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, January 10, 2021

Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle - One Of The Best Post-Apocalyptic Sci-Fi Stories I Have Ever Read!

Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Have you ever heard a book title mentioned by several people and finally have to break down and read the thing just so you can say you've read it, and maybe even be able to discuss it intelligently with someone? Several people I podcast with have mentioned Lucifer’s Hammer as a must-read post-apocalyptic novel, so I finally took the plunge. 

Lucifer’s Hammer, originally supposed to be an alien invasion novel, turned out to be something quite different in its final form. The publisher listened to the pitch by Niven and Pournelle and suggested instead they write a story about a comet striking the Earth and the effect it has on society. 

The authors ran with the idea. 

Two amateur astronomers, Tim Hamner, a millionaire, and a kid named Gavin Brown, discover a comet moving through the solar system. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) determines the two discovered the comet simultaneously and dub it the Hamner-Brown comet. Scientists determine the object will pass close to the planet, but will not actually strike. Enroute, the comet encounters another object that gives it just enough of a nudge to change its path, and cause fragments to calve and take on a new direction. 

As the comet comes around the far side of the Sun, a small multinational crew aboard Skylab II note the changes in the comet’s trajectory and warn there will be a strike.

Actually, there are several strikes when the nucleus of the comet hits several locations, throwing everything into chaos around the world. It forces societies around the globe into survival mode, deterioration is immediate and devastating. Governments are destabilized, earthquake faults and volcanos are triggered, and many cities are leveled by tsunamis. It is a grim situation, as millions of people are displaced or killed outright. 

While the action of the story focuses a lot on Hamner, there are forty-five additional characters in the story, and the comet is also treated as a character until it impacts the planet. It is the characters that drive the story as they encounter situations that put them in harm’s way. Some survive, some don’t, but they are all well written and developed to a point where a reader might identify with many of them. 

There are a few different locations mentioned, but the bulk of the action takes place in and around Los Angeles, California. The valleys are flooded and people are forced to take to the foothills and mountains. As one might suspect, there are those who feel it is an “every man for himself” situation, while others form communities for the mutual benefits of defense and food. One community forms around a ranch owned by a U.S. senator. The senator is as clueless as anyone would be on how to handle the situation, but everyone looks to him as a leader who should know everything. He wisely uses his skills as an orator to bring people together and his ability to surround himself with the most knowledgeable people to form a sort of de facto government in a small area of southern California. 

On the other side, there is a large group of ex-soldiers led by a religious figure. They make their way through the countryside, raiding and taking what they want.

In between, there are just people trying to survive as best they can. 

Lucifer’s Hammer is one of the best, most compelling, and scariest stories I have ever read. I enjoyed the science and the overall direction of the story line finding very few plot holes. Every aspect of the story was tied up and there were no dangling threads left unresolved. 

The characters really drive the story though. Even with the large cast, it is easy to follow who is doing what. One thing that most impressed me was how Niven and Pournelle made the comet itself a character in the story. As the object traveled through the solar system, the descriptions of what was taking place were written as though the comet were narrating its own story. 

 
There wasn’t a thing about this story I didn’t enjoy, but it is not for the weak-hearted. There are some rather graphic descriptions of death and destruction that some may find quite disturbing. I found the story disturbing because it seems so accurate. When society takes the plunge into the dark depths, it happens quickly and without mercy. People turn on each other so quickly. 

I highly recommend reading Lucifer’s Hammer for those that enjoy a rollercoaster ride through a nearly hopeless, post-apocalyptic world that rapidly moves from order to chaos in the blink of an eye. 

Well, there it is...

Qapla!

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Martian Mist by J. Dallas Brooks - An Old Trope With A New Twist And Fun Reading

Martian Mist by J. Dallas Brooks

Martian Mist is a new idea based on an old trope; a boy and his dog strive to achieve a goal against seemingly impossible odds.

The book opens as we see our principal character, Zachary Grainger, engaged in some precarious business aboard his dirt bike and making a video for YouTube. As one might guess, the stunt doesn’t end well, but Zach is not seriously injured, except for his pride.

