Four Book Reviews   (2017Jan24)

Monday, January 23, 2017                                                9:36 PM

Of my recent readings, four books have stood out as enjoyable to the point of recognizing their worth and sharing my enjoyment with others:

“Xenophobia” by Peter Cawdron   –   “The Sculpted Ship” by K. M. O’Brien   –   “The Simpleton” by Mark Wayne McGinnis   –   “Feedback” by Peter Cawdron

Below is a re-post of my Amazon reviews for each:

“Xenophobia” by Peter Cawdron

xenophobia

[‘Super 8’ in Africa]

Do not be fooled by the generic title—this book is unique and exciting in many ways. First of all, I love it when a science fiction story starts out as a regular novel, bringing the reader into a real-world scenario both interesting and engaging—meanwhile, very slowly and subtly at first, the introduction of the strange—and the total lack of expectation of anything otherworldly on the part of the characters—adds greatly to the sense of dislocation one would feel, if confronted by, say, an alien—rather than simply reading a story that has an alien in it.

Perhaps I’m over-explaining myself—all I’m saying is that the protagonist, a young doctor working in a war-torn third-world country—and her UN-assigned military team of protectors—have more than their share of drama unfolding throughout this book. The introduction of some kind of First Contact, late in the story, was superfluous in terms of good story-telling. The woman’s struggle is as much about the human condition as anything else—quite gripping, all on its own—and, as I said, the realism of this story only adds to the sense of alienness concerning the visitors from the sky, when they finally appear.

As a child of Clarke, Asimov & Co., I have no set requirement for literary excellence in my science fiction—though when I come across it, as I have done here, I’m very appreciative. What I do demand is that there be, if not originality, at least uniqueness to the concepts or the science—and that is also here, not so much in the ingredients of the story, but in the interactions of the various players and in the frustrating of comfortable assumptions and expectations.

If a combination of the movies “Tears of the Sun”, “Rescue Dawn”, and “Super 8” sounds like something you’d enjoy, then Xenophobia is right up your alley.

 

“The Simpleton” by Mark Wayne McGinnis

simpleton

[Flowers for E.T.]

While the representation of a story through a mélange of movies is not something I’m entirely comfortable with, it sometimes seems quite apropos—and in the case of “The Simpleton” by Mark Wayne McGinnis I’m tempted to say that it is a combination of “The Lawnmower Man”, “Flowers For Algernon”, and “E.T.”—with just a hint of “Ender’s Game” thrown in for good measure, at the end.

I thoroughly enjoyed McGinnis’ take on the familiar ‘enhanced intelligence’ concept—it has always fascinated me. That the alien feels concern for enhancing the intelligence of a living thing without its consent is a great doorway to ruminations about the paradox of life being a violent exercise, yet intelligence urges us to seek peace. I appreciate writers who, like Tolstoy, take side-trips into the philosophical in the course of their story-telling.

On the down side, I’ve never been a big fan of the sci-fi trope in which the aliens are too peaceful to defend themselves and thus require us savage humans to fight their war for them. How is that not just using humans as second-hand weapons? But, whatever—it also allows for alien characters who are more savage than humans, rather than less—so balance is maintained.

Being anti-authoritarian, I’m also a big fan of stories where the security forces and the military are so paranoid and knee-jerk violent that they practically doom the planet in their narrow-minded quest to control a situation they don’t understand—so I enjoyed that aspect of this story as well.

I’m very story-oriented—when I read, it is basically just to enjoy myself. This makes it difficult for me to discuss my impressions of a book without a great deal of ‘spoilers’—but rest assured that “The Simpleton” is far less simple than the little bits I’ve given away in this review—and the whole story is complex and entrancing in the way only good sci-fi can be.

 

“The Sculpted Ship” by K. M. O’Brien

sculptedship

[A Fairy Tale of Space]

Any good adventurer needs a little luck and a few helping hands to make it through the dark forest of inexperience—that is the message of most fairy tales—and it is also the theme of this delightful sci-fi fairy tale.

A young lady who just happens to be a genius at starship engineering just happens across a very special starship that has fallen on hard times. As her quest to get the ship back into the dark parallels her coming of age, she runs into a Star Wars-like collection of good, bad, and just plain odd people—smugglers, bots, royalty, and charm-school matrons, just to name a few.

While there may be little doubt as to what happens next, the reader is diverted by the exhaustive creation of a future society, complete with political intrigue, fashion faux-pas, and space-naval traditions. There is, in some books, such a pleasure in inhabiting the story that the lack of much surprise in the plot is beside the point—we simply enjoy the work of a good story-teller.

I certainly enjoyed “The Sculpted Ship”—I dashed through it, and it ended way before I was ready to let it go. I only hope there will be sequels.

 

“Feedback” by Peter Cawdron

feedback

[Even If You Don’t Care For Time Travel]

Time Travel as premise is not something I care for, most of the time. For one thing, I dislike getting the feeling that I understand the physics better than the author—which has happened to me too many times. For another thing, many authors err either on the side of ‘Time Travel makes everything possible’ or the side of ‘Time Travel can’t change anything’—in such cases, either way, it seems an exercise in futility.

But sometimes, as in “Feedback”, Time Travel is both taken seriously as a physics hypothesis—and is neither let loose to cover everything nor confined to where it hardly matters. In “Feedback” we are treated to a nice demonstration of how a Time-Travel premise can be tweeked into something that both preserves the past and yet allows for human determination to help shape the ultimate future.

This story gives a new level to the term flash-back, as we bounce back and forth from two different story-lines, both equally engaging and both quite distinct until nearly the end, when all things become, at last, not just tied together, but twisted into an infinite loop. And it is a rare book that saves the surprise ending for an extended epilogue—and for that new experience, for this old, old bookworm, I have to thank Mr. Cawdron.

Having just finished reading this enthralling story, I suspect that I could spend a great deal of time poking holes in it—Time-Travel tales are notoriously loose-logical. But this book keeps you moving right along—and it would take a keener mind than mine to have noticed any glaring errors during the course of my reading. And, hey, if it’s good enough to support the willing suspension of disbelief until the last page, it’s hardly fair of the reader to try and tear it apart, after the fact—we’ll leave that to the poor fool who has to write the screenplay adaptation.

I would have to give the author a nod simply for writing a Time-Travel story that I enjoyed. But “Feedback” was more than just acceptable—it was a great sci-fi ride through space, time, and science—and that’s all I ask from any book.

The Singularity Series Does NOT Disappoint   (2015Jul05)

Sunday, July 05, 2015                  6:47 PM

[A review published yesterday on Amazon.com]

 “Avogadro Corp : The Singularity is Closer than it Appears version 2.0” (The Singularity Series: Book One)

“A. I. Apocalypse” (The Singularity Series: Book Two)

“The Last Firewall” (The Singularity Series: Book Three)

“The Turing Exception” (The Singularity Series: Book Four)

Publisher:         liquididea press, Portland, OR

Author:             William Hertling

Science fiction was once such a tiny pond compared with the oceans of it we have today. My favorite thing about that is finding a whole series by a new author—a good writer, and writing right down my demographic alley, as it were. Hard sci-fi, AI computers, space-flight, robots—I’m a sucker for all of it.

I enjoy how we can always have our eyes opened to something fantastic about our existing tech—some new bit of its history, some obscure phenomenon that we always noticed but never thought about—or just appreciating some small, cog-like component of the vast sprawl of global infrastructure that makes all the wheels go round. Then there’s an even greater enjoyment in the vicarious world of the future.

WllmHertling_01

The future gets closer all the time. People used to write sci-fi about a hundred years from now—now sci-fi writers can speculate about ten years from now—and come up with a lot more than ‘flying cars’. Which makes sense—we just had the centennial of powered flight, computers have turned fifty, wireless is still in its teens. Born in the 1950s, I just marvel constantly over the parabolic—no, logarithmic arc of tech development. One of my grandmas once reminisced to me about fetching water in a bucket. My son is an expert gamer of MMORPGs. It’s a strange world—and getting stranger, faster, all the time.

WllmHertling_02

I worked with programming and systems most of my career, so when sci-fi gained all of its ‘cyber’ themes, I was equally amazed by the good writers and amused by the genre-pulpers who were obviously better-versed in writing than in computer basics. Now that AI is getting its time to shine, as a fiction-writing premise, there’s a lot of lurid pulps out there, romanticizing the concept out of all believability. There are some who get it right and still tell a good story.

WllmHertling_03

But William Hertling has done something I like even better than that. He’s had fun with it—he’s brought humor to it—and that makes all the difference. Clearly, this is no comic romp—it’s a fast-paced action thriller from Book One right on through to the last chapter of Book Four. I just finished Book Four and I’m still high on Hertling. That was a great read.

WllmHertling_04

People talk about binge-watching TV—they don’t know. Bookworms have been shoving thousand-page gulps down their reddened eyeballs for a long time—there’s nothing like losing all the feeling in your extremities from standing still too long, almost passing out from the rush of finally standing up. I get so lost in the story that reality becomes annoying. Imagine the nerve—asking me to stop the universe so this stupid body can go relieve itself.

AI presents unmatched dramatic possibilities—the idea that we could make our machines so much smarter than ourselves that they would lose interest in us—or worse yet, seek to destroy us—is high drama already. Add to that the speed of microprocessors—the possibility that it could all happen in minutes or hours—and things get pretty tense.

So make sure you have nothing else planned before you dive into this wonderful series. Once you’ve finished (and caught your breath) head over to William Hertling’s website, where the links to articles pointing to the reality of much of his story will keep you sleepless for yet another night.

Coupla Tings (2014Apr25)

Hello–nothing much new going on–just breaking in the new recorder–these two came out:

 

 

 

 

Just one note on this last video. In my confusion, I thought I was playing next door this evening

–but it’s really going to happen on May 23rd– I’ll do my best to catch a recording–

but I don’t do quite as well with an audience–and using a digital keyboard.

Stay tuned.