The Long Utopia by Terry Pratchett

Filed under:Science Fiction — posted by Randolph on November 21, 2017 @ 2:51 pm


The Long Utopia by Terry Pratchett

I was disappointed in this book. It is part of a series known as The Long Earth, I wasn’t aware of that when I started the book. The premise is that there are a large number of parallel universes that can be stepped through, they are mostly similar with minor differences, mostly involving plants and animals. The plot involves an alien invasion in one of the parallel-Earths.

It felt like the world wasn’t thoroughly thought through. It is easy for people, either individuals with abilities or with devices, to step between the worlds. Yet, in a world, almost all thinking is normal within the world. Rather than build a house, then step into a parallel farm to work, they would build a normal farmstead. It would seem more interesting with four-dimensional dwellings and working environments.

The other problem was that the solution was just handed to the main characters. Someone showed up, this is how we solve it, and bang. There was a moral dilemma associated with the solution, but this, too, was solved to easily. And there wasn’t sufficient explanation about why it would actually work, muchh less discussion. Some of this could have been explained in the three earlier volumes that I haven’t read.

I would say that the series isn’t worth the time to read it, but I’d first like to have a discussion with someone who has read them.

The Lazarus War: Artefact by Jamie Sawyer

Filed under:Science Fiction — posted by Randolph on October 17, 2017 @ 10:21 am


The Lazarus War: Artefact by Jamie Sawyer

This story is told in first person, from the perspective of an elite soldier named Conrad Harris, he has earned the nickname Lazarus because he keeps coming back from death. The book examines the future of warfare, in this story, Conrad leads an elite team of sims. This team uses enhanced clones of themselves to go out on missions, they die and wake up again. The book looks like it’s going to examine this and its meaning to humanity, but doesn’t get there.

The writing is mostly plain. The author’s descriptions go from good and interesting to the kind of bland writing you want to race through. He uses only an occasional metaphor or similie, but it feels contrived.

The characters are one-dimensional. The author does use backstory to try and fill out Conrad’s life, but it doesn’t work. Often, the actions, and more so the dialog, of Conrad and his team feel more like amateurs playing soldier than elite soldiers. The descriptions of action on a ship during combat occasionally belie an ignorance of shipboard procedures.

If action and military sci-fi appeal to you, you will probably enjoy the book. I could not finish it.

The Wailing Wind by Tony Hillerman

Filed under:Mystery — posted by Randolph on September 29, 2017 @ 1:50 pm


The Wailing Wind by Tony Hillerman

Another book in the series of Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn. In this book, Jim Chee is investigating a murder which may be related to a self-defense murder in the past. In a complex plot involving gold mines, abandoned military bases and a missing wife, Joe Leaphorn get his curiosity up and starts his own investigation.

This book starts out following Jim Chee and one of his officers, Bernadette Manuelito. These characters eventually take a back seat to Joe Leaphorn who does a lot of the investigation.

This book gets involved in some of the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni (?) cultures. It is one of Hillerman’s better stories.

The Color of Pixar by Tia Kratter

Filed under:Art — posted by Randolph on September 28, 2017 @ 3:52 pm


The Color of Pixar by Tia Kratter

I received this book as part of the Early reviewer program on LibraryThing. I was a little disappointed and also enjoyed it.

First, the images are very good. I enjoy seeing what people can do using the technology.

Then, the book has a nice layout. The cover is appealing and the pages are colored to the visible light spectrum. It is very nice.

But, there is no text discussing the images, techology, nor the artists. I was expecting that kind of information. Second, the images seem to be inserted at random, there is no organization by theme, techniques, film or artist.

Last, the book is a little small. These images demand more space, there is a lot of information in them and they would have a better appeal if they were larger.

Overall, I like to book. It is pleasing and can fill a few random minutes of your day.

Lila: An Inquiry into Morals by Robert Pirsig

Filed under:Philosophy — posted by Randolph on September 5, 2017 @ 3:01 pm


Lila: An Inquiry into Morals by Robert Pirsig

The book seems to be trying to present a philosophical argument and to be a work of fiction at the same time. It succeeds at neither.

Philosophically, Robert Persig is presenting his idea of the Metaphysics of Quality as a philosophical concept. Yet he uses the emotional tie-ins of his fictional story to sell the idea. From the start, it bothered me that his use of Quality is quite different from our usage. I would think another term would be more appropriate, but I believe he wants us to associate his idea with our idea of quality without having to say it.

His initial ideas are interesting, and it started to look like it may have some merits. However, after the mid-point of the book he tries to sell rather odd ideas. He redefined science from a set of objective truths to subjective truths, because that fits better in his philosophy. Now science can have different truths in different cultures, which is the opposite of the goals of science.

Psychology, likewise is defined as culturally dependent. He sells his ideas using Lila, a psychotic young woman who responds beautifully to the predictions of his philosophy. She is not likable and not very believable. Some of her behavior doesn’t feel consistent, the author would describe her as following a value system that is not consistent with that of society, but has “value”. In his philosophy, value comes from experience.

As a work of fiction, Robert Persig is constantly talking to the reader. The characters are one-dimensional and I eventually lost interest in them.

It only got worse. I have not been able to finish the book.

Analysis and Critique: How to Engage and Write About Anything by Prof. Dorsey Armstrong

Filed under:Art,Writing — posted by Randolph on August 25, 2017 @ 3:20 pm


Analysis and Critique: How to Engage and Write About Anything by  Prof. Dorsey Armstrong

This lecture series provides a guide for writing critiques. It is one of the Great Courses lectures series presented by Prof. Dorsey Armstrong of Purdue University.

The lectures focus primarily on organizing your thoughts and getting them on paper in a well-structured and readable form. She also encourages reading in as broad a spectrum as you can manage. Then a lesser emphasis on analysis, which, for me, felt like it came more from making your own thoughts clear and concise, then getting them in written form.

She speaks clearly and is well-organized. This makes it easy for her to get her points across. Her thoughts are reflected in the accompanying booklet. Although I felt it was too close, as it is often verbatim. Having read the book first, I felt like large portions of the lecture were redundant.

The material does a good job of covering the subject, and it felt adequately in-depth. In 24 lectures, each just shy of a half-hour, she covers a lot of ground. Although most of the lectures either discuss the subject matter abstractly, she does draw good examples from several works including fiction, poetry, drama and non-fiction. One lecture is devoted to grammar, which I felt was more of a sore point for her and, for me, felt like it should have been outside the scope of this lecture series.

I felt the lectures were good and well worth the time. I listed to several of them multiple times.

Most Secret War by R. V. Jones

Filed under:History — posted by Randolph on July 12, 2017 @ 3:23 pm


Most Secret War by R. V. Jones

Dr. Jones was a physicist who, when WWII began, was thrown into the role of scientific intelligence. The book chronicles his experiences during the war, detailing how he learned and analyzed the German capabilities and how he figured out how to counter them. There is some surprising guesswork and counterintelligence that made the book interesting.

It also delves into the relationship between him, Churchill, and various other organizations. These involved some politics and infighting, even during wartime.

After the war, Dr. Jones had the opportunity to interview some of the top Germans working with radar. He throws in their perspectives and ideas from time-to-time giving interesting new perspectives on the war.

Heart of the Machine by Richard Yonck

Filed under:Science,Technical — posted by Randolph on June 2, 2017 @ 2:34 pm


Heart of the Machine by Richard Yonck

Computers and robots that can respond to us on an emotional level are already among us, although at a primitive level. This books explores the logical extensions of that technology, looking at the good and the bad. The technology is not waiting for a moral analysis, nor even public awareness. It is being rolled out to benefit whichever company develops it.

Over the next couple of decades, these technologies will become part of our everyday lives. From the handheld assistants that can respond to the needs of our moods to salesbots that can exploit your weaknesses in order to make a sale. And there will be the inevitable exploit from hackers seeking to take advantage of weaknesses, ignorance, or just software bugs.

Each chapter begins with a short scenario that demonstrates use of some aspect of the technology. Then he delves into that technology and take the reader into new ideas and new frontiers.

Overall, I found the book enlightening. Not only is it a good read, I encourage people to read it just to prepare themselves for the future. Whether his ideas will come to fruition, or some other variants, it is already on its way.

The Barsoom Project by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes

Filed under:Adventure,Mystery,Science Fiction,Series — posted by Randolph on May 19, 2017 @ 4:16 pm


The Barsoom Project by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes

This books is a follow-on to Dream Park. In this, the Dream Park business is running a new simulation, an end-of-the world scenario with mythological connections. But things are going on behind the scenes. When a player dies before it should be possible, an investigation begins turning up murder and conspiracy – and a return character operating under an alias and with a hidden past.

The dream story is interesting. It was well-researched and involves some Inuit history and mythology, and we see the players drawn into an interesting culture.

However, I didn’t feel the story was as good as the previous one. The characters are a bit shallow, which is moderately typical for Niven. But the story is very creative, which is also typical. In the end, I didn’t feel as if everything was adequately explained, such as the code modifications which had to get around security and have a very good understanding of their technology. The mystery player seemed to be far to uninteresting in the end, she had a lot of potential and should have been more complex. With the weak ending and the lack of character development I can’t recommend this book.

Bloodline by Claudia Gray

Filed under:Science Fiction,Series — posted by Randolph on April 28, 2017 @ 3:09 pm


Bloodline by Claudia Gray

This is a story of Princess Leia’s political life. The New Republic is facing new threats from within, the Centrists, a political party wanting to increase control over the galaxy in the name of preserving peace, have created a new role of First Senator. This person has much increased power and my be one step away from another emperor.

In addition to the political issue, Leia is investigating an underground military buildup. But no one believes it is possible. With the help of a Centrist, Ransom Casterfo, they travel across the galaxy to try to find proof of the existence of this army.

I found Ransom to be an interesting and complex character. On his first meeting with Leia, he comes across as an Empire apologist. This created a lot of tension between them. Yet his complexities reveal another side to him which warrants sympathy.

I listed to the audio version of this book. I found January LaVoy to be a good reader, and Random House has done a good job in the production. They have provided good background sounds that really enhance the book experience.

even though neither the political situation nor the military situation reach resolution, the book has good characters and interesting situations. It calls for a sequel.


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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace