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After reading a few books that I did not enjoy very much for a variety of reasons, I picked up No Highway by Nevil Shute because I knew, having read the author before, that he is a good story teller and will present a solidly crafted novel. I read Trustee from the Toolroom in 2014 and A Town Like Alice in 2015. These books were all recommended by my Australian friend (and frequent commenter in this blog), Ray Cullen. Thanks Ray!

In No Highway, the narrator is Dr. Scott, a young manager in the government agency responsible for aircraft safety in the U.K. in the 1950s. But the hero is Mr. Honey, an awkward, introverted, but brilliant engineer who does advanced work in fatigue studies in metallurgy.  He discovers an esoteric problem with the tail structure of the Reindeer, the U.K.’s most modern passenger airplane of the time that was just put into cross-Atlantic service. But being somewhat goofy and off-mainstream, many people don’t believe Honey. Only through drastic action that jeopardizes his career does he get the attention of the aerospace establishment. All hinges on the results of his experiments and the recovery of crash data from a remote site in the Canadian Labrador forests.

I can’t figure out why the book is called No Highway, as it does, at least to me, not relate to the story at all. It is, however, a well-crafted novel just like I would have expected from Nevil Shute. He did not let me down. While I enjoyed reading it, I can see it may be somewhat dry to a person not interested in engineering, and with the engineering subject matter being now 70 years outdated, the book is a bit awkward today. For instance, much of the plot depends on the fact that when you crossed the Atlantic in 1950 and went into the Canadian hinterland, you were completely out of reach. The only intercontinental communications in those days was a “cable” which is basically a telegram. It was expensive, difficult to send and receive, and it took a lot of time. We now live in a world with instant communications all over the globe, and we can’t even conceive of a situation where a major scientist is doing field work in the Canadian north in the woods where he would be completely, utterly out of reach. Today, we’d send texts and emails through satellite phones charged by solar panels – no problem at all.

This is not Nevil Shute’s problem, but Amazon’s. This book is the worst Kindle book with the classic automatic conversion errors I have ever read. Here is an example:

So had Mr Honey been, but I would not tell him that I ad raid, Tm very sorry about the Reindeer, Mr Prendergast I’m afraid this is bound to mean that all those aircraft will be grounded now at seven hundred and twenty hours.1 He said genially, ‘Oh well, worse things happen at sea. I expect we shall get over it, one way or another.’
— Nevil Shute. No Highway (Kindle Locations 5118-5121). Kindle Edition.

I highlighted the offending sections in red for you. The problem is that the entire book has these errors. There are THOUSANDS of them. Pretty much every page is messed up. I “only” paid $0.99 for this book, which is not a lot, but why doesn’t Amazon have a process in place where readers can provide edits back that a human could then use to fix the books? I am a stickler with that – Amazon should require that at least one editor reads every book and fixes it before it is going to be sold!

Terrible!

The editing issues are Amazon’s problem, so I won’t hold that against the book in my rating. Overall, I give it a solid two stars.

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Sal Paradise is an Italian American youth who lives with his aunt in Paterson, New Jersey in the mid 1940ies, after World War II. This was the time before there were interstate highways in America, and road trips took place on two-lane highways between cities, towns and villages. Sal’s best friend is Dean Moriarty, a thief, criminal and con-artist. The two, along with a sizable cast of losers and grifters, travel back and forth across the country for no particular reason, hanging out in San Francisco (which they call Frisco), New York and Denver for the most part, and touching many other cities, including Mexico, along the way.

On the Road is referenced as a classic in almost every list of best books in the English language. Schools assign it as required reading. I read it because I wanted to check off a classic between more recent science fiction material.

I don’t know what it is with me and classics, but On the Road was one of the most painful books to read, ever. I stuck with it, because I forced myself. Every. Damn. Hour.

There is no story worth telling. There is no plot. The ramblings of the losers on the road are repetitious and vapid. There is no central conflict, there is no suspense. After about a quarter into the book I realized it was not going to change. On the Road is the most mind-numbingly boring and uninteresting book I have ever touched. There is nothing to learn. There is no moral. There isn’t even an ending. Just a bunch of characters that I could not relate to and I can’t imagine anyone else can relate to.

Sal Paradise is Jack Kerouac, and Dean Moriarty is modeled after the beatnik Neal Cassady. I guess if you lived in the 1940s, perhaps this story was one you could relate to. But, alas, I was born ten years later.

There were some descriptions of the American West that elicited nostalgia in me. I have spent many a day in my twenties traveling the long, endless highways across Texas and the plains, up and down Arizona and California, and across Colorado, riding the road from coast to coast and back again. Those were beautiful days, weeks, months and years, and reading On the Road got me in the mood for a long road trip.

However, I am most certainly not going to read any more books by Kerouac.

 

 

Note about the Kindle Edition: This book of full of bad punctuation, spelling errors, fragmented sentences, I presume due to automated conversion from the printed page. I guess Amazon could not afford to make a single editor go through the pain it put us paying customers through and actually read the book and fix the multitude of errors. Shame on Amazon!

