Monday, 21 September 2020

"Abaddon's Gate" by James S. A. Corey

Publisher:New York : Hachette Book Group, 2013.
ISBN: 9780316129077
Characteristics: 566 pages

This is the third book in the Expanse series. I previously reviewed the first two books "Levithan Wakes" & "Caliban's War" sometime ago and you could read these reviews by clicking on the titles.

As you are likely aware this series is being made into a television series as well and I originally watched the first three seasons, then read the two first books but unfortunately had to wait due to COVID-19 to catch up with the third book. So far I am extremely impressed by the closeness that the directors have been staying to the books. There are of course some differences but these are easily overlooked.

I am eagerly waiting the release of the fourth season, but once again due to this pesky virus I have no idea when it's going to be available. Because of this I am somewhat hesitant to start the fourth book as I would prefer to read it after I watch the shows.

It would be very difficult to describe all the ins and outs of the plot in a review such as this, because it is so detailed, and I would be afraid of missing something.

This book takes place a few years after Caliban's War, and the entity that crashed into Venus, has since launched itself outward into the solar system, and constructed a huge torus shaped object known as "The Ring". The crew of the Rocinante along with ships from the Belt, Mars and Earth are on their way to investigate the phenomenon but other people have plans that don't exactly mesh with those of James Holden or most others for that matter. For example the Martain Navy would really like to get their ship back, which all happens to by the Rocinante. Julie Mao's sister is out to get Holden, and doesn't really care who gets in the way. The Belters aren't to crazy about him either, so he has a rather full plate to deal with.

A very good read, but definitely read this series in order or you will miss something.

Monday, 14 September 2020

"Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World" by Tim Whitmarsh

Publisher:New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.
Edition:First edition.
ISBN: 9780307958327
Characteristics: viii, 290 pages

This is a scholarly publication that looks in depth at the relationship of what we refer to as religion and Greek mythology. 

It examines the philosophies and writings of a number of different Greek philosophers who wrote on the subjects of atheism or at the very least the concepts that the gods may not exist. I say it this way, as in many context now-a-days atheism is automatically thought to be the non-belief in one of Abrahamic religions. However this took place many hundreds of year before any of that was thought up.

For the most the book it concerns itself that what is commonly referred to as Greek mythology but is in actual fact more of a system of folklore and folktales rather than an actual religion. The reason for this is because for the most part the religious figures that were present in Greece at the time we're not comparable in anyway to what we currently see as priests and clerics as they were more there to aid the populace and provide comfort as opposed to guiding them towards certain  deities.

This book is an excellent read however some readers may find it somewhat daunting due to the number of references made to the various Greek historical figures, playwrights and philosophers. I think it would make an excellent text for a class in comparative religions, classics, or cultural anthropology. 

Monday, 7 September 2020

"Poisoned Jungle" by James Ballard

Publisher:  Koehler Books
Copyright: 2020
ISBN: 9781646633111

I had the good fortune to read the advance copy of this book. Many reviewers will say things like "Couldn't put it down" and such, but in my case it actually was close to being the truth. Thanks to this silly virus that's messing up everyone lives I got to stay up late and keep reading, as we we're still not allowed to return to full time hours.

The novel itself is definitely engrossing, and brings you right into the life of a combatant during the Vietnam War. You get to experience the horrors of war, and the frustration the soldiers themselves experienced had having to be there. While I've never experienced anything like this myself (and hope I never do) I'm sure their one year tour of duty, likely seemed almost never-ending. When you add to this the way they were treated by their government, and others when they returned it makes you very sympathetic to their plight.

The story takes you through the life of Andy Parks starting in 1969 when he was the medic in the Mekong Delta, and his dream that the seemingly endless war he was living thorough would be over for him when he returned home, but not realising that it would continue for many years afterward. We meet the various members of this unit, and watch as their lives unfold. We get a glimpse of what Andy experienced during his time there, and I'm fairly sure this was somewhat scaled back.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking to find out what the life of a veteran is/was like for those who returned from Vietnam. I'm looking forward to James' next book which I've been told is in the works.

Monday, 31 August 2020

"Earth: The Operators' Manual" by Richard B. Alley

Publisher:New York : W.W. Norton & Co., [2011]
Edition:First edition.
Copyright Date:©2011
ISBN: 9780393081091
Characteristics: x, 479 pages :,illustrations ;,25 cm

This is a companion book to the PBS television series, unfortunately I have not been able to get my hands on a copy of the video to compare the two, but in any case while the video would undoubtedly enhance the book, I'm fairly sure it wouldn't detract as this book is very well researched and written.

The amount of detail in this book is amasing, and the information should be indispensible to anyone doing research on the effects of climate change both historically and in modern times. The book takes the reader a journey via a series of stories that does delve into the scientific end of things, but it is kept to a basic level so it should be understandable to readers of a Junior High School level or higher.

Dr. Alley, a professor at Pennsylvania State University, takes on topics such as how did we get fossil fuels to begin with, the establishment of the American National Academy of Science, glaciation and the ice ages. He then delves into how humans can help be looking at solutions based on human waste, the wind, geothermal energy, nuclear, and solar energy.

Highly recommended to anybody who is interested in the future (or the past for that matter) of this rock we live on.

Monday, 24 August 2020

"The Number of the Beast" by Robert A. Heinlein(1907-1988)

Publisher: Fawcett Gold Medal
Copyright: 1980
ISBN: 0449144763

This book is considered be part of the World as Myth series, but while reading it there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of reasons for this inclusion. In fact you don’t really even get what the “World as Myth” is all about until you are at least three quarters of the way through the book. No, I’m not going to tell you why!

This story tends to be somewhat tedious to read because for the most part the text is almost completely dialogue. In addition to this the main characters - all four of them – are constantly arguing with each other throughout the middle third to half of the story. These two reasons force me to put this novel into my “not so favourite” category, which for something by Heinlein is rather strange (at least for me).

Other than the above issues the story is relatively interesting, especially in the first and last quarters, as it deals with a first contact scenario. In this case however the aliens, which come from an alternate universe have been on earth for some time, but have now become hostile because humans have discovered how to travel between the universes. In addition there are numerous references to the old pulp fiction stories, which are fun to encounter.

The person who discovered the method of travel, is targeted by the aliens, and is forced to flee along with three rather unlikely companions. As is the case with a number of Heinlein’s later novels a good deal of the storyline revolves around social issues, politics, culture, gender relations, sex, etc. I don’t find this too be bad, but some might.

In order to truly appreciate this book, I believe you first need to read Methuselah's Children & Time Enough For Love.

All things considered this is a fairly good read, but not nearly as good as some of his other stuff.

Monday, 17 August 2020

"Asimov on Science Fiction" by Isaac Asimov (1920-1992)

Publisher: Avon Books
Copyright: 1981
ISBN: 0380585111

This book is a collection of 55 essays that were taken from the editorials published in "Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine", and many other publications, such as Parade magazine. The range of topics is very large even though they are all concerned with some aspect of science fiction.

The majority of these essays deal with the writing of science fiction, the history of s-f, and to an extent the history of pulp fiction in general. When Science Fiction first became a literary genre (even though it was nowhere near official) virtually the only place that authors could have their stores published was in what was then known as the pulps (so named because they were printed on cheap pulp paper). VP the author is virtually nothing, one of the highest was 1 cent a word, but most much less than that. Nevertheless, this is were the majority of classic science fiction writers cut their teeth. Authors such as Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, E. E. "Doc" Smith, and many more.

While I had not been born when the pulps were in their heyday, I'm not sure what the current state of science fiction would be today if they hadn't existed, in fact it's possible that the genre might not even exist as we know it.

Any person who is interested in the history of science fiction, the history of the authors of the genre, or just reading some very good essays on the topic of science fiction would find this book very interesting I think.

Monday, 10 August 2020

"Titan" by John Varley

Publisher: New York : Berkley Pub.,
Copyright: 1979
ISBN: 9780441813049

Titan is the first book in a trilogy that was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula awards.

Titan is another first contact novel, but once again with a bit of a twist. An object is detected orbiting Saturn, and a spacecraft captained by Cirocco “Rocky” Jones the first female captain of a vessel, the Deep Space Vessel Ringmaster. When they get close enough to the ring shaped object they realise that it could only be the product of an alien civilisation. Foregoing plans to investigate the object they approach and are captured. The ship is destroyed, and the crew drawn into the object and kept isolated is a condition of almost total sensory deprivation.

Eventually after an unknown duration the crew are released into the interior of the alien space craft. They encounter centaurs, angels, gas filled whales that sail though the air. Rocky set out though this world to find her crew and to determine what makes the alien spacecraft which they have named Gaea.

Her travels took her and one of her crew Gaby though many adventures, and eventually they meet the person who is in charge of the ship.

This is a very good book, which I would recommend to anyone who is looking for a well written story that explores some interesting aspects of human relations.

Monday, 3 August 2020

"Many Skies: Alternative Histories of the Sun, Moon, Planets, and Stars" by Arthur Upgren

PublisherNew Brunswick, N.J. : Rutgers University Press, [2005]
Copyright: ©2005
Characteristics:viii, 198 pages :,illustrations ;,24 cm

This is an extremely interesting book that examines astronomy and astrophysics from the perspective of what would happen if the world were not as we currently know it. What I mean by this is if our solar system was not comprised of eight planets, a single sun, and various numbers of moons around all but the first two planets how would this have changed human discovery of astronomy, physics, or our understanding of the world itself, and much more.

The book is structured to pose an alternate scenario to what we know as normal in our universe. In it Dr. Upgren deals with our near solar system, and looks at what it would be like if Earth had three moons? Going on from this what if we were in a trinary star system? He then goes on to explain how stellar magnitudes work, and discusses proper motion. He then speculates what science today would been like if Ptolemy's discovery that the sun was at the centre of the solar (fourteen hundred years before Copernicus proposed nearly the same thing) had been accepted. He then concludes the first section by looking at what would have changed if Earth was the only planet orbiting the sun.

He goes on in subsequent sections to talk about other topics such as what would Earth be like if we had rings like Saturn, were close to a very large planet, were part of a double planet system, and so on. He also  writes about globular clusters, celestial mechanics and its history and so on.

Over the years I have dabbled in amateur astronomy, and have had the questions that Dr. Upgren poses in his book come to mind a number of times, but rarely was I ever able to find anyone who could answer them, or would be willing to even consider my interest.

As a writer, I have explored some of these questions more, and believe this book would be a valuable resource for any author of Science Fiction, or Fantasy who has a need to world-build and make it plausible (yes, I realise this actually contradicts the way some people define fantasy, but so be it).

Check it out.

"Abaddon's Gate" by James S. A. Corey

Publisher:New York : Hachette Book Group, 2013. ISBN: 9780316129077 Characteristics: 566 pages This is the third book in the Expanse...