Monday, 17 June 2019

"Westworld Psychology: Violent Delights" by Travis Langley and Wind Goodfriend (eds.)

New York: Sterling (2018)
ISBN: 9781454932413

This book takes an in-depth look at the psychology behind the hit HBO series Westworld (now filming it's third season). This series is based on the 1973 Michael Crichton movie of the same title which starred Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, and James Brolin and told the story of a theme park where things went horribly wrong. The series takes inspiration from this movie, and explores in great depth the interactions between the hosts (robots), guests. There are some overall differences between the movie and series as in the movie there were three theme parks Westworld, Roman World, and Medieval World. In the series so far we only know of two Westworld, and Shogun World.

This is not a fiction book but a critical  examination from a psychological perspective of what humans would be subjected to, and hosts have to endure in the event Westworld actually existed.

The various articles are written by prominent authors, scientists, medical personnel who deal with the psychological, sociological, and other issues as well as the concepts behind artificial intelligence, and human / machine interaction.

The book takes on such topics as: violent games and how they enhance aggression; the concepts of when games more than just games; when and why [and how] do we perceive what is human; The evolution of women's gender roles and the development of agency; overcoming complex PTSD; and much more.

Overall I found this book extremely interesting and I believe it would be a valuable resource for any would be fiction writers, or students in undergraduate or graduate anthropology, psychology, or sociology.

Monday, 10 June 2019

"Tunnel in the Sky" by Robert A. Heinlein (1908-1988)

Publisher: Ballantine / Del Rey
Copyright: 1955

"Tunnel in the Sky" is another of the Heinlein juveniles that does not conveniently fit within the same framework as the others. It is hard to estimate approximately when this story is supposed to have taken place, but it can be assumed it is in an extremely far distant future as spaceships are now obsolete.

Instead what is used is a type of hyper-spatial tunnel that can connect any two points in the universe. The development of this type of transportation is described as an offshoot of the development of stasis technology. It is typically also used to get around to various places on Earth, as well as throughout the solar system, and the universe. As far as I'm aware this is the only time in a Heinlein story that a device such as this makes an appearance, most other use spaceships of various types.

The overall premise of the story is the population of earth is now so high that colonization of other planets is desirable for many, and in some cases it is hinted that it may be mandatory. The hyper-spatial tunnels make this extremely easy, and because there is so much call for opportunities new planets there is a need for explorers/adventurers to see if the planet itself is suitable for colonization.

The protagonist of the story is a high school student by the name of Rod Walker who is taking a Social Studies course called "Advanced Survival" which if he passes will allow him to become a colonial explorer. When the story opens he is about to depart on his final exam for the course which is Solo survival.

What this exam consists of is that the student is essentially transferred somewhere and have to survive on his own or her own. After which they will return to Earth, assuming they've survived.

The test conditions are fairly basic:
  1. Any planet, any climate, any terrain;
  2. No rules, all weapons, any equipment;
  3. Teaming is permitted but teams will not be allowed to pass through the gate in the company;
  4. Test duration is not less than 48 hours, not more than 10 days.

Sounds pretty basic. But I'll leave it up to you to find out what happens.

Outside of the story, Heinlein as usual explores other concepts, which is one reason that I really enjoy his stories. In this case he looks at individual and group psychology, basic government, interpersonal relationships, and a brief look at religion.

Some reviewers have called this story a combination of "Robinson Crusoe", and "The Swiss family Robinson". However I believe it surpasses both these stories 100 fold.

Monday, 3 June 2019

"The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century" by Ian Mortimer

Publisher:New York : Touchstone, 2010.
Edition:First Touchstone hardcover edition.
Copyright Date:©2008

This book not only has a long title, but it is filled with fascinating information, and would truly act as a handbook for visitors just like its subtitle states.

Without a doubt living in the fourteenth century would be very difficult for someone from our century, in fact it is likely it would be close to impossible due to all the differences that we would have to adapt to, not to mention survive.

As Mr. Mortimer asks in his introduction: "What does the word 'medieval' conjure up in your mind? Knights and castles? Monk and abbeys? Hug tracts of forest in which outlaws live in defiance of the the law?"

If we are to believe many fiction books written about the fourteenth century then this might be quite true, however this is the Hollywood version of history. In reality life was a lot different and Mr. Mortimer goes into fantastic detail with regard to what life was actually like by giving examples of such things as: the landscape (what it really looked like), and the people (how did they live). He goes on to talk about what people wore, how they travelled, stayed while travelling, what they ate, their health, the law, etc.

This book would be an essential resource for any writer who is interested in bringing some reality to their stories, or any scholar who needs research material that is handily condensed into one volume.

The book has extensive notes, and an eight page bibliography.

I'm looking forward to reading his other works in the future: "The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England" & "The Time Traveller's Guide to Restoration Britain: A handbook for Visitors to the Seventeenth Century, 1660-1700".

Monday, 27 May 2019

"The Star Beast" by Robert A. Heinlein (1908-1988)

Publisher:   Ballantine Del Rey
Copyright: 1954
ISBN: 0345275802

The Star Beast is set quite some time after the Rolling Stones, but it is never explicitly stated when, although it implies a span of at least 100 to 200 years. I say this because not only have the events from Starman Jones taken place, but interstellar travel is very common and numerous other lifeforms have been encountered, and diplomatic relations established with them. In addition the great-great-great grandfather of the protagonist was on one of the first starships to attempt interstellar travel, which provides the backstory for this novel.

The protagonist is John Thomas Stewart the XI, who happens to own a pet by the name of Lummox. Lummox is an alien creature, from an unknown/uncontested species that was collected/adopted by John's great-great-great grandfather and smuggled to earth. Lummox has been a family pet that has been passed down from generation to generation and has now been with the family over 100 years.

The first part of the book is an exploration of the relationship between John and Lummox, and some of the trouble he caused when he escapes from home and reeks havoc throughout the town, there was also the time when Lummox ate a Buick, but this was in the past.

The book also explores in a fair bit of detail how interstellar politics could manifest itself, when we contact another civilizations, such as when Lummox's people come looking for him as they consider that he has been kidnapped. This includes, but is not limited to the political wrangling, arguments, petty politics inherent in the system. It also humorously touches on subjects such as xenophobia, hidden agendas, conspiracy theories, isolationist policies, and the general silliness that is inherit when dealing with groups humans.

Once again this is a wonderful book for teens and young adults but one that will probably be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

Monday, 20 May 2019

"The Joy of Mathematics: Marvels, Novelties, and Neglected Gems That Are Rarely Taught in Math Class" by Alfred E. Posamentier

Publisher:Amherst, New York : Prometheus Books, 2017.
Characteristics:319 pages :,illustrations ;,23 cm

You must admit that “The Joy of Mathematics" is at the very least an intriguing title. I doubt very much if there's many people that really consider mathematics to be joyful, especially when you consider the way it's being taught in schools today. When I was in school everything was taught by rote memorization, learning your times tables memorizing theorums, doing problems, etc. I have no idea how many hundreds of times my various teachers in grades two through four made me and the rest of my classmates write out the times tables from 1 x 1 right through to 12 x 12. I guess though in all fairness it did work, but it was definitely not joyful. I’m not going to get into the fun of Algebra.

Now if I had had this book, or very least if my teachers had had this book I'm fairly sure that math would've been much more fun and interesting. 

On the other hand I loved geometry and trigonometry as they had practical applications. Good ol’ Pythagorus and his theorem is something I’ve used many times and the same goes for trigonometry. Calculus wasn’t offered in my school way-back-when, but seeing as it has practical applications I would likely have been interested in that as well.

The authors touch on a lot of different topics such as arithmetic novelties, algebraic explanations of accepted concepts, geometric curiosities, probability, and some common sense mathematics. And they do it in a way that is interesting to read, and they give great explanations and examples showing you why and how it works.

I would definitely recommend this book to any math teacher, as getting students to be interested in math can be a challenge, and as one of my math teachers told our class once “There is not a single thing you will do in your life that doesn’t involve math, and if you can prove me otherwise you automatically pass this course.”

So far I haven’t found anything to prove him wrong!

Monday, 13 May 2019

"Starman Jones" by Robert A. Heinlein (1908-1988)

Publisher: Ballantine / Del Rey
Copyright: 1953
ISBN: 0345301048

Starman Jones is another book that is somewhat hard to place chronologically within the Heinlein Juveniles series, as no dates are mentioned. However, it seems as if would be taking place quite sometime after "The Rolling Stones" as humanity has crossed the brink of interstellar travel. What I mean by this is that while it is becoming more common there is still significant risks involved with regard to ships getting lost etc.

The story itself revolves around a young man named Max Jones, who describes himself as a hillbilly, with dreams of becoming an astrogator like his uncle was. He does however have an extremely good head for mathematics, and a very good memory (not photographic as he points out, as he actually has to read the page). In the beginning his stepmother surprises him one day by bringing an unwanted guest to their shack, which causes trouble right from the start. When his man who it turns out is Max's new father decides to sell their farm, and other things Max runs away and falls in with a hobo.

The political climate on Earth at this time is one where almost any job worth having is controlled by a guild, and many of these restrict entrance to sponsored kin. Which Max was under the impression his uncle had done for him. After a couple of minor adventures Max makes it to the guild hall for the astrogators, where he finds out the truth. But his hobo acquaintance shows up again with a crazy plan that works. Soon thereafter Max is in a starship and on his way.

Heinlein's characters were always well rounded, and he does a very good job of bringing the dynamics of crew personalities into the story. There is the bully, the con man, the slacker, and more.

During this voyage Max grows up rather suddenly, after some prodding by a young lady, which results in him getting found out to be a stowaway, but also gets him the opportunity to try  out the profession of astrogator.

This once again was a very good book, that I believe young adults (and most others) will enjoy.

Monday, 6 May 2019

"#Newsfail" by Jamie Kilstein & Allison Kilkenny

Publisher:New York ; Toronto : Simon & Schuster, 2014.
Edition:First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition. --.
ISBN:9781476706511 Characteristics:                  xiv, 208 pages

This was an extremely interesting book to read, especially from the standpoint of one who doesn't follow American politics very close. That being said, it did open my eyes to the strange, and disturbing ways that the "truth" is delivered to the public by mass media. I've put the word truth in quotation marks, primarily because I'm a skeptic at heart and I am aware that all sources of information are biased based on the person doing the reporting, even the information provided in this book. However, after reading this book, and seeing the differences between reality and what is being told to the public I am quite in awe of what some people think they can get away with, and what other will believe.

The two authors are the creators of Citizen Radio, a podcast that has been available for many years now. I have never listened to it myself (in fact I wasn't aware it existed prior to reading the book), but believe that I will now be tuning in occasionally so that I know what is going on. Because Citizen Radio deals primarily with American topics and such I personally would much prefer finding a Canadian version. I realize that American politics does affect Canada to a great extent (more than it likely should) In my opinion it is not as important as Canadian politics, and while I'm fairly sure the same biases go on up here I would just like to get our version.

In any case though I think this book is well worth the read, and would make a good supplementary resource for any social studies teacher who is interested in going outside the general scope of things.

Monday, 29 April 2019

"The Rolling Stones" by Robert A. Heinlein (1908-1988)

Publisher: Ballantine Del-Rey
Copyright: 1952
ISBN: Unknown

This book is the sixth in what is known as the Heinlein juveniles series. Unlike Between Planets, which I reviewed on April 15, 2019, this novel definitely falls within the same timeline as Red Planet, Space Cadet, and a few of his short stories.

This novel in fact takes place approximately 30 years after Red Planet, as some of the events that happened in that book are referred to in this one. For example the atmosphere project - which is now complete. The climatic concluding event in Red Planet is also referred to in this book and is given as the reason why Martians are no longer easily found on Mars.

The story itself revolves around the seven members of the Stone family, who decide to leave their home on Luna and travel the solar system after purchasing a spaceship. The characters in this novel are also very well written. The two primary protagonists are Castor and Pollux, two redheaded twins, that have a distinct talent for getting in trouble. Their father (an engineer), mother (an MD), and grandmother (another engineer, and one of the original lunar colonists), as well as her two siblings join them in their adventures which have them visiting Mars, then taking a trip to the astroid belt where uranium and other ores are being mined.

Mr. Heinlein goes into a fair bit of detail with regard to the science behind travel with in the solar system, how this would be accomplished, the equipment needed etc. The addition of these details make the book very realistic, and from the first time I read it it was one of my favourites.

A very enjoyable book that I think all readers young and old will enjoy.

"Westworld Psychology: Violent Delights" by Travis Langley and Wind Goodfriend (eds.)

New York: Sterling (2018) ISBN: 9781454932413 This book takes an in-depth look at the psychology behind the hit HBO series Westworld...