Monday, 16 September 2019

"First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong" by James R. Hansen



Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Copyright: 2005, (3rd Edition 2018)
ISBN: 978-1-9821-0316-3

I found First Man to be an extremely informative and engrossing biography of the astronaut and Apollo 11 commander Neil A. Armstrong. I can vividly remember sitting on the floor of our basement family room listening to a black & white television in July 1969 when the Moon Landing was broadcast on CBC (the only station we could get). I was fascinated then, and still am today. Hopefully someday humans will return to the Moon, and possibly venue further into space.

The book essentially details Armstrong's life from birth in 1930 to his death in 2012, and gives a very detailed examination of his career in the United States Navy, and has a test pilot prior to becoming an astronaut, his accomplishments in the Gemini, and the Apollo programs, and his life after returning to Earth.

Commander Armstrong was an extremely private individual, but one who was forced into the public eye due to the accomplishments of the crew of Apollo 11. It was quite evident throughout the book that he did not like all the public exposure, but he did his best to survive it. Unfortunately this did cause a great deal of stress in his life, and to his family.

The accomplishments of Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong will go down in history as one of the greatest feats of engineering, courage, and dedication the world has ever seen. But without the 400,000 plus people at NASA and various other agencies and companies the accomplishments of these three men would not have been possible.

Prior to reading the book I did watch the movie, and found it to be equally as interesting, even though the director did take some liberties.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in reading a well written and researched biography.

Monday, 2 September 2019

"The Questor Tapes" by Dorothy C. Fontana



Publisher: Ballantine Books
Copyright: 1974
ISBN: 0-345-28024-5

The Questor Tapes tells the story of an android that is constructed by a five-nation team of scientists that have been given the task by a somewhat mysterious scientist named Emil Vaslovik, who then disappeared. Since his disappearance the team has worked diligently at creating his invention, but they made the mistake of trying to decode the activation tape that Vaslovik supplied, which therefore caused the android to be incomplete.

One of the team who constructed the android is Jerry Robinson, the only one who actually worked from Vaslovik and who therefore is under some suspicion as to how he fits in, and what Vaslovik's real plan for the android is.

When the awakes he realises he is incomplete, and therefore makes it a priority to find Vaslovik, he does this by escaping from the laboratory where he was constructed, and enlisted the help of Robinson. Jerry agrees albeit reluctantly to help him and that when their adventures begin.

This book a good example of what science-fiction can be when it is handled by an experienced writer. The story itself is an adaption from a made for television movie by the same name which was create by Gene Roddenberry and Gene L. Coon.

The only thing I wasn't too comfortable with in this book are the religious overtones (although they are subtle). But this doesn't detract too much from the book or the movie as it is only within the last chapter or so / few minutes that it becomes apparent as to what they are referring to.

All other things considered, it is a good light read.

Monday, 26 August 2019

"In Oceans Deep: Courage, Innovation, and Adventure Beneath the Waves" by Bill Streever



Publisher:New York : Little, Brown and Company, 2019.
Edition:First edition.
ISBN: 9780316551311
Characteristics: xi, 303 pages :,illustrations

I found this book "In Oceans Deep "to be a very interesting read. The author Bill Streever is a former commercial diver, who worked in the Gulf of Mexico amongst other places. When he left commercial diving he took up research biology and now lives with his wife aboard a sailboat (not a bad life).

These experiences have given him knowledge of most if not all the aspects of diving, and humanity's history underwater. In fact, I feel other authors who don't have these skills and experiences, would be hard pressed to write a book such as this.

The whole book is extensively researched, with the first chapter dealing with the accomplishments of the Trieste when it to descended it into the Challenger Deep back in January 1960. The author then examines the sport of free diving (diving to depth on the single breath of air). The author managed to reach a depth of 132 feet after only four weeks of training.

The next topic was developments in technology to allow divers to stay at depth using various diving suits diving Bell's etc. in this section he also gives an overview of decompression science and how it was developed / discovered when they were utilizing caissons for building bridges.

Next comes saturation diving, which means divers stay under pressure for an extended periods of time, breathing exotic gas mixtures to allowing them to work or do research at depth.  This section included discussion of projects such as the U.S. Navy's Sealab I, II, & III.

Other topics that are dealt with in this book are: 1 atmosphere diving in which the diver remains at 1 atmosphere throughout the by using devices such as the Newtsuit, submersibles, etc. The next topic was remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) how they are used, and some of the accomplishments that have been achieved through their use.

The final chapter talks about some of the interviews the author did when writing this book, the ongoing work to preserve the oceans by these advocates, and the difficulties they are having.

This book was extremely interesting to read, and even though I haven't been diving for many years it makes me want to get back into the sport. Mind you the fact that I live in a landlocked part of the country makes this rather difficult, as there isn't much to see in freshwater lakes.

Monday, 19 August 2019

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



Publisher: Avon Books
Copyright: 1981
ISBN: 0380585111

Generally speaking, for the last little while I have been alternating my fiction reviews, with non-fiction ones. This time I'm going to bend that rather lax rule and review a non-fiction book, about fiction writing.

"Asimov on Science Fiction" is a collection of 55 essays reprinted from the editorials in various main-stream, science, and science fiction magazines throughout Dr. Asimov's long career.

He touches on such topics as science fiction in general, its writing, predictions, its history, science-fiction writers, fans, reviews, and finally his personal relationship with science-fiction.

As this book was released in 1981 it obviously deals with various topics only up to that point. Dr. Asimov discusses movies such as Star Wars, and other media phenomenon from that time, such as televisions short run series "Battlestar Galactica". He thankfully has been spared the recent attempts at what Hollywood is now referring to as science fiction such as the possibly never ending series of superhero movies, and other supposed science-based movies. Most of which I'm assuming would have him shuddering due to their total lack of anything that even faintly resembles science.

There is a wonderful quote in the book with regards to this (from the essay The Reluctant Critic) in which Dr. Asimov tells of when he was invited to watch a preview of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" by Science Digest and was appalled at what he saw (for good reason in my opinion as well):

"... Close Encounters has it uses, too. It is a marvellous demonstration of what happens when the workings of extraterrestrial intelligence are handled without a trace of skill. It makes one feel added wonder and awe at stories in which extraterrestrial intelligence and other subtleties are handled with painstaking skill - as in those written by the best of the real science-fiction writers."

As Dr. Asimov was one of the originators - if I may use that term - of written / real science-fiction as it was brought to the general public in the early part of the 20th century I believe he is more than capable of passing judgement on what is good science-fiction. Unfortunately the vast majority of the so-called science fiction that we have today is simply an excuse for big budget special effects, but which in some cases totally lack a cohesive storyline or plot.

If you like real science-fiction, and what to know more about it's history, development, and such then I would highly recommend this book.

Monday, 12 August 2019

"Samurai: A Concise History" by Michael Wert



Publisher:New York, NY : Oxford University Press, [2019]
Copyright Date:©2019
ISBN: 9780190932947 
Characteristics: vii, 118 pages :,illustrations

The history and folklore surrounding the Samurai is fascinating to many people. This likely has to do a lot with the way they have been portrayed in movies and television, and likely to a certain point as well in graphic novels and such however, I am not too familiar with the latter.

Most of what has been shown on the screen either from Hollywood or other sources is typically quite a bit different than what happened in reality (even when allowing a wide range for artistic license). This book goes a long way toward clearing up the confusion by giving a brief history of Japan that details the rise and fall of the Samurai.

If I remember correctly my first exposure to any relatively detailed knowledge of the samurai was through the miniseries "Shogun" by James Clavell, Which I believe came out in the 1980s, and everybody was reading it. This mini-series examined the life of a fictional sailor who is shipwrecked on the shores of Japan, and what he had to go through to live with the people there. The novel by Clavell is the first of a trilogy, but I've only read the first as they are very long novels.

Getting back to "Samurai: A Concise History". This book is extremely well written and extensively researched. It is easy to read and should give any person who is interested in getting their facts straight the real story about how the Samurai lived and how their lives were really different from what has been portrayed in the various media. This book could easily have been many times longer, but this wouldn't have been a burden as the author's style of writing is excellent for understanding by people of all ages.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in this facet of Japanese life and history. It would make a great addition to any historical collections.

Monday, 5 August 2019

"Have Space Suit Will Travel" by Robert A. Heinlein (1908-1980)



Publisher: Ace Books
Copyright: 1958

This book is the twelfth in what people refer to as the Heinlein Juveniles and the last one I'll be reviewing at this time (see the postscript below for why). The story is about a young man by the name of Clifford Russell or 'Kip' for short. Kip wants to go to the moon, and while it is a rather lofty goal for a high-school student, it is something that is a regular occurrence when this story is set. Samuel Russell, Kip's father is a well respected, but somewhat unorthodox scientist who gives his permission, but leaves it up to Kip to figure out how to get there. A hinderance to Kip's plans are that his education is somewhat lacking, not due to him, but because the curriculum at his school is somewhat useless (something like what is to be found in certain places even today), luckily for Kip his father gets wind of this, and corrects the problem before he graduates.

Even with his extra knowledge, Kip realizes that his chances of getting to the moon are poor, so on a whim he enters a contest where the first prize is a trip to the moon. He doesn't win, but the consolation prize is a surplus space suit. He takes the prize and that's when his adventures begin. He fixes up the suit, and when he is taking the suit out for one last time before sending it back to the company in return for $500 dollars that he plans on putting towards his education, a spaceship lands next to him with a friendly alien and a young girl called Peewee who are trying to escape kidnappers.

The adventures of the three expand from this point, including visits to the moon, Pluto, Vega, and the Large Magellanic Cloud.

This was a fun book to read, and it had been many years since I had done so. It doesn't comfortably fit within the general universe of some of the other Heinlein Juveniles, but it is well written and even though it was written 61 years ago stands the test of time quite well. It does make me curious why Hollywood never seems to twig into what it takes to make a good movie: a good story. I think these and all the other Heinlein Juveniles would make great movies, especially for children and young adults. As long as they stick to the story that is!

Postscript:

The novel "Starship Troopers" is considered by some to be one of the Heinlein Juveniles, however as it was published by a different house, this is also debated by others. In any case, I already reviewed this book back on November 20, 2017 so please refer to this entry for my views.

Monday, 29 July 2019

"The Lady From the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick" by Mallory O'Meara



Publisher:Toronto : Hanover Square Press, [2019]
Copyright Date:©2019
ISBN:9781335937803Characteristics:                  307 pages :,illustrations

This book is without a doubt, the most fascinating biography I have ever read. I don't know how many times I have actually watched "The Creature from the Black Lagoon", but if I'd known that the gill-man had been designed by a talented artist such as Milicent Patrick, then I'm sure my enjoyment of this movie would've been a few orders of magnitude higher than it was (if that is mathematically possible).

The way that Mallory O'Meara uncovered the life of Milicent Patrick is to say the least amazing. The hard work and the dedication that she put into the research and writing of this book makes it all the better.

Having dabbled in the world of theatrical makeup for both my own interests, as well as fandom in general I know how difficult and time-consuming it is to actually design prosthetic make up. But then to not receive credit for your work is a shame to say the least, and just because this is the way it was back in the 1950s, and even up to the present day that does not make it right.

I had heard rumours about Bud Westmore and his predatory, and vengeful behaviour but had never really had any examples to show how bad he really was. The fact that he took credit for designing the gill-man, when it was obviously not true and that it was covered up by Universal Pictures is despicable, and the company should be ashamed of itself. It is crap like this that has fuelled the misogynistic behaviour that is rampant within the movie industry (and so many other businesses as well). It makes one wonder how many other hidden stories there are of women who have contributed but never received credit for the work they've done.

A wonderful tribute, if anyone is up to the challenge, would be to see a book showcasing all of Milicent Patrick's work, granted this would be a major undertaking, but I feel it would definitely be worth producing.

Monday, 22 July 2019

"Space Cadet" by Robert A. Heinlein (1908-1980)



Publisher: Ballantine Books
Copyright: 1948

I wrote this review quite some time ago, but for some odd reason neglected to publish it. So here you are ...

Space cadet is the second novel in the series classified as the Heinline juveniles. It was written in 1948, and takes place in the year 2075. Which is approximately 125 years after "Rocket Ship Galileo".

The story tells the tale of a young boy by the name of Matthew Dodson who has been excepted as a cadet recruit in the Solar Patrol, which is essentially the police force for the solar system. In the Heinlein Universe in which this series is set, a fair amount has occurred since Rocket Ship Galileo, in that both Mars and Venus have been explored, and found to be inhabited, and their are human settlement on numerous planets. Also, as was found in the previous book the moon had at one point been inhabited as well, but that was many thousands of years ago.

When the story opens Matthew is just arriving at the patrol headquarters in preparation for training, he meets another boy there by the name of Tex, and they proceed through training together as co-protagonists. These two are joined by another two week young man by the name of Oscar Jensen and Pierre Armand. Oscar is a Venus colonial, and Pierre is from Ganymede. It's probably quite a bit different

The training that is described in this book in the first few chapters, is probably quite a bit different that astronauts would go through today, but considering it was written many years ago it is quite thorough and gives the reader an idea of exactly what they might have gone through.

The adventures of these four boys, after they leave the Academy forms the basis of the story, and takes them on a rescue mission to the astroid belt, another and another rescue mission to Venus where they are required to interact with the native population.

This was one of the first Highland books that I actually read many decades ago that hooked me on his writing style and characters etc. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for good but not necessarily juvenile science-fiction though, has Mr. Heinlein tend to write for well read readers.


"First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong" by James R. Hansen

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Copyright: 2005, (3rd Edition 2018) ISBN: 978-1-9821-0316-3 I found First Man to be an extremel...