In the meantime, the first manned mission to Mars is returning to Earth. It was not a success by any definition of the word. All the crew are dead except for the mission commander, who has contracted some kind of alien disease. The onboard computer, an artificial intelligence capable of deciding, does everything it can to make sure the ship doesn’t reach home. It knows the disease is dangerous and could be catastrophic should the Daedelus reach home. Unfortunately, Mission Control signals the doomed spacecraft ordering the computer to override its programming. The Daedelus returns as ordered, and a massive plague infects the entire planet, creating air difficult to breathe and monsters larger than cars that prey on every living creature they can find.

Following the infection of the entire planet, Zach sets out on a journey to southern California where he hopes to find a real-life comic book character, Dr. Kai Rosebud, who has an army of robots ready and waiting to save the world. Zach’s journey picks up in the Arizona desert as he travels across the U.S. on his dirt bike with a canine companion he picked up along the way. Zach is looking for someone what may or may not exist in reality, but he has nothing else to hope for. He faces many deadly situations in his travels across the desert. Along with the alien creatures he calls “splizards” because they look like a cross between spiders and lizards, he encounters humans trying to survive as best they can, mostly through violence. Zach survives on his wits and what he has learned from his grandfather.

Martian Mist is a young adult story that I would estimate is appropriate for upper middle school and younger high school aged kids who would enjoy a science fiction story about a young man beating the odds while on a quest. The most terrifying aspect of this story is the encounters with the splizards. They are huge, can move fast, are extremely voracious, and they are relentless. They have a social structure that includes an alpha creature and several followers, and they are also intelligent. I enjoyed the way author, J Dallas Brooks, also included what the creatures were thinking as they tracked Zach and Blue across the desert and to their ultimate destination.

I enjoyed reading this story. The action starts from the outset and never slows until the end, leaving the reader with a sense of triumph. While it is YA Sci-Fi, I would say that anyone could enjoy this as a fun read. It is full of intense action scenes that will have the reader on the edge of their seat. I also think it would be a good story to introduce a young person to the Sci-Fi genre. It is a decent length book at 350 pages with a writing style that is easy to understand and follow while not being bogged down with a lot of technical jargon. Brooks does a good job of using words to help the reader visualize the action.

J. Dallas Brooks is an Air Force veteran, Cybersecurity Engineer, and adjunct professor who enjoys spending time with his family on their farm in Peyton, Colorado. A 7th generation Georgian, Dallas has made Colorado his home since 2008. When not writing, he enjoys playing retro games, listening to 80’s music, and attending his children’s numerous sporting events. Other books penned by brooks include 1986, and two books in his Dystopian Spacetime series.

Well, there it is...

Qapla!






Saturday, September 26, 2020

The Universe Maker by Sierra Solter - Real Life Astrophysicist/Engineer Pens A Great Sci-Fi/Fantasy Novel In The Multiverse

The Universe Maker by Sierra Solter

Have you ever gone outside on a clear evening and just looked up at the stars? While you were gazing at the cosmos, did you imagine what kind of life might be out there? Wondered if there were beings so powerful they can make planets, solar systems, galaxies, or maybe even universes? Have you ever found yourself somewhat unhappy with life here on Earth and wished you could be somewhere else, far, far away? The principal character of a new novel, The Universe Maker, had such thoughts and embarked on the adventure of a lifetime.

Astrophysicist, engineer, and author Sierra Solter recently contacted me on email with a request to help her promote her new book. She described her work as a self-published young adult novel with the purpose of getting young people interested in STEM careers. Her primary target audience is young women, but even if you are not in that demographic, Universe Maker is something anyone can enjoy. It is fresh, engaging, and an uncommon bit of literature.

Aurora Atalaya is a college student at a prestigious university. Her major course of study is astrophysics, and she is not doing very well. It’s not that she is a poor student, but she is under a constant barrage of misogyny from nearly everyone she knows. Her professors belittle her at every turn, other students (mostly male) look down on her and call her stupid. All of this takes its toll by causing Aurora a great deal of self-doubt and a feeling of inadequacy. While she isn’t giving up on what she wants to achieve, she dreams of an escape from humanity to a place where her abilities are appreciated and respected.

One evening while sitting alone staring into the heavens, feeling out of place on her home planet, she gets whisked away on a spaceship in the shape of a butterfly and taken to the cosmos where she sees wonders beyond human imagination. It is as though a group of ultra-intelligent beings heard her appeal and recognized her potential, and gave her a fantastic gift. Aurora learned she was being groomed to become the Universe Maker.

