Notice...

The purpose of this blog is to have a little fun. It is NOT to start arguments. I don't profess to be an expert on Sci-fi, nor do I aspire to become an expert. You are welcome to comment on any and all content you find here. If my opinion differs from yours, as far as I am concerned, it's all okay. I will never say that you are wrong because you disagree with me, and I expect the same from those that comment here. Also, my audience on the blog will include some young people. Please govern your language when posting comments.

Posts will hopefully be regular based on the movies I see, the television shows I watch, and the books I read as well as what ever strikes me as noteworthy.


***SPOILER ALERT***
Spoilers will appear here and are welcome.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey To Unlock The Secrets Of The Universe by Mike Massimino

Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey To Unlock The Secrets Of The Universe by Mike Massimino

Every now and again, I find that I need to get away from the realm of Science Fiction and read something that is more based on fact. That opportunity presented itself recently when I became aware that Astronaut Mike Massimino had penned an autobiography outlining his experiences on becoming and being a member of NASA’s Astronaut Corps.

Previous to reading Spaceman, my exposure to the author came through some of the interviews he conducted for the NASA Channel, some of the interviews of which he was the subject, and through his frequent appearances on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s weekly StarTalk Radio show which is available through iTunes. I have always enjoyed listening to Mike because, along with his giant sense of humor, he is an intelligent and thoughtful individual, but not one to be overstated when he talks. He is very personable as he visits with Dr. Tyson and others and just listening to him, you cannot call him anything other than Mike. So if he happens to read this post, it is my hope that Dr. Mike Massimino will forgive my presumptuousness in referring to him as just Mike. Along with listening to him talk and especially since reading his book, I feel this is a man that I could be friends with; he’s just an ordinary guy who found and made opportunities to do some truly extraordinary things in his life, and he’s still going strong.

Spaceman is the story of Mike’s journey to become a very important part of what has kept the Hubble Space Telescope in orbit and operating for so many years (the Hubble has been in orbit since April, 1990 and has taken numerous breathtaking photos as well as performed above and beyond expectations as astronomers continue to regularly make new discoveries about the universe). Starting out dreaming of becoming an astronaut at a young age, Mike would read everything he could get his hands on and dream of going into space. Among his inspirations there was the Apollo 11 Moon landing in 1969, and the release of the film The Right Stuff  in 1983. From there, Mike embarked on his life’s mission to become an astronaut which took many twists and turns that could have very well ended any possibility of his achieving his goal. However, there is no quit in Mike and as each obstacle presented itself, he would find a way to overcome and persevere, usually with the help of others. In the book, Mike often writes about the importance of teamwork and how being a team player opened doors of opportunity that he would not have been able to open by himself.

Mike’s writing style is conversational and straightforward, and it is obvious that he intended this book for anyone to enjoy. While there are many references to the technical aspects of his work with NASA, the reader is not overwhelmed by those aspects and they are explained adequately so one can understand without being distracted from the author’s story. However, what I found to be outstanding in this book were Mike’s descriptions of his time in space; the sights, the sounds (or lack thereof), and the way that astronauts support each other.

I recommend this book for anyone who enjoys learning more about what the men and women involved with the space program sacrifice to achieve their goals, and to further demonstrate that an alternate way to approaching seemingly insurmountable problems is to face them and solve them as opposed to quitting. I would especially recommend this book to any young people that may be considering pursuing a career with NASA as a fine, inspirational starting point for becoming prepared for an interesting life if one is willing to do the work it takes to get there.

Well, there it is…

Qaplah!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Patriots of Mars by Jeff Faria - A Fine First Novel With A Surprise Ending!

Patriots of Mars: The God That Failed by Jeff Faria

A few weeks ago, I followed the author, Jeff Faria, on Twitter after he followed me. It wasn’t long after that he sent me an instant message offering to send me a copy of his new book, Patriot of Mars, in exchange for a fair and honest review of his work.  I replied to his message that I would be willing to do as he asked.

In the not too distant future, the Earth has all but run out of resources and has turned to our neighbor in the solar system, Mars to continue to provide what is needed for the continuation of life on our planet. In what is becoming an all too familiar trope, the corporations of Earth are in control of all aspects of mining the resources on the Red Planet and the workers there are little more than indentured servants. A small number of more wealthy earth citizens have also taken up residence on Mars to further add to the exploitation of resources and people there. While everyone seems to be happy with their situation, either running businesses or working for the corporations of Earth, a contingency would seem to be looking to gain independence when a freighter is attacked and its cargo is sent into space in a kind of Boston Tea Party-ish sort of move to claim Martian independence under the name of the Patriots of Mars. While I mentioned that this is an all too familiar trope, all is not what it seems as the story develops.

The story focuses on a young worker, Josh Reynolds who has no political aspirations, is not interested in Martian independence, nor wants any more than to do his job, take care of his mother, and hang out with his closest friends between shifts. Unfortunately for Josh, he becomes the object of scrutiny after he leads a group of his co workers out of a collapsed mine in a situation that no one should have been able to get out of. The police on Mars believe him to be one of, if not the leader of, a group of Patriots that caused the mining accident shortly after the routing of the freighter.

Back on Earth, the corporations convince the puppet government to dispatch troops to Mars to quell the uprising and their eventual arrival is going to make life for everyone on the Red Planet miserable, if not unbearable. Josh is thrust into the role of a leader that must find a way to turn the troop transport back before the unthinkable happens.

All the while, the plots weave in and out and everything comes to a head, but not in any way that might be called predictable, thus the trope is smashed and something new is coming to Mars.

I enjoyed this book for many reasons, one of which was the character development. As I read, I found that there were several characters that I was caring about and some that I was hoping would be successful. Along with that, there were other characters that, while interesting, were not very nice people at all; these were the people that were interested in exploiting any possible avenue to reap profit from any one else’s disadvantages. There was also one character in particular that intrigued me and that I want to learn more about; that character was named MOM. MOM is not a human, but rather a massive computer systems that regulates many aspects of life on both Mars and Earth. MOM’s role in the book is almost kept in the background for a good portion of the story, but makes her presence known in a big way in the final chapters of the book, thus setting up a next book.

One of the things that I was most impressed with was the detailed, yet not overstated world building the author incorporates in his work. The descriptions of the landscape and locations on Mars are plausible and palpable. That, along with the way that the characters at all levels interact with the environment and each other make this a fun and thought provoking story to read.

Patriots of Mars may be touted as a young adult sci-fi novel as it focuses a great deal on a small group of young adults, in my opinion, I think it would appeal to sci-fi fans of almost all ages.  However, due to the intricate blending of several story elements, perhaps readers aged seventeen and older would probably get the most out of it.

Well, there it is…

Qaplah!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Autograph Collecting Secrets: Tools and Tactics for Through The Mail, In-Person, and Convention Success by Troy Rutter - A Great Resource Guide To Obtain Nerdy/Geeky Memorobilia

Autograph Collecting Secrets: Tools and Tactics for Through The Mail, In-Person, and Convention Success by Troy Rutter

You may well ask, “why is he reviewing a book on autograph collecting on a science fiction blog?” Well, the answer is very simple, I have enjoyed meeting and getting signed photos from celebrities as well as autographed books from my favorite authors for the last few years. I will say up front, the author, Troy and I are friends, but this review has not been, in any way, solicited.

I cannot remember exactly when and how Troy and I came to be friends, but I think it was through a mutual Facebook friend when I learned that Maggie Egan (Jane, the ISN news anchor on Babylon 5 was listed as one of the guests at the OSFest 6 convention in Omaha a few years ago. I learned that he was the webmaster on the Babylon 5 television series and instant messaged him to request an interview to talk about his experiences working on that show. I found him to be very willing, approachable, and friendly. Well, we continue to correspond and I consider Troy to be a close friend and a mentor in my newly acquired hobby, TTM (Through The Mail) autograph collecting.

