Book Review: Bowl of Heaven by Benford and Niven (Two Stars)

Book Review: Bowl of Heaven by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven

Two Stars out of Five

Skip the introduction. Seriously, skip it. The story begins when the protagonist awakes from Deep Sleep in Chapter One. The rest is back story. Boring and unnecessary.

That they can’t get the story opened (or closed) despite being famous, award-winning authors tips the reader to the rest of the problem: this is way below what they are capable of. Think: Ringworld in the half-round.

The story-telling is good, but the science is shaky. For example, they don’t seem to understand that centrifugal force is perpendicular to the plane of rotation; not, as in gravity, perpendicular (sort of) to the surface of the mass. Therefore, near the pole where the pseudo gravity is near zero, it’s also roughly parallel to the surface. No standing.

The solar system-sized hemisphere rotates to create artificial gravity. Okay, but if the period of rotate is nine days long, the pseudo gravity would be more than 0.8 g. A bone-crushing lot more, considering the hemisphere is the diameter of either Earth’s or Mercury’s orbit. (I’ll talk about their proof reading later.)

Clouds hundreds of kilometers high with a seven kilometer “ceiling” membrane?

Live pigs for food on an interstellar mission with resource issues?

“Expelling her lungs” Ooo. Ugly mental picture.

Words of the week: actinic and ceramic.

They spend pages and pages lecturing the reader about how evolution caused all this, except most species of the Bowl of Heaven were genetically designed.

Lots of repetition. Leaves the reader suspecting no one read this all the way through after it was in final form. In fact, the whole thing seems dashed off.

How does the story turn out? No clue. It doesn’t end, it stops. One of those “to be continued” books which authors and publishers love these days.

Why not one star? Because it’s a great set up and interesting cast.

Movie Review: Tomorrowland (Four Stars)

Movie Review: Tomorrowland Four Stars out of Five Disney needs to fire someone in their publicity department. They may know all about publicizing fantasy movies, but they know nothing about advertising science fiction movies. Like Disney’s 2012 flop John Carter, the publicity misses the whole point of the movie. They bollixed it up.

This movie is about hope. Do you get that from any of the ads or previews? No. It’s also not a family movie.  It’s for teens and adults, not small children for whom many sequences are way too intense. Very human “robots” are dismembered violently. It’s a time travel, utopia versus dystopia, pessimists against the optimists. George Clooney doesn’t pontificate; that’s Hugh Laurie’s gig.

The movie is especially poignant to me because I attended the New York World’s Fair (featured in the movie) in 1964, though I remember most seeing Michaelangelo’s Pieta there. I first rode “It’s a Small World”, which also shown, in Disneyland in 1957. (Wish I’d had the pin.)

It’s a good movie. Not great in any sense, but an original story and potentially a good time.

Not really four stars, but I’m giving them extra credit for my having gone in curious and come out pleased.

Computers Hate Me

Once again my computer has deleted programs and documents. My defense systems were all in place, so it shouldn’t be an attack.

Yes, I’ll eventually drag it to the Geek Squad to resurrect, but I lose so much.

And, since I can’t find Control panel, I don’t even know where to look for the necessary controls.
Do they (the software gurus) realize how much users hate these new versions which hide everything necessary and familiar? I don’t hate computers; I hate them.
I built my first computer (with a Heathkit) in about 1982: a Z-18 with an 8-bit processor and 48 Kilobytes (KILObytes) of memory.
I have no clue how modern computers work. (Just like this program which refuses to insert carriage returns where instructed.) And neither do you, if you’re normal. It might as well be magic. But whether good or bad magic is less clear.

Book Review: Tricked by Kevin Hearne (Two stars)

Book Review: Tricked (The Iron Druid Chronicles #4) by Kevin Hearne

Two stars out of Five

Same old, same old. Hearne has a good formula, but it is a formula and, by book # 4, it’s stale. And predictable. He fluffs it up by shifting locales and mythic traditions to the Navajo Nation. Still, too many tales told.

I listened on audio. The voices were good, except for Oberon, Atticus’ dog. The whole business of Oberon conversing with the druid doesn’t work for me, but it gives Hearne a sock puppet to ask dumb questions and comic relief. It also distances Hearne from sillier lines, “[Francis] Bacon is the way and the truth.” A line which Oberon repeats.

Will probably not delve further up this tree. (Though the attached sample chapter reveals that Book #5 is set twelve years after Book #4, which raises all sorts of continuity and consistency questions about the first books.)

For those who wish to venture further, #7 comes out next month. Get reading.

Ceres Keeps Her Mystery

NASA Image

NASA Image

NASA has released the most detailed photographs yet of the mysterious spots on the dwarf planet Ceres, and they are … mysterious.

Some years ago (2008) I wrote a science fiction short story which assumed that human development of the asteroid belt would center on Ceres because of its abundant water.

Provocative, aren’t they?

What do you think they are?

Book Review: Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett (Three Stars)

Book Review: Monstrous Regiment (Discworld #31) by Terry Pratchett

Three Stars out of Five

Vintage Pratchett. Even for those who have gotten tired of his Discworld silliness will find this a fresh, engaging–if predictable–story. No spoiler could be bigger than the title, drawn, like half a dozen other modern works, from John Knox’s 1558 polemic. That said, enjoy the ride.

I enjoyed on audio book and was amazed now reader Stephen Briggs differentiated all those voices. Yes, many were clichés for vampires, trolls and such, but creating and producing so many must have been mind-numbing. Good job.

Perhaps not great literature but definitely great fun.

How to Succeed at Failing

I’m in North Carolina attending the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference.

This year’s keynote speeches have all been first class, but last night Torry Martin went beyond the usual instruction or encouragement to tell us how to deal with failure, using his recent experiences as illustrations.

Some of his concluding remarks follow:
You have to fight; you can’t not try. Go down swinging.
Failure is okay, but when failure wants to cuddle you’ve got to stop it.
It’s okay to be a failure; don’t be a quitter.
You have to fail to succeed.
To fail is human; getting back up is an act of courage.
Keep your eyes on God; let Him plan it.
How you handle failure is as important as how you handle success.
Do you want God’s plan or your plan?
Failure creates opportunities.

The pain of regret is greater than the pain of failure.
Getting humbled occasionally is good.
Failing is okay; quitting is not.

Later Edie Melson observed, “’Happily ever after’ doesn’t come without a price.”

You should have been there.

Traveling Vietnam Wall Memorial in KC this Weekend

Lest we forget. Our military in that era were largely draftees–not volunteers–but most of them served and suffered just the same. And many faced hostility at home, even though they had nothing to do with the policy making.

Misty Midwest Mossiness

Free to the public. Opens this Friday at 2:30 pm staying through Memorial Day.

Posted from WordPress for Android via my Samsung smartphone. Please excuse any misspellings. Ciao, Jon

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Forgotten Suns by Judith Tarr Three Stars

Forgotten Suns by Judith Tarr

Three stars out of Five

Almost quit after five pages. Glad I stuck with it. Well-told, imaginative science fiction with bursts into new frontiers. Nice capture of the thrill of archeology and anthropology.

First book I’ve read with post-Islamic characters. No graphic language, violence or sex issues, though Tarr diminished one of her primary cast by having her go into heat over someone in almost each new world she encountered.

If I was to quibble it’s that Tarr was so busy being politically correct that it occasionally clashed with her story. Interestingly, that issue seems to have invaded the science fiction awards process: “The Cultural Wars Invade Science Fiction.” What is PC depends on “a certain point of view.”

The cover art was pretty but had nothing to do with the story.

Still, a decent read.

Myths as Truths

“A myth is just a religion that has fallen into disrepute.”

So Joanne Harris asserts on John Scalzi’s Whatever blog (May 8, 2015). She is peddling her book The Gospel of Loki, so she can be excused, but that’s backward. Myths usually precede religions.

Myths are the way a people explained their origin, nature and history. It’s how we make sense of the world around them. We admit a metaphorical element in the stories, but essentially—and that’s the whole point, the “essence”—they are true. They explain what nature is, who we are, and how and why things works as they do.

They are also separable from religion in that myths generally have no fixed structure to determine and enforce orthodoxy. Religions have sacred texts, gatekeepers, evangelists and inquisitors, even the secular religions which deny religion. Myths operate at a more subliminal level. The very act of codifying myths marks their transformation into religions.

Myths explain the unexplainable. It is the primordial soup of religion, yes, but also of culture, science, history and literature. Its power is in explaining, regardless of truth and falseness.

As such myths are still with us. Historical and political myths explain who we are and how we function in society. They help us define “us” and “them,” the most important activity of most folks over age two. They help us filter the avalanche of data which threatens to bury us.

Mythology is as much a part of our lives today as in ancient Greece or Norway. Today’s myths undergird the self-evident truths of our lives.

As Harris observes, “The stories we tell say more about us than we know.”