24 December 2014

Your tablet computer is screwing up your sleep patterns

A new Harvard study is re-affirming the assertion that reading light-emitting e-books before bed, like computer tablets, could have a detrimental effect on sleep, which can in turn lead to serious health problems.

You may already be familiar with the suggestions that too much exposure to light, both before and after we go to bed, can be disruptive to our sleep patterns. The problem is that, as diurnal creatures, our bodies respond poorly to suppressed releases of the brain chemical melatonin, which is emitted when we're exposed to darkness. And when we're deprived of sleep, we become prone to some rather serious conditions, including an increased risk of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and prostate cancer. At the same time, the subsequent triggering of cortisol introduces another set of problems related to body-fat levels, insulin resistance, and systematic inflammation.

What the heck? Note the reference to "light-emitting e-books" only, not e-ink displays, but this still sounds serious.

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Read more HERE.

17 December 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Our Cosmic Ancestors by Maurice Chatelain

Our Cosmic AncestorsOur Cosmic Ancestors by Maurice Chatelain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A former NASA expert documents evidence left in codes inscribed on ancient monuments pointing to the existence of an advanced prehistoric civilization regularly visited (and technologically assisted) by ETs.

Our Cosmic Ancestors is a dynamic work unraveling the messages of these "universal astronauts" and decoding the symbols and visual mathematics they have left for us in the Egyptian Pyramids, Stonehenge, the Mayan calendar, the Maltese Cross and the Sumerian zodiac.

The book is captivating reading from beginning to end. However Mr. Chatelain's purpose in sharing these exciting discoveries lies in the hope that all humans will extend their horizons, to release fear of the unknown just enough that another generation will exhibit growing curiosity to continue the search for signs of purposeful nurturing of this planet.

I have seen this book referred to in many other works which explore the idea of ancient aliens and extraterrestrial intervention, etc. and therefore was keen to delve into it for myself. It's a good book and it's written rather well, especially Chatelain's colorful descriptions of how he believes things may have happened in our planet's distant past. For the book as a whole to really make sense we must accept that, in Chatelain's own words "...these mysteries have just one explanation, the intervention of astronauts from another world, who came, just as the Bible tells us, to create, educate, and civilize a new human race in their own image". While not quite as fully convinced as the author, I do firmly believe that the history of the human race differs somewhat to the established view of 'science' and that which we are taught at school. I've always thought that to adequately explain many things from ancient times, based on what remains today, there must have been a whole lot more knowledge and technology in use than we give credit for, including certain abilities to move objects and manipulate matter like the huge monuments and engineering feats that we could not accomplish today even with modern equipment. The author is right, contact with advanced extraterrestrial beings could explain so many of these anomalies (and the evidence for this hypothesis is actually rather abundant) and therein lies the idea of this book. Chatelain uses a lot of numbers and mathematics at times, but makes no apologies for this because one needs to look at the numbers for proof of much of this particular subject, like how the ancients had a thorough understanding of complex geometry and astronomy which lead to amazingly accurate constructions and celestial calendars, etc. This list goes on, and this book outlines the notion in a concise fashion that works well for readers who are not mathematicians or scientists, the layperson if you will (like me). Overall a recommended read for those people with a thirst for understanding of the world around us, and the universe as a whole.

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14 December 2014

Sci-fi art by Chris Foss

Time for some more awesome sci-fi artwork, this time from the supremely talented Chris Foss. His art has appeared on the covers of so many books over the years. He's one of my all-time favorites and I really enjoy the imagery that he creates which has always helped me to visualise the stories so clearly. Check out his website HERE.

13 December 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Ivory by Mike Resnick

Ivory (Birthright #14)Ivory by Mike Resnick
My rating: 5 out of 5

In the year 6303, when earth is bare of anything larger than an insect or a mouse and most people have left for the stars, Duncan Rojas receives a most unusual visitor. His name is Bukoba Mandaka, and he is the last of the Maasai.
Mandaka wants Rojas, senior researcher for Braxton's Records of Big Game, to find the tusks of the Kilimanjaro Elephant, tusks that weigh over 200 lb each. Why? Mandaka will not say, but he will pay enormous sums for them. And Rojas cannot resist the challenge of tracing something lost for 3000 years.
Back and forth through time, in card games, wars, and rivalries, Rojas searches. But as he begins to glimpse the elusive, lost power of ancient Africa, he is seduced, and before long the quest has become his own.

With Ivory, Mike Resnick has created a powerful novel spanning worlds and centuries, an exploration of the nature of history and legend, and a riveting parable for our times.

***** *** *****

What an epic story, and so powerful. I don't think that anyone with a soul could NOT be moved by this tale. A researcher on a distant planet is tasked with the challenge of locating a pair of enormous elephant tusks from an animal that died thousands of years prior on Earth, and the man wishing to obtain the tusks is quite an enigma, with a very profound reason for wanting the tusks. Mike Resnick spins the yarn in his usual style, which is incredibly easy to read and confirms again that he is one of the best storytellers of any genre.

Set in the Birthright universe with the usual impressive array of wonderful alien worlds and species with their associated differences, the story remains firmly rooted back on Earth in the wide open spaces of Africa. I approached the book very relaxed and in no hurry, but the pace of the story is steady if not brisk, and I soon found myself progressing through at quite a good rate. While it has quite a serious tone, Ivory is a book that, while reading it, I found myself smiling and chuckling away quietly at many of the goings on surrounding the twists and turns of the journey of the the elusive tusks. The way that the book also follows, as chapter introductions, the original quest of the impressive Kilimanjaro elephant who grew the ivory, is in wonderful contrast to the future galaxy in which the main body of the story takes place. In fact, I thought that one of the best sections is the least "sci-fi" of the book, a portion of the story set in the late 19th century describing the hunt for the elephant across wild African plains. The conclusion of the story is very satisfying and sobering, leaving you in a contemplative state of mind like many of the other stories in Resnick's Birthright universe.

Apart from some of the action sequences being quite brief, this book is simply brilliant, the dialogue is wonderful and I really felt like I was "in the room" with the characters, listening to the conversations, seeing the looks on their faces and sensing their emotions. This is easily the best of Resnick's work that I've read so far, and goes right into the top group of my all-time favorite fiction books. There are so many more of his stories that I am yet to read and if they're half as good as Ivory then that is a very, very exciting prospect.

12 December 2014

BAST10N Science Fiction Magazine - NEWS

Unexpected and unfortunate news from the people at BAST10N Science Fiction Magazine:

December 08, 2014

Hi folks,

Personal issues in the lives of our staff have caused Bastion to have to put a hold on things. We're not doing any silly good-byes because, as the title of this news update suggests, this is temporary. When we are able to resume our normal publication schedule, we'll update the site and let everyone know. Thanks for your support and patience.

R. Leigh Hennig

Let's hope that those affected will make a speedy recovery and this exciting new sci-fi magazine is back soon. I have recieved an email reply from the editor and he assures me that it really is only a temporary measure.

All the best BAST10N - you're awesome.

02 December 2014

BAST10N Science Fiction Magazine - Issue #9

BAST10N Science Fiction Magazine delivers you amazing works of the strange and fantastic on the first of every month.

Issue #9 for December 2014 is out now.

Issue #9 contents:
“Diaspora” by Daniel Rosen -- listen to the audio recording
“Koi” by Jes Rausch
“On a Frail Branch Bending” by Kaitlin McCloughan
“The Junkman” by Nicholas Stillman
“There Was a Crash” by Izmaire Todd
“Adiophoria” by William B. Squirrell
"Mr. Cicada" by Garrick Fincham

Head over to their website or over to Weightless Books to get your individual copies or subscription to this excellent new sci-fi magazine.

24 November 2014

BOOK REVIEW: The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

The Three-Body Problem (Three Body, #1)The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With the scope of Dune and the commercial action of Independence Day, Three-Body Problem is the first chance for English-speaking readers to experience this multiple-award-winning phenomenon from China’s most beloved science fiction author, Liu Cixin.

Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.

I'd first heard of Cixin Liu a couple years ago and knew that he was a well respected and awarded Chinese author, and after I'd read a couple of his shorter works I was very keen to read The Three Body Problem when it's English version appeared. I can most assuredly say that we've got here one very good hard science fiction novel, and it's only the beginning of a longer saga that sounds like it's going to be a real beauty. Being hard sci-fi, which is not usually my preferred flavour, I found some portions of the story a tad arduous, but not exactly difficult to read. These portions were specifically where we're taken into the virtual reality world of the Three Body computer game, and the main protagonist's adventures and discoveries therein. However, further into the book the information given through these scenes makes absolute sense and is actually a crucial part of the story, which paints the background superbly and fits with the whole story really well. The Chinese Cultural Revolution is an unusual but appropriate backdrop, and it's superbly written so that we can connect easily with the characters and their trials and tribulations of that period. I was going to award four stars to this book due to the previously mentioned "arduous" sections, but the whole story came together so well toward the end that it earned the fifth star. The next book in the series is due out in English in July 2015 and I will be reading that to see where this fascinating story goes next. Based on what I've read of Liu's so far, I reckon it's a safe bet that it'll be fantastic.

View all my reviews

20 November 2014

New science fiction magazine

Short fiction is great, especially sci-fi short fiction. It's the best format for this genre in my humble opinion, and it's where sci-fi really got it's start in the first place, in the pulp magazines. I currently subscribe to Analog and also the relatively new Galaxy's Edge and enjoy both very much and I always get something out of reading both of these fine magazines.

Probably the newest kid on the block (in the English-speaking world anyway) is BAST10N Science Fiction Magazine. It's been around for just under a year and publishes monthly, issue number 8 being current. They claim to publish "short stories reminiscent of the golden age" which really appeals to me, and the fantastic artwork on their website supports this idea.

This from their website:

Bastion is a new science fiction magazine publishing digitally on the first of every month. Each issue will contain 7 to 9 original short stories. Our yearly anthology will be available in both digital and print formats in early December. Immediate goals for our young magazine include establishing a solid reader base so our contributors can get paid professional rates for their work. As writers ourselves, we understand the importance of getting compensated for an author's work, so we evaluate what we can offer our authors each month. Additionally, we do our best to respond meaningfully to each submission within a reasonable amount of time, since we understand how frustrating it can be to wait for weeks or months without ever hearing back. We're also working toward becoming a qualifying market for the Science Fiction Writer's Association, which we hope will help to develop our contributor's professional qualifications.

Finally, although we do what we can to focus on our contributors, our ultimate goal is to publish stories of the highest quality for our readers.

As we're in the process of expanding and developing a reader base, we'd love it if you would tell your friends about us.

Sounds pretty good to me, enough so that I've just bought Issue 8 from Weightless Books and will put that in the queue to be read soon.

18 November 2014

The possibility of other life "out there"

Have you, like me, ever wondered about the possibility of life on other planets, around other stars, even close to home in our own solar system? And this can be further broken down into either primitive life forms (bacteria, plants or even animals) or intelligent life forms. I long for the discovery of either, preferably with the latter.

I have a firm belief in a Creator, I find that there's too much wild speculation in the theory of evolution helped along by random chance, and requires from me a higher level of faith than does the belief in a superior Creator being. There is plenty of scope within my belief to encompass other life. I wonder if my fellow humans share my enthusiasm or optimism? Or do they react with fear and distaste, startled by the concept? It could be, whether it's that they simply don't think about such things, don't care, or maybe are afraid of finding out that we share space with beings that might even be far more advanced than ourselves. I will admit that prospect does sound a tiny bit scary.

The reason I ask this? I got thinking about the idea after reading the words of a passage in the book that I am currently enjoying. The book is The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu and the passage is where two characters are discussing SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). The point made here, albeit in a fictional context, is interesting:

"Wang knew that it was only within the last couple of years that serious and systematic consideration had been given to the question of how and to what degree human societies would be influenced by establishing contact with extraterrestrial intelligence, but the research had rapidly gained interest, and the conclusions were shocking.
Naïve, idealistic hopes had been shattered. Scholars found that, contrary to the happy wishes of most people, it was not a good idea for the human race as a whole to make contact with extraterrestrials. The impact of such contact on human society would be divisive rather than uniting, and would exacerbate rather than mitigate the conflicts between different cultures. In summary, if contact were to occur, the internal divisions within Earth civilization would be magnified and likely lead to disaster. The most shocking conclusion of all was that the impact would have nothing at all to do with the degree and type of contact (unidirectional or bidirectional), or the form and degree of advancement of the alien civilization."

I don't know if the author has used factual study findings here, but it certainly is thought-provoking. Do many of Earth's citizens fear the idea so?

I for one, live with the hope that one day we will meet some amazing new beings and become firm friends, sharing who we are and what we know. We will hopefully learn from each other, both the good and the not so good, and be able to enrich each others' existence and help make our giant community a better place, full of wonder and enlightenment.

A dreamer? Yes. An idealist? In some ways. I just want us as a species to fulfill a positive destiny and maybe even enjoy the company of some other folks along the way.

Not so crazy is it?

11 November 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Devourer by Liu Cixin

Devourer Devourer by Liu Cixin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A crystalline structure floating through the depths of space bears tidings of destruction: “The Devourer approaches!”

Countless cables, thousands of miles long, are lowered from the Devourer's inside wall to the Planet's surface below. An entire world is trapped, like a fly in the web of a cosmic spider. Giant transport modules are then sent back and forth between earth and Devourer, taking with them the planet's oceans and atmosphere.

This short novel is a real gem, it's a fun and thought provoking read from an interesting and obviously skilled Chinese author. It's been translated beautifully because there were no hints of translation at all that I could detect. The story details themselves are relatively standard sci-fi ideas, but it's the 'human' aspect that impressed me, and Liu presents humanity interestingly in the light of the alien invaders. I was a little reminded of the work of John Scalzi and his Old Man's War universe novels, mainly by the dialogue and philosophical ideas, and I mean this as a huge compliment. Overall a solid story that I really recommend to any sci-fi reader.

