Monday, 9 December 2019

"Wizards, Aliens, and Starships: Physics and Math in Fantasy and Science Fiction" by Charles L. Adler

Publisher: Princeton University Press
Copyright: 2014
ISBN: 9780691147154

I came across this book when I was perusing the stacks at the University of Alberta, in their creative writing section. Why I was there was to find information on world-building, what I found was this.

As anyone who has read a fair bit of science-fiction and/or fantasy will appreciate certain authors tend to make up rules for their universes that at times don't make a lot of sense. No I'm not picking solely on the fantasy authors, as with the exception of those authors who write hard science-fiction the vast majority of writers play rather loose with the rules of physics, and math. This is, in my opinion, a bit of a shame but not because they do it, but because they don't explain it well enough to make it acceptable to the reader. The reader is simply supposed to take what the author says at face value, and not question them. This in my not-so-humble opinion borders on sloppy writing & plotting.

This book looks at a number of different concepts that have been, and continue to be mainstays of typical science-fiction and fantasy and puts them under the scientific microscope to show what is wrong with them based on our current level of scientific knowledge, but the author also takes an open-ended approach to see what would have to change to allow this too happen.

Once example is teleportation which was a main plot point in Star Trek, the Harry Potter series, and many others. He examines why it won't work the way it is described (or more frequently not described) in many works, and why.  The first section looks at basic concepts such as giants, transfiguration, dragon and other beasties in the fantasy realm, primarily from a Harry Potter standpoint as that is what a lot of people use for a reference today. He then goes on in the rest of the book to look at the future of transportation, space travel, computers, space colonies, propulsion systems, faster-that-light travel, and much more.

This would be a great resource for any science-fiction or fantasy writer, as well as anyone to is into debunking various offbeat pseudo-scientific concepts. The sections on the space sciences would also be quite useful to anyone beginning to study astronomy or astrophysics as the concepts are presented clearly and concisely.

WARNING: There is math involved, but it is fairly basic, so most people shouldn't have too much trouble with it.

Monday, 2 December 2019

"The Silkworm" by Robert Galbraith

Publisher:  New York : Mulholland Books, 2014.
Edition:      First North American edition.
ISBN:        9780316351980

The Silkworm is the second book in the series by Robert Galbraith about the private detective Cormoran Strike. As pretty much everyone knows by now Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J. K. Rowling the author of the Harry Potter series, however unlike Harry Potter this series deals with reality not fantasy and is reminiscent of the gritty detective novels of the early 20th century.

The plot revolves around the mysterious disappearance of a relatively mediocre author, who supposedly headed to a writers retreat and is never seen again until he is discovered after more than a week grotesquely murdered. The blame for the murder could be placed on any number of people as his latest book was to be a tell-all about the British publishing scene - a book guaranteed to enflame an already bad situation.

The plotting of this novel is extremely intricate, and the characters are so well-developed that you would expect to see them walking down the street the next time you're out. Add to this the twists and turns of the story, and how Strike solves the murder with the help of his assistant Robin makes for an excellent read. Between this book and the first volume I can't think of another book that I haven't been able to stop reading. Even though it was 1 o'clock in the morning with work the next day.

Looking forward to #3.

Monday, 25 November 2019

"Dr. Tatiana's SexAdvice To All Creation: The Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex" by Dr. Olivia Judson PhD

Publisher: Metropolitan Books
Copyright: 2002
ISBN: 0805063315
Subject: Evolutionary Biology

Dr. Tatiana's Guide is an absolutely wonderful look at the wild and crazy world of evolutionary biology. It is written in the style of an advice column like you would see in a typical newspaper, but the topics are definitely not what you would expect. With chapter titles such as "How to Make Love to a Cannibal" (which deals with certain insects that kill their mates either during or shortly after they mate), it is a totally unique method of explaining sex to the general public.

As should be expected the author does use proper terminology when talking about sex, and doesn't use silly phrases that humans seem to favour for their bodily parts. I find this quite refreshing, as the last thing a reader needs is to be talked down to because an author, reviewer, or whomever finds it necessary to call the male sexual organ a wee-wee, rather than a penis.

Of course there are some people that I'm fairly sure it will tend to upset, after all she is talking about sex, but for the most part she doesn't mention humans a lot, except when a particular topic can be related directly to humanity to provide clarification. This book would be a great introduction to biology in most classrooms at a senior high or first year university level.

Highly recommended.

Monday, 18 November 2019

"101 Dalmatians" by Dodie Smith (1886-1990)

Publisher: Puffin Books
Copyright: 1956
ISBN: 0140340343

"101 Dalmatians" is a classic children's story that tells of the adventures of two dogs who have had their 15 puppies stolen by Cruella De Vil. De Vil's intention is to make the puppies into fur coats as her husband is a furrier.

Following the theft of their puppies the two dogs Pongo and Missis set out on a journey from London to Suffolk to rescue them. When they arrive they are somewhat shocked to find that there are actually 97 puppies (the majority of which had been purchased by De Vil). Pongo takes it upon himself to rescue all the dogs and bring them back to London for safety.

This book has been made into two movies, both by Disney. The first was animated (1961) and the second live action (1996). Both are nowhere near as good as the book, and those that have previously read my comments with regard to the movie industry will realize that this is one of my pet peeve's.

I first read this book many years ago when I was in elementary school. The book I read at the time was noted as being an abridged version, but having just read the unabridged version after these many years I don't notice much of a difference between the two of them but to determine that I would have to do a line by line comparison.

