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.

Spoilers will appear here and are welcome.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Summaries Of Three Of The Six Books In Nathan Lowell's Trader's Tales From The Golden Age Of The Solar Clipper

I read a lot of science as you know if you regularly visit this blog.  I was very fortunate recently to get a heads up from a good friend and Babylon Project Podcast guest host, JP Harvey of Las Vegas, Nevada.  While we were working out some technical bugs in preparation for recording an episode, JP told me about a series of books that he really enjoyed and thought that I might too.  I had no idea how much of an understatement JP made when he said I would enjoy Nathan Lowell's Trader's Tales From The Age Golden Age Of The Solar Clipper series.  

I began reading the first of the six books the day before we got holiday break from school, and in the two weeks of vacation, I managed to read five of the six novels, and will soon begin reading the last of them

Most of what I read involved a violent conflict of some kind, or a post apocalyptic world, or an alien invasion, or a war.  While there is some conflict in this series, very little of it is violent, there is no ruined worlds, no aliens, and no wars.  There is, however space travel, but as far as I can tell to this point, the ships that the characters travel in aren't even armed.

So what's the deal?  There are none of the elements that make up a good Scifi story?  How does that work?

The novels are told from the point of view of Ishmael Horatio Wang (pronounced 'Wong'), an ordinary person who found himself in a bad position and then stumbles into a career that allows him to live an extraordinary life.  

This is going to be a two-part post and I will reserve my remarks about what I think of these stories for the second part.  So at this point, I will post a synopsis of the first three books in the series and suffice it to say that I loved everything I have read as of the end of the fifth book in the series.

Quarter Share: Book One of the Trader's Tales From The Golden Age Of The Solar Clipper Series by Nathan Lowell

The first book covers the life of Ishmael from August 13, 2351 to February 17, 2352.

Young Ishmael is preparing to attend the University on the planet, Neris.  He lives with his mother, a professor at the University in an apartment that is just large enough for the two of them.  

One evening, while Ishmael was home alone, two strangers knock on the door and inform Ishmael that his mother and the man she was out on a date with have been killed in a "flitter" accident (a flitter is a sort flying car).  Before the shock of losing his mother can set in, Ishmael is informed by university officials that he will have to leave the apartment and find passage off of the planet or face being deported.  Next he is informed by lawyers that any assets his mother had saved and any earnings due to her would be retained to pay for the property damage caused by the flitter crash.

With little time, and no money, Ish had to find something quickly.  He walked into the Union Hall to sign up to go aboard and work on a solar clipper.  Solar clippers are space-going vessels that transport cargo between star systems.  Just like the clipper ships of old, they would contract for cargos and make money by delivering goods on time to numerous ports of call.

The person who took Ishmael's application sees promise in him and he manages to get hired aboard the Lois Mckendrick owned by Federated Freight.  Ishmael is to be a quarter share rating on the mess crew.  A share is money over what the normal pay is when the ship earns a profit.  It is an incentive to make sure the job is done as contracted.  While officers made the highest shares, when there was a profit, everyone received shares or parts of shares.

Ishmael soon shows that he is a good hand on the ship and takes interest in other jobs.  His goal becomes to become a half share rating on all areas of ship’s operations, and to explore all of the possibilities.  He gets noticed and soon becomes an important part of the crew.

Just a word about the ships themselves here before I move on.  It seems that the average trip from one planetary system to the next takes about ten weeks.  Using solar sails to propel the ships through the “Deep Dark, “ it takes several weeks for a ship to climb out of a star’s gravity well, and about the same to go from the edge of a system safely into the stations in orbit around the habitable planets.

Among Ishmael’s many talents is that he is good with people, and he learns quickly.  When his friend arrives back on the ship after being mugged for his private cargo he intended to sell while in port, Ishmael takes in interest in the private trading which is not only tolerated, but is encouraged, as long as the items up for trade are not illegal or a danger to the ship.  Soon, Ish and his friend and coworker on the mess deck are trading and making good money on the stations that they visit.

Quarter Share is an excellent exposition to the rest of the series.  We find that the Lois McKendrick is staffed by people that are caring and offer a great deal of encouragement to young Ishmael to continually improve himself and his situation.  Ishmael himself is a fine young man who becomes focused on whatever he is doing and performs his duties with a high degree of efficiency.  Ishmael is also a very studious who takes his duties very seriously, but maintains a good sense of humor.

Half Share: Book Two of the Trader's Tales From The Golden Age Of The Solar Clipper Series by Nathan Lowell

The second book of the series include events beginning almost immediately after the first book and covers the next two months up to April 19, 2352.

Ishmael and Pip are having a great deal of success with their Cooperative trading arrangement.  Most of the crew are in on what is turning out to be a very lucrative venture for everyone involved.  With the help of the officers, there is space provided and the business is benefiting the ship in many ways, including morale of the crew.

Ishmael studies for exams and is promoted to work in the environmental section.

Full Share: Book Three of the Trader's Tales From The Golden Age Of The Solar Clipper Series by Nathan Lowell

The events of Full Share take place between April 23, 2353 and July 20, 2353.

Ishmael has performed well on the job, and has also done well with his trading activities.  He continues to prove himself a valuable member of the crew and is well respected, but he learns that he will have to leave the ship.  He is being bumped out of his job because the company has hired and assigned a more senior rating to take his place on the Lois.

While this is a sad state of affairs for everyone on board, Ishmael learns that since he has gained some seniority, he is also allowed to bump someone else and take their berth if he wishes.  Being true to his character, he refuses to do this and makes preparations to leave the ship.

During his entire time on the Lois, Ishmael has been encouraged by his fellow crew and officers to improve himself, both through his trading activities and by advancing up through the ranks.  But it doesn't stop there, the officers also begin encouraging him to attend the academy where he would also become an officer. He isn't sure he wants to do this and also observes that it is very expensive to go to the academy.

When he looks at what he has earned, he figures out that he has about half of what it would take to pay for going to the academy.

The entire crew rejoices when it is learned that Ishmael is allowed to stay on the ship to fill a new position that was created to avoid a disaster that took place on the Lois.  The power on the ship was interrupted temporarily and an officer and Ishmael managed to find the trouble, but it was also discovered that there was something else wrong when carbon dioxide levels began to rise.  The new position created was most likely temporary, but it bought Ishmael some time, and his job was to improve the ship's systems to avoid future power interruptions.

Finally, Ishmael is called before the captain who once again encourages him to attend the academy.  She, the captain, has already filled out the application for him and secured far more recommendations that is required and Ishmael decides to attend the academy.

As he leaves for the academy, Ishmael Wang has earned full share ratings in every area of ship operations as well as the respect of his fellow crew and officers.  The next book in the series, Double Share, picks up after he graduates from the academy and takes his first berth as an officer.

This post is more of a summary of the books in the Trader's tales series.  So far, I have read five of the six books in the series.  I began reading the first book on the last day before the holiday break from school and in I read all five books over the break. I found myself reading at almost every spare minute during those two weeks.

I set aside reading the sixth book until I could find the time to do some blogging, so stay tuned for my summary of the next three books and my thoughts about them in the next post.

Well, there it is...


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Shadow Ship - Book 2 Of John-Paul Cleary's Convergent Space Series - Solid Story & Well Written

The Shadow Ship - Book Two In the Convergent Space Series by John-Paul Cleary

The story in The Shadow Ship picks up some years after the events of the the first novel in the series, Convergent Space.  At the end of the first story, there was a terrible explosion that has since become known as the Second Great Wave.  This event has laid waste to numerous inhabited planets and systems that have either been completely obliterated or barely habitable.  It has also caused a shift in powers in the galaxy.  But looming over everything is a giant ship that is roaming the galaxy and destroying planets that belong to a dominant power in the galaxy known as the Renaissance.

Nyder is traveling with Della who is treating some of her more well off passengers to a tour of worlds that have been devastated by the Second Great Wave.  This morbid junket seems to be quite entertaining to Della and her guests, but not so much to Nyder, who is searching for his father, rumored to be dead.

Turiss, the commander of a Renaissance ship seems willing to do whatever it takes to track down the devastating Shadow Ship.  No one is aware of why the ship has chosen to travel between star systems and destroy Renaissance planets, but Turiss suspects that it has something to do with the Renaissance's arch enemies, the Phlegar.

Aiding Nyder in his search for his father is his wise cracking companion, Disparity. Companions are computers that are with humans from the time they are born and serve to advise and protect their human counterparts. Also along are Nax, a representative of Tihn Frolin, the now leader of the Phlegar.

Through many twists and turns, we learn the origin of the Shadow Ship and why it is doing what it is doing.  Nyder does find his father, Chet, and we learn the fate of Chet's Companion, Nonconformity.

But even with the mystery of the Shadow Ship solved, there is still a terrible war looming on the horizon and one person in the galaxy finds that he has the power to end it before it begins. It is up to this individual to weigh the cost of ending the war.

Cleary has once again penned a fine story.  His characters come come to life and as a reader, I found that I had an emotional connection with many of them, both liking and disliking some.  I found that I started out on the dislike side of the ledger with one character in particular, but when he had a chance to explain himself near the end of the book, I felt more sympathy with him.

One aspect that stood out for me was his descriptions of the devastated planets. With his words, Cleary painted mental pictures that were very vivid in my mind.

I don't know how many more novels that the author is planning for the series, but I was expecting the usual transitional piece that many times takes place in trilogies, but that is not the case here.  The Shadow Ship stands very well on its own, independent from the first novel in the series.  However, if you plan to give this one a try, take a look at Convergent Space first because there is some background there that is continued in this story.

Once again, The Shadow Ship begs for a sequel and I don't think that the author is ready to make an end to this saga.  So stay tuned.

I recommend The Shadow Ship with enthusiasm and without reservation.

Well, there it is...


Monday, January 5, 2015

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes - The Sequel To Rise Falls A Bit Short.

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes - 2014

With as busy as this past summer was, I was not able to make it to the theater to see Dawn.  So when it came available on Amazon, I put it on pre-order and waited. It arrived and last night my daughter and I watched a Planet of the Apes double feature night.

I did take advantage of the opportunity to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes in the theater and was very impressed and enjoyed it in every aspect. I had high expectations for Dawn and found that while I enjoyed it, there are a few things that I found lacking in Dawn.

The events of Dawn take place ten years after the events in Rise.  The ALZ-113 virus that was developed has been dubbed the Simian Virus and has wiped out most of the human population. There would seem to be scattered pockets of humanity that are immune to the virus.  One such pocket, located in San Francisco, is facing the dilemma of running out of energy and will soon not be able to keep the lights on. They know that there is a hydroelectric generating plant and if it can be repaired, they will have all of the electricity they need for sometime.

Meanwhile, across the Golden Gate in Muir Woods, Caesar and his band of intelligent apes have managed to do pretty well for themselves, being fruitful and multiplying into vast numbers. The would seem to have set up their own society living in peace.  As they contemplate their existence, they are aware that something has happened and they speculate on whether there are any humans left on the planet.

That question is soon answered as a small band of humans from San Francisco arrive on an apparent hunting exposition.  One trigger happy member of the human band shoots an ape and the problems start. Ceasar sends the humans away, preventing his fellow apes from exacting revenge on the humans.

Caesar's lieutenant, Koba feels that they should take advantage of the human weakness and attack, but Caesar logically thinks that while that might happen, there may also be a large loss of life among the ape population.  Koba remains ambitious while he remembers what was done to him at the hands of human scientists.  At any rate, Caesar leads his troops to San Francisco to tell the humans to stay in their city while promising that the apes will stay in their home and everyone will get along just fine.

The humans return to Muir Woods to ask permission to repair the hydroelectric generator so they can at least have electricity. Caesar reluctantly agrees and relations improve but again deteriorate when Koba discovers that the humans are preparing for war. Koba returns to the woods with a weapon and, while being very angry that Ceasar is cooperating with the humans, decides to take matters into his own hands.  Koba sets the ape village on fire and shoots Caesar. Koba then incites his fellow apes, blaming the humans for everything and leads an invasion of San Francisco.

The humans come upon Caesar, finding that, while being severely wounded, is not dead.  They nurse him back to health and take him to San Francisco where he confronts and defeats Koba and once again becomes the leader of the apes.  However, during the conflict between the invading apes and the good people of San Francisco, one enterprising individual manages to get in touch with a military base using his amateur radio set and puts out the call for help.  Caesar knows that there is a bigger war coming soon.

The film ends with the promise of another sequel.

There was a lot that I liked about this film. First off, the visual impact is, without a doubt, excellent. The CGI for the apes was even better in Dawn than it was in Rise, giving the film emotional impact.  One could feel what the apes felt, and could even be fooled into thinking that they were real actors. I also thought the story was solid, at least for the most part.  I was into it as far as wanting to see what would happen next, and even knowing that the apes would eventually get the upper hand, I found that there were sufficient surprises along to way to hold my interest.


Unfortunately, I found that I was disappointed on a few points also. While I found the story interesting and the visuals well done, I found the acting performances of the human cast uninteresting and shallow.  This actually led me to wonder what exactly the movie was about.  I am still not sure exactly what I was supposed to focus on in dawn.

Was Dawn supposed to be about? The plight of the apes?  The plight of the humans? The conflict between the humans and the apes? The conflict within the human camp? The conflict within the ape camp? I think there was far too much crammed into one film to really get a handle on what the message of the film really is.  

My biggest disappointment was in how the humans were handled in this movie.  I found that I couldn't care less whether the humans accomplished what they set out to do or not.  The humans were shallow, had no background (save for one that had worked for the CDC before the catastrophe), and were not at all memorable.

The main human characters were someone named Malcom, who seemed to be in charge of improving human-ape relationships by negotiating passage to the power plant. Where did he come from? What did he do before the Simian Virus struck?  The there was his son, who liked to scetch and had seen some events that "no child should ever see." What was his purpose?  What did he see? Then there is Ellie, who worked for the CDC, and also seems to be rather adept at treating apeish ailments, but again, shallow and undeveloped.  Gary Oldman plays the leader of the human population of San Francisco.  So what? Probably the only character I really cared about what happened to was Curt as protrayed by Kirk Acevedo; I was very happy to see this guy get his trigger happy butt kicked, but again, another shallow character.

Try, as I did, I really didn't care about the humans in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and thought that they were nothing more than a plot device to give the apes something to be in conflict with and to cause conflict within the ape ranks.

Despite the problems I have with Dawn, I liked the film for what I think it is, that being a bridge between Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the next film due in 2016 and has yet to be titled.

Well, there it is...