Monday, 20 November 2017

Review of "Starship Troopers" by Robert A. Heinlein

Publisher:New York : Ace Books, 1987.
Copyright Date:©1959
Characteristics:208 pages ;,18 cm
"Starship Troopers" is a book that I first read many decades ago. I loved it then, and I still think it is one of the best Science Fiction based war books around. Having just finished "The Forever War" by Joe Haldeman, I was drawn to read it again, and found the story to be good as ever.
The book was first published in the early 1970s, and while there has been tonnes of controversy surrounding it, it still remains a classic. The controversy primarily surrounds it's political views, which take on Marxism head on, and in my opinion wins. The story itself is set in the far distant future, where the only people with a vote in society (or hold political office, law enforcement positions, etc.) are those who have completed military service. Military service however is not compulsory, and is totally voluntary but if you don't serve you aren't a full citizen. Because of this the world is essentially politically stable, relatively crime free, and quite technologically advanced. Due to the political outlook, however some have labelled this is a fascist state, which I believe is a very simplistic way to look at things.
It is interesting to note that when this book was written (in 1959), Mr. Heinlein accurately predicted the state our society is currently in when he describes such things as street gangs, people being afraid to walk the streets at night, child crime, etc. I'm not sure how he predicted this so accurately, but he did.
The protagonist is Juan Rico (Johnny) who enlists shorty after his 18th birthday when he find out his two best friends are planning on doing the same. The reader is then taken through Johnny's time in Basic Training, which some have said is overly harsh, but in actually is very realistic (been there, done that).
As many people know Paul Verhoeven adapted this book for a movie back in 1997. I've seen the movie, and the first thing that came to my mind when I left the theatre was: did Mr. Verhoeven do anything other than read the blurb on the back cover? It's true he got Johnny's name close to correct (but not as Juan), but the rest of the story is so totally different that he could have saved himself a lot of money purchasing the rights.
Highly recommended as a great story for all to read.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Review of "A Legacy of Spies" by John Le Carré

Publisher: [Toronto] Viking, 2017
ISBN: 9780735234529
Characteristics:  264 pages

Once again Mr. Le Carré has written a superb novel. This story once again revolves around the the actions of the Circus and George Smiley, and fills in a portion of the back story that fans have likely been curious about for many years. While Mr. Le Carré hasn't written a Smiley novel in 25 years, the same panache and expert storytelling hasn't gone away in this page turner.

If you have never read any of the George Smiley novels - "Call for the Dead" (1961); "A Murder of Quality" (1962); "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" (1963); "The Looking Glass War" (1965); "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" (1974); "The Honourable Schoolboy" (1977); "Smiley's People" (1979); and "The Secret Pilgrim" (1990) - then you might want to tackle them first however this means you'll have to put off reading "A Legacy of Spies" until much later, which would be a shame. If however you want to read "A Legacy" right away then read "Tinker, Tailor Soldier, Spy" and you'll be in the groove.

While the Cold War subject matter is based of factual events and the world of George Smiley and his fellow clandestine operatives is fictional, I am in awe at the amount of research that Mr. Le Carré had to have done to make these novels seem so realistic is astounding. If on the other hand he did minimal research then it is even more amazing as this and the other novels in the series are so well crafted that they are very difficult to put down even for short breaks.

After reading this novel, I plan to go back and reread all the other George Smiley novels to refresh my memory of all the details. This will however take some considerable time. However seeing as there are likely numerous reviews of these great stories already it is unlikely that I'll review them on this blog.

I hope you enjoy this novel as much as I did!

Publisher: [Toronto] Viking, 2017
ISBN: 9780735234529
Characteristics:  264 pages

Monday, 6 November 2017

Review of "From Here to Eternity" by Caitlin Doughty

Publisher:New York : W.W. Norton & Company, [2017]
Edition:First edition.
Copyright Date:©2017

I had eagerly been awaiting the release of this book since I first heard about it on the YouTube channel Ask a Mortician which is run by Ms. Doughty as is the website The Order of the Good Death. It definitely lived up to all my expectations as it was a fantastic read and definitely gave me insight into other cultures and practises of how they treat their deceased.

Ms. Doughty wrote about eight different funerary practises in six different places, three of these were in the United States, but they were different enough from each other to make them worth including. The ones outside the United States were South Sulawesi, Indonesia; Michoacán, Mexico; Barcelona, Spain; Tokyo, Japan and La Paz, Bolivia. The three United States visits were in Crestone, Colorado; Cullowhee, North Carolina; and Joshua Tree, California. In the epilogue Ms. Doughty also treats us to a view of some of the practises in Vienna, Austria.