Ms. Smith's works total nine novels, eleven plays, and two screen plays, although she is best known for "101 Dalmatians". I haven't read any of her other work but will attempt to do so in the future.

This is an excellent book for children, young adults, and adults as the writing is high-quality and the characterization even though the characters are dogs is extremely well done.

Monday, 11 November 2019

"Darwin's Devices: What Evolving Robots Can Teach Us About the History of Life and the Future of Technology" by Dr. John Long PhD.

Publisher:New York : Basic Books, [2012]
Copyright Date:©2012
ISBN: 9780465021413
Characteristics: 273 pages :,illustrations ;,25 cm

This book is a fascinating look into the life of what a not so typical researcher into the biological sciences has to go through both to prove their hypotheses and both learn from their mistakes and their successes at the same time.

I first came across Dr. Long's work when watching The Teaching Company's series called "Robotics", in which he is the presenter. For those people interested in robotics this series is well worth viewing as it gives a lot of information to the viewer. This series led me to his book.

Dr. Long's basic research is the study of evolution, and the book explains how he has chosen to do this with the help of robots. He tells the detailed story of his experiments in both robotics and evolution. He describes how he came to choose to use robots in the first place, the various stages he had to go through with regard to designing the robots in the first place, plus both his successes and failures.

Even though his robots were simple, they adequately approved through his experiments their ability to illustrate the power of evolution to solve difficult technological challenges autonomously.

Darwin’s Devices is without a doubt a heavy duty look at the world of robotics, the concepts and theories behind how they work, and in some cases why they don't work. It is definitely not light reading, but is well worth reading if you have any interest in electronics, robotics, the biological sciences, and likely a host of other pursuits.

Monday, 4 November 2019

"The Cuckoo's Calling" by Robert Galbraith

Publisher: Little, Brown and Co.
Copyright: 2013
ISBN: 9780316206846 

I found this book to be an absolutely fantastic mystery novel, that follows the investigation of the apparent suicide of a high fashion model. Her brother however doesn't believe it was a suicide and hires a private detective to investigate and find out what really happened.

The detective is one Cormoran Strike, a former member of the British Army who left the service after being severely wounded in Afghanistan. His assistant Robin Ellacott is a young lady from a Temp Agency, who essentially falls in love with the detective business, and helps Strike with the case, while at the same time looking for a permanent job and fending off her Temp Agency.

There is a whole boatload of red herrings (I couldn't resist the pun), that will keep the reader reading and intrigued and the final solution will likely surprise them.

This novel has all the key elements of a classic hard-boiled detective novel. The characters in this novel are a given to the reader in amazing detail, that makes you know them right away. This is evidence that the author has a great deal of experience in writing, character design, plotting and research. For those who are unaware Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J. K. Rowling, but this book is definitely not anything like the Harry Potter series, so you may be somewhat shocked by the language and certain scenes if that's what you were expecting.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book, and can't wait to read the second in the series.

Monday, 28 October 2019

"Dollars and Sex: How Economics Influences Sex and Love" by Dr. Marina Adshade

Publisher:San Francisco : Chronicle Books, [2013]
Copyright Date:©2013
ISBN: 9781452109220

I wasn't too sure what to expect, or how I would relate to this book when I started reading it, but it turned out to be extremely well written, and full of interesting facts and information regarding love and sex. Two things that the human species seems to spend a lot of time on.

I never took any economics courses when I was in university, but after reading this book I'm kind of sorry that I didn't as I find that the topic is quite interesting, especially the way it was presented in this book.

Dr. Adshade (an economics professor at UBC) deals with topics such as love in cyberspace (online dating), the institution of marriage in general, how the genders react to different influences, and love in the senior years, amongst others. Dr. Adshade deals with sensitive issues, with a sense of humour and quite a few years experience in researching and teaching a course on this topic. One that is very popular as you might well expect.

I found this to be an extremely interesting and informative book and would highly recommend it to all.

Monday, 21 October 2019

"A Midsummer Tempest" by Poul Anderson

Publisher: Doubleday
Copyright: 1974

This book is the second in the Holger Dansk series, The first of which I reviewed two weeks ago.

Both of these books are essentially about parallel universes that coexist with ours. In the first, as you may recall, Dansk is involuntarily swept away to a different universe in which he plays a fairly important role in the overall outcome of the story.

However, in this book he's only a secondary character in a relatively brief bar room scene in the middle of the book. This makes me somewhat curious to as to why Mr. Anderson would classify this as part of  the Holger Dansk when he's really not in the story to any degree. But seeing as there are only these two books in the series I don't suppose that makes much difference.

In this book the entire story revolves around a universe in which Cromwell is at war with Charles II in England, however this time it is an England that already has steam trains and other comparable technology (approximately 200 years ahead of when it did). The lead character in this book is Prince Rupert, nephew of the king, Who is captured and briefly held prisoner by Sir Malachi Shellgrave a loyal follower of Cromwell.

Rupert falls in love with Shellgrave's neice, and with the aid of one of Ruperts Lieutenant's they enlist the help of the fairy folk in this war.

This was a fun book to read, but somewhat disappointing in that I was expecting more of the adventures of Holger Dansk and not a totally different world.

"Wizards, Aliens, and Starships: Physics and Math in Fantasy and Science Fiction" by Charles L. Adler

Publisher: Princeton University Press Copyright: 2014 ISBN: 9780691147154 I came across this book when I was perusing the stacks at ...