Monthly Archives: June 2016

New (to me) Thrillers!

I recently found two authors who I decided to try, and found that I enjoyed their works.  I'll be reading more of both. Steve Richer is one.  I read his TERROR BOUNTY and enjoyed it quite a bit.  Here's my Amazon review:
This was my first exposure to the thrillers of Steve Richer, and I'm gonna be going back for more! It was a fast-paced trip through the world of international terrorism and intrigue, and I had trouble putting it down. I loved the main characters (Rick and Olivia) and even though the idea that an amateur could just waltz into this world and accomplish what needed to be accomplished, in the end, I bought into it because it was such a fun story. I'll be trying more of Richer's works.
I enjoyed reading about the terrorist's ideas on the state of the world, which are juxtaposed with his murderous actions.  Nothing is black and white, in the book, or in the world... Here's the link to see it on Amazon:  TERROR BOUNTY by Steve Richer. Another author is M.P. McDonald.  She uses a supernatural or magical device (a camera that takes pictures of future tragedies somehow) to allow her main characters to get into position to be involved with crimes and/or terrorism.  I've read three of McDonald's books so far and enjoyed all of them.  Here's my Amazon review of one of them:
I really enjoyed this thriller, which hinges on the unlikely existence of a camera that shows the future. There were great characters, tense situations, and a nice resolution. I've already read its sequel, CAPTURE, and will review that at some point in the future.
Short but to the point.   McDonald has written a series of five other books about Mark Taylor, the original owner of the camera.  I've read one of those, the first-in-series NO GOOD DEEDS, and enjoyed it quite a bit.  The two CJ Sheridan books were a lot of fun and quite tense at times. Here's the link to see SHOOT on Amazon:  SHOOT by M.P. McDonald. Some very good, new-to-me- reads. *****

Pessimism in Science Fiction

I've been interested in the Walt Disney Corporation for some time now.  The whole history of the company and its genesis and growth to finally become the behemoth it is today fascinates me. I've gone to visit the parks several times as a adult (and parent) and enjoyed it every time, especially Epcot. I read a book called DISNEY WAR by James B. Stewart, and was doing some internet searches when I happened upon a blog called Re-Imagineering, which seems to mostly be a series of short essays about the problems with Disney as it exists today and what could be done to solve some of them.  The blog is basically dark today; it hasn't had new content posted in years. One of the old discussions (about Epcot) was talking about exhibits people would like to see, and what sorts of things they might try to freshen it up, make it less corporate in feel. It was also talking about Tomorrowland and its original optimism about our future. But that discussion shifted to some comments about the science fiction, especially in film, of today.  As an avid reader of SF and as an author, the discussion interested me enough to write this blog post about the topic. It seems that most of today's SF is dystopian, and that most of the film projects outside of stuff like STAR TREK and STAR WARS (not really SF in any classic sense) are very dark visions of the future. They named Blade Runner, Minority Report, AI, and The Matrix. (I'd say that Vanilla Sky, Dark City, and I, Robot are also fairly dystopian, along with stuff like Final Fantasy, Waterworld, all of the Terminators, The Postman, Battlefield Earth, and maybe even The Day After Tomorrow (though the last is not far in the future at all).)  There's a bunch more SF films that I haven't seen recently because I just don't have the time to get to the movies or even watch them on TV. As I think about the SF I've read in the not-too-distant past, first, there isn't a whole lot of it. ALTERED CARBON was a good book but pretty dark. Dan Simmons' HYPERION series and his latest pair, ILIUM and OLYMPOS, are not exactly happy fantasies of the future. I haven't read much else in the field recently, sticking mostly to mysteries with some horror tossed in here and there. Indie fiction introduces more variety, and more optimism, into its vision.  But even there, the story comes from the "negative."  I'm thinking of Steven M. Moore's THE CHAOS CHRONICLES and Edward W. Robertson's REBEL STARS series.  There's also Hugh Howey's WOOL series, which is pretty darned negative for most of the series, right up until the very end. As I think about it, my question is, is there a story in a utopian future? Is it a story I want to read about? Novels are about resolving problems. In some ways it seems to me that any story is essentially a mystery. If there is a mystery, there is a problem to be discovered and sorted through. If there are no problems to resolve, if everything is hunky dory, it might make for a nice pretty painting but is there any story? I don't know. I was thinking about something like Asimov's Empire series, and while there is a lot of optimism there with the direction of humanity, when the story takes place, things are not so good. Heinlein's juveniles are more adventure story set in a fairly positively imagined future, but some of his adult works are a lot darker. I see where they're coming from with respect to Tomorrowland, they don't want pessimism at Disney World, nor does it have a place. But I don't see a story in a future where everyone is happy as clams. Those Morlocks in HG Wells' novel weren't all that happy, and the surface beings couldn't have been thrilled with the status quo either. But THE TIME MACHINE wouldn't make for a very good Disney ride. *****

