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.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Out of Time by Mikhail Gladkikh - Breathtaking Hard Sci-Fi

Out of Time by Mikhail Gladkikh

I received an advance review copy for free and am leaving this review voluntarily.

When Dr. Mikhail Gladkikh contacted me via email asking if I would read his new book, and sent the blurb along, I did not know what to expect. I just finished reading Out of Time and I will admit, it left me breathless. It is an amazing roller coaster ride of scientific discovery, political intrigue, and mayhem perpetrated by those who are power hungry megalomaniacs. There are a plethora of characters, both good and bad, who embark on a journey to save, or destroy, the very universe we live in.

This story is based on concepts constantly under the scrutiny of real astrophysics every day. Chiefly, some concepts explore the nature of spacetime, dark matter/energy, and the effects of gravitational waves. When I read or listen to podcasts dealing with much of this subject matter, I come away only partially understanding what I've taken in. This story discusses these concepts as well, but the author does a great job making it easier to understand for the common person.

The tale itself is well paced, moving from chapter to chapter, following the exploits of the characters in their various roles.

In short, if you only read one hard sci-fi novel this year, this should be it.

Set in the year 2057, humanity seems to have gotten itself together enough to move off planet and explore the solar system. The people of Earth have changed little in the future, and there are those who have massive amounts of wealth and power, but enough is never enough. It's politics as usual. Things go awry when something strange happens in the outer solar system.

On Oberon, the outermost moon of Uranus, an anomaly seems to increase the gravitational pull of this body. When a team is sent to investigate, a probe is destroyed, revealing few answers. Not long after, the same type of anomaly grips the Earth's moon and sends the satellite on a collision course with the planet.

A crack team of scientists is gathered to address the problem. As they work on this, a college student, Jim Steel, begins having visions of the future and helps police solve a crime.

There are several threads to this story that weave together into a complete tapestry of deeper scientific understanding of the workings of our universe, and the dangers presented by those who would manipulate the laws of nature to their own advantage.

My favorite point of the plot in Out of Time was how the science was written. At one point, a character proposes what she conjectures to be the mechanics of how the universe continues to expand and what is causing the anomalous problems that exist in the story. What I most enjoyed about this is how Galdkikh made the prose so clear even I could understand the explanation, while still making it sound more like science than science fiction. There are two hypotheses put forth that seem so plausible that they must be something under study in the real world.

At another point, there is some discussion of how the universe will end. This takes place within the mind of the character Jim Steel, a college student who has glimpses of the future and helps solve some problems presented in the story. The idea deals with the theory that since the universe was created in a massive explosion, it would end in just the opposite way, with a Big Crunch.

In the first idea, it is the addition of (dark) matter/energy that inflates the universe, and in the second, the universe will in a kind of overcrowding of matter and energy, which will lead to a Big Bang; the creation of a new universe in a new epoch.

Whatever the truth is, we may never know, but it is fun to think about and come up with new ideas and argue about the old ones. In any case, my point is that the science in this book is written so anyone can understand what is being discussed. The handling of science in this story made it more accessible to me and easier to visualize, which I appreciate.

My takeaway from Out of Time is how science can be corrupted by introducing politics into problem solving. We see this today when we look at the problem of global climate change and how this debate is developing. I will not offer my personal views here, but I will say that it disturbs me how everything science, which is supposed to be the search for the truth, is spun to fit whatever one tends to believe.

This story is a perfect example of how scientists are charged with finding truths and solving problems and when politics become involved, how the issues become clouded to where the common person doesn't know what to think. 

This tale is engaging and entertaining and at no point was I bored with this book. There is a lot in this book to keep track of, but it is so well written and organized that there are no problems with understanding the action taking place. I love the way the threads of the story, which in many cases seem unrelated, come together at the end. I give Out of Time my highest recommendations for a high-quality hard sci-fi story.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Mikhail Gladkikh is an author and a thought leader, driven by the quest for knowledge, learning, and advancement of humanity.

Mikhail Gladkikh, Ph.D. Applied Mathematics, is a new fiction author. His sci-fi short stories are published in multiple online journals. Mikhail’s short story “Sea-born” has been selected as the story of the month for November 2021 and nominated for the Pushcart Award by “The Big Purple Wall” magazine. His professional career provides him with a unique perspective on the technologies of the future. He spent sixteen years at Baker Hughes, an Energy Technology Company, where he is working at the forefront of the 4th Industrial Revolution, advancing 3D Printing, Industrial Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, and Digital Supply Chain. 

Well, there it is...

Qapla!

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Alien Isolation (Audiobook) by Keith R.A. Decandido - A Complete Package Of Great Story, Characters, And Narration!

Alien Isolation (Audiobook) by Keith R.A. Decandido

In preparation for a day trip to Kansas City, Missouri, to attend Planet Comicon, I downloaded Alien: Isolation to accompany me on the drive. I found this a great choice for an audiobook for both content and narration. Keith is one of my favorite authors, mostly for his work in the Star Trek sandbox, and particularly for his portrayal of Klingons in his work. Knowing the quality of his work in the Trek universe, I was not surprised to find the same level of quality in this story from the Alien franchise. Overall, I found Alien: Isolation a refreshing diversion from the monotony of cross-country driving.

This story is based on the video game of the same title as the book. (I've never played the video game, nor did I know anything about it before I looked it up.) This is the tale of Amanda Ripley, daughter of Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley of the ill-fated cargo ship, Nostromo. Apparently, Ripley revealed she had a daughter back on Earth during the Aliens film in a scene that was cut from the original movie. This story fleshes out Amanda's plight using flashback scenes to give us some insight into the principal character, and the main story of Amanda's struggle to learn Ellen's fate and her struggle to survive encounters with the xenomorphs.

Keith's story is fast-paced and was well balanced between the flashbacks and the principal story. The descriptions of the settings were easy to visualize, and the characters were excellently developed and read as believable living people. The narration by Sarah Mollo-Christensen was also outstanding and further brought the action and characters to life.

Ellen Ripley departed on the Nostromo after promising her young daughter, Amanda, she would return in time for her eleventh birthday. As Amanda awaited her mother's return, she only finds deep disappointment when she is informed Ellen will not return because the Nostromo was mysteriously destroyed en route returning to Earth, and that her mother's fate is not known.

Amanda, who is being raised by her alcoholic stepfather, has a rough life. Her ambition is to attend school, learn all she can, and learn of her mother's fate. After following several false leads, she finally receives word that the Nostromo's flight recorder has been recovered and is on a deep-space station.

When arriving at the station, her ship and crew find themselves in a desperate fight for survival against the very creatures that ravaged the Nostromo's crew. Amanda must use all her knowledge and wits to escape death and find out if she will ever see her mother again.

Amanda Ripley is not Ellen Ripley, at least not right away. She is smart and learns fast. Her intention was to become a certified engineer. While she did become an engineer of sorts, the certification eluded her for many reasons. Chief among those was her stepfather who, while capable, had a lot of problems with alcohol, and by extension, holding a job. So instead of being able to pursue her ambition, she had to work to support herself and her often unemployed stepdad to survive and avoid being taken into the system.

Those of us who have followed Ellen's exploits through the Alien franchise admire her as a tough, yet compassionate, and heroic character. Amanda has these same traits as she goes about the business of seeking hope her mother somehow survived the Nostromo disaster. Aboard the space station, there are dangers everywhere. Yes, there is the monster, but at the same time there are numerous system failures she must keep repairing, and, she has to deal with the personnel issues as the crew also breaks down and enters an ‘everyone-for-themselves’ survival mode. In the end, Amanda is every bit the hero as her mother.

As always, there seems to be another enemy to fight who never shows its face. Readers/listeners probably will not be surprised at the reveal who the hidden enemy is.

My favorite point of plot for Isolation is how well Amanda's character is fleshed out to become someone a reader can care about. Without this aspect in the story, this tale wouldn't have been extraordinary. I felt so bad for this brilliant little girl and absolutely wanted her to be successful in achieving her goals. It was sad that at every turn; she was thwarted and forced to serve in a menial role so far below her intellect. It is my hope that Keith may tell more of this tale outside of the novelization of the video game. He just knows how to spin a great yarn, and I know his treatment would be a satisfying story. 

The obvious main theme of Isolation is a look at someone who survives against insurmountable odds. But my takeaway from this story goes a little deeper than Amanda versus the monster. It is more how Keith endows her with a strength of character that allows her to survive.

