Archive for the ‘One and a Half Stars’ Category

Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a lonely spinster, a mute, who works as a janitor at a “black” government installation in the Cold War era circa 1962.

She discovers a “fishman” creature in a secret laboratory that is being abused by its keepers, headed by a sadistic government agent. She falls in love with the creature. When she finds out that they intend to kill it, she decides to launch a rescue effort.

Sally Hawkins plays an “odd” woman in the Elisa role, somewhat reminiscent of Maudie from last year, where she played a crippled artist.

The Shape of Water got very high reviews by the community. To me, it was a letdown. First, I don’t understand the title. I am not sure what the shape of water is supposed to mean, other than there is an amphibian man in the leading role.

Spoilers following:

The amphibian man is a human in a fish costume, who makes odd sounds, and supposedly can breathe air with lungs and water with gills. The movie makes no effort to explain if the creature is supposed to be an alien or an evolved human swamp creature. Through the course of the movie Elisa ends up in a sexual relationship with the amphibian man, so I assume he’s supposed to be human. But then, why are the government agents so stupid and act like they are not expecting the creature to be intelligent, or have feelings, like a human does. He sure looks like a human in a fish suit! The whole plot, and many of its components, just didn’t make sense to me, to a degree where I found it distracting.

But then, perhaps the whole story was meant to be a fairytale and I was not supposed to reason about it? Maybe I was supposed to just enjoy it?

I am not sure if The Shape of Water is a fairy tale, a science fiction thriller, or a mystery romance story. It has components of all of those.

In the end, I walked out of the movie somewhat unsatisfied.

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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.


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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.

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Camelot 30K is about humans encountering alien life for the first time.

In 2009, humanity discovers a signal from a planetoid way beyond the orbit of Neptune, about 35 astronomical units out in the Kuiper belt. It then takes another two decades to develop and deploy a catapult system capable to send human explorers to the planetoid they have named Ice. During the time of preparation, humans develop a method of translation between the two languages. When the first six explorers arrive on Ice, they find a world very different from Earth. First, the ambient temperature is 30° Kelvin, or about minus 240° Celsius. Forward is a physicist, and he uses a set of low-temperature chemistry to establish the unique life forms that could live in that environment. The aliens are called keracks. They are very small, just a few centimeters long, have 10 legs and are shrimp-like in appearance. They have a thorax and an abdomen, a single large eye globe on their heads, antennas for radio communications, and a large war claw for fighting.

Humans have a body temperature of 37°C. To keracks, who have a body temperature of about minus 200°C, humans are first huge (since the keracks are the size of shrimp) and second glowing hot, so hot, that there is no way of the two species actually having any physical contact without destruction to both organisms. To mitigate that, robotics experts have developed micro robots in the shape of keracks, which are controlled by humans from immersion pods. Think about the pods used by the humans in the movie Avatar. They brought two of those robots along, so working in shifts, the six human explorers keep controlling the robots from their base about 30 kilometers away from the kerack city they are exploring.

As the humans get to know the keracks better and better, they keep finding out more about their mysterious body chemistry, and their culture, until they finally realize the danger they are in.

This hard science fiction book by Robert Forward came out in 1993, before the Internet, just after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But it projects a few decades into the future from its point of view, which, of course, for me reading it in 2016, is already in the past. 2009, when Camelot 30K starts, is some 15 years in Robert Forward’s future. Then most of the action plays around 2030 when humanity finally reaches Ice.

There are a few cute “predict the future technology twists” in this book. For instance, the humans bring along a “Lookman,” which is a tablet-like computer with a video screen that they can interact with by touching the screen. On the Lookman they have manuals, books, references, encyclopedia and the like. Basically Forward is describing the iPad which of course did not exist even in concept in 1993, but there was the Sony Walkman that we all know which came out in the late 1970s, a gadget Forward would have known and has obviously used to derive his concept for the Lookman.

The fascinating hard science fiction speculations by Robert Forward notwithstanding, I found Camelot 30K a very boring book. Nothing much happens beyond hard science speculation. If you are a physicist or chemist with an interest in science fiction, great. But for me, an average reader, there was not enough going on in the story to keep me satisfied. I also found it hokey that the kerack culture was oddly reminiscent of England in the age of the knights. The agrarian feudalism, the King Arthur-like battles, including jousting, not by horses and knights, but by kerack (shrimp) warriors on top of their heullers (large caterpillar-like creatures they domesticate and ride in battle and for transportation in general). The parallels between European culture 500 years ago and an alien culture based on chemistry at minus 200°C  on a planetoid in the Kuiper belt seemed just too unlikely for me to just accept and move on.

Keracks are humans in shrimp bodies with human problems and human troubles to solve.

In contrast, I loved Robert Forward’s book Dragon’s Egg. I should read that again and review. But then, I think I no longer have the hardcopy after my latest purge of my books. Oh well.

Rating - One and a Half Stars

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Heart of Darkness, published in 1899, is a novel by Joseph Conrad. It is listed as number 67 in Random House Board’s list of the 100 greatest novels in the English language, which I maintain here. Two friends recently recommended that I read this book. One of them is my literary professor friend in Germany (W.I.). The other is my blogger friend in Australia (V.P.), who was actually inspired to read Heart of Darkness partly by my listing it here on my blog. I might add here that her review of the book is much more inspiring and meaningful than mine – so please check it out.

Charles Marlow is a sailor who tells his story about a steamship trip up the Congo river to transport ivory out of Africa.

Marlow becomes obsessed with the central character of the story, Mr. Kurtz, an ivory trader, who reportedly had disappeared without a trace. People were wondering if he’d gone “native,” or been kidnapped, or had run away with company’s money, or even been killed by the natives.

Eventually Marlow finds Kurtz, and discovers that he has become almost a demigod to the natives. Although he has a fiancé in England, he has taken a native woman as a wife. But he is ill. Marlow takes Kurtz, against his will, with him down the river to bring him back to civilization. But Kurtz does not survive the trip. When Marlow gets home to England, he has to tell the story to Kurtz’ fiancé.

Reading this short book of only 111 pages was a difficult slog. Conrad’s writing is dense and requires reading and re-reading to understand. I kept finding myself drifting in and out of attention.

Due to the stellar reputation of Conrad in general and this novel in particular in the world of literature, I had decided to keep going, for the “experience of it.” I would read a page or two with interest, and sometime re-read some sections, but invariably my attention would drift away and I would find myself reading empty words. In the end, I must admit, I didn’t “get” half the story, I am sure.

The most enjoyable part for me was, ironically, the frame or lead-in story, where Conrad describes Marlow sitting at night with a few friends on a tugboat in England on the Thames. He talks of England, the river, and the immense city of London upstream in descriptive and emotional terms, so the frame really came to light for me and I looked forward to the story. Here is a sample:

Forthwith a change came over the waters, and the serenity became less brilliant but more profound. The old river in its broad reach rested unruffled at the decline of day, after ages of good service done to the race that peopled its banks, spread out in the tranquil dignity of a waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth. We looked at the venerable stream not in the vivid flush of a short day that comes and departs for ever, but in the august light of abiding memories. And indeed nothing is easier for a man who has, as the phrase goes, “followed the sea” with reverence and affection, than to evoke the great spirit of the past upon the lower reaches of the Thames. The tidal current runs to and fro in its unceasing service, crowded with memories of men and ships it had borne to the rest of home or to the battles of the sea. It had known and served all the men of whom the nation is proud, from Sir Francis Drake to Sir John Franklin, knights all, titled and untitled— the great knights-errant of the sea. It had borne all the ships whose names are like jewels flashing in the night of time, from the Golden Hind returning with her round flanks full of treasure, to be visited by the Queen’s Highness and thus pass out of the gigantic tale, to the Erebus and Terror, bound on other conquests— and that never returned. It had known the ships and the men. They had sailed from Deptford, from Greenwich, from Erith— the adventurers and the settlers; kings’ ships and the ships of men on ‘Change; captains, admirals, the dark “interlopers” of the Eastern trade, and the commissioned “generals” of East India fleets. Hunters for gold or pursuers of fame, they all had gone out on that stream, bearing the sword, and often the torch, messengers of the might within the land, bearers of a spark from the sacred fire. What greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river into the mystery of an unknown earth! . . . The dreams of men, the seed of commonwealths, the germs of empires.

What is it with me and literature and classic books? I almost always have a hard time reading them, and if I read them, I do not enjoy them. I find that reading should be a pleasure, not work. When it turns into work, my short modern American attention span breaks up and I get lost.

Therefore I cannot rate this highly. I cannot recommend that you, the reader, pick up Heart of Darkness, unless you know for sure what you are getting into.

Now, I have read about 10% into Lord Jim by Conrad, and I really should continue, but the dense writing has my mind drifting, and I am not sure I can continue much longer, particularly with a list of more interesting reading queued up in my library.

Rating - One and a Half Stars

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I have no idea why the title of this movie is Trainwreck, other than the movie is a trainwreck.

I warn you, it’s one of those movies that shows all the good scenes in the trailer. If you have seen the trailer, you have seen the entire trainwreck.

Amy Schumer wrote the movie and starred in it, as Amy, a magazine writer with an egotistical stereotype female boss with a stereotypical British accent. Her dad is a goofball who apparently shaped her value system, which consists of always going home after a one-night stand. When she is tasked to write about a successful sports physician named Aaron (Bill Hader), she finds that her infallible strategy about relationships may not be all that infallible.

Trainwreck is a romantic comedy, and I did laugh from time to time, but mostly at the good scenes that I had already seen in the trailer. There is nothing to learn here and little to entertain you.

I don’t understand how this got 85% on the Tomatometer.

It’s an interesting cast with some big names, including a number of sports celebrities, most notably LeBron James, playing themselves. Those guys actually do a good job. Perhaps it’s the good acting that brought up the rating of the movie – but  there is just not much substance to get interested in.

Enjoy at your own risk.

Rating - One and a Half Stars

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Time Traders

Time Traders is  really two books in one. The first half is Time Traders. The other half is Galactic Derelict. The book could have stopped after the first half, and Galactic Derelict could have been a sequel. With the exception of one, the protagonists are the same. A group of agents who time travel for the U.S. government, chasing Russian time travelers who are on to some alien technology that they think will give them an advantage in the game for balance of power in the world.

I had never heard of Andre Norton when I discovered this book by accident on an Amazon search. It cost $0, so it was not a difficult buy. Andre is actually quite a good writer, and she wrote a lot of fantasy and then later science fiction books.

In Time Traders, she packed too much stuff into one book: Time travel, alternate history, by traveling into the past of human civilization, international intrigue (the Russians vs. the United States – of course, this is copyright 1959, so that makes sense), interstellar travel, aliens of all types, most significantly humanoids, mystery weapons, computer and robot controlled machinery (using tapes), hyperspace travel, and on the list goes. In the end, nothing really gets resolved.

I felt like the author had a tool chest of neat stuff available in 1959, and she wanted it all packed into one book. That made the story disconnected, choppy and somewhat hokey. Then I found there a sequel, but I am not interested.

Norton is a good writer, but her subject matter is just not interesting enough to me. No more Andre Norton.

Rating - One and a Half Stars

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World Without Stars

In the distant future, when starships are commonplace and can jump to any place in space instantaneously, and humans are virtually immortal, a starship captain takes a trip into intergalactic space. He wants to be the first to take up trading with an alien race that originated on a planet orbiting a red dwarf star 230,000 light-years away from our galaxy.

But the jump goes wrong and the ship crash-lands on another planet around that star. To have any chance to make it off the planet, they have to cooperate with the local intelligent races.

There are no stars in the sky in intergalactic space. The Milky Way, 230,000 light years distant, spans about 20 degrees in the sky and is considered a ‘god’ by the locals.

But as expected, communicating with aliens isn’t as simple as it sounds, and much can go wrong.

World Without Stars has thought-provoking concepts, like instantaneous starship travel – well almost instantaneous. The ship has to match relative velocities with the target area, generally a solar system. The velocities can be significant percentages of light speed, so attaining them takes time and energy.

Anderson, however, does not deal with the concept of relativistic space travel in this book. Rather, a good half of the story deals with esoteric and anthropomorphic concepts related to alien races, their own rivalries and their views of outsiders. In other words: alien politics. If found the intrigues boring very quickly. Yes, they were supposedly aliens, but reading the stuff seemed like we were dealing with Neolithic humans and their petty squabbles with each other. I ended up skimming over many chapters. I don’t think I missed anything.

I wanted to find out how they would eventually get off the forsaken planet. Unfortunately, a deus ex machina came and bailed them out, and then the book was over.

Not Anderson’s best, not at all.

Rating - One and a Half Stars

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Landfall is a story about sending a message through time. It starts when the FBI discovers a space capsule in the remote mountains of Alberta, Canada, that was assumed burned up thirty years earlier.

The story jumps back between what happened 30 years ago (roughly the present time of 2015 when the International Space Station is in orbit) and now (presumably about 2045) with the FBI trying to figure out what happened.

The book caught my attention because it’s about “time” messages. The author does a good job telling the story, but I found it so preposterous and incredible, that I had a hard time taking it seriously.

Fundamental to the plot is the need for an astronaut, in this case one of the protagonists, to surreptitiously get launched into space and dock with the ISS, and then take away an experiment, all without being “noticed” or stopped. It’s obviously not possible to launch a rocket into orbit with an astronaut on board without anyone noticing. But that kind of thing is exactly what is going on in this story. There is fundamentally nothing wrong with that, but it’s just too farfetched to make any sense.

The book reads easily and I finished it in a few days. But would I recommend it?


Rating - One and a Half Stars

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The-Escort-2015-203x300The movie description says that Mitch “is a sex obsessed” journalist. I thought he was more a struggling journalist who doesn’t know what to do with his life. However, he does have a neat app on this phone, where stranger women message him for quickies, and he drops everything and meets up with them. Of course, the women are always really hot looking. Who else would message strange guys they never met for a hookup in the middle of the afternoon?

I wondered: Is there really such an app? And do you get to filter out the dumpy chicks?

Natalie is a prostitute with a Stanford degree with $1000 per hour price, or $3000 a night. She never seems quite real.

They meet by coincidence in a hotel bar, and Mitch talks Natalie into allowing him to write an article about the life of a hooker.

Sounds like a Pretty Woman story, right?

The plot itself is quite boring and the action full of shallow clichés. It’s actually a comedy, and some of the scenes are moderately funny. But otherwise, there is nothing worthwhile here, and I found it hard to write this review a day or two later. I’d pretty much forgotten all about it.

Rating - One and a Half Stars

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Ex Machina

Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) is a programmer at a fictional Internet search engine firm that performs 94% of all searches on the Internet. Its supposedly brilliant founder and CEO, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), is a recluse who lives alone in a vast high-tech mountain estate somewhere in Alaska or Canada.

Caleb wins a competition to spend a week at the estate with Nathan. His task is to perform the famed Turing Test on Nathan’s latest creation in artificial intelligence.

The Turing Test was developed by Alan Turing to determine if a machine is truly intelligent. A human asks the machine questions and the machine answers. If the human cannot tell whether the entity answering the questions is a human or a machine, the machine has passed the test.

The machine, in this movie, is a female robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander). As Caleb starts questioning Ava, the two quickly form a relationship well beyond the confines of the Turing Test. Caleb and Nathan soon discover that Ava truly seems to have a mind of its own.

As a computer scientist with keen interest in artificial intelligence dating back decades, I felt this movie was a must-see. I enjoyed the visuals of the concepts of future humanoid robots, even though they were purposely sexualized and in that regard somewhat one-dimensional. The movie’s rating system indicated graphic nudity. I think that label is somewhat over the top. So there are naked-girl robots. The fact that this alone seems to have driven the R-rating of the movie to prevent viewing by a younger audience is disappointing to me. The Internet itself is much more full of graphic nudity than this harmless movie.

For me, the story was way too contrived. I enjoyed the speculation about artificial intelligence and the future of robotic technology. I do not understand why the story had to take place in a high-tech concrete and glass castle in the mountains without any caretakers. Where are the cooks, maids, cleaners, and maintenance people? The whole location seems to have been built to give the Nathan character more mystique. Unfortunately, to me, that character was flawed. Nathan didn’t strike me as a tech genius in any way. He appeared to be a self-absorbed drunk. It didn’t seem realistic that he had created Ava and the other models all by himself in his high tech lab. He was never working. He was always too busy looking mysterious and aloof.

There are only four characters in the movie, discounting the helicopter pilot. With one of the characters, to my perception, being so unreal, the film seemed out of balance. Since it consists mostly of cerebral dialog, with little action, other than sexual titillation by the naked robots, the movie was actually quite boring to me. Most of the time, I struggled to keep from falling asleep. The last ten minutes are clever and captured my attention, and the premise and plot, in the end, made sense. If it hadn’t been for the last ten minutes, I would have given this zero stars. Zzzzzz.

My rating for this movie is quite low, in stark contrast with the general rating and reviews for this film. Cool idea, neat concept, striking sexy robots, but dull and flawed story with one-dimensional humans and no real action.

And a must-see for any computer scientist.

Rating - One and a Half Stars

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exoplanetIn the near future, around 2056, Earth has identified an earth-like planet around another star about 15 light years away. Trying to find expansion room for humanity, scientists discover a way to travel faster than light. Eventually the FTL drive (faster than light) is good enough to send a probe to the other planet to explore.

Earth soon finds out that there is already an intelligent civilization occupying that planet. Due to a mistake or a misunderstanding, the humans and the aliens immediately descend into a shooting war. Rather than finding another Eden for mankind to flourish in, humanity has a new enemy, one far more powerful and menacing than anything encountered on Earth before.

The First Exoplanet is a long book with elaborate sub-plots and detailed side stories. The writer seems to like Stephen King and tries to weave the stories of the individual characters together into a larger epic plot. He does not pull it off, however. Stephen King’s side plots always have a reason to exist in the greater story. In this book, the writer seems to want to build them in to provide substance, but in the end, they seem to just be a waste of time.

For example, there is a rogue and power-hungry Russian intelligence agent named Sergei Bekov, who is responsible for planting a computer virus into the American probe before it is sent off to the other star. The author paints Bekov as completely evil and reckless, to the point where he entraps a French scientist by using a teenage hooker. The whole story goes on and on, and provides great detail of the teenage hooker, how he engages her, and the sex they are having, all to make a very minor point. In the end, the entire Bekov character fades from the plot when he is no longer needed.

There are many other examples of this technique gone awry. The book of 552 pages could have been half as long, and just as interesting, if all this baggage had been simply omitted. I would never have missed the teenage hooker abuse in my quest to find out what happened next with the aliens. It was just clumsy writing.

Other reviewers have blasted the author for not doing better editing. I am a stickler for editing, including proper use of grammar, spelling and vocabulary. I did notice a few errors, but I must admit that it didn’t overwhelm me like in a few other books I have recently read.

I kept with it, because I like alien first-encounter books, and I kept turning the pages because I wanted to know what would happen next. The big problem hit me at the end: the book didn’t end, the conflict didn’t get resolved. It simply said: continued in the sequel.

I hate it when I read a book and I don’t know a sequel is coming, until the book slaps me with it on the last pages. The writer isn’t good enough for me to want to read another 500 plus page tome. What’s worse, when I spent about five minutes reading into the Amazon teaser of the sequel The Vassal World, all my questions about what happened in the first book were pretty much answered. Why the author didn’t resolve the story and make the first book standalone is beyond me. Rather than writing two 500 page books with lots of deadwood and fluff, he should have written one tight story of 500 pages and made the experience satisfying.

The author even entices the reader after the book to buy the next one, quoting that it costs less than a cup of coffee ($2.99). That may be true, Mr. Sedgwick, but most of us readers would gladly have paid $7.99 for a well written, polished and edited single book in the first place. It’s not the dollars I spend on a book that matters most to me. It’s my time.

I enjoyed the concepts, the story and the speculation. But The First Exoplanet was too amateurish for me to want to spend my time to read another 500 page book, no matter how inexpensive it is.

As good old German proverb says: In der Kürze liegt die Würze.

Rating - One and a Half Stars

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AdamA husband and wife astronomer team searching for asteroids find a new object beyond the orbit of Saturn which they name Adam. Upon further study, they discover that the object is huge, about a quarter the mass of the moon, and it is on a hyperbolic trajectory, which means it is not orbiting the sun, but came from another star system and will leave ours after its visit. Unfortunately, they calculate that it will come within 81,000 miles of Earth. An object that size so close to earth would have very serious consequences to the present and future earth. And those consequences is what the book Adam is all about.

I read the book quickly and I kept turning the pages, because I am interested in the subject matter. However, I found the writing simple and the story so simplistic, it read like a fairy tale. Every technical concept was oversimplified to the point where it just didn’t ring true. Ok, if this had played in the year 2150, I might have bought into the plot. But it was supposed to be in 2028. No way – it just didn’t seem real.

The writing seemed clumsy. Every teacher of writing conveys that as a writer you should not tell the reader what’s happening, but show the reader. Smith constantly tells. It’s like he is writing a superficial physics book where shallow characters are observed doing stuff. He tries to round out the character by making them loving, warm, intelligent, hardworking, but it just doesn’t work.

So while I kept reading because I was curious about how the plot would develop, in the end it was way too predictable, and it just never seemed real – like a fairy tale.

Rating - One and a Half Stars

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The DropBob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) is a lonely bartender in the grungy underworld of Brooklyn. His employer is “Cousin Marv” (James Gandolfini) who is doing shady deals on the side. One night the bar gets robbed and things go awry quickly. Bob finds himself entangled in the investigation, both by the authorities, as well as the local gangsters.

The Drop is a crime drama. The movie is James Gandolfini’s final film and was met with positive reviews for Gandolfini’s performance. The Tomatometer lists it with an 89%. His character, Marv, dies in The Drop. Gandolfini died of a heart attack shortly after the movie was finished during a vacation in Rome, Italy, at the age of 51.

The general theme of life in the underworld of New York has been portrayed in many movies. This one features pretty strong acting by some of the protagonists, but it’s also a confusing story. I am not versed with underworld and mob dealings, so maybe that’s why I had a hard time following what was going on.

The entire story plays in a gritty and most depressing environment. There is not a happy face in this story, ever, there is not a blade of green in this winter in Brooklyn, all the locales are decrepit and depressing. No wonder crime flourishes. There is nothing else.

Watching The Drop left me confused because I didn’t quite get the plot, and depressed. Maybe that was its objective. But I can’t rate it higher than one and a half stars – I wouldn’t want you to watch this and get depressed, too.

Rating - One and a Half Stars

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OutofTimeJohn Campbell is a college professor of archeology. He lives alone, is disenchanted with his life and does not have much respect for most of his students. One of his pastimes is treasure hunting at yard sales and flea markets. He finds an old desk for fifty dollars. When he takes it home to clean it up, he finds some locked drawers and compartments that he can only access by taking the desk apart. It turns out, the desk used to belong to Nikolai Tesla, one of the geniuses of the 19th century. It contains many notebooks, designs and a handheld device that turns out to be a time machine.

The curiosity of the archeologist leads Campbell to visit ancient Rome first, but he also ventures to colonial America during the time of the revolution, and to Germany during the Nazi period. He discovers that a Nazi named Hans Richter also has a time machine, and he seems to have dedicated himself to changing world history so the result is that the United States of America never exist and the Nazis ended up undefeated in World War II. Campbell decides to make it his mission to stop Richter.

I love time travel stories, and this one is based on an interesting premise and a fairly exciting plot. This kept me turning the pages. I wanted to know how it would all end.

However, the writing is juvenile. The book is full of clichés and it feels like it’s written by a high school sophomore. For example, when they were in ancient Rome they “hit the taverns.” Whenever they had meals, they “washed the food down” with wine or beer. Or: “Mary was used to luxury, but this was over the top.”

The characters are not credible. The author seems to know very little about archeology. I don’t understand why he made the protagonist an archeologist. He could have been a car mechanic, a hairdresser, or a computer programmer. He is just not credible as an archeologist. Also, I could never accept that Campbell is able to speak fluent ancient Greek and Latin within just a few days of acclimating. In general, the main characters are all shallow cardboard figures doing things that don’t seem real or even possible.

The grammar, punctuation, sentence structure and spelling are atrocious. It feels like there isn’t a page where there isn’t something wrong. The author does not seem to know the difference between “threw” and “through,” “there” and “their,” “your” and “you’re,” and many other such pairs. Many sentences have missing words and sometimes the structure is so jumbled, it’s impossible to figure out what he author is trying to say. He also has trouble with plurals. For instance, he keeps writing “Nazi’s” to indicate more than one of them. The whole book reads like a hastily written first draft.

The author obviously never proof-read his own book, and he didn’t bother to ask anyone else. It does not take an expensive professional editor to find 95% of the errors. The book has some 200 pages, and I believe I could easily find 200 corrections in a casual read. With another couple of days of reading and editing his own work he could have made a huge difference in the quality of the book. As it is, the errors are distracting from the story. I only paid 99 cents for the book on Amazon, but I still feel cheated. I expected a finished work, not a first draft.

Overall, Out of Time is a neat idea for a story, but it’s so poorly done, it’s distracting. The book is simply not finished. I don’t think I’ll read any more LaVigne novels.

Rating - One and a Half Stars


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