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24 October 2014

How To Be An Effective Liar

Lying is considered a bad thing, but ask anyone to justify a lie that they’ve told and they probably can. When and where you should lie is your call, but if you have to do it here’s how to do it effectively...

18 October 2014

BOOK REVIEW: The Abyss Beyond Dreams by Peter F. Hamilton

The Abyss Beyond Dreams: A Novel of the CommonwealthThe Abyss Beyond Dreams by Peter F. Hamilton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The year is 3326. Nigel Sheldon, one of the founders of the Commonwealth, receives a visit from the Raiel—self-appointed guardians of the Void, the enigmatic construct at the core of the galaxy that threatens the existence of all that lives. The Raiel convince Nigel to participate in a desperate scheme to infiltrate the Void.

Once inside, Nigel discovers that humans are not the only life-forms to have been sucked into the Void, where the laws of physics are subtly different and mental powers indistinguishable from magic are commonplace. The humans trapped there are afflicted by an alien species of biological mimics—the Fallers—that are intelligent but merciless killers.

Yet these same aliens may hold the key to destroying the threat of the Void forever—if Nigel can uncover their secrets. As the Fallers’ relentless attacks continue, and the fragile human society splinters into civil war, Nigel must uncover the secrets of the Fallers—before he is killed by the very people he has come to save.

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Outstanding. There's not really another word for this book. Being a huge fan of the Commonwealth Saga and the Void trilogy, this went straight to the top of my reading list. And what a book! The story is built inside the same amazing universe as those previous works, but new readers will not struggle either, as Hamilton has created an entirely new story thread and provides enough background information to support it if you have not read the other Commonwealth Saga books. There's been some debate as to whether you can approach this book as a stand alone or if you'd be better served reading the previous Commonwealth books. I think that you could, and this is what the author intended. Actually set before the events of the Void trilogy, Nigel Sheldon is commissioned by the Raiel to be transported inside the Void to attempt to find out it's secrets. What he discovers is amazing, and the story that follows is wonderful and a full-on page-turner. I devoured this book effortlessly, because the plot and writing are so good. Actually, I found it easier to read than any other Peter F Hamilton novel that I've read previously, but I'm not sure if it was just the wonderful story or something about his style that did it. The story gallops along at a enjoyable pace and the plot gradually twists itself up enough to set up for the second book in the series nicely, but at the same time reaching a satisfying conclusion. This is a fantastic novel that clearly demonstrates Hamilton's wonderful talent. He's one of the best. Read it, you won't be disappointed.

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12 October 2014

Science Has Great News for People Who Read Actual Books

It's no secret that reading is good for you. Just six minutes of reading is enough to reduce stress by 68%, and numerous studies have shown that reading keeps your brain functioning effectively as you age. One study even found that elderly individuals who read regularly are 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer's than their peers. But not all forms of reading are created equal.

The debate between paper books and e-readers has been vicious since the first Kindle came out in 2007. Most arguments have been about the sentimental versus the practical, between people who prefer how paper pages feel in their hands and people who argue for the practicality of e-readers. But now science has weighed in, and the studies are on the side of paper books.

Read about why HERE over at mic.com

11 October 2014

Introverts - we're not wierdos

1. a shy person.
2. Psychology a person characterized by concern primarily with his or her own thoughts and feelings (opposed to extrovert).

Being very much toward the introvert end of the scale, I wish everyone knew this...

22 September 2014

BOOK REVIEW: The Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson

The Dark Between the StarsThe Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Twenty years after the elemental conflict that nearly tore apart the cosmos in The Saga of Seven Suns, a new threat emerges from the darkness. The human race must set aside its own inner conflicts to rebuild their alliance with the Ildiran Empire for the survival of the galaxy.

Galactic empires clash, elemental beings devastate whole planetary systems, and factions of humanity are pitted against each other. Heroes rise and enemies make their last stands in the climax of an epic tale seven years in the making.

"It has been twenty years since the events of The Saga of the Seven Suns, in which an ancient war among four elemental races is reignited and nearly destroys both the human race and the alien Ildirans. The new Confederation has governed human civilization across its many colonized planets since the end of the Elemental War, and relations between the humans and Ildirans are harmonious. Peace and commerce have been restored, with the Roamers back in the business of mining and selling the valuable stardrive fuel ekti (required for faster-than-light travel) and the green priests of Theroc providing instantaneous trans-galactic communication via their sentient worldtrees. But the malevolent Klikiss robots are plotting their revenge from exile, and soon find an ally in the ancient Shana Rei, the destructive personification of darkness and chaos which has awakened from millennia of slumber to destroy all sentient life in the universe."

When I saw this published I knew straight away that I'd need to read it having immensely enjoyed Anderson's Saga of Seven Suns series a few years ago. This book is effectively a continuation of that series after a number of years have elapsed, and the first of a planned trilogy of space opera novels called the The Saga of Shadows. Kevin J Anderson has a writing style that I love, his stories flow beautifully and this is no different - unsurprisingly. It's nice to be immersed again in this universe, and for me particularly nice to go back to the forest world of Theroc, home of the sentient Worldforest and the green priests who are able to use worldtrees for instantaneous communication. I absolutely love Theroc and ever since first reading about it, has been one of my favorite fictional sci-fi locations. This planet is now the hub of human government in the Spiral Arm, after Earth and it's moon have been badly damaged, and there is still a slightly uneasy alliance with the Ildirans. The Roamers, a loose confederation of independent humans, are still scattered about the place in often the most unusual places and the various splinter colonies of humans and Ildirans coexist together, but everyone is still recovering from the "Elemental War" from earlier. The various elemental beings from before are present in the story in varying degrees, some dormant and some quite visible and active. Also present as a major character is Rlinda Kett, my favorite character from the last series, now a large scale (in more ways than one) business woman with a large fleet of interstellar transport ships. Essentially, it felt like I was coming home to a universe that I really like being immersed in. Having said that, I don't believe that a reader new to Anderson's Seven Suns universe will be lost here, because he adds plenty of background information snippets to fill any storyline gaps that pop up occasionally. Over the first half of the book the story cruises along nicely, with the foundation being laid for what is surely going to be another epic tale. After that, things really bolt ahead and we get a glimpse at the direction that the series is going to take. Just as a major new turn takes place and we're introduced to a new and ancient species in the galaxy, the book ends and leaves us hanging and happily waiting for the next book. Yes, I loved it and I think any fan of space opera will. It lacks some of the depth of some other space opera epics 
(like Hamilton's Commonwealth Saga/Void Trilogy), and for this reason it missed out on it's fifth star from me. However, it's a massively fun story and a very well written tale that kept me hooked at every point.

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14 September 2014

01 September 2014

BOOK REVIEW: The Contact Episode Two by Albert Sartison

The Contact Episode TwoThe Contact Episode Two by Albert Sartison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The ascendancy of mankind is being decided on Jupiter 

In the 22nd century, mankind assimilated the Solar System within the orbits of the inner planets, and was gradually moving further out, beyond the asteroid belt, onward towards the outer planets. 

The recently discovered technology of remote manipulation gave people the capability of altering the orbit of celestial bodies of planetary size, which laid the foundation of a new era for the human race: the terraforming age. The colonization of space beyond the limits of the Solar System became only a matter of time. 

Soon after the first successful test, changing the orbit of Mercury, a strange object moving from the depths of space towards the centre of the Solar System entered the field of vision of a telescope at an observatory in Chile…

Another solid four star installment of this nicely progressing story. We get some action in this one and it's not bad, and the plot makes a more dramatic turn. The steady ramping up of the story is good, and the action scene gives a quick blip in the pace before settling back into the familiar descriptive and informative hard sci-fi style. I particularly enjoyed the author's depiction and description of the medical procedures happening in the automated medical complex on the ship. I normally would gloss over such things but it is obviously well written because I liked it. I was however a little frustrated at the author's use of the word 'turbines' to describe his spaceship engines. I can't imagine that a turbine engine (ie. mechanically-driven compressor and/or propshaft) would be found on a space vehicle flying in the vacuum of space 200 years in the future. Surely a 'nuclear fusion generated plasma jet' or something along those lines would be more likely? Anyway, a minor point that does not detract from this fun read.

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30 August 2014

BOOK REVIEW: The Contact Episode One by Albert Sartison

The Contact Episode OneThe Contact Episode One by Albert Sartison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The ascendancy of mankind is being decided on Jupiter...

In the 22nd century, mankind assimilated the Solar System within the orbits of the inner planets, and was gradually moving further out, beyond the asteroid belt, onward towards the outer planets. 

The recently discovered technology of remote manipulation gave people the capability of altering the orbit of celestial bodies of planetary size, which laid the foundation of a new era for the human race: the terraforming age. The colonization of space beyond the limits of the Solar System became only a matter of time. 

Soon after the first successful test, changing the orbit of Mercury, a strange object moving from the depths of space towards the centre of the Solar System entered the field of vision of a telescope at an observatory in Chile…

--::{{Available FREE from Amazon HERE or from Smashwords HERE (as of 30 Aug 2014)}}::--

This first episode to a larger first contact story is actually quite good. It's got a definite hard sci-fi flavor and is well written in the sense that the grammar is good and it flows well and therefore easy to read. It's set a few hundred years in the future which is cool and the characters are real and believable and there's reasonable development of the main character Steve. I found that I liked the author's writing style and this actually enhanced the reading experience for me a lot. The plot follows Steve as he observes by telescope an object rapidly enter our solar system and go into orbit around Jupiter after demonstrating some peculiar and unlikely manoeuvres. It also begins to exhibit signs that it's probably not an inert piece of space material but quite possibly under some form of control. Eventually a group is assembled to oversee further investigation and and contact attempts with the mystery object. Steve is very much part of this group and so is the military (the "Space Force") so I'm guessing that things might get a lot more interesting. There is even a suggestion of a romantic interest for Steve too, but don't let that put you off (lol) and overall I would consider this to be a fine introduction to what sounds like a fascinating story. I see that the complete story of four episodes is available as a single volume but I've elected to continue the story in it's single episode format which I quite enjoy.

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26 August 2014

Nasty ebook DRM

Do you, like me, simply HATE the fact that some ebook publishers and sellers like to lock you down with DRM (Digital Rights Management) software on their ebook files? DRM is used by publishers to restrict what you can do with your ebooks. DRM controls which devices you can use to read your ebook, and stops you converting your ebooks from one format to another. Rude.

I firmly believe that once you've purchased said ebook, then it should be yours to do with however you wish within the bounds of the law, of course. But that is another rather open-ended argument...

I buy ebooks from a few different sources, and if they come encumbered with DRM I use a plugin with Calibre that easily strips that rubbish away. I am then able to convert, copy and share the ebook file as I wish. The way it should be.

If this is something that you wish to look into, I can wholly recommend Apprentice Alf’s blog which is "intended to help anyone looking for free and simple software for removing DRM from their Kindle ebooks, stripping DRM from their Adobe Digital Editions ebooks, getting rid of DRM from their Barnes and Noble ebooks, freeing their Kobo ebooks of DRM, deleting the DRM from their Sony eBooks, or decrypting their Fictionwise eReader ebooks."

A simple truth

I just had to post this. Now I know that it isn't a new saying, but I feel that it's one of the more profound strings of words that I've heard in a while.

22 August 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Lost Gold: The 100-year search for the gold reef of Northwest Nelson by Paul Bensemann

Lost Gold: The 100-year search for the gold reef of Northwest NelsonLost Gold: The 100-year search for the gold reef of Northwest Nelson by Paul Bensemann
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a young man in the mid-1970s, Paul Bensemann was told an archetypal ‘lost gold’ story by his neighbour, a tobacco farmer in the Motueka Valley on the edge of what is now Kahurangi National Park. The story concerned an old prospector who had found a huge exposed gold reef, shining in the sun, deep in the mountain wilderness of Northwest Nelson. Just before he died, the prospector drew a map, and to Paul’s amazement his neighbour then produced an old, tatty, hand-drawn map, which had been handed down to him from his father.

Since that meeting Paul has spent over 30 years trying to unravel this untold story, linking many different characters and their often obsessive and always secretive efforts to find this very New Zealand treasure. The search was originally triggered by Government geologists who found a huge quartz reef in 1908. It has since been pursued by many different prospectors, from bushmen on the West Coast to F.G. Gibbs, a prominent early Nelson identity.

Lost Gold follows the many twists and turns of this 105-year-old story, and tries to explain why the reef has never been rediscovered. But in the end, whether or not the reef exists is only part of the story, and perhaps the bigger treasure here is the real tale of men in pursuit of their own El Dorado.

Every so often a book drops into your lap that captures your attention immediately and holds it right through. This is one such book. It was given to me as a gift by my mother due to our family having a connection to the story. The tale of an alleged lost gold reef in the mountainous country up behind my hometown of Karamea, New Zealand has often been told to local people with an interest in the back country. I have very vague memories of my grandfather Stan Simkin, one of the gold hunters in the book, telling me short yarns about tramping around the mountains in all sorts of adverse weather but at the time I was a young lad and had no idea what he'd actually been doing up there. Also, I am familiar with the photo that ended up on the cover of this book because it belonged to my father Lewis and he'd also told me about the gold search. So, I wast most eager to learn more of this interesting local story/myth and what I eventually found out was so much more. The author's research is excellent and he's woven much local history and anecdotal information into the yarn. With this I discovered things about my hometown and even my family that I hadn't previously known. I'm familiar with many of the characters in the book, many now dead but many also still alive and kicking. It's a fascinating story and quite captivating, and fans those rumour flames in my mind. I do reckon that there's large quantities of gold and other valuable minerals in those mountains and also all over New Zealand, but I'm not quite sure I would like to see it extracted. But, back to the book in question; this is a very well written and well researched book about a fascinating topic. Anyone with an interest in New Zealand mining history and the outdoors will love this. I sure did, which came as a very pleasant surprise.

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A gold-bearing quartz reef

07 August 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Abaddon's Gate (Expanse, #3) by James S.A. Corey

Abaddon's Gate (Expanse, #3)Abaddon's Gate (Expanse, #3) by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The explosive third novel in James S.A. Corey's New York Times bestselling Expanse series.

For generations, the solar system -- Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt -- was humanity's great frontier. Until now. The alien artifact working through its program under the clouds of Venus has appeared in Uranus's orbit, where it has built a massive gate that leads to a starless dark.

Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are part of a vast flotilla of scientific and military ships going out to examine the artifact. But behind the scenes, a complex plot is unfolding, with the destruction of Holden at its core. As the emissaries of the human race try to find whether the gate is an opportunity or a threat, the greatest danger is the one they brought with them.

Number three in this wonderful Expanse series doesn't disappoint, just like the preceding two books. The same central characters remain, being the crew of the ship Rocinante and key members of the Outer Planets Alliance, and their journey to the outer reaches of our solar system to investigate the mysterious alien protomolecule construct is fraught with adventure. Typically good writing from the authors keeps things moving along fantastically and the action is as you would expect. It's very good. A small gripe is that I felt final battle for control of the Behemoth went on a bit too long and was kind of anticlimactic. The overall Expanse story is getting really interesting and it looks like we're finally going to go interstellar which is why I'm very keen to get into the next book.

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21 July 2014

BOOK REVIEW: The Grand Duke by Yann & Romain Hugault

The Grand DukeThe Grand Duke by Yann & Romain Hugault
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Eastern Front during the Second World War: Oberleutnant Wulf, a young Luftwaffe pilot, is horrified by Nazi barbarism and at odds with his fallow pilots, even as he finds himself taking to the skies to fight the infamous "Night Witches" - the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, the most decorated female unit in the Soviet Air Force. 

Motivated only by his desire to return home to his daughter, Romy, Wolf tries to survive the increasingly desperate and ferious Eastern Front, while Lilya, the "Red Witch," leads her comrades against the German invaders.

This graphic novel is a mixed bag in that it's got an average plot wrapped in amazing artwork. I found myself not caring much at all about the story because I was so thoroughly absorbed by the illustrations. This isn't the first book illustrated by Romain Hugault that I've read, and I'm again blown away by the detail and realism in his art. I was able to 'feel' the action, so to speak, and it's a real shame that the story line is mediocre. It's a run of the mill WW2 fighter pilot story told about two pilots, one German and the other a Soviet woman who began her combat career as one of the famous 'Night Witches'. These brave women pilots fly their simple biplane aircraft on night raids of German positions on the Eastern Front to deprive them of sleep and generally harass. The German chap, Wulf, is not a Nazi or a follower of Hitler whereas the beautiful Russian lass Lilya is a patriotic pin-up for the Soviets. Needless to say, when they cross paths (or flight paths) things are not altogether straightforward. Overall it's okay, but had it not been for the wonderful art, I wouldn't have finished it.

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20 July 2014

How is Science Fiction for you these days?

In the past twenty years or so science fiction has come a long way, in the movies anyway, but in books? I'm not so sure that it has, to be honest. Some really cool sci-fi movies have been made, Elysium and Oblivion are two examples that I thought were good films, but their basic premise was the same old stuff that we're being handed in so many recent books as well. That is a 'dystopian' concept of a ruined Earth and the hardships that it's inhabitants endure. I see there is a movie called Interstellar being released later this year that exhibits a similar story from what I can ascertain from the trailer. Now, I'm sure it's going to be an okay movie, but come on, haven't we had enough of this sort of stuff? Where is the hope and the excitement of possibilities?

It's not a foregone conclusion that the future is going to be bad for Earth or for us citizens. I also love the idea that we could discover habitable planets outside our solar system and maybe even other intelligent species with which to interact (hopefully peacefully), but more for the joy of wonder that it brings than the need to abandon our homeworld. I'm hoping that the outcome of the previously mentioned Interstellar movie will deliver some of this optimism. The movie Europa Report touched on the wonder of discovery somewhat even though the ending wasn't all that positive.

The same issue has often led me to the question "Is sci-fi getting better or worse as it gets older?" I'm referring more to the literary field, but the same question applies to all sci-fi mediums. I know that many others have been considering this as well and even writing some great essays on the subject. One I read recently is this article by well-known science fiction author Allen M Steele from a recent Asimov's Science Fiction magazine. Here, Steele addresses where sci-fi literature has come from, it's 'golden age' and where it appears to be heading.

It's interesting to note that science fiction has generally been a reflection of the general feeling of the society of the day from which it was produced. That being the case, are we that negative and pessimistic about our future? If so, I truly hope that this view changes and that more imaginative and wondrous sci-fi gets written for us dreamers. We may even discover other worlds and intelligent life out there.

That would be awesome.

Andromeda galaxy

09 July 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Caliban's War (Expanse, #2) by James S.A. Corey

Caliban's War (Expanse, #2)Caliban's War by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We are not alone.

On Ganymede, breadbasket of the outer planets, a Martian marine watches as her platoon is slaughtered by a monstrous supersoldier. On Earth, a high-level politician struggles to prevent interplanetary war from reigniting. And on Venus, an alien protomolecule has overrun the planet, wreaking massive, mysterious changes and threatening to spread out into the solar system.

In the vast wilderness of space, James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante have been keeping the peace for the Outer Planets Alliance. When they agree to help a scientist search war-torn Ganymede for a missing child, the future of humanity rests on whether a single ship can prevent an alien invasion that may have already begun . . .

This book made me read in a way that is different to how I normally would, in that I consciously took my time and even had to force myself to slow down periodically. This is the second book in the epic space opera series The Expanse, and you really begin to get a sense that there's so much more of the story ahead. This made me want to fully digest it and enjoy the fantastic storytelling. The world-building here is about as good as it gets in sci-fi, even though the overall story is still currently confined to our own solar system. The writing style is wonderful, and it has to be said that these guys really know how to write.

The 'protomolecule' that we were introduced to in Leviathan Wakes is back in action again but in a more advanced state to wreak havoc about the place and is now carrying out some sort of large-scale breeding program on Venus. Jim Holden and his likeable crew are again swept up into the action, and end up on the hunt for a missing person and becoming central players in a massive standoff between the Earth, Martian and Belter military forces.
A couple of new main characters are introduced to us, firstly there is Bobbie who is an intimidating female Martian soldier caught in the middle of things after an encounter with the protomolecule on Ganymede, and second there is Avasarala who is a hard and abrasive Earth politician and who is smart enough to join the dots and figure out who is behind the current situation.
The battle scenes seemed to be a little more brief than in Leviathan Wakes, but this is not a bad thing at all, and I reckon there's plenty of action for anyone in there.
Overall it's good, very good, and surely must rate as a must-read for all fans of top-shelf space opera.

It's followed by  & , and there are three novellas as well that fit in between the main novels.

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08 July 2014

TALES OF HONOR comic series

The Honorverse series by David Weber is one of the better science fiction space opera series out there, and it has recently taken an exciting leap forward with the release of an excellent comic format version by Evergreen StudiosThere's a game as well and apparently a movie on the way too. Very cool.

The first story arc (five issues) tells the story as told in the first novel of the Honorverse series On Basilisk Station where Honor ends up having to go way beyond to prove herself as the new Captain of HMS Fearless

There's great action and the cutting-edge artwork depicts this in an awesome fashion. The text is generally faithful to the novel and makes this an excellent addition to the Honorverse canon of works. 

Check out the website and where to buy the comics HERE.

05 July 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Enemy Ace: War in Heaven by Garth Ennis

Enemy Ace: War in HeavenEnemy Ace: War in Heaven by Garth Ennis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From 1914 to 1918, Hans Von Hammer earned the nickname "The Hammer of Hell" in the bloody skies of World War I. Now it's World War II, and blood rains from the skies once again! Von Hammer, the finest pilot Germany has ever known, is now a 46-year-old man with plenty of enemies in the Nazi regime.

The story recounts the pilot's activities during World War II where he is persuaded to once again fight as a pilot of the Luftwaffe. Von Hammer is placed in charge of his own squadron and initially serves on the Eastern Front. Though no friend to the Nazi regime, he rapidly amasses numerous kills flying a red-painted Me-109 against the Russians, and later in defense of Germany (flying a scarlet Me-262) against American bombers. Nevertheless, von Hammer becomes increasingly disillusioned as he continues to witness the horrors of war. In 1945, after bailing out of his damaged aircraft, he inadvertently parachutes into a concentration camp where discovers the Nazi perpetration of the Holocaust. He proposes a mutiny upon returning to his base and later surrenders to advancing Allied troops.

A good story with a sobering message about the futility and stupidity of war. While not being too familiar with the comic world, I have recently been enjoying a few good graphic novels and while browsing for these I came across Enemy Ace. An easy to read and action-packed classic comic format, with exploding B-17 bombers, zooming Messerschmitts, tough Russians and general carnage. Galloping through the pages I felt like a kid again, but it was the dialogue that kept snapping me out of it. Written more for a mature audience, it's a thought-provoking theme with some really good lines that lead you to reflect on the reasons for the fighting. As I said, it's sobering and the story comes to a satisfying end.

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