There is no quit in Amanda. She is going to persevere no matter what she is told or what obstacles are put in her way. It would have been so easy for her to just accept being told Ellen was dead and move on from there. She might have, but it was that tiny seed of doubt that drove her on to do whatever she had to do to uncover the truth. I admire her for this, and it is what kept me listening as I made my way home from Kansas City.

Alien: Isolation is a great audiobook and I highly recommend it to those who are fans of the franchise and are looking for more story. It moves at a great pace. There just isn't a dull moment or what one might think of as fluff. Everything is relevant to the story. The characters, along with Amanda, are great and help the listener/reader understand the principal character better. Even though the story is complete in itself, it still left me wanting more and it is my hope there will be more in the near future, especially if Keith DeCandido is tapped to be the author.

Novel Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Narration Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Keith R.A. DeCandido was born and raised in New York City to a family of librarians, which pretty much explains everything. He has written more than 50 novels, as well as short stories, nonfiction, eBooks, comic books, and blog entries, many of them in various media universes, among them Star Trek, Alien, Supernatural, World of Warcraft, StarCraft, Marvel Comics, Cars, Farscape, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Stargate, Serenity, Resident Evil, Kung Fu Panda, Doctor Who, Sleepy Hollow, Leverage, Orphan Black, and more. Among his many works of original fiction are the fantasy police procedural series of novels and short stories that started with Dragon Precinct, as well as a series of urban fantasy short stories set in Key West, Florida, many of which are in Ragnarok & Roll: Tales of Cassie Zukav, Weirdness Magnet, fiction about cops in a city filled with super heroes, and an urban fantasy series about a nice Jewish boy from the Bronx who hunts monsters, starting with the novel A Furnace Sealed. Keith is also an editor (having supervised several book lines and put together dozens of anthologies), musician (percussionist for the Don't Quit Your Day Job Players, the Boogie Knights, and others), pop culture commentator (he writes for both Tor.com and his own Patreon at patreon.com/krad) and a third-degree black belt in Kenshikai karate (he both trains and teaches). He still lives in New York City with various humans and animals.

Sarah Mollo-Christensen (Narrator): Sarah grew up riding horses outside Boston, and went to Dartmouth College, where she graduated magna cum laude with a BA in History. 

After a few years working in other industries, such as documentary production, book publishing, and law, she threw caution and financial responsibility to the winds, and decided to apprentice herself to a dog trainer and attend the Atlantic Acting School's two-year Conservatory. 

In the years since, Sarah has acted in New York and at wonderful regional theaters, including The Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., where she spent a year in residence as an acting fellow.

When she's not in a theater or an audio booth, Sarah can be found resolving the behavior issues of New York City's dogs (and their owners).

Entropy by Dana Hayward - Solid Characters And A Great Tale Of Scientific And Political Intrigue

Entropy by Dana Hayward

I received an advance review copy of Entropy for free and am leaving this review voluntarily.

It is always a great day when I open my email and find a note from an author asking if I would be interested in reading their new book. When author Dana Hayward, who appreciated my review of another person's work, offered to send an advance copy of his new work, Entropy, along with a synopsis, I was more than happy to oblige.

There is nothing about this book I didn't enjoy. It is a fast-moving piece set in a not-too-distant future where there has been a lot of scientific advancement. The characters are well developed and display growth as the story advances. Most are easy to relate to and might be people I would want to know. But, while the story is fast-paced, and I enjoyed reading it, it is also quite disturbing, as I am sure it is meant to be.

While set in the future, many of the ideas in Entropy could be headlines from today. There are many plot points that felt all too real as I read and make me realize how easily fiction can become reality. In that way, this was a frightening read because the author takes us to possible new realities even beyond what are in current headlines.

The name of the game in Entropy is survival in a seemingly unsurvivable situation. There won't be many winners in this game, and the losers will just be dead.

For some mysterious reason, the Earth has lost its ability to sustain itself as a viable system. Everything is breaking down as the planet seems to approach a dangerous equilibrium of nothingness. Life is disappearing at an alarming rate and the human population is experiencing shortages of everything, including breathable air, potable water, and food. Chaos is rapidly becoming the order of the day as a few people try to address the problem, or become predators, taking from those who have without regard for others.

