27 December 2015

A lesson in life's priorities

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the lecture began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.
The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. Again, they agreed it was.
The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous "Yes".
The professor then produced two bottles of beer from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand.The students laughed.
"Now," said the professor as the laughter subsided, "I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things--your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions--and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car. The sand is everything else--the small stuff."
"If you put the sand into the jar first," he continued, "there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and mow the lawn. Take care of the golf balls first--the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand."
One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the beer represented. The professor smiled and said, "I’m glad you asked, the beer just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of beers with a friend."

[Yep, couldn't agree more -- LS]
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24 December 2015

How to Read an Entire Book in a Single Day

I simply cannot imagine doing this, but if you’ve been putting off reading that book for weeks, and you’re supposed to have read it all by tomorrow, whether cramming for school, or trying to avoid looking like a lazy bum in your book club, don’t lose hope. You can power through that tome without forgetting everything and coming away with nothing.

Reading an entire book in a matter of hours may seem daunting, but it all comes down to simple math. The average adult reads around 200-400 words per minute. The average novel ranges between 60,000 and 100,000 words total. If your reading speed is right in the middle of the pack at 300 words per minute, and you’re reading a middle-of-the-pack novel at around 80,000 words, you’ll be able to knock it out in around five hours or less.

That might seem like a lot, but it’s totally possible. And you can do it without any skimming or speed reading trickery, which can be bad when it comes to truly absorbing information. For the most part, it’s possible to read at your usual pace, absorb information at your brain’s preferred rate, and all you have to do is buckle down, make the time, and get started as soon as possible.

Sounds a tad crazy, but if you're still interested you can click HERE and head over to Lifehacker to read the whole article.

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21 December 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens...can't wait to see this

Here we have one of the most anticipated movies in years, and it's one which is hoped will breathe fresh life into the Star Wars franchise under new owners Disney. Not that things ever got stale, but it's nice to see a the story continuing to move along. The Star Wars expanded universe is an amazing thing with books, comics, games & animated TV shows that demonstrate how huge the phenomenon is. If the movies can move into similar territory then we are in for a huge treat.

The first reviews are in and the general opinion is that it's bloody good. The trailers that have been released are enough for me to see that it's something special.

In lieu of my own review HERE is one from popular sci-fi blog SFFWORLD.


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05 December 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Mosquito Squadron by Robert Jackson

Mosquito Squadron by Robert Jackson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summer 1943.

The Battle of Britain is over. But the Battle of Germany has just begun. 

By night and day, RAF and USAAF bombers drive deep into enemy territory, striking at the heart of Germany’s war effort. 

Squadron Leader George Yeoman, veteran of the skies, has orders to protect the bombers on their long-range missions. He and his men will support in the elusive de Havilland Mosquito, a versatile plane made from wood but capable of stinging the Luftwaffe and sucking the fight from its airmen. 

Across the channel, Major Joachim Richter, Yeoman’s counterpart and adversary, bravely leads his squadron out each night to intercept the Allied bombers before they destroy German cities. 

The fight will be long and gruelling, but engineers behind the scenes on both sides are racing to build a plane that may soon decide the battle, the fighter jet. 

Will Yeoman survive the fight or will this be his last? 

'Mosquito Squadron' is a classic WWII adventure story.

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A solid war yarn telling of combat trials and tribulations of an RAF Mosquito fighter-bomber squadron during World War Two, as they rove across Europe from their base in England to harass the enemy. It's quite a short book made up of chapters which follow each other chronologically but are almost standalone in the sense that each one tells a distinct little story and depicts a specific sortie or battle scene. There isn't really much of an overall plot, just the various happenings and exploits but these are described in rather good detail and in a nicely written style that flows very well. The author appears to have a good understanding of the more technical aspects of the subject matter such as the aircraft and weapons which adds a touch of authenticity to the story, you often feel like you're right there in the cockpit with the chaps. Parallel to the Mosquito squadron, we also see the action from the perspective of a German Luftwaffe fighter commander and he plays his part in the increasingly futile attempt to defend their homeland from the growing Allied advances from all sides. We witness trials of experimental aircraft and weapons, given a seat of the pants ride across Europe on marauding raids seeking the enemy and shown the destruction wrought by these courageous knights of the sky. It's a fun read, the only disappointment being the lack of an overall story, this making it a tad underwhelming to read and left me a bit flat after finishing it. If that "bigger picture" was complete I probably would've given it five stars. In a nutshell it's a good piece of war fiction that an enthusiast of good yarns will probably enjoy.

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02 December 2015

BOOK REVIEW: New Earth by Ben Bova

New EarthNew Earth by Ben Bova
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Award-winning author Ben Bova brings us New Earth, his latest tale of science fiction in his Grand Tour series.

The entire world is thrilled by the discovery of a new Earthlike planet. Advance imaging shows that the planet has oceans of liquid water and a breathable oxygen-rich atmosphere. Eager to gain more information, a human exploration team is soon dispatched to explore the planet, now nicknamed New Earth.

All of the explorers understand that they are essentially on a one-way mission. The trip takes eighty years each way, so even if they are able to get back to Earth, nearly 200 years will have elapsed. They will have aged only a dozen years thanks to cryonic suspension, but their friends and family will be gone and the very society that they once knew will have changed beyond recognition. The explorers are going into exile, and they know it. They are on this mission not because they were the best available, but because they were expendable.

Upon landing on the planet they discover something unexpected: New Earth is inhabited by a small group of intelligent creatures who look very much like human beings.

Who are these people? Are they native to this world, or invaders from elsewhere?

While they may seem inordinately friendly to the human explorers, what are their real motivations? What do they want?
Moreover, the scientists begin to realize that this planet cannot possibly be natural. They face a startling and nearly unthinkable question: Could New Earth be an artifact?

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A superb fun sci-fi story, an engaging yarn of interstellar exploration that yields some surprises. This is one of those books that reminds me of why I love science fiction so much; it displays the wonder and glory of new worlds, species and cultures, a wonder that makes me want to be right there, in the story with the characters. Yes, it's a tad cliche, but I was totally drawn in, and this is due not only to the storyline, but also to Bova's relaxed style and his reasonable and believable characters. If you're looking for a ground-breaking masterpiece of cutting edge science fiction, this is not it, but what it is is a fine space adventure with most of the elements that make this genre so enjoyable. If I had to classify it, I'd say this book is hard sci-fi within a sort of space opera matrix which floats around in the background. There's an amazing setting to explore in subsequent books (I hope) within a galaxy teeming with life and a serious threat to all of this life about to sweep through. All good stuff really, and it epitomises fun science fiction. Anyway, I really liked it and it's the fastest read that I've had in ages. A top notch story.

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07 November 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Angel, Archangel by Nick Cook

Angel, ArchangelAngel, Archangel by Nick Cook
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Allies are advancing on Berlin in the dying days of the Second World War, but the Russians are plotting much more than the end of the Third Reich. Operation Archangel's aim is for Soviet troops to blast their way straight to the English Channel.

With fake Soviet tanks lined up near the German border in Czechoslovakia, two British spy pilots stumble across this elaborate charade. Wing Commander Robert Fleming and Rhodesian expatriate Piet Kruze become the front line in the effort to defuse the Russian scheme. But they must first penetrate the heart of the Nazi defences and steal the one weapon that can possibly destroy Archangel: the cream of the new generation of German jet fighter bombers.

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A fairly decent World War Two story story set during the later days of the war in Europe. The story is told from two sides, as Soviet generals prepare for a final assault that will finish off Nazi Germany, and a secret Royal Air Force test unit that tries to intervene in their plans, for reasons which become apparent through the story. The action is quite good and is plentiful and the characters are good, developed enough for the story and a fine mix of decent folks and devious bastards. This is one of those stories where I found my favourite character in one of the "baddies", a British traitor serving with the infamous Nazi SS Britisches Freikorps and who performs a crucial role in the final mission. A decent yarn with good action, intrigue and enough plot twists to keep it interesting. The story cruises along for the first 50% or so, and then ramps up rather nicely in tge second half. The ending is action-packed and ends rather abruptly, which is my only real criticism if the whole book. However, it's still a belting good yarn and I give it a solid 3.5 stars.

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17 October 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Truth About The Wunderwaffe by Igor Witkowski

The Truth About The WunderwaffeThe Truth About The Wunderwaffe by Igor Witkowski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

THE TRUTH ABOUT THE WUNDERWAFFE is about the Third Reich's weapons of last resort, but it is a book unlike any other on the subject. The author, a former military journalist, has done extensive research on three continents, in the archives of many countries, and he has uncovered a wealth of facts about weapons and weapons systems unknown to the general public. This book is very well documented, and most of the sources have never before been presented in any publication. The main section is an analysis of a research project pertaining to a weapon that officially was and still stands beyond any normal classification-the Wunderwaffe, or, according to German documents, "a weapon decisive for the war." After its first release, THE TRUTH ABOUT THE WUNDERWAFFE became an instant classic. This fully updated and extended English edition bears the same unique tone of voice and style that defined the original.

This is probably the most comprehensive book on this topic that I've yet seen. I got onto it because many other books on the subject cite this work and it's author as a source in their own research. Once I found out that there was an English edition available I just had to read it. The book goes over the whole gamut of proposed Nazi wonder weapons, from aircraft and missiles to biological and nuclear weapons research. The depth of Witkowski's studiy into these developments is incredible. The main reason that I chose to read it was because it is regarded as one of the best works dealing with the infamous alleged "Die Glocke" (The Bell) device that has been linked with anti-gravity research. There is a section of the book devoted entirely to this subject and it's fascinating, as much about the people involved with the project (many of whom are quite mysterious and enigmatic) as it is about the technology and physics involved. Overall it's a brilliant presentation of some equally brilliant research and well worth the time investment if you're into military history or speculative ideas.

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24 September 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Hunt for Zero Point: Inside the Classified World of Antigravity Technology by Nick Cook

The Hunt for Zero Point: Inside the Classified World of Antigravity TechnologyThe Hunt for Zero Point: Inside the Classified World of Antigravity Technology by Nick Cook
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The atomic bomb was not the only project to occupy government scientists during the 1940s. Antigravity technology, originally spearheaded by scientists in Nazi Germany, was another high priority, one that still may be in effect today. Now, for the first time, an acclaimed journalist with unprecedented access to key sources in the intelligence and military communities reveals suppressed evidence that tells the story of a quest for a discovery that could prove as powerful as the atomic bomb.

The Hunt for Zero Point explores the scientific speculation that “zero point” energy—a limitless source of potential power that may hold the key to defying and thereby controlling gravity—exists in the universe and can be replicated. The pressure to be the first nation to harness gravity is immense, as it means having the ability to build military planes of unlimited speed and range, along with the most deadly weaponry the world has ever seen. The ideal shape for a gravity-defying vehicle happens to be a perfect disk, making antigravity tests a possible explanation for numerous UFO sightings during the past fifty years.

Drawn from interviews with those involved int the research and visits to labs in Europe and the United States, The Hunt for Zero Point is a captivating account of the twentieth century’s most puzzling unexplained phenomenon.

If there is a book to give a newcomer to the subjects of antigravity technology and secret science, then this would have to be the one. It's a very well written account of one man's search for information and the truth about these fascinating ideas. The author is a reputable aviation journalist in his own right which means the book is well researched and presented. His search takes him from the present day back to those secretive events surrounding the snatching of German scientists and technologies immediately after the German surrender in World War Two, and tries to connect the dots within the post-war US and Soviet military industrial complexes, to unravel the secrets of antigravity machine development and other associated technologies. I found the stories from the world of Nazi science totally engrossing, with so many intriguing ideas and personalities all driven by various motivations. I get the impression that we may be just beginning to discover the wonders from this dark time in Germany's history, and if one can look past the fanaticism of the Nazi regime and in particular Himmler's occult-driven SS (who ended up controlling most of the technology) you can see so much evidence of scientific and technical brilliance. A top-notch book, and the best overview of this amazing topic that I've read so far. I highly recommend it.

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06 September 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Starhold (Starhold Series Book 1) by J. Alan Field

StarholdStarhold (Starhold Series Book 1)
by J. Alan Field
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Human civilization has fled to the stars, abandoning a poisoned and deserted planet Earth. Now, hundreds of years later, there is an accidental and shocking discovery: not only has Earth’s environment been completely restored, but someone (or something) has taken up residence on humanity’s ancient homeworld. At the same time, unidentified warships begin attacking human outposts. Are these events connected?

To meet the threat, the Sarissan Union dispatches agents Frank Carr and Etta Sanchez to discover the identity of Earth’s new residents. The pair have to work fast however, because following close behind them is a Sarissan war fleet, whose actions will depend on what Carr and Sanchez uncover. Will First Contact be followed by peace or war? Meanwhile, political intrigue in the Sarissan capital threatens to rip the Union apart before Carr and Sanchez even complete their mission. The future of not only Sarissa and Earth, but of all humanity hangs in the balance.

This novel can be enjoyed as a stand-alone story, but is also the first book in an upcoming space-opera series. Space battles, spies, political intrigue, and surprises abound in Starhold. 

I really like this modern self publishing scene and this fun indie sci-fi novel typifies, to me, what is good about indie books and authors. It had me hooked right from the start. The book tells the story of humanity that has spread out into neighbouring star systems and has formed a number of small political groups of planets called "Starholds". Upon this background it is discovered that their deserted and forgotten homeworld Earth (which is quarantined and effectively off-limits) is now playing host to someone or something after being left abandoned for centuries. What ensues is an enjoyable yarn about the mission to discover what us happening on Earth while also building the background scene of the Starholds and their political landscapes. The book is surprisingly well written, and there's really nothing to complain about, typographical errors typical of self-published books are almost non-existent and the language used is excellent. The world building is good, the characters are interesting and well formed and there is plenty of action to keep the story moving along at a nice pace. Overall this book is very good and looks like it's going to be part of a longer saga. Well done J. Alan Field, you have produced a nice work of science fiction here and I wish you much success. I will be watching with interest.

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09 August 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Second Contact by Mike Resnick

Second ContactSecond Contact by Mike Resnick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It looked like a no-brainer to defense attorney Major Maxwell Becker. A starship captain has gone a little crazy and killed two of his crewmen in cold blood. Just plead insanity, make sure they give his client a nice, comfortable, padded cell, and go skiing at Aspen. But the captain refuses to cop an insanity plea. He insists that the two crew members he killed were not humans, but aliens. That's his story, and he's sticking by it. So Becker reluctantly goes through the motions of trying to prove his case - and suddenly his witnesses start getting transferred or disappearing, and when he finally finds one he realizes there are holes in his story... and suddenly Becker is running for his life, hunted by every branch of the military. He can't figure it out: he's a loyal officer, he's just doing his job as a military attorney, he's never broken a law, there are no aliens: so why does everybody want him dead? Join Hugo- and Nebula-winning author Mike Resnick as he chronicles Becker's desperate attempt to learn the only thing that can save him: the truth.

