Tuesday, November 25, 2008

In Anticipation, Perchance To Dream

I think my geekiness may have finally over-run me. I have just realized what I really want to get for Christmas... Attending Membership to WorldCon; ergo the right to attend Anticipation 2009 in Montréal, Canada.

WorldCon is the annual convention of the World Science Fiction Society where writers, artists, and fans throughout the world meet up for the ultimate geek fest. And being a member for the year also gives one the right to vote for that year's Hugo winners. The Hugo's are one of the two most prestigious awards in the science fiction kingdom, the other being the Nebula's, which are only voted on by active writers in the field. Anticipation is the name of this year's convention the 67th annual, in Quebec (it's named anew each year).

So for five glorious days, filled with readings, panels, discussions, criticisms and lots of parties (not to mention all the hilarious uberfans costumed to the nines), I could geek out to my little heart's delight. This year's guest of honor is the esteemed Neil Gaiman, notable for his works in the lauded Sandman comics, and the novels Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett), Neverwhere, and the recently made into movie Stardust. While his works lean more towards fantasy than SF, it would still be super cool to meet him. Another notable guest is the editor guest of honor, David G. Hartwell, while being primarily known as Senior Editor at Tor/Forge (a wonderful imprint for the genre) and for his editing skills on the long running yearly anthology Year's Best SF, he is also the editor for two of the greatest stand alone anthologies ever published: The World Treasury Of Science Fiction and The Hard SF Reniassance. The short story is severely underrated in today's SF market and it would be wonderful to meet him as well. Another notable guest is the master of ceremonies, Julie Czerneda, a biologist by education and writer (among many others) of the Species Imperative trilogy. She has also written books for educators using science fiction to teach science in the classroom. Extremely cool, if you must ask me.

On top of the scheduled guests and hosts of honor, there are always tons of other fantastic contributors to the community giving talks, attending conferences, etc... Last year, to name just a few: Stephen Baxter (oh, heck, I really hope he's there this year), Charles Stross (yup, the same wish), Nancy Kress (an amazing writer), Robert J. Sawyer (he almost certainly will be there, being a local), Robert Silverberg (truly a living legend and author of the very first SF book I ever read at age 12) and others. Being able to hear any of these and many others would be a dream come true. However, since these attendees are not announced yet, it is like a SF lottery, where everyone wins. Every year is filled with unexpected surprises and there are so many people I would love to see/meet/hear.

So now the question remains, who can I take with me? From what I hear of conventions, they are overwhelming to say the least and I will definitely need a buddy to hang with. But I'm pretty sure the only others that I chat with that are as geeky as me, are the folks I only know online, though my LibraryThing acquaintances to my BookMooch buddies. Hmmm... will have to think on that one for a while. And of course the attending financial (lodging, food, gas) and educational (I will be in school in August) concerns will need to be addressed as well.

Anyway, here's to hoping! It would be so friging great?

"Isn't it interesting that the same people who laugh at science fiction listen to weather forecasts and economists?" - Kelvin Throop III (fictional).

Monday, November 17, 2008

Welcome To The SocioPolitical Soapbox

A wise man once told me to never let my blog define myself. Taking that advice to heart, I now introduce to you, yet another category of blog postings to this supposed science and book blog of mine: The SocioPolitical Soapbox.

As a citizen of the global wide intrawebs, it is my right, nay... my duty to spout my opinions as I see fit, demanding that they be heard and understood as FACT! **

So, on that note, I feel the need to inform you of why we must save the "Big Three" auto manufactures from their worthless selves.

Now to be fair, I am not a socialist (yet), and I truly believe that the free market should dictate the rise and fall of the businesses of our great nation. Foibles or brilliance aside however, in this case, I am firmly recommending a government "bailout" of GM, Chrysler & Ford, in one form or another. In what manner this should occur (purchase of stock, direct loans, etc...) I feel no need to suggest. Certainly some restrictions should be put in place, but I am NOT a economist, nor do I desire to be one either. Numbers and dollars do not interest me in the slightest. Leave that to the "professionals". On the other hand, I am a blue collar citizen of our nation and I know that if these three companies were to fail, it would have disastrous consequences for the American people, not to mention the world at large (as our economy so directly impacts the rest of the nations).

First off, I'm not defending the douche-baggery management of these companies. Clearly, they were idiots. A blind man could have seen the change in markets, what with oil prices and green activism abounding, the fall in demand of the SUV's they so marketed down our throats was inevitable. What I am defending though, is the stability of our country as a whole. Some estimates place a full 10% of our nations workforce in the hands of these employers. It's not just the U.A.W. that is at risk of loosing work, it encompasses a whole host of other businesses and employees across the country. From steel manufactures, to parts suppliers, to silicon valley tech-ies, to miners, to dealership sales peoples, to glass manufactures, to the plastics industry, to mechanics... to heck, even the $7 car wash and $35 quickie lube joints. The fact of the matter is, the big three are the largest consumers of steel and plastics and electronics in the nation. For them to fail, would be a catastrophe.

So write your senators, plead your congressmen, tug on your governor's sleeve and say "Hey! What the heck are you going to do to save these dolts?!? Spank them later, but throw them a bone now. We all need it."

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." - Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

**I beg that you recognize the sarcasm of this paragraph. I know that it is hard without vocal cues, but if you can't... please direct your browser elsewhere.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Gah! Where Have I Been? Dreaming Of Somewhere Else, Quite Obviously

I just couldn't stay away. Through a month of laptop distress and several months of my brain overflowing with the histology of the diencephelon, photophosphorylation of ADP, and genetic drift of Drosophila melanogaster, I still can't stay away when NASA publishes actual photographs of the first extra-solar planet.

For about 18 years there have been discoveries of new planets not of our solar system, almost 15 per year, on average; over 300 to date. But they have always been deduced by indirect means. Most often, those means being the gravitational "jiggle" planets play on their star as they orbit.

Now, however, NASA has published photographic proof of these mysterious little (well, really quite huge) guys. Obviously the picture is not pixleated to NASA's standards but... you understand.

This is the star Fomalhut in the constellation Piscis Austrinus, of the southern sky. It is surround by a disk of red dust. The planet in question is Fomalhut b, outlined in the small box (you really can not see it a this resolution. It's estimated to be about (or up to) three times the mass of Jupiter and taking somewhere in the neighborhood of 822 years to orbit it's star.

Anyway, very cool news. I can't wait for the day when our technology will be enough to capture an image of an earthlike planet. It's bound to happen sooner or later. Then we will have a target to shoot for!

"...our most basic common link, is that we all inhabit this small planet, we all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children's futures, and we are all mortal. " - John F. Kennedy (1917-1963)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hemingway's Six Words, or, The Advent Of The Really Short Story

So back in the day, Ernest Hemingway wrote an entire story in just six words:

"For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn."

He claimed this was his best work ever. I think it's good, also, because it operates on so many levels. What Papa put into his story is almost haunting. You find yourself not wanting to know "the rest of the story". It's amazing and frightening all at once. In October of '06, Wired magazine challenged a slew of other published SF&F genre authors to accomplish the same task. Publish your best work in just six words. A lot of the stories are wonderful ideas. Some are funny and make you laugh, others are ironic and make you shake your head, others still are just plain mysterious. A few don't make any sense at all, unless I guess, you are the one who wrote them. Here are a random selection of some of the oddities and some of my favorites:

Vacuum collision. Orbits diverge. Farewell, love.
- David Brin
Automobile warranty expires. So does engine.
- Stan Lee
Longed for him. Got him. Shit.
- Margaret Atwood
From torched skyscrapers, men grew wings.
- Gregory Maguire
With bloody hands, I say good-bye.
- Frank Miller
Epitaph: Foolish humans, never escaped Earth.
- Vernor Vinge
Easy. Just touch the match to
- Ursula K. Le Guin
Nevertheless, he tried a third time.
- James P. Blaylock
Dinosaurs return. Want their oil back.
- David Brin
Osama’s time machine: President Gore concerned.
- Charles Stross
Cryonics: Disney thawed. Mickey gnawed. Omigawd.
- Eileen Gunn
It cost too much, staying human.
- Bruce Sterling
Commas, see, add, like, nada, okay?
- Gregory Maguire
Corpse parts missing. Doctor buys yacht.
- Margaret Atwood
I win lottery. Sun goes nova.
- Steven Meretzky
The baby’s blood type? Human, mostly.
- Orson Scott Card
I’m your future, child. Don’t cry.
- Stephen Baxter
Dorothy: "Fuck it, I'll stay here."
- Steven Meretzky
Will this do (lazy writer asked)?
- Ken MacLeod

So my challenge to everyone (all two of you!) who read this: Give me your own six word story. I want to see what you can do. Make it exciting, adventureful, sad, incomprehensible, whatever! Just have fun and write one. And in the meantime, I will try to come up with my own as well. C'mon it should be good times, nay?

"A short saying oft contains much wisdom." - Sophocles (496 BC - 406 BC)

Let the games begin!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

LibraryThing Early Reviewers: A Regular Feature & The Book From The Sky by Robert Kelly

So, through my account at the cataloguing and social website LibraryThing, I have become part of a program they have with many publishers; namely the Early Reviewers. So basically, in my agreement with them, I receive free Advanced Reader Copies of books occasionally, in exchange for a review of said books. Pretty good deal if you ask me. LibraryThing gets several (or many, in some cases) different books and you pick which ones you would be interested in reviewing. Then, if you are lucky, they send you one from that month's selection. Simple as that. They try to pick out something similar to other books in your inventory, hopefully finding something you might like.

Anyway, so while I also post these reviews to LibraryThing, as required; I am also going to post them here. After all, this is my book-y blog! So... enjoy. This should be a somewhat regular column. And now, on to The Book From The Sky by Robert Kelly.

The newest book from the acclaimed poet Robert Kelly, is a sort of science fiction novel, apparent influences ranging from John C. Wright to Fyodor Dostoevsky, but most heavily influenced by his own work as a poet and his self-proclaimed poetry genre of 'deep image'.

The book is a tale of young Billy, taken from his home and family by, if not malevolent, then at the very least, morally ambiguous aliens. Vivisected while conscious by these creatures, Billy has is internal organs replaced by the most eclectic of random objects; from two grey squirrels where his lungs were, to an alarm clock for his bladder. Apparently this does not kill him. In this process Billy is spun off into two entities, the simulacrum retaining Billy’s organs and thoughts and Billy himself left deposited on another world, eventually to make his way back home. Somewhere down the line, a third incarnation - Brother William, leaves with Billy “The Book From The Sky”, a mysterious pamphlet guiding Billy further on his examination of his self and his reality.

The tale is told in a variety of open language prose and poetry, very much free verse. I’m unsure if part of this is meant intentional, as aspects of the poetry, or just because this is an uncorrected proof copy I’ve been reading, but the flow and punctuation in somewhat broken. I’m assuming the former, although having never read Kelly’s previous and numerous volumes of poetry, I can’t be sure.

There’s a lot of beautiful imagery here, from the description of his young friend Eileen at the beginning of the book to his cloud gazing, later on the strange planet. However, a lot of the book is confusing and muddled, also. As Billy delves deeper into what it means to be himself, I was often left unsure of what is real and what is not. Maybe this is the intention of the author, maybe it is my non-classically educated mind missing the obvious. Either way, though, the book is worth the read (maybe), if only for the images themselves. (3.5/10)

"People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like." Abraham Lincoln (in a book review of his own) (1809-1865)

So, see you next time, folks, ON..... LT Early Reviewers!!!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Stephen King And Comics? A New Love Affair

Stephen King has been flirting with Marvel Comics the past couple of years working on three mini-series (7, 5 & 6 issues respectively) based on his Dark Tower series of novels. The first was called "The Gunslinger Born" and retold the early tales from Roland's life in DT:4 Wizard & Glass. The second series, "The Long Road Home", all original material taking place after the events of DT:4 and before DT:1 (the events of 4 are a flashback to Roland's youth). "Treachery", more new material debuts in September.

With the overwhelming success and beautiful, amazing artwork, King has been branching out. Planned also for September is a mini-series of 5 issues based on "The Stand", King fans' longstanding favorite post-apocalyptic novel, featuring the ultimate bad guy, Randall Flagg, the walkin' dude, the wandering stranger... the dark man. Should be excellent from what we've seen so far from marvel.

Now, just released and created specifically for small screen, is the new animated comic "N". Based on an unpublished short story from an upcoming collection, "N" is tale of a psychologist driven mad and the "thin-ness" between worlds. I've only seen the first 5 episodes so far, but man, has it turned out nice. Superior production values. Planned are 25 episodes, one each day M-F until the end of August. Should be a treat. I've embedded the player below if you want to take a peek. Each episode should show up as the days progress and are only about 2 minutes a piece, so not a huge time waster. If you watch, be sure to start with episode one, they preset to the newest one. You may have to watch one 15 sec. commercial every 5 episodes or so. Sorry 'bout that!

Given the nature and success of King's film versions of his books (the films being generally terrible) comics seem to be the way to go for him. With the exception of his dramatic, non-supernatural movies (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile) the rest of his works translate very poorly to film. Christine anyone? Or when the source material is so abandoned as to make it unwatchable (The Lawnmower Man, please!)? Comics may be right up King's alley. The artwork and dedication Marvel has put into the translations have done them justice indeed, the fantastical elements are just so much believable when done this way. Bravo!

I definitely hope to see more from Marvel & King over the coming years.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Why No One Takes Us Seriously, or, I Have A Death-Ray Blaster And Am Unafraid To Use It

All art is copywright protected to the respective owners and is hearby used without permission, under the "Fair Use" act of the U.S. Copywright Law... so there.

So here I am back so soon after my declaration of freedom and writing about SF again, right off the bat. Hah-hah... That's really kind of funny in a way. But what I'm ranting about today is not funny in the slightest. No seriously.

Why is it that science fiction (and fantasy) in America, and to a lesser extent elsewhere, is not taken seriously by the masses? Is it the numerous cliche SF movies that were made in the 60s and 70s? Is it the fact that the genre is associated with grease faced, be-pimpled teen fanboys and socially inept, overweight adult computer programmers wearing t-shirts that say things like "+10 frost resistance" and "There's no place like 127.o.o.1"? Is it because the "literary" (please try to pronounce that with a sing-song voice, whilst twittering your arms about in the air, "lit-er-air-ie!") authors, who from time to time lay down some SF and then refuse to allow their books to be categorized as such or pull them from SF award nominations? (Yes, yes, I'm talking to you Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood) Is it the libraries with their two spinners of well-thumbed paperback all with the "nuclear atom" sticker on the spine detonating the SF section? Well, the answers is NO. Okay, fine - yes, maybe those ideas effect the genre status a little bit, but the real problem is...


Now, don't get me wrong, there are some great and talented artist working in the field today and yesterday. And some of it is the fault of the author themselves... Some of the stories really do suck, it can't be helped. For the most part however, this is the choice of the publisher. So, I may, here a few examples to show you all what I am thinking about. Please Note: These are just the things and examples that come to me on the fly, or that I know from experience. I mean no offense to any authors, fans, artists or whomever. I'm also sure that for every example I give there are ten examples that counter my stupid thesis (and ten others, even more apt). Too bad, this is what I am ranting about today so get off my case!

-The Early SF Periodicals
Let's start with some SF from the 50s and 60s. These two covers are archetypal of the era. On the left we have a bird-looking biped carrying a scantily clad blonde, a couple of stranded astronauts chasing her, all against a backdrop of some "futuristic" machinery. For some reason in this time of SF, almost everything had a buxom young thing being carried off by some form of monster or maybe being rescued by the lad wearing the jetpack. Yup, it was just that grand. No wonder no one took us seriously then! On the right there is there is the other stereotype... oh, wait, I thought for sure I had something else for this era. Nope, just more ta-tas and beasties. That really seemed to be the standard for these decades. Not much hack work as far as the writing goes, there are some very standard names in SF publishing here and almost everyone, without reservation, got their start writing for these and other similar periodicals of the day. Unfortunately they were overwhelmed by bad art. Maybe not even the technical quality of the art was bad, so much as the subject matter at hand. The other problem here and throughout modern day? The pictures rarely, if ever, directly related to the story at hand.

-The SF Mass Market Paperbacks
Straight to paperback fiction. I realize not every author can get the hardcover deals, nor should they. Especially new authors, at least until they prove themselves. And yes, yes, I realize the authors have nothing to do with the art on their books. No need to point it out. But, anyway, this sub-category lends itself to bad science fiction art like no one's business. Here a couple, that are particularly bad. The first, on the left is probably (sadly) one of the most famous sci-fi books out there, by a gentleman who invented his own religion no less! This new edition sports the casual "Hey baby, I've got these two lasers here, sure do hope I'm hitting the bad guys, while I gaze longingly into you eyes. Wanna feel my rippling abs?" On the right we have another common theme (a throwback to the early periodicals), "science fiction is really sexy if you have chicks and some robotic asteroid mishmash on the cover". And this coming from one of the most respected literary authors around, Kurt Vonnegut. Since this was only his second book, however, one cannot fault him for the publisher's misdeeds. So anyway, you get the paperback original idea. I probably could come up with better examples, but I feel not like searching. Ripply hero's, laser beams and sexed up aliens just don't do it for me. Sorry guys!

-The "Judge A Book By It's Cover" Variety
Sometime you just have to do just that. Sometimes our critics are right, I'm so very sorry to say. This goes against everything we have ever been taught, and that... sucks. However "the exception that proves the rule" is often only too apt. I have very little else to say about these, I'll just show you what I mean. And I'm really, really sorry Eric Flint, I'm just not ever going to read one of your books, please stop this nonsense. First there is a dinosaur, eating a medieval knight on horseback all set against the lovely backdrop of... what is that a Nazi fort circa 1944? Hmmm... looks great. Second: Brooding hero, a chipmunk turned jedi and giant robotic spiders! Then there are the next two. Again, on the left, we are forced into the "space chicks with giant guns and um... giant guns" cliche. And finally, another lovely contribution from Mr. Flint. Conquistadors squaring off against some guys in a jeep. Thanks dude. No really, it makes sure that I will not waste any time picking that one up. I have a really hard time understanding how the publishers see this as a great marketing strategy for selling novels, but hey, that's just me. Obviously they do it for a reason.

-Common Work Today
And that leads me to my final example on science fiction cover art. These following pics are from some of the biggest (or at least most critically acclaimed up-and-coming) names in the genre today. While I feel slightly more at ease with these work's covers (and more comfortable reading them on public transportation) they are in fact, just boring. The new ideas for major SF cover art today seem all to vary on a single theme. Take one spaceship or space station and place it in front of a extra-solar (or local for that matter) planet or maybe have it back dropping some form of galactic object, such as a supernova or nebula. Don't get me wrong, it's very pretty and technically proficient, but if you see enough of this you soon begin to forget what cover belongs with what book and start buying doubles of titles you already have at home each time you go to a used book sale. And that my friend, is frustrating indeed.

Again these are just my thoughts. That's why it's my name at the top of the blog. So I take full responsibility if I offended anyone. But it's how I feel. And to top it off I'm one of those people who bitches about something and then offers up no solution to fix it. I'm not sure what I'd prefer too see on the covers or what would give the genre more street cred. Yes, by street cred, I mean amongst the literary crowd. Yes, I realize that it's a terrible allusion. Shove off again please. :-) A particular favorite publisher of mine, based out of the UK, named Gollancz and under their Orion print has done some extremely interesting work on cover art recently. They started a series called "future classics" in which they re-print 6 newer SF titles, repackaging them up with the aim to appeal to greater audiences. Sorry, I'm too tired to post images for them, but feel free to link back to the article/interview and check them out. Very interesting abstract and minimalist work, which however, has been meet with mixed reviews. Although enough sales for them to plan a new line in 2009. So some people are trying anyway. Here's my "good luck tumbs up" to anyone who can change things or anyone who makes an attempt. Me, I'll just slip that dustjacket off at home for the meantime and enjoy reading the new Ben Bova in the cafeteria at work tomorrow.

"The world is governed more by appearances than realities, so that it is fully as necessary to seem to know something as to know it." Daniel Webster (1782-1852)

Friday, June 27, 2008

Like The Name Says...

That really still is it for science. Bitches.

Buuuuttt... things needed a change. I realized I have abandoned all things social networking. I have no tolerance for Xanga, no goodwill for Facebook, and certainly no patience for Myspace. This is it, Blogger and me. But I also realized that through this page, I had placed... a certain level of unrealistic expectations for myself. I'm not all about science, nor are my thoughts only with the books. Sometimes I do not want to publish a tome of temperments, nor a discourse of declaration.

Sometimes I just want to babble, like now. And before, I did not feel that I could do that here. After all this was my grand forum. But now it's just me. There have been some changes already and over the coming days there will be more. Side links have changed some, linking to the few personal things I still do online, and reflecting changing tastes.

I'll still write stuff on science and science-fiction. After all it's part of my passion. But I'll also write inanities about whatever's in my head at the time too. From my authentically un-researched political opinions, to what movie I just saw that was pretty super, to the colour and consistency of my poo --if I think it's worth mentioning. I'll just be me. So welcome back.

And because I still love t-rex, I promise that the prototype kilogram is safe in my hands. Bitches.

"To be always intending to live a new life, but never find time to set about it - this is as if a man should put off eating and drinking from one day to another till he be starved and destroyed." -Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

P.S. I'm sorry, Sir Clarke. You really deserved more than I gave you. You rock, but it's too far gone now. Rest in peace, my friend.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Death Of A Legend (1917-2008)

I'm greatly saddened to hear of the death of Arthur C. Clarke, yesterday. He is one of my most favorite authors and he deserves a better eulogy than this. Man, friggin' two jobs. Bah.

I will be writing more for you on Friday, my esteemed and respected friend.

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." - Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Chewbacca And The Great Puppy Escapade

So about a month ago, we brought a new member into our family. And I think it is about high time to introduce him to the world. His name is Chewbacca (officially) and he is a mixed breed, mostly Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso, about (?) a year old. We adopted him as a stray from the Humane Society, so we are unsure of the age, but their vets thought about a year.

Due to the way names evolve in our house, he also goes by any one of the following names: Chewy (most commonly), Chewbear (from Pooh Bear), Chewbert (as in Cuthbert of SK's Dark Tower), Chewstopheles (from Mephistopheles of Faustian legend) and Chewseph (like Joseph). And unrelated to his original name he also goes by Coldnose, Wetbeard and Sir-Licks-A-Lot. No wonder he never listens to us when we call him. Poor puppy is confused!

He really is a pretty great dog, though. He has only had two accidents since he has been at our house and he plays fetch like no one's business. He will literally play with his squeaky tennis ball for hours! He thinks he is the most fierce and tough dog in the world also. On walks he will literally choke himself trying to get at other dogs. Mostly this is for playing, but if they bark at him, he will not stand down. He will bark and growl and I'm sure if Chewy got the chance he would try to tear the other dog apart. He's therefore good guard dog around the house, growling and barking if people approach the front door. This makes sense however, since I read up on the Lhasa Apso. It turns out these little cute dogs were actually bred to be guard dogs in Tibet! Who would have guessed, since they are generally very small and cute. The only bad things is that I think Chewster (there's another name he goes by on occasion) might be a tad OCD. He will literally lick things for hours. Whether it be the wood floors or the walls of his crate where he sleeps at night or the futon cushion when he is sitting on it with us, he will not stop. It drives us nuts sometimes. And then there is the fact of him going around the house and trying to eat everything that is in his path. I just now found him with a glass marble in his mouth! We don't even own any marbles... I have no idea where her picks up this crap. But enough of the bad, he really is a great dog.

Anyway, I never wanted to be one of those people who go on and on about their pets, as if they were babies or actual people, but here I am doing it. I really don't like those people and I don't want to be one. So, I will let it go for a while. We are supposed to be those trendy gen x'ers who have no kids and plenty of disposable income (yeah, right) and who travel the country, living in big cities with trains and expensive groceries. And now I'm sounding all domestic. Sheesh. :-) So whatever, it's fun. I'll now leave you then, with a couple shots of Chewy and the infamous tennis ball. He really loves that darn ball. I tried to get him to carry around a little stuffed dog that we got for him at the beginning (is that creepy, a dog with a pet dog?) but give him any toy with a little fluff in it and he will tear it apart in a matter of minutes. He's gone through about 3 of them and he's not getting any more!

"Yesterday I was a dog. Today I'm a dog. Tomorrow I'll probably still be a dog. Sigh! There's so little hope for advancement." Charles M. Schultz as Snoopy (1922-200)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

2008: The Year Of Choice For The Savy Time-Traveler?

According to New Scientist and a couple of Russian physicists, 2008 may just be the beginning of it all. The dawn of time travel. Because according to these guys, general relativity and quantum physics says one important thing... that if past time-travel is possible, it will only be possible as far back as the creation of the first time machine.

And 2008 is that year, it looks like. With the completion of the Large Hardron Collider at CERN (the European Council For Nuclear Research) later this year, scientists will have at their disposal the largest and most energetic particle accelerator ever built. And these Russian guys are saying that with the TeV charges the protons will be traveling with, that it will be sufficiently powerful to create (if aimed properly) the first artificial wormhole (a.k.a. time machine). At least half the time anyway... The other half the time, they say, instead of a wormhole, we will get a mini-black hole. Which other physicists are saying will be no problem since black holes decay via Hawking radiation. Which unfortunately is unobserved and only theoretical at this point, but I digress. Black holes are no problem!

So now we have the wormhole. This is the future proto-travel-device? Not quite yet. It's still only going to be big enough to pass sub-atomic particles through. And in order to make it stable we would need to thread the worm hole with something that repels matter (the exact opposite of all normal matter) so maybe anti-matter or dark matter? That's still up in the air yet, also. And then when you have built all of that you are still left with a physical transporter, not a time travel device. One end of the wormhole still needs to be in the "past" and one in the "future" per se, for this to actually transport someone/something in time. And the only way we have figured to do that so far would be to attach the end of the wormhole to a neutron star, since they are so massively dense neutrons' significantly distort the fabric of space-time around them. And yeah, that seems like a viable platform for the future Grand Central Station. But anyway!

So are you with me yet? Didn't loose you in the thought process? 2008 is it, folks. The is the beginning of the greatest adventure and dreams of mankind. Baring any future complications with the LHC accelerator, we should be hosting our great-grandchildren as house guests sometime soon (if they choose to visit, that is, but who wouldn't want to check out our world as it is now?) And don't forget, smart money is also saying to buy some land in Geneva for new hotels now, while the buying is good.

"Between too early and too late, there is never more than a moment." Franz Werfel (1890 - 1945)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Year In Review: My Books Of Twenty Aught Seven

Welcome to my listing and reviews of the books that I have read in 2007. This was supposed to be published about 3 weeks ago, but in realizing I had bit off a tad more than I could chew in this endeavour, some of the notes on a few of these books are far less detailed than I had hoped for. But it needed to get done and I need to move on, two months for one blog is a bit insane! Enjoy and see you here again soon for more regular updates.

1. PopCo by Scarlett Thomas
A great book by a relatively unknown British author, PopCo recounts the tale of Alice, amateur cryptographer and research/developer for a toy company, who delves into a mystery regarding a coded necklace her grandfather left her as a child. While on a R&D retreat for her company Alice meets several people who cause her to questions things about society, re-evaluating all that she thought she knew. A wonderful book twisting several plots into a braided whole. (8/10)

2. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
A darkly humorous mystery novel by first time author Flynn, this read explores the possible serial killer in Camille Preaker's (a journalist from Chicago) small hometown, where she travels on an assignment from her editor. The journey nearly destroys damaged yet resistant Camille as she experiences the family she thought she had left behind. Blood is thicker than water, though and in the end it almost kills her. (7/10)

3. Next by Michael Crichton
Another one of Crichton's anti-technology thrillers, Next plays on the fears and recent media attention that genetic engineering has garnered. Set in the not to distant future, this story is filled with different plot lines along the lines of "Dave", the practically human chimp child, and a conversational parrot. Dastardly corporations who race to patent and own our very genes round out this incoherent book that manages to coincidentally (too much so, in my opinion) tie everything together just as the book wraps up in a disappointing ending. Michael's weakest work in my mind. (5/10)

4. Micronations by John Ryan
Hilarious and unbelievable. Microations is an actual travel guide published by the prolific folks at Lonely Planet (travel whatnot for everything you could ever need; and well done too). This guide takes you on a detailed journey to every self-ruled political entity in the world. Everything from people setting up fiefdoms in their own backyard to the infamous Principality Of Sealand, an independent ex-oil rig off the coast of England. The basis of these peoples country forming activities generally comes from their belief in the "Montevideo Convention On The Rights And Duties Of States" an treaty signed by 21 western hemisphere countries including the U.S.A. in the 1920's that basically says you only need a few things to be declared a state (i.e. country) such as permanent population, defined territory, a government and the ability to enter into negotiations with other states. The treaty also goes onto explain that regardless of other countries or entities recognizing your statehood you are still legal and may defend your people and your economy, set up courts and whatnot. This is a truly entertaining read, including the national anthems, history of the country, legitimacy, currency and even who the "rulers" are and how they can be reached. (9/10)

5. Powersat by Ben Bova
The "first" in the epic sequence called the Grand Tour (exploring humanities growth through the solar system) Bova introduces us to the story of how it all started. The story is about the quest of one Dan Randolph to build solar powered satellites in earth orbit and then generate energy which he could then sell back to the surface. It would supposedly provide independence from middle-eastern oil. There are many setbacks of course (oil cartels and negative government influence) and the standard beautiful love interest that almost gets away. The thing is, this book is pretty much a cowboy story, with bits of it taking place in space. Not really something to stand up and take notice about. (5/10)

6. Empire Builders by Ben Bova
The next book in the storyline of the Grand Tour, this one was written 20 years before Powersat, and it shows. Taking place on the moon and continuing the story of Dan Randolph and his efforts to increase the space program, this story just bleeds the genre stereotypes and staples. It advances Bova's vision of where he wants this series to go, but oh, so typical of every space opera out there. This kind of writing is going to make it a struggle to keep reading this series. (3/10)

7. The Book Of Lost Things by John Connolly
A remarkable fantasy book reminiscent of The Chronicles Of Narnia and the classic fairy tales of old. This is not a children's book, however. A little dark and foreboding for that. When David, a young boy in World War II England, finds a recently crashed German bomber in the back of his families estate, he investigates, only to her the voice of his dead mother calling out to him. Following her calls into a world of talking, people eating wolves and a lone night named Roland, David sets out on a journey to find the king of this realm and hopefully his mother too. While this book uses a lot of the classic fantasy elements, the story is a brave and original coming of age story, a delightful read. (8/10)

8. The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
The Odyssey as only Margaret Atwood could tell it. The story follows Odysseus' wife Penelope and her famous twelve hanged maids during the time the original Odyssey was following the famous adventures of it's namesake. An interesting take on Penelope's side of things. (6/10).

9. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Atwood's classic tale of a dystopian future where the country is ruled by totalitarian, theocratic government. After an unnamed disaster renders a great percentage of the population sterile, sub-classed women are forced into the role of handmaid's for the ruling class families. They are shuffled around to different homes, their sole role being child bearers. If unable to produce offspring after 3 cycles they are declared "un-women" and shipped off to the colonies. During the day they are forced to wear completely covering clothes, reminiscent of nuns habits, with little "wings" off the side of their head to block their peripheral vision and prevent others from looking at them. Their only company are other handmaids who accompany them on brief shopping trips or who are present at birthings. They are also un-named, taking only the name of the head of the household where they are staying. Like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 before it, The Handmaid's Tale stands out as noteworthy dystopic fiction. (9/10)

10. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Shadow, a sort of ordinary ex-con is recruited by the old gods of mythology to fight for their survival against the new American gods of money, credit, and shopping; in this highly acclaimed fantasy novel by Gaiman. Honestly, I was expecting a lot more from what I have heard from many people. The novel seemed to run out of steam about halfway through and only managed pick up at the end, a little. (6/10)

11. The Lottery and Other Short Stories by Shirley Jackson
Jackson's marked influence on Stephen King's work encouraged me to pick this one up. The title story revolves around a, well.., lottery in a dystopic (future?) village when one resident is selected via the drawing of blank cards with one marked with a dot. That unfortunate individual is then ritualistically stoned by the other members of the village. Jackson, most famously know for her horror novel The Haunting Of Hill House, really is not a horror author in most aspects; the rest of the short stories were mostly mundane, if not slightly ominous, in nature. Many of them were very excellent leaving my rating for this book at (7/10)

12. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman
The battle for the end of times takes a turn for the weird when Adam Young, anti-Christ and infant, is accidental switched out with another baby in the maternity ward. Warlock, the child everyone (including the Eden guardian angel, Aziraphale; and the demon Crowley, serpent who tempted Eve) thinks is the real anti-Christ, is in fact, a perfectly normal little boy. Aziraphale and Crowley, who have quite gotten used to life on earth, are now on a mission to stop the anti-Christ from fulfilling his destiny. Over all a highly entertaining and funny book (if you like the British humor, that is) from the authors of Discworld and the Sandman comics. (8/10)

13. A Gap In Nature by Tim Flannery
A beautiful rendering of art and history, this book gives an in depth study of extinct species and their habitats. From the prolific and ill-fated passenger pigeon to the Kawekaweau; a giant of New Zeeland geckos, Flannery and the artist cover 103 extinct species from 1500 to 1999 A.D. and remind us that every extinction is a wonder a beauty lost forever. (7/10)

14. The World Inside by Robert Silverberg
The first in a stack of old 60's and 70's sci-fi that I picked up in the library for a buck a piece (in hardcover no less) The World Inside is a tale set in the future where mankind has resorted to living in buildings of massive size (called "Urbmons"), 1000 floors each divided into 25 floor groups, each representing a "city". Each Urbmon contains about 800,000 people and in the results of living in such a concentrated space, the rest of the planet can be given over to farming and supplying of goods to the towers. But the pressures in living so close to one another can also send a few people "flippo", as in the case of the main character, when he tires to escape the building and discover what humanity has lost living this way. (6/10)

15. Uncle Petros And Glodbach's Conjecture by Apostolos Doxiadis
Uncle Petros..., all told through the viewpoint of his "most beloved nephew," is a story of a naturally brilliant mathematician who sets it upon himself to solve one of history's great unsolved math problems, Goldbach's Conjecture. Petros Papachristos dedicates his entire career to solving this problem. Even as the process continues and he develops new methods and formulae in effort to solve the conjecture; his life is diminishing. He feels he has only a limited amount of time to work due to the fact that all great mathematical discoveries are made by younger people. So Petros forsakes everything to his work, even forgoing publishing his new theorems, in fear that others will pick up on what he is doing and overtake his work. As a whole, the book was extremely well written. The math never overshadowed the story and the characters took center stage of it all. To watch the life progression and evolution of the two main characters and their motivations was very enjoyable. I very much look forward to reading any future books Apostolos Doxiadis might publish. (9/10)

16. Accelerando by Charles Stross
Obscure and highly technological workings of the future follow three generations of a dysfunction family through the singularity of human development. (6/10)

17. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
Amazingly great hauntings from first time novelist Hill, ...Box is the tale of aging rocker Judas Coyne (quite obviously based on Ozzie) and his attempts to escape the past when he unwittingly buys a haunted suit for his morbid and ghostly curios collection. Destined to be a classic of the genre and one of my favorites this year. (9/10)

18. End Of An Era by Robert J. Sawyer
The story of two researchers who discover the truth about what happened to the dinosaurs first hand in this time traveling alien adventure. Great writing as usual for Sawyer in another not so memorable book. (6/10)

19. Jennifer Government by Max Barry
Jen. Gov. is a fun dystopian, satirical romp though a near future world where the governing bodies of countries are no long the rulers. The mega-national corporations have replaced the Feds, where a person's identity is solely based on who they work for. For example I would be "Timothy Barnes Noble" (at least for the moment). Yup, the folks take on the last name of the corp. they work for. (Pepsi, NRA, etc...) Children take the last name of the corp. that is sponsoring their school. (McD's, Mattel, etc...) Taxes are no more and when you call for the police you have to agree to pay the requisite service charges before they will help you. The plot revolves around one Jennifer Government, who as an agent of the declining "government" (where they have to have budget requisitions before any actions are approved) is investigating a murderous marketing tactic by Nike to increase the sales of a new line of shoe. It seems as if this book was written to be made into a movie. Full of action, explosions and other action staples, this book, while fun, will not go down in history as memorable speculative fiction. (6/10)

20. Robota by Doug Chiang
Not so fabulous story of the far pre-history of a mysterious, inhabited planet somewhere in our solar system who are given the given the gift of high technology by benevolent aliens before everything turns against them. (4/10)

21. The Prestige by Christopher Preist
Two competing early 20th century magician duel for fame and notoriety in this surprisingly decent novel. Much better than I expected and far better yet, than the movie. (7/10)

22. Flashforward by Robert J. Sawyer
The story of CERN (particle accelerator in Geneva) researchers working on the elusive Higgs-Boson particle, accidental set into events that cause everyone on earth to experience 2 minutes of their own lives 21 years in the future. Good, but not memorable fiction from Sawyer. (6/10)

23. The Facts Of Life by Graham Joyce
This slightly fantastical novel sets on Frank, the son of Cassie, the only son of seven sisters growing up in World War II England in the bombed out city of Coventry. Interesting, but not Joyce's best. (5/10)

24. Travels by Michael Crichton
The book is a non-fiction account of Michael Crichton's (Sphere, Jurassic Park, and State Of Fear to name a few) world travels. This man has had some interesting times! He recounts his adventures deep sea diving in South-East Asia, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, and traveling to the famed Shangri-La. He even tells of his early years in med-school. These are some fascinating stories, however in the second half of the book; Crichton delves more and more into his obsession with supernatural phenomena, as typified by astral planes, psychics, and energy auras. Not only was it not traveling per se, it was mind-numbing to see how eager he was to accept these experiences as factual events. For Crichton being an Ivy League educated doctor, quite frankly, I was bored reading these latter stories. I would still recommend this book for it's other great stories, however. (5/10)

25. Confessions Of A Master Jewel Thief by Bill Mason
The true story of master-thief, the "gentleman burglar", who purportedly stole $35 million in jewels and jewelry in his career, all the time remaining a family man and business manager. (6/10)

26. The Book Thief: The True Crimes Of Daniel Spiegelman by Travis McDade
The true story of a criminal who repeatedly broke into the rare book and manuscript library at Colombia University and lifted over $18 Million dollars worth of documents, books and map plates only to be caught years later. This is the story of his trial and the un-alterable destruction he caused. Fascinating reading. (7/10)

27. No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
My first experience from McCarthy, this book is the story of three lives intertwined in aftermaths of a Mexican border drug deal gone horribly wrong. Moss, the average joe who finds the scene, Bell, the sheriff who investigates it, and the psycho Chigurh who is hired to fix thing and recover what he can. A cacophony of destruction, desperation and redemption, this book was one of my favorites this year. (9/10)

28. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Probably my favorite from up-and-coming fantasy superstar Gaiman, Neverwhere is the tale of everyday working class Richard Mayhew and the adventures his life takes after rescuing a injured girl in the streets of London and being taken to the secret "underground"; the world of dark and fantastical things residing under the city. (8/10)

29. The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom
Decent little book from the famed Albom, The Five People You Meet In Heaven is the story of Eddie, a ride maintenance worker for a pier side carnival. When he tries to save a small girl from being crushed in a accident, Eddie dies and proceeds on a journey to meet five people, who's lives Eddie effected in some way, who guide Eddie and bring understanding to his life and death. Not my usual fare, but not disappointing either. (7/10)

30. Gravity by Tess Gerritsen
Written by Michael Chricton and Robin Cook's love child. Medical techno-phobe thriller in space. After deep sea vent biology is brought to the space station for study, things go terribly wrong. Meh. (5/10)

31. Barrel Fever by David Sedaris
Not as good as Me Talk Pretty One Day or Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim. This book is about 75% "stories" and the remaining 25% being the autobiographical essays he is known for. The stories read like the rest of David's essays; however they are fictional and often outrageous. Mildly entertaining, but only just. (3/10)

32. Hawksbill Station by Robert Silverberg
This was a pretty decent novel. I’ve been reading some classic sci-fi from the ‘60s and ‘70s lately that I picked up a library used books sale. A tale of political dissidents being sentenced by a revolutionary government to live the rest of their life 1.00005 billion years ago via an innovation in one-way time-travel technology. Their story of dealing with life in an epoch before land creatures evolved, the ground is bare rock, even vegetation has not come around yet. The only living organisms are found in the sea. An interesting story, although, as usual for Silverberg, it is a thinly veiled social commentary on life in 1960’s and its political climate. (6/10)

33. Phoenix by Richard Cowper
This one was not too bad either. Another of the old sci-fi books that I picked from the library sale; Phoenix is a tale of a young man named Bard who opts to take anabiosis (suspended animation - freezing) for three years and wakes only to find that 1500 years have passed and the technological marvel that was his world is long gone. The rest of the story follows his adventure in trying to find his place in this re-started world of "feudal" civilization. (6/10)

34. Naked by David Sedaris
This was much more like what I expect from Mr. Sedaris. Far better than Barrel Fever and almost as good as Me Talk Pretty. Lots of funny and amusing stories from his life and travels. It's hard to believe one guy has so many unusual stories to tell. Maybe we all do, and he just knows how to bring them to life. (7/10)

35. Blaze by Richard Bachman
This was a pretty great story written during King's "Bachman phase" in the '70s. Revised with small updates to make it a little more modern for this first publication, this "lost" novel is the story of Clayton Blaisdell, Jr., an almost loveable, mentally challenged criminal who abducts a six-month old baby in a ransom attempt gone awry after his partner-in-crime (and the "brains" behind the operation) is killed. (9/10)

36. Starplex by Robert J. Sawyer
Another Sci-Fi (I've been on kind of a genre-jag lately) from one of my favorite SF authors actively writing today. While this is not a good as Sawyer's other work, this is still a pretty great story. A little "star trek-y" at the beginning, Starplex is the tale of a large ship jointly built and manned by three different inter-stellar races, which have lately come into contact with each other via the discovery of "shortcuts" similar to wormholes that has allowed instantaneous travel to various points in the galaxy. The story gains momentum with the discovery of dark matter and its apparent sentience, while green 4th generation stars (our universe is only on second gen. stars) from the future come spewing out shortcuts all over the system. A fun, interesting tale of the future of humanity. (7/10)

37. Illegal Alien by Robert J. Sawyer
Hey, big surprise, another SF book on my list for '07. To start, Illegal Alien has a ridiculous premise. During the initial weeks of first contact with an extra-terrestrial species, a human scientist and member of the primary contact team is murdered. And a "Tosok" as the aliens call themselves is charged and put on trial. While this sounds absurd and a little stupid, Sawyer does a great job of making this story believable and keeping the plot moving. Plot twists abound and while they are not too surprising, Illegal Alien is a fun read. (8/10)

38. Company by Max Barry
Another irreverent and satirical book by the author of Jennifer Government. This time around Barry is lampooning the inner workings of big business/management (He even dedicates the book to Hewlett-Packard; his former employer). Jones, a recent hire at Zephyr Holdings, starts his new job in a haze of incomprehension. Not only does not a single employee know what the company actually produces; but a doughnut went missing from the daily delivery from catering (before they get outsourced, that is, along with IT and the re-structuring of every other department) and there is hell to pay...A pretty decent novel, lighthearted enough to make you laugh, but serious enough to make one wonder if this really happens out there. (7/10)

39. Fermin by Sam Savage
An odd and original book by first time author Savage, Firmin is the tale of an intellectual rat for whom this book is named. Born in the basement of a Boston book store and left to fight for food amongst his larger brothers and sisters, Firmin soon realizes the joy of eating books. Each book has its own flavor and personality. Not long after Firmin discovers that the ingestion of these tomes has actually allowed him to learn to read them as well. Soon he is reading more and eating less, just nibbling on the margins. He quickly becomes aware of his past gluttony as the stories he tries to read are left incomplete from his devourings. The tale continues to follow his attempted friendship with the proprietor and his adventures in the surrounding neighborhood; overall a pretty fun and inventive novel. (8/10)

40. Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
An interesting Hugo & Nebula award winner from '92, Doomsday Book recounts the tale of a historian named Kirvin who travels from 2035 to 1348 in a misguided attempt to study pre-plague England via a newer time-travel technology run by the universities. Unfortunately the calculations are wrong and when she aims for 1322 she ends in smack in the middle of the Bubonic Plague. And the "net" is closed due to a catastrophe in her present time. An exciting book, flipping back and forth between her adventures and the present day folks trying (or not) to get her back. My only complaint is there are a few plot points that go unresolved at the end. The plot also makes you wonder if Crichton read this book before publishing Timeline... (7/10)

41. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
All right, if you have seen the movie, forget everything about it, because the book is nothing like it. And I don't mean that in the sense of most book to movie translations, I really mean: It is nothing like the movie. If I'm not mistaken the credits of the movie only say "suggested by the works of Isaac Asimov." Pretty much the only things similar are the Three Laws and name of the characters. The book is actually a series of short stories intertwined in a backstory featuring Dr. Susan Calvin and her memories of her career with U.S. Robots & Mechanical Men. Each of the stories features a new line of robot from USRMM and its inevitable conflict with one of the Three Laws which are as follows: 1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law. Each conflict in each short story represents a new learning curve for USRMM and its designers/leadership team. I, Robot overall, is a pretty quick and interesting read. I enjoyed the individual stories thoroughly and the book is a great primer to Asimov's worlds. (9/10)

42. The Fermata by Nicholson Baker
I thought I was getting into some sort of sci-fi-ish book about a guy who could stop time at will, after hearing about this book on a thread regarding this sort of thing, but I must not have read real close, because what I got was porn. And pretty hardcore at that. Baker's book revolves around, like I sad, a guy who can stop time at will (most of the time) leaving him the only moving thing in a universe on standstill. What does he do you might ask? Does he rob banks? Save people in perilous situations? Nope, he undresses women and fondles them. Sometimes he uses the opportunity to find out more about them (go though their purses, apartments, etc...) and uses that information to seduce them in normal time; other times he just gets them naked and plays with their under-parts and himself simultaneously. Interesting concept (the time stopping thing), don't get me wrong. And Baker can write. The guy's not a hack, but he took this book in places I was not really expecting. Lot's of potential, not much follow through. (4/10)

43. Syrup by Max(x) Barry
The more I read this guy, the more I like him. He's never going to be accused of being literary, but Barry's books are just fun as heck to read. And Syrup was not any different. In fact it may be my favorite of his three books, followed by Jennifer Government and Company. The story is of one Michael Holloway, a marketer, who goes by the name of "Scat" selling his new genius plan, freelance, to Coca-Cola. It goes down-hill from there. Scat joins up with "6" to take on Sneaky Pete, "@," and the rest of the Coke empire, making this is one joyride of a book. An absolutely hilarious, lampoon of corporate marketing and the dark side of America's favorite soft drink. (9/10)

44. Schild's Ladder by Greg Egan
Wow. This was a fascinating book. My first read by Greg Egan, Schild's Ladder is the tale of an experimenter who inadvertently creates a bubble of a new type of vacuum that is more stable than our own universal vacuum. Unfortunately this bubble is also expanding and 1/2 the speed of light and seemingly destroying everything in its path. When researchers, who are trying to understand the cause of this, discover a new "life" inside this growing world they are forced into a decision to save their (our) universe or the new "novo-vacuum" life. This book is probably the hardest of hard science fiction that I have read in a long time. Egan fills his book with a cacophony of physics and wonder. (10/10)

45. The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly
The story follows one Mickey Haller, a defense lawyer (and notably also half-brother to Connelly's mainstay character, Detective Harry Bosch) whose father (also a lawyer) once told him "The scariest client is an innocent client." Haller is finding this out to be true as he defends his latest "franchise" client Louis Roulet from attempted rape and murder of a prostitute. True to Connelly's style he keeps you guessing till the very end and The Lincoln Lawyer is no letdown, plots full of suspense and twists. I like the Bosch books better, but it seems Connelly has found another franchise himself with that of Mickey Haller. Expect to hear from him again. (8/10)

46. The Gold Coast by Kim Stanley Robinson
See in-depth review in previous blog posting. (7/10)

47. The Sunset Limited by Cormac McCarthy
This brief novel (written in a stage play format) is deeply moving. This tale finds the two protagonists (indeed the only two characters at all, in this story) "Black" and "White", in Black's small apartment; apparently right after White's attempted suicide in front of a train. Black had been the individual who pulled White back at the last second and subsequently brought him back to his apartment to talk about it. The two are separated by more than names. White is a professor, making a comfortable living though left in despair, while Black is an ex-con, ex-addict who is desperately trying to convince White of the power of Faith. These two opposing world views are the true conflict of this story and leave the reader quickly wishing for more than the ending provides. An excellent story, none the less, McCarthy spins this classic battle with his trademark style and stance. (8/10)

48. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Wow, I'm not even sure where to begin for this one. This is possibly one of the most bleak yet amazing books I have ever had the pleasure to read. The story takes place in an unnamed post-apocalyptic future where pretty much 99.9% of the people in the world are dead, the world burned by a fire leaving drifting ash everywhere, and two people called only The Man (sometimes Father or Papa) and The Boy (or son, occasionally). This is their tale of struggle to survive while moving south on foot to try and reach warmer climates for the winter. While we are treated to some tantalizing back story in occasional flashbacks, not much is know about what happened. Most people are dead and a lot of the country is destroyed or scavenged clean in the aftermath of whatever happened. There is so much terror for these two; their next meal is almost always a mystery and they come close to starvation on several occasions. Roving bands of highwaymen are a constant threat, and the Boy's own inner demons haunt their journey as well. But at the same time, there is so much perceived hope and love too. It is clear that the Man will sacrifice anything (even his own humanity) to protect his son. A dismal future in McCarthy's typical style and prose, The Road is probably the most moving book I've read all year. (10/10)

49. Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer
Another near future sci-fi suspense from Canadian author Sawyer. In the same sound and style of some of his previous works, Rollback is the story of an old married couple; Don and his wife Sarah, who back in the early twenty first century, discovered an intelligent alien signal from a star system about 38 light years away. Sarah decodes the message and her team sends a reply. Low and behold, 38 years later, they get a response. An interstellar conversation is going. The only problem is Sarah is now 87 years old and will not live to hear another reply. A billionaire industrialist offers to pay for Sarah to have the newly developed "rollback" procedure, rejuvenation of her very DNA and other methods to effectively allow her to be 25 again and continue her work decoding the alien message. She only agrees on the basis that her husband Don, of 60 years, gets the treatment too. In a cruel twist of fate, the treatment works for Don and not for Sarah. Suddenly there is a 60 year difference in age between the two and the story continues to detail Don's feelings of guilt, lack of purpose and Sarah's impending death, the alien message still un-decoded. Rollback is a descent read, don't get me wrong, but it seems that while all of Sawyer's works have different plots and devices, I'm beginning to blur the stories in my mind. They all feel very similar. There are only a couple of his works that really stick out in my mind as being independent stories. Rollback is a fun tale, but unfortunately, entirely too forgettable. (6/10)

50. Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
The classic post-apocalyptic novel. To Fort Repose, a tiny town in the middle of Florida during the cold war with the U.S.S.R., Captain Mark Briggs, stationed at in a command post in the mountains of Colorado, arranges for his family to stay in the small town with his brother Randy after some seemingly innocuous news leads him to believe the two world super-powers will soon be at war. The rest of the story follows Randy and the others in town as they try to survive the nuclear holocaust that has ravaged every major city and military base in the country, yet left Fort Repose, surprisingly shielded. While some of Frank's situations and characters are dated (the story was written in '59) it is a great, if not a little brief, tale. It could use some expansions here and there, but the characters hold their own in this story of terrible hope and trails. A dystopic-utopia. (7/10)

51. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
Probably the best known science fiction, (or at least most read) this classic work by Card is one of my favorites of all time. Set in a future where mankind has just barley survived two intergalactic wars with an alien race, not so affectionately nicknamed the buggers. In anticipation, the world's combined military leadership has set up the Battle School for training of new leadership in the pre-emptive 3rd war. It is in this school we find Andrew (Ender) Wiggin, a "third" sibling in a family when world population laws only allow two children each. In this school, Ender is trained, tested and pushed to the breaking point, his commanders believing he is mankind's last, greatest hope. Required at the Marine Corp University in Quantico as a textbook on the psychology of leadership and taught at many schools and colleges worldwide, this book is probably the most influential sci-fi ever written. (10/10)

52. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
Read on recommendation from a fellow co-worker at the bookstore, this 1979 Newberry Award winning children/Young Adult murder mystery book is pretty interesting. When paper products magnate Sam Westing dies unexpectedly, twelve neighbors and strangers are called together in a promise of inheriting his fortune while at the same time forced to find the supposed murderer of Mr Westing among their numbers, in order to claim the prize. Strange ties evolve while backstabbing and betrayal abound in this clever and gripping tale. (7/10)

53. The World Without Us by Alan Weisman
A full fledged novel published in 2007 based on a thought experiment originally published in an article in the science magazine Discover, Weisman leads us on a profound journey of just how quickly the world would recover and leave itself free from our mighty cities and public works. While the river might claim the famed New York subway within hours and the city within years what of mankind's achievement will last into the far future? The World Without... is a thought provoking look at our impact on our only home and the tenuous grasp we might really have. (8/10)

54. I'm A Stanger Here Myself by Bill Bryson
In this compilation of his essays from the magazine Mail On Sunday, Bryson recounts his experiences of living in the United States again, after being abroad in the United Kingdom for over twenty years. Brilliant, funny and insightful. (8/10)

Anyway, with 54 books and exactly 7.000 out of 10 for this years average read, I'm well satisfied. Not too bad I think, I've had worse years! And I'm very much looking forward to 2008.

"I've never known any trouble that a hour's reading didn't assuage." - Charles de Secondat (1689-1755)