be thrown in the dungeon and miss their chance to make it to the next stop.”

Timeline is a historical thriller with a neat plot twist, where scientists get to visit the heyday of the castles, the ruins of which they study in the 21st century.

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Michael Freeman is an ex-special forces soldier who was injured in the war and is now a disabled veteran. He loses his job and his girlfriend, and he wants to get away to “find himself.”

He was raised by his grandfather in a self-sufficient cabin in the woods. His grandfather has long passed, and Michael goes back to the cabin to get away from it all – with a few six-packs of beer.

When he hikes in the woods behind his cabin, he suddenly falls into a sinkhole or hidden cave, gets hurt badly and passes out. Nobody knows where he is.

When he wakes up he finds himself in a very different world. It turns out he fell onto a hidden spaceship in the rocks below the woods, which has been there for thousands of years, governed by an artificial intelligence, and powered by nano-technology.

Within a few days, Michael, the jaded disabled veteran, turns into a superhero with true superpowers and a mission to change the world with access to all this alien technology.

Of course, soon bad guys show up from all sides making things challenging. Michael assembles a team of ex-soldiers and the battle starts.

The Spaceship in the Stone is a cartoonish fantasy story, of course with a sequel. The characters are wooden, the dialog stilted, the plot contrived and the entire story just over the top.

I finished reading it, though, mildly enjoyed it, but quickly forgot most of the details within the next few days. I was not interested enough to bother picking up Book 2 of “The Space Legacy.”

 

 

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The friends and former roommates with the strange names of Tom Kolczyskrenski (try to pronounce that), Ian McTavish and Jim Hasenpfeffer get together for a motorcycle cruise across the country.

Tom is an Air Force grunt with a genius IQ and an affinity for electronics.

Ian got his degree in mechanical engineering and has a lucrative job with GM.

Jim got his Ph.D. in behavioral science and is studying the social interactions of motorcycle gangs.

When the three are on the road, they hear an explosion nearby and happen to be the first ones at the scene, before any rescue services arrive. They find a perfectly hemispherical hole in the ground where a house used to be, and the former contents of the hole appearing in the surrounding area over time.

Long story short, they discover the plans for a technology that eventually ends up creating a time machine. And thus the three misfits decide that they are going to get very rich.

Frankowski is a good story teller. It’s a lighthearted tale that does not take itself too seriously. The characters are funny and a bit cartoonish. They talk with each other like no real people would talk. Either the author intends it that way, or he is really poor with creating dialog. I think it’s the former.

This book is full of casual time travel stunts in everyday life. It creates a new universe, of course so there can be more books in the series. Frankowski writes a lot of books in series, but the naming conventions are somewhat confusing. For instance, there is no Conrad in this book at all, and I can’t quite understand where the title comes from.

In summary, it’s a fun, lighthearted read with a lot of speculative science ideas and perfected time travel. The story is enjoyable, a crack-up even, albeit a bit hokey.

You might enjoy it. I myself won’t be reading any more Frankowski books, though.

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It’s the early 1960ies somewhere in Colorado near a military facility.

Hugh Farnham is a fifty-ish former soldier with an alcoholic and self-indulgent wife and two grown children. Like many of his contemporaries during the cold war, he is worried about nuclear war and has built a fully stocked bomb shelter under the ground in his back yard. One evening, when both his children are home, and his daughter brought a girlfriend, they play Bridge when suddenly the alarm is broadcast. There are incoming ballistic missiles. “This is not a test!”

Hugh and his family and friends, along with their negro house employee, move into the bomb shelter just in time to avoid the first nuclear blast right above them. Now Hugh’s planning and survivalist skills come into play.

** Minor Spoilers Follow **

There are several blasts. The last is the most severe, and somehow the bomb shelter along with all its occupants is catapulted some 2,000 years into the future. American (or what’s left of it) society at that time is very, very different. Eventually the Farnhams find themselves taken prisoner and enslaved. In the effort of trying to cope with their hopeless situation, they learn more and more about the local customs, traditions, science and history. Hugh is a free spirit who never gives up hope, and he meticulously plans his escape.

I read Farnham’s Freehold many years ago, but I had forgotten just about everything about it. A friend recommended it as a classic Heinlein with time travel (albeit involuntary) as a central plot construct. We all know that Heinlein was a master of his craft, and Farnham’s Freehold is no exception. In typical Heinlein style, there is very little exposition. The characters talk constantly, and through dialog Heinlein tells the story. Everything comes to life. Of course, there is some nudity and sex – there always seems to be in Heinlein novels. The plot is meticulously crafted.

Have you ever found yourself reading the beginning of a book sort of absentmindedly, because you can’t get into it, but as you progress, you get pulled in? And then, when you get toward the end, you realize you missed something  at the beginning, so you stop where you are and start over again? Well, that’s exactly what happened to me. Once I got to page 322, I just had to check the beginning, and I went back to read the first 40 pages again, and sure enough, there were significant events there that contributed to the story that I had missed. Generally, when that happens to me with a book, it’s a pretty good one.

Farnham’s Freehold is an apocalyptic tome, a survivalist story, a time jump into a distant future with a very alien culture, and a neat plot twist at the end that makes it all worthwhile.

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It is 1890. Annika finds herself without a transponder, which is the device she needs to return home to her own time in 2008. Stranded in time, with no way to go home, she makes the best of her situation and fights for the Sioux. She has a little help, because Kyle left his backpack on the counter in a bar when it disappeared. The bag contained his laptop which had basically all human knowledge as of 2008 on its hard drive (go figure how that would be possible).

This is book three out of three in the Time Tunnel series by Richard Todd. There is a little time travel plot twist here, but otherwise it’s just an alternate history story reminiscent of the trilogy by S.M. Stirling starting with Island in the Sea of Time.

I can recommend that series highly. In comparison, Time Tunnel: The Eclipse is a simple-minded tale of alternate history in a world where the United States disintegrates from internal strife and Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan rule the world outside of America.

Todd’s character development devolves in this third book. Most of the characters do stuff and react in ways that do not make much sense and seem very unrealistic. I got the feeling that the author just wanted to hurry and wrap this series up.

I finished reading this book simply because I had invested time in the first two of the series and I wanted to learn what would happen to Annika. However, the third book didn’t add anything new other than a neat plot twist at the end.

 

 

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Kyle Mason changed world history in Book 1 when he prevented 9/11. His wife Padma, who had died in 9/11, was alive again when he returned. Since Kyle and Padma knew the future between 2001 and 2008, they started a company and became fabulously wealthy by playing the stock market (Apple, for example) and capitalizing on the 2008 market crash. Padma and Kyle were the world’s first and only trillionaires. Padma, the face of their company, essentially “bought” the U.S. government and the country openly called her the Empress of America. She was running things.

That backdrop raised authoritarian opposition, ending in an eventual coup d’etat in America and totalitarian rule. One day emperors, the next day fugitives, Padma and Kyle retrenched to the time tunnel complex in Las Vegas. As government forces chased them down, they hurriedly escaped into time. Without proper navigation, they ended up in 1890 in South Dakota, just before the massacre at Wounded Knee. It was time for Kyle to change the nation’s history again.

Most of the story takes place in Sioux country. The plot, while sometimes contrived, kept me turning the pages. When I was done, I picked up Book 3 right away.

 

 

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Jeff Dolan works for a private space firm as an astronaut. The CEO is a young entrepreneur, and his general manager a shrewd operator. There are also other private competitors. NASA is only a shadow of its former self. Now they are on the way to the Saturn moon Titan. It’s a race.

Shortly after departure from earth, a terrible technical accident occurs putting the entire mission in jeopardy. They manage to salvage the ship and continue to go to Titan. Eventually they figure out there was sabotage and the company apparently is putting more value on the mission than their lives.

Once they get to Saturn, they quickly discover that “something” is already there, something apparently not man-made.

Mission One is a first-contact story.

Generally I love first-contact stories, but this one has so many flaws, it didn’t work for me.

*** Some spoilers after this ***

The company’s CEO is being blackmailed by the general manager, who basically hires a swat team and takes over the company at gunpoint. That’s just not how business  works. The writer apparently has not worked in an entrepreneurial company.

The spaceship has a limited amount of fuel. Fuel is being calculated all the time in this story, particularly after the malfunction. But it seems to be all about what they call “major burns” which suck away all the fuel. So they are planning on coming home from Titan with one major burn left in the tank. Somehow they never seem to care about deceleration. The ship goes to Titan in record time but does not seem to have to decelerate there. The ship uses up its last major burn coming home from Titan. How does it slow down when it gets to the halfway point?

You might say that’s not so important. I agree, it could be excused, if the ship were to be a Starship Enterprise-type ship with basically magic technology. But this story presents itself as a science-based science fiction tale, but its science does not hold water whatsoever. In contrast, Andy Weir does a great job in The Martian and Project Hail Mary in that regard.

Another plot component is related to the distance between Saturn and Earth, which is currently around 88 minutes. It varies widely depending on the position of the two planets in their orbits. However, no matter how far, it’s a long time and you can’t have any real-time communication. However, conveniently, once they are within reach of the alien artifact in orbit around Titan, they have instantaneous communications between Earth and the ship in orbit around Titan. Somehow, the artifact makes this possible, and nobody seems to be surprised about that. Again, magic technology that just does not make sense in this context.

Overall, there is nothing wrong with using magic technology to build a plot, if it’s done right. In this case, it just never made sense and I felt that the magic was too distracting to be convincing, and it constantly reminded me that I was reading a book. I never got into the book.

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The story starts in the morning of September 10, 2001 in New York City. Kyle Mason, a major in the Special Forces, has just married Padma Mahajan, who works on the 105th floor of the World Trade Center. She is an investment banker for Cantor Fitzgerald. They are staying in a hotel in SoHo, and out their window they can see the Twin Towers. Padma leaves to get Starbucks, while Kyle takes a shower. When he gets out, a mysterious figure appears in the mirror behind him.

Vignettes reach back to 1947 when supposedly UFOs crashed in Roswell, New Mexico. There are episodes of the story in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and through the years, culminating in 2008 when a handful of brilliant scientists, sheltered and covered by the U.S. Army in Area 51, finally develop a working time machine.

Richard Todd is a good story teller and he creates credible characters, with good realistic dialog, and a fast-paced plot. I enjoyed reading this book until the last sentence, at which time I decided to buy Book 2 of the 3-book series.

 

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About a hundred years in our future, around 2124, there is a small permanent human settlement on Mars, and permanents space stations in Earth orbit and on the moon are a reality.

The hunt for rare minerals to feed the needs of technology has intensified, and there are companies mining in Antarctica, under several kilometers of ice, using robotic mining equipment for prospecting.

In this endeavor, a mining team finds what they think is a peculiar meteor that must have been there for more than 10 million years, which is at least how long that part of Antarctica has been covered by thick glaciers.

As they study the object, however, they find anomalies that they can’t explain, and they gradually come to the realization that they are dealing with an alien artifact.

But what does humanity do with something it does not understand? Try to destroy it.

As you might expect, that starts off a chain of events that may not be stoppable.

The Sentinel is a speculative fiction book that tells a story. The characters are simple and one-dimensional, and much of the plot is fairly predictable.

I enjoyed reading it to a point, but I would probably not clamor to read more books by this author.

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Here is a meme on banning books by Jeff Zentner

 

I do not know who actually put this list of books together, but I found it inspiring.

  • Gone with the Wind – by Margaret Mitchell: Reviewed on June 15, 2011, 4 stars
  • As I Lay Dying – by William Faulkner: I read this book about 20 years ago, should write a review, but can’t remember enough about it. Need to re-read.
  • Beloved – by Tony Morrison
  • Catch 22 – by Joseph Heller: I have tried to read this several times and could never get through. I need to try again. I have it in hardcopy on the shelf behind me.
  • Brave New World – by Aldous Huxley
  • The Color Purple – by Alice Walker
  • Death of a Salesman – by Arthur Miller
  • Catcher in the Rye – by J. D. Salinger: Reviewed on March 19, 2009, 4 stars – I have read this book two or three times over the years.
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – by J. K. Rowling
  • Howl – by Allen Ginsberg
  • A Light in the Attic – by Shel Silverstein
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – by Mark Twain
  • James and the Giant Peach – by Roald Dahl
  • The Joy of Sex – by Alex Comfort: Boy, I did check that book out when I was a young man.
  • Lord of the Flies – by William Golding
  • Native Son – by Richard Wright
  • Of Mice and Men – by John Steinbeck: I have read this book but too many years ago and therefore no review
  • Portnoy’s Complaint – by Philip Roth
  • The Sun Also Rises – by Ernest Hemingway
  • The Pentagon Papers – by Office of the Secretary of the Defense, 1971
  • Sophie’s Choice – by William Styron
  • Slaughterhouse Five – by Kurt Vonnegut: I tried to read this a few times and never got into it.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird – by Harper Lee: Read several times long ago.
  • Ulysses – by James Joyce: I can’t read Ulysses and I can’t read Ulysses Take Two.

So here is my reading list. Let’s get to work!

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A young widow hires Greyson Travers, a private detective, to investigate the suicide of her husband. Since she does not believe her husband would commit suicide, she thinks it was murder, but she has no proof. Travers has a great reputation for solving crimes, so she hires him to figure out what happened.

What she does not know, of course, is that Travers is a time traveler. Rather than figuring out what might have happened, he simply goes back to the time and place of the crime and watches it happen. What could be simpler?

He quickly realizes that the crime is much more complicated than it appears, and there are other time-traveling criminals involved.  He quickly finds himself ensnared by the mob and some very dangerous characters who use time travel to commit crimes.

Greyson Travers is the son of Ben and Mym Travers of Van Coops’ In Time Like These series of books, all of which I found highly readable. It is not necessary to read those books before enjoying Time of Death. It stands alone, and the author slowly introduces the concepts of time travel of the In Times Like These universe without it getting in our faces.

I have read all of those books, and if you’re interested, here is a summary of my reviews. You can click on the titles to jump right to them.

Nathan Van Coops Agent of Time Fiction Time Travel 2 Dec 13, 2020
Nathan Van Coops The Warp Clock Fiction Time Travel 3 Oct 9, 2018
Nathan Van Coops The Day after Never Fiction Time Travel 2 Jan 2, 2017
Nathan Van Coops The Chronothon Fiction Time Travel 3 Dec 3, 2016
Nathan Van Coops In Times Like These Fiction Time Travel 3 Oct 31, 2016

Time of Death is basically a murder mystery and it deals with a heist.

There was only one issue I had with the plot. The mob figures in the story have the ability to travel in time, but they organize this weird heist to collect cash from a casino. Seriously, if I were a time traveler, it would be so much easier to get rich, without hurting anyone, without cheating anyone else. Why not go back to 1980 and buy some Apple stock? Then come back to 2022 and enjoy the fruits of that decision. Oh well, there would be no murder mystery then.

I enjoyed all of Nathan Van Coops’ books, and I rated them all between 2 and 3 stars. They are always very readable and fast-paced. Time of Death is a fairly short book and a quick, fun read.

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The author of The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett, at age 32, is younger than my youngest child. She apparently grew up in Oceanside, California, which is about 30 minutes down the road from where I have lived for a lot longer than 32 years. Home.

Brit Bennett is an African American woman. For the remainder of this post I will no longer say African American, but use the terms “colored” or “black” or “dark” just as she uses those terms throughout the book.

The story starts in the early 1960s, and is about the Vignes twins, Desiree and Stella, who grow up in Mallard, Louisiana, a very small town in the country, almost entirely black, but the light version of black. So light, indeed, that the twins pass as white when they are out of their environment. As the twins grow up, they try to break away from the yokes of their ancestry, and each twin has her own way. Desiree is the outgoing one. Stella is the quiet one. When they move into New Orleans to get jobs, one day, Stella disappears. She is never seen again. Even private investigators can’t find her.

And that’s all I am going to tell you about the story, because you’ll need to read it for yourself.

The Vanishing Half is about racism in America, and it shows, without ever lecturing or judging, what it is like to be a colored person in our country. The subtle insinuations and the basic assumptions that we all have about black people come to life. As we experience this story, the absurdity of it all becomes obvious. The book deals not just with racism but also transgender issues, always nonchalantly, without getting in our face.

As I read The Vanishing Half, following the twins, their parents, their lovers, the fathers of their children, and their children, through their lives, I felt like I got to know them all intimately, and when the book was finally over, and I flipped the last page, I knew I’d miss the characters. I wanted it to continue. It is that kind of book.

And my awareness of what it’s like to be black in America was hugely elevated.

Brit Bennett, as such a young woman, has written a very wise book, and I will surely pick up her next ones.

And you should pick up this one.

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Trident’s Forge is Book 2 in Tomlinson’s series Children of a Dead Earth. Just yesterday I reviewed Book 1 here.

I wasn’t going to read the sequel, since the original book, a generation ship story, wasn’t all that exciting. However, the author roped me in with a few teaser chapters at the end of Book 1 and I read it anyway.

In Trident’s Forge, we meet the characters from The Ark again about three years after landing on the planet they call Gaia orbiting Tau Ceti. Mankind has gained a tenuous foothold. But on another continent on the planet, there is already a sentient race, they call them the Atlantians.

These aliens are slightly larger than humans, but humanoid with a head, two arms and legs, and very pliable, seemingly boneless bodies. It’s kind of strange that the author didn’t do a better job of describing how the aliens look. In my mind, they were simply big, gangly humans from the Bronze age.

