Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Lady Ruth Constance Chapelstone and the Clockwork Suitor, by L.C. Mawson - 3.5 Stars

Lady Ruth Constance Chapelstone and the Clockwork Suitor is a work of young adult fiction, at just over one hundred pages, set in the Victorian era and written to introduce a long-running character for a greater series. It is firmly part of the antique yet gorgeous steampunk tradition, nuts and bolts, steam and empire, yet it additionally addresses a cultural wrangle of old – the emancipation of women. The protagonist is a capable yet humble aristocratic woman in a man’s world, trying to apply her mind to engineering problems and simultaneously working her delicate fingers through the seam to get around the social straightjacket she was born into. Just imagine someone nowadays saying “You are of an age to get married. You must get married because that’s the only thing you are on Earth to do. Oh, and see to the laundry”. I’ve got a better idea. Bog right off.

The language is stilted and takes some adjusting to, which is correct because the tight Victorians really did converse like that. The only problem I had with the use of language in this book was that the high-up characters sometimes used expressions which would have been considered dead common, blemishes which would have marked them out as appalling social climbers. Examples of this are the very middle class “Pleased to meet you” (How do you do), “Got me beat” (have me beaten) and, unbelievably, “Me neither” from the lips of Queen Victoria herself (Neither can I). That latter is more suited to the blimey gawdhelpus stonethecrows Queen Victoria pub in Eastenders. Three brief examples then, no more, otherwise fine.

Apart from a couple of words to trip over (recluse – reclusive / place the tray down – placed) the story is positive, imaginative, constructed well and flows from one arrangement of characters to another like the indoor scenes of a theatrical performance. It has good stage-craft, so that’s one sign of a good writer. It also shows the application of social pressure, now thankfully punctured in most the world. I stayed engaged and completed this story in two sessions, then wondered how the rest of the series would go. London’s been done, so will she pop along to India or Africa? Although, as a reviewer, I sadly don’t have time to read every book in every writer’s series, I can see that readers of Lady Ruth Chapelstone will stay engaged and probably want to keep reading her adventures, so the series should grow into a success. As the greatest inventor in England, the character deserves no less, surely?


Lady Ruth is a creation that’s breaking the mould of a mouldy old social system, representing the glimmer of hope that when an era changes and enough judgemental steel-haired greylips go to their graves, the formal rules will loosen up and young people will be allowed to breathe. Lady Ruth will then be a pioneer, an inspiration for those to come after her. I’m not sure that the book did enough to also break the mould of storytelling in the same way that the character does for women in industry but I guess that is according to plan because this is supposed to compliment the steampunk genre, not reinvent it. The first instalment, Clockwork Suitor, is a reasonable start which I expect will now be built on for years to come. The second book in the series plunges Lady R into a travelling adventure on behalf of the Crown, so be sure to check that out too as this series can only get better.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Reading and reviewing soon






Some of my book chatter will start to appear in the Indie Author Monthly Magazine September issue, so get it free on the Magster distribution service. I've finished The Wolfe Experiment, so have to write that review.

This is the rest of the review waiting list: Bitter Lemmings (one of Tom Holt's indies), Shrugg One Mile, The Twisted Galaxy, Special Agent Mauve 2, J.O.E. Just an Ordinary Earthling, Inevitable Ascension, The Outlaws of Kratzenfels, Race the Red Horizon, Terraforming Earth Phase 1, Perax Frontier, The Mirror in my Dorm Room, How to Remove a Brain, Temptation & Mozzarella, Matters Arising From the Identification of the Body, Lockheed Elite, Disconnected, Nasa's 1st Mission to Mars - why bother?, All These Worlds, Inevitable Ascension, Double Life, The Renewal, The University of Corporeal and Ethereal Studies, The Cosmic Bullet, Everything I need to Save my Friend and Doom the Universe, Girl From Above 1, Transmit, Philia, Helix; and The Optimist.

I add reviews in these places, so come bookmark me or add a comment if you're passing:

https://medium.com/@havingfaith
http://www.librarything.com/profile/HavingFaith
https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/62676140-faith-jones
https://havingfaithbookblog.blogspot.co.uk/

Thursday, 10 August 2017

The Happy Chip, by Dennis Meredith - 4 Stars

Dennis Meredith really gets terrestrial sci-fi because, unlike so many others, he knows that the key is to look at what cutting edge technology can do now and then add a strong idea that’s going to skip it an extra stage into the future. In his other book Wormholes, he invented a new use for them which I think no one had thought of before. In this novel, he’s back in the groove with a credible advance in a practical world. That step ahead is like a stone flying into the pond that pushes out a complicated pattern of ripples, side effects and consequences that make up the novel. People react, business reacts, governments react and the hero can emerge. SCIENCE fiction, you see? It begins with a leap in science. Not fantasy. He gets it.
 
This novel explores the consequences of something small, just a flimsy, harmless little microchip. Not just an ordinary chip but one that parks in the bloodstream and monitors bodily chemistry, communicates with its parent company, exchanges information and can (in the latest version) whack you full of hormones. Ibiza beware. The sales pitch is quite attractive; “we’ll tell you if you like something or not and then quantify it”. Just imagine the scene: “I love you Benjy”, “Oh Daphne, how much though? How much do you love me?”, “14.26, it says here. I put out for anyone over 13.7”. Taste and emotions now have scores, so I guess that’s the death knell for critics and bad products. When corruption sets in and corporate malfeasance bites, the fun begins. Let’s go!
 
Would you let someone tamper with your body? (apart from whatever version of Benjy you keep at home). Well, it’s already started. Years ago a professor at Reading implanted a chip into his body so he could walk around his building and see all the doors open ahead of him without having to take his hands out of his pockets. Even in my own university, there’s a department of Hybrid Biodevices (Biology, Life Sciences, Optoelectronics). Most of that research is of real benefit to the human race, such as heart pumps, internal organ monitors and other internally implanted machines that help to keep people alive, broadcast alarm signals or dispense regular doses of medication. The other side of this research is super cool, but we should be nervous enough to hover our fingers over the stop button: Flies with backpacks! Titchy cameras, comms devices. Companies and governments will queue up to fund that kind of R&D because the shareholders and public all like it. Think about this though. What else would you want to deliver that’s as small as a drop of water, very high impact and would fit in that insect’s backpack do you think? Something radioactive? How about a neurotoxin? Forgive my paranoid speculation – I’m sure I’m the only one who’s ever, ever thought of that.
 
The point is that technology can be used for good or bad depending which set of hands it falls into. Nefarious uses pay more though and it you had to find a way around ethical boards to make the breakthrough, it’s easy to believe that some folk might go the whole hog, piglets, trough of swill and subscription to Farmers Monthly by chasing the gleam of gold. They have to really or it would be a damp squib of a novel. Therefore, to make a good narrative, you need a credibly evil, murderous and scheming baddie – and this story has one who probably took Tony Blair’s correspondence course.
 