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I read The Clan of the Cave Bear many decades ago and I remembered liking it, being impressed by it, and that the main character’s name was Ayla. But that was all.

When I recently read Pushed Back it reminded me of this book, so I read it again now.

The story plays about 30,000 years ago, the end of the age of the Neanderthals, on the peninsula of Crimea, the same Crimea that was taken over by Russia from Ukraine in 2014. The glaciation of the northern hemisphere was at its maximum, reaching down all the way to southern England, covering Scandinavia, and getting to within a few hundred miles of Crimea in what is now Russia.

Ayla is a 5-year-old girl born to Cro-Magnon humans who had just started arriving in Europe at that time. Ayla was away from her tribe playing when a strong earthquake demolished their encampment and everyone perished. The little girl was left alone, naked, in the wilderness. After days of wandering about, just before her imminent death, a migrating troupe of Neanderthals comes along and their medicine woman, Iza, convinces the leader to take the little girl in so she could save her life. And so it comes about that a little girl “born to the Others” is raised in a Neanderthal clan.

The Others look like modern humans, and the Clan people find her ugly. Eventually she is accepted into the Clan and those around come to love and respect her. But it does not come without a price. The Clan’s rules are highly patriarchic and restrictive. The successor to the current leader, Broud, is an ambitious youth, very insecure, and sees Ayla with all her differences as a threat. He develops a deep hatred for her that festers and escalates until the day he takes over.

The book is 468 pages long and delves deeply into the Clan’s society, culture and individual thinking. As a reader, I found myself thinking like many of the main characters, like Brun, the Neanderthal leader, Broud, his eventual successor, Creb, the clan’s magician and spiritual leader, and the many women and children. The author goes into great detail into the lifestyle of the clan, how they live, hunt, eat, celebrate and socialize. Reading this book is an immersion into stone-age life.

Much of the detail, of course, is the author’s conjecture. For instance, she describes the Clan people as speaking mostly using sign language and not voices. She also makes many assumptions about the social structure, and while we are not sure what is fact and fiction, I was fine with it. I didn’t come to read the book to get a historically accurate and factual representation of Neanderthal life, I came to experience what it might have been like, and how it would have felt. In that, the author was very successful.

For a while, as I was reading the book, I became a Neanderthal.

It struck me how much of their life and their culture was guided by “spirits.” Most important decisions, most laws or rules, were based on what the spirits wanted or dictated. Many decisions were made not based on the visible reality of the world, but what they thought the spirits wanted. This caused misery, sometimes death, unspeakable pain and sorrow, and much overall suffering.

One of the conjectures I found hardest to believe was that the Clan people thought that pregnancies were started by totem spirits fighting over the woman’s body. If the outside male spirit won, the woman became pregnant. Sexuality was a casual activity. Any male could beckon any woman or young girl, any time he wanted, and she would simply have to assume the position, so he could “relieve his need.” This was done in open sight all the time. You would think that Neanderthal society, which was active for over 100,000 years without any real progress or change, but was very smart with herbs, medicinal uses of plants, tool making, and the like, would have figured out that it was the relieving of a man’s need into a woman’s womb that might be the cause of the baby getting started in there? Surely they knew!

While I wondered how it was possible that societies could be that much influenced by imaginary powers, imaginary threats, and imaginary disasters, I realized that we have many parallels today.

Millions of people today are still guided by religions and their laws, ceremonies, customs and limitations. In addition, we allow ourselves to suffer from imaginary foes, like mortgages coming due, debts having to be repaid, bad grades in college, titles attained or not attained. All those things are imaginary powers, not unlike the spirits of the Neanderthals, and I found suddenly that my life was not that different and in its own way was driven by the Spirit of the Cave Bear.

 

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Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak, and that it is doing God’s service when it is violating all His laws. 
—John Quincy Adams
This book was presumably written by a senior Trump administration official, like a cabinet-level appointee, or somebody in a similar situation. The account is not favorable to Trump.

The book tells what it’s like to work inside the White House under Trump as a senior advisor or executive. Trump is shown as a completely unfit person for the presidency. He does not read, he has no interest in opinions other than those of himself, he seeks power and status for himself without regard to what is right for the country or its people. He uses his assistants until they somehow disagree with him, and then they become enemies. All his assistants start disagreeing with him within minutes of any direct interaction. It does not paint a good picture.

It is A Warning – and I mean it.

Trump promised during the campaign that he would eliminate the national debt within 8 years in office. He has done the opposite. The deficit is higher than ever in history, spending is out of control, higher than Obama’s and that  was one of the main points the conservatives had against Obama. Here is an excerpt that discusses spending:

Donald Trump was not interested in penny-pinching. He may try to project the image of a man working to save taxpayer dollars, and it’s true that he can be talked out of stupid ideas if they cost too much. But that’s not because he’s trying to save money so it can go back to the American people. He still wants to spend the money, just on things in which he’s personally interested, such as bombs or border security. Trump recoils at people who are “cheap.” Today he is sparing no expense on the management of the executive branch, spending so freely it makes the money-burning days of the Trump Organization look like the five-dollar tables at a Vegas casino. As a result, the budget deficit has increased every single year since Donald Trump took office, returning to dangerous levels. The president is on track to spend a trillion dollars above what the government takes in annually.