Trident’s Forge is a First Contact story, albeit not one of the better ones I have read. The aliens are just like humans, with the same emotions, feelings, even reflexes. Other than looking a little different, and speaking a different language, they are just humans in costumes, and as a result, not very intriguing as aliens.

The story is another conspiracy story. Humanity has brought its worst attributes with them, including the greed of the elite class that will do anything to get rich and powerful at the expense of everyone else, including an entire sentient race. It’s a fast-moving story, quite readable, but unfortunately not very memorable.

I won’t be reading Book 3, even through I thumbed through the teaser chapters. There are too many other books on my reading shelf, and there is too little time left.

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Mankind discovers a black hole heading directly into the solar system. Humanity faces complete obliteration as a result. Using all the world’s resources, they build a massive starship to send on its way to Tau Ceti, where a habitable planet was found that should be suitable for humans. The Ark, as the ship is called, travels at about 5% the speed of light. This means it will take almost two and a half centuries to bridge the gap of 12 lightyears. The Ark is truly a generation ship. All of the 50,000 people who were chosen to leave Earth would never see their destination but live out their lives on the ship. Entire new generations will be born, live their lives, and die, never seeing their destination. Imagine living on a ship now that left Earth at about the time of the American Declaration of Independence. That would be the timeframe.

The story starts just before arrival at Tau Ceti. Bryan Benson is a retired sports hero. He now works as a detective. After a crew member goes missing, he eventually discovers that a murder has taken place. As he digs deeper, he finds that there appears to be a conspiracy involving the most powerful people on the ship that could jeopardize the entire mission and possibly annihilate the last living members of the human race, the 50,000 souls living on the Ark.

I picked up this book because I love generation ship stories. I have read and reviewed five books about generation ships in this blog (you can find the reviews by selecting “Generation Ships” in the categories dropdown.

I enjoyed the description of the ship and its technology, but had a hard time picturing it in my head. The author does not do a very good job describing things.

The Ark is actually Book 1 of a series of three books titled “Children of a Dead Earth.” I didn’t think I’d go for the second in the series, but the publishers cleverly put the first few chapters into the end of this book, and it pulled me in. See my review of Book 2 next.

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The year is 3235. Adem is a trader who has lived the majority of his life on a small starship, named Hajj. After the ruin of Earth, mankind has populated a handful of exoplanets, some more successfully than others. Starships connect the planets traveling at almost the speed of light. To go from one star to another, say a dozen lightyears away, will therefore take a bit more than the 12 years, since we must accommodate time for acceleration and deceleration. Due to the effects of relativity, while such a journey will take 12 years, from the point of view of the occupants of the ship, only a few months go by.

Adem is a young man of marriageable age. It is common for families to arrange marriages. They pick out an eligible couple on a planet, pay them handsomely to have a daughter who will eventually marry into the family. Adem picks his future bride, Hisako, before she is even conceived, let alone born. They make a deal, pay Hisako’s parents a life-changing amount of money, and Adem returns to the ship and embarks on another trading trip to one of the planets. The time spent on that trip, relative to Adem, will be less than two years. By the time he comes back, two years older, his unborn bride will have grown up, gone through school, graduated from university and be ready to join him as his 24-year-old wife.

Needless to say, complications arise.

I love stories about time dilation. Haldeman’s The Forever War is a book I read twice for that reason, as it works the effects very well into the plot. The Light Years is all about the effects of time dilation and it illustrates many fascinating concepts. However, the author is using too much magic science to make it happen. As an example, the starships in The Light Years travel at more than 99% of the speed of light. This is necessary for the plot to have the significant time dilation effects. However, he never even tries to explain how the ships accomplish that. They just do, never mind that it takes infinite energy for an object to reach lightspeed. There is also no attempt to explain where the fuel comes from to generate this energy, or how the ships protect themselves from interstellar dust.

The author tells the story from the viewpoints of the two protagonists, Adem and Hisako, in alternating chapters, each titled with the name of the character. I have seen this done before in other books and it can work well, but it didn’t do that here. Adem’s chapters were written in the third person, just from his viewpoint, while Hisako’s chapters were written in the first person, with Hisako directly telling the story. This threw me off throughout the book, and it was unnecessary. The third person worked a little better – it usually does – so I would have just changed Hisako’s chapters and the result would have been a more readable, better book.

In the end, if you are interested in time dilation, you have to read The Light Years, the non-science parts notwithstanding. We observe human life on several planets. Obviously, traders live thousands of “normal” years as they go on their journeys, and they can never come back “home” to any place, as it will have aged decades.

It’s a fun, speculative read.

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