Despite what some may expect or want this book is not a simple travelogue designed to shock the reader into what people do with bodies in other cultures. Instead it is an insightful look into different cultural practises surrounding death, in cultures that treat death not as something to be afraid of (as it is typically in the Western World), but as something to celebrate both the life of the individual as well as the ongoing lives of the rest of the deceased's family.

It is my sincere belief that everyone should have this book (and her first as well "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes - Lessons from the Crematory) on their to-be-read list, and if it's already there move it further up on the list so you can get to it sooner rather than later. Westerners for the most part are scared of death and all it's ramifications, due primarily to in my opinion the hold organized religion has on our culture. It's about time that we started to think otherwise, as whether you like it or not you will die.

Having been trained as an anthropologist, I can see the value of this book a either one of the texts in an introductory anthropology course, or as the main one in a senior course on death acceptance and practises. As I also hold a degree in Education, I would like to see this subject taught in schools as well, however I realize this will likely never happen, after all we still have many who oppose the teaching of sex education in schools.

I do hope that Ms. Doughty will consider writing a sequel to this book, and explore even more cultures and their death practises.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Review of "The Forever War" by Joe Haldeman

Publisher:New York : St. Martin's Griffin, [2009]
Copyright Date:©1997
Characteristics:xviii, 264 pages ;,21 cm
The Forever War was a very well written book based on the authors experiences in Vietnam. It was written in 1974, and as the author explains in his introduction as long as you can get past the part where the beginning of the novel is set in the late 1990s then you're good to go.
The premise of the book is that a new recruit William Mandella is one of the first troopers to be dispatched to fight what turn out to be a clone warrior species named the Taurans. What I found to be one of more interesting aspects of this story is the fact that Mr. Haldeman actually did research on relativity and took this into account. The vast majority of Science Fiction stories don't do this and assume Einstein's theory is somehow gotten around. Not so in "The Forever War" as while Mandella's first deployment takes 2 years his time, 10 years have passed on Earth.
Other things on good ol' Earth are different as well, the population is growing at an alarming rate, and this has led many people to develop same-sex relationships in an attempt curb the population. Later on we find that this is encouraged by Earth's authorities, but that nobody bothered to tell the troopers who are still heterosexual. Needless to say this causes a number of problems for Mandella, and he therefore re-enlists spending more years in the service, in ever longer voyages which results in even more time dilation.
In many instances there isa great deal of humour in the story, though possibly not intentionally as at one point Mandella comes back to Earth to find that virtually the entire population in homosexual, and in a total reverse heterosexuality is now considered to be aberrant behaviour and he's labelled the "old queer".
A very good read - not sure why it took me so long to read it!

Monday, 23 October 2017

Review of "American Gods" by Neil Gaiman

Publisher:New York : William Morrow an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, [2011]
Edition:Tenth anniversary edition.
Copyright Date:©2011

Characteristics:xiv, 541 pages ;,24 cm

American Gods was a very interesting story, that was well crafted, a very good read and kept you turning the pages. This is only the second of Neil Gaiman's books that I've read (the first being "Norse Mythology" which was reviewed back on July 17, 2017.
There were a couple of times in this story where I was a little confused as Mr. Gaiman does bring in a lot of his back story from Norse and other mythologies, but this lack of understanding was totally my fault as I simply had never heard of some of the other deities that were introduced.
Mr. Wednesday (who I knew to be Odin) from the very first time he was mentioned was a good character to have the story revolving around (yes, I did listen in my Norse Mythology class at University), even though he isn't the main character (that's Shadow). With the antagonists being more modern gods (credit cards, television, etc.), you get an automatic conflict that produces some interesting twists.
Throughout the book Shadow (who is now Wednesday's bodyguard, is introduced to a number of Wednesday's friends (and a few enemies) who turn out to be other gods that have been brought to North America in the minds of immigrants. There are some strictly American gods as well such as Johnny Appleseed, too that he encounters. The antagonists as mentioned above are the newest gods on the scene, and are what people worship today the internet, television, unending credit, etc. - don't believe me just look around you everybody has got their nose pointed at a little screen.
All in all this is a very good read. I recently noticed that there was a television series made of it, but whether I get around to watching is will be another story entirely as one thing I don't do is worship the idiot box.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Review of "The Ancient Engineers" by L. Sprague de Camp

New York, NY: Ballantine Books
Other Physical Details:
450 p. : illus
Bibliography Note:
Includes bibliography and index.

Back when I first read this book (or at least portions of it), I was an undergrad student at the University of Alberta. The class I was assigned this in was a overview of classical technology. I don't remember the actual course designation anything but it was a very good course and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

At the time I did not know L. Sprague de Camp as anything other than a science-fiction writer. I was soon to find out that he worked alongside other great authors such as Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov and numerous others who also became famous science-fiction authors.

This book is an overview of the history of engineering from pretty much the very beginning until approximately the 1960s. It was written in 1960 and this therefore limited the author in what he could talk about. In some places I felt Mr. de Camp tended to skip over or at least gloss over some of the pertinent details that led to the invention being discussed but for the most part he gives a very good review of how engineering developed, the people in involved and the historical events that were occurring at that time.

The only major criticism I have of this book (which quite likely may be a minor one for many readers) is that they were nowhere near enough illustrations and other graphical forms of information to allow the reader to understand what is being explained. However, if these were included the book would need to be expanded to multiple volumes.

The book itself is organized by time period, and this does cause some confusion when speaking about certain types of inventions, as there is significant overlap in most of these sciences. I believe it might've been easier to read if the book was to be organized based on the given type of invention and proceeded from the very beginning street to the modern times.

It would be great to see a new edition of this book be published that takes up where Mr. de Camp left off, unfortunately he died in 2000 so it will have to be by someone else.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Review of "Rendezvous With Rama" by Arthur C. Clarke

Publisher:New York : Bantam Books, 1990.
Edition:Bantam edition.
Copyright Date:©1973

Characteristics:243 pages

Rendezvous with Rama, is one of the classics of science fiction. For those who have not read the book it describes a first contact situation in the year 2130 when a new celestial object is discovered in the solar system heading towards the sun. It is named Rama after the Hindu god, who is the seventh avatar of Vishnu.

This object turns out to be a gigantic spaceship some 50 kilometres long and 20 kilometres in diameter. The story revolves around a brief three week investigation by "The Endeavour" commanded by William Norton which is the only ship able to reach Rama while is approaching perihelion with the sun.

The book itself is extremely well written as are virtually all of Arthur C. Clarke's works.

I first read this book many years ago, back when I believe I was in either high school or possibly even junior high. When I first read this book I enjoyed it quite a bit but don't know if I really grasped all the nuances of the story itself.

On my second reading (yes, it took me  a while to get around to reading it again) I found that it is well-crafted and quite suspenseful, even though the characters themselves are a bit two-dimensional (at least in my opinion).

In today's style of writing it probably would not be considered suspenseful or adventurous as authors now-a-days tend to lean more towards battle sequences and the like whereas this story is essentially more of a traditional mystery. I'm not sure why author's today seem to intentionally neglect more thoughtful stories, but it may have something to do with the way everyone today is wired, and on-line all the time (but who really knows as I didn't take many psychology courses).

Two or three books followed this one a number of years later, and they will be reviewed at a later date, as I've not read any of them so far.

Monday, 2 October 2017

A Review of "How to Fake A Moon Landing: Exposing the Myths of Science Denial" by Darryl Cunningham

Publisher:New York : Abrams ComicArts, 2013.

Characteristics:172 pages, 4 unnumbered pages :,color illustrations
Alternative Title:Previously publushed as: Science tales: lies, hoaxes, and scams.
This book explores eight common science denial areas in cartoon format, and does it very well. Mr. Cunningham deals with the topics: The Moon landing hoax, Homeopathy, Chiropractic medicine, Vaccinations, Evolution, Fracking, Climate Change, and General Science Denial as does so in a way that will appeal to people of all ages.
A quote from Michael Specter a staff writer for the New Yorker as well as an author states the overall thesis behind this book on page 2 by saying:
"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion; however, everyone is not entitled to their own facts."
The eight myths contained within this book are all refuted, by reviewing them in a rational, and logical way with simple explanations as to why they are false and providing the scientifically based reasoning behind the evidence.
While I'm sure this book won't convince the die-hard science denial fans, it will hopefully at least start to drive a wedge into their armour and therefore show everyone that their one sided opinions are not sustainable in a rational discussion.
Another quote, this time from the preface:
"... [T]he universe has amazing and strange qualities anyway for those who care to see them. There is no need to believe in fantasy in order to see the extraordinary in the world, when reality offers up so much that is astonishing." (pg. 6)
Pick this book up, and enjoy it.

Review of "Starship Troopers" by Robert A. Heinlein

Publisher: New York : Ace Books, 1987. Copyright Date: ©1959 ISBN: 9780441014101  Characteristics: 208 pages ;,18 cm "Star...