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.