Asimov’s EXTRATERRESTRIAL CIVILIZATIONS

In his 1979 book, Extraterrestrial Civilizations, Dr. Asimov takes on the question of whether we are alone in the galaxy, and he takes a fairly straightforward and conservative (in his estimation) approach to determining an estimate of how many technological civilizations there are in our Galaxy alone. He comes up with the number 390 million, and further extrapolates that most of them would be more advanced than we are. He makes a lot of assumptions, for example, he assumes (optimistically, he admits) that our civilization will continue to last on Earth as long as Earth is able to support life, which he suggests is about 7.4 billion more years, and then that this is the average duration of a civilization. (Therefore, only 1/1,500,000 of the civilizations in the galaxy are at or below our level of sophistication and advancement.) It's fascinating to "watch" Dr. Asimov manipulate the science to come up with the numbers he comes up with, starting with the total number of stars in the galaxy, which he estimates at 300 billion, and whittling it down based on estimates based on the best scientific data available to him at the time. By the end, you are almost awed by the potential number of civilizations – not just life bearing planets, but ones that develop an advanced civilization. So then, he goes on to ask, why haven't we found any evidence of them? He talks about the physics limiting the reality of interstellar travel, the energy expenditures, the times involved, and the difficulties of finding likely targets for exploration. He talks about the difficulties in detecting the various potential signals that an advanced civilization might send out, and whether we are too 'primitive' to detect such signals, or whether said signals are just not at high enough energy to be detected by our efforts to do so to date. (Remember, this was written in 1979.) In the end, Dr. Asimov suggests that the efforts themselves to expand beyond our world and to detect extraterrestrial civilizations will lead to profit and to helping ourselves. "Let us strive to inherit the Universe that is waiting for us; doing so alone, if we must, or in company with others - if they are there." This is an older book, and one that doesn't have the benefit of the latest (this century's) knowledge about planets and star systems and an even longer history of SETI and probes and the Hubble Telescope.  But it's one that expresses an optimism that I think we need in our society today.  It challenges its readers to look to that next horizon, to the "final frontier," in order to maintain that human spirit through accepting a challenge. We have so many problems here in the United States, and in the world, that at this point in history (2016), any sort of effort like this might be impossible, at least politically. But perhaps having a goal to inspire us and to influence us would be a good thing, and help us to surmount some of these issues that seem so important. (I wrote this in 2008 and just made a few changes prior to publication here...) *****

The Carter Catastrophe and Stephen Baxter

It has been a few years since I finished MANIFOLD: SPACE by Stephen Baxter. This book was a sequel of sorts to his earlier book, MANIFOLD: TIME, and I believe there is a third in the series called MANIFOLD: ORIGIN (which I haven't read). I say "sequel of sorts" because they were two pretty different stories. Both feature the same protagonist, Reid Malenfant, but they tell stories that are actually set in different universes, and there are only a handful of other characters who carry over from the first book to the second. (One is Malenfant's significant other, Emma Stoney, another is a congresswoman whose name I can't come up with off the top of my head, without either book in front of me.) Only Malenfant is important to both stories. Both are broad stories, with far reaching implications, and tons of hard science. In the first, something called the Carter Catastrophe is discussed, which loosely states that the odds of these characters living in the very early stages of humanity's existence are pretty long. The example Baxter has his character Cornelius use in the first book is that there is a box with balls in it. One of those balls has Malenfant's name on it. He says that there are either 10 balls in the box, or 10000. Then he begins decanting out the balls one by one. When Malenfant's ball comes up on the third or fourth ball, Malenfant makes a guess that there are only ten balls in the box, since it would be highly unlikely that his ball would come out third or fourth if there were 10000. And this is the argument of the Carter Catastrophe, if I understand it correctly; that the odds of any of us living this close to the beginning of humanity's ultimate span are pretty long ones. So, goes the argument, there is likely to be a catastrophe which will make this time period closer to the middle, or even more likely, the end of human existence. (Seemed like a logical argument with plenty of holes in it, to me...) Anyway, in this first book, a message is received (through the quirks of quantum mechanics) from the distant future, and it is discovered to be coordinates. So Malenfant's corporation, the Bootstrap Corporation, racing against government intervention, launches a manned probe to the asteroid they've been directed to. Meanwhile, strange children are being identified - kids who seem to have superior mental faculties. And they frighten people. So they are placed in special schools for their own educational needs, and for their protection, but actually mostly to keep control of them. In the second book, Malenfant is on hand on the moon (controlled by Japan's industrial complex) when the discovery of an alien presence in our solar system is discovered. Malenfant ends up being the one chosen to go out to meet the aliens, and when he arrives at their location, he finds a sort of gateway - a teleportation device. He decides to go through it, and meets up with the Gaijin, a robotic race advancing through the solar system. Meanwhile, back in the solar system, the Earth becomes a devastated wasteland because of environmental damage, humans terraform their moon, and they have to repel an attack on the Sun by an alien species called the Crackers (because they crack Suns - exploding them for their own purposes of energy). Pretty broad stories, as I said. In the end these stories are pretty optimistic, and they are loosely connected, as the events of the first book help to create the universe that the stories occur in the second. Baxter doesn't try to describe his aliens too much, leaving most of their characteristics to the readers' imagination. Their motives are, for the most part, not understood or even really attempted to be understood. But in the end, Baxter seems to imply that aliens that we encounter might be more like us than not, simply because the traits needed to expand their horizons are likely to be common between races. I found both of these to be good reads. They took me a lot of time to get through, and I think this is because they are long and detailed. Not many wasted words or storylines. As noted previously, the first book discusses an idea known as "The Carter Catastrophe."  Here is the link to the Wikipedia article that talks about it:  Doomsday Argument Baxter gives one example of the argument in his book. Here's another: You have two urns, one with 10 numbered balls, one with 10000 balls, but you don't know which is which. You remove one ball from one of the urns, and it is numbered 7. You can logically infer that it's from the one with 10 balls, because the likelihood of an early ball coming out of the other is pretty low. Based on that statistical argument, it's argued that since you're here today, it is likely that you are in the last 90% of humans to be born, and less likely that you are in the first 10%. Since humanity's growth is exponential, the last 90% of the people would be born near the "Doomsday" of humanity. To me it doesn't make sense, because SOMEONE'S gotta be among those first early humans, and it just so happens that it's the consciousness that is identified as "me". There's nothing special about "me", "I" could have been born at any time. Someone in an internet discussion I found mentioned that the argument would be able to be made by every single person at almost every single time in "history" (or something like that). Someone else mentions that the sample size in that statistical experiment is exactly 1, and thus is meaningless. If you took out the first 10 balls, and they were 1 through 10, maybe that would mean something...you'd pretty much know with pretty high certainty which urn you were drawing balls from. Conversely, anything higher than 10 on the second draw means with 100% certainty that it's the urn with the much higher number of balls. It's an interesting thought experiment, and Baxter uses it as an argument given by one of his characters, but doesn't necessarily endorse it as true or as good logic. *****

RICK’S RULES is free 6/3 through 6/5!

A quick post to let you know that my 9000+ word short story, RICK'S RULES, is free through Sunday, starting tomorrow (6/3/16). Here's the blurb:
Rick Striker thinks he's put enough distance between him and his foes. He likes the bar he's temping at and he really likes the young lady he's met in this new town. But trouble has a way of finding him, and the vampires don't care who they eliminate in their quest to find the detective. It's time for Rick Striker to go home. Time to confront both his fears and his foes. Time to use all of Rick's Rules in order to come out on top. RICK'S RULES is a 9200 word short story and is the final story of the "trilogy" that began (chronologically) with the events in NIGHT FAMILY and continues in the story DEAD OR ALIVE. Also contains a sample of NIGHT FAMILY and a brief author's note. Enjoy!
Please download it if you're so inclined.  It is the third story of its trilogy, but I think it stands alone okay. *****