Red Moon – Kim Stanley Robinson

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Any time I hear Kim has a new book it’s an auto purchase for me, no need to even read the blurb. After so many hits I just know whatever story he tackles next will be great and this book is no exception.

An interesting observation I noticed while reading this book was that I do find it quite interesting how books and movies and their choices in protagonists change over the years. Back in the 80s, the baddies were always Russians but now we see the Chinese being used more and more, no doubt a reflection of US politics. This change is a mixed bag in my mind, while I do enjoy the chance to explore characters of different backgrounds, it’s the names I struggle with. I’m completely clueless when it comes to their naming conventions and pronunciations, which leaves me unable to fully immerse myself in the characters. Hopefully, increased exposure to these types of characters may sort that out but only time will tell.

The best part of Kim’s stories is that they are always dosed with a touch of reality, the stories really feel like they could happen. I can fully see the Chinese sending people to the moon and that in turn starting another space race with the USA, so for the book to have this idea as the backbone of the story was great and easy to digest.

A simple technician (Fred) on an almost routine trip to deliver a product to the moon gets involved unknowingly in an assassination plot. Colour me intrigued. From there it’s a quick jump into political instability, power struggle and coup-de-tats, which seems more important than one of the main characters who might be the first to give birth on the moon, Chan Qi. While I thought Fred and Chan Qi were the main characters the events back on earth seem to overshadow the idea of a human born on the moon, with that story being given only a few lines, to my great annoyance.

That aside I really loved the political flavour of this story, trying to figure out along with the main characters what was going on and who was involved was quite a bit of fun. Definitely more of a political thriller than a sci-fi story but a great read nonetheless. I might even have a look at trying to read some more political thrillers now

 

Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt For The Lost Franklin Expedition by Paul Watson

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Books about polar exploration always draw me in and the Franklin expedition would have to be my second favourite polar story after Shackleton of course. There’s just something about the whole age of heroes that draws me in each time. Men risking their lives for science (and celebrity status) is just a thing that’s not done anymore. The age of physical discovery is over, we don’t have these expeditions off to fill in an area of the map any more. Science is now done in the lab and on computers. I really wish that I live long enough to see this same race to explore take up once again but this time in space.

This book is split pretty much into three parts, the first part tells the story of the organisation of the expedition, Discussing the politics and bureaucracy in getting it all organised and then follows the progress if the expedition once it finally gets going and goes as far as known records show.

Once our records of known events are finished the story then switches back to England and the push by his wife to try and ascertain what has happened. The immense struggle she faces to get the Admiralty to do anything is covered by the many letters she wrote and then finally once she succeeds the story covers the many searches carried out and what limited findings they made.

The third and final part deals with recent events starting with the man who delved into Inuit stories to put the final pieces of the puzzle together and then on to the expeditions that finally found the ships as a result of Inuit stories.

Of course, there is still plenty of mystery around the expedition, most bodies still remain missing. Perhaps global warming and the receding ice sheets may reveal its final stories soon enough, in the meantime, this book serves as an excellent source to raise ones knowledge of events surround this expedition. It is well written, Paul really manages to capture the frustration felt my franklins wife as she struggled for years to get the Admiralty to do something. I really like how the book lists its sources where possible and even includes several pictures in the middle. A great read for sure,

 

Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy

Life gets in the way sometimes with what we really want to do and the past year has been a killer in terms of my reading progress. With all that was going on, I struggled to get the desire to read. Books would take almost a month for me to get through and rather than enjoy the fact I finished it I felt more a relief that it was over. That’s not how reading should make you feel, so I took a break from reading. I went from 60+ books read a year to 11. The book that changed it all for me had been sitting on my shelf for some time.  I had eyed it off many a time, found out it was part one in a trilogy and even order parts two and three but it still sat unread. In my reading lul its size was a turn-off, then one night while searching Netflix unsuccessfully for a good sci-fi movie, I said screw it and picked up book one and I just couldn’t put it down. A cliche I know but considering the last few months, I had struggled to even finish a chapter per reading session not being able to put this down was a huge turning point.

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The Three Body-Problem initially caught my eye for two reasons, firstly a big recommendation from another favourite sci-fi author Kim Stanley Robinson was on the cover and secondly,  the title alluded to an actual scientific concept/problem in the real world. The book’s blurb confirms my reasoning for grabbing it.

In 1967, physics professor Ye Zhetai is killed after he refuses to denounce the theory of relativity. His daughter, Ye Wenjie, witnesses his gruesome death. Shortly after, she’s falsely charged with sedition for promoting the works of environmentalist Rachel Carson, and told she can avoid punishment by working at a defense research facility involved with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. More than 40 years later, Ye’s work becomes linked to a string of physicist suicides and a complex role-playing game involving the classic physics problem of the title.”

Well colour me intrigued, the book involves SETI a huge interest of mine. We begin with A nanotech engineer, Wang Miao being asked by the police to investigate a secret cadre of scientists after a raft of suicides. Wangs pursuit of this leads him to an online game. Wang soon discovers that the game is key to everything and somehow links to an impending extinction-level threat to humanity. A game linked to a potential extinction, how? I just couldn’t put the book down at this point.

Such a unique story, I love the crime drama like feel to it as the plot is slowly unraveled from the perspective of Wang but just when you think you have it all figured out a bombshell is dropped on you. There is also a great insight into the realities of choices and the impact ones upbringing can have on your outlook in life. Early on, I was at a loss as to what the extinction level event could be and going into that last few pages I still couldnt piece it all together and then bam they drop the reveal right into our laps and we now know we have 400 years to prepare for it.

I just couldn’t leave it there so I dove straight into the second book as soon as I finished the first – spoilers will follow

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There’s no messing around this book dives right in and deals with the extinction-level threat and how humanity rallies to deal with it. We have 400 years to prepare somehow against the alien armada on its way. The Aliens are revealed to be called Trisolaris, a fitting name since they come from a planetary system with 3 suns hence the name of the first book. What’s worse is Trisolaris spies are already among us. The Sophons can see everything……How do you organize and plan to prevent an event of this magnitude when your every move is being watched and countered before you start it. How can you organize governments and the people to plan for something that’s 400 years in the future? The solution is the Wallfacer project, four men granted unlimited authority to prepare for the coming invasion how they see fit. The caveat, they can’t write anything down or tell anyone their plan as the sophons will see it and sabotage it.

There is a lot of pessimism in this book. I’m not sure if this is an insight into, the Chinese view of the world, just specifically the authors, or if this was merely for the sake of the plot but it was slightly discouraging to think that someone could be this pessimistic about humanity and life in the universe. For me, as an optimist, I saw the whole dark forest concept as deeply depressing. That instead of a galaxy with life everywhere and interacting like a forest full of animals, we are led to believe that all life comes to a stark and inevitable realization that its kill or be killed so all civilizations stay hidden from others, hence a dark forest and if signs of another are seen it is exterminated

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The climactic battle and the stalemate reach at the end of the previous book almost wrapped things up so just when you think you know how this one will bring the story home it takes it off onto such a unique path, I was just left in awe

From the unique concepts and twists on usual stories and themes to accurate science mentioned. This book series ticked all the right boxes for me. I had some difficulty with the names in this book, mainly from a lack of understanding of how to tell a given name from a family name for the numerous Chinese character, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment. It was also great to read a story where the world isn’t saved by the good ol’ US of A. This series was apparently the first books from the author to be translated into English, so I am hoping more of his other works will be translated too. Definitely becoming one of my favorite book series.

This series has renewed my passion for reading once again

Artemis – Andy Weir

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I was skeptical when I first heard that Andy Weir was writing another book, like how could he back up after the Martian was such an amazing hit. Since we are all expecting another blockbuster do we then run the risk of over hyping this book and then being utterly disappointed once its released? Heck even cover is made to mirror The Martian. Fortunately I managed to convince myself to approach this in a positive light and while I can’t help but make comparisons to The Martian, this on its own, is a fantastic book. I hope they make a movie of it too.

Andy creates a world slightly more removed from our own, than the world established in The Martian. Yet the concept of a moon base isn’t too far fetched to require that much of a stretch of the imagination. Hell, if there was a moon base i’d move there pronto! I liked the character and the strained relationship with her father. Great believable characters and quite factual in terms of launch site location benefits.

Can’t really reveal more without entering spoiler territory but its a great story and
Hopefully Andy keeps the ball rolling and has plans for a 3rd blockbuster already in the works

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 Light Between Oceans – M. L. Stedman

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I saw a poster for this movie near my work and it spoke of moral dilemma, that alone was enough to get me intrigued. I then checked with a few people to make sure it wasn’t just a boring love story, which thankfully it wasn’t.

Tom, having returned from the horrors of war just wants some piece and quite and to get away from society, so he takes up a role of lighthouse keeper on remote Janus Rock off the coast of Western Australia.

His life is quite disciplined on that island, everything gets reported and logged and he forms a rigid routine, to fill in the time between the quarterly supply boats. On his not so regular visits to the mainland he falls for a woman Isabel. Whom he eventually marries and brings back to the island.

After miscarriages and still births, Isabel is soon at wits end, when on the breeze she hears a babies cry. A boat has washed ashore on their island with the dead body of a man and a baby crying. Isabel still reeling from her most recent loss convinces Tom to betray his principles and not report the boat and pretend the baby is there. A few years later when they take some leave on the mainland the real consequences of their actions dawn on them.

What then follows is a battle between what feels is for the best and what is right. A lot of the reviews i read really disagreed with Isabel’s actions later in the book, but i’m the opposite, i think her actions were natural and realistic, its is Tom’s actions that i have issue with. I just cant understand the reasoning behind them. its this thought provoking struggle that makes me like this book so much. On a separate note this definitely goes in the pile of the book is better than the movie

The Disappearing Spoon – Sam Kean

9413837This book is much more than a rambling, collection of stories,  facts and quirky science knowledge. It is a history of  adventure, betrayal, and obsession. The book follows every element on the periodic table and their parts in human history, and in the lives of the scientists who discovered them.
It had enough science in it to both keep scientifically minded person interested and not scare off the scientifically illiterate. A great read for a source of trivia and improving your knowledge of elements if you have no clue as to what the difference between copper or bronze is.
Its title comes from the lab prank of molding spoons out of Gallium, which is solid at room temperature, but melts at 28 degrees Celsius ( 84Fahrenheit for those crazy imperials). So when you give a gallium spoon to someone with their tea, it will melt as they stir it, man those scientists are a crazy bunch. It’s a book I think everyone should read (might help raise our poor education standard for STEM)