— Anonymous. A Warning (p. 100). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Here is another excerpt talking about spending and the budget.

Donald Trump has America back on the road to bankruptcy, an area where he has unparalleled expertise for a president of the United States. The small band of fiscal conservatives who remain in the Trump administration warned the president about the eventual dangers of his out-of-control spending addiction. In one such meeting, Trump reportedly said, “Yeah, but I won’t be here.” I never heard him say those words, but it doesn’t come as a surprise. That’s how he thinks. What does he care if the federal government goes belly-up? By then it won’t be his problem.
–Anonymous. A Warning (p. 101). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Trump called the writer a traitor. Trump defenders called him a coward.

Both labels are not fair. Let’s just say the facts stated are true. Clearly, the two excerpts above do not tell us anything we don’t already know. The numbers don’t lie. Trump may not like the fact that someone inside his administration states these facts to the public, but treasonous it is not.

It’s simply the truth, simply facts.

There is obviously no way for a cabinet secretary to write such a book under his or her name and live another hour in the administration, and then not be crucified and smeared for life by Trump supporters in the public and the media. So in order to get this book out, it needed to be written anonymously. Usually I do not like it when writers post anonymous comments in my blog, or anywhere online, but I am making an exception in this case. This book contains valuable information that will help me make my decision when it comes time to vote.

And just because of this, I am going to quote a section at the end of the book that is the most important of the entire message, the Warning. Please read this carefully. If you do not end up  reading the book after this review, at least read this excerpt:

Nevertheless, the counterargument to my point will be strong if the Democratic Party nominates someone deeply out of touch with mainstream America. Then everything changes. If it’s one of the Democratic candidates preaching “socialism,” Trump’s fearmongering will still be persuasive. Republicans will argue that the other candidate, as president, would attack our free-market principles, tax us into economic recession, promote a thought-police culture of political correctness, fan the flames of identity politics, and bring government into our lives like never before. It will be a repeat of 2016. Compared to the leftward-lurching Democratic Party, Trump will seem friendlier to conservative ideals. Discussions about qualifications will give way to emotion and fear, and Trump’s reelection chances will rise.
Democrats reading this book know how high the stakes are. I implore you, if you want a majority of our nation to reject Donald Trump, you must show wisdom and restraint in selecting your party’s nominee. Resist the temptation to swerve away from the mainstream. Trust me. We flirted with extremes in the GOP during the last cycle, and look where it got us. If Democrats do the same, Trump will be that much closer to a second term and better equipped to convince Americans to stick with him. If, however, you nominate someone who campaigns on unity instead of ideological purity, you will have a sizable number of Republicans and independents ready to make common cause.
— Anonymous. A Warning (p. 246). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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Ivy is a 37-year-old divorced mother of twin girls of sixteen. She is on her way to visit them, driving down a freeway in rural Virginia when the road suddenly is buckled up and destroyed in front of her. She gets out, along with a few other people in other cars and tries to figure out what might have happened, when she is thrown into a time warp of sorts. Along with Harper, another stranger, a 33-year-old man, she wakes up and finds herself in a primeval forest.

Long story short, they were thrown back in time about 17,000 years to when North America was still full of large fauna, including giant bears and saber tooth tigers. The very first humans had just come from Asia and had made their way across the American continent.

Ivy happens to have a notebook with her and writes a journal of their story of survival in a Paleolithic wilderness. Her journal is the book. Ivy tells the story in the first person present tense.

There is nothing really happening in the story, other than the description of their day to day efforts to survive and possibly thrive. The plot is simple and way too simplistic to be credible. It’s almost like a fairy tale for an 8-year-old audience. The language is stilted and unreal, and the ease with which everything goes smoothly for them just does not ring true.

Reading about that time in history reminded me of The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel which I read many decades ago and remember as a very good book. So reading Pushed Back prompted me to download that book so I could read it again, or at least give it a try.

The language in Pushed Back is juvenile and full of trite expressions. I’ll give you one example. The author likes to use the word “friggen” to create a feeling of astonishment that she apparently can’t impart otherwise.

When Harper kills a wild pig with his spear, Ivy says:

“Oh my gosh, you are a friggen master hunter!” I crowed in joy.
— Ison, S.A.. Pushed Back: A Time Traveler’s Journal (p. 158). Kindle Edition.
I guess it’s ok to use this word in this context when Ivy quotes herself directly. However, this word is used five more times throughout the book. Here are the other examples:
  • a friggen giant sloth
  • the Paleolithic friggen era
  • after seeing the big friggen sloth
  • that was friggen amazing
  • just as friggen fast
Ok, the author likes “friggen” but to my astonishment, she also likes “fricken” as in the other two examples:
  • I mean really fricken screwed.
  • What? Fricken dandelions.
Maybe you are thinking I am being petty, and maybe I am, but these are just a few examples of the repetitive use of trite expressions and made-up words that may be part of colloquial American life, but it sounds friggen stupid in a book.
Then, of course, there are the numerous punctuation, spelling, grammatical and even tense errors that should have been found by an editor or, if too expensive, a friend, who should have read the book at least once before it was published and sold. But alas, that’s apparently acceptable in modern publishing.

This is listed as Book 1 in the time travel series, but I could not find a Book 2 yet. Checking S. A. Ison’s work, I see she specializes in survival material and post-apocalyptic stories, with several series of books in that general subject matter.

Given the poor presentation, the sloppy editing, the vapid language, the flat plot and the superficial characters of Pushed Back, I think I am done reading S. A. Ison books.

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Steve Mason is a Federal Air Marshal on a flight down the eastern seaboard of the United States, to Charlotte, North Carolina.  After a mostly uneventful flight, the plane suddenly hits a dark cloud unexpectedly. Turbulence ensues, strange blue flashes are outside the windows, and just as abruptly as the cloud appeared it stops and the plane enters blue sky again.

However, all communications with the outside world have seized. The crew looks out the window and recognize the familiar landmarks of the North Carolina coast, but all the cities are gone. After a frantic but unsuccessful search for an airfield to land, the pilots know they will run out of fuel and decide to ditch the plane into the ocean off the coast of what used to be Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

The landing is not as successful as that pulled off by Captain Sullenberger who landed a plane in the Hudson River in 2009.  The plane crashes hard, breaks up, and out of the 180 passenger and crew, only less than 30 people survive.

Eventually, the survivors realize they landed in colonial America in 1720. There are only four cities of any size in the colonies at that time, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Charles Town, which would eventually become Charleston. The survivors have to fend for themselves by fighting off marauding bands of Indians, criminal colonists, pirates, not to mention diseases, hunger, and lack of shelter.

The storytelling is stilted and juvenile. There is even a sex scene that is surprisingly explicit and somewhat inappropriate. What bothered me most is the multitude of grammatical errors that should have been caught by an editor. Here are a couple of examples:

Mason caught sight of the man whom had to be the captain. He wore a bright blue coat and a matching three-point hat with a feather.
— Zugg, Victor. A Ripple In Time: A Historical Novel Of Survival (p. 273). Kindle Edition.
“Whom had to be the captain?” That does not even sound right. There are other places in the book where the author misuses the word “whom.”
Here is another one:
He was surprised to learn there were several built prior to 1720 that still exited.
— Zugg, Victor. A Ripple In Time: A Historical Novel Of Survival (p. 294). Kindle Edition.

“Still exited?” Really?

There are many such errors throughout the book. They are minor, and they don’t destroy the meaning. But they irritate me immensely. It makes me angry that the author is willing to have people pay money for a book that obviously NOBODY even bothered to proofread even once. I should not be finding basic grammar errors in a professional book.

So I didn’t plan on giving the book much of a rating. Yes, it’s a time travel story, and I love time travel stories. That’s the only reason I stuck with the book and continued reading, even though most of the action is fairly monotonous and slow.

But then, the ending is surprisingly good. I enjoyed the last 10% of the book tremendously and found the conclusion satisfying. For a change, here is a book that actually has an ending and is not just a cheap setup for a sequel or a series.

It was going to be 1 star, but the ending brings it up and – at least for me – made it an enjoyable read.


.

SPOILER ALERT – do not read beyond this point if you are going to read this book!

Some of my readers expressed curiosity about the ending, so I decided to summarize it here.

When they first landed at the beach they ran into a band of Indians. Mason he wanted to start out friendly and searched for a gift. He wore a steel bracelet with an inscription which read “Steve Brown, USA, 82nd Airborne, Operation Iraqi Freedom.” He gave this bracelet to one of the Indians as a gift.

During their ordeal, Mason became friends with the lead flight attendant named Karen. Eventually they had a relationship and there was one sex scene in the night on the deck of their boat.

Toward the end of the story, when the 20 survivors realized that they were probably marooned in 1720 for the rest of their lives, the group decided to buy a plantation outside of Charles Town with money they had obtained by accident from a pirate’s loot. When they needed to decide whose name would be put on the title for the property, they agreed that Lisa and Jeremy Jackson, who had also become close, would quickly get married and take title of the plantation. Upon purchase, the couple stayed in the plantation, and Karen stayed with them, while Mason and a few of the other men went back to the camp by boat to pick up the rest of them and bring them to the plantation.

Karen and Mason were in love by then, and when Mason left, he promised Karen he’d be back in a few days.

During that trip, however, the original pirate attacked them and eventually decimated their boat and everyone perished. Mason eventually was severely wounded and fell into the ocean. As he passed out, he saw blue flashes. Note: blue flashes are associated with the original travel through time in the first place.

Mason woke up in a hospital in 2019. The Coast Guard had fished him out of the ocean four days after the plane had disappeared and he was the only known survivor. Being a Federal Air Marshal, his colleagues debriefed him and he told them the truth. Nobody believed him, of course, and eventually even he himself assumed he had hallucinated the entire experience during the trauma of the crash.

But he missed Karen. Depressed, he went on a road trip to Charleston to see if he could recognize anything in the city. There was nothing left of the old Charles Town of 1720, other than the names of the main streets. On a whim, he entered a history museum. In a display box of Indian artifacts he found a rusted out bracelet, the inscription no longer readable, but unmistakably his bracelet. Now he knew he had really been there. He drove out to the plantation and met an old man by the name of Michael Mason who lived there. The old house had burned down in the Civil War and another one had been built, but it was the same plantation. There was an old painting on the wall that was the only item of value surviving from the pre-Civil War period. On the painting Mason saw Lisa and Karen, along with a little boy. Michael Mason explained that family history has it that Jeremy died from an infection a few years after they got married and they never had kids. But Karen had a son from an unknown father. The little boy was named Steve Mason. Lisa willed the plantation to the boy and he became the patriarch for the long line of Masons who would run the plantation through the centuries that followed.

Mason went home, outfitted himself with survival gear, a stash of antibiotics, and rented a Cessna. Then he spent the next three months flying around North Carolina every day looking for dark clouds with blue flashes. Eventually, in a storm, he found one – and disappeared. That’s the last thing we know of Mason.

After Mason’s disappearance, his friend Ted Wilson at the Air Marshal Service started to investigate. At Mason’s house, he found a shopping list of survival gear, the contract for the airplane, and the address of the plantation. He drove to the plantation, and a young man let him in and they talked about “his missing friend” who had left this address for some reason that neither understood. As Ted walked around the house, he saw a painting with two couples and one young boy. The young man explained that one of the couples was Lisa and Jeremy Jackson. When they never had children, they willed the plantation to Steve Mason, who was the son of Karen and Steve Mason, both also in the painting.

Obviously, Mason had made it back to Karen, his stash of antibiotics had saved Jeremy’s life, and they all grew old together at the plantation.

Ted walked away knowing the truth.

 

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Genesis is the first book of the author’s First Colony series. The story starts about the year 2200 on earth when humanity decides that it needs to send its first colony to the stars. Mankind pools its resources, builds a massive starship the call the ark, and recruits about 300,000 of its best and brightest for the one-way journey of 80 years. The travelers sleep in stasis, which means they are not conscious during the journey.

The protagonist is Conner Gates, a colonel in the special forces, who leads his squad on some of the most dangerous missions in the solar system. Through a series of unexpected events, he ends up as an unwitting stowaway on the ark. He is portrayed as a know-it-all expert of all trades and therefore wholly unrealistic and cartoon-like. Conner is just not acting like a real person would.

The story plays entirely on an alien planet hundreds of years in the future, but what is actually going on is pretty much military training nonsense that could be happening anywhere on earth.

The book is crafted in a way that the author is building a world for a series of books that can have stories take place in that world. He spends a lot of time on the minutiae of military training of special forces recruits, which fits the plot, but is overdone considering the larger epic he is trying to create. The last 10 percent of the book is very different from the main work and is presumably only there to set the stage for the next book in the series.

I don’t know why the book is called Genesis, and I can’t find anything on the cover that actually relates to the story.

In the end, while it was an interesting read, it wasn’t interesting enough for me to spend the time to read the next book in the series. There are eight, by the way. I am stopping at one.

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I download the Amazon “free samples” of books before I buy. If I can’t make it through 5%, then I put the book aside, no damage done. I don’t even track it. Most of those are quickly forgotten. But when I make the buying decision, I commit myself to reading the book. I still have a way out though: I can abandon it and put it under the category “Books (not finished reading).” I still review those books, but I don’t give them a rating as I don’t think it would be fair. However, I still have thoughts about the book that I want to share with readers, and possibly reasons why I abandoned the book. So I write reviews.

The City in the Middle of the Night almost became a Book (not finished reading). It was truly hard work for me to stay with it. It’s a fairly large book (5907 locations), so it was a slog.

In the far future (approximately the year 2500 plus on Earth) a number of earth city states build a space ship to leave for another planet. They call it the Mothership, and it’s a generation ship. The journey takes long enough so only the great-grandchildren of the people leaving will actually be alive when they arrive. The City in the Middle of the Night plays on the target planet many centuries after they arrived. The Mothership, while still in orbit, has lost contact with the colonists, all the space shuttles are defunct, most technology is lost, and the people have devolved to a feudalist society similar to what we had in Europe during the dark ages around the years 500 to 1000. There are just two main cities where most of the population live. Xiosphanti hosts a highly regulated society where everything people do is structured by the government. Argelo is a bustling trader city where everything goes but resources are scarce and crime is out of control.

But that’s not the major point of the book. The planet is a tidally locked planet, similar to how earth’s moon is tidally locked, and the same side always faces the earth. Their sun is a bright, hot sun, so bright, that any exposure to direct sunlight is instantly deadly to humans. The day side of the planet is constantly baked by the sun, and any water on that side is always boiling. The night side is completely dark and always frozen. Humanity has to live entirely on a narrow ring along the terminator, just below the horizon of the day, so there never is any direct sunlight. Within just a few kilometers they can go from bright daylight and  warmth near the day side to arctic condition on the border of the night side. Notwithstanding what weather conditions on such a planet on the border between day and night would consist of, and whether it could allow for sufficient stability for humans to live, such a narrow band where life can exist is pretty challenging, and it would shape everything about the lives of the people there. As is turns out, there are “monsters” that live in the night, and any human that ventures too far in that direction has perished – which has been going on for centuries.

I now have told you everything that I found interesting about the book. As it turns out, with so much potential, the story is pretty much about four young women, Bianca, Mouth, Alyssa and Sophie, the protagonist, and their relationships with each other, and their adventures. Take away the deadly sun on a tidally locked planet, take away that they live in a devolved society many centuries after landing from an interstellar generational journey, the story is about four girls making their way in a tribal, brutal society where everyone has to fend for herself. The characters are not well developed, the psychobabble made my eyes roll, and nothing about their feelings and responses is credible. And it goes on for an entire book. Here is just one page:

Seeing Bianca depressed makes me feel soft inside, like my bones are chalk. I sit down next to her, careful not to mess up her dress. Her curved neck looks so slender.

Neither of us talks. I’m not good at breaking silences.

“I don’t even know why you would want to be friends with me,” she says.

I get up and fetch the teapot from down the hall, and a few moments later I’m pouring hot tea into a mug, which I press into Bianca’s hands. “Warm yourself up,” I say in a soft voice. Bianca nods and takes a big swallow of the acrid brew, then lets out a long sigh, as though she realizes she’s back where she belongs. We keep stealing the teapot for our own dorm room, because hardly anyone else uses it, but some busybody always sneaks into our room when we’re out and reclaims the flowery globe for the common room, where it technically belongs.

“Warm yourself up,” I say a second time. By the time the tea is gone, Bianca’s bouncing up and down and cracking jokes again, and I’ve almost forgotten that I never answered her question about why I want to be her friend.

— Anders, Charlie Jane. The City in the Middle of the Night . Tom Doherty Associates. Kindle Edition.

Just. Very. Boring.

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Humanity has created an empire that spans many stars and planets in the nearer galactic neighborhood. Jeff is the executive officer on a warship with a crew of ten. The ships have faster-than-light travel capability. They emerge near their targets at speeds close to the speed of light, unleash their planet-destroying bombs and then, hopefully, speed up again into hyperspace to escape. But the defenses are just as lethal, and Jeff’s ship is the only one of a squadron of five that survives the attack, albeit seriously damaged.

They manage to find a nearby object they think is an asteroid and perform an emergency landing on it. As they approach, they realize it’s not an asteroid, but a giant alien ship with a diameter of 600 miles. Having no choice, they land on it and are admitted inside.

The ship’s artificial intelligence speaks flawless English. It claims it has been intercepting human media transmissions for centuries and has had the opportunity to learn the languages and the cultures. The ship promises to take them home, but the journey would take six months, due to the limitation of the hyperspace travel capabilities of the vessel. The crew takes this opportunity to explore the ship.

It does not take long before they discover the first of them killed in a most gruesome manner. As they search further, they find ancient secrets of horror that threaten not only them, but all mankind.

The Dark Ship is the second book by Phillip Peterson I have read. The other was Flight 39. Peterson writes originally in German and his books are translated. The translations are good and I see no reason why I’d want to read his books in the original German. Peterson knows how to tell a story.

In the case of The Dark Ship, which is much more of a hard science fiction book than Flight 39 was, I was distracted by the fairly lax application of building a reality. Most of the technology applied seemed magic, and I am not talking about the alien technology.

The human space ships seem to travel at relativistic speeds on their missions between hyperspacial jumps, yet there seems to be no effect of time dilation on human society. The fact that a crew would return home decades after it left for a mission is completely ignored. It’s not necessary for the plot in this case, but it just made the story unreal. When the ships travel near planets and stars at speeds approaching the speed of light, there is no mention of how the ships protect themselves from the space dust and other debris that would be intensely thick near a planetary system, making such speeds impractical or impossible.

On a smaller scale, they use seemingly magical military space suits with apparently endless energy supplies. Since the inside of the dark ship is dark everywhere, they rely on their flashlights or headlamps for light, and those, too, seem to be powered with endless power supplies. I could go on and on with examples like this. None of those examples take away from the story line, but for me they made the experience unreal and there is too much deus ex machina going on for it to seem realistic.

The story itself revolves around the crew finding the truth about the alien ship and its ancient mission. To do that, they go on a journey to the interior of the ship. Remember, at a diameter of 600 miles, it’s a 300 mile journey – on foot. That means there are lengthy passages of corridors and more corridors that the crew has to travel down with not much going on to move to plot forward. That makes the book somewhat of a tedious read.

In summary, The Dark Ship is a reasonably entertaining science fiction story, but not one I would want to read again or one that would entice me to read more books by this author.

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Evelyn Slater is a young British astronaut on the International Space Station in the near future in 2036. She is a mission specialist with a psychology degree who is assigned to command the first spacecraft specifically designed to capture and destroy low earth orbit debris. During the first mission out with her Russian pilot Yuri, they encounter an artifact they immediately recognize as alien. When she eventually returns to earth, Evelyn leads a team of scientists who study the alien device.

The Visitor is a first contact science fiction story that plays largely in today’s world. It speculates about the response of our international community when it discovers that there truly are aliens. Xenophobia, religious hate and bigotry get the masses riled up.

The author writes in a stilted style. He does not show the story, he tells the story. It’s not clear why he picked a woman as the protagonist. It would have worked just as well with a man, and he would likely have been able to portray the male thinking a little bit better. The Visitor is described as a “hard science fiction” story, but it did not strike me as very hard. I enjoyed the detailed descriptions of life on the space station. He must have had access to first hand information. Otherwise, the story is weak and, frankly, not very interesting. All the characters are flat and colorless. Nothing seems real or realistic. Reading The Visitor, I was constantly aware of the fact that it was just the author’s way to communicate his political and philosophical views, thinly wrapped into a shallow plot.

At the end, he sets it up for a sequel, and I don’t think I am interested enough to read it.

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Joseph Bridgeman and the Silver Hunter starts on the day the story of The Unexpected Gift of Joseph Bridgeman ends. It’s a sequel. After saving his sister Amy in the first book, Joe now has to change history by preventing the murder of a young woman in London in 1962 by one of the two notorious crime bosses of the era.

The story is entertaining and well-crafted. It kept me reading. Time travel was again the central plot mechanism in this story, but it was a different kind of time travel.

That was a bit disconcerting.

In the first book, Joe travels by self-hypnosis. He essentially wills himself into the past. With practice, he can pinpoint an exact date and even time and place and transport himself to that. To get back home, the timestream simply pulls him back, is if he were attached to the present by a rubber band. Furthermore, the further he travels back in time, the shorter the time is that he gets to stay in the past before he is pulled back, sort of like a rubber band that is stretched farther and has to snap him back sooner and harder. An unfortunate side-effect is that his clothes and any other objects get pulled back faster, so he ends up naked in the past if he does not watch out and prepare and quickly steal or buy some local clothes. As you can see, the rules of the type of time travel he practices are very precise and they limit his options.

In the second book, somewhat inexplicably, he has been “untethered” by the time travel powers that be. Now he can travel much further back, he can stay longer, he does not lose his clothes, and he is completely controlled by a magic “watch” which warns him with a count-down before he travels, and with another count-down before he returns. We don’t find out who builds the watch, who controls it, and how it works.

Oddly, while Joe was very proficient in the first book with his hypnotic time travel, he does not even attempt it at all in the second. It’s almost like the author decided that the rules of time travel he introduced in his first book didn’t work for him, so he just started over with new and seemingly inconsistent rules.

I found this distracting. When I read a time travel series, I expect the methodology, and the universal rules, to remain consistent. This was done very well by Nathan Van Coops in his series of four books, starting with In Times Like These. The rules are solid and remain solid.

In these books, the author just started over again, used the same characters, threw them into a different plot, and changed all the rules.

The last chapter in this book set him up for another sequel as Joe’s sister Amy writes him a letter from the future. Will I read the third book when it comes out? Probably not.

 

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In the 26th century, Earth is a polluted wasteland. For hundreds of years, humanity’s situation has devolved, scientific progress has been retrograde, culture has stagnated, and government is utterly corrupt. A small number of giant “megacorporations” run things. Under their thumbs are governments, government agencies, and all of the people. The gap between the privileged and the destitute has grown immensely. The megacorporations do what is good for them and their shareholders, and they have no qualms about annihilating thousands or millions of people, if they are in their way. The people live in utmost poverty and need, eking out a living by planting, salvaging and living off the land.

The desperate live on the depleted Earth, which by then is the least attractive place to live. The lucky and fortunate ones live on the moons of the gas giants or in space in general.

James Griffin-Mars is a Chronman, a highly trained specialist, one of an elite few, who have the technology to travel in time. ChronoCom is a government agency that regulates time travel. Strict time laws are in force, intended to prevent accidents, time paradoxes and intended or accidental changes of history.

Chronmen are usually deployed by the agency to salvage. Since technology development has devolved, the most interesting and valuable technologies are hundreds of years in the past. The Chronmen are dispatched to jump to a time and place just before some known disaster, and take away valuables, either machinery, artwork, documents, books, anything of value to salvage before the disaster wipes it out anyway. The majority of progress in the 26th century does not come from invention and innovation, but from salvaged loot from the past.

Chronmen lead very dangerous lives, and most do not last very long. James is on the brink of burnout when he takes on one last mission, where the payoff is so high, he can retire when he completes it. During the mission he gets to know Elise, a young female scientist on an oceanic platform in 2097 where his mission is to save some technology hours before the platform explodes and sinks into the ocean, killing all people aboard. When the disaster strikes, and he has captured the loot, without actually planning for it, he takes Elise home with him, more than 400 years into the future. Of course, bringing anyone back from the past violates the first time law. This forces James and Elise to become fugitives on the wasted Earth, trying to survive in the wilderness, undetected by the government trying to hunt them down. In the process of saving themselves, the opportunity to save the planet arises and gives hope not only to the two of them, but to all humanity.

Time Salvager is a story about a dystopian future, think Orwell’s 1984 on steroids. Graphic descriptions of the squalor most of humanity lives in are contrasted by the high-tech excesses of the elite. Transformer-like technology abounds and gives soldiers and agents superhuman capabilities. Reading Time Salvager is like watching a superhero movie, where the heroes are indestructible due to the magical technology and the power it gives them.

At a time when the income gap between poor and rich is widening, climate change is daily sensational news, corruption of government is rampant and abuse of power is becoming acceptable and normal, reading Time Salvager is a strong reminder of how bad it can get. It’s not a pleasant read, but entertaining nonetheless, and definitely thought-provoking.

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The Diaries of Adam and Eve is a classic by a classic writer. I would never have thought of picking it up had it not been for Wolfgang’s recommendation:

Kennst Du das “Tagebuch von Adam und Eva” von Mark Twain (Diary of Adam and Eve)? Herrlich! Weltklasse! Diesmal keine Übertreibung!

[Do you know the “Diaries of Adam and Eve” by Mark Twain? Glorious! Worldclass! This time no hyperbole!]

So I picked up the book. It’s a very short book and a quick read.

Adam comes back from a tracking trip near Niagara Falls and is baffled by the presence of another creature that suddenly appeared in his life and won’t stop chattering – Eve. Then eventually, we get to read Eve’s point of view, which is entirely different than that from Adam’s. When they get expelled from paradise, they end up in Tonawanda – or something like that. Then the first baby comes along, and Adam thinks it’s a fish at first, then a bear, and it takes him a very long time to figure out Cain is a little human.

This book is a classic, written by a master. I love Mark Twain’s writing. But I could not make sense of The Diaries. I absolutely do not know what to do with it. The story is puerile. Perhaps he wrote it for youth and their amusement. I can’t tell if the whole thing is supposed to be a fable, or sarcasm, a parody, or just pure fun. To me, it’s none of the above. To me, it was just silly.

I have a hard time rating a book by one of America’s great writers poorly, but honestly, I don’t know what to do with The Diaries of Adam and Eve. I can’t, in good conscience, recommend that anyone bother to read it.

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I love the classic Russian writers, Tolstoy (Anna Karenina, War and Peace), Dostoevsky (The Brothers Karamazov) and  Turgenev (Fathers and Sons).  I have read Anna Karenina and Fathers and Sons twice. When a friend recommended I read A Gentleman in Moscow, I immediately picked it up and started reading. I didn’t check any reviews. I didn’t read up on the author. I didn’t check the date of initial publication. Reading A Gentleman in Moscow put me into the world of Tolstoy, and I found myself in Russian drawing rooms and in sleighs in the winter in the Russian countryside.

The story starts in June of 1922 in a Russian court. Count Alexander Ilych Rostov is 33 years old. He had had a life of privilege and education as a Russian nobleman. When the Russian Revolution happened in 1917, he was abroad – and therefore safe. The Soviets didn’t treat nobility with kindness and many of them were executed on the spot. When the Count came back he was promptly tried by a court for some of his liberal writings that were against “the people.” His sentence: Live under house arrest in the Metropol Hotel where he was living at the time. He was not allowed to ever leave the hotel.

The entire book takes place inside the Metropol, the best hotel in Moscow at the time. We follow the Count’s life from his time as a young man through the decades into the mid 1950s. The story brings to life the changes that Russia underwent during the early Soviet years, and then the rule of Stalin and finally Khrushchev.

Towles tells the story in the style of the classic Russian writers and he fooled me. Towles is an American writer with an M.A. in English from Stanford. He has been to Russia a few times, but does not speak the language. He lives in Manhattan and worked most of his life as an investment professional. Starting writing later in life, he published A Gentleman in Moscow in 2016. I knew none of this while I was reading the book.

I enjoyed it very much and it made me want to travel to Moscow and stay at the Metropol in Suite 217. Why? You’re just going to have to read up on that.

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Joseph Bridgeman is a single guy with a failing antiques business, money problems, emotional problems, and for some reason he can’t sleep.

But he has some unusual skills. For instance, he can “view” the past, not like you and I when we recall memories. No, he can get into another person’s head and see the world from their point of view. He does that involuntarily when he sleeps. No wonder he is an insomniac!

He also has a terrible history. In 1992, when he was 14, he took his little sister to the fair and she disappeared. As one might expect, the family was never the same again and Joe’s life was dominated by his guilt.

Then, quite by accident, when trying to get help from a hypnotherapist, he discovers that he can time travel.

Can he go back to the fair in 1992 and change things just enough to keep his sister from disappearing?

I am a time travel buff, so I had to read this. I am glad I did. This story is a unique time travel tome, reminiscent of The Time Traveler’s Wife, or the various books by Nathan Van Coops (search my blog for his stories). There is a sequel, which is not as highly rated by the reviewers on Amazon, but I like Nick Jones’ style well enough, I’ll probably pick up the next one.

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