Tag Archives: Sci-Fi

Read 2 (2015)

2015 Reading List

In reverse order these are the books I’ve read this year. Some of them have been reviewed on my Book Reviews page and most of those, If not all of them, have also been posted to Amazon and Goodreads.

Currently reading: Daring (Kris Longknife) by Mike Shepherd

  1. The Cost of Victory by Jay Allen: 3 of 5 stars
  2. Liaden Universe Constellation III by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller: 4 of 5 stars
  3. Phoenix in Shadow by Ryk E. Spoor: 4 of 5 stars
  4. W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton: 4 of 5 stars
  5. The Spellsong War by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: 4 of 5 stars
  6. The Elysium Commission by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.: 4 of 5 stars
  7. Infinity Beach by Jack McDevitt: 4 of 5 stars
  8. Monsters of the Earth (The Books of the Elements #3) by David Drake: 3 of 5 stars
  9. The Forgotten Room by Lincoln Child: 4 of 5 stars
  10. Steadfast by Jack Campbell: 4 of 5 stars
  11. Dragon in Exile by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller: 5 of 5 stars
  12. Balance Point by Robert Buettner: 3 of 5 stars
  13. Shadow of Freedom by David Weber: 3 of 5 stars
  14. Survivor by Mike Shepherd: 4 1/2 of 5 stars
  15. The Wright Brothers by David McCullough: 4 of 5 stars
  16. Paradigms Lost by Ryk E. Spoor: 3 of 5 stars
  17. The 47 Ronin Story by John Allyn: 2 of 5 stars
  18. The Better Part of Valor (Confederation #2) Tanya Huff: 4 of 5 stars
  19. Valor’s Choice (Confederation #1) Tanya Huff: 4 of 5 stars
  20. The Clone Apocalypse by Steven L. Kent (Rogue Clone #10): 2 of 5 stars
  21. The Clone Assassin by Steven L. Kent (Rogue Clone #9): 4 of 5 stars
  22. The Clone Sedition by Steven L. Kent (Rogue Clone #8): 4 of 5 stars
  23. The Clone Redemption by Steven L. Kent (Rogue Clone #7): 4 of 5 stars
  24. Madness in Solidar by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. (The Imager Portfolio #9): 4.5 of 5 stars
  25. Castaway Planet by Eric Flint and Ryk E. Spoor: 3 of 5 stars
  26. Undercity by Catherine Asaro: 4 of 5 stars
  27. The Clone Empire by Steven L. Kent (Rogue Clone #6): 4 of 5 stars
  28. The Clone Betrayal by Steven L. Kent (Rogue Clone #5): 4 of 5 stars
  29. The Clone Elite by Steven L. Kent (Rogue Clone #4): 4 of 5 stars
  30. Antiagon Fire  (The Imager Portfolio #7) by L.E. Modesitt Jr.: 4 of 5 stars
  31. Imager’s Battalion by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. (The Imager Portfolio #6): 4 of 5 stars
  32. Princeps by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. (The Imager Portfolio #5): 4 of 5 stars
  33. Carousel Seas by Sharon Lee (Archer’s Beach #3): 4 of 5 stars
  34. Scholar by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. (The Imager Portfolio #4): 4 of 5 stars
  35. The Life and Times of Horatio Hornblower: A Biography of C. S. Forester’s Famous Naval Hero by C. Northcote Parkinson: 4 of 5 stars
  36. The Abyss Beyond Dreams by Peter F. Hamilton (A Commonwealth Novel): 3 of 5 stars

Re-Reads:

These are books I’ve read before and re-read during July and August when I had no new books on hand. It does not include my re-reading of all of the Liaden books to get myself set for Dragon in Exile.

  1. A Rising Thunder – David Weber
  2. Shadow of Freedom – David Weber
  3. The Shadow of Saganami – David Weber
  4. Watch on the Rhine – John Ringo, Tom Kratman
  5. A Cruel Wind (A Shadow of All Night Falling; October’s Baby; All Darkness Met) – Glen Cook
  6. Dread Empire’s Fall: The Sundering – Walter Jon Williams
  7. The Thin Man – Dashiell Hammett
  8. The Glass Key – Dashiell Hammett
  9. The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett
  10. The Dain Curse – Dashiell Hammett
  11. Red Harvest – Dashiell Hammett
  12. The Truth of Valor – Tanya Huff
  13. Valor’s Trial – Tanya Huff
  14. City on Fire – Walter Jon Williams
  15. The Way to Glory – David Drake
  16. The Far Side of the Stars – David Drake
  17. Ambassador of Progress – Walter Jon Williams
  18. Target (Vicky Peterwald) – Mike Shepherd
  19. The Warmasters – David Drake, David Weber, Eric Flint
  20. Paying the Piper – David Drake
  21. In Fury Born – David Weber
  22. Night’s Master – Tanith Lee
  23. The Birthgrave – Tanith Lee
  24. The Gods Themselves – Isaac Assimov
  25. Judas Unchained – Peter F. Hamilton
  26. Pandora’s Star – Peter F. Hamilton

Read

Having just finished reading David Drake’s Monsters of the Earth, I find myself at a loss–I have no more unread books to read. As I have no more unread books this seems like a good time to quickly list what I have read:

  1. Monsters of the Earth (The Books of the Elements #3) by David Drake: 3 of 5 stars
  2. The Forgotten Room by Lincoln Child: 4 of 5 stars
  3. Steadfast by Jack Campbell: 4 of 5 stars
  4. Dragon in Exile by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller: 5 of 5 stars
  5. Balance Point by Robert Buettner: 3 of 5 stars
  6. Shadow of Freedom by David Weber: 3 of 5 stars
  7. Survivor by Mike Shepherd: 4 1/2 of 5 stars
  8. The Wright Brothers by David McCullough: 4 of 5 stars
  9. Paradigms Lost by Ryk E. Spoor: 3 of 5 stars
  10. The 47 Ronin Story by John Allyn: 2 of 5 stars
  11. The Better Part of Valor (Confederation #2) Tanya Huff: 4 of 5 stars
  12. Valor’s Choice (Confederation #1) Tanya Huff: 4 of 5 stars
  13. The Clone Apocalypse by Steven L. Kent (Rogue Clone #10): 2 of 5 stars
  14. The Clone Assassin by Steven L. Kent (Rogue Clone #9): 4 of 5 stars
  15. The Clone Sedition by Steven L. Kent (Rogue Clone #8): 4 of 5 stars
  16. The Clone Redemption by Steven L. Kent (Rogue Clone #7): 4 of 5 stars
  17. Madness in Solidar by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. (The Imager Portfolio #9): 4.5 of 5 stars
  18. Castaway Planet by Eric Flint and Ryk E. Spoor: 3 of 5 stars
  19. Undercity by Catherine Asaro: 4 of 5 stars
  20. The Clone Empire by Steven L. Kent (Rogue Clone #6): 4 of 5 stars
  21. The Clone Betrayal by Steven L. Kent (Rogue Clone #5): 4 of 5 stars
  22. The Clone Elite by Steven L. Kent (Rogue Clone #4): 4 of 5 stars
  23. Antiagon Fire  (The Imager Portfolio #7) by L.E. Modesitt Jr.: 4 of 5 stars
  24. Imager’s Battalion by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. (The Imager Portfolio #6): 4 of 5 stars
  25. Princeps by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. (The Imager Portfolio #5): 4 of 5 stars
  26. Carousel Seas by Sharon Lee (Archer’s Beach #3): 4 of 5 stars
  27. Scholar by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. (The Imager Portfolio #4): 4 of 5 stars
  28. The Life and Times of Horatio Hornblower: A Biography of C. S. Forester’s Famous Naval Hero by C. Northcote Parkinson: 4 of 5 stars
  29. The Abyss Beyond Dreams by Peter F. Hamilton (A Commonwealth Novel): 3 of 5 stars

The above list is in reverse order of how I read them. It does not include the books I have re-read (including the Liaden series in preparation for Dragon in Exile, just out this last week). Between Goodreads and Amazon.com I’ve got a couple of hundred books on my recommended list, but I don’t have any of them here. Hmmmm . . . what to do? I think I’ll go through my wife’s three dozen or so books waiting to be read, and see if I can spot something I’d like to read–can’t sit around for seven weeks waiting for Constellation 3 to appear.

Thanksgiving Week

Thanksgiving Week – Nine Days

My wife, Diana or Di, to her English family and Charlie to the rest of us is still teaching. This year she had the whole of Thanksgiving Week off. A good week to relax and veg-out.

Saturday – relax, watch college football, and fix spaghetti for dinner.

Sunday – as above, but pro football and took Charlie to have a mani-pedi.

Monday – relax, we went to MNF dinner at Mike and Sandy’s (nice tradition as Mike and I have been doing this for somewhere around thirty years).

Tuesday – took Charlie to her “pain management” doctor and had one of her “heavy” meds dosage reduced—less med in the same number of pills for the same cost.

Wednesday – one of Charlie’s good, retired friends came over to visit for several hours and I then took Charlie to another doctor’s appointment.

Thursday – the two of us had a quiet Thanksgiving dinner together: turkey, mashed potatoes and peas. Her brother called and was quite chuffed that he had prepared a good batch of roast potatoes. I’ve found that a 16-pound turkey has plenty of meat for the two of us for dinner and several days of leftovers—oh, yes, gave the cats a bit of turkey, too.

Friday – quiet day with leftovers and football and Charlie grading English class essays (7th & 8th grade). When I see her doing this I give quiet thanks that I was able to retire when I did.

Saturday – basically a copy of Friday except I started out watching Premier League “football”—Go Arsenal!

Sunday – should be a copy of Saturday except for the angst of Charlie having to go back to work tomorrow and the Grey Cup is on this afternoon.

The above list is not an exhaustive one. There was grocery shopping to do, including the purchase of cat and bird food. Clothes washing, dishes, general cleaning, etc. that needed to be done. The gardener came by yesterday and the front yard and backyard gardens are beautiful, if lacking in summer flowers.

Charlie finished reading the latest Aloysius Pendergast book, Blue Labyrinth, by Preston and Child. She is now on the patio reading Relic and drinking her second cup of tea. We actually have dark clouds overhead so, maybe, we’ll get some of that promised rain this week. (Maybe, even today.)

I’m a half-dozen chapters into Heritage of Cyador by Modesitt and it promises to be a good read.

I’ve written the first eight chapters of my book, two more full chapters and two partial chapters farther on in the story. My goal is a hundred thousand words but I’ve got more story than that in my head and will have to do a “bit” of trimming.

Downloaded Annie Lennox’s new album, Nostalgia, marvelous. I’ve got 18,000+ songs and tunes on iTunes and have music playing in the house most of the time—on Apple TV and playing through our stereo. (Still waiting for Diana Krall’s Wallflower.)

The OC Register is again a no-show today—haven’t had a copy delivered since Thursday a week ago, but I still get their emails. The LA Times hasn’t missed a day or been late. (This really bugs me as the Times does not cover Orange County high school football. It’s playoff season now.)

School Teacher Alert

—and anyone else who has ever had a “pointy-haired” principal or boss: Today’s Dilbert (with apologies to Scott Adams).

Principal: Would you like some feedback on your (teaching) performance?

Teacher: No.

P: You’re supposed to appreciate feedback because it makes you feel valued.

T: How does listening to you belittle me about things you don’t understand make me feel valued?

P: Well, I don’t know. It must be an indirect thing.

P: Maybe we should just try it and see how it feels.

T: Whatever.

P: I don’t actually watch you (teach) work, so I’m mostly guessing about the things you do wrong.

P: I accuse you of being slow and disorganized!

P: Is it working yet?

T: Yes. If that makes you go away.

I don’t know if this accurate for your current situation, but, if you’ve been a teacher long enough, you’ve had at least one, and maybe several “pointy-haired” principals. (I know I have. I, of course, won’t mention any names, but, if you’ve taught with me, you will probably name the same ones.)

Etc.

Charlie’s sister, Tricia, has confirmed that she’ll be here for Christmas. (She lives in England.)

Sunday Morning Company

Sunday Morning Company

The cats are keeping me company: one on the back of my chair, from which position he sometimes washes my hair, and the other atop her castle.

And, as I look around at all I possess and think on all I am thankful for one thing stands out: Charlie, without whom nothing else seems to matter.

And, one more note, Charlie reports that it is now raining.

A View of History from a Science Fiction Perspective

History

We call the time before the invention of writing pre-historic—history it seems comes from writing.

Writing was first invented around six millennia ago. It appeared in China, India, Egypt and western Asia. People wrote on (in) clay, wax, wooden slats, parchment, papyrus and, eventually, paper and carved in stone. It spread across the civilized world because it was too convenient, important, to not use. Those who could read and write, or commanded those who could, controlled society.

The ability to count, record, plan and allocate allowed (mandated?) the creation of water empires in the valleys of the Nile, Tigris and Euphrates, Indus and Yellow rivers. No longer was a person’s memory and good will a limiting factor in the matter of logistics.

A great deal of our knowledge, or what we believe, of these early civilizations comes from the writings they left behind. However, this knowledge is skewed. It is knowledge dominated by religion, government and the wealthy. Little is really known about the lives of the ordinary people—ninety plus percent of the populations of these societies. And a lot of what we know of the lives of ordinary people is conjecture based on ruins and what was written about them by the upper classes, who seem to quite often despise those who were neither educated nor wealthy—although their societies would have collapsed without the labor of these “lower” classes.

What would our view of these societies be if we had a written record for them as we have for ourselves over the last two centuries?

History Unwritten

Three of history’s seminal figures: Buddha, Socrates and Jesus left no writings behind. What we know of them, or think we know of them, is based on the writings of others. Everything we “know” about these men was filtered at the very start by views, beliefs, biases and experiences of those who wrote the books. We must also take into account what these men hoped to accomplish with their writings.

Assuming that the followers of Buddha, Socrates and Jesus were good people, interested in accuracy, what were their agendas?

Is the Socrates of Plato accurate? Is the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John accurate? Did he really exist, at least as the person shown in our current Bible? Remember, there are early books which, for one reason or another, have not been included in the Bible.

Would what we “know” of these men be different if they wrote about themselves and their beliefs? If there were contemporaneous accounts of Jesus and Buddha would they paint a picture of these men different from that portrayed by their followers—written long after their deaths?

History Destroyed

Libraries, and other storehouses of knowledge (and history), have been destroyed by flood, earthquake, fire and war. The Library of Alexandria, housing tens of thousands books, or scrolls, is one such example. Fire from the Roman civil war, from which Caesar emerged as sole ruler of Rome, destroyed parts if not all of it. Aurelian’s taking of the city while suppressing Queen Zenobia of Palmyra may have damaged it. Following the banning of paganism by Theodosius in 391, more damage and destruction. The Muslim conquest in 642 may have been the end.

However much truth there is in these accounts of the Library’s destruction, it no longer exists. What might our view of the ancient world be today if the treasures it housed were available to us?

Science Fiction and Fantasy History

Much of what happens in science-fiction and fantasy occurs in the future. In each of these stories the author has to breath some life into his (or her) world/universe. Asimov’s Foundation Series, Smith’s Lensmen, Herbert’s Dune, Weber’s Honorverse are just a few examples of created worlds whose history is us. It is after our time when these worlds diverge.

If you are interested in alternate history—our history to a certain point and them bam—there is plenty out there. Change one event, use historical trends and characters and see how the world would have turned out. America loses the Revolutionary War, the South defeats the North, aliens invade during World War II. These and many others are out there waiting to be read (and written). They all demand some type of history.

Even if you create your own universe/world from scratch you still have to give it some history to flesh it out. Very few of us can write a story that has no context.

Which brings me to Jack McDevitt. Many of his stories deal with a humanity that has spread to the stars and been there for millennia. His protagonist is Alex Benedict, an antiquarian. As an individual who deals in old and rare artifacts, Alex must deal with history.

Alex Benedict, and his “sidekick,” Chase Kolpath, hunt down various antiques and sell them for large amounts of money, generating a healthy income. There is danger, of course, as they deal in valuables and secrets. There is murder and attempted murder, but there is none of the large-scale violence and wars associated with much of science fiction. These stories are mysteries.

Alex has a copy of Churchhill’s Their Finest Hour and other valuables. Most of what happens involves history that happened after the twenty-first century. In these instances McDevitt must invent the history, the people, the events and the artifacts. But all of this future history must follow logically from our own history or else the reader will lose his ability to suspend his disbelief.

McDevitt’s ability to weave history and today and its trends into a coherent whole along with non-superhuman characters is half the charm of the stories. The other, of course, is a richly detailed future universe with interesting characters faced with a mystery or two and, occasionally, a crisis.

Today as History

In his newest book, Coming Home, Chapter Twenty-Six (Spoiler Alert), McDevitt gives us a glimpse of what Benedict’s universe has of ours and what they make of it.

  • Most poetry has disappeared but Shelly remains,
  • James Thurber’s name remains, but none of his writings,
  • Only six of Shakespeare’s plays are known, among them The Merry Wives of Windsor,
  • Only seven Hollywood films survive, among them Casablanca and Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein,
  • Dracula was apparently a physician,
  • Superman and Batman got their start in the twenty-fourth century.

If this, or something like it is what survives of our society, what will people make of us? How accurate will their perceptions be?

Is this kind of sampling what we have of our ancient world? Is it as accurate?

Did Ramesses defeat the Hittites at Kadesh or was he forced into retreat? Do we just believe Egyptian propaganda or are the claims of Ramesses accurate?

Were the Egyptian pyramids built by thousands of slaves or by thousands of Egyptian farmers during the seasons their land was flooded by the Nile?

Does Plato tell us of the real Socrates or just a Platonic version of him?

What of the stories of Jesus?

Do we believe that Nero and Caligula were monomanically evil because they were or are they victims of bad publicity, books written by political enemies?

 Family History

For most of my forty years of teaching in junior high I taught History. I told my students that it was the most important subject because it was the only one that told them about their family.

Where are we without our families? We are adrift in the world without an anchor. We are orphans among six billion strangers.

History teaches you about your family—the human race. You are related to everyone else whether you realize it or not. Every stranger you meet is a cousin, maybe a cousin a hundred times, or a thousand times removed, but a cousin nonetheless.

Only by realizing this, and acting on it, will we be able secure our future. No new collapse of society, no new Dark Age, no future interpretations of our lives and civilization without sufficient evidence to either praise or damn us.

As Rodgers and Edwards wrote for Sister Sledge: We Are Family. Let us treat each other as family.

History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life and brings us tidings of antiquity.
Marcus Tullius Cicero

Them! The best 1950s horror movie

Them! movie poster

Them! movie poster

Some of my favorite movies were made in the 1950s. They were shot in black and white and had no computer generated effects. Among these were Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, It Came from Beneath the Sea, The Crawling Eye, Godzilla, and RodanThese are, of course, all fantasy, sci-fi, monster movies and, unlike fifty years ago, I own a copy of each and every one. But, my all time favorite, is Them!

In brief, it is the story of what could happen if radiation from nuclear bomb testing caused mutations in animals turning them into dangerous giants. In the case of this film the animals are ants.

By today’s standards they are very limited stars but, at least, they are not the bad, computer generated images I see too often on the movies shown by the Sy-Fy Channel. As in reading a book, one’s own imagination must come into play while watching this film. I had an Ant Farm and would watch ants for hours; imagining them as the ten foot long monsters in Them! was not very hard, despite the lack of realistic movement in the movie.

Little girl lost

Ellinson girl lost in the desert

I remember nuclear testing. We would set off an H-bomb and the Soviets would set off a larger H-bomb, a suicidal game of one-upmanship. I remember radiation clouds being tracked, bomb shelters and bomb drills held in school. Giant ants, sure, easier to think about than nuclear war.

The acting was good and a lot of the cast members were, or would become, quite well-known.

Characters

James Whitmore (Sgt. Ben Peterson) – The Asphalt Jungle and The Shawshank Redemption
James Arness (Agt. Robert Graham) – Gunsmoke – There were scenes in Them! in which he appeared in uniform with a bazooka and an M-1. During the Second World War, Arness participated in the Anzio landings in Italy and was wounded. He also received a Bronze Star as well as a Purple Heart during the war.
Edmund Gwynn (Dr. Harold Medford) – The Keys of the Kingdom and Miracle on 34th Street
Joan Weldon (Dr. Pat Medford) – Home Before Dark and Have Gun, Will Travel
Fess Parker (Alan Crotty) – Daniel Boone and Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color (Davey Crocket)
William Schallert (Ambulance attendant) – The Patty Duke Show and Star Trek (The Trouble With Tribbles)
Willis Bouchey (bigwig in meeting) – Support Your Local Sheriff and Support Your Local Gunfighter

Synopsis

Ant attack on Dr. Pat Medford

Ant attack on Dr. Pat Medford

It begins with the New Mexico State Police searching for a reported little girl wandering the desert. One officer in a plane and two in a patrol car. (Please no comments on how someone could see a five-year old girl in her night-clothes wandering alone in the desert and driving a dozen miles into town to report it rather than walking fifty yards off the side of the road and getting the kid. Remember, suspension of disbelief is critical.) They find the girl and her family’s destroyed travel trailer. Evidence (including a footprint) is taken at the scene; the mute girl is transported to town and the police go to a nearby general store to talk with the owner. The store has been destroyed and the owner killed. One policeman stays to wait for the evidence squad while the other (James Whitmore) goes back to town. The officer at the store is killed by an unseen something after emptying his sidearm into it.

The FBI (James Arness) comes into the case because the trailer was owned by a vacationing agent. The store owner’s body is autopsied and is found to contain a large amount of formic acid. The footprint is sent to Washington and a pair of doctors (Joan Weldon and Edmund Gwynn) from the Department of Agriculture fly to New Mexico on a B-25. The little girl reacts to the odor of formic acid by shouting “Them, Them!” And, the chase is on. On a visit to the trailer’s site the group is attacked by a giant ant, which is killed by Whitmore’s Thompson sub-machine gun. An ant nest is found and destroyed but not before two queen ants fly away. And, the chase is on again.

Boy, if I can still raise an arm when we get out of this place, I’m gonna show you just how saturated I can get.” – Graham

A secret national search for UFOs, and other weird stuff, is launched. A flying Texan (Fess Parker) sights giant flying ants and is put in a loony bin (to be released only on government orders). Ants hide in a merchant ship, kill the crew and are sunk by a navy cruiser. One queen accounted for. And the hunt is on for the other queen.

Ant attacks Sgt. Peterson

Ant attacks Sgt. Peterson

Whitmore and Arness go to Los Angeles to investigate a large sugar theft and end up discovering a murder by the ants. They determine that the ants are hiding in the storm drains under Los Angeles. The Marines and National Guard troops are brought in to find and kill the ants (and find and rescue two missing boys). Whitmore rescues the boys, but not himself and the nest is destroyed – no new queens escape.

Nobody knows, Robert. When Man entered the atomic age, he opened a door into a new world. What we’ll eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict.” – Harold Medford

It’s a fun movie, a few good quotes, story holes, continuity errors and just plain goofs. But, after nearly sixty years, it still holds together.

Links

IDMB – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0047573/
Wiki – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Them!