Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

We are mired in wars that seem to never end. When our children think of war, they think of Iraq and Afghanistan. For the majority of our population, Vietnam is ancient history. Vietnam veterans are now all in their mid to late sixties or seventies. They know their combat stories, and their politics, and they remember the days of their young selves, when they were asked to give up their youths to fight in a brutal and bloody war far away from the American reality. They all have friends they lost, whose names are now on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. And they all still grieve for their comrades, their friends, every day of their lives.

Every soldier of the 58,220 who lost their lives in Vietnam had loved ones at home, girlfriends, wives, children, parents, neighbors, buddies. Thousands of those lives of those loved ones were changed forever the moment two or three soldiers in uniform walked up to the front doors of their houses to bring the impossible and unbearable news.

In Backtracking in Brown Water, the author, Rolland E. Kidder, a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the U.S. Navy, tells his own story of his tour of duty in Vietnam in 1969. He saw many soldiers die, but three of them were close friends. Chief Eldon Tozer, Captain Bob Olson and Lieutenant Jim Rost all lost their lives while serving alongside the author.

While he tells his own story of how he ended up in Vietnam in the war, he recounts the lives of his three fallen friends. Then, forty years later, between 2010 and 2014, he visits their families back home, interviews them, shares stories with them, and goes to see their graves. While it does not bring closure – nothing ever seems to do that – it honors the men who gave their lives for their country, even now, 40 years later.

He also went back to the brown waters in the Mekong Delta and visited the places where he had served, and where his friends had fallen, so many decades ago.

When I read Backtracking in Brown Water, I was first with the author right there in Vietnam, in 1969, and experienced the horrors of that war. Then I was there again with him when he returned to Vietnam. I saw the country through his eyes by reading his words. And I got to know the fallen heroes almost like they were my own friends.

And above all, I came to abhor war even more than I already do, this vicious thing our so-called “leaders” initiate to make themselves large, by sending other people’s children into foreign lands to suffer and to die – for illegitimate causes.

When will we ever learn that war does not work, that war never works?

Ask Eldon Tozer, Bob Olson and Jim Rost. You can’t. Because they lost it all so abruptly in 1969, while the rest of us got to live on. Every one of us should read Backtracking in Brown Water to remind us of the horror of war.

Check out the author’s website and blog.

He now lives in Stow, New York, in the heart of Chautauqua County.

***

But wait, there is more. It turns out I know author. Here he is on the left, in a picture taken in March 1975 in Albany, New York.

left to right: Assemblyman Rolland Kidder, unknown student of Jamestown High School, myself, Senator Jess Present

I was a foreign exchange student with AFS at Southwestern Central High School in Lakewood, New York, in the year 1974/75. My history teacher, Mrs. Tarbrake, chose me (of all the students in her classes) to go on a visit to the New York State government. There was just one student per high school. It was such an honor.

Senator Present picked me up at my house in Lakewood, New York and I rode with him the seven hours to Albany, while we chatted about the life of an exchange student and world politics. When we arrived in Albany, he passed me on to Assemblyman Kidder, who, with the help of his staff, hosted my visit and allowed me to sit with him in the chamber while legislative votes were taking place. I saw state government in action with his personal commentary.

In the picture above, I am the one that looks the least like the other three. Nobody had told this poor foreign exchange student that there was a dress code in the New York Assembly Chamber. You needed coat and tie to enter. I had not brought any. For me to get in, Assemblyman Kidder let me use one of his jackets, and one of his staffers gave me a white shirt and a tie. Along with my blue corduroy pants, I am sure I was not much of a fashion statement in the assembly chamber, but I was honored to be there wearing the Assemblyman’s jacket.

At that time, I didn’t have much of a perspective on Assemblyman Kidder’s role there. I just found out when I read this book that he had only been in office for a few months at that time, in his first term. To me, he looked like a seasoned and distinguished politician.

The picture above was published in the Jamestown Post Journal, the local paper in Chautauqua County, during the following week, telling the story of two local students from the two local high schools in the Jamestown area, visiting the State Legislature. I was famous.

And of course, I had no idea that Assemblyman Kidder was a Vietnam veteran, and that I would stumble upon his book 42 years later.

It’s been an honor – twice.

Read Full Post »

Other Minds – The Octopus, the Sea,

and the Deep Origins of Consciousness

When we think of intelligent animals, we think of whales, specifically dolphins, apes, elephants, dogs, crows and parrots. I have written much about this subject, and you can find the posts by selecting Animal Intelligence from the categories dropdown on the right.

We generally do not think of octopuses as intelligent. However, octopuses, as well at cuttlefish and squid, commonly classified as cephalopods, are highly intelligent animals.

Peter Godfrey-Smith, the author of Other Minds, is a distinguished philosopher of science and a skilled scuba diver, who started studying octopuses in the process of thinking about consciousness in humans and in animals.

Other Minds tells the story of how animal life first started on earth, and how the invertebrates started splitting off from the vertebrates some 500 to 600 million years ago. As it turns out, cephalopods are invertebrates, and all other intelligent animals are vertebrates, including humans. The common ancestor of both humans and octopuses are small flat wormlike creatures that lived over 500 million years ago. As a result, an octopus is about as different from a human as you can get, and still have two eyes – and a mind.

Godfrey-Smith illustrates many astonishing examples of octopus intelligence and it becomes quite clear that, yes, they are really bright, and yes, they are very alien, very different from us. He says that the closest we are likely ever to come to meeting an alien intelligent being is going to the aquarium and watching an octopus.

I searched and found a few astonishing videos. The first one is of an octopus escaping from a ship’s deck. Since an octopus has no hard parts, no bones, no shells, he can squeeze himself through a hole as small as his eyeball, his hardest part. The video below demonstrates that.

Octopuses can also learn to use tools and solve complex problems. Here is an example of an octopus opening a jar into which it has been placed.

There are other examples that show how an octopus can open a jar from the outside to get to the prey locked inside.

I am highly interested in animal intelligence and alien intelligence, so this book turned out to be a treasure trove of information and great anecdotes and stories. I learned much about the evolution of life on earth, and the development of intelligence and consciousness. If you have similar interests, this is a book you must read.

The author is trying to be factual, and the book is therefore more of a text book than an entertainment book, which makes it somewhat challenging to read.

But I enjoyed it thoroughly, and I am sure I’ll refer to it in the future.

Read Full Post »

When a nuclear submarine in the Caribbean encounters anomalies with its GPS system, John Clay, a naval investigator is called in to figure out what happened.

At the same time, Alison Shaw, a marine biologist and her small team of dedicated scientists achieve a breakthrough in their attempt to communicate with dolphins.

Eventually the U.S. Navy discovers an artifact on the bottom of the ocean that seems to destabilize the geological balance of the entire planet. That’s when the U.S. government gets involved, and things go sideways very quickly.

Breakthrough is Grumley’s debut novel and the first of a “series” of novels. It’s a science fiction techno-thriller, where the science fiction is very light and superficial, and the thriller part is pretty standard and fairly bland U.S. government intrigue stuff.

There are two areas that interested me specifically, and I want to discuss them.

Spoiler Warning: the following contains minor spoilers which will not impact your enjoyment of the novel, but it is my policy to warn about spoilers.

Dolphin Intelligence and Language

The first area has to do with dolphin intelligence and language. This subject has always been one of deep interest to me, and I have literally read dozens of books on the subject. Search for the keyword “dolphin” on this blog and find some of my thoughts on it. Also, select “cetaceans” in the Select a Category dropdown to the right, and you’ll find a lot of related posts.

In this story, a team of researchers has used an IBM artificial intelligence engine to decode a dolphin vocabulary, and after the initial Hello, Yes and No words are discovered, it starts building very quickly. Humans type into the computer, or speak to a voice recognition system, and the system translates the word to a set of dolphin clicks and whistles. When dolphins whistle, the computer detects the words, looks them up in the vocabulary, and speaks them. Voilà, you have a conversation with a dolphin.

This concept is quite well developed in this story, except for the strange beginning, where the supposed breakthrough occurs, and I could not figure out what exactly it was. Supposedly the team had recorded dolphin sounds for years, and they were finally starting to interpret them. There was this huge press conference announcing that they were starting that. I just could not figure out what the breakthrough was, other than they had decided that they would stop collecting sounds and start interpreting them.

I was personally always interested in this field, and I have often had regrets that I didn’t start in this field of research early in my career as a computer programmer. My life might have been very different indeed. Of course, maybe not as successful, since in all those years, unlike in this book, we have NOT yet cracked the code and been successful communicating with the aliens right here on our planet, with our own DNA.

Convergent Evolution

Definition: In evolutionary biology, convergent evolution is the process whereby organisms not closely related (not monophyletic), independently evolve similar traits as a result of having to adapt to similar environments or ecological niches.

In this story – and here is the spoiler – there are aliens living on the bottom of the Caribbean Sea in air bubbles. How they got there and what they are doing there is not relevant for my point so I won’t elaborate here.

However, the aliens, although they come from another planet around another star, are human, indistinguishable from us. The author explains that convergent evolution will produce identical results even in wildly different environments, as long as the building blocks of nature are the same. We are all “stardust” and made from the same raw materials that heavy elements resulting from supernovae. So the same amino acids seeded many different worlds around many different stars, and the crowning result would be — humans.

That’s where the story lost me. No only were the aliens that evolved on another planet in a different stellar system light years away human, they spoke American English! This was just so out of the realm of feasibility, the book came apart for me at that time.

Here is a novel,  that is partly built on the concept of the challenges of decoding a language of an alien being (in this case a dolphin) and how it took decades of work to make any measurable progress, and then that same novel brings in alien humans that conveniently speak English and are undetected in our social environment.

Regardless of those flaws, I enjoyed the book, I found the concept of language translation intriguing and entertaining, and I read all the way to the end.

 

Read Full Post »

After total destruction of the Earth, all that is left of humanity is on one gigantic spaceship, the Noah, en route to Canaan, a planet at another star, so far away that the journey will take more than 1,000 years. The ship is huge. Under a dome the habitat is comprised of cities, countryside and vertical farms. People live in houses, apartments, even skyscrapers. They drive cars, ride in buses and trains. The sky, the sun, the moon, the stars are all simulations. So is day and night, and the seasons. People live ordinary lives, have jobs, go to school, compete for positions, love, hate, fight, and play. All the while the ship moves at relativistic speed toward a new home.

Hana Dempsey is a city planner. She is high up in the social hierarchy. When the story starts, the ship has been traveling for 340 years, with another 700 or so to go. Imagine living your entire life inside a ship, an enclosed system, without any opportunity to ever get out. For us, 340 years ago was 1677, about 100 years before the American Declaration of Independence. That’s how long they have been traveling.

Through Hana’s eyes, we get a snapshot of a civilization in such a “generation ship.” Hana and her friends become suspicious about strange and violent deaths, and they start investigating. Their findings pull them deeper and deeper into very dark secrets that the very ship itself seems to harbor. Their activities set off a revolution and popular uprising that not only threatens their way of life, but the mission itself, and therefore the existence of humanity. Can the uprising be quelled? Can order be restored? Can the ship continue its mission and keep traveling for many, many more centuries?

The author uses the first person present tense method of narration. I seem to find books like this; just recently I read the trilogy on time travel by Nathan Van Coops, who also uses that writing approach. But Ramirez is clumsy with it, and I don’t think it works well. Some of the people use telepathy, as well as thought and memory exchange through brain implants, giving the humans communications methods that are more difficult to follow. It’s hard for the reader to tell if a person is thinking, or speaking, or sending telepathic messages. Sometimes the author also violates the point of view, and while Hana tells most of the story, sometimes he seems to switch to other viewpoints, confusing the reader even more.

The Forever Watch wants to be a hard science fiction book, but there is too much far-out technology that it is almost distracting from the story, and the hard science starts feeling a little hokey at times.

I don’t know why the title of the book is The Forever Watch. I really think there should have been a better title. While I was reading it, I could never remember what the title was. I just kept thinking of the generation ship book. How about The Noah?

As you can see, I think the book has its flaws, and some reviewers have called it a tedious read. However, if you are into the sub-genre of generation ships, like I am, it is a book you must read, and you will enjoy. It is full of unique ideas and concepts, and while the author completes the story and makes The Forever Watch as standalone novel, there is ample opportunity for a sequel.

Read Full Post »

[click for picture credit]

Read Full Post »

Jack Kildare is a British-American space shuttle astronaut who flies the very last mission of the space shuttle in 2011. Skyler Taft is a young astronomer who works observation shifts at the Mauna Kea observatories in Hawaii. One night, by pure luck, he observes a phenomenon near Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter, that can only be interpreted as activities of an alien ship in orbit around that moon. And thus, Jack and Skyler’s fate start getting intertwined.

Soon, all of earth is abuzz about the mother of all discoveries, or MOAD, as it’s colloquially called. The nations of earth work together to build an interplanetary spaceship to take a crew of eight astronauts to Europa to check out the aliens. As in any large “government” project costing hundreds of billions of dollars and requiring international cooperation, there is much intrigue, international politics, posturing and, yes, even murder, to make it all work.

The book is subtitled a first contact technothriller and that’s what attracted me to it. I usually like “first contact” stories.

What I didn’t expect was that the majority of the 400 pages was really about earth’s international politics, including the Russians, the Chinese and other nations, all banding together to build something that had never been built before. This book is not a technothriller. It’s a political thriller, and not a very convincing one at that, with a technology umbrella story.

I expected some alien story, some humanity meets alien yarn, but I got mostly yawns slogging through intrigue on the streets of Beijing, and in the halls of NASA in Houston, and in Baikonur. At the end, all I saw was the spaceship leaving earth orbit.

That’s when I realized I was reading Book 1 of a series, and I felt cheated. It was just not what I expected. The writing and plotting also was not good enough to lead me to believe that Book 2 and Book 3 would be any more satisfying, so I’ll pass and move on to another author.

Read Full Post »

Cady McCall is an iOS game programmer who just struck it rich by publishing a hit game which she sold to Apple. As she walks home alone from a meeting at night in Seattle, she is followed and then mugged. A rescuer comes along just as she passes out.

When she wakes up, she is in a moldy and dirty room in London in the 1880s, with a man named Titanic Smith, a U.S. Marshal from the Wild West.

As the two try to figure out what happened to them, they have a number of adventures in time, with one trip even to ancient Rome.

A Girl in Time is a time travel adventure story, and that’s how I came across it. The first third of the book was hard to read for me. The author, an experienced writer of many other books, mostly in the genre of alternative history, uses too many trite clichés that I found distracting. I have this pet peeve about meals always being “washed down” with a couple of beers. Here is another example:

They did not return to her apartment. Not this time. Instead they caught a cab to the Alexis Hotel after she’d grabbed a couple of adjoining rooms on Expedia.

Who “grabs” a room?

Also, the author applies a strange point of view switch, that, if it were executed correctly, could work quite well.

For instance, Cady is a 2016 American hip girl in her early twenties. And she speaks and thinks like one. Smith is a 19th century U.S Marshal from the West. He has a folksy way of talking and thinking. The author switches between the two points of view and gets into the heads of the protagonists, so we hear them thinking, but the switch occurs randomly inside paragraphs or chapters, which results in occasional confusion. Who is telling the story?

Generally, when an author does this, he works using alternate chapters with different view points, and it’s pronounced and clear. Now we’re seeing the story from Cady’s point of view, now from Smith’s.

A little editing of the books structure could have fixed this.

Now here is the cool part, if you’re still reading: About 40% into the book, Smith and Cady land by accident in Seattle in 2019, and a different 2019 it is.

Donald Trump is now president for life. The United States has become a dystopian fascist country. Homeland Security agents are executing brutal raids on citizens, reminiscent of the Gestapo in East Germany. People get arrested for criticizing the government. They get sent to “the Wall” to perform forced labor. Here is Cady talking:

“Oh, you mean when I rescued you from the fucking Fourth Reich run by an angry Cheetos demon and its talking peehole?”

I got a kick out of the Fourth Reich episode, since I found it so timely. I cannot tell when Birmingham released A Girl in Time; the book oddly lacks a copyright page. He must have written it before Trump was elected, and he simply played on the theme. We’re obviously not a dystopian fascist country yet, but some of the things being done now are very scary and Birmingham predicted them in this novel.

Some Amazon reviewers blasted the writer for letting his political views come through and using the book to lecture. For me, it was the opposite.

As far as time travel adventures go, this is a so-so book and I am not sure I’ll be interested in reading the sequel when it comes out – but I might.

As far as the sequence on Trump, it made this book, and therefore, even though I would have only given it a two-star rating, I bumped it up by half a star. It will probably boost Trump’s ego when he finds out he is a character in a novel, even though not a flattering one.

Trump, the angry Cheetos demon!

Read Full Post »

Yuri Eden wakes up on a starship on mankind’s first voyage to another star, Proxima Centauri, four light-years away. He does not know why he is there, he does not know his destiny, but he knows he is not there by his own free will, and neither are the other 200 or so “colonists” who will be dropped off on an earth-like planet in orbit around the star.

Proxima is the story of forced colonization of an utterly alien world, and the hardships that accompany such an endeavor.

Baxter is a world-builder. He tells the story of first contact with alien life on an alien planet. But he also constructs a political system in the late 22nd century, roughly when Proxima takes place.

I enjoyed the first contact and colonization sections of the book, but I didn’t care about the distracting artificial intelligences and their political machinations, the silly political structure, and the military power structure that seems to dominate society.

It’s like he meant this to be a space opera, but there was too much material, not enough focus, coupled with shallow character building and an almost silly plot, that was distracting from what could have been a good, albeit slightly boring, story of colonization of another star system.

In the end, I enjoyed reading Proxima, but do not have any interest in reading the sequel, Ultima. I don’t care enough for the world Baxter built here, and for its characters.

Read Full Post »

spare-parts

Here is a book I give four stars, because I cannot think of a book more relevant today.

It tells the true story of four undocumented Latino teenagers from Mexico in Carl Hayden Community High School in West Phoenix. In 2004, against all odds, they started a robotics team under the guidance of two extraordinary and inspiring teachers. They built an underwater robot (in the Arizona desert) and took it to the Marine Advanced Technology Education Robotics Competition at the University of California, Santa Barbara. They were up against some of the most renowned engineering schools in the county, like MIT, funded by grants of thousands of dollars. Their robot was built out of spare parts, PVC pipe bought at Home Depot, glue, a briefcase, all stuff they found around the house and the garage. The robot wasn’t pretty. They called it Stinky, because the glue they used stunk.

Against all odds, they won.

Spare Parts tells the story of four kids, Oscar, Cristian, Luis, and Lorenzo, how they came to live in the United States, what brought them to Carl Hayden High School, what motivated them, and what happened to them after they created national headlines with their unexpected underdog success.

Spare Parts tells the story of undocumented aliens in the United States. Each of these kids was as American as you or I. They were brought to the country by their parents when they were infants, toddlers, or elementary school kids. Yes, they were born in Mexico, but they knew no reality than their lives in the barrios of Phoenix. They were Americans and they could not understand why they didn’t get the same opportunities their American-born friends got. They were marked.

Their crime was that their parents brought them into the country by sneaking through a hole in a fence somewhere in the desert. They were guilty, and they were illegal, because their parents committed a crime, the crime of trying to make better lives for themselves and their families.

I am not advocating that it’s right to slip through the fence on the border to improve your lives. We have laws, and they don’t permit this. But I am advocating that it is not right to punish children for the crimes of their parents. Yet, our laws do exactly that.

Read Spare Parts and get a view into the lives of four teenagers, all of whom found themselves in this extraordinary situation, where they were very smart, driven, dedicated, hard-working, willing to serve their country, but not permitted to do so and ostracized and criminalized for it. Read Spare Parts to understand the problem.

Not only did these four teenagers in 2004 create extraordinary success for themselves, they started a movement. Carl Hayden High School has gone on to win many competitions in robotics all over the country since then. More students at the school get engineering scholarships than all sports combined. The interest in engineering has gone through the roof, and the program is now renowned.

Spare Parts refers to Jeff Sessions and Barack Obama. Both have appearances in the book. In 2001, Senator Dick Durbin had introduced legislation to provide a path to citizenship for young immigrants who had been in the United States for at least five years and were attending college. That was the Development, Relief, and Education for Minors Act, the “DREAM Act.” The bill failed to even make it to a vote. In 2010, he tried again, using Oscar Vazquez, one of the four teenagers in Spare Parts, as an example. Senate Republicans commenced a filibuster, blocking the vote.

“This bill is a law that at its fundamental core is a reward for illegal activity.”

— Senator Jeff Sessions

The Senate needed 60 votes to break the filibuster. They only got 55.

Spare Parts was written and copyrighted in 2014. Enter Trump in 2017. Jeff Sessions, the Illustrious, is now our Attorney General. Guess what will happen to immigrants now? Donald Trump has signed orders to have Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents round up “illegals” and deport them, sometimes without due process. Trump has blatantly labeled Mexicans rapists and murderers. Trump is fomenting xenophobia. Trump is stirring up vigilantism. Trump is dividing the country.

Reading Spare Parts will give you insight into the plight of illegal immigrant children and their despair about finding their own place in a world where they can’t figure out where they belong. I challenge you to read this book, and then come to me and defend Trump’s current approach.

I challenge you!

Rating - Four Stars

 

 

Read Full Post »

A friend (JD) during a personal meeting recently commented about my post on the book Red Notice and how I had given it four stars. He observed that I don’t give four stars very often. This prompted me to search for all books I have given four stars in the last two years. I found these twelve listed below. The definition of four stars for a book is contained in my Ratings Key:

Must read. Inspiring. Classic. Want to read again. I learned profound lessons. Just beautiful. I cried.

So here is Norbert Haupt’s reading list of the last two years of four star books:

Red Notice – by Bill Browder – a true story about corruption in Russia at the highest level of government, that stops at nothing, even killing people that get in the way.

Hungerwinter – by Alexander Häusser and Gordian Maugg – a documentary about what happened to the people of Germany after World War II and the collapse of the Nazi regime, and the incredible hardships they had to endure for years. This book is written in German.

Prophet’s Prey – by Sam Brower – the story of one man’s quest to bring down the polygamist leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, as it is commonly referred to, Warren Jeffs.

Kiss Every Step – by Doris Martin with Ralph S. Martin – the personal account of Doris Martin, who survived a three-year-stay at the Nazi labor camp in Ludwigsdorf as a young girl. I met the author herself in my local bookstore.

Napoleon – by Andrew Roberts – and outstanding, captivating biography of one of history’s most iconic leaders, Napoleon Bonaparte.

The Richest Man Who Ever Lived – by Greg Steinmetz – the story of Jacob Fugger, who was born in 1459 in Augsburg, Germany and died 1525, at the age of 66. He single-handedly created a banking and trade empire that reached to all ends of the globe. He also financed most of Europe’s wars of his time.

All the Light we Cannot See – by Anthony Doerr – a novel about two children in World War II and how their entire lives were shaped by the events of that age.

Zero to One – by Peter Thiel – a book about entrepreneurship and starting a tech company by the maddeningly self-absorbed Peter Thiel, who recently attracted additional notoriety by being a strong and outspoken supporter of Donald Trump. Thiel’s book is a great guide for budding entrepreneurs.

Elon Musk – by Ashlee Vance – a biography of Elon Musk, one of the world’s most admired entrepreneurs. Musk is the Thomas Edison of our time.

King Rat – by James Clavell – the classic novel about life in a prison camp in Asia during World War II.

How to Win at the Sport of Business – by Mark Cuban – a marvelous auto-biography by entrepreneur Mark Cuban on how he started his business empire. Very inspiring.

The World Without Us – by Alan Weisman – a book about what would happen if all the humans in the world suddenly disappeared. How long would the lights stay on?

Read Full Post »

hull-zero-three

Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear is a generation ship story. What’s a generation ship, you might ask?

The stars are so far away, with the closest being four light years distant, that it’s nearly impossible to visit other stars with any technology we can imagine. If a ship could travel at a tenth of the speed of light it would take 40 years to travel to the nearest star. So to get anywhere, a ship has to be outfitted so the crew that leaves never arrives. They live their lives on the ship, they have children, and grandchildren, and grand-grandchildren who all live and die on the ship. The generation that finally eventually arrives never knew earth, never lived on a planet, and never experienced the outdoors. Just imagine you live on a ship that arrives on a new planet that you will populate now, and you know that the ship left 240 years ago – when we signed the Declaration of Independence.

There are a lot of things that can go wrong on a journey that lasts centuries.

Hull Zero Three is a story of such a generation ship. A man wakes up busting out of a pod, naked, freezing, wet, and in darkness. He does not know where he is and who he is. The environment is completely alien and very hostile. But he survives, and he slowly finds out who he might be and where he is.

Besides describing the Ship, this novel also deals with the ethical and psychological aspects of sending humans on such trips.

This is not an easy read. You have to be interested in the construction of a space ship. There is a lot of detail that would make no sense to anyone but a science fiction buff. And the generation ship aspect adds yet a different twist.

If you are interested in other generation ship stories, I have compiled a list below with my reviews.

Rating - Two Stars

Generation Ship Novels:

Aurora – by Kim Stanley Robinson

Ship of Fools – by Richard Paul Russo

Non-Stop – by Brian W. Aldiss

Orphans of the Sky – by Robert A. Heinlein

The Dark Beyond the Stars – by Frank M. Robinson

Lungfish – by John Brunner

Seed of Light – by Edmund Cooper

Tau Ceti – by Kevin J. Anderson

Ark – by Stephen Baxter

 

Read Full Post »

a-time-before-time

This is absolutely the worst book I have ever read.

I am not sure how I even came to spend $2.99 for this book. It was listed as a science fiction and time travel novel in my Amazon feed. Once I was a couple of chapters into it, and since it was so short, I kept reading it not because it had my attention, but because it was so bad, I kept reading it just to entertain myself.

I am not sure if the author is writing in English as a second language, but he’d better be. Misspellings and grammar mistakes abound. Sometimes extra words are inserted, and other times words are missing. Nobody seems to have proofread this book, let alone edited it.

I read the entire book, and I honestly don’t know what is going on. An astronaut, who likes aviator glasses (we know this because about 5% of the book talk about his glasses) leaves on a journey. It is not clear where to and why. But he has to say good bye to his wife, who goes into cryogenic sleep while he is gone. Somehow the science goes wrong and he ends up in the 1960s somewhere in the American West, and there are some characters they interact with. The astronaut is also a gambler, and he wins some money in Las Vegas. I am telling you, it is really, really bad.

Just to give you a sense, here is the entire chapter 4, where the three astronauts wake up and discover than one of the three of them is dead. You’d think that would tragic? Check for yourself:

Chapter 4

When Liam came to, the ‘balloon’ had split, slowing the ship. He was the only one of the three that were conscious. He sent some messages back to earth. Orbits of other planets were periodically slowing the ship down. His messages were sporadic. He knew that earth would not receive them for years, now, but he sent them, anyway.

He looked up. They were headed towards a planet at full speed. It was their intended destination. The ship had been knocked off course. Liam attempted to wake up his captain. Captain Stewart woke with a start.

Keats had been thrust back in his chair too forcefully. His belt had broken. His neck had broken. He was dead.

‘Stay calm.’ The captain said. Liam was unsure of who he was talking to. ‘We’re still alive. We can make it back.’ He muttered under his breath, before calmly telling Liam some orders. He immediately obliged. The ship yawed and tilted. It was in the pull of the atmosphere, but it was enough. They orbited it and began heading back in the direction of earth.

‘Let’s sleep.’ The captain said, leaving his chair and painfully making his way back to the quarters. Liam sent one more message before following on. ‘We’re going to make it.’ The captain said before closing his pod and freezing himself.

Liam followed on. For a few years there was nothingness. It was the best he’d ever slept.

My rating scheme does not support negative numbers. If I could, I’d give this book a negative 4. But as it is, zero must suffice.

There are sequels to this book. No thank you.

Rating - Zero Stars

Read Full Post »

red-notice

Bill Browder started his career on Wall Street and was drawn first to Eastern Europe and then to Russia shortly after the Soviet Union broke apart. He started an investment fund and eventually became the largest foreign investor in Russia. In the process of privatizing, Russia ended up with twenty-two oligarchs owning 39 percent of the economy, while everyone else lives in poverty. In that environment, by investing in Russian businesses, Browder made a fortune for himself and his clients.

Then he noticed some anomalies within the companies he had invested in. Big chunks of the companies were stolen, leaving the investors diluted. As he drilled down into the complex schemes underway, he discovered massive fraud involving investors, regulatory agencies, law enforcement, the judicial system, and government in general, up to the highest level. He found that Russia was basically a criminal enterprise designed to suck the resources out of the country into the pockets of a few dozen people, legitimized by the status of Russia as a powerful nation.

As Browder keep digging into the corruption, he met with more and more resistance, and soon people started getting killed. The book tells the story of Sergei Magnitsky, one of Browder’s lawyers, who was tortured and eventually killed by the Russian authorities. When Browder starting fighting back, Putin himself came after Browder and his life was never the same again.

Browder lives in London, and at one time in 2012 he came to San Diego for a vacation:

Things quieted down during the recess, and I enjoyed a properly relaxing vacation with my kids for the first time in years. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been able to just let go and unwind. In the middle of our trip, my kids begged me to take them camping. We borrowed a tent and some sleeping bags, and I drove the family to Palomar Mountain State Park, an hour and half drive north of San Diego, where we got a campsite for the night. We brought wood from the ranger station and made a campfire and explored the forest. David cooked and we ate a dinner of spaghetti, tomato sauce, and hot dogs off plastic plates. As night fell, owls hooted and other birds cooed in the treetops, and the smell of burning wood filled the air. It was one of the best evenings I’d had in a long time. When I returned to London, I was recharged and ready for the final push.

— Browder, Bill. Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice (p. 344). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

I have been to that campground many times, and it brought the story into my emotional neighborhood.

Today, when Russia and Putin is so prevalent in the news, and when the Trump administration seems to be cozy with Putin and Russia, this book is an absolute must read for everyone in the world. Russia is not what it seems. Whatever it may be, it’s also an organized crime machine. Putin is arguably one of the richest men in the world. How does that happen on a government salary?

If you have ever thought of doing business of any type in Russia, just read Red Notice, and you will never, ever have that inkling again. Even travel to Russia becomes as risky and unpleasant proposition. If you have wanted to travel to Russia, just read Red Notice and get it out of your system.

Enter Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon and buddy of Putin. After reading Red Notice, I cannot imagine how Tillerson and Exxon got into their position with Putin without having participated in some massive, illegal scheme. Of course, I don’t know what that is. I am sure we’ll find out about it in the years and decades to come. But I would not trust Rex Tillerson paying for a round of beers with my credit card if he were a bartender. Having him become Secretary of State after having read Red Notice is an absolutely frightening thought.

Having our government with Trump and Tillerson in the lead be cozy with Russia is the most dangerous and ominous prospect imaginable. Is our own government now starting to drift toward Russian-type corruption? It certainly looks that way, and Trumps actions with regard to anything Russian sure make me very suspicious.

I love the Russian culture, its history, its people and its art. I have read Turgenev, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. Their novels are some of my favorite in the world. The Russian people are smart, educated, and hard-working. But their government is miserable. And the country is hopelessly corrupt. 75 years of communism have destroyed their ability to show initiative and create honest businesses and governing structures. 25 years of post-communism have raided the country of its resources and put all the wealth into the hands of – well – twenty-two oligarchs. Read about them on the Forbes list. After reading Red Notice, it’s obvious that you have to be a thug to be that rich in Russia.

In the world of Trump and Putin – every American, and every world citizen, must read Red Notice. It will open your eyes unlike any book you have read in a long time.

Rating - Four Stars

Read Full Post »

crisis-of-character

A White House Secret Service Officer Discloses His Firsthand Experience with Hillary, Bill and How They Operate.

Gary Byrne was a uniformed Secret Service agent who started his White House duty during the first Bush administration. He was there when the Clintons moved in, and through most of their tenure in the White House. He was there outside the door when Monica Lewinski was in the Oval Office with the president. Whether he wanted to know what was going on or not, he knew, and he had no choice.

Later, when the scandal blew open that would eventually get Clinton impeached, it was Gary Byrne who was catapulted into the national spotlight by being forced to testify against the president, his protectee. He was in an extremely tenuous and dangerous position. On the one hand, the Secret Service has incredibly tight protocols about revealing information about their processes and their protectees. On the other hand, the FBI was investigating the scandal and Ken Starr with his Grand Juries was pressing forward for information. The Secret Service was threatening him to stonewall, and the FBI was threatening to arrest him. Either way, he could lose his job, his career and his credibility. He was alone in the middle.

And he believed it was the recklessness of the Clintons, and their disregard for everyone in their way that put him, and many others, into impossible situations.

Reading Crisis of Character reveals a fascinating look behind the scenes in the nation’s most elevated offices, the West Wing of the White House.
This is not a tell-all book by a disgruntled Clinton hater. This is a book by a man of character who has spent his entire life trying to do the right thing, every step of the way. He tells his story beginning with Papa Bush, as he calls the elder President Bush, and Barbara Bush, whom he describes as graceful, honest and hard-working, through the Clinton administration, and his career with the Federal Air Marshal Service after 9/11. We learn about the lives of the men and women who have pledged to throw themselves into the paths of bullets to protect their clients, whether they agree with their lifestyles and choices or not.

For that reason alone, regardless of the fact that the Clintons are exposed, you should read this book. Yet, I must admit that I am glad I read it after the election, not before.

Byrne describes Bill Clinton as the friendly, jovial and charming man that we all know, even though he made some terrible moral choices and caused irreparable harm to the dignity of the office, his own career and pretty much everybody who got in his way or crossed his path.

One surprise to me was the portrayal of Monica Lewinski. She was a very young intern in the White House, and from the time the scandal actually occurred more than twenty years ago until now I had always thought of her as the victim of a sexual predator, namely Bill Clinton. However, I now know that it was not so. There is no way an intern in the White House would ever even get near the president. To be in the position she ended up in, she was actively stalking him relentlessly for months, making up daily schemes just to get access to the West Wing and somehow cross paths with the president. Byrne knew that, because much of the time it was he who had to turn her back. I now know that Monica Lewinski was not a victim. She got exactly what she aimed for. She was just too young and naive to know how it would end, and what it would do to her life. And of course, Clinton was a ruthless sexual predator.

At one place in the story Lewinski was held back by the Secret Service in the guard house outside the White House at night because the guards knew the president was with another young woman. When she eventually blew up and threatened them, one of the agents lost his cool and blurted out that “he was with another piece of ass and she had to wait her turn….”

And finally, there is the portrait of Hillary. He describes her as cold, calculating, and utterly ruthless. There was one time when a young agent wished her a “good morning, ma’am” and she just shot back “fuck off!” What does it say about the character of a woman who talks like this to Secret Service agents who are paid $50,000 a year and pledge to stop a bullet to protect her and her life?

So here it is: Gary Byrne’s story, to me, is so convincing that I do not think that I could vote for Clinton now that I read this book. I could not vote for Trump either, because I believe that 20 years from now some agent that had to protect Trump will come out with even more incredibly sordid information about our 45th president.

No, I could not vote for Clinton again, and I could never vote for Trump. I am glad Clinton is not president, and I am at the same time utterly dismayed that Trump is. What to do when a nation of over 320 million people comes up with those two choices to pick from?

I am truly, truly troubled about the terrible lack of character at the highest level of American politics.

You should read Crisis of Character.

Rating - Three Stars

Here ae some excerpts you might enjoy:

About using government resources:

Controversy followed the Clintons even when they were leaving office and purchased a $ 1.7 million mansion in Chappaqua, New York (so Hillary could carpetbag to the U.S. Senate from New York). Per its normal procedure, the Secret Service maintained a detail at their residence to continue to protect the former First Family as Hillary prepared and ran for Senate. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Perfectly proper.

To protect the Clintons, Secret Service personnel were stationed at a former garage on the property, and I had the chance to spend some time there on protection details myself. Rumors have since swirled that the Clintons receive $ 1,100 per month rent from the Secret Service.

That doesn’t appear to be the case. But what I heard from other Secret Service personnel on the scene was this: The Service paid $ 7,000 per month rent on an adjacent house to serve as their unit headquarters from a rental company. Again, nothing wrong there. But what was also well known and what I also heard was that— at least for a while— the Clintons were charging the identical amount for that small garage of theirs to the Secret Service to basically have the Service cover the cost of their mortgage as Hillary ran for office.

I can’t verify that (I’m former Secret Service— not Ken Starr), but it’s interesting to once again contrast the Clintons with Papa Bush. The USSS did, in fact, cover the costs of renovating former president Clinton’s garage, which was mostly space heaters and meager basic utilities.

When Papa Bush was still president, the Secret Service needed to construct a facility on his Kennebunkport, Maine, property. President Bush said fine— but on two conditions. One, make it bigger, so you guys aren’t cramped. He cared about the little guys. Two, you’ll be protecting me after I leave office— so I’m paying for it.

— Byrne, Gary J., Crisis of Character – (Kindle Locations 3451-3464).

About the emails:

Just last year, Mrs. Clinton claimed that as secretary of state she didn’t carry a work phone. It was too cumbersome and inconvenient for her to carry two phones. She didn’t have room for them.

Then we learned she carried an iPhone and BlackBerry, neither government issued nor encrypted. Then we learned she carried an iPad and an iPad mini. But she claimed she didn’t do email.

Then we learned she had email— on a private server. But then she claimed her email was for personal correspondence, yoga, and wedding planning.

Then we learned her email contained government business as well— lots of it.

Listen, nobody transmits classified material on the Internet! Nobody! You transmit classified material via a closed-circuit, in-house intranet or even physically via courier. You can’t even photocopy classified data except on a machine specially designed for hush-hush material, and even then you still require permission from whatever agency and issuer the document originated.

So the only way for that material to be transmitted over an email is for her or someone in her office to dictate, Photoshop, or white-out the classified material in question, to remove any letterhead, or to duplicate the material by rewriting it in an email.

Government email accounts are never allowed to accept emails from nongovernment email accounts. We’re supposed to delete them right away. Exceptions exist for communications with private contractors, but those exceptions are built into the system.

I repeat: To duplicate classified material without permission or to send it over an unsecured channel is completely illegal. That’s why every government agency employs burn bags, safes, and special folders for anything marked Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret. People have lost their careers and gone to jail for far less.

Yet Hillary Clinton transmitted classified material by the figurative ton. No one else can operate like that in government. But she takes her normal shortcuts and continues to lie about it.

There is no greater example of double standards in leadership than First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Is it too inconvenient or cumbersome for her to follow the same rules that agents in the field have to follow? Maybe it would make morale too high? Clinton’s behavior harkens to the old motto: “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

— Byrne, Gary J., Crisis of Character – (pages 274-276).

 

Read Full Post »

day-after-never

“There’s a view from the top of the building next door. We can see both exits.”

Tucket points to the old, four story building to the right of the lab. He seems to be referencing something invisible in front of him as he explains.

“What have you got there?” I point to the ball in his hand.

“It’s a Third Eye Hot Shot.” Tucket says, grinning. I wait for him to explain further, but he seems to think it unnecessary. The reference isn’t completely lost on me, however. I recall that Third Eye is the name of a tech company that produces perceptor chips in his century. The perceptors allow direct access to the user’s mind, allowing them to see a modified environment around them called the meta-space. The meta-space acts like an amped up version of the Internet, but layered over real world spaces. It allows users to see and interact with everything from media and advertising, to actual functional controls for objects in the real world.

“You can use the meta-space all the way back in 2017?” I ask. Tucket shakes his head.

“There’s no input this far back. Meta-mapping won’t get completed till the 2080s. But since I have a portable unit, I have access to all the data and programs I’ve downloaded whenever I go.” He holds the ball up.

“Hot Shot is the best. Doesn’t come out till 2160, but I went up and got one before this trip, and it has tons of data already included from your time.”

“Like Google Maps for time travelers.”

“Google was actually the parent company.”

“Ah. Makes sense.” I stare at our target building. “So how do we get up there?”

— Van Coops, Nathan. The Day After Never: A Time Travel Adventure (In Times Like These Book 3) (Kindle Locations 2132-2141)

After In Times Like These and The Chronothon, The Day After Never is the third book in Van Coops’ time travel adventure series. He definitely left things open for another book.

While I rated the first two with three stars, which is pretty high for my ratings key, I gave this one only two. It’s still a time travel adventure, but this time, the author put in mysticism to make the plot work. The first two books were as hard-core time travel as it gets. By that, I mean that the entire plot and the action are completely based on the unique premises that time travel concepts bring with them.

This time he seems to have run out of unique time travel ideas. So he put in the Neverwhere, the place you go when you die, as a central concept. One of the Ben Travers that died in the second book is now one of the protagonists in the third book, living all in the Neverwhere. The book alternates between the two realities chapter for chapter, one in the Neverwhere, the other in the real world. In the Neverwhere, reality is conjured up by memories only. You can live in environments you can remember. You can also live in environments others can remember. And through memories you can create portals to the real world, invade those spaces and even people’s minds.

Time travel concepts are extended to space travel, and at one point Ben and his buddies travel on a space ship trailing a comet for a time travel anchor.

I am pretty sure that if you are reading this you are not whatsoever interested in this concept salad of a book. I wouldn’t be either. But having invested considerable time in Van Coops’ world of time travel by reading his first two books, I really didn’t have a choice, and I needed to finish it.

I like the man’s writing, and creativity, and world-building skills. I also enjoyed his somewhat unorthodox and risky use of the present tense in his story telling. You can see the fast pace of action this method creates when you read the except I have supplied at the top of this post. Van Coops is, after Niffenegger, my favorite time travel author. While the book by itself would only get a star and a half, given that it’s part of a trilogy, I give it two – sort of for an uplift.

Rating - Two Stars

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: