Book Review: Split Second – by Douglas E. Richards

A brilliant physicist discovers that he can transport matter back in time, but only by 45.15 millionths of a second. That does not seem like a capability a that has any practical applications. However, as soon as the physicist sends an email to a close associate asking him to check his math, he and his girlfriend are abducted by a black operations team.

While that does seem like really bad news, it quickly gets worse, when the government team gets attacked on route by another force, which results in a gun battle that kills everyone but the girlfriend, who barely escapes. She hires a private detective to help her figure out what is going on.

What could possibly be so important that the government is literally willing to kill for it in cold blood?

Douglas E. Richards knows how to write page turners. His heroes are the most brilliant in their fields in the world. His villains are the most ruthless.

The concept of time travel in Split Second is based on leaving a copy of an object in the same space, while the earth moves to a different space in a given time interval. The earth rotates in 24 hours, which means that any point on its surface moves faster than a jet plane toward the east. The earth also circles around the sun in 365 days. The sun circles around the center of the galaxy once in about 250 million years. And our entire galaxy moves in yet another direction in space. Physicists have determined that this means that you and I move about 242 miles per second. This means that we, and any object, move about 58 feet in 45 microseconds. With the technology these guys invented, you can make a duplicate of any object and have it appear 58 feet away from where you copied it. It’s all very complicated and makes for a good story.

But somehow the author glossed over the minor point that the direction of the duplication always needs to trail the movement of the earth in the universe, which is in a constant direction. So as the earth rotates, this can be up, or down, or towards the west or east or anything in between. It can’t be controlled.

Yes, this is science fiction and you just have to accept that there is some magic tech involved. However, it bothered me that a book based on this much Einsteinian thought experimentation left this minor detail out of the equation. It kept getting in my way as I followed the plot.

Richards lives in San Diego, and so do I. This means that many of the locales he uses are very familiar to me and I can actually almost follow along, from Torrey Pines to San Ysidro, from Camp Pendleton to Orange County. Most importantly, I have spend a lot of time hiking and off-roading on Palomar Mountain, which is an important location in the plot of this story, and I therefore had very vivid and clear pictures in my head as I read the book.

I enjoyed Split Second enough to read it within a few days while traveling. I bought the second book in the series titled Time Frame since I was sure I’d want to know how the story continues. But after reading a few dozen pages into the sequel I quickly lost interest. I am sure it’s also a very fast-paced plot but I just wasn’t interested in reading more about this specific cast of characters and I decided not to read the next one after all.

Book Review: Unidentified – by Douglas E. Richards

Jason Ramsey is a science fiction writer who becomes obsessed with UFOs, particularly in light of the huge media activity about UFOs in the years between 2017 and 2021. He is on a quest to find out what UFOs really are, why they are here, and what their intentions are.

In his quest for the truth, he discovers realities upon realities that none of us are aware of, right in front of our faces, as he unravels not just the role of humanity on this planet, but the role of humanity on a galactic scale.

Of course, no good science fiction story would be complete without a heroine who is exceedingly smart, superbly attractive, trained as a lethal combatant, and of course in love with the hero.

Unidentified tries to grapple with what UFOs are and what role aliens play in our lives. It speculates extensively about alien technology and alien motives. The book is extremely well researched and documented with literature references.

It is definitely a page-turner, and it had me interested to find out what is going on. There is a lot that got me thinking, but there were also many areas that I felt were over the top, particularly where it concerns alien invasion of human minds, implanting memories, and controlling human actions.

I liked the fact that the author made this a stand-alone book. He could have easily made it a setup for a series, but he chose to finish the story.

I enjoyed it enough to pick up another book by the author right away which I am reading now.

 

 

Book Review: The Vanished Birds – by Simon Jimenez

The Vanished Birds is the debut novel of Simon Jimenez. It is a big novel, dealing with humanity and its place in a world where star travel is commonplace, where there are many worlds populated by humans, and where large corporations are the de-facto governments that set all the rules and have ultimate power over the people.

The central character is Nia, a young female captain of a trader star ship with a crew of just a handful of people, a pilot, an engineer, a maintenance tech, a doctor, and someone in charge of cargo. Star ships travel through “folds” which are a sort of hyperspace where time is distorted like it would be at relativistic speeds.

Kaeda, a young boy on an agricultural planet meets Nia for the first time when he is 7 years old. She gives him a flute, which he treasures. The ship only stays for a day to take on cargo, and then leaves, to come back 15 years later, on the next “shipment day.” That’s how long it takes for the round trip. However, on board the ship, only 8 months pass. When Nia returns 8 months later, Kaeda is now 22 and they start a love-affair – at least so Kaeda thinks. Within a few years of Nia’s time, she sees him a few more times as he ages, and Kaeda’s entire live passes. He is an old man the last time she visits.

There is also an Asian engineer named Fumiko, who designs space stations. And there is a mute boy who apparently has  extraordinary powers.

As you might guess, this book is definitely a space opera that speculates on humanity’s distant future and extraordinary technology. It’s a large book with big ideas. Interestingly, there are no intelligent aliens in this world, which seems strange, given the scope of humanity’s reach.

I liked the concepts, I enjoyed reading it, but I would not classify it as a great novel, even through it was nominated for a number of awards.

Book Review: Timeline – by Michael Crichton

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: The Spaceship in the Stone – by Igor Nikolic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Book Review: Conrad’s Time Machine – by Leo Frankowski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Farnham’s Freehold – by Robert A. Heinlein

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

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

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

** Minor Spoilers Follow **

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Time Tunnel: The Eclipse – by Richard Todd

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Book Review: Time Tunnel: The Empire – by Richard Todd

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

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

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

 

 

Book Review: Mission One – by Samuel Best

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

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

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

Mission One is a first-contact story.

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

*** Some spoilers after this ***

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Time Tunnel: The Twin Towers – by Richard Todd

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

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

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

 

Book Review: The Sentinel – by T. M. Haviland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Time of Death – by Nathan Van Coops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Movie Review: Europa Report (2013)

Jupiter’s moon Europa is widely thought to have the conditions to support life, particularly when we discovered a vast ocean of liquid water below the moon’s solid crust of ice.

When unmanned probes return data suggesting that single-celled life exists, Earth sends a mission to to Jupiter to explore. Six astronauts embark on the mission. They eventually land on Europa and conduct “moon walks.” As it happens, an alien environment hosts surprises that they cannot have expected, and things start going wrong very fast.

Europa Report is a hard science fiction story on a low budget.

The space scenes during the journey, the realistic-seeming set in the space ship (see picture above of a cockpit cam), and the various extra-vehicular activities are neat to watch. The movie is trying to remain within the realm of today’s science, with not too much fiction. And that works.

The movie is not as satisfying to watch as I expected it to be.

It gets a solid one star in my ratings.

Movie Review: Stowaway (2021)

A crew of three astronauts takes off on a mission to Mars. Shortly after takeoff they discover there is a stowaway on the ship, somehow stuck in the life support system. After they get him out and discuss the situation, they figure out that they can’t turn around anymore (interplanetary orbital mechanics) and – this is worse – there are not enough resources (water, food and mostly air) on the ship to sustain a 4th person for the duration of the trip. There is not much in this movie that makes sense. There are some pretty interesting special effects, particularly during the EVA, which had me fascinated. But that was all.

Don’t bother.

 

 

*** Warning Spoilers ***

How did the stowaway get into the innards of the life support system? And not make a peep all the way through launch preparations and launch?

Why did they not use tethers during the EVA? Rule number 1, use tethers at all times.

Why did they not tether the canister?

Why did they not wait out the solar storm before going back for the second canister? What was the rush?

Seriously, a couple of canisters of oxygen will make a difference between four people living and dying on a two-year journey?

How were they going to land on Mars? There was no lander in sight. If there had been, they could have used the lander to return to Earth, right?

Who designs a two-year mission that has zero margin of reserve oxygen, so that one small extra canister the size of a scuba bottle, makes the difference between life and death?

Mission control was completely absent and it appears that only the commander talked to them on her headphones. Nobody else ever communicated with them.