A collective from a place in the Multiverse chose Aurora to be their leader and make new universes where benevolent civilizations can thrive and grow harmoniously and in beauty. The Multiverse exists outside of time and space as we understand it because a previous Universe maker built our own universe with a different vision. Aurora must maintain her life on Earth, but only for short periods of time, where she continues to suffer at the hands of those who would see her fail. In the Multiverse, the aliens give her the opportunity to give her life meaning she would otherwise not find.

The Universe Maker is told from Aurora’s point of view and has two elements; first is her miserable life as an undergraduate. She also achieves a master’s degree and enters the job-market where potential employers continue to question her worth based on gender issues. That section of the book and others like it were lackluster and mundane. As her earthbound woes continue, the author describes her time in training for her new life and the construction of her first universe in vivid detail. Solter uses words to make colorful pictures that will ignite a reader’s imagination. I could immerse myself in the imagery provided in the details that I would have to call almost poetic. However, I wanted to know more about the earthbound woman and her plight. I realized Aurora had a huge and active imagination and had given a lot of thought to the cosmos to the point she wanted to study and learn more. While her life in the Multiverse is colorful and spellbinding, her life on Earth is mundane and without sensation, save for the pain that goes along with being undervalued in a male-dominated culture.

I sent the author questions about her work and received her responses.

Me: As a scientist and engineer, what made you decide to become an author?

Sierra: “In some ways, I think science fiction is as important as science & STEM. Sci-fi has historically inspired many influential figures to pursue a STEM career and I felt that I could widen my impact as a scientist by writing science fiction. Moreover, science is becoming more and more specialized as we begin to think we “know everything”- and that is not the right direction. We need revolutionary, crazy ideas to truly advance - and often such ideas are first hypothesized in outlandish science fiction novels. My novel is mostly about the extreme far future. If we are able to survive and leave the solar system could we one day create an “artificial” Big Bang? I think so. But I also imagine many near-term ideas in the book like a “headband” that reads the health of brain activity, invisible gravity-air spacesuits, an exoplanet telescope in a handheld magnifying glass, or fusion ignition with cognitive intention. Ok, that last one is probably not near-term…”  


Me: What are some of your favorite books, films, and television shows you found particularly inspiring?


Sierra: “I was always obsessed with Jules Verne’s books. I also read nearly all of Carl Sagan’s books before I was a teenager. “Star Maker” by Olaf Stapledon had some influence on the book, but I find his writing very hard to read. There’s a short 10 minute film called “Anima” by Scott Mannion that I love that portrays this idea of an alternate Multiverse that we can tap into through a wired brain portal. Otherwise, I tried deliberately not to let other writing/stories influence me to create something more “pure” and original. Music is actually a bigger inspiration for me as it seems to widen my imagination and I listen to NRVS LVRS & Monolink as if they were my religion. “ 


Me: The descriptions of the Multiverse and places Aurora visits are amazing. You describe the phenomena with a flavor of fantasy. What were the inspirations for your world-building?

Sierra: “I was a double major in astrophysics and the humanities at Berkeley. So I was writing 20 page papers on philosophy and doing crazy math & physics problem sets every night and after 4 years of that, my ability to imagine the world differently just kind of exploded one day. It’s almost like I was working my brain so hard and in so many directions that it opened a door for me to write and think in a fantastical, multidimensional way.“


Me: Aurora’s plight on Earth is a tragic one. Does this come from personal experience? Did you actually find such misogyny in your educational experience?


Sierra: “The book definitely draws on some of the experiences I’ve had. In retrospect it’s shocking how I was constantly discouraged and pressured not to pursue science or STEM as a female. I was the only female in my graduate program and the only female in many of my STEM programs and job positions, and there was often this overlying attitude, commentary, or tendency to ignore me from the male peers and instructors that conveyed that they thought I didn’t belong in the room. But it’s their loss, my imagination is a huge advantage to any project.”

 

Me: Why do you think the attitudes of men toward women are as they are in the 21st Century?

Sierra: “We are born into “evil” social infrastructures that perpetuate sexism, racism, oppression, and violence. So I think the question is really why the social infrastructure of sexism began. I think men saw women as a threat to their power, so men treated women as severely inferior and now we are still living with the sad consequences of that. I don’t think men or society in general acknowledge the potential, or even the possibility, of the female genius and I think that’s a huge issue. I think women focusing solely on their outer appearance is making it worse and with social media the outer appearance is all there is to show so that is making it worse as well. On the contrary, I love fashion, in part because I think everything we wear is going to become technology and that’s a theme in the novel I used to maybe get more young girls interested in science.”  