As I write this, I look at the small collection of autographed 8x10 photos hanging in my “Man Cave,” Some are gifts from the Scifi Diner Podcast, some are from conventions I have attended or that others have brought back from conventions I was not able to attend, and one, my first TTM success, is thanks to following the methods that Troy lays out in his new book, Autograph Collecting Secrets, as well as his tutorial videos on YouTube. I will add more on that later in this post.

Autograph Collecting Secrets is a complete guide to the author’s methods of collecting autographs from numerous celebrities in movies and television, as well as a plethora of NFL and MLB athletes.  Well written, easy to follow, and easily read in less than three hours, it is chock-full of information for anyone that is a seasoned collector all the way to the beginner. As I would expect from Troy, the text is well organized and concise, but also contains brief descriptions of his personal experiences as a thirty-year veteran of this fun and interesting hobby.

In the 155 pages of text that includes illustrations and photos, Troy outlines the ins-and-outs of getting started as well as some ideas for improving one’s own experience if one is already a collector. He outlines successful methods that have worked for him and others and things not to do as one collects autographs of favorite celebrities, sports figures, or any other possible kind of collecting one may want to do. Following a foreword by Jack Smalling (a renowned autograph collector in his own right) is an introduction by the author explaining who the book is actually intended for, as well as who it is not intended for; you can read the introduction in the excerpt offered at Amazon.com. The chapters included in Autograph Collecting Secrets include

  • Glossary: A list of terms commonly used by autograph collectors and their definitions
  • Chapter 1: My Autograph Story: Troy outlines his personal experience in his 30 years of collecting.
  • Chapter 2: Is Autograph Collecting Dead?: Some say it is a dead hobby for various reasons.
  • Chapter 3: Autograph Collecting Supplies: Things that you need and are nice to have to begin your adventure.
  • Chapter 4: Finding Your Niche: What are you into? Sci-Fi, Cooking? Sports?
  • Chapter 5:: Finding Celebrity Addresses: Thanks to the Internet, there are several resources to find and confirm addresses for successful collecting.
  • Chapter 6: Through The Mail (TTM) Collecting: To do’s and not to do’s when sending requests through the Postal Service.
  • Chapter 7: Real or Fake?: Other than watching a celeb sign in front of you, how can you know it is authentic?
  • Chapter 8: In-Person (IP) Autograph Collecting: More do’s and don’ts for this type of collecting.
  • Chapter 9: Comic-Cons and Private Signings: Can be pricey but fun.
  • Chapter 10: Buying Autographs: Watch out for dealers and scammers; what to avoid.
  • Chapter 11: Storage and Display: You want to take care of your successes, here’s how.
  • Chapter 12: Social Sharing: If you are proud of your collection, you want to show it off.
  • Chapter 13: Selling Your Collection: Tips if you want to unload your stuff.
  • Chapter 14: The Future of Autograph Collecting: It is worth continuing?

At the end of the book are a lot of helpful resources to get started including addresses of all the Major League and Minor League Baseball addresses, all of the NFL Stadium addresses, and the major television and movie studios.

Concise, well organized, and every concept is clearly explained. If you are already a collector, or are just getting into collecting, or even if it is something that you might think you would like to do, I recommend this book.

As Troy and I are friends, he contacted me after he had most of the text written and asked if I would be one of his beta readers and help with the editing. He sent me the files and I went to work and thought, what the heck, I will give this a try. Troy had recently received a successful return from Armin Shimerman of Deep Space Nine fame.

I got the address that Troy sent to, an agency in Los Angeles. The I joined Star Tiger, one of several web based services that one can obtain celebrity addresses from, and got a 30 day free trial. I confirmed the address that Troy had given me. This was an unnecessary step, but I wanted to follow the methods outlined in Autograph Collecting Secrets. Next I found two photos of Mr. Shimerman on Google and uploaded them to Sharp Prints, a web based photo service that is very reasonably priced; about eighty cents per 8x10 print (as an aside note, if you use Sharp Prints, you will want to get more than two prints at a time or the shipping is very expensive).

When my photos arrived, they were very high quality and so I sent them along with a handwritten note. In Autograph Collecting Secrets, Troy explains that whether the note is handwritten or typed doesn’t seem to make a difference on returns and it is a personal preference. I choose to do the handwritten note because it just seems more personal to me; so for the time being this is my method. At any rate, I followed Troy’s procedures to the letter based on what he wrote as well as a video that Troy made for his YouTube channel for collecting.


I purchased some small packages of 10x13 and 9x12 envelopes from Wal-Mart and some a package of acid-free backing boards from Amazon and assembled the “Send” as instructed with the two prints and the note. I headed to the post office and purchased two $1.50 stamps from the kiosk and dropped it package in the box.

27 days later I received both photos signed as well as a short note from Mr. Shimmerman. My first TTM Success! Even though I was pretty sure that I would receive what I asked for, I was nevertheless elated when I opened my package to find that my first attempt was fruitful! Below are scans of the items I received…




I am currently preparing to do more TTM sends in the near future using the methods outlined in Autograph Collecting Secrets and will likely blog about my geeky/nerdy returns  as they come in, until then, you can find Troy’s book on Amazon. Below are some links to Troy’s web page, YouTube Channel, and e-mail. Feel free to contact him to exchange ideas or get advice. He is very friendly and approachable and is always willing to help a fellow collector at any level of expertise.

TTM Autographs Web Page: http://ttmautograph.com/
Mike the Fanboy (Troy contributes): http://www.mikethefanboy.com/

Well, there it is…

Qaplah!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

1-800-Henchmen: Double Lives, Double The Fun By Katherine Wielechowski - Leading A Double Life Ain't Easy!

1-800-Henchmen: Double Lives, Double The Fun by Katherine Wielechowski

Double Lives, Double the Fun begins almost where the first book in the series, First Shot leaves off. In this segment, Alfie is doing his best to balance a very complicated life, which he does so while maintaining his sense of humor while developing his skills as a member of the Henchmen team to which he has been assigned. It was discovered that Alfie has a lot to offer his team in the area of firearms proficiency, but is lacking in the area of hand-to-hand combat. So while he undergoes training to improve his skills, obtaining many bumps and bruises along the way (the Henchmen don’t pull their punches in training), he has to limp home and try to maintain his family life, concealing his aches and pains as he perpetuates the falsehood of being a simple employee in a gym. Thankfully he is still young and he recovers quickly, but he doubts his improvement as his trainers ramp up the torture as he gains skills.

Alfie’s non professional life continues on a more or less normal track as we get to meet more of his family, including two brothers who visit all too infrequently as far as Alfie’s mother is concerned.

Now, if balancing leading a double life isn’t enough, throw in an unintentional budding romantic relationship with one of the members of Alfie’s team and a den of terrorists in Canada bent on causing more nuclear mayhem, you have the makings of a really fun story.

In this novella, the second in a series of four (so far), we find our hero, Alfie facing the rigors of leading a double life trying to hide the true nature of his job from his family, which he is doing brilliantly. Once again, Katherine knocks it out of the park with her brilliant character development and imaginative plot development creating a story that can be easily read in one sitting, but is jam-packed full of fun banter between characters, hilarious situations, and action packed entertainment.

While the Henchmen stories may not be pure Sci-Fi, I would have to say that they are within the superhero, action/adventure genres and are well worth taking a look at.

Well, there it is…

Qaplah!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Blood And Fire (Star Wolf #4) By David Gerrold - The Last Book In The Series Is Outstanding And Thought Provoking

Blood and Fire (Star Wolf #4) By David Gerrold

All good things must come to an end, and so it is for the Star Wolf series by David Gerrold. Sometime back, I asked the author what he would recommend for a good space opera book by him to read and he responded with Voyage of the Star Wolf, which I immediately downloaded on my Kindle and started to read. I very much enjoyed it and grabbed the remaining three novels. Blood and Fire is the fourth and final installment in this amazing series of tales.

In this story, it is some time after the events of the third book in the series, The Middle of Nowhere. In that story, the Star Wolf had not earned its name and will still known in the fleet as the LS-1187 (LS meaning Liberty Ship), even though the crew and especially the first officer, Commander Jon Korie, knew that they actually had, several times over. Korie also believed that he had earned his captain’s stars as well. At any rate, the ship was devastated by a small group of imps left behind by a Morethan assassin in the second novel in the series. These imps were doing a thorough job damaging the Star Wolf, and came very close to causing the destruction of the ship itself, but also causing the destruction of the starbase that the ship reported to.

Repairs and upgrades have been made to the Star Wolf and the ship gets a new captain, a woman named Parsons. Parsons is an experienced captain that knows her business and holds the respect of the crew and Commander Korie as well, which has not been the case with previous captains of the Star Wolf. The ship has also earned its name between novels.

Star Wolf has been dispatched on a rescue mission for another Liberty Ship, the Norway, which has not been heard from is some time and is in danger of being lost in a binary star system. When Star Wolf arrives at their destination, they find that the Norway is in danger of being destroyed by a ribbon of plasma that is created when one star is taking the plasma from the other. The Norway appears dead, but life signs are detected on board. Commander Korie leads a boarding party to investigate and he and his people run into some nasty trouble when they discover that the ship is infested with bloodworms that have the ability to eat right through his people’s environmental suits, but multiply when an attempt to destroy them is made with a flame thrower.

The landing party, minus one unfortunate soul, manages to escape and locate the ship’s survivors and attempt rescue, all the while fighting a race against time between the bloodworms and the plasma ribbon.

The book, in its entirety, is a great story as one would expect from David Gerrold. There is plenty of excellently written action with characters that are compelling; in short, it has all of the elements that make a spectacular space opera. However for me, the real meat in this book is the third chapter that defines much of what this piece is about. That chapter is entitled “History.”

Please allow me to digress for a moment to Star Trek. As a Trekkie/Trekker, I have come to think of our future among the stars as being rather utopian. According to canon, one day in the future, after a devastating war, Zephram Cochrane takes the first warp drive capable ship on a little jaunt in our solar system which is noticed by an enlightened race who has warp technology. This race visits the earth and it sparks a new era for humanity. According to Trek lore, we eventually no longer feel the need to acquire wealth or possessions, we no longer have wars over ideologies or belief systems, and we solve all of the problems that plague us today and have for all of our history. According to Star Trek, humans are no longer the problem, it is all of those other races in the galaxy that are messing everything up and all we humans want to do is help everyone get along and play nice with each other. Please don’t misunderstand, I am a lifelong Trek fan and always will be, and it is not my intention to bash something I have enjoyed for most of my life, but Trek does have the tendency for not accurately depicting what I feel would be the reality of what it will be when and if we do ever begin traveling to the stars. I think we will take much of our baggage with us as we move among the stars. I have always thought this and am great full to Mr. Gerrold for helping me clarify my thoughts so I can put them into words.

In the chapter called “History,” Mr. Gerrold briefly discusses what we would actually take with us as we move out among the stars. The opening statement of that chapter hit me like a ton of bricks when I first read it and has given me much food for thought. To quote: “Contrary to popular expectations, the invention of faster-than-light travel did not create an age of enlightenment. Quite the opposite.”

In the test of the third chapter, Mr. Gerrold discusses the memes that we will most likely take with us as we move away from our own solar system and travel to others. In today’s popular culture, memes are pictures usually depicting the image of a celebrity with a sometimes clever statement that is intended to be humorous, ironic, entertaining, or to advance a certain point of view (usually in a disparaging way) that appears on social media. One of my favorite memes of this type is this one:


However, this is not the type of meme that the author intends for the reader to think about while reading. According to the definition of the word meme from the dictionary on my Kindle, a meme is a noun from the study of biology which is “an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation.” In other words, memes are what we pass from one another in the form of political, religious, economic, and other beliefs which may, or may not be based on fact, as well as being malignant or benign in their nature. History is replete with how memes that are antithetical clash oftentimes resulting in death and destruction on a massive scale. According to the author, often when antithetical memes meet, there is only one result, both sides endeavor to eradicate each other. So, in light of history, and seeing the same thing happening over and over again, I unfortunately have to say, sorry Mr. Roddenberry, I have to go with Mr. Gerrold on this one.

In Blood and Fire, it is the eradication aspect of clashing memes that comes into play as a small group of humans work to create a weapon of mass destruction to be used against the Morethans until something goes very wrong and the weapon works against the people creating it. Solutions to problems have to be found and as more problems arise, more solutions are needed, and sacrifices have to be made.

This book and the three previous installments are all excellent stories that are very compelling to sensitive intelligent science fiction fans and I would place them high on a list of must reads. David Gerrold writes so well in his character development, plot, and voice that I rate his work at least on par with Asimov, Heinlein, Anderson, and other classic masters of the genre. He creates worlds that one can immerse one’s self in and does it in a way that makes reading his stories feel real.

Once again, the books in the Star Wolf series include:

Starhunt
Voyage of the Star Wolf
Middle of Nowhere
Blood and Fire

Well, there it is…

Qaplah!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Star Trek: Legacies Book 1: Captain to Captain - A Number One Book About Number One!

Star Trek: Legacies: Captain to Captain by Greg Cox

Is there a Star Trek fan that doesn’t know that it is the fiftieth anniversary year for the first airing of this, one of the most beloved and influential television, movie, and literary phenomenons to every exist. Well, perhaps there might be one or two. Star Trek hit the airwaves on September 8, 1966 with the first episode called The Man Trap on the NBC television network. What followed was the stuff of legends; I am sure that there is not a single person in the civilized world that doesn’t know what Star Trek is in some form.

On the literary side, we were promised a trilogy of novels, the first of those, Captain to Captain by Greg Cox, is the subject of this review.

In 2267, Captain Una (better known as Number One from the Menagerie, and played by Majel Barrett) comes aboard the Enterprise in her small, but powerful starship Yorktown. The reason she gives for her arrival is to pay a visit to her former crew mate, Spock, but she has another agenda in mind as well. While Kirk and crew go about their business of running the Enterprise, Una breaks into Kirk’s quarters and steals an item known as a Transfer Key, to simply The Key. This device is apparently so dangerous that it has been passed from Enterprise captain to captain to keep secure in his/her quarters and even Starfleet Command knows nothing about it. After a chase, which Una has apparently planned very well, it is up to Kirk to retrieve the device, but he must keep it a secret from everyone except for Spock, who also knows about the Key.

Flashback to 2249. Under the command of Captain Robert April, the Enterprise achieves orbit around Libros III where they discover a pre-industrial civilization that is being displaced by an alien race called the Jatohr. The alien race is not only exploiting the Usildar, the indigenous race on Usilde (as the Libros III is called by the natives), but they are reforming the face of the planet. When the then Lieutenant Una leads her first landing party to see what is taking place, they find themselves captured and all but Una are sent away from the planet to no one knows where, or whether they are alive or dead. With the help of a sympathetic Jatohr scientist, Una secures the key and the Enterprise escapes.

Forward again to 2267, Una has made it her mission to find and rescue her lost crew mates from 2249. She has the key and manages to find the help she needs to complete her task. Finally, the Key is back in safe hands, but there is a twist. But then, isn’t there always?

Captain to Captain was a fun look at events that involved two eras of Star Trek, one of which I know very little of. I enjoyed reading the exploits of Una, who appeared in TOS known only as Number One. She apparently was given that name because she was the best at everything that she did. While appearing in the TOS two-part Menagerie episodes, we saw an emotionless and logical character, much like Spock became in the series. This story shows that she does indeed try to control her emotions, but isn’t always successful as some very disturbing circumstances arise for her. Finally, her loyalty for her lost friends drives her to act in ways that one wouldn’t expect.

Creg Cox's story is well written and is a fun read. It centers mostly on Una, but does also include many members of Enterprise crews from both 2267 and 2249. All of the characters behave as one would expect in the Star Trek universe and there are some fun exchanges between characters. I recommend Captain to Captain as a fine opening to the three part Legacies series honoring the 50th Anniversary of Star Trek. It is going to be fun to see where the rest of the series takes us.

Well, there it is…

Qaplah!