Tag Archives: science fiction

The Philosophers of Today?

A while back, I was speaking with my retired MD friend, who is in the process of writing his memoirs.  From his description of what he was trying to accomplish, these memoirs are going to be sort of a combination of a biography and a philosophical treatise. He was bemoaning his view that the young people of today don’t have a clue what is coming at them in the future. He also suggested that there are no philosophers out there today helping to shape thought.

That’s an interesting observation, and I’m not entirely sure what to make of it. Is it true? I just don’t know. I recall back to my own time at Jesuit Loyola of Chicago, where I was required to take 9 hours of philosophy and 9 hours of theology. (I sort of cheated on the philosophy hours – “Logic” counted as a philosophy credit, and I had it in MATH in high school, and was good at those equations. So I took it and aced it. Didn’t feel much like philosophy to me, though…) Who did we study? Well, there were guys like Hume and Kierkegaard, and there was a guy named Mortimer Adler, who wrote the main book we studied, a volume titled The Difference Of Man and The Difference It Makes. Adler may or may not have some association with University of Chicago, and I think he’s still around and still writing.

I’m removed from the academic arena by over 30 years now, and I don’t know what is taught in a philosophy course today. And should philosophy be just about reading what the old thinkers wrote? Or should it be about developing your own philosophy? Learning what that means? Learning how to critically look at an issue and decide what is important about it?

I tend to think that perhaps the pop philosophers of today and of recent vintage are writing fiction as much as they’re writing non-fiction. After all, where else can a thinker work out the issues, speculate on the outcomes if one course of action is taken, explore options, even look at past events in a different light? “Speculative Fiction” is a name I’ve heard applied to some science fiction, and what is that if not an almost philosophical exploration of choices and outcomes?

The trouble is, this sort of “philosophy” isn’t considered serious. It’s ‘just’ genre fiction, it’s just made up stuff.

Still, I think some important thinking can be found in SF books. We’ve often heard the description “a cautionary tale” of a particular story, and that to me is at least a form of practical philosophy.


Books, books and more books…

Whoa, it’s been almost a month since I posted anything here.

I’ve been writing a little, trying to get my ducks in a row for some sort of concerted effort to release four novellas/novels within a short time.  Working on my post-apocalyptic novel, which is part The Stand and part Wool.  (There are three ways to survive this apocalypse.  1.  Build a shelter.  2.  Be immune to this virus.  3.  Be invited.)    Reworking blurbs for those three novellas and one novel.

But I’ve been reading.

A short time ago, I posted that I’d read, and was impressed with, Ernest Cline’s debut novel, Ready Player One.    I finished his second novel, a mashup of alien movie themes and stories, titled Armada.    I enjoyed it, not quite as much as the debut, but it was still a lot of fun.  Aliens are coming to destroy us, but we’ve known about it for the last forty years and have been preparing for the invasion.  And guess what?  We train our drone pilots by having them play video games.  Does that sound familiar?  Maybe something like The Last Starfighter?  It borrows, or pays homage, to that film along with 2001: A Space Odyssey and Contact and others.  It kept me (and my son) reading once we got into it.

I also picked up another book, one I’ve had sitting on the bookshelves since before Borders closed its doors (it still had the Borders sticker on it) called WWW: Wake by Robert J. Sawyer.  I’ve always enjoyed Sawyer’s works, and this one ended up being really good.  A blind girl with a very specific and rare type of blindness gets an implant which allows the visual signals to be altered and transmitted through the optic nerve, and it also allows her to “see” the World Wide Web.  Through her enhanced awareness of the Web, she becomes aware of something – some entity – lurking in the background of that network, and whatever it is, it’s learning and becoming more aware of itself.  Interesting premise, well-executed, with good characters and a setup for future books.  I may read in in the three book series at some point.

My ebook reading included Fatally Bound by Roger Stelljes, a thriller featuring a couple of too-good-to-be-true sleuths/agents.  I liked it, and it worked on a number of levels as they work the investigation alongside an FBI task force to locate a serial killer who is targeting various women who seem to have no common features or connections between them.  Also I read another installment in Boyd Craven’s The World Burns serial, this the seventh story, titled The World Cowers.  I have come to know and care about his characters and I want to find out where he’s ultimately going with the tale.  Also finished Sleep Tight by Anne Frasier, another serial killer thriller, and also a pretty good read.  And I read Edward W. Robertson’s third Rebel Stars book, titled Ronin.   Enjoyed it quite a bit.  Good space opera.

There are others, but that’s a good summary of some of the books I’ve been reading.


READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline

This book was, for me, one of those special reads.  I could barely put it down.  Bought it at a little indie bookstore on Mackinac Island (The Island Bookstore) with the intention of getting to it someday.  Well, my son read the description and started it, and he could barely put it down.

I finished what I was reading  and picked it up a couple of days ago.  And that was it.  Every spare minute I had I grabbed the book and read.  Finished it this morning between patients, and I have to say that it kept me sucked into the story the whole time.

Anyone read it?

It’s dystopian, in that the real world has devolved into a dirty, poverty-stricken dump.  Wade, the first-person hero of the book, lives in something called “the Stacks” which are vertical trailer parks.  Made me think of the way they park cars in NYC (we don’t do ’em like that in Chicago) where you pull into an elevator of sorts and they hoist your car to the top, then put one under you, and another, and finally, the one on the ground.  They stack up the trailers (even some VW minibuses) in metal frameworks, and people live in them.  Cheap and efficient, but not very desirable.

Wade’s truly happy in the OASIS, a massive virtual world where humanity more or less conducts their lives in this depressing world.  It was designed by a computer nerd named James Halliday, who recently died (at the beginning of the book) and has set into motion a huge on-line quest, the winner of which will get his vast fortune and control of his company.  An evil corporate entity, IOI, wants to win, and is  hiring the best people they can hire to find this Easter egg, and they will literally stop at nothing, including murder, to get there first.  But the true “best” egg hunters, known as ‘gunters,’ are guys like Wade and others who by some combination of luck and brains, find the first key after 5 years of no one having a bit of success in locating it.

I loved the 80’s references (and 70’s references; a lot of the movies and songs and even video games seem to be from the later 1970s as well as the 80’s) and I loved the characters, and I loved the suspense of seeing how Wade and his compatriots would defeat the evil corporation and find the final key and win the game.  Plus, there was the added suspense about just who some of these gunters are.  I mean, all Wade ever sees is their on-line personas, and he clearly believes that it is enough to know whether he can trust them and be friends with them.

I liked the message at the end.  It felt right.

I don’t know if it’s a great book, but for me, it WAS a great book, one I’ll probably read again someday.


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.


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.


New book from Steven M. Moore!

New Release Alert!

ROGUE PLANET by Steven M. Moore is now available from Amazon for the extremely reasonable price of $2.99!  I hope I’m not speaking out of turn, but I had the honor of being one of the beta readers for this book, and I can tell you that it is really good!  Set in Moore’s future Chaos Universe, it tells the story of a backwater planet that has developed into a theocracy, with terrible results.

Go get it now!

(And yes, I am still here…)


Independent Fiction

I was looking at the books I’ve downloaded on my Kindle and they are probably 95% by indie authors.  That’s pretty amazing, really, considering that a few years ago I didn’t know anything about the field.

I remember how I started downloading books by indie authors.  The first one I did was a book called BONE SHOP by Tim “TA” Pratt.  It is an urban fantasy, the fifth book in a series that had previously been published by a BPH imprint but was dropped after the fourth book.  Why, I don’t exactly know.  Was it not selling?  I bought the first four at Barnes and Noble bookstores, where they had exactly one copy on the shelf.  I always looked when I’d go back in to see if they had anything else by Pratt, and once I bought the single copy of whichever they had, well, that was it.

I was following a blog of editor Annetta Ribken on Journalscape back in the day, before she was an editor.  She had a very entertaining blog, and she was working on a novel, which was released as ATHENA’S PROMISE.  She decided to release it indie via Kindle and Createspace, and I bought the ebook of that one as well.  Both of those ebooks costed $4.99, which, at the time, I considered a bargain.  Now I consider it a premium that I’m willing to pay for authors I like.  Even then, I think twice about it.  “Just how much do I want to read this book right now?”

I started thinking that if Annetta could do it that way, so could I.  Another author-friend who I met at Chicago’s Printer’s Row Festival, Sean Hayden, was working with a small press, editing and writing his own fiction.  He and his significant other, Jen Wylie, opened their own small press called Untold Press, and began publishing their own fiction as well as a few other authors.  Yeah, it’s technically a small press, but it started as a way of indie publishing their own works.

Connecting the dots, I found the blogs of Dean Wesley Smith and J.A. Konrath, and then I found Hugh Howey.  WOOL was, for me, a revelation.  It was engrossing — I couldn’t hardly put it down when I purchased it as an ebook.  Howey’s story was almost as engrossing.  He put the book out in shorter installments, five of them, at $0.99 each, then compiled them into the single edition at $4.99.  And Hugh was making a killing financially, or so it seems.

I found “The Passive Voice” and answered a submissions call for a SF anthology called QUANTUM ZOO, and lo and behold, mine was one of the twelve stories accepted for publication in the volume.  If nothing else, it validated me in my own eyes as a writer.

From Konrath’s blog, I read a comment by author Steven M. Moore, and somehow realized that he wrote SF and thrillers, and I followed the link to his blog, and now I’ve read everything he’s written save (I think) two books.  (I’ll correct that oversight this year.)  I also found horror novels by Bryan Smith and by William Malmborg, which led me again to other horror novelists.

Now I’m reading one indie work after another, generally.  (I am trying to get a good run into Robert Crais’ third Joe Pike novel, called THE SENTRY, but haven’t found the time to get into it much.)  I am in the midst of a series (starting with E) by Kate Wrath.  I’m reading Mit Sandru’s novels.  I read Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant, John Ellsworth, Bobby Adair, and Edward W. Robertson.

I’ve found tons of the fiction I want to read, and I haven’t broken the bank buying all these books.

Not to mention, I’ve become an indie author myself, with a bunch of short stories and collections out as well as two novellas.

Buy indie.  Cut out that middle man!



More Mini-reviews…

Finished up three books last week.  Two were ebooks by Edward W. Robertson, who writes the BREAKERS series.  The first was BLACKOUT, the final book of the eight-book BREAKERS series.  If you’re not familiar with the Breakers world, it is a post-apocalyptic tale where two things happen to end civilization as we know it:  a viral disease that claims around 99% of all people (like in King’s THE STAND, which Robertson admits to using as his inspiration in this series) and then an alien invasion.  Turns out, the aliens, huge crab-like beings, sent the viral plague to Earth, and they figured they’d wipe out all of humanity with it, but when they come to claim the empty planet, they find plenty of humans willing to fight them and their advanced technology.  BLACKOUT, as the final book, occurs as people are trying to rebuild some sort of civilization and society, only to discover that a second “mother ship’ of alien “Swimmers” has arrived.

I found it to be a satisfying conclusion to the series and one that followed logically from everything that happened before.  The people who I’ve gotten to know over seven books all seem consistent with the character that they’ve exhibited throughout the saga.  The aliens became a bit more knowable, and it set up another series in the same universe, but set many years in the future.  The other series is called the REBEL STARS series, and the first book of this saga, titled REBEL, is the other ebook I read.

I grabbed REBEL as part of a promotional “box set” with ten “galactic tales”, titled STARS AND EMPIRE.  (None of the other titles have really grabbed me much, so REBEL is the only one I’ve read, and it may continue to be the only one…)  So anyway, in REBEL, a crew of space asteroid miners is working on an asteroid when they make a discovery — an ice-bound alien ship.  Seems that this is a Swimmer spaceship, and these humans are the descendants of those people who dealt with the Swimmers when they first attacked Earth.  As they excavate the vessel, they are attacked and everyone except for one is killed.  Their discovery, which they had tried to keep secret, is stolen…and when someone gives the survivor a chance to recover it and also to get revenge on the murderers of her crewmates, she jumps at it.

It was a solid SF tale that made me want to read further in the series.  I think Edward W. Robertson is an excellent storyteller, and even if one didn’t care for post-apocalyptic tales, this REBEL STARS entry can be enjoyed as a straightforward SF novel.  (As an aside, I read another book by Robertson called THE ROAR OF THE SPHERES . which also dealt with colonization of our solar system, though that one was more focused on AI’s. The book has been renamed and re-edited, but I’m not sure what the new one is called.  (ETA:  The author informed me that the book is now called TITANS.)  It was also a very good SF book.)

And, speaking of Stephen King, I tackled REVIVAL, which is his second newest (FINDERS KEEPERS is his newest at the moment) novel.  I hadn’t heard great things about this novel, but I have to say I ended up enjoying it quite a bit.

It’s a bit of a slow starter.  When our hero, Jamie Morton, meets his “fifth business”, pastor Charles Jacobs, he’s only six.  And there’s a lot of backstory that King gives us in his usual colloquial style, about Reverend Jacobs’ fascination with electricity (the “secret” electricity, he calls it) and then the death of his lovely wife and young child and his subsequent loss of faith.  And of course, there’s Jamie’s backstory, his youth, his high school years, his discovery of the guitar and of rock and roll music, the love of his young life, Astrid, and his subsequent loss of his own faith and his separation from Astrid as they graduate from high school.

Jump forward a bunch of years and Jamie is a lifer in the music industry, being good enough to play professionally but not really quite good enough to be a star or in an A-list band.  He’s tooling around playing gigs at small venues, roadhouses and state fairs, and he’s doing a lot of drugs.  Mainlining heroin, in fact.  He’s reached bottom when he encounters Reverend Jacobs at the Oklahoma State Fair, where the former religious man is using his electrical inventions to take people’s photographs and do something … interesting … with them.  He takes Jamie in and uses his electricity to cure Jamie of his addictions.  He also hooks Jamie up with a job in Colorado, as a studio musician and recording engineer.  Jamie owes him big-time.

A third encounter with Pastor Danny (as Jacobs is now calling himself) occurs, as he and his boss (who also owes Jacobs) go to a tent-revival where he is performing genuine healings using the electricity, although he covers it in religious jargon and is clearly making a lot of coin doing so.

King masterfully weaves everything together at the end, and I didn’t care how implausible it was by then, because I just wanted to know how Jamie ended up.  I was satisfied with the conclusion; like Robertson’s Breakers series I described above, it seemed fair and logical with what happened in the book up until then.  King tends to be a bit wordy, but I like the way he uses language to bring characters and setting to life, and allows one to glimpse the inner workings of his characters’ brains.  The ending was about what I expected once I got past the steampunk vibe the book was putting out (with electricity being the main focus), but the journey, for me, was worth it, as it usually is with King’s books.

I’m onto Hugh Howey’s THE HURRICANE and King’s FINDERS KEEPERS (ebook and hardcover), and will probably post something on both of them when I finish them.


Update on THE INN:  I decided that I’d better not use the cover image I was going to use because I’m not sure about the rights and permissions of it, so that is what’s holding up the release at this moment.  I made a different cover, but I’m not sure about it either.  So…I’ll post something when I finalize the new cover.


FLASHBACK by Dan Simmons

My first exposure to Dan Simmons’ novels came through the horror genre — Carrion Comfort and Summer of Night were two excellent novels that seemed, to me, to be very original takes on themes found in the genre.  I followed those readings with his work in a different genre — science fiction — by reading his works Hyperion, The Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, and The Rise of Endymion.  Those reads blew me away, and I kept going, reading more SF, horror and mystery.  Everything was enjoyable.

When I saw that Simmons had written a dystopian novel titled Flashback, I had to give it a try.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the blurb told me that the United States is in a state of collapse and that 85% of its population are using a strange drug called Flashback, which allows them to enter a dream-like state where they can relive moments of their lives of their choosing.  That sounds like a pretty cool premise to start with.  Follow that with a former police officer, Nick Bottom, who lost his job after the death of his wife, and has now lost his son as well because of his addiction to this drug.

Nick is hired by a Japanese businessman who is serving as one of the US Government’s “Advisors” to investigate the murder of his son.  It’s a crime that Nick investigated as a police officer, and he knows that nothing much is going to happen, but he figures he can milk it for a good payday, which will assure him of a supply of his drug.  But there’s more going on, and Nick actually does make progress; actually is motivated to solve the crime.

The story is about Nick’s investigation and discoveries, as the world around him is revealed to him (with more clarity for him) and to us readers (for the first time).  There is a value in considering this potential future as Simmons foresees it.  So much politics is there, so much of the rhetoric we are hearing today is extrapolated forward to come up with the pessimistic future that is depicted here.  Do I see it happening?  Not at all.  But I think it’s worth considering so that we can think about the worst case scenarios as depicted by the Tea Party and conservatives every day today.

So what did I really like about this book?  Well, it’s a good story.  The trouble comes from being too close to events referred to in this book as sorts of “trigger events” and seeing them from a different perspective.  The book looks back at Obama’s elections, the federal debt, entitlements, the lack of military response, the way the administration is dealing with Iran, etc etc, and depicts them as the first steps in becoming the society that the book describes.  I look at those same things and don’t see things the same.  I look at Simmons’ depiction of Islam and Arabs and Iranians (notice I separate the two — Iranians are not Arabs, racially) and see fear primarily informing the story’s (and I’m assuming, HIS) view of them.  I look at his depiction of Israelis as victims who have no responsibility for their own fate in this story, and I find myself disagreeing.

In the context of this story, of this world, however, these things all work really well.   They set the table for an engrossing tale where the Japanese are looked at as a stable and sensible race with the proper goals — except for maybe it’s not exactly as it looks.  I liked the idea of a “g bear” kinetic energy weapon fired from satellites in space.  (The weapon’s name is a nod to the SF writer who imagined such a weapon.)  I liked the way drones are incorporated into the story.  I also thought that some of the video technology was imaginative and plausible.

I”ll point to some reviews of this book that focus more on the politics:

Amazing Stories Review

Science Fiction World Review

Goodreads Reviews

SF Signal Review 

Some of them are pretty negative; they cannot seem to separate the politics from the novel.  I found that I was able to do that, and I found FLASHBACK to be a pretty good dystopian story.  Dan Simmons set out to write a dystopian piece, and he did so from his own perspective.  I thought it worked.



I read two hard SF novels back-to-back, which is something I haven’t done in a while.  (Read two hard SF novels in a row, that is…)  The first was TIME HOLE by Mit Sandru.  (I received this book as a gift!)  The second was MORE THAN HUMAN:  THE MENSA CONTAGION by Steven M. Moore.  (I received this book as a gift as well!)  The books have similarities, although they tell very different stories in terms of subject matter and scope.

TIME HOLE tells the story of an odd discovery on the Moon, where international teams are working at mining and exploratory operations.  A piece of equipment breaks down and a pair of generalists, DeeDee and Arno, are sent to drive the new equipment to the outpost.  On their way they encounter a large crater…but this crater isn’t made by a meteor impact, and it had not been noted before along this road.

When Arno falls in, DeeDee uses the truck’s winch to pull both of them back to safety, and they make a startling discovery.  They aren’t on the same moon that they were on a few minutes ago.  Or, perhaps it’s the same moon, but where in time are they?  Things are much different.

This short novella (47 pages, according to Amazon**) read a little longer than this.  It told a lot of story in those pages, and I came to really care about the two main characters as they tried to get back to their own reality, then find themselves “out of phase” and basically invisible as they return to their base and solve a mystery of what caused the huge time hole on the Moon.

(** ETA:  The author pointed out that it is 119 pages, not 47, and now Amazon reflects this length.  I thought that it seemed a lot longer than 47 pages and was wondering why Amazon said it, but I took them at their word when I looked…)

This is smart science fiction, that requires the reader to think as he reads, and that works around some more advanced scientific concepts.  I enjoyed it quite a lot, and if I have a criticism, it is that the first chapter seemed a little dry, too expository perhaps.  Once the characters are introduced, the story kicks into a higher gear and it became a very good read. The writing is very good, and it was a clean ebook, few errors in terms of things to be caught by a proofreader.  (I don’t really remember seeing any.)  I liked the cover, too.  Intriguing image.

The second book, MORE THAN HUMAN: THE MENSA CONTAGION, promised to be really good and right in my wheelhouse in terms of describing an apocalyptic-type event (disease, one of the standard cataclysms that affect humanity in that sort of book).  But It became a lot more than that.  It became a far-reaching “history” ala Dr. Asimov and his FOUNDATION/EMPIRE future history.

In this story, a meteroid strikes Earth in South Africa, and it carries something with it:  a virus.  It is quickly determined that the virus is a.) bioengineered, and b.) deliberately aimed at Earth.  The story starts with an airline cleaning crew finding a dead body with green sludge oozing from his orifices.  The CDC and the government quickly act to lock down the passengers and crew and anyone associated with the plane, but of course, it’s not enough and the virus gets out.  Others die before the virus mutates — again and again — into something more benign and even beneficial, perhaps.

The virus wakes up the world to the possibility that there is something more out there — and the second part of the book deals with man’s colonization of Mars as a response to a perceived threat by aliens who would target the planet with a virus, even if the virus is meant as a gift.  The third part of the book deals with the discovery of the aliens’ ship found in the vicinity of Saturn, and the resulting recurrent xenophobia brought on by humanity’s first contact with life from somewhere other than Earth.

A lot of packed into the 231 pages of Moore’s novel, which begins to read like a series of short vignettes rather than a continuous story; this style is made necessary by the many jumps in time between significant events.  I was reminded of Heinlein stories as far as the flow and pacing of this story.  With its cast of hundreds (it seemed; I really didn’t count them), this was a novel with an incredibly broad scope and a quite optimistic, if realistic, take on the future of humanity.

As always, this is a well-written and well constructed SF tale, again with a pretty clean job of copyediting and formatting.  Steven M. Moore has something like twenty novels out there, and while I can’t rank this as his best, it’s right up there.  (As an aside — when you’ve read a lot by a particular author, you can’t help “grading” them against their own output, or at least I can’t.  For example, when I read a Stephen King novel, I often think it’s only a “B” effort, but that’s because I’m judging it against King’s best works and not against “all” books.  If that same book had been written by a different, new  (to me) author, I might give it an “A”, if that makes sense.  I think I’m doing that with Steve Moore’s works now.  There have been several that I’ve liked so much that other good stories might suffer a bit in comparison to those.)

In conclusion, I’d say that these are both worthwhile reads for anyone who likes their SF to be of the “hard” variety.  I’d grade them both as “A”.

Happy reading!