My Seven Wonders of the World, #4

roman-road

Appian Way near Rome (www.keyword-suggestions.com)

Roman Roads, including bridges and aqueducts, but not monuments and buildings. The Romans didn’t just grade the path and lay out some stones, they built their roads like buildings. They built their roads to last, and last they did.

To this day Europe, western Asia and North Africa are crisscrossed with the veins of Roman military, commercial and administrative governance. They anticipated modern highways for defense and commerce.
Seemingly, all the straight roads in England were laid out by the Romans. Over mountains, across rivers, or through bogs, the Roman demonstrated that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. The Watling Street from Exeter to Lincoln stretches 293 kilometers, never more than ten kilometers from a straight line.

aquaduct

(Caesarea Maritime aqueduct in Israel. My photograph)

Over the years we encountered Roman roads in England, Germany, Italy (of course), Greece, Turkey, and Israel. The adage about all roads leading to Rome may not be true, but the roads connected an empire for a thousand years, and many remain under roads and bridges still used today. (You’d think we could make a road last a hundred years.)

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Book Review: Night Train to Rigel by Timothy Zahn Four Stars

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Book Review: Night Train to Rigel (Quadrail #1) by Timothy Zahn

Four Stars

“You humans are without a doubt the most hunch-driven species in the galaxy.”

Good story telling and plot. Enough layers to protagonist, companion, and various antagonists to keep the reader guessing. Frank Compton is either very lucky or very unlucky. Either way, he’ll be lucky to get through this alive.

“You’re making a big mistake.” “I do it all the time. I’m used to it.’

Quibble: Why the “clack” of the Quadrail passing over “expansion joints”? Why not ride above the rails, like magnetic levitation? Especially since … (but that would be telling.)

“The procedure was standard … and not to be trifled with merely because it didn’t happen to make sense.”

Book Report: Time is the Simplest Thing by Clifford D. Simak (Three Stars)

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Book Report: Time is the Simplest Thing by Clifford D. Simak

Three Stars

“A good newspaper man sticks out the neck whenever there is need to.”

Imagine a Harry Potter world where the muggles not only knew magicians existed but feared and hated them.

“It had taken the orderly mind which science had drummed into the human race to make [paranormal kinetics] finally work.”

As usual, lots of preaching. Simak’s stuff may have been cutting edge half a century ago but it boring now. Unlike however many modern SF writers, he managed to get the science right so the story is not glaringly dated by the sea change in technology since. (Do you know what a “lunch pail” is?)

“A good idea to have a line of retreat laid out.”

Premise: man is trapped. Simak’s essentially correct, man is trapped on earth. Decades of science fiction notwithstanding, humans will never walk freely on the Moon nor Mars even if they were terraformed to earth-likeness because both lack a magnetosphere. The radiation would eventually kill all exposed life.  The same applies for travel (at non-relativistic speeds). We’re trapped (for now).

“The finger of God stretched out to touch your heart.”

My Seven Wonders of the World, #3

temple-mount

Temple Mount of Jerusalem

 

(AVRAHAM GRAICER, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index)

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem has been a focus of history and religious devotion and fanaticism for three millennia. Three faith’s hold it to be the site where Abraham offered his son (Genesis), though they disagree which son was offered. It was the site of Solomon’s, Zerubbabel’s (Nehemiah?) and Herod’s temples in the tenth and sixth centuries BC and first century AD.

Some assert that Herod’s Temple was only the second, as the building of the third temple will supposedly trigger the Apocalypse, but historically Herod’s Temple was the third Jewish temple built on this site. Calling it a reconstruction of Zerubbabel’s sanctuary would compare to Continue reading

Book Review: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

Five Stars

“How we seek to spend our time may depend on how much we perceive ourselves to have.”

“We want autonomy for ourselves and safety for those we love.”

This book should be read by everyone who expects to die, which excuses half of us. Americans today deny that life will end, often in unpleasant circumstances. Our head-in-the-sand attitude only makes our dilemma worse.

“Twenty-five percent of all Medicare spending is for five percent of patients in the final year of life … most of little apparent benefit.”

Better solutions are possible, but we have to seek and demand them. Left to themselves, the medical and government communites will treat us like high-cost, low-success science experiments.

“The closing phase of a modern life often looks like a mounting series of crises from which medicine can offer Continue reading

Book Review: Hunter by Mercedes Lackey Three Stars

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Book Review: Hunter (Hunter #1) by Mercedes Lackey

Three Stars

“This wasn’t a job you picked, it’s a job that picks you.”

Lost a star in the last fifty pages. Great setup. Great storytelling. Good world building, wonderful voice and emerging character for the narrator, then shifted focus to an artificial “test” and a fake ending, obviously expecting readers to rush to buy the next volume. Note to writers: you have to deliver the goods–at least some goods–in the first book or no one will buy the rest.

“Guilt and self-loathing tend to make you cranky.”

The premise: what if all the evil spirits of all world traditions were real. And what if Continue reading

Book Review: Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer Two Stars

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Book Review: Too Like the Lightning (Terra Ignota #1) by Ada Palmer

Two Stars

“I am the window through which you watch the coming storm. He is the lightning.”

Disappointing. This work starts as an interesting futuristic mystery but degenerates into soft porn. Hard to believe that everyone from the street sweepers to the heads of the major population blocks all lust after each other like hormonal teens.

“We did not know that the threads sustaining the moral warp of our society were so interconnected until we pulled one.”

Not the first volume of a multi volume work, but the first half of the first volume. The story didn’t end so much as stop. Felt cheated. This work was just a long introduction.

“Overconfidence is frequently fatal.”

Talk about your unreliable narrator …. Lots of potentially engaging philosophic points: some leading to lengthy monologues, some to sexual trysts. Intentionally and boringly sacrilegious, like Continue reading

My Seven Wonders of the World, #2

The second in a series of seven articles about the seven man-made objects/sites I found most amazing. You mileage is sure to vary.

My #2 is Stonehenge.

stonehenge

commons.wikipedia.org image

Equally old, evocative and challenging as the Giza Pyramid group is the Stonehenge of Wiltshire, England. Stonehenge is a series of concentric circular monuments started as early as 8000 B. C. Most visible today are the remains of Stonehenge designated 3aII, built during the twenty-sixth century B. C., about the same time as Khufu’s Pyramid.

Stonehenge is best seen on quiet days without the crazies. (Like the Pyramids, Stonehenge was built long before Continue reading

My Seven Wonders of the World, #1

Noodling around the internet “researching” something else, I ran across a New Wonders of the World list. Based on a poll run by an outfit in Switzerland, it was mostly a popularity contest. Several of the listed “wonders” can be rejected outright: neither the Statue of Liberty in New York nor Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro are wonders. Large statues, but neither the largest nor the most significant. Too modern. Ditto the Eiffel Tower. Petra and the Taj Mahal at least showed endurance.

So, I jotted down a list of seven wonders, then realized that I had actually seen only four of them. How can I judge the wonder-value of something I’ve only seen in photographs? Therefore, I started over, listing seven manmade structures which moved me when I experienced them. Rather than just list the seven, I’ll devote a short article to each. Along with a picture. Unfortunately, I visited some before the era of digital photography and, while I took pictures of each, I’d be hard pressed to find them now, and they’d be slides, prints or negatives.

The current mode would start at number seven and work up to number one, but that doesn’t work because, even if any of you have seen them, there can be only one greatest manmade wonder of the world. Even the ancients agreed. In fact, this group of structures was ancient when the ancients made their list. And is the only surviving wonder of the original list. I’m referring, of course, to:

1. The Great Pyramids at Giza, Egypt.

giza-pyramids

commons.wikimedia.org

The Giza Pyramids are perhaps the only “gimmee” on the list. No one who sees them can miss their gigantic proportions and simplicity of form. When I saw the Pyramids in March 1983, I was prepared beforehand to be underwhelmed because I expected them not to live up to the hype. We stayed at the Mena House Hotel (a significant historical site itself) just down the hill from Khufu’s Pyramid. (The Mena House starts on the edge of the picture, by the golf course.) The first afternoon we walked up the hill to see for ourselves.

Approached that way, Khufu’s Pyramid shields those of Khafre and Menkaure. Khufu’s Pyramid isn’t just big, it’s so big that your sense of proportion is jarred. Impressive? It’s as impressive–no, more impressive in person. In addition to the three great pyramids Continue reading

Book Review: Waking the Fire by Anthony Ryan (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Waking the Fire (The Draconis Memoria #1) by Anthony Ryan

Four Stars

“Overreliance on your ingrained gifts can be deadly.”

Steampunk with dragons! What fun. Excellent world and character building. Enough double-crossing (of the reader) to keep our attention. Literary, musical, costume and historical references gives depth to various cultures. Excellent storytelling.

“… like all choices it involves consequences.”

Quibbles: The principal river of the focus continent has two outlets and seems to flow uphill. Glorifying smoking? How quaint. (Odd that this culture had not developed blood-augments flying/floating machines.)

“The great commander is nothing more than a pig fat on the blood of wasted youth.”

Even though the climax was what the reader comes to expect, it seems contrived. Too obviously a setup for the next book, rather than the logical end to this one.

“Overconfidence is frequently fatal.”