Caliban’s War James S. A. Corey

Filed under:Favorites,Science Fiction,Series — posted by Randolph on March 27, 2021 @ 2:56 pm

Caliban’s War is the second book in the Expanse series. In this book, some of the protomolecule is found outside of Venus. Holden accuses Fred of releasing it since he has the only known piece. This gets him fired, so he went free-lance. After contracting with Prax to find his daughter he finds himself pulled into a political struggle.

This book introduces Sgt. Roberta “Bobbie” Draker, a gunnery sergeant in the Martian marines, Avasarala, a senior politician with the UN, and Prax, a botanist from Ganymede.

Although Bobbie appeared in the last book, she becomes a major character in this volume. Her viewpoint provides a quick threat analysis of situations and creates an unstated threat to other characters.

Avasarala has a strong personality and provides an excellent political backstory to large-scale events taking place. This gives the storyline a lot of complexity. She hires Bobbie as a bodyguard and general aide. This creates tension for Bobbie, who now has allegiance to opposing sides in the war, Earth and Mars.

Prax provides a focus for the crew of the Rocinante to find his daughter. Being an expert biologist, he reveals that Ganymede’s environmental system is collapsing and that the people there cannot survive.

Through the book, the threat of Venus keeps turning up. The reader is reminded periodically that something is going on and that threat is increasing. The end of the book is a cliff-hanger with events taking place on Venus.

The relationship between Holden and Noami evolves threatening the crew of the Rocinante since Noami is a critical engineer for the crew that cannot be replaced. She also ups the tension between Holden and Fred Johnson, bringing it to a peak when Holden confronts Fred on the issue of the protomolecule.

The book is well-written. I found the narration good and fitting to the respective characters. It is very easy and pleasurable to read.

Tripping the Multiverse by Alison Lyke

Filed under:Uncategorized — posted by Randolph on March 18, 2021 @ 9:29 am

Tripping the Universe is the story of two women who gain superpowers from an accident involving a quantum-based experiment. The women, Jade and Antigone (Anti), are science journalists attending an experiment to create a quantum tunnel. The tunnel opens a hole to alternate worlds and give the two the ability to shape change and the ability to find the portals.

Jade and Anti are quested to find someone who disappeared into another dimension during the experiment. After returning home, they find things are subtly different and need to find a way home.

Through their adventures and an instinct that things are not as they seem, they uncover an interdimensional criminal that is destabilizing our dimension. This starts a self-induced quest to hunt down the criminal, wandering among the different dimensions.

The book has a few problems. It feels like minor characters just appear to explain things to the two adventurers. This leaves the book with a deus ex machina feel.

The author uses too many adjectives. Quite often she uses two adjectives and a noun, sometimes more than once in a single sentence. This reads awkwardly and sometimes suggests incidental items have more importance to the story than they actually do.

The pacing of the story felt off. It is always moderately fast-paced. But there are times when it should be slower. A changing of pace would help the story.

Some of the dialog didn’t feel natural. The subject changes too quickly.

The narrator used Anti’s full name at the start of the book. After Anti mentioned her nickname to Jade, the narrator suddenly changed it’s references. Except in one instance the narrator referred to her as Antigone, but there was no rhyme nor reason for that instance.

In their first trip to a foreign dimension, they had to split up. Jade took their universal translator, but Anti was able to communicate without it.

Generally, I think the book could use a stronger editor, especially with continuity.

In spite of these issues, I did enjoy the book. When Anti and Jade were in alternate dimensions, the extra adjectives helped to describe the unique locations. Each place they visited felt odd and unique. The reader will get an immediate feel for unusual cultures and people.

The experiment itself was described in terms of modern technology dropping recognizable terms. This worked well with a suspension of disbelief to help the user get into the story.

When you add interesting minor characters and situational humor, the book becomes an enjoyable and light read. I suspect the author targeted a younger audience, but I will enjoy reading the next installment.

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

Filed under:Uncategorized — posted by Randolph on March 11, 2021 @ 7:39 am

Leviathon wakes is a space opera taking place in the near future. Man has colonized Mars and the asteroid belt populated by Belters. There is a lot of political tension between the three populations.

The book follows two men. James Holden is the executive officer of a small ice-mining ship. Josephus Aloisus Miller is a small-time detective at a space station.

The story starts with Holden and crew responding to a distress signal. They find a dead ship, when a stealth Martian ship arrives and destroys their ship. This leaves him in command of a small crew and pulls him into a political power struggle for the Solar System.

Miller is given an assignment to find Julie Mao, the daughter of a wealthy Earthman. His orders are to kidnap her and ship her home. His early investigation reveals that she was involved with Belter rebels – and leads to his being pulled from the investigation and ultimately fired for not dropping the investigation.

Miller finds Julie Mao dead, she dies of an unknown and apparently dangerous virus.

Someone is setting up Eros as an experiment with the virus. Miller recognizes a bugus radiation alert and mercenaries acting as herding authorities, Miller find Holden to gain his expertise on the ships and docks, then manages to herd them both safely to Holden’s ship using back areas of the station.

From here, the story involves an alien virus, a large corporation trying to control and dominate it, Mars and The Belt trying to get their own samples.

The story is very readable, mostly an adventure novel with a bit of noir mystery thrown in.

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Filed under:Uncategorized — posted by Randolph on February 26, 2021 @ 4:58 pm

This book tells the story of several people inhabiting a skyscraper in New York City in the year 2140. Global warming has raised the ocean level to the point of flooding lower-elevation buildings in the city. Some people live below the high-tide level. Below sea level in poorer sections of town.

One plot line involves elderly man who studies old maps and two young boys. The man believes he’s discovered the location of an old shipwreck that had been carrying gold. The two boys take it on themselves to look for it.

Two hackers trying to unbalance the current government, which has become more oppressive and has concentrated money and power in smaller numbers. They have created some code to disrupt Wall Street. This is the underlying theme of the book, money is the main social problem and bringing down the finial system is a way to free it.

The building janitor lives, by choice in an under-high-tide apartment. He seems to be part of the story mainly to explain some features of the technology and find tools.

A reality tv start who lives aloft in a large balloon is trying to save endangered species. A couple of other characters who’s main purpose is to provide ideas and access to equipment.

The story is told as an adventure story. It ultimately brings all the characters together to focus on changing the world. I found the book a little preachy at times. I think Kim Stanley Robinson has better books, but this one is good.

How Did You Paint That?: 100 Ways to Paint Seascapes, Rivers & Lakes

Filed under:Uncategorized — posted by Randolph on February 19, 2021 @ 2:39 am

This book is part of a series that promises to explain the inspiration, interpretation, design and process for creating a painting. Unfortunately it doesn’t really deliver that. Each of these categories is only allotted about two dozen words or less. There isn’t enough to get value from the text.

Each page contains 1 painting taking up about half the page allong with the authors text on the subject and a diagram of the paints/pencils/pastels or whatever he used in the process. Too much is allocated to his tools and far too little on all other aspects of the art.

The book does have some good values. As a picture book, there are 100 nice photos. Each done by a different author in a different style. The art is reproduced well. I think the book would have been better as a picture book with a little information about the painting.

Another nice feature is that most artists have a listed link to a webpage, so it’s easy to find more information about the artist and his other works.

he Highwayman by Craig Johnson

Filed under:Mystery — posted by Randolph on January 29, 2021 @ 6:30 am

This was my first Craig Johnson novel. This story is half mystery-half ghost story.

In the story, a policewoman receives radio signals from an officer. in distress from 30 years in the past. With her sanity in question, Walt Longmire investigates while keeping an open mind, and the radio signals seem related to missing money from the time of the distress signal.

The story involves well-developed characters that come to life in the story.

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

Filed under:Science — posted by Randolph on January 26, 2021 @ 4:12 pm

This books doesn’t seem up to his normal standards, but still is interesting and insightful. It isn’t so much about interacting with strangers but about the assumptions we make when dealing with strangers. It also delves into the damage such assumptions can cause when dealing with people are cultures we aren’t familiar with. It goes into many case studies about people in different situations where seemingly innocent assumptions lead to grave errors, some of these involve drunkenness and sexual assault.

The stories include some of national interest and how government organizations can be deceived through these same assumptions, some involving the FBI and CIA dealing with spying.

Malcolm Gladwell seems to wander at times and the book feels a bit disconnected. There are no suggestions for improvement, he offers no guidelines. Just warnings and stories. Still, the book is interesting and enjoyable.

Maigret loses his temper by Georges Simenon

Filed under:Mystery,Series — posted by Randolph on January 12, 2021 @ 4:01 pm

This is my first Maigret novel and I found it enjoyable. Although there are a number of suggestions that I’m missing some elements of his character development. For one, he is working on a drinking problem. Further, the relationship with his wife suggests prior development.

In this novel, Maigret is investigating the. death of a nightclub owner. His was found two days after his death in a public place, someone killed him, kept the body and then moved it.

The deceased took an effort to remain above-board. He is clean to a whistle, family members are readily ruled out. Other related figures include other nightclub owners, a possible mob connection and his lawyer. The killer’s motive leads to Maigret losing his temper!

All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells

Filed under:Science Fiction,Series — posted by Randolph on January 7, 2021 @ 12:36 pm

This is the first in a series by Martha Wells. The book has won numerous awards including a Hugo and Nebula.

Murderbot is a self-given name of a security robot. It is a hybrid of cloned organic and inorganic parts that include weapons, armor and communications equipment. He has no sexuality. And the story is told in first person from his point of view. His internal dialog feels alien.

This one had a problem with its control module and was able to bypass it, giving it a certain amount of autonomy.

The story involves a science team surveying the flora and fauna on a planet. When they discover parts of the maps of the world are blank, they investigate, to discover another team that was killed by their security bots.

The planet was home to a dead civilization, someone wants to keep that secret, profits provide the motive. Murderbot comes up with a plan to keep the scientists alive, who purchase his contract and give him his freedom.

The story is short, well-told, and not predictable. It makes the me look forward to the next book.

The Thoughtless Design of Everyday Things

Filed under:Technical — posted by Randolph on January 4, 2021 @ 6:51 pm

by Karl Wiegers, PhD

This is an excellent and humorous guide to design principles. It is filled with examples of both good and failed design in things we use every day. Karl presents almost 500 design practices with a good discussion and examples in products. He then provides 70 design lessons.

I’ve always thought Karl a very readable writer who makes lessons easy to understand and to remember. This should be a must-read for anyone in product design, whether technical or not.


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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace