Book Review: Europa’s Lost Expedition

“Europa's Lost Expedition” by Michael CarrollIn the epoch in which this story is set the expansion of the human presence into the solar system was well advanced, with large settlements on the Moon and Mars, exploitation of the abundant resources in the main asteroid belt, and research outposts in exotic environments such as Jupiter’s enigmatic moon Europa, when civilisation on Earth was consumed, as so often seems to happen when too many primates who evolved to live in small bands are packed into a limited space, by a global conflict which the survivors, a decade later, refer to simply as “The War”, as its horrors and costs dwarfed all previous human conflicts.

Now, with The War over and recovery underway, scientific work is resuming, and an international expedition has been launched to explore the southern hemisphere of Europa, where the icy crust of the moon is sufficiently thin to provide access to the liquid water ocean beneath and the complex orbital dynamics of Jupiter’s moons were expected to trigger a once in a decade eruption of geysers, with cracks in the ice allowing the ocean to spew into space, providing an opportunity to sample it “for free”.... [Read More]

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This Week’s Book Review – The Best of Jerry Pournelle

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday.... [Read More]

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Book Review: Wrench and Claw

“Wrench and Claw” by Steven D. HoweIn the conclusion of the author’s Honor Bound Honor Born, an explorer on the Moon discovers something that just shouldn’t be there, which calls into question the history of the Earth and Moon and humanity’s place in it. This short novel (or novella—it’s 81 pages in a print edition) explores how that anomaly came to be and presents a brilliantly sketched alternative history which reminds the reader just how little we really know about the vast expanses of time which preceded our own species’ appearance on the cosmic stage.

Vesquith is an Army lieutenant assigned to a base on the Moon. The base is devoted to research, exploration, and development of lunar resources to expand the presence on the Moon, but more recently has become a key asset in Earth’s defence, as its Lunar Observation Post (LOP) allows monitoring the inner solar system. This has become crucial since the Martian colony, founded with high hopes, has come under the domination of self-proclaimed “King” Rornak, whose religious fanatics infiltrated the settlement and now threaten the Earth with an arsenal of nuclear weapons they have somehow obtained and are using to divert asteroids to exploit their resources for the development of Mars.... [Read More]

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Book Review: The Tower of the Bear

“The Tower of the Bear” by Fenton WoodThis is the third short novel/novella (145 pages) in the author’s Yankee Republic series. I described the first, Pirates of the Electromagnetic Waves, as “utterly charming”, and the second, Five Million Watts, “enchanting”. In this volume, the protagonist, Philo Hergenschmidt, embarks upon a hero’s journey to locate a treasure dating from the origin of the Earth which may be the salvation of radio station 2XG and the key to accomplishing the unrealised dream of the wizard who built it, Zaros the Electromage.

Philo’s adventures take him into the frozen Arctic where he meets another Old One, to the depths of the Arctic Ocean in the fabulous submarine of the eccentric Captain Kolodziej, into the lair of a Really Old One where he almost seizes the prize he seeks, and then on an epic road trip. After the Partition of North America, the West, beyond the Mississippi, was ceded by the Republic to the various aboriginal tribes who lived there, and no Yankee dare enter this forbidden territory except to cross it on the Tyrant’s Road, which remained Yankee territory with travellers given free passage by the tribes—in theory. In fact, no white man was known to have ventured West on the Road in a century.... [Read More]

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This Week’s Book Review – 1636: The China Venture

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday.... [Read More]

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Book Review: Public Loneliness

“Public Loneliness” by Gerald BrennanThis is the second book in the author’s “Altered Space” series of alternative histories of the cold war space race. Each stand-alone story explores a space mission which did not take place, but could have, given the technology and political circumstances at the time. The first, Zero Phase, asks what might have happened had Apollo 13’s service module oxygen tank waited to explode until after the lunar module had landed on the Moon. The third, Island of Clouds, tells the story of a Venus fly-by mission using Apollo-derived hardware in 1972.

The present short book (120 pages in paperback edition) is the tale of a Soviet circumlunar mission piloted by Yuri Gagarin in October 1967, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution and the tenth anniversary of the launch of Sputnik. As with all of the Altered Space stories, this could have happened: in the 1960s, the Soviet Union had two manned lunar programmes, each using entirely different hardware. The lunar landing project was based on the N1 rocket, a modified Soyuz spacecraft called the 7K-LOK, and the LK one-man lunar lander. The Zond project aimed at a manned lunar fly-by mission (the spacecraft would loop around the Moon and return to Earth on a “free return trajectory” without entering lunar orbit). Zond missions would launch on the Proton booster with a crew of one or two cosmonauts flying around the Moon in a spacecraft designated Soyuz 7K-L1, which was stripped down by removal of the orbital module (forcing the crew to endure the entire trip in the cramped launch/descent module) and equipped for the lunar mission by the addition of a high gain antenna, navigation system, and a heat shield capable of handling the velocity of entry from a lunar mission.... [Read More]

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This Week’s Book Review – To Clear Away the Shadows

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday.... [Read More]

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What the … Flix?

“Another Life” (Netflix series)On July 25, 2019, a new science fiction television series, Another Life, was released on the Netflix streaming video service.  As Netflix often does with their own productions, the entire series was released at once, as opposed to one episode per week as on broadcast television.  I get most of my news about events in science fiction from Twitter, where I follow a collection of independent science fiction authors and fans whose opinions I have come to respect.  There have been relatively few comments about the new series, but they have been curiously bimodal: some people like it and others hate it, with very few in the middle.  A couple of nights ago I had a pile of tedious system administration tasks to do which took a lot of time but relatively little concentration, so I put it on to have a look for myself.  I was astonished by what I saw…or rather heard.

The story is, from what I’ve seen, banal, and although they seem to have science advisors on tap which keep them from tripping over pesky things like confusing planetary systems with galaxies and the like, there are other inanities such as instantaneous communication over light-year distances and the need for suspended animation on a faster than light ship.  Almost every male (including a computer-emulated hologram) with the exception of one political twit seems to have a dumbeard™, and nobody on this ship sent for first contact with mysterious aliens seems to have a rank or title.... [Read More]

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Book Review: Island of Clouds

“Island of Clouds” by Gerald BrennanThis is the third book, and the first full-length novel, in the author’s “Altered Space” series of alternative histories of the cold war space race. Each stand-alone story explores a space mission which did not take place, but could have, given the technology and political circumstances at the time. The first, Zero Phase, asks what might have happened had Apollo 13’s service module oxygen tank waited to explode until after the lunar module had landed on the Moon. The present book describes a manned Venus fly-by mission performed in 1972 using modified Apollo hardware launched by a single Saturn V.

“But, wait…”, you exclaim, ”that’s crazy!” Why would you put a crew of three at risk for a mission lasting a full year for just a few minutes of close-range fly-by of a planet whose surface is completely obscured by thick clouds? Far from Earth, any failure of their life support systems, spacecraft systems, a medical emergency, or any number of other mishaps could kill them; they’d be racking up a radiation dose from cosmic rays and solar particle emissions every day in the mission; and the inexorable laws of orbital mechanics would provide them no option to come home early if something went wrong.... [Read More]

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This Week’s Book Review – Final Frontier

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday.

Book Review

The Moon can make for entertaining science fiction

By MARK LARDAS... [Read More]

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Book Review: The Man in the High Castle

“The Man in the High Castle” by Philip K. DickThe year is 1962. Following the victory of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in World War II, North America is divided into spheres of influence by the victors, with the west coast Pacific States of America controlled by Japan, the territory east of the Mississippi split north and south between what is still called the United States of America and the South, where slavery has been re-instituted, both puppet states of Germany. In between are the Rocky Mountain states, a buffer zone between the Japanese and German sectors with somewhat more freedom from domination by them.

The point of departure where this alternative history diverges from our timeline is in 1934, when Franklin D. Roosevelt is assassinated in Miami, Florida. (In our history, Roosevelt was uninjured in an assassination attempt in Miami in 1933 that killed the mayor of Chicago, Anton Cermak.) Roosevelt’s vice president, John Nance Garner, succeeds to the presidency and is re-elected in 1936. In 1940, the Republican party retakes the White House, with John W. Bricker elected president. Garner and Bricker pursue a policy of strict neutrality and isolation, which allows Germany, Japan, and Italy to divide up the most of the world and coerce other nations into becoming satellites or client states. Then, Japan and Germany mount simultaneous invasions of the east and west coasts of the U.S., resulting in a surrender in 1947 and the present division of the continent.... [Read More]

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Book Review: Schild’s Ladder

“Schild's Ladder” by Greg EganGreg Egan is one of the most eminent contemporary authors in the genre of “hard” science fiction. By “hard”, one means not that it is necessarily difficult to read, but that the author has taken care to either follow the laws of known science or, if the story involves alternative laws (for example, a faster than light drive, anti-gravity, or time travel) to define those laws and then remain completely consistent with them. This needn’t involve tedious lectures—masters of science fiction, like Greg Egan, “show, don’t tell”—but the reader should be able to figure out the rules and the characters be constrained by them as the story unfolds. Egan is also a skilled practitioner of “world building” which takes hard science fiction to the next level by constructing entire worlds or universes in which an alternative set of conditions are worked out in a logical and consistent way.

Whenever a new large particle collider is proposed, fear-mongers prattle on about the risk of its unleashing some new physical phenomenon which might destroy the Earth or, for those who think big, the universe by, for example, causing it to collapse into a black hole or causing the quantum vacuum to tunnel to a lower energy state where the laws of physics are incompatible with the existence of condensed matter and life. This is, of course, completely absurd. We have observed cosmic rays, for example the Oh-My-God particle detected by an instrument in Utah in 1991, with energies more than twenty million times greater than those produced by the Large Hadron Collider, the most powerful particle accelerator in existence today. These natural cosmic rays strike the Earth, the Moon, the Sun, and everything else in the universe all the time and have been doing so for billions of years and, if you look around, you’ll see that the universe is still here. If a high energy particle was going to destroy it, it would have been gone long ago.... [Read More]

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Book Review: Delta-v

“Delta-V” by Daniel SuarezJames Tighe is an extreme cave diver, pushing the limits of human endurance and his equipment to go deeper, farther, and into unexplored regions of underwater caves around the world. While exploring the depths of a cavern in China, an earthquake triggers disastrous rockfalls in the cave, killing several members of his expedition. Tighe narrowly escapes with his life, leading the survivors to safety, and the video he recorded with his helmet camera has made him an instant celebrity. He is surprised and puzzled when invited by billionaire and serial entrepreneur Nathan Joyce to a party on Joyce’s private island in the Caribbean. Joyce meets privately with Tighe and explains that his theory of economics predicts a catastrophic collapse of the global debt bubble in the near future, with the potential to destroy modern civilisation.

Joyce believes that the only way to avert this calamity is to jump start the human expansion into the solar system, thus creating an economic expansion into a much larger sphere of activity than one planet and allowing humans to “grow out” of the crushing debt their profligate governments have run up. In particular, he believes that asteroid mining is the key to opening the space frontier, as it will provide a source of raw materials which do not have to be lifted at prohibitive cost out of Earth’s deep gravity well. Joyce intends to use part of his fortune to bootstrap such a venture, and invites Tighe to join a training program to select a team of individuals ready to face the challenges of long-term industrial operations in deep space.... [Read More]

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Book Review: The Voyage of the Iron Dragon

“The Voyage of the Iron Dragon” by Robert KroeseThis is the third and final volume in the Iron Dragon trilogy which began with The Dream of the Iron Dragon and continued in The Dawn of the Iron Dragon. When reading a series of books I’ve discovered, I usually space them out to enjoy them over time, but the second book of this trilogy left its characters in such a dire pickle I just couldn’t wait to see how the author managed to wrap up the story in just one more book and dove right in to the concluding volume. It is a satisfying end to the saga, albeit in some places seeming rushed compared to the more deliberate development of the story and characters in the first two books.

First of all, this note. Despite being published in three books, this is one huge, sprawling story which stretches over more than a thousand pages, decades of time, and locations as far-flung as Constantinople, Iceland, the Caribbean, and North America, and in addition to their cultures, we have human spacefarers from the future, Vikings, and an alien race called the Cho-ta’an bent on exterminating humans from the galaxy. You should read the three books in order: Dream, Dawn, and Voyage. If you start in the middle, despite the second and third volumes’ having a brief summary of the story so far, you’ll be completely lost as to who the characters are, what they’re trying to do, and how they ended up pursuing the desperate and seemingly impossible task in which they are engaged (building an Earth-orbital manned spacecraft in the middle ages while leaving no historical traces of their activity which later generations of humans might find). “Read the whole thing,” in order. It’s worth it.... [Read More]

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This Week’s Book Review – My Enemy’s Enemy

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday.... [Read More]

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