The story is entertaining, of full value length and I found it credible in all but two places. The first is when a former electro-mechanical scientist is suffering at the hands of her implant but doesn’t know that it can be made inert by magnetism. She didn’t know that? I knew that in prep school. So there I was, reading this book and any lip reader could tell you silently mouthing “MRI, EMP, Physics dept. lab, rail gun, wind farm generator, electricity sub-station, tape on some rare Earth magnets even”. Then I thought this was probably the writer being clever and the character might have dropped the MRI solution because it wouldn’t just turn the chip off but it would also super-heat it and potentially pull it through the artery wall, through the soft tissue and out of the body. Gush, splurt, no thanks, yuck. An electromagnetic pulse would be best but hard to arrange, so a brief buzz in the MRI would surely be enough. She studied electronics, right? The second thing I wasn’t sure about was the role the Chinese played in the story and how they failed to retain a single chip to study. I suggest they might, on their own home ground, be better at managing situations that this. Having said all that, I have to grow up and accept that this it is a fictional entertainment story and it would not have worked as well if those two things were to have the boring brown wand of reality waved over them. There are all sorts of reasons why Jurassic Park couldn’t have dinosaurs, for example, but the book would be utterly pointless without them. Ignore this entire paragraph then as I withdraw the observations in deference to poetic license. If they’d told Aristophanes that a chorus of frogs sounds silly, there’d be no such thing now as satire.
 
The Happy Chip is a dependable sci-fi thriller that fulfils expectations, all the more worrying because it could happen soon and almost certainly will happen in this century. Think twice about the fashions you’re caught up in, please. Changing your mind about a tattoo could make you anxious, trusting a driverless bus is something you will eventually get used to and the fear of being filmed in the shower by a robot fly is pathetic but getting a chip put inside you that can control your body, sluice or withhold hormones and a complete stranger is holding the remote control… that’s where the fun isn’t funny anymore. Another story well told from the imagination of Dennis Meredith.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

The Perihelion, by D.M. Wozniak - 5 Stars

The Perihelion is a striking and uncommon conceit, mature in both style, form and characterisation but also with something wistful and hopeless about it, another long dark teatime of the soul. The writing is assertive, suggesting the author has been in this game for a while. I also don’t think it was written quickly as it reads like the work of years. The motifs within this multi-thread plot are tragic and very human, yet they’ve been spun out of a dystopian premise in a terrestrial future. Some are analogies (capitalist/socialist futures, genomic meddling, the meaning of self-worth) and some are speculations rolled out in plain sight (modern convenience vs closeness to your baby). These ideas are delivered in a variety of ways and the reader finds they’re dwelling on different motes in a swirl of things to think about. As with everyday existence, some of the worries will always be beyond our scope to control, so the philosophical would say “Why worry? Leave it in their hands”. Who’s they?


Without any direct hooks to pin this feeling to, the echo moments of individual solitude and vulnerability in a large city space remind me of some of the established works of sci-fi, such as The Martian Chronicles and The Man Who Fell to Earth. I mean that in a complimentary rather than a critical way but this book could have been written a while ago and been a pillar of another era, so I hope it won’t be lost in the over-population we have now. Abandoned places, drifting sands, love among the ruins, yet it’s told from a functionally advanced city and that’s reconciled somehow. No matter how crowded your world is, or how advanced our society, remember when you close your eyes that everyone sleeps alone.

The 99ers programme is interesting because that could happen, or more accurately we can do that now (CRISPR) and only ethics prevents us, yet with 200 national authorities on Earth, it just takes one to conform to a different interpretation and the sequencing devices will be in business at street level. Wait and see. Would your child like a carapace? No problem. We’ll have to expand the definition of human. That’s the rub really. Change in what it is to be anatomically human has previously been an extremely gradual process – no homo erectus parent gave birth to a homo sapiens child because transition crept along in a granular way. Now we have the ability to apply significant change to the human form in one generation. A one percent change sounds like a reasonable risk but how do we control that getting into the shared gene pool permanently? The hybrids will have a 99pc case for human rights, which includes the right to reproduce, and most of them will be fully capable of saying so. Would you be on their side? Of course you would. It’s compassion. NB. The genetic difference between humans and chimpanzees is one percent.

For me, the best part of the book was the story of the photographer who has built his career on a single decision to take advantage of an unethical opportunity. This thread covers temptation, right and wrong, the ‘devil’ tempting, dishing out success and riches but then turning it to dust and that leaves the reader with the concern they might have done the same in the circumstances, with that shallow gloss of inner justification which unpleasantly reminds them they’re just as rotten as he is. How many inventions, thoughts and quotes through human history have we attributed to the wrong person because the real originator faded into oblivion before shouting their name? How many people have accepted a medal for someone else’s contribution? How many distributed the blame?

This is one of the leading indie narratives I’ve read in the last year and I recommend it. It’s a next step speculation of the future but with pockmarked grandeur and a sense of place. What I mean is, everyone’s childhood includes a baseline landscape that they then compare a changing world against to decide whether they like it. This book has an identity that seems to have grown from an extrapolation of our current baseline and moved humanity into a time more progressive but subtly less comfortable, degrading even, where anything organic and wild is an aberration, a nuisance to be controlled, designed out or killed and replaced. The “wilderness” of the Redlands waits outside the city and there’s hesitation, they’re scared of it, not because it is dangerous but because they fear what is not under control.

I was trying to find if there is a measurable mathematical definition of wilderness, an algorithm, as I've heard it said that genuine wilderness no longer exists (therefore we need to drop the word or evolve its practical meaning into something that's still relative to us). It turns out there actually is one. The modern and adapted definition of wilderness can be seen in real time by anyone with a phone as the output of a population density and wireless coverage calculation. Put simply: Anywhere they don't bother to put a Pokemon.

We can go to the world of Perihelion, if we choose this path, but we will no longer be fully human when we arrive. Humans are creatures of matter, with meat and genomes, just like other animals, but unlike other animals half of us exists in the air (thoughts, aspirations, philosophy, spirit and principles), so the neat accomplishment of this book is to show a future where we are becoming progressively less human in both arenas. Will that future population even notice, if their baseline is not far behind? Then, if they do, will humanity pull the plug and re-set how the species chooses to live or will it just wimp out and stay aboard a train that’s going somewhere they don’t want to be?

It's amazing how none of the reviewers of this book so far seem to have got the same things out of it or have agreed on anything else really... except for the 5 Star rating.

Bernie and the Wizards, by Steve LeBel - 4 Stars

Bernie and the Wizards is an amiable tale that lets us know what it is like to build and run the ultimate train set – a planet and its native forms of life. This enticing idea is shown to us through the eyes of the space-faring race that creates and operates the architecture, then pops down and interacts with it; the gods. If suitably advanced technology becomes indivisible from magic (Arthur C Clarke), then an entity with suitably unlimited power becomes effectively a god when seen from a less capable perspective. It’s a place on the scale from amoeba to goldfish to our race to them, the world builders of this novel. Could we get closer to their end of the scale one day? Incrementally? Do goldfish mistake us for gods, all positions on the ability scale being relative?

There's another scale though, the scale of decency, fairness and good manners. Perhaps most of us have overtaken the old gods on that one. Being able to do anything you want with no consequences can turn a god into a louse.

Power is proportionate, in the context of other power, just as a heavy weight crossing an event horizon loses even its information, so it is also revealed to us that gods within a domestic community of gods behave just like ordinary people. They go to school, do jobs they get stressed from, are impressed by fashion and hang out with friends. All good so far. They also carry out commercial enterprises (why bother?), are very vain and get in a huff when one of their planets doesn’t work properly or fails to produce whatever commodity they need from it. Elder gods leave the community behind and set forth on their own indefatigable odysseys, probably because when you reach a high enough vantage point most of the other gods’ activity looks immature. Are gods herd animals or antisocial loners? Or both, depending on their exposure to endless boredom.

When a planet managed by his employer goes offline, in the product supply sense, that’s where Bernie comes in as a kind of toga-wearing corporate trouble shooter who then has to infiltrate the native species of the client’s world and find out whatever went wrong. It’s like the landlord’s rental agent checking out the state of the cooker in a student share. To do that, he needs to talk to people on the ground and absolutely not do what gods always do, which is to treat mortals like disposable dots on the landscape. Bernie is a pleasant god who doesn’t think mortal lives are meaningless and, therefore, he becomes the humanitarian hero of the piece. This attitude appears to be a generational change, so the young will see in this metaphor their own chance to feel superior to their parents and enlightened. Then again, I’ve felt like that since the age of seven.

I’m unconvinced by the cover, which looks like the kind of thing they stick on the windows of shops selling Warhammer. I know it represents the disruptive types that have stirred things up in the story but it doesn’t sum up the feeling I had from this book, which included a lot of adorable creative growth and beauty. Luminous plants with floating seeds are cooler than this. It wasn’t just about anger and metal hats or I wouldn’t have read it.

This is a good book suitable for all the family and it is based on an attractive fantasy of inoffensive divinity (as it isn’t Earth) and, hey, it’s fun. Although the plot does venture into frailty, it doesn’t explore the human condition as much as it could (see Hamlet), so it’s as if the author set up a vehicle to tell us something meaningful about ourselves and our treatment of lower life forms but then doesn’t push the message through. The fantasy is sweet though. It makes the reader dream of what it would be like if their own family were gods with the power of life and death over other species, squabbling, childish, spiteful, needy, polluting, bearing grudges, breaking up and being as selfish as hell. Hang hubris, we’re farther up the scale to godhood that we thought! Lucky us. Okay, okay, don't smite me, I'm done.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Sex Demon, by Kat Cotton - 3.5 Stars

If you step aside from the deliberately provocative title, as nothing suggested is described, this is a book about a twenty-something street kid hunting down demons for a living, clearly aimed at the market once served by Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In fact, I don’t think it is possible to review this without mentioning that previous title. The differences are: The slayer doesn’t have a gang of friends, she works and talks in the style of an early NY detective, she gets paid and the supernatural entities aren’t quite so teenagey.

I do need to say something about the plot to help explain the title. In the context of a set of demon hunter books, the demon being hunted in this one takes on the form of people’s previously deceased (or lost) husbands and infiltrates their homes, in this case the happy home of Mr & Mrs Duffy (sic). Queue the slayer, who looks for ways to make the demon reveal itself. The demon slides into their victim’s dreams and then gets lewd, although that’s all we hear about that, and the resourceful nemesis does her homework around town, learns new things and takes him on with her bag of tricks.

Some women will buy this because they have a demon lover fantasy, which is perhaps where this ancient incubus (male) idea came from. The ancient female equivalent was a succubus, which gave lads wet dreams (don’t blame me) but neither of those are discussed in this short book because the classification used isn’t a name I haven’t heard of before. Apparently it’s a Hungarian ghoulie. Sufferers of sleep apnoea are the real victims of night time demons, so check out William Blake’s painting called The Nightmare. Generally, the supernatural entity in this book is not romantic (like Angel in Buffy) and just wants the exercise, so I might be wrong but if that series is what it’s modelled on, I wonder if this functional line ticks the Buffy audience’s box? Maybe he should have taken Mrs Duffy to the pictures a few times.

What really made me look twice at this title was the cover because I keep seeing this model everywhere and feel that if this is a stock photo, it’s being over-used. Just yesterday I saw her three times, so she’s on Kat Cotton’s cover for this series as character “Clem Starr, Demon Fighter”, she’s shown dressed up in a camouflage jacket on a probably military sci-fi book by a different author on Instafreebie (they’ve changed the page overnight and I can’t find it again, grrr) and she’s on the cover of at least six Diana Rowland books as yet another character. If you’re going to have a character model to run through a long series, it would seem better to have exclusive rights. That might mean paying a bit more but there are a lot of people who’d want to be your cover girl and build their portfolio.

I did like this book and would read the series if I had time, so I’m especially noting the innovation (not solved with bang-off guns) and the use of humour, so it’s really a 3.5 star novella. I think it was a smidge too short, the main character was a little isolated and the demon should have been more seductive, in a show not tell sense, having presumably thousands of years’ worth of knowledge about how to manipulate female victims. Psychopaths are known to be extremely charming and manipulative and they’ve learned that skill in a few years, so imagine what a demon could do. What traits would seduce you? What would you fall for and invite into your home even when your conscious mind knows something wrong is happening? Bright thoughts and cheeky laughter melt through my defences quicker than I’d like to admit. For everyone else, it’s insincerity and chocolate.

Clem Starr, Demon Hunter, Part 5. Not bad. The insatiable and manipulative character of the demon could have been brought out a bit more though, to make him a dangerous challenge, worth overcoming and to show he can’t get anywhere without the victim’s personal consent. Details please - how does he do it? What does he say? It’s all in the words. Then it would be a riff on the modern pick up artist, a four star book and a satisfyingly deeper and longer run through. This was supposed to be about the sub-conscious, wasn’t it?

Shady business in the depths of the Amazon

This is a polite version of an earlier post in which I was swearing a lot.

Let me introduce myself. I’m the main writer on the Having Faith Book Blog, which is where I put my reviews of newly published indie science fiction books, with a few novels from other genres. I’ve read and reviewed 58 books so far in 2017, for which I am not paid and I’m not related to or seeing any of the novelists. I also review on Goodreads, Amazon, Librarything, Medium and Indie Authors Monthly magazine. In short, I’m a prolific independent book reviewer and a student who’s gaining experience for, hopefully, a long career in publishing.

The problem is that, in July, Amazon deleted 53 of my book reviews (including 26 on verified purchases) just like that. Zap. That’s over 90,000 words of assessment gone, with an average rating of around 3.9 stars, including a couple of 2s. I’ve protested to the behemoth but they said it was policy. I canvassed views around the indie book reviewing community, only to find that not only can nothing be done but also that the same thing has happened to a whole host of other amateur book reviewers. They’ve told me that even if you stick to Amazon’s policies, all it takes is for one author from all the ones you’ve reviewed to purchase a review or review themselves and then everyone who has spoken about that author’s book (which may be a hundred reviewers) will be subject to wipeout.

Coincidentally, Amazon have launched a paid-for book reviewing service called Vine. They want small time independent authors to pay them about a thousand dollars or more to go and find someone (not specialising in their genre) to give them a review. Amazon keeps most of that money. The thing is, the business model doesn’t work if amateurs are providing the same service as Vine on Amazon’s own website for free. Therefore, people like me are not in favour. Think about that next time you read a single paragraph, banal and uninformed review from one of Amazon’s stooges that just regurgitates the synopsis of a book and fails to provide any critical literary analysis. Alternatively, you could read what the subject-specialist bloggers have to say and then do your shopping elsewhere.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Monkeyboy, by S. Shane Thomas - 4 Stars

Monkeyboy is set within the League of Atlantis Reborn Colonies (LARC), the narrative universe that Shane built. I read this book because I’d previously read The LARC Transmissions, which I thought was very imaginative and worthwhile. That prior title also introduced the character of Hanuman, a minor character who shows heroic tendencies at the end and who then takes the lead role in this follow-on story. I sense that if you hadn’t read any of the previous stories, you might find it harder to buy into the fantasy of this latest book and wonder what the talking monkey is all about.

In explanation, Hanuman (previously) ate a magic stone which gave him anthropomorphic characteristics, improved intelligence and vocal cords. He carried over his natural primate characteristics of loyalty, bravery and family. In this book, the baddies (Rakshsha) on the planet of Nibiru want to capture all of the magic stones and over-run their world with enhanced warriors, as a prelude to restoring the ancient and very alien Anki Empire. Hanuman and his friends set out to stop all that, but betrayal is right around the corner.

This book talks about the Solar System, but I think that's a micro-error as it should only ever refer to the system around the star Sol, our sun. Someone else's system would be named after their local star, e.g. the Dagobah System in Star Wars or the Vogsphere in Hitchhiker's. If the author was talking about the planets around our sun, then that's my lack of attention and ignore me.

It’s easy to get confused and think this is a re-write of Hanuman’s tale in the Ramayana and Mahabharata, where the devoted monkey god trails along behind Rama and helps a young priest bring Budhism to India. Indeed, the money god Hanuman is part of not just Buddhist but also Hindu, Sikh and Jain mythology. Despite keeping an eye out for references to those famous quests, I didn’t see any beyond his similar character traits and the fact they’re both simple souls magically elevated from monkeyhood to do good deeds – and prove useful. Please don’t expect religious wisdom. This seems then to be a transplant of that ancient character into an unrelated setting to try him out in a completely new tale. When Salman Rushdie tried this, they gave him a Fatwah, but this is just a harmless take that shouldn’t upset any believers. In reality, the monkey god existed in scripture for about one thousand years before anyone added him to the pantheon that anyone actually worships. He was a character but not a headline deity. He also stole fruit.

The LARC universe seems to have changed in style from imaginative science fiction engineering and biology fantasy (with a bit of magical transformation) in The LARC Transmissions to a magical young adult fantasy in this latest story. Originally full of colonial theory and exploring strange new worlds there’s been a shift into a status-quo disrupted by conflict. Is this change over time or had the author exhausted the sci-fi angle? I prefer sci-fi, personally, but I acknowledge that I’m outnumbered by YA magic readers (about 1/100), so I should shut up. I’ll give this the same star rating as the previous book but I disagree that it is stand-alone. Specifically, Monkeyboy is a barely a 4 star and Transmissions is a high 4 star. Then again, kids will love it, eat more fruit and fall out of trees.

The Other, by Marilyn Peake (29 pg preview) - 3 Stars

I received the first two chapters of Marilyn Peake’s new science fiction adventure after requesting it through Instafreebie. I really liked the cover as it had that sort of Independence Day vibe and the author’s introduction to the book sounded good too: “People begin seeing UFOs and strange, alien-looking creatures with humanoid shapes, green skin and large black eyes. In places where this is happening, doctors report the spread of a mysterious virus that scrambles people’s thoughts and causes hallucinations.” That sounds like a rollercoaster action movie too, so checking it out seemed obvious.

As I say, I’ve only read the first two chapters as only a teaser has been revealed so far. The pace is fast, as it jacks into the plot without delay and very soon there are UFOs escorting 747s and buzzing interesting bits of our planet. The protagonist appears to be a female scientist with a morally flawed thug of a brother and she’s racing past Roswell through a sky full of foo-fighters when the teaser chapters abruptly end. So, is there any point reviewing two chapters, totalling 29 pages? Can anyone get a proper feel for the book? Is it even fair to give it a star rating? I’ll try to give my impressions but I can’t review what I haven’t had access to.

It seems to be a fast paced ride, which encourages people to keep reading. The protagonist is resourceful and compassionate, so might be a plausible heroine or could be a disappointing G.I. Jane – who can say at this stage? The brother obviously deserves to die but I expect she’ll try to redeem him because most of these stories show characters changing for the better as a result of the experience, being tested and forged in fire. The aliens seem to be invading, so that might mean it’s a survival story rather than a UN negotiation. I very much like the imagery of the 747 passengers looking out of the window as the silver UFOs draw alongside the windows. That would be cool. Worth dying for.

The aspect I didn’t tune into was the use of language, as I thought the sentences could be extended to paint in more description and feeling. It’s less like a poet eulogising a flower and more like a mechanic going through the functionality of tools. Maybe the character we have been given sight of is practical, pragmatic and doesn’t have time to put words into colour but there’s also a good chance the storytelling is all like this. Really though, are the first two chapters the best material in most books? The author can’t impress you with their art if they have to dedicate the opening to context setting and character introduction, so is it possible this preview isn’t representative of the whole? This will be a bull-ride of an adventure novel, so don’t expect lyrical exposition because you are unlikely to get it, but I haven’t seen enough of the story’s development to comment on the quality of imagination, originality and surprise. It might get better but I can only rate what I've seen.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Thank you!

I received these wonderful flowers today from Mr & Mrs Greg Schindler (grown in their garden) after my recent review of Greg's pirate book "The Last Voyage a the Vengeferth", which is now nesting on my shelves in my favourite pirate rowdy stuff section, right next to "Captain Slaughterboard and the Yellow Creature", which shaped my career choices. Thank QQQ for this kind thought!

Monday, 10 July 2017

A Moment in Sci-Fi, by Daniel Backer

I'm delighted to introduce Daniel Backer, novelist and film maker, who has written the following sci-fi short piece for your entertainment. For links to Daniel's book and comedy sci-fi TV show, read to the end. Take it away Daniel!

“You sure make a lot of noise,” said Tony, holding a creature from what he thought was the scruff of its neck. It had woken him up. He couldn’t tell what orifice the sounds were coming from.
There was no mouth to bleat out of or trunk to trumpet or exoskeletal washboard for stridulation. The thing appeared to be a huge exotic alien pile (HEAP) of fur that excreted slime out of its folds that dripped onto Tony’s porch and was absorbed into the thin layer of dust that had settled due to almost no foot-traffic. Today was the day Tony would put a nice set of footprints into the dust.
As he tried to leave, his fear of the outside stopped him in the doorway as if it were a solid sheet of glass, much to the HEAP’s dismay. It lurched outside, bringing Tony by the hand with it.  He got up, startled to be on the first steps of a new journey after being alone for so long, which reminded him… He straddled the unsightly body print in the dust and stepped a set of footprints on either side of it.
Over the course of the four-day walk, Tony found himself talking to the HEAP. The HEAP was all ears, even though it wouldn’t be easy to tell where they were. He told it about his life, his sister, his big accident and being alone. The HEAP gave him all the niceties of an audience, cooing at the right parts and even intoning “huh?” at a particularly dramatic pause that Tony took before revealing that he was excited to see his sister after so long.  Four days after he left, the HEAP made a sudden yelp, and startled, Tony dropped it. Blue feathers on a tranquilizer dart stuck out of the HEAP. She had always loved blue.
She screamed from behind him, “Did you speak to it?”
“Huh”
“Did you say anything to it?  Anything at all?”
Tony turned around and saw his sister towering above him with her gun strapped around her shoulder.  She was literally twice his height and it shocked him that she had managed to sneak up on him.
“Why?”
“Hearing words makes them stronger. They draw conclusions from our language until they achieve an intelligence that wants wipe out the human race… or what’s left of us after you nearly did that.”
“How many times do I have to apologize for that?”
“Only once, and you should continue to do so by going back to your house.”
“About that--”
“You’re certain you didn’t say anything to it?”
Tony looked out at the expanse around him.  He looked to his sister.  He looked to the HEAP. It was twisting his words into an intelligence that probably didn’t have a concept of inside and outside.  At this thought, he lied to his sister.
“I didn’t tell that HEAP a thing.”
They entered the compound and caught up for a little while.

..................................

YouAreAbraham, Daniel's novella with added film and music http://www.youareabraham.com

Danny’s company have recently released a sci-fi comedy web series.  Here is the first episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fR3YFx5Ap7I
 
Goodreads

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Bugs in the System, various authors - 2 Stars


It must be a great feeling to have a perfect understanding of what’s gone on before because that way nothing will ever, ever be stale again. I, for example am blessed with an infallible recollection of every moment in history I’ve ever read about, from the day the Japanese bombed Guernica to the crowds waving hands in the streets, and lighters by night, when the US signed the Paris Climate Accord. Pity about all the fossil fuel they were burning. Elephants may have short attention spans on the subject of sci-fi but not me. Learn from your mistakes? No need. The first lip plumping mask I tried recently did leave a weird polygon stain around my mouth (and naturally the doorbell rang when my face was glued in rubber cowpat) but do I remember that in the excited grip of buying another one (everyone knows a debit card isn’t real money), it said a different brand name on the box and therefore the contents could not possibly be the same or leave the same three day tidemark. I’ll let you know. If you’ve had the same experience, please watch the Youtube video here and consider joining the class action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7HKkR5-x9Y
That's why I was overwhelmed to read the mould-breaking science fiction compilation Bugs in the System, companion to the role playing game “We Hunt Bugs”, for which I Googled and Oogled but can’t see on sale at the time of writing. Hard to get means good, right, like exclusive access or something. RPGs are a kind of entertainment where people dress up, play characters that will be in-theme with other characters around them and then re-enact or otherwise express themselves in words and then physically until they’re pretty shagged out, have a hazy recollection of what they did, find themselves banned from public parks and the experience is over. Five years later the same people will still be doing this but calling it dating.
The first story, Lost in Space, is about someone who likes to shoot bugs, how he thinks and why he does it. The second story, The 0.001 Percent, is about how almost no one would want to do the job of hunting bugs. I can’t remember much about the third story so I’ll gloss over that one. The Hunter and the Suit is the best of the lot, where a famous hunter is chased by a surprisingly capable debt collector. If you were writing a book to complement this RPG, it might have been more sensible to grow this individual short story component into a full length novel and wave away the others. It’s a hard recommendation but there it is. Not bad, as it had an interesting nucleus of plot as well as guns and bugs. The next story, MacDaddy, is about guns and bugs. The last, Blue Sands, Red Sun is about escaping a master-criminal, agent of chaos, sort of bug. One of the stories has a robot dog in it that generates the single unexpected twist in this compilation, so that was welcome.
There’s this smashing line where someone slices open an alien creature’s belly and says “I thought they smelled bad on the outside!” Now that’s a good piece of writing and I can imagine that they could even persuade a great sci-fi actor to say those words in a film, perhaps on some ice planet somewhere.
Bugs guns guns bugs bugs guns. This is a book about grunts splatting different kinds of lumpy space bugs in the innards of infested space ships with their soldier weapons. I don’t have allergies so it must be the guns bugs bugs guns repetition that makes me sneeze. Okay, so it is a collection of short stories based on a shoot-em-up game which is presumably inspired in turn by the story of the jerk jarhead soldiers who go to fight the bugs in the film Aliens and get removed from the gene pool and perhaps also the Starship Troopers films, where more bugs go splat to the delight of a similar crew-cutted brethren. There are arcade games that do this and very little else. Bug, bang. Bug, bang. Bug, bang.
Anyone who thinks war is some kind of sport would only have to listen to my local newsagent – and he fought in Iraq. It means being unable to talk to your family, not knowing what’s happening outside your unit, poor equipment and painful boots, no confidence in your own leaders, losing friends stupidly, lack of sleep, scrapping for food, weeks on the road, re-used field dressings, expired medicine, serious moral question marks over the treatment of prisoners, ratting out deserters in some shelled out hospital, having your position over-run, blood in the sand and getting extracted back to Blighty where they give you a hard time qualifying for your invalidity pension. He was a little vague about which side he was on.
There’s someone alive. There goes our salvage. Hmm. There’s also “The Company” behind everything, looming over all the expendable soldiers like Mt. Fuji’s parent company.
Then there’s an exciting scene where they discover a barely living body but just as they’re trying to help, a small creature explodes out of the belly and they have to spray the room with a flamethrower. Fancy that. The German name for this item is a flammenwerfer, which for some abstract reason I find to be more satisfying. “It werfs flammen”, in the words of the meme.
We hear in one of these stories that copper wire was invented by two company executives fighting over a penny, a joke that worked about forty years ago when Billy Connolly first told it and people really spent copper pennies but not ideal for a future presumably without coins, where it says they have electronic “seed” credits.
I thought there were no women at all in this book but within sight of the end one appears and gets called princess because that’s what women in space get called, isn’t it? In the 1950s it would have been doll and in the Australia of last century it would have been Sheila, but nothing else changes. Then, just to build a body of counter-evidence to demolish this observation, a Russian mercenary who says “Da”, the only word everyone knows, takes his helmet off and turns out to be a woman after all. Too many male characters? Easy to solve. Make one of them a woman. It’s just a name change, right? Classic. Pub, anyone?
The trouble is it’s all been done before. Without something new to write about, there’s a sensation of going through the motions without Ripley (who was also a bloke, let’s face it). Bug, splat, bug, splat.
“Confused, like a zib.” Now THAT is something new, hinting at a back history of zibs that the characters could explain to you but there’s no time to do that right now. It sounds small but there’s the little catch that swings a door to a whole new warehouse of detail that helps to fill out the world of this one. Just as Archimedes said “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it and I shall move the world”, give me a zib and an author can make you believe in a world.
The various well-meaning writers who contributed to this collection clearly wanted to have fun and create some stories around their favourite shoot-em-up game, of which this collection may be an unadulterated and accurate representation. They also love their sci-fi history and want to pay tribute to it. However, I’ve seen books to complement games which have been done so much better and have had original things they’ve added to the theme. This collection has been fun, included a lot of nervous bug-splatting moments but didn’t challenge perceptions or create enough originality for me. If you love the game though, this will surely feed your insatiable bug hunting appetite – go bang. There are also some Aliens and Star Wars stories in book form that you might want to check out though.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Last Voyage a the Vengeferth, by G.A. Schindler - 5 Stars

I’ll give you an assessment at the start, which isn’t normal on my blog except when I’ve found a hum-dinger: This book is the best possible present to give anyone for International Talk Like a Pirate Day (19th September each year) and it is for exceptional and unusual books like this that I want to continue reviewing indies. There you go. Stick it on the back.

“’tis a tale far more enjoyed in the telling than ’twas in the living through.”

I’m an independent reviewer and although sent an ebook for free to critique, by the time I had read to page one hundred I was into the story enough to go online and buy the paperback for my permanent collection. The only negative thing I can point to is the use of kilometres, not miles and yards. Oops? Although the km was invented in France in 1793, the rest of the world didn’t start using it until the middle of the next century, which I believe would be after the golden age of piracy. I could be wrong. Having got that oarless gripe out’a the channel, I have to say the rest deserves none of my usual sarcasm. Oh, and you do need to read it slowly because that’s really the only way to soak up the words of this coral tongue, so zippy speed readers shouldn’t touch this.

“Then very slowly a half vague, ghostly crow’s nest began poking up from the mist dead ahead… Soon Gorden’s sharp gaze read from her bow “Crazy Cousin” and we all fell about laughing.”

The subject? Well, if you can’t tell from the cover, it engages with every idiomatic aspect of the pirating experience in a neat little rowing boat of a book and all expressed in the authentic language of “Ah-Har Jimlad”. Super. A heaven full of parrots, rum and salty coves.

The “piratese” language is a tradition in itself, as used by Tom Baker as the mad ship’s captain (Blackadder, 1986), Spike Milligan in the Q Series (Long John Silver’s dialect becomes infectious and goes down a chorus line, c. 1970s), Jim Carrey (A Series of Unfortunate Events, 2004), Douglas Adams in his first appearance at the Edinburgh Festival (An Unpleasantness at Brodie’s Close, 1976), Graham Chapman and rest of the Monty Python team (Yellowbeard, 1983), plus of course in Moby Dick (1851) – but the most famous source is of course Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883). I wonder now whether this language in its entirety came from fiction first or whether it was genuinely how criminals at sea spoke and then one fictional character, Long John Silver, popularised it around the world? In other words, fiction owns it now, so we all love pirate talk and long may it prosper. This book deploys the language of the blue sea, burning sun and privateer freedom, which has already earned its wooden legged and eye-patched place in the history of entertainment. Is it a serious book though? Yes, but does it have to be?

“Though lightened, Vengeferth was no feather.”

There’s a quite brilliant conceit in which a small boat is “rescued” by a sinking ship full of trusting Christian missionary passengers who have no crew aboard. Having decided that the crew were unacceptable to them because they were swearing too much, they had packed them off with a lot of money to hire a new crew and send them back to the ship instead. They’ve been waiting for quite a while now but the new crew are sure to be along any time…

“The Captain’s condition worsened due to lack of alcohol.”

I liked the metaphors and the best of those is for “a wall” (rogue wave), which is described as God’s hand moving across the sea, brushing the crumbs off of the table. Equally, this book seems to be spilling off the top of a wave of independent publications that sometimes seems too large for readers to tackle alone and the fact that no independent reviewer at all has rated it on Goodreads yet is saddening as it could have gone completely unnoticed. Message in a bottle?

“So the party was on. We drank rum, swam, played runabout, ate meat, drank rum, sang, told stories, drank rum, sang, ate meat, played games, slept a spell an’ went back at it.”

Without giving the plot away, if you want to have your confidence restored in the mercurial bounty of indie writers and what they can come up with, you do need to add this book to your collection. If you read it and don’t agree with me, I’d be very surprised. If you don’t then think it would make the perfect entertainment present for your mates on Talk Like a Pirate Day, they deserve a lick’o-the-cat. Not literally. Cats taste awful, unless you’re stuck in a row boat fer forty days, in which case they look mighty pleasin’ t’ the eye. Jim lad.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

The Eye of Nefertiti, by Maria Luisa Lang - 3 Stars

Now I have to say that talking cats aren’t really my thing because I gravitate to explanations rather than magic. Don’t do it, says Lynn Truss in her oft’ quoted splurge in the ghastly Guardian “Top Ten Cats in Literature” https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/dec/07/top-10-cats-in-literature

However, there are millions of cat lovers and only one of me, so I find myself outvoted and I have to admit that Paul Gallico (Jennie, Thomasina, The Silent Miow), Terry Pratchett (The Amazing Maurice), Lewis Carroll (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland) and G.A. Henty (The Cat of Bubastes, 1889) know more about giving the public what they want than I will ever do. When you put Egyptology into the mix though, it reminds me more of the children’s film Treasure Buddies, with its talking Labrador puppies and Raiders of the Lost Ark imagery, which suggests to me that this sort of thing naturally fits into the children’s section.

This book, the second in a series, is intended for an audience slightly older than that initial assumption, so it’s perhaps young adult or beyond. It’s clearly written by and for an audience who like their cats and probably talk to them or imagine they have the re-incarnated souls of interesting beings from the past. Does that describe you? It’s fair to say that doesn’t describe everyone, so perhaps it shouldn’t have fallen to me to rate it.

The story involves time travel in a spinning boat, a magical gift bestowed by ancient divinities and takes Nefertiti beyond her regular context and lets her interact as a fictional dame. It isn’t just about explaining the missing wall eye from her famous bust (which is beautiful, by the way), it’s using her as a romantic character which interacts with a much longer span of history.

If you like the story of Akhenaten the sun-worshipping pharaoh, the short-lived monotheistic religion he founded to over-throw the old and the city named after him (now called Amarna), this might be the book for you. It’s a light-touch take on that failed revolution but shows it from the human angle, how disrespecting the old ways caused a rift that up with the priesthood would not put.

I thought the best thing about this from a non-cat owner’s perspective was the descriptive passages about ancient temples and their decorative influences. The book was like something that once was deep but today shouldn’t be taken too seriously, like walking around an old site with a well-informed tour guide for an hour or two and spinning your parasol on a sunny day.

The Old Man and the Princess, by Sean-Paul Thomas - 4 Stars

This is an offbeat and soul-wrenchingly original tale of family, fantasy and otherworldly promise with a defining Irish quirk running through it like the lateral line on a blarney fish. I don’t think you can compare this unusual story to anything much, as it veers between the ridiculous and the mundane, pits frailty and youth against the hard nuts of gangland and toggles the reader through a series of second guesses and bitter-sweet realisations. This is the human equivalent of nature red in tooth and claw and dodging the beatings but there’s redemption too and, adjusting for context, tenderness. There are shadows lurking in this book, hateful and riled places, rusty vans, bitching and blood in the verge but for all that there’s a spirit too, a living, swearing breath of life that swirls and spits and kids about, carrying you down the author’s stream of narrative. Is it possible that those who inhabit the edges of society, those with genuine hardship and little to lose react by taking greater risks and by that becoming more alive?

It also follows the orphan psychology angle of a child wondering who their parents really were, what their thinking was when they gave their child up and whether they could one day return to the rescue and complete the family circle. J.K. Rowling did this sort of thing, they were wizards Harry, but really it’s the honest reality that an abandoned child would want answers and will imagine a history that might serve to fill the sadness and gaps in their unfair story. In truth though, very few wealthy and well-adjusted parents would give their child away, so it is better advice to avoid the disappointment of meeting them.

The language in this book is really fruity, yet imaginative and fresh with it, taking the fek-talk of Father Ted’s housekeeper and letting it loose on the streets of Ireland and coast of Scotland. It isn’t offensive when the dialect is this tangible and just seems to blend into a collective Irish defensive heritage until your ears are left comfortably warm. I wasn’t offended by any of that, more amused and drawn in as it helped me to find a connection and affinity to the characters.

It’s hard to read past the early scene involving abduction off the street, especially if you’ve ever been in a vulnerable fix before, but then it turns out to be something other than you think and is therefore an essential plot driver when revealed. Generally though, the opening two scenes wouldn’t fit better into the world of the Brothers Grimm than that of Disneyland, so down w’this sorta thing and careful now.

I got on well with this book because it took me far enough away from my usual comfortable reading material. It had the human angle, so necessary in fantasy which then turns out to all be explicable in reality. It also stays between the lines to the greater extent, which was a relief because I thought at the start it might go all Wasp Factory. All in all, a good, refreshing slap in the face of underground culture.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Love in the Robot Dawn, by C.W. Crowe - 5 Stars

This is exciting robot-occupied Earth science fiction in the “running man” style and I recommend it highly. The opening sequence is crisp, effective misdirection and sets the tone (you won’t guess), then the reader slips into the world of the culled and half-beaten humans waiting for the tables to turn in their favour. There’s a daring escape, the desperate journey of the hunted, a la Barry England’s novel Figures in a Landscape, hope, dashed hope, new hope and then some cool and unexpected turning of events. I particularly like the pleasant demolition of self-assured academic liberalism, collaborators on Segways.

Never judge a book by its cover. The cover image is totally wrong for this story and had me believing it was a dippy romance, which it is absolutely not. This is a science fiction struggle which happens to have a couple experiencing the questionable delights of a planet being adapted to non-human needs and the image I had in my head of these two characters is a world away from the stock-image casual suburban tennis club dating scene that the cover image suggests. If anything , this cover puts off potential readers who would love this book, particularly males who don’t read romantic stories. Come back guys! You’ve misunderstood. There they go, more running men.

I can’t give you a long review of this book without leaking the story but it is a friendly and memorable piece of science fiction lit. which is paced about right, written in a professional and approachable way, should appeal to a wide age range and demographic, doesn’t offend anyone who doesn’t deeply deserve it and will let you rest easy at the end. It would work very well as a TV mini-series because it divides well into three stages and the female role is written as a credible human for a change, not a posing doll or a she-ninja, so there’s a tip for re-use in a secondary format, but until that happens I recommend that you buy this as a present to yourself, read it and pass it on to your friends with your own recommendation because it’s a good book that should not go silently into the night when more people should be talking about it.

Read. Recommended. Over to you.

Adam's Stepsons, by M. Thomas Apple - 3 and a bit Stars

This is a fairly short novella on the subject of cloning, which explores the issue of what it is to have legal status as a human versus status as an exactly matching cloned human. Despite it being limited in scope and having a kind of brutal architecture in which lives are lived, the story explores interesting concept debates such as whether inherited memory from a donor is possible in a biological copy over-printed with identical neural patterns and what we should do if it was, i.e. bestow human rights? Could memory transfer as well, if pictures in your memory are formed from the configuration of cells and that configuration has been exactly re-created?

The story is set in the R&D facility of a losing side in a future inter-human conflict who have invested in cloning pilot warriors as a last resort. The drawback of building thinking creatures is that they do think and may opt out of the programme, especially if it transparently involves sacrificing themselves for someone else’s cause. In the immortal words of The Bride of Dracula, sod that.

If a clone is an exact copy of a human, down to each strand of DNA and the position of every cell, is it alive? Yes, obviously, but the spark of life has been carried across biologically from the host (not created chemically), so that’s pretty hard to have rights over. It’s like patenting a leg just because you’ve received a live replacement.

What is a clone? It is the same as the donor but not occupying the same position in space and time. Okay, stage 2, so what if the donor dies? That person is legally dead and it cannot be both alive and dead at the same time, so can this argument in law be used to deny the clone legal status and human rights? Although, when an amoeba buds off, aren’t these separate animals with the same status? Denial of human status and rights is certainly useful if you want to use it as an expendable plastic soldier but not granting this parity is surely manipulating the rules to make sure everything serves us. How cosy. If so, what would happen if the clones had free will and outnumbered the humans, so felt it was time to change the balance of the system? Would we be left disenfranchised instead and deserve to be? It might be better to agree they are the same as us and then we will have common goals that advantage all sapient bipeds.

If a clone made by human ingenuity matches us materially, it’s a fake. If it also has thoughts, feelings, memories, empathy and tells jokes, our ability to ignore its rights and use it like a tool takes on a certain ethical fragility and we could be accused of slavery. Is there any moral value in pursuing this? When a copy becomes too much like the original, it becomes indivisible by any test except its birth certificate, so the law has to change to accommodate it… them… us.


The book doesn’t really speculate on the solutions to these questions and kind of drifts off at the end with the usual explanation of identities and shoot-up scene (the answer to everything), so it was alright in its conflicting moralities and worth reading but fell short of a fully satisfying exploration of this sci-fi concept and that’s probably because it finished too soon for the reader to care about the fate of the characters and their tarnished souls seeking for reason.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Starship Samudram, by Saurabh Dashora - 4 Stars

I’d like to congratulate the author on writing a very strong science fiction thriller about space travel and exploring Titan, with a mystery element, credible engineering, imaginative scenes, all that’s best and worst of humanity and a deft touch of je ne c'est quoi which gives the book its character and makes the reader feel like they’ve survived a journey with the surviving crew. This book would transfer well to other media because it has got proactive characters, inspiration and emotion with quite visual elements in a spacey exploration setting where they can also react to and be terrified by the creepy unknown. If you consider the success of franchises like Alien or imaginative trips like Interstellar, Starship Samudram would fit well into the mainstream entertainment pack and I can imagine it doing quite well.

What’s the story about? Well, a near-future Earth has been having problems in the form of the Water Wars (squabbling over resources) and that’s driven humanity into space, just as hardship and desperate conditions force a vine to adapt and thrive, these humans have been pushed out of their comfort zone and are making the most of a difficult time. Some have thoughts of becoming independent from Earth and it’s military hierarchies, echoing the experience of Earth’s own population movements when they bedded down and became self-aware after the age of exploration.

The Captain of the largest star ship ever built, an Earth-appointed leader, is a sort of (now settled down) former ruthless military conqueror. Doh! Typical moronic human thinking – you find someone whose main skill is taking lives and you put them in charge of everyone’s lives. Humans always repeat this mistake, but why? Will we still be doing it in the future? Let’s kick the humans, they’re so stupid. There’s also a rebel leader, identity withheld, who stirs up a revolutionary level of anger about social inequality on-board. It seems the military junta have fenced off parts of the ship into distinct classes, so the underclass get the worst living conditions and no panoramic view, just like steerage passengers on old liners. Confident in their own ruthless strength to keep order, clampdowns happen and the guards have disproportionate power over civilians. You always come out on the wrong side of history by doing that. It’s when the crew start encountering alien bio-contamination that the walls of the firm little boxes start to melt and collapse, literally.

The problem, as always, is getting your story noticed. At some point the human race is sure to put together a mission to land people on Titan (unless they go to Enceladus first, to check out and use the liquid water under its southern pole) and that’s the point when this story will become topical. Are Saturn’s moons topical or popular subjects beyond the scientific community? Well, we’ve all heard of Saturn itself, the flamboyant rings and the Cassini Division but do we care enough about its sixty-two moons? The answer is perhaps “no” if you consider that we haven’t even bothered to name nine of them. Perhaps after this they’ll call one Saurabh? I’m going to, just to see if anyone ever corrects me.

What’s so special about Titan? It’s nitrogen-rich, just like Earth (yes, we actually do breathe a gas which is poisonous in isolation), it has dried up river beds and lakes consisting of hydrocarbons which, with a clever bit of chemistry, could be used as fuel – if you could in parallel release oxygen from the water/ice on Enceladus to burn it in. The ice on Titan is no good because it’s made from methane. Then, of course, there’s the problem of whether it’s worth the candle because the fuel made might be less than the fuel consumed to complete the voyage between moons and the drilling. It has potential to consider though.

When I looked at my scribbles for the review of this book, it came out all wrong because I had noted a few errors and inconsistencies which cumulatively suggested I didn’t enjoy the story, which is completely wrong and not the reflection I wanted to paint. I hope what I’ve said above is food for thought, shows the potential of this story and reads as a recommendation if you’re the imaginative sort who likes a good tale. Give it a go even if you are only into the natural features of Titan, such as water falls of methane, mysterious geometric megaliths, the problem solving of terraforming and/or otherwise dying pretty quickly when you take your helmet off. Going crazy from long-haul space travel is also a field of legitimate scientific enquiry.

Having said all that (and if you did read this far down), the reasons why I deducted a star from the rating were the following minor annoyances. Actually, please don’t read this review any further because it’s all fairly pedantic and I’d feel sick if I thought these observations had put anyone off reading a decent and likeable story from a capable writer of science fiction with a toolkit of entertainment skills that deserve to be recognised. I liked it, I really did.

………………

There are many cases of “Atleast”, one word, which suggests the author made a global replace error. Talking of the global replace function, I want to change equipments to equipment and evidences to evidence throughout, as those popped up in several places and were distracting from the flow. There are a few unnecessary question marks in statements (not questions), e.g. “Had he been there, the effect would have been greater?” “Did a short course on hacking long back?” There are two instances of an unnecessary “not”, as in: “No landings will take place until the leader of the Brotherhood is not caught.” These glitches could all be fixed in ten minutes by re-uploading a replacement version of the e-book, so it’s not a big deal.

It said they didn’t need a biologist for the away mission because there was nothing there for them to study, but had previously said the lake contained organic matter, so obviously there is.

The author is certainly a peaceful fellow because there are gaps in his knowledge of a particular weapon. Why put a laser scope on a shotgun (range 45 yards, no curve in trajectory), unless you just want to shine a light around with no performance benefit and tell your opponent exactly where you are? Why would a shotgun work anyway in an environment without oxygen (necessary for the propellant to combust and expand)? Shotguns don’t fire bullets, they fire shot (tiny pellets). This is probably explicable if the author says he was talking about a different weapon held by someone standing behind the person with the shotgun, but that’s not made clear. I tend to think that if you’re outside on Titan you must have a space suit on, so the only thing you need to do to make someone dead is create a small puncture, so an air gun would work better as there’s no combustion, even a potato peeler or a pencil. Okay, so The Potato Peeler of Doom doesn’t sound that impressive if you happen to find yourself browsing in a gun shop but it would actually work better, until someone invents a shot gun with a sharp end. Then again, on Titan all you really have to do to finish someone off is wait long enough. That’s why the story needed the essential angle of terraforming.

In Chapter 6 there’s a topographical map made from photographs, not scans. The human race moved past photographic technology in space well before the year 2,000 so I hope these are scans that the crew are just affectionately using the old name for, like photo-copiers are really scanners but we stick to the name of the previous technology because we like it. Scans are digital, so can be scaled up or down like a vector calculation without loss and they can also be enhanced by logical pixel-filling or removing algorithms to sharpen fuzzyness, be combined, manipulated and linked to databases, whereas photos cannot unless you have a lot of drawing pins and lots of bits of old string handy.

There’s no explanation of why the hawk ship that attacks Samudram has wings. There’s absolutely no need to have an aerofoil or aerodynamic shape when there’s no air, unless it also operates in planetary atmospheres (which is possible but wasn’t described). This has to be given the benefit of the doubt thought because a hawk-like space ship is cool and people would probably choose that anyway, for aesthetic value. An alien observing the design though would conclude that the species which made it came from a planet with a thick atmosphere, so there’s a clue about their cultural influences and perhaps even their historical predators and fears.

No, the greatest force in the Universe is not gravity; which is actually classified as the weakest force in the Universe. You can be stronger than the pull of a whole planet by simply blowing a feather up in the air.

I hope you don’t take any of those complaints too seriously because I am saying that you should read this book and one day real astronauts will be following in its footsteps. One day our space-borne colonies really will realise they are so far from home that they don’t need the old green and blue, one day we’ll devise a more sensible system for selecting our leaders and one day, maybe not too long from now, we really will name a moon Saurabh.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Bivalent Logic, by Cliff Hays - 4 Stars

I had this wonderful idea for an app that would use bivalent logic to evaluate and flag fake news.

Although bivalent or “missing middle” logic was invented by Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) in Organon (see the square of oppositions) and can be thought of as the basis for the microchip, where an electrical impulse can follow a circuit through different paths such as AND, IF (if and only if), OR or NOT gates (since replaced by the concept of negation as failure and yet to be replaced by quantum superposition), the main attraction for this purpose, the evaluation of text, is that it converts directly to binary code. Wa-hey! Low hanging fruit. Digital evaluation can produce a quantified output, which can then generate a probability of (for example) bias, hoax or even a fake review, without being clouded by the interpretation of the observer.

This is how bias can be revealed in text:
Fake claims can be identified by frequency of first tier unproven statements and instances of the reinforcement of first tier claims citing second tier unproven statements as factual. A fake review can be identified by an over-use of superlatives and low proportion of negative criticism.

Something either is or it isn’t; 0 or 1, so every statement has one of two possible truth values, true (1) or the negative of truth (0). Almost nothing non-mathematical can be proven to be true so the benchmark for this has to be what the accepted literature takes as “proven” to the current extent of our knowledge at this time. UFOs, for example, are proven – anything positioned in the air that you can’t quite identify. Aliens are not, so claiming a UFO = 1 but claiming it is therefore alien = 0. It cannot be both true and false, so that’s a bad mark for the trustworthiness of the text (unless it becomes the accepted reality later, when the literature catches up).

Statement: We build. Non-statement: Should we build? Opinion: We should not build. Command: Build! The truth value is assigned based on whether it happened or not, i.e. did we build (1) or not(0)? The assessment of whether something is a statement or a non-statement is important.

(With non-contradiction) that leaves seven sets of binary truth values shown as digits:
A (it is) = T, T, F, F = 1100
B = T, F, T, F = 1010
¬A (it is not) = F, F, T, T – 0111
¬B = F, T, F, T = 0101
A¬A = T, T, T, T = 0000
AV¬A (it is or it is not) = T, T, T, T = 1111
AB – T, F, F, F = 1000

To give you an idea without the numbers, lots of praise in a review and hardly any destructive questioning would leave a tally like 19 x F, 1 x T = 95% chance it has been written by a friend of the author. A high proportion of unfactual or unsubstantiated statements in an article would leave a similar trail, question mark count, for a fake or biased news report. A significant count of rubbishing the alternative would also flag as propaganda. This would initially need a human assessor until we can connect a database or encyclopaedia to match claims against. Results for tabloid newspaper editorials or scores for the reliability of individual journalists would be very revealing.

The app could be expanded to spot ideological leanings or favouritism being expressed by the writer for one nation or race over another. To clarify, using a particular word would not generate a result, e.g. “the foundation studied communism/fascism/racism for years”, but when the subject has been frequently referred to in conjunction with words such as “like”, “love” or saying the subject is “the best system” or “obviously correct” those would be identified, as would denigrating or stigmatising words against the subject’s diametric opposition. The only way a propaganda writer could avoid having their article flagged as propaganda and themselves as biased would be to take out the favouritism and stick to selective recounting of the facts, which would be a big improvement.

How should I rate this book? In mathematics, the result is either perfectly correct or it isn’t and in bivalence it is or it is not, so this book is either correct or it isn’t and I could give it 5 stars but that would be a world gone topsy turvy when there’s an unnecessary “of” in the Descartes section toward the end and also I’m a subjective human reviewer rather than a robot, so I’ve unilaterally deducted a star from this book because it gave me a headache. Clearly, I’m not bivalent. Byte me.