Governments cannot help and determine it is time to look to alternate living arrangements such as moving out into the solar system, leaving the Earth behind.

U.S. President Myung Kim determines the only course is to give people hope by first establishing a permanent colony on the moon to be used as a jumping off point for permanent relocation to Mars. Much of the infrastructure for this is in place, but how will the people be fed?

John McCabe is charged with coming up with a solution to the food problem. He is to create a cultivar, a type of edible plant that will grow quickly under the harshest conditions.

As conditions continue to deteriorate, the country falls further into chaos because of famine, plague, and civil uprising. Also looming on the horizon is an inevitable confrontation with the Chinese government.

There is hope when a new republic form on the moon and decides to strike out for their inevitable destination to begin life anew on Mars.

There are several characters in Entropy one may consider being principal to the story, but I have to admit, President Myung Kim is my favorite.

Kim, a solid female character who is not affiliated with any political party, works to surround herself with the best possible people to address all the problems. She prioritizes well and addresses each problem that comes up as best she can. Even with everything happening, she remains calm and relies on her expert advisers to help with decisions, but she still has the vision to see what the future will bring. By recruiting the best people to handle the problems, she can stave off starvation and jumpstart a solution to solving problems with science as her central tool.

She is a truly refreshing character who faces a tragic end, but not before she can make things right amidst seeming impossible odds.

My favorite point of plot in Entropy is how science emerges as the best way to come up with answers to problems. In this time where there seems to be an attitude that science is some kind of sinister plot to control people, it is good to see there is hope that, one day, we may realize it is through science we get the answers to the really hard questions.

Growing up during the 60s and 70s, I was part of the movement to educate the public on the benefits of science. To my deep dismay, it is alarming to see the current trends of the 21st century denial of empirical evidence right in front of our eyes. It is encouraging to read a story where science is valued by political leaders.

My takeaway from Entropy is hope for the future. While recent historical events, such as the COVID pandemic, created, at least in me, a deep sense of hopelessness for the future, Hayward shows that no matter how bad things get, there is still the possibility of making a better world.

Beyond the message of this tale, Entropy is just a great read, and I recommend it for that alone. It is truly a novel that sustains suspense, and I hated putting it down when I had to and was aching to get back to it when I had the time. According to the author, this is just the opening to a saga, and if it is any indication of the quality, I am also eager to read the next book in the series.

The characters are well written, each with their own clear voice, the descriptions of the settings are vividly colorful, and the situations will have the reader experiencing a plethora of emotions. This is a novel of epic proportions and has the making of an amazing series of books I want to read. I give Entropy my highest recommendation as a Sci-Fi apocalyptic thriller that moves along like a chess match between characters and their environment.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

DANA HAYWARD aka Mark Muse

MARK MUSE has researched, written, edited and published original works in the area of clinical psychology, psychopharmacology, chronic pain, health psychology and psychosomatic medicine.

(https://www.amazon.com/Mark-Muse/e/B007P2ZKSS)

DANA HAYWARD is Mark’s alter ego, who writes fiction, science fiction; as in “ENTROPY”.

Please follow my blog at: https://danahayward@blogspot.com

Well, there it is...

Qapla!

Monday, April 18, 2022

The Vacuum of Space: A Funny Sci-Fi Mystery (Space Janitor Book 1) by Julia Huni - Light Sci-Fi That Is Heavy On Romance

The Vacuum of Space: A Funny Sci-Fi Mystery (Space Janitor Book 1) by Julia Huni

I kept seeing ads for the Space Janitor books popping up on Facebook and other places, so as it was offered on Kindle Unlimited, I thought I would give it a look. I've recently finished reading the first book in the series and have to say I am a little confused about a few things.

First, where's the humor? In this story, the only funny thing are the thoughts of the main character, Triana. The humor is veiled almost to the point of being absent and come as some light, sarcastic observations about the situations and other characters. I will admit, Triana has a fast wit, and many of her quips and descriptions are funny, but I was hoping to laugh more. The beginning of the story showed great promise, but it kind of fizzled as the tale progressed.

Second, where was the character development? Other than Triana, there isn't much. Most of the characters Triana deals with are one dimensional and I had no real reason to care for them. There is her grumpy boss who is just grumpy, her overbearing mother, her roommate who sleeps around, and her "shiny" detective quasi-boyfriend who seems to have only one thing on his mind. Among this group, there are no characters that were little more than cardboard cutouts.

Third, how do I classify this one? Well, it is touted as Space Opera. Okay, it is set on a space station, which is in space, so I'll give it that. But then there is the relationship between Triana and Ty O'Neill, the afore mentioned quasi-boyfriend. A good portion of the story is devoted to the development of this relationship, which really goes nowhere and reads a lot like a bad romance novel. Finally, there's what should have been the real substance of the book, and that is the solving of several murders aboard the station, which struck me as being a subplot.

So, my conundrum is trying to decide if the book is Space Opera, Sci-Fi Romance, or Sci-Fi Murder Mystery?

Please don't get me wrong, I don't hate this book, as a matter of fact, I liked it, but not enough to read the next four books in the series with a tip of my hat and a thanks to the author for making it available. I know there are those that love the Space Janitor series, but it just isn't for me.

At any rate, given the questions I have, I’ll quote the blurb from the back cover as a synopsis:

It's a dirty galaxy, and someone has to clean it.

Avoiding the wealthy inhabitants on the upper levels of Station Kelly Kornienko is bot-programmer Triana’s number one rule. Well, number two, right after "eat all the chocolate."

But when one of her cleaning bots finds a dead body, all the rules go out the airlock. A highly connected security agent interrupts her routine with stories of missing bodies, and Triana can’t ignore him; it’s cooperate or find a new job. A girl has to pay the rent, even on a crappy studio compartment.

Working with a shiny detective beats a shuttle dirt-side, so Triana lends her programming skills to Agent O’Neill’s investigation. Together, they find more victims and evidence of a major cover-up.

It will take all Triana’s technical talents, most of O’Neill’s connections, and some really excellent croissants to stop the murders, save her job, and ultimately, her life.

There isn't much I can add to this.

The principal character, Triana Moore, is the best developed character in the book. She is interesting and someone a reader can care about to a point. She has a lot of secrets and the author has a maddening but somewhat humorous habit of starting to give some background through some anecdote from Triana's past, but then chops it off with "but that's another story." She has a sense of humor and is quite witty with her quips about observations, situations, and other characters from time to time, but I wouldn't go so far to say it is more than mildly funny.

Mostly, she appears to be a young woman who is working a job and trying to make ends meet the best she can. She likes the work she is doing and has no problem continuing, but her discovery of a dead body sends her in a different direction. 

My favorite point of plot is a huge twist about the identity of a character. There are a couple of reveals of this nature in the story, adding a welcome dimension to the tale and is one aspect that kept me reading.

As I've mentioned, I liked this book despite being a little confused about what kind of book I was reading. While I don't mind some romance in my sci-fi, I thought it was a little overdone in this tale and it almost felt like material being used to extend to story to novel length. I got the theme that Triana and O'Neill were interested in pursuing a more personal relationship, but I think the point was overstated and more of a tease than anything else.

I think this first book in the Space Janitor series might appeal to a narrow audience who is interested in a lightly written, light sci-fi story that doesn't require one to think too much. It is well written and easy to understand with just enough technical jargon to set the scene and explain action anyone can grasp.

It was a fun little romp, but not enough to make me move to the second book in the series.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐                                                                       

Julia Huni is the author of the Colonial Exploration Corps, Space Janitor, Recycled World, and Krimson Empire series.

I grew up in the US Pacific Northwest, and after twenty years roaming the country with the US Air Force, I'm back. I have a spouse, three kids, and a dog named Pippin.

I've been an IT guy, a choir director, an executive assistant, a stay-at-home mom, a college instructor, and that lady at the information booth in a tourist town. But writer is the best job ever, because I get to make stuff up. Stuff I wish were true; stuff I'm glad isn't true.

When I'm not writing, I like to knit, read, bake, and ski. I also love to travel.

Well, there it is...

Qapla!

Friday, April 15, 2022

Red Hail By Jamie Killen - The Past And The Future Collide In A Fascinating Way

Red Hail by Jamie Killen

I received an advance review copy of this book and am leaving this review voluntarily.

I found this book while looking through selections on the BookSirens review site. The first thing that caught my eye was the opening to the blurb: "In 1960, the plagues came to Galina. Today, they came back for the survivors' descendants." I do enjoy a good historical sci-fi story, so I took the dive.

I found Red Hail a great story I enjoyed immensely. The characters were interesting and written well, and there were several I cared about. The interactions between characters was well written and believable. I felt as though I was in the places being described by the settings. There was nothing about this tale I didn't like. The story itself flowed very well and as it bounced between the two eras it covered, 1960 and 2020, I was always able to distinguish between the two.

There are some uncomfortable moments as it unfolds. Plot points include racism, sexism, religious conflict, and a few depictions of violence that may make some uncomfortable, but nothing was in any way gratuitous or sensationalized.

It's 1960 in the town of Galina, Arizona, located close to the border between the US and Mexico. A young woman goes to see a friend for help with a precarious situation. While they visit, there is a storm with red hail falling from the sky. Before long, many of the people of the town start showing strange, unexplainable behaviors. There doesn't seem to be anything medically wrong with those affected, but one group of people begin to blame the Hispanic population for the plague brought by the storm.

Move forward to 2020. Colin and his partner, Alonzo, have moved into their own place to live their lives together. A sociology Ph.D. candidate, Colin works on his dissertation on the Galina Plague. He does not know just how close he will get to his subject matter until Alonzo begins displaying symptoms sixty years after the event.

These two stories come together in a satisfying and fascinating way at the end of the tale. 

My favorite characters in Red Hail follow Esperanza Kearney (known to most as Anza) and a salty older woman named Dove McNally.

Anza lives with her father in Galina. At sixteen, she is an intelligent and hard-working young woman with a lot of potential. When she discovers she is pregnant, she seeks the help of Dove, a kind of expert on how to use plants for numerous things. Anza has ambitions for her future and isn't ready to have a family, and she is also petrified that her father would be more than a little upset at her situation. He also wishes to see Anza reach her full potential, and as a dedicated father, he will do just about anything to see his little girl be successful in life.

Dove has a lot of life experience and isn't afraid to use it. She is handy with cures and with a shotgun as well. She helps Anza as best she can through the story and is someone I would like to know. Dove is a truly fun character through the book as she helps those in need in whatever way she can.

My favorite point of plot in Red Hail is when the two stories come together. It had me laughing out loud, but not because it was funny, but because of how well the story was out together and how unexpectedly the plot twisted. It was worth the time to read to get to the end because of how neatly it was all wrapped up.

My takeaway from this tale is how one must be ever vigilant to watch out for superstition as an explanation for something that cannot be explained. Nothing can replace good, old-fashioned research and finding the empirical evidence. The beliefs of some of the town members turned Galina into a war zone for a time, and there was a lot of avoidable strife and loss of life.

Red Hail is a fun and entertaining story for any sci-fi fan looking for a good read. There is plenty of action and suspense, lots of interesting characters, and an out of this world ending.

I recommend this book for genre fans as well as those looking for a good story. It is on the light-side of science fiction and more character driven.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Jamie Killen's introduction to the world of dark fiction came at the age of seven, when her well-meaning but perhaps overly enthusiastic dad decided that the works of Harlan Ellison made for some great bedtime stories. She's been avidly consuming science fiction, horror, and fantasy novels, movies, comic books, and podcasts ever since.

Jamie's short stories and flash fiction have appeared in dozens of anthologies and magazines. She is also a writer and director of several dark fiction podcasts.

Originally from Arizona, Jamie now lives in Texas with her longtime partner. When she isn't writing, she enjoys practicing her mixology skills by inventing new and exciting designer cocktails. She also likes craft beer, travel, and cuddling with her two adorable rescue mutts.

Well, there it is...

Qapla!

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Jumping off the Planet: The Far Side of the Sky, Book 1 by David Gerrold - A Bittersweet Tale Of A Dysfunctional Family On A Smart Kid

Jumping off the Planet: The Far Side of the Sky, Book 1 by David Gerrold

One thing I really enjoy is a tale told in the style of classic science fiction, which is why the writing of David Gerrold appeals to me in a big way. Jumping off the Planet is a great, character driven story with descriptions of settings to whet the reader's imagination. It contains science that is not with us yet, but it is so well researched that one cannot argue with its plausibility.