I selected this book as a quick read, safe in the knowledge that most things by Mike Resnick I enjoy. I didn't know anything about the book, read no reviews or even a synopsis, and embarked on what I was assuming would be a quick journey and a rewarding story. I also assumed that the story fitted into Resnick's wonderful "Birthright" universe, but it doesn't, it's a completely stand alone novel. It has a quick storyline that isn't really all that sci-fi, other than it takes place in the near future and there is a large element of computer hacking goings on. I loved the general plot and the premise of alien contact and also liked the Grisham-style lawyer saga that is the vehicle for the storyline. The stand out of the book for me would have to be Jaimie, a very likeable criminal computer hacker who resolves to help the main character Max Becker on his quest for truth. What I believe let the story down was the way the the action meandered around a bit too much with describing exactly how the protagonists carry out their various acts of skulduggery. I got somewhat bored more than once and found myself losing concentration. As well, the technological details in this book are very dated, right back in the '80s with dial-up modems and such things, but it was written back then so it would've been rather cool at the time I imagine. The plot is reasonably deep and Resnick does a fine job of weaving it all together into an easily-read tapestry of words where the author confirms again to me that he is one of the best storytellers that I've read of any genre. This book is far from his top work, but it's fun I don't regret reading it one bit, but it wasn't all that rewarding like I'd hoped for at the beginning.

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07 August 2015

Are we alone? Science Fiction is as sure a guide as any

From: Books | The Guardian

Any truth humans can find ‘out there’ remains speculative, and science and fiction are both still telling stories.

 Artist’s impression of a red Super-Earth in the planetary system around Gliese 581. More than 20 light years away from Earth, it is believed to be the most intriguing world found so far in the search for extraterrestrial life.
Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Are we alone? There are so many possible ways to begin to answer this question. The backstory on the Fermi Paradox – why we haven’t encountered aliens yet – reads like science fiction. Certainly, the scenarios it sets out are all consigned to the realm of storytelling for now, and even the most logical theories may turn out to be wildly inaccurate. For this reason, the science and fiction of alien contact have much in common, with speculation on the subject sometimes more useful than empirical approaches.

The idea of an intertwining between science and fiction on this subject has historical underpinnings. Early scientific papers in the west by the likes of Francis Bacon and Johannes Kepler took the form of “contes philosophiques” or “philosophical tales”, in which the fictional framework of an imaginary or dream journey surrounded some sort of scientific speculation. In the late 1800s, some scientists even presented their findings in the form of poetry.
Read more HERE.

22 July 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Secret History of Extraterrestrials: Advanced Technology and the Coming New Race by Len Kasten

The Secret History of Extraterrestrials: Advanced Technology and the Coming New RaceThe Secret History of Extraterrestrials: Advanced Technology and the Coming New Race by Len Kasten
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The extraterrestrial presence on Earth is widening and, as we enter the Aquarian Age, will be admitted officially, causing shock and an urgent universal need to understand the social and technological changes derived from our space brothers. A primer for the explosive advances humanity will experience scientifically and spiritually in the coming years, this compendium explores the ET phenomenon and its influence on humanity past and present.
The book surveys contact with ETs and abduction accounts, unexplained public and undisclosed military technology from aliens including anti-gravity devices, exopolitics (the influence of ETs in human affairs), the Iraqi Stargate, the Hybrid Project of alien interbreeding by abduction, Nazi ties to UFOS and their secret underground base in Antarctica, government cover-ups of alien interactions including Roswell, and the transformation triggered by the Hale-Bopp comet.
Based on interviews with people who are witnessing the coming changes as well as those visionaries who are actually bringing them about--including John Mack, Major Jesse Marcel, Paul LaViolette, Robert Bauval, Michael Salla, and Helen Wambach--this book sketches out a breathtaking vision of the planetary revolution just around the corner.

I started this book not expecting a whole lot, to be honest, but am pleased to report that I was pleasantly surprised to find it to be an interesting read on this always fascinating topic. I've read quite a bit over the years about the ET/UFO phenomenon and because of this I was familiar with most of what Kasten presents in the book. However, what he does manage to do is compile it all together well, presenting the various angles of some of the incredible claims that we are (and have been for a long time) being visited by extraterrestrial beings who are actively involved with human affairs. There's a lot to be absorbed and pondered by the reader in this book, and it's probably a good starter text on the topic. I would certainly recommend it to anyone new to or inquiring about the subject as I feel that it presents a good overall spread of information.

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07 July 2015

DUNE - 50 years on: how a science fiction novel changed the world

From: Books | The Guardian

In 1959, if you were walking the sand dunes near Florence, Oregon, you might have encountered a burly, bearded extrovert, striding about in Ray-Ban Aviators and practical army surplus clothing. Frank Herbert, a freelance writer with a feeling for ecology, was researching a magazine story about a US Department of Agriculture programme to stabilise the shifting sands by introducing European beach grass. Pushed by strong winds off the Pacific, the dunes moved eastwards, burying everything in their path. Herbert hired a Cessna light aircraft to survey the scene from the air. “These waves [of sand] can be every bit as devastating as a tidal wave...they’ve even caused deaths,” he wrote in a pitch to his agent. Above all he was intrigued by the idea that it might be possible to engineer an ecosystem, to green a hostile desert landscape.

Sand dunes of the central Oregon coast
About to turn 40, Herbert had been a working writer since the age of 19, and his fortunes had always been patchy. After a hard childhood in a small coastal community near Tacoma, Washington, where his pleasures had been fishing and messing about in boats, he’d worked for various regional newspapers in the Pacific northwest and sold short stories to magazines. He’d had a relatively easy war, serving eight months as a naval photographer before receiving a medical discharge. More recently he’d spent a weird interlude in Washington as a speechwriter for a Republican senator. There (his only significant time living on the east coast) he attended the daily Army-McCarthy hearings, watching his distant relative senator Joseph McCarthy root out communism. Herbert was a quintessential product of the libertarian culture of the Pacific coast, self-reliant and distrustful of centralised authority, yet with a mile-wide streak of utopian futurism and a concomitant willingness to experiment. He was also chronically broke. During the period he wrote Dune, his wife Beverly Ann was the main bread-winner, her own writing career sidelined by a job producing advertising copy for department stores.

Frank Herbert
Soon, Herbert’s research into dunes became research into deserts and desert cultures. It overpowered his article about the heroism of the men of the USDA (proposed title “They Stopped the Moving Sands”) and became two short SF novels, serialised in Analog Science Fact & Fiction, one of the more prestigious genre magazines. Unsatisfied, Herbert industriously reworked his two stories into a single, giant epic. The prevailing publishing wisdom of the time had it that SF readers liked their stories short. Dune (400 pages in its first hardcover edition, almost 900 in the paperback on my desk) was rejected by more than 20 houses before being accepted by Chilton, a Philadelphia operation known for trade and hobby magazines such as Motor Age, Jewelers’ Circular and the no-doubt-diverting Dry Goods Economist.

Early paperback edition cover
Though Dune won the Nebula and Hugo awards, the two most prestigious science fiction prizes, it was not an overnight commercial success. Its fanbase built through the 60s and 70s, circulating in squats, communes, labs and studios, anywhere where the idea of global transformation seemed attractive. Fifty years later it is considered by many to be the greatest novel in the SF canon, and has sold in millions around the world.

Read more HERE.

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BOOK REVIEW: Zero! by Martin Caidin, Masatake Okumiya, Jiro Horikoshi

Zero!Zero! by Martin Caidin, Masatake Okumiya, Jiro Horikoshi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the thrilling saga of war in the air in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II told from the Japanese point of view. It is the story of the men who created, led, and fought in the deadly Zero fighter plane. In their own words, Jiro Horikoshi (who designed the Zero), Masatake Okumiya (leader of many Zero squadrons) tell the inside story of developing the Zero and Japan's air force. They tell what it felt like to bomb American ships and to shoot down American airplanes — and then of their shock when the myth of invincibility was shattered by the new Lightning, Hellcat, and Corsair fighters. They tell of the fight against the growing strength of a remorseless American enemy; and how, in desperation the Japanese High Command ordered the creation of deadly suicide squadrons, the Kamikaze. And finally they reveal their reaction to the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

A very interesting book, told from the perspective of two Japanese men who were very closely involved with Japanese naval aviation. Not so much about the Zero fighter as about the whole Japanese WW2 war effort, specifically the war in the air waged over top of the huge naval battle groups amassed by both the Japanese and the Allies. After reading this book, one thing is abundantly clear and that is that the Japanese totally underestimated and were woefully unprepared for war against the USA and Britain and their allies. What we see is that they were so wrapped up in their own perceived superiority in morality, intelligence, discipline, training and technology to really notice how much of a chunk they'd bitten off. A few smart ones knew this, but the Japanese leaders persisted for years with their doomed agenda, bolstered by a few victories along the way. Ultimately, their backsides (and this unfortunately included the civilian population, not only the military) were well and truly kicked. The perfect example of this is the Zero, which was considered more than adequate for the job even as far better American designs began appearing. I guess I found myself becoming very frustrated with the overall Japanese attitude as I read this book, and as much as I feel ashamed to say it, they got what was coming to them, so to speak. To open hostilities with the USA by simultaneously bombing three military installations was to invite a huge backlash. It's a terrible, terrible shame that Japanese civilian collateral damage was so devastatingly high, but after reading this book I have to admit, once again, that we reap what we sow. The nation of Japan is one example. Overall, this book is a very good read, and a definite must-read for military history buffs. A very educational and sobering story with a solid lesson that came at a massive cost to all sides.

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02 June 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The First And The Last by Adolf Galland

The First And The LastThe First And The Last by Adolf Galland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fearless leader with 104 victories to his name, Galland was a legendary hero in Germany's Luftwaffe. Now he offers an insider's look at the division's triumphs in Poland and France and the last desperate battle to save the Reich.

"The clearest picture yet of how the Germans lost their war in the air".--Time.

A first-hand account written by a man who was part of the upper echelons of the WW2 German Luftwaffe and also at the forefront of the air war over Britain and mainland Europe. There's many interesting insights into strategic decisions made by the German leaders, and Galland's in-person dealings with Hitler and Goring give us a rare look at the minds behind Germany's war effort. I found it fascinating how much of a hindrance the mindset of Hitler was against the defence of the German Reich, thus allowing Allied air forces to gain the upper hand and eventual air superiority over Europe. The case of the misuse of the brilliant new ME-262 turbojet aircraft is indicative of this and the sorry saga is told well by Galland in the later chapters of the book. I could sense the author's frustrations as he retells these events. While reading Galland's account I came to respect the man and his honor as a soldier. He was no Nazi, that much is clear, yet he did his best to carry out his sworn duty as a Luftwaffe officer. Political ideology doesn't appear in this book, but it's a candid account that is both interesting and educational, a must-read for anybody interested in military history.

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24 April 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

My rating: 4 out of 5
When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship that’s seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past. But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with the Wayfarer. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptilian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. Life on board is chaotic, but more or less peaceful – exactly what Rosemary wants. Until the crew are offered the job of a lifetime: the chance to build a hyperspace tunnel to a distant planet. They’ll earn enough money to live comfortably for years… if they survive the long trip through war-torn interstellar space without endangering any of the fragile alliances that keep the galaxy peaceful. But Rosemary isn’t the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.

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

This book is a fine example of an independently self-published book (subsequently re-published by Hodder & Stoughton) by a gifted storyteller. Here, Chambers has written the sort of book that I would love to write someday, one with interesting characters, interesting aliens and far-off, wonderful places.

The story isn't so much about the activities of the wormhole-creating starship Wayfarer but rather about the diverse crew members, and more specifically who they are. Each character has an interesting story that kept me intrigued, and their stories don't appear to be finished with this book so hopefully there's more to come.

Throughout the book, I had a definite sense that the author has something bigger to say, an axe to grind if you will, maybe about the diversity of people and how it's okay to be different, etc. I can't quite put my finger in what it is, and I don't know the author, but I felt her passion, and that made it even more interesting.

Overall, a really good character-driven story within a well-built universe with enough action and suspense to keep you hooked. I'll keep my eye on this author for sure. It's followed in the three-part series by Closed and Common Orbit.

Buy the ebook HERE (Amazon)
Buy the paper book HERE (Book Depository)

20 March 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Secret Journey to Planet Serpo: A True Story of Interplanetary Travel

Secret Journey to Planet Serpo: A True Story of Interplanetary TravelSecret Journey to Planet Serpo: A True Story of Interplanetary Travel by Len Kasten
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

On July 16, 1965, a massive alien spacecraft from the Zeta Reticuli star system landed at the Nevada test site north of Las Vegas. Following a plan set in motion by President Kennedy in 1962, the alien visitors known as the Ebens welcomed 12 astronaut-trained military personnel aboard their craft for the 10-month journey to their home planet, Serpo, 39 light-years away. In November 2005, former and current members of the Defense Intelligence Agency - directed by Kennedy to organize the Serpo exchange program - came forward to reveal the operation, including details from the 3,000-page debriefing of the 7 members of the Serpo team who returned after 13 years on the planet. 

Working with the DIA originators of the Serpo project and the diary kept by the expedition's commanding officer, Len Kasten chronicles the complete journey of these cosmic pioneers, including their remarkable stories of life on an alien planet, superluminal space travel, and advanced knowledge of alien technologies. He reveals how the Ebens presented the U.S. with The Yellow Book; - a complete history of the universe recorded holographically, allowing the reader to view actual scenes from pre-history to the present. He explains how the Ebens helped us reverse-engineer their antigravity spacecraft and develop technology to solve our planet-wide energy problems - knowledge still classified. 

Exposing the truth of human-alien interaction and interplanetary travel, Kasten reveals not only that the Ebens have returned to Earth eight times but also that our government continues to have an ongoing relationship with them - a relationship with the potential to advance the human race into the future. 

This is certainly as book of two quite distinct halves; Part One being an enjoyable essay on aspects of the UFO phenomena and it's well known Nazi connections, etc. I actually enjoyed this part of the book, and it certainly provides some good food for thought. There is so much smoke surrounding this issue that there's got to be the fire of truth hidden away in there somewhere, and this part of the book does a nice job of discussing the idea of a grand conspiracy and attempting to convince the reader. However, when we get into Part Two, things change for the worse. I'm not saying that I completely disbelieve the claims of a secret journey to the alien planet Serpo forty light years from Earth, but the book sure doesn't present the case all that effectively. What we have is a poorly written account made up from communications with someone named "Anonymous" who allegedly has access to information about this alleged mission. Large portions of the diary of the mission commander are reproduced that tell the story of the trip to Serpo and the thirteen year stay of a human crew hosted by the aliens. We are also presented with portions of transcripts of presentations to U.S. President Reagan where he is being briefed about the aliens and the missions, etc. Interspersed among the text are silly images of things like the cast of Star Trek, movie posters and numerous references to the movie Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (which is also allegedly based on the same story) and miscellaneous items mentioned in the text such as jeeps and automatic pistols. This all robs the story of credibility, and made it seem to me like a bit of a piss-take, and the text doesn't flow well. I'd really like to say that the book convinced me that there was indeed a secret journey to Serpo and a relationship built with another intelligent species in the Galaxy, but it unfortunately doesn't. I do plan to read Len Kasten's other book The Secret History of Extraterrestrials: Advanced Technology and the Coming New Race to see if he recovers and manages to convince to me what is possibly the biggest and most fantastic story in human history.

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Photo allegedly taken from the surface of the planet Serpo

10 March 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Genesis by W.A. Harbinson

GenesisGenesis by W.A. Harbinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

GENESIS is a once-in-a-lifetime novel of searing terror and explosive excitement. There is a global conspiracy of such enormity that those who encounter even its outermost fringes are inevitably contaminated. A conspiracy based on incredibly advanced technology of 'Earthly' origin. A conspiracy dedicated to the eventual enslavement and subversion of humanity as we know it. A conspiracy stretching through time - across icy polar wastes and jungle hideouts... into the cold vacuum of space itself. A conspiracy poised to turn life on Earth into a chilling nightmare of living death. Unless... GENESIS is more - much more - than a gripping, frighteningly plausible story. It is the reading experience that will alter the way you look at your world... and your universe!

Every now and then a book like this comes along that I can really get into, get totally engrossed in and I don't want to put it down. I'd read some other reviews (most of which were positive) and it sounded fascinating, being an alternate history sort of story founded in actual events and myth. The story follows a UFO investigator on his search for the truth about UFO sightings and abductions and there are interesting side stories and flashbacks from key characters. What we end up with is a fast-paced adventure across the globe and across time that builds quite an epic story of global conspiracy. As I said, I had trouble putting this one down and I attribute this to the intriguing plot that one could almost imagine being factual. I did struggle a little with some of the dialogue at times which seemed a little odd and just there for the sake of it. However, these pieces were minimal and the book generally flows quite well. One of the best alternate history stories that I've read to date, and it's a good yarn that keeps you hanging in there for the next slice of the story.It's a good yarn that is just the right length to be 'epic' but not too much as to bore or grow tired of. Overall a very good book that I'll happily recommend to anyone who likes a meaty tale with lots of intrigue and mystery.

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21 February 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Cibola Burn (Expanse #4) by James S.A. Corey

Cibola Burn (Expanse, #4)Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The gates have opened the way to thousands of habitable planets, and the land rush has begun. Settlers stream out from humanity's home planets in a vast, poorly controlled flood, landing on a new world. Among them, the Rocinante, haunted by the vast, posthuman network of the protomolecule as they investigate what destroyed the great intergalactic society that built the gates and the protomolecule.

But Holden and his crew must also contend with the growing tensions between the settlers and the company which owns the official claim to the planet. Both sides will stop at nothing to defend what's theirs, but soon a terrible disease strikes and only Holden - with help from the ghostly Detective Miller - can find the cure.

I've read The Expanse series from the first book and have been captivated by the story right from day one. This is book number four, and it was a slower read for me, not because it isn't any good, but because I found the story a little underwhelming initially. It's part of a larger series which has now been expanded to something like nine books, and a reasonably complex storyline it is too with quite a bit of political stuff going on behind the main action. In this book, we've finally escaped our own solar system, and the vast majority of the story unfolds either on or around planet Ilus which sits on the other side of one of the mysterious gates created by the alien protomolecule in the previous book. I'd rate this book as my favorite of the series so far, for the most part anyway, and the main reason for this is that now we've got alien artifacts and ruins to add a new sense of wonder and mystery, which is my favorite aspect of sci-fi in general. The book was quite unextraordinary for much of it, it must be said, apart from the previously mentioned alien enigmas. Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy reading it very much, and we meet a number of new and interesting characters, but it seemed a little dull and directionless for a part. Looking at the big picture, it isn't actually lacking direction at all, the first two-thirds are mostly about the political and ideological posturing of the parties involved in settling Ilus, things all quite critical to the story, but the action is a little sparse. The final third, however, takes off nicely and more than makes up for it. This is where there is the typical Expanse combat, explosions and noise. All good stuff, and fun to read. The epilogue gives a nice hint as to where I'm assuming the story will go next (in Nemesis Games due out in June 2015), and did actually round off the book really well, bringing everything into perspective and restoring some of that lack of direction that I felt earlier. Overall it's another good installment of this series and I'm looking forward to book five. I just wish this one hadn't loafed along so much in the early stages, and had it not been for this it would've been five stars. All of that said, Cibola Burn is still a thoroughly entertaining sci-fi space opera story that once again does credit to the authors.

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13 January 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Fortress In Orion by Mike Resnick

The Fortress in OrionThe Fortress In Orion by Mike Resnick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Democracy is at war with the alien Traanskei Coalition. War hero Colonel Nathan Pretorius has a record of success on dangerous behind-enemy-lines missions, missions that usually leave him in the hospital. Now he's recruited for a near-impossible assignment that may well leave him dead. 
At the cost of many lives, the Democracy has managed to clone and train General Michkag, one of the Traanskei's master strategists. Colonel Pretorius and a hand-picked team must kidnap the real Michkag if they can, assassinate him if they can't, but no matter which, put the clone in his place, where he will misdirect the enemy's forces and funnel vital information to the Democracy. 
Against the odds, Pretorius, along with Cyborg Felix Ortega, computer expert Toni Levi, convict and contortionist Sally "Snake" Kowalski, the near-human empath Marlowe, the alien Gzychurlyx, and Madam Methuselah - the Dead Enders - must infiltrate the Fortress in Orion, accomplish their mission, and escape with their lives.

The very second that I learned of this new book (which is the first of a series) set within Resnick's fantastic Birthright universe, I went straight over to my preferred ebook provider and purchased it. I'm a big fan of Resnick's and I haven't read anything by him that I've not enjoyed, some more than others, but generally I rate his work very highly. However, I admit to being a bit disappointed with this one. In a nutshell, the whole book felt like it was a young adult novel with a few choice profanities thrown in to make it seem a little more "grown up". Not at all what I expect from Mike Resnick. It's fast-paced storytelling and quite engaging with an almost pulp-style feel, but still it lacks any real substance. Anyway, here's a quick rundown of the book and a few things that I did like.
Our main man, Colonel Pestorius, recovering from injuries collected during his previous assignment, is tasked by his commanding officer to assemble a team to carry out a daring mission. This mission requires them to sneak up on the Democracy's alien enemy at a location some light years away across the galaxy and to carry out a somewhat tricky task. Pestorius assembles a small and eclectic group of misfits, all with a specific talent or skill necessary for the mission and gives them a rundown on the basic plan. They then set off across the galaxy, hashing out the details of the mission as they go.
The characters are fun and moderately interesting and I enjoyed their banter for the most part, even if the dialogue was a little "adolescent" much of the time.
The story ambles along at an okay pace throughout the middle fifty percent or so of the book, and we learn little bits and pieces about the characters, nothing too deep, just snippets of their pasts. We also drop in on some different planets across the Galaxy along the way, and see a few interesting species as well, which was another thing that I enjoyed.
The last few chapters is where the whole plot comes together, and comes to an okay conclusion, but just okay, because there's no real guts to it. By that I mean that there isn't a twist of any description or even a big surprise, the whole thing just ends without much fuss, albeit dropping hint or two to set up for the next book in the series.
If you need a simple-to-read, action-packed and mildly humorous novel with a straight forward plot that doesn't require much effort, then this is a good choice, but I don't think you'll find much to get hugely excited about.
I think that I probably will read the next book when it's released, to give it another chance. Hopefully Resnick, who I still rate as one of the best storytellers ever, will deliver us something with a bit more grit next time.

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10 January 2015

Olivier Pron's Art

Pretty decent artwork by Olivier Pron. Check out more of his work HERE.

All images © Oliver Pron
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08 January 2015

The Turbo Encabulator

My all time favorite YouTube vid. This is where I learned all about automatically synchronizing cardinal grammeters and the proper application of reciprocation Dingle arms. Who would've thought that forty-one menastically-spaced grouting brushes could be so effective? Brilliant.

For more information click HERE.
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04 January 2015

Why English is hard to learn

It's a fair point that "Anonymous" makes.
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BOOK REVIEW: Xenopath by Eric Brown

Xenopath (Bengal Station, #2)Xenopath by Eric Brown (Bengal Station #2)
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Vaughan is a happy man, married to Sukara and with a child on the way. Working for a telepathic detective agency, Vaughan investigates a series of murders linked to the colony world of Mallory, and the slaughter of innocent aliens there by a colonial organization. But not only does the investigation put his own life in danger, but back on Bengal Station Sukara’s life is threatened too.

As with any story from Eric Brown, this Bengal Station story is pure fun. It's made up of some of my favorite sci-fi tropes, these being a future Earth, cool tech, faster-than-light space travel, distant planet colonies and wonderful alien creatures. I love this stuff, and Brown uses them to produce a kind of 'pulp sci-fi' feel which I absolutely love. His are the sort of easy-reading adventure stories that lend themselves to pure escapism, getting lost in an engaging story that moves along at a really nice pace and is wonderfully entertaining to boot.

In Xenopath, we again follow telepath Jeff Vaughan, our main character, and the story picks up his life on Bengal Station a couple of years after the events of Necropath, which is the preceding book in the series. Vaughan is again working as a telepath but this time for a private investigation agency, where he gets mixed up in the questionable affairs of a corporation who administer Mallory, a colony planet many light-years from Earth. Something strange is happening on Mallory and people are being killed to safeguard it's secrets and Vaughan vows to get to the bottom of it all. What ensues is a cool adventure that kept me interested right through.

The characters are interesting and developed well enough for the purposes of the story, but I can just hear some complaining about the 'shallow' or 'one-dimensional' characters. I disagree wholeheartedly, because it's a short and sweet book where Brown manages to show us just enough of the players in the story, as well as a nice look at a far away planet and alien species that are central to the plot. I'm withholding the fifth star from my rating only because I did find the plot a tad predictable, not enough to ruin any part of the book, but just enough to take the edge off it. It's like the author dropped little clues into the story a bit soon and had me figuring the plot quite early on.

However, I still enjoyed the yarn immensely, and I recommend this book to any fan of Eric Brown or lover of fun stories. My usual quip here: Once again, Brown fails to disappoint.

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