Me: What role do you see the current political climate playing in today's attitudes toward women?


Sierra: “We elected an under-qualified man for president instead of an overqualified woman. Maybe that highlights the level of misogyny that exists and has made people think. It’s honestly just a mirror of what I’ve faced and witnessed constantly. Companies would rather hire a white man with no education or experience rather than a woman with multiple degrees. Of course the political climate is making it worse - the blatant sexism of the president gives permission for everyone else to follow suit.” 


Me: What are some things you might suggest to educators today to help change attitudes toward women wanting to enter STEM fields?


Sierra: “I think there is a problem very early on in education that is preventing many women from entering STEM. Boys are told they can do anything, girls are not. Then there’s an evolutionary issue of women underestimating their abilities and men overestimating their abilities. Imagining a hunter-gatherer society- men had to take risks to survive (i.e., hunting) and women had to mitigate risk to survive (i.e., protect children). STEM is hard but all men believe they can do it, not all women do. So I wish educators/counselors directly told women that they are probably underestimating themselves and I wonder what effect that would have on degree/major choices. I’d really like to see some kind of STEM “recruitment” program where colleges speak to females in high school or in freshman year about the range of different STEM programs and fields. I think women often work harder, are more focused and detailed, and think about things differently than men and I wish the advantage of having more of that in science was more readily recognized.” 


Me: What advice do you have to young women to help them make it through a hostile environment? 

Sierra: “Easier said than done, but I would say to know deeply that you are as smart as anyone else regardless of how you are treated, and try as hard as possible not to listen to or absorb any negativity you might face. When someone said something negative to me, I would replay it over and over in my mind until I believed it. And it is so, so hard to get through a STEM degree or program when not only are you facing hostile comments and attitudes but you are made to feel inferior and unworthy because of the misogyny and negativity. I’d recommend meditating with positive self-affirmations to tell yourself that you are as worthy of being in the room as anyone else, regardless of your gender, race, appearance, or even test score.”


Me: Did you have a role model to help you overcome the barriers you found in your path to becoming a scientist?


Sierra: “Unfortunately, not really. Many women in STEM I know of had family in STEM and that’s how they started and succeeded. My relatives didn’t want me pursuing science so when things got hard I had no one to call for emotional support. I sought out dozens of mentors at Berkeley and most told me not to pursue astrophysics. I didn’t join any women STEM groups because I didn’t feel welcome. I had one computer science professor at Berkeley tell me “everyone thought I was a genius because I always had the highest test scores but I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, I was just diving into the realm of equations and trying” and that statement literally helped me succeed at astrophysics at Berkeley.” 


Me: What are your future plans as far as the Universe Maker is concerned? Are there other books planned? 


Sierra: “I have plans to have “The Universe Maker” be a series of a few books and I have the next books outlined! I’d really love to collaborate with a CGI artist to make even a short clip of Asteria, or some of the planets or imaginary scenes in the novel. Right now, I’m just so excited to interview with you about the novel & I can’t wait to start planning out new planets, galaxies, and technologies for the next books!”


My 16-year-old daughter, Chrissy also read The Universe Maker and I asked her to jot down her impressions for me. Here’s what she offered”


“I loved this book about a woman living a double life. The story is told from Aurora, the main character’s point of view, who exists in a world she finds tedious as well as one that is amazing. As the universe maker, she gets to see wonders no other humans are allowed to experience. It was difficult to get my head around there being more than one universe, but I like the idea of there being many places where things can be so different and amazing. 


I think Aurora's life on Earth was interesting, but also upsetting at the same time. It was sad how she was treated so harshly by nearly everyone who should have been more supportive and encouraging. Everyone seemed to want to break her spirit. No one believed in her and only tore her down.But I admire her [Aurora] for never faltering in believing in herself.


Another idea I enjoyed was how time seemed to be irreverent in the story. This is something I would like to learn more about.


The Universe maker is a good story and I will try to get my friends to read it too.”


Along with Chrissy, I also recommend this book, especially for younger readers who may feel out of pace in their own world. I also recommend it for anyone who enjoys a good Sci-fi story with overtones of fantasy!


Well, there it is...


Qapla!


Saturday, September 5, 2020

Hella by David Gerrold - Colonization Of An Exoplanet Through The Eyes Of A Young Man Coming Of Age

Hella by David Gerrold


I recently read Hella by David Gerrold and found it to be a deeply thoughtful story. The world building is amazing, the characters are compelling and diverse, and the overall story is one that kept me turning page after page. I absolutely hated putting it down when time and responsibilities forced me to stop reading.

Gerrold set Hella in a future where Earth has become an undesirable place to live. While there aren’t many references to what our home planet’s problems are, I imagined that it includes most of the problems we face today. In my estimation, the author wants the reader to fill in the blanks on that score. All one has to do is read the headlines and extrapolate what the future holds for humanity, if we continue on our current course. At any rate, the people have reached for the stars for refuge from a sick planet.

The planet Hella itself is a pristine world invaded by humans. It is a very different place than our native planet. It is smaller than Earth, giving it lower gravity. A year on Hella is about two-and two-thirds times that of a year on Earth. One of the most important parts of the novel is the sheer size of everything natural to the planet. The residents of the planet say everything is “Hella-bigger” than Earth. The bugs, plants, and especially the animals on the planet are huge, and some are very dangerous. The people who colonize the planet are trying to learn to live in harmony with the new environment by building encampments in which everyone lives more or less comfortably.

This story is told through the eyes and thoughts of young Kyle Martin. He is a thirteen and one-half year old (that’s in Earth years, he would be approximately five in Hella years) who observes and thinks about everything. When he was younger, he had some behavioral issues and a chip was implanted in his brain to help him cope. The chip gives him an advantage allowing him to access the net, a vast information network Kyle calls the “noise.” When Kyle hears something he doesn’t understand, he just opens up to the net and finds the information. However, the young man is also at a slight disadvantage; one thing he doesn’t understand is nuance. He rarely understands why people don’t say what they mean; why they dance around the facts and describe things with metaphor, or other methods. His thinking is pragmatic. He observes and draws conclusions based on observation, and his interpretations are factual, and sometimes amusing.

Kyle relies on his older brother, Jamie, when it comes to understanding nuance. He worships Jamie and Jamie is the ideal big brother. Jamie is his mentor, interpreter, and best friend. Jamie appreciates Kyle’s points of view and encourages him to be who and what he is. For the most part, encouragement of this kind seems to be a cornerstone of existence on Hella. The only requirement on the planet is everyone has to contribute to the greater good. Kyle also lives with his mother, who also understands that it is best to give Kyle his space and be who he is.

Another character that Kyle has a lot of respect for is Captain Skyler. Skyler is a role model of someone that could be a hero to many people. He takes Kyle on important missions and also provides a great deal of encouragement to the young man. Along the way, Kyle also befriends others that become good and fast friends that work together for the betterment of the Hella Colony.

One of the best things about this story is the diversity of the cast of characters and how almost everyone is accepting of others in the colony. There are all kinds of people all working for the survival of the whole. It is a refreshing look at how things might be in a place where everyone depends on everyone else to do their part. One of the most interesting aspects of life on this new planet (the colony is a little over a hundred years old) is that people may choose their gender. Kyle was born a girl, but chose to become a boy to be more like Jamie. Apparently this idea is accepted on Hella without judgement or prejudice, and it adds an interesting dynamic to the story.

Not everything on the planet is as easy-going as it appears. Kyle extensively observes and comments on the dangers of living on a planet so different from where humanity evolved to exist. As mentioned before, everything on Hella is bigger. The native animals grow to huge proportions, and their size alone can be a danger to the colony. Some species are migratory and colonists feel their movements from miles and miles away. Occasionally, the native fauna comes too close to the colony and can cause damage to the defenses. There are predator and prey animals, and the prey animals are extremely dangerous and hunt in packs. No one dares to go outside the compound without making very special preparations and traveling in very large armored vehicles.

The weather on Hella is brutal. Summers are extremely hot and winters are just the opposite. Those extremes force the colonists to travel between two major colonies to survive the changing of seasons. In short, survival can be challenging.

Most of the first half of the story serves to set up the second part where we learn that the most dangerous enemy to the colony is an ambitious, power-hungry politician who, with the encouragement of one of his wives, seeks to change how the government operates. This person wants to rule with his own prejudices as a guide. It seems there are no limits to what he will do to impose his will on the people. Ironically, on Hella, the most dangerous obstacle to survival is a human being.

For me, one of the most compelling things about this story is the range of emotion it invoked in me. Through Kyle’s eyes, I laughed over his matter-of-fact observations about fellow colonists. I was appalled because of his treatment at the hands of a few. The descriptions of brutality outside the colony scared me, and I was happy at events that helped Kyle understand himself and others in a deeper sense. I found the story thought provoking in that it helped me imagine what our own world might look like if we, as humans, might improve our world situation if we banded together in a common, benevolent society.


I have read other works by David Gerrold and have enjoyed everything I have read. His writing is clear and easy to read. Of everything I have read from this author, I would have to say that this is at the top of the list of favorites. I highl
y recommend Hella as what should be an important work of fiction, not only for Sci-Fi fans, but for anyone who is open to understanding themselves and others.

Well, there it is...

Qapla!

Author David Gerrold and me in Beatrice,  Nebraska - March 3, 2018



 

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Ordinary Spaceman by Clayton C. Anderson - There's Nothing Ordinary About This Man Except How He Relates To People

Ordinary Spaceman: From Boyhood Dreams to Astronaut by Clayton C. Anderson


Ordinary spaceman? Is there such a person? In my mind, no one selected to fly into the hostile environment of space can be considered ordinary. NASA only selects the best people among their thousands of applicants to fly and represent the agency, as well as the United States.

As far back as I can remember in my life, I have always revered astronauts as heroes. I wanted to be an astronaut and held onto that dream for many years of my young life until I concluded I just didn’t have what it takes to be one of that elite corps of people. So, what is the next best thing to being an astronaut? Perhaps one thing would be to meet astronauts in person. I finally got my wish on July 17, 2019 at the local public library where retired United States Astronaut, Clay Anderson was presenting a talk followed by a book signing. Chrissy (my daughter) and I met Clay at the end of his book signing. I bought three of his books, two for myself, and a copy of his children’s book, A is for Astronaut, to donate to our preschool class where I work.

We talked with Clay for quite some time, and he graciously allowed Chrissy and I to pose with him for a photo. I found him to be an ordinary guy who has done some extraordinary things and a lot of fun to visit with. In his book, Ordinary Astronaut, he promises he will be very candid about his experiences growing up in Nebraska, attending Hastings College, also in Nebraska, and his time in graduate school at Iowa State University. During the time of his schooling, he received the opportunity to intern with NASA at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Upon graduation, he went to work with NASA and thus began his adventure in becoming an astronaut and what it takes to pursue one’s dreams.

Clay’s account of his life with NASA isn’t in chronological order, instead he bounces back and forth in his life’s timeline with each chapter devoted to some aspect of astronaut life. He candidly expresses his experiences, the circumstances surrounding them, and the feelings he had at particular times in his life. One of the most impressive aspects of his writing is how he can make a reader feel the emotions that go along with being a spaceman. Everything is not all fun and games. Astronaut life is hard. It involves constant training, a lot of which seems not only to prepare one for life in space, but for life as a team player. According to Clay, he went through a full gamut of emotions from elation to depths of depression. There is a chapter dealing with his role as Astronaut Escort for a family of the Columbia disaster, which is heart-wrenching. Another chapter hilariously describes how the waste management system during a flight works.

What I got out of Clay’s story is how the perseverance of a person can pay off if one just follows their dream and never loses sight of it. The narrative is well written and I would recommend this book to the curious, but especially to those who might consider a career with NASA. It is also an excellent book to read if one is looking for inspiration and just what one can accomplish when one sets their mind to something.

I know Chrissy and I will remember our brief time talking with Clay Anderson, and I hope I can meet him again sometime in the future. He is an ordinary man, or as some would say, “a regular guy.” However, this ordinary man has led a life filled with extraordinary experiences, as one will see in this book.

Me, Clayton, & Chrissy at the Kearney Public Library
Clayton C Anderson is (so far) the only person from Nebraska to be an astronaut. He flew on Shuttle mission STS-117 to the International Space Station and joined the station’s crew for Expeditions 15 and 16 for and spent 152 days aboard. He returned to earth aboard the STS-120 mission. He also flew on STS-131 as a Mission Specialist. He also logged thirty eight and one-half hours on six spacewalks. He is currently an author, a motivational speaker, and a Professor of Practice at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. 

Well, there it is...

Qapla!


Sunday, August 16, 2020

South Coast: A Shaman's Tale From The Golden Age Of The Solar Clipper By Nathan Lowell - An Excellent Diversion And Relaxing Read

 

South Coast: A Shaman's Tale from The Golden Age of the Solar Clipper.


When I think about Nathan Lowell’s work, the first thing that comes to mind are the books of the
Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series, particularly those that follow the life of Ishmael Wang. I enjoy Nathan’s work and look forward to new installments in all series.

South Coast is set on the planet St. Cloud. In orbit above the planet is the St. Cloud Orbital station which serves as a stop between star systems and a point of distribution for the two products produced on the planet. Those include seafood and various agrarian products.

Everyone living on the planet is either an employee of a large corporation that owns the planet, or are family members of employees. This is an arrangement that works well. Children of employees are either expected to secure employment with the corporation when they come of age, or are required to leave to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

The exception to the rule are the Shamans. Shamans are men who act as the spiritual center of a village. People come to them with their problems, and they seek people to help where needed. They also possess a certain magic described as the “gift.” Mostly what Shamans do is listen. They listen to the world and seem to have the ability to feel changing conditions in weather, fishing conditions, and other factors in flux. That, however, is not all they do.

Shamans carve whelkies; small animals made from driftwood with bits of shell embedded in them as a heart. Whelkies are not a product for sale on St. Cloud, and people don’t choose their whelkies, the carvings choose the people that need them. Part of a shaman’s gift is to make sure that a person receives the correct whelkie, which becomes a sort of spirit animal or a focal point to help a person make wise decisions.

The overall theme for South Coast is family and relationships. The story follows two families; a young teenager named Otto and his mother and dad, and Jimmy Pirano. Pirano is the planet supervisor for the fishing industry on St. Cloud.

Young Otto Krugg lives in the shadow of his father, Richard, the Shaman for the fishing village he lives in. As with many young teens, Otto is not sure what he will do with his life. You see, “the son of a shaman is the shaman.” Since Otto is Richard’s only son, it is his destiny to become a shaman, at least as far as Richard is concerned. Otto’s mother, Rachel, is a market analyst and knows Otto has other ambitions. He dreams of being a fisherman on one of the many boats that leave the harbor every day. This conflict causes Otto a lot of anxiety as he wanders the beach with his father, looking for driftwood to carve into whelkies. He doesn’t understand how being a shaman works. Rachel is an understanding parent and finds a way to let Otto have at least a bit of his dream of being a fisherman.

Jimmy Pirano takes care of the fishing industry on St. Cloud. He likes what he is doing and takes care of his people, the thousands of those running fishing trawlers and working in the related processing plants along the coast. St. Cloud manages to supply seafood to a large quadrant around St. Cloud. Everything is going along smoothly until word comes from the company’s board that the planet’s quota of production is to be raised. When Jimmy and his accountant learn the amount of the quota increase, they deem it impossible and speculate what motive the board has in mind.

The CEO of the company confronts Jimmy, helping to realize he needs to do some innovative, outside-the-box thinking to meet the challenge.

As always with Stories by Nathan Lowell, the strong point is the characters and how they pop off the pages to become real people a reader can care about. His narrative gives a backdrop for the characters to play in that is colorful and believable. One can almost smell the sea while reading.

Within the families, there is tension a reader can feel and will find themselves rooting for their success.

While South Coast seems more like a tale of the sea, it is set on a planet with a huge space station in orbit around it serving merchants who travel back and forth to other stations in the galaxy. It is very low-tech science fiction. If you’re looking for space battles, or aliens attacking, or post-apocalyptic tropes, they are not in this story. However, if you are looking for a break from the usual fare and would just like to read a good solid story with excellent characters, this is one for you.

Nathan Lowell
South Coast
is definitely worth the time to read.

There is a sequel to South Coast called Cape Grace. I have also read that one and will write about it later when I have a chance to re-read it.

In the meantime, pick up a copy of South Coast and dive in. You won’t be sorry. 

Well, there it is...

Qapla!


Thursday, July 16, 2020

Point of Impact (Nuclear Dawn Book 1) By Kyla Stone - Solid Story, Well Told, Good Characters - Worth A Read!

Point of Impact (Nuclear Dawn Book 1) by Kyla Stone

As often happens, I discovered this post-apocalyptic series when an ad appeared on my Facebook feed. I was looking for something new to read, and I noticed it was an entire series available on Kindle Unlimited, so I grabbed it. Then, as I started reading, it grabbed me!

Dakota, a waitress in a Miami bar and grill, is doing her job when a ballgame on the television is interrupted by a special report of a bomb being disarmed in Chicago. Next, there is a report of a bomb detonating in Washington, D.C. It isn’t long before she has a feeling something similar is about to happen in Miami when a nuclear device indeed detonates near her place of work. The bomb wrecks the bar and kills or gravely injures many people. Dakota and a customer, Logan, attempt to help who they can, but Dakota, well trained in survival techniques, realizes she must find adequate shelter before the fallout rains down on the city.

A short distance from the bar, Dakota’s younger sister, Eden, is alone in her foster patent’s home when she receives a text from Dakota telling her to find a safe place to hide until she can rescue her. All the while, before and after the blast, a mysterious figure named Maddox is stalking Dakota and her sister for unknown reasons.

Surrounded by death and destruction, Dakota has one purpose; find and rescue her little sister and get them to safety, if there is such a place. First, Logan has to face multiple obstacles before she completes her mission.

Point of Impact is the first in a series of five books. If this book is any indication of the content in the rest books in the series, it is well with the time to look at.

First, the characters are compelling. Dakota, a young woman who has suffered some physical and mental trauma, is a survivor and can read people. Thanks to some extensive training she received at the hands of a hermit living in the everglades, she has learned to identify dangerous situations and respond to them appropriately and with a cool head. She is always thinking and is always prepared to respond to difficult situations.

Logan also has a past causing him some difficulty, but he tries hard not to let it show. He seems to have a sense of justice and is not afraid to come to the aid of others. Dakota knows he’s tough and good in a fight, and she relies on him to help her get out of a few situations.

Eden is a victim of the same traumatic situation as Dakota, only she wound up much worse. She knows that Dakota will do whatever it takes to take care of her, but she is also happy in her foster home, where she is afforded opportunities she wouldn’t otherwise have. She seems to be the principal focus of the chief antagonist, Maddox.

There isn’t a lot about Maddox in this story yet. It appears he will figure more in the sequels. He appears to be under the control of someone who wants both Dakota and Eden, and he seems to be relentless in his pursuit. He has very little compassion for others, although he is shocked at the level of devastation as he looks for clues to find the girls.

Along with the characters, I really enjoyed the narrative. The descriptions of people, places, things, and situations were so detailed that I could accurately picture what the author wrote about. The narrative was not overly wordy with the descriptions, there was enough there to set a scene for the characters to react to and carried the action forward.

That being said, I would also caution potential readers, especially those disturbed by graphic scenes, that some descriptions in the story are of those severely injured by the nuclear incident, and are very gruesome. While the detail is amazing, it could call up images some may consider over the top.

I have to take my hat off to the author for her research of the science she used in the story. After the nuclear device detonates, there is a great deal of discussion on who was responsible for the incident and the ramifications of the aftermath. Owing to Dakota’s training, she knew all the facts that would probably take place when something like this would take place. She could tell, step by step, and down to the minute, what would take place. It was a very detailed description, and I found it informative and interesting.  Dakota also faced a medical situation that required her to perform a procedure, also described in such detail, I could feel it every step of the way.

There are four more books in the series and I intend to reading all of them as time permits. I hope they are all as good as this first one.
Author Kyla Stone lives in Georgia. She has written many dystopian novels, all available for reasonable prices. Here’s how she describes herself and her work...

"I spend my days writing apocalyptic and dystopian fiction novels. Because what’s more fun than imagining the end of the world from the comfort of your couch?"
 
"I love writing stories exploring how ordinary  people cope with extraordinary circumstances,      especially situations where the normal comforts,  conveniences, and rules are stripped away."
 
I enjoyed Point of Impact immensely and recommend it for those who enjoy a fun story with excellent characters put into situations that seem impossible to survive.

Well, there it is...

Qapla!