The funny thing is, as I started reading this book, I realized it was very familiar for some strange reason, and then it hit me, this story was also included in a collection I bought several years ago directly from the author when he visited the town of Beatrice, Nebraska for a celebration of the life of Gene L. Coon. The collection, which includes four stories, is entitled A Promise of Stars: Stories from Beyond the Sky.

Jumping off the Planet is a sci-fi story that focuses on a dysfunctional family in the not-too-distant future where one can travel into space on a space elevator, and even catch a ride to the moon. Unfortunately, resources on Earth are scarce and availability is an ever-increasing problem, so the more affluent members of the human race live and work on stations along the length of the elevator. There is a lot of sadness and in this story, but it is balanced with some triumph for the principal character, a young man often referred to as "Chigger," a nickname given to him by his grandfather.

Charles "Chigger" Dingillian along with his two brothers and mother live in a Texas shanty town where they try to carve out a decent lifestyle. One day, Chigger's dad shows up with a seemingly fantastic offer. During his time with the boys, he is allowed by a custody agreement, he proposes to the boys they go on a vacation to the moon. The boys are skeptical, believing their dad to be making yet another promise he cannot, or will not, keep.

In effect, Max Dingillian kidnaps his three sons and races off on a cross-country adventure to Ecuador, where he plans to take his sons off the planet and away from their mother.

It isn't long after they depart the planet that Max's plan is discovered, and the chase is on to stop him. 

Chigger has had enough of the situation between his estranged parents and thinks about a solution to end his torment and hopefully give him and his brothers a chance at a better life. He has two choices: either go back to what it has been or divorce his parents.

Charles finds joy in almost nothing. All he wants out of life is to be left to himself and be allowed to listen to his music, the only thing that gives him solace. He really seems to hate his family, but it isn't true. It's not the people in his family he hates, but the situation they had put him in, particularly his mother and father, who are more interested in their own agendas than what is best for their kids. 

What I appreciated most about young Charles is his thoughtfulness about everything. Jumping off the Planet revolves around the inner workings of a kid who is brilliant in many ways. He takes note of his surroundings and comments on them, sometimes negatively, but he doesn't miss a thing. It is tragic knowing what he could be if only had the proper nurturing from adults who could provide an example of what it is to be adults.

One of my favorite things about this story is how Charles finds refuge in music, particularly in the music of John Coltrane. This is not surprising to me when one thinks about his style of jazz he dubbed "sheets of sound." As the sideman for the great Miles Davis, Coltrane invented his technique by the playing of rapid passages of notes that wove themselves together in a curtain of sound. That Charles latched on to them shows an advanced appreciation for music. 

This advanced appreciation is, of course, an extension of the David Gerrold's own appreciation for music of all kinds. One of the most profound statements offered in the book is a nearly perfect description of what the style of jazz music is about:

"Jazz isn't music. Jazz is what happens when the music disappears and all that is left is the sound and the emotion connected to it. Jazz is a scream or a rant or a sigh. Or whatever else is inside, trying to get out."

Gerrold, David. Jumping Off the Planet (p. 73). BenBella Books. Kindle Edition.

As a musician myself, I find this quote not only profound but also poetic and spot on!

My takeaway from Jumping off the Planet is the tragedy of what happens when parents fall out of love with each other and proceed to use their children as weapons against each other. This is idea is clearly illustrated in the text of this tale and hangs like a pall over the entire story.

No one is born knowing how to be a parent. There are no manuals or coaches to teach one how to be a parent. This story has a message to those that would be parents. When a man or a woman begin to feel sorry for themselves enough to put themselves in the center of their universe, they must remember that the small life they brought into the world is, and should be, the center of their universe. A child never asks to be born and in no case do they owe their parents anything, but their parents do owe their children everything.

I recommend Jumping off the Planet as an outstanding work of sci-fi that is also a deep character study of a family in turmoil that has gotten to a point unbearable for the children involved. It is often a disturbing tale with moments of laugh-out-loud irony and an ending that is not only triumphant, but leaves the question of what's next for these youngsters? Fortunately, there are two more books in this series, and I look forward to the continued saga of what will happen to the Dingillian clan and how the characters, particularly Charles, will grow.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

David Gerrold lives in California with his son, daughter-in-law, and his toddler grandson. He is the winner of numerous awards for his writing. You can follow him on Facebook or through his Patreon page. He is a self-described curmudgeon, and you are highly advised not to tread on his lawn.

Well, there it is...

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Sunday, March 20, 2022

Phenomenons: Every Human Creature Edited by Michael Jan Friedman - A Phenomenal Collection Of Shorts From A Phenomenal Bullpen Of Writers!

Phenomenons: Every Human Creature Edited by Michael Jan Friedman

Phenomenons is a new collection of short stories gathered by Mike Friedman inspired by his love for comic book superheroes.

In the foreword to this volume, Mike credits his parents for his love of reading by encouraging his comic habit, because as far as his mother and dad were concerned, "reading is reading." This fed not only his love of comic book literature, but other forms as well. He cites his parent's encouragement as a source for creating Phenomenons.

What follows is a collection of short vignettes featuring numerous superheroes who experience varying levels of success in their crime-fighting endeavors. All the principal characters are ordinary people, each with an extraordinary power. But all take their cue from one hero who inspired them, the mysterious Grey Guardsman, a shield wielding character who either appears or is referred to in every story. 

Of course, with every superhero story, there also must be a super villain, and with this collection, there may be several, including the self-doubt of many of the heroes. But the real villain seems to be the economy of the times. There is a lot of greed in the world these stories are set in, and it seems the rich just keep getting richer, while the common people suffer. A situation no true superhero can tolerate, no matter the odds they face.

This anthology includes two entries by the editor, Mike Friedman, who gathered an all-star bullpen of writers who contributed their genius project. They are (in alphabetical order) Ilsa J. Bick, Michael A. Burstein, Russ Colchamiro, Peter David, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Mary Fan, Robert Greenberger, Glenn Hauman, Dan Hernandez, Heather E. Hutsell, Paul Kupperberg, Ron Marz, Aaron Rosenberg, Hildy Silverman, Geoffrey Thorne, and Marie Vibbert. Add in the artwork by Ciao Cacau, Mike Collins, and Blair Shedd, and you have a phenomenal and fun collection of high entertainment value (yes, the pun is intended).

I tried to find a favorite story to write about but found it impossible to choose because all the vignettes included are superior in every way. They are all very different from each other and take different tacks. What binds them together is they are all set in the same world and in the same era. And they are all leading to a showdown in the future, so I am hoping there will be another volume coming soon.

If you enjoy reading about the lives of superheroes seeking justice under difficult conditions, then this is a collection for you. 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Michael Jan Friedman is the author of more than 70 books of fiction and non-fiction, about half of them set somewhere in the wilds of the Star Trek universe.

In 1992 Friedman wrote Reunion, the first Star Trek: The Next Generation hardcover, which introduced the crew of the Stargazer, Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s first command. Over the years, the popularity of Reunion has spawned a number of Stargazer stories in both prose and comic book formats, including a six-novel original series.

Friedman has also written for the Aliens, Predator, Wolf Man, Lois and Clark, DC Super Hero, Marvel Super Hero, and wishbone licensed book universes. Eleven of his book titles, including the autobiography Hollywood Hulk Hogan and Ghost Hunting (written with SciFi’s Ghost Hunters), have appeared on the prestigious New York Times primary bestseller list, and his novel adaptation of the Batman & Robin movie was for a time the #1 bestselling book in Poland (really).

Friedman has worked at one time or another in network and cable television, radio, business magazines, and the comic book industry, in the process producing scripts for nearly 180 comic stories. Among his comic book credits is the Darkstars series from DC Comics, which he created with artist Larry Stroman, and the Outlaws limited series, which he created with artist Luke McDonnell. He also co-wrote the story for the acclaimed second-season Star Trek: Voyager episode “Resistance,” which guest-starred Joel Grey.

As always, he advises readers that no matter how many Friedmans they know, he is probably not related to any of them.

For more on Michael Jan Friedman and his fiction, follow him on Twitter@FriedmanMJ, like him on Facebook, and check out Crazy 8 Press.

Well, there it is...

Qapla!