Origin – Dan Brown

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Dan brown has almost, I repeat, almost redeemed himself in my eyes thanks to this book. I was a huge Dan Brown fan since his early books. I loved Deception Point and Digital Fortress, which I had read before i had heard of Angels and Demons. Then the follow up to Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code rocked my socks off. The fact that the book also upset bible thumpers everywhere made me smile as well. But then instead of keeping momentum and releasing another kick ass book, Dan sold out and decided instead of upsetting (unintentionally) the church with another book he would write one that kisses its ass. I speak of the Lost Symbol, the third Robert Langdon book.

On initial reading its quite good, a nice adventure with secret societies but then as the book draws to a close, Dan throws a mud pie in your face with the worst ending in book history. The ending screams ass kisser and a sell out, in fact I couldn’t even bring myself to finish it. I just threw the book on the floor in disgust and left it there for several days. Don’t believe me that the book was an ass kissing attempt at the church in response for upsetting them in the previous books? Well the movie directors passed on it and went and made the 4th book into a movie instead.

As a result of my disgust from that ending I refused to get his 4th Langdon book, Inferno. It wasn’t until word of Origin (then untitled) being in the works, that a friend and I got discussing Dan Brown and after expressing my views, they pointed out that Inferno had nothing to do with the church and perhaps I should give it a go. It was in the same vein as the earlier books but it didn’t revolve around a secret society or the church. It did however, lift me out of my hatred for Dan. Once Origins title was released it was clear to me, religion would be involved in some aspect with the idea of the origins of life being discussed. Since there was zero chance of the book confirming fairy tales, I felt it was a good chance of upsetting the apple cart again so to speak.

While the book does sort of return to the earlier themes of church vs science, the secret society aspect was really lacking. It just doesn’t feel like a true Dan Brown novel without secret societies being the main concept. This book was also a little too Sci-fi, with the addition of AI in the plot. But it does raise the hope that his next book might return to his roots of secret societies, symbols and religion. All in all my bias aside, it was a pretty good book, the pace felt great. While the reveal was predictable, the twist was a nice surprise.

Dan Brown you have almost redeemed yourself from the mess that was The Lost Symbol….

The Long Cosmos – Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter

The Long Cosmos – Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter
There is something immensely bittersweet about the final book in a series, the fast approaching conclusion and reality of it being the last time we visit this world always makes the final book in a series a sad thing. More so this time considering the author died before this book was released
Many months back on hearing the news of his death i selfishly was concerned that the book would be unfinished or someone else would finish it and thus the writing style be different but it turns out Terry and his co author pretty much wrote all 5 books years ago. So my worries were unwarranted.
The final book in the series is set several years after the previous ones. Our main man Joshua has lost his wife and is estranged from his son. So in keeping with his character he says screw the world i’m going for a sabbatical and by sabbatical he means a journey into the many parallel worlds that make up the long Earth. I just love the concept of parallel worlds (the long earth) in the book. Such a unique spin on this scientific concept.
At the same time he leaves a startling event occurs, a message is received from space and while the message is analysed and deciphered,  Joshua runs into trouble out in the wilderness when he breaks his leg when an animal runs him over. Trapped in the middle of no where with no one around he contemplates his life right when the world at large needs him the most. The message has been deciphered and it says JOIN US.
Final books in a series always run the risk of not living up to expectations and while i loved the story, the ending left me wanting more. I should of seen it coming, each of the previous books rarely answered questions and this is the same. The book drew many parallels with the book/movie contact and just like that, this ones ending is left unresolved.
I loved this series so much, it tapped not only into the human desire to explorer but also notions that family isnt always blood and that the pursuit of knowledge for knowledges sake is a worthy adventure.
I really will miss these so very well crafted characters and with one the authors passing it really is the end. So many tv shows get canceled before they finish properly and the same can be said for book series much like the bourne series, yes someone else may pick up the reigns and continue but its just not the same. Here we were lucky to have a series of books from start to finish and such a wonderful series it was

Stalin’s Hammer: Rome – John Birmingham

Stalin’s Hammer: Rome – John Birmingham
Continuing on from the epic Axis of Time trilogy,  John returns us to the world he established but a few years later. The year is now 1955 and the world has changed. The Allies won world war 2 (again) but with different outcomes, German cities being Nuked and finished earlier than expected.  The technology from the future has been in their hands for 13 years now and great leaps and bounds are being made.
Stalin’s Hammer is scheduled to be broken into 3  books, Rome being the first, Cairo and Paris being the other too and these books catch us up on what has been happening. Turns out Stalin not happy to hear his communist party doesn’t survive to the turn of century and sets out to fix this. Whatever that may mean….
Let me be clear i’m not an ebook person. I could ramble on about the smell, tactile sensation or how awesome a full bookshelf is but that’s beside the point. I prefer books on the shelf but since john has been screwed over by publishers he is going out on his own. As such the only (read cost effective) way to get the books is in ebook format. These are just novellas so quite short but i loved the world he created and just had to get them. Since my favourite characters from Axis of Time return such as Prince Harry, it is a fantastic (short) read.
He intends to release part 2 and 3 for free on his mailing list first so defiantly jump in there and sign up if you like freebies. http://cheeseburgergothic.com/

Axis of Time Trilogy – John Birmingham

Axis of Time Trilogy – John Birmingham

Who hasn’t wondered about theoretical what ifs. What if Hitler got into The Academy of Fine Arts as a youth, would he still of got into politics? What if JFK changed his route that day?  So when you see movies like The Final Countdown, you think its going to be awesome but it just doesn’t live up to it since they fail to destroy the Japaneses (they want to preserve the timeline).

I had previously dabbled in some alternate history works by Harry Turtledove in his “Days of Infamy” duology in which the Japanese follow up Pearl Harbour bombing with a land invasion too.  Then i heard of the Axis of Time trilogy (which is now more than 3) in which a multinational task force from the year 2021 is sent back to the battle of midway (by accident). They are stuck in the past, as soon as i read that i was yes, shit is going to get messed up and changed. So i had to get them.

It great from the get go, The multinational task force had a Japanese ship in it so when the midway fleet see that they attack and are pretty much destroyed by the future ships. From that point on history is completely changed. Its worse because some of the fleets ships are missing. Did they travel back?  If so where or who has them, because some had nukes on board.

John crafts an amazing universe here with 1940s tech trying to adapt and jump forward to 2021. We see huge leaps in tech, Generals in WW2 using Ipads but more interestingly, John does a fantastic job of bringing to the front cultural issues too. Us civilized countries take it for granted that our armed forces are made up of both men and women and people of many colours but 1940s is far different. There are some massive issues in 1940 of people taking orders from women captains and “coloured” captains. I feel john does an amazing job of capturing this racist attitude. I know back then they didn’t see it as that but in today’s world that is exactly what it is, racist. This series covers the time frame of world war 2 which to no surprise finishes earlier in this new time line.

There are numerous comic moments for example Prince Harry was serving in the fleet that got sent back, so he gets to meet his grandparents before they were married and the royal succession line goes into a panic trying to adapt. Stalin loves hosting Tarantino marathons!

While this Trilogy deals just with ww2 John has continued this universe in some ebooks but set 10 years later. This series has really cemented john as one of my top 5 authors. Doesn’t hurt that he is an Aussie too, even though he is from Queensland.

What If? – Randall Munroe

What If? – Randall Munroe

Man this is one hilarious book, it is a collection of answers to absurd and weird hypothetical questions he has been sent via his website for his comic strip. Having a degree in physics and previously working for NASA before leaving  to work on his XKCD comic strip full time leaves Randall in a unique position to answer these questions

There is an assortment of hilarious hypothetical questions such as

  • what would happen if the entire human population met at one place and then jumped all at the same time
  • From what height would you need to drop a steak for it to be cooked when it hits the ground
  • Is it possible to build a jet pack using downward firing machine gun
  • If a ten metre wide drain opened at the bottom of the ocean how long would it take to drain all the oceans

There are many more hilarious questions many of which he adds his signature stick figure drawing too. He takes the time to detail his research into these questions and walks the reader through the process to find the answer.

Good for a laugh and an informative read, best of both worlds!

 

 

 

Bad Astronomy – Philip Plait

Bad Astronomy – Philip Plait
This was an interesting book, i actually got it because while i have quite a passion for Astronomy it gets rather repetitive during conversations having to constantly debunk silly ideas people have about Astronomy. Ideas such as is their sound in space? to the most infuriating, confusing it with the ridiculous hogwash that is Astrology.   I thought if i could find a book that answered all these i could just give them out.
Turns out (obviously) its much more fun to share knowledge and talk to people and debunk silly or misleading ideas than to simply hand over a book. Nothing to do with the fact there are people who simply just don’t like reading – a concept i just cant fathom. Interesting point i noticed was that many of the people who don’t read are also the ones who believe in Astrology
But this book does serve a purpose. It has a wonderful collection of ideas and misleading things popular culture has about science. From bad science in movies featuring explosions and sounds in space and lasers that can be seen and dodged once fired . To dispelling rumours about why the moon looks bigger on the horizon or what causes the tides.
Its a great quick reference guide to helping understand the reality behind some situations.  While anyone with a science background will already understand the reasons behind most of the issues, like why is the sky blue, Does water really spin opposite directions when draining in different hemispheres, Did the moon landings actually happen and why astrology is complete hogwash. There are a few unique surprises in there such as my favourite. The optical illusion of the moon looking bigger when its near the horizon, actually disappears and it looks normal when you bend over and view it between your legs. I so have to try this!!!
It is definitely a book for all types, a fun and yet informative read.

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life – Chris Hadfield

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life – Chris Hadfield

What boy doesn’t dream of becoming an astronaut when he grows up? For most, like myself that dream doesn’t come to fruition. However Chris tells a different story. He takes us from those first moments of when he saw Neil walk on the moon all the way to life in space. I suppose his journey isnt too different from many astronauts. Tried and true method of becoming a pilot then a test pilot and then moving to the US. but whats different about this story is Chris explains in detail the mental attitudes that got him there. shares numerous funny stories along the way and gives us a real good insight into life of an astronaut such as how to really fix a broken toilet in space and the issues that causes.

Chris did things a little different than other astronauts he tried to share what it was like with as many people as possible via his social media pages. from the sights and sounds of space to making a music video. Chris gives us a rare insight into a world so few get to know.

This was a great read not just to read a bit about what living on a space station is like but also to read just how hard it is to get there. Probably the best read and insight into an astronauts life i have encountered. A must for any bookshelf