The Engines of God (Series) – Jack McDevitt

Book One, Ingredients list:

1. FTL drives
2. Decently easy interstellar travel
3. Single, hard-minded, I-do-my-job-because-I-have-nothing-else-and-anyway-I-love-to-do-it Star Pilot (named Priscilla “Hutch” Hutchins) with incredible skill that remains mostly undiscovered and under-utilized doing transport jobs for rich companies
4. Massive planet that is empty and thought to be better utilized as a replacement Earth (once it’s terraformed, that is)
5. Archeologists who insist that there is more to be learned from the ancients who once lived there
6. Money-makers and politicos who could give a fuck about archeologists or their work


I suppose so. I mean, this book doesn’t really leave much to guess. Group 1 wants Group 2 to leave the goddam planet, Group 2 doesn’t want to. Group 2 convinces our plucky heroine to stick around and fly their butts out at the last minute. Ancient shit is found, planet is destroyed, and they wander around the galaxy following clues to see where their heart-I mean-information takes them.

Best quote from the book:

Janet listened skeptically at first, and then with mounting enthusiasm.

Book Two. Shit gets REAL.

In this stunning piece of literature, our plucky heroine (hereafter referred to as: Plucky McPluckersons) is minding her own goddam business when some stupid high-minded scientists start wetting their pants over the destruction of yet another planet. Sure, THIS time it’s due to another fucking planet smashing its shit up, but what does she care? Being the only nearby pilot with any skill, she gets wrapped into a scheme to go and “learn” about the lost civilizations of the planet anyway. Problems abound, including (but not limited to) their landers being destroyed, people being destroyed, and large fucking insects trying to kill them while they march to find a lander left by a previous expedition. Mostly it goes like this:


Best quote from the book:

Hutch drew him away and turned him over to the Asian.

Book Three, Synopsis:

Plucky McPluckersons was minding her own business when a group of crackpots with a “theory” hire her to be their pilot as they look for satellites around planets or signals from satellites around planets or some shit. At any rate the satellites end up forming a trail to somewhere. Zooming around space at the whim of crackpots-that-also-happen-to-be-right-a-lot-of-the-time seems to be a hobby of hers.

(Note that, from now on, Plucky McPluckersons’ character is essentially a bureaucratic paper-pusher who still manages to get roped into these off-world missions.)

Best quote from the book:

Nick made a face, signaling that he didn’t like zero gee, that his organs had begun to move around.

Book Four. It’s time to save the WORLD.

Some cloud shit brought up in Book One rears its ugly head when it’s discovered that the clouds not only move toward civilized planets, but they also FUCK THEIR SHIT UP. Naturally, humans won’t abide by this wonton destruction. Just kidding! Humans don’t care even when they realize that a shit-cloud is coming for THEM, and will be here in… 900 YEARS. Way to plan ahead humans. Go you.

Turns out that Plucky McPluckersons gets to test out any shit-cloud-removal theories on a nearby civilization about to be destroyed. Yay Science!

Best quote from the book, a tie between:

More applause.


On the surface of the threatened world, seas had become rough, in anticipation of the onslaught.

Book Five. (Psst! Not much happens.)

Okay sure so some lights start blinking and they wander off to follow them. Sure they start to see these now-called “raiders” adjusting the trajectory of nearby objects to impact with planets at a later date. And sure they get attacked at various points by the raiders themselves. So what? The record player that is the brain of most characters in this book is playing one, solitary loop over and over: OMG MY SPACEFLIGHT PROGRAM IS UNDERFUNDED. WE NEEDZ MORE MONIEZ. AND MAYBE THIS WEIRD SHIT WILL GET PEOPLE TO PAY.

Best quote from the book:

Everett was standing in his dark blue uniform, looking a bit older than the last time she’d seen him.

Book Six, aka: “Oops! We forgot to end Book Four!”

The shit-clouds are back ladies. And they’re closer than ever to swarming your little speck of a planet and… well… okay so it has only been a few years. But at least now spaceflight is all but extinct save for a few private organizations. And BY GUM are they some organizations! I mean, even Plucky McPluckersons is a fundraiser for one of them now! And now they have new technology to wander into the core of their galaxy! To finally stop the shit-clouds from shitting all over things!

It all gets kind of funky at the end but I can’t tell you or it’d spoil it. I don’t mean that it will spoil a good ending, but it’s the only one this book has got.

Best quote from the book:

Like any good high school teacher, she was pure showbiz.

Series end. And so my time thinking about it.

CONCLUSION: Whip out the big red SELL stamp and get crazy. (When the shit-clouds come your crap will be useless anyway.)

Reviewer’s Note: This book is suspenseful enough that you might, potentially, forget to evacuate your bladder and end up exploding in such a violent way that it’s felt by your ancestors. If you were a hamster. So adjust to scale accordingly.

Avalanche Soldier – Susan R. Matthews


What do these words say to you? What images to they conjure, what pictures do they paint? If it’s a fun romp through the perspective of an elite fighting force as they try to protect shrines and people from themselves while in mountainous terrain–you’d be wrong.

If it’s a serious look into the quagmire that is the human psyche when forced to choose between loyalty to your country and loyalty to your people and your god–you’d be wrong again.

Wow you’re not very good at this are you?

In fact, this book takes all of that and says, “Fuck everyone else’s idea of science fiction. Screw deeper meaning. I’m going to be the first book to show these Science Fiction sheep what it’s REALLY all about!”

Here’s how the book progresses:

1. Salli, a member of an elite paramilitary force entrusted with the task of protecting their religious shrines, is the best on her team. She knows it because she keeps complaining that although she’s The Best her mentor keeps making her work harder than everyone else.
2. Salli’s brother runs away after the accidental death of a tourist. He is now a deserter, presumably taken by the other religious faction on the planet. (oh noes)
4. Oh, right. To find him she has to become a deserter herself. Woe is she!
5. She finds him after being caught by his ragtag group while she thought she was hidden. So much for her Elite Skillz™.
6. They convince her to go on some religious walk and she meets the messiah. Who makes her go all squishy inside.
7. She’s in love! (with the messiah. But then again who isn’t?)
8. I stop reading, as I’ve lost the desire to work for good and have gone off to further my newest hobby: kitten-smashing.

The End.


Best quote from the book:

And Meeka had embraced their thought; or at least they had embraced Meeka, and he seemed to feel that their view of the world and his accorded miraculously well with one another.

Moonfall – Jack McDevitt

One sentence review: What every “scifi” action movie wants to be when it grows up.
I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone interested in an action/adventure space romp with just enough scifi to keep you interested and keep things realistic.

This book was an enjoyable action adventure set in a heavily science-informed setting, with enough excitement to make me want to skip work and keep reading. It’s the kind of book that would be an amazing movie, except that they never do movies like this right. The words “Lagrange Point Station” wouldn’t make it into the movie, nor would the discussion about improvising a spacesuit and how warm it is in the sunshine of space. The entire “cautionary tale” aspect of it would be utterly removed to add in a few more minutes of screen time for explosions, and they’d find a way to get some zero-g sex in there too. It’s better as a book, believe me, movies can’t be as big as your imagination.

I did include the word “realistic” there, and this one does a great job of it with a few minor exceptions that sort of make it feel a little Hollywood, but I’m willing to forgive them. For the most part the characters were believable, the events manage to be surprising (although the broad strokes were predictable, like almost any action story), and the pacing quite enjoyable. Public figures? Check. Political Intrigue? Got it. Explosions of horrific magnitude? hells yes!

So what’s the verdict for this one? It’s a great read, but I’m not certain that there’s anything to be gained from reading it a second time. I’m actually tempted to create a new category called “give it to someone who might like it” and toss it in there, but in the end I’d rather give it to powells and use the cash to by some other book that I might want. Sell, but maybe read again someday from Library or digitally.

Aftermath – LeVar Burton

LeVar has a fondness for Science Fiction, and why shouldn’t he? He spent so much time on the set of Star Trek that he must have some interest. But what kind of influence does that have on a person?

Not a science-y one, if this book is to be taken to heart.

Setting: Post-Racial-War in America, circa 2009-2019
Most-Uttered Sentence: “Fuck I’m hungry and cold and where the hell are my GODDAM PANTS?!”
Most Pressing Problem Aside From Lack-Of-Pants: All public and private nation-wide infrastructure has collapsed.

So we have a scientist. She has invented a magical (I mean, scientific!) box that, when hooked up to a brain, spurs that brain into overdrive utilizing all the “unused” 90%. What does this do? Well it cures cancer of course! And any other ailment you might be experiencing. Presumably you are just under-utilizing your own biological resources and she has managed to harness them.

This box is delightfully small and has been developed over a number of years by: ( ) team of scientists, ( ) pharmaceutical company, (x) herself

Yup, she has managed to invent this box on her own working for a small research institute. Her goal? To find some investors in the medical community to help her get this device into the hands of anyone in the world that’s sick or dying. How noble!

But, being that this is Science Fiction, where do you see this going? If you guessed, “Oh I’ll just invite a few powerful big-wigs to my private lab and show them how awesome it is and promise that they’ll even get one of their own if they just invest a little money and then I can sell it cheaply to everyone in the wooooorld…” you guessed right.

Refreshingly real don’t you think?

I mean, someone who has spent that many years working in the field of Science™ would surely know what the reaction might be when inviting a number of rich and powerful people to your secluded office and telling them of your secret invention.

After all, some of them even seemed interested in her device! (did I mention that it cured cancer?)

The book, past that, is mostly the story of a few characters on personal journeys that end up converging to solve one riddle and save our Intrepid Science Practitioner. Their stories, while interesting in themselves, don’t come together in way that really pushes the meaning behind the book home.

One more thing: Our lovely Intrepid & Stouthearted Science Practitioner has omitted from her written research some curious side-effects from her human studies on the device, namely the fact that a small percentage of people (read: one) BECOME TELEPATHIC. Naturally, she decided to try the device on herself to see if the TELEPATHY was a side effect on her as well. Which it was. How else do you think our Motley Character Posse got together in the end to save the day?



Best quote from the book, as thought by a 10 yr old:

Amy saw that someone had stuck a white cross in the ground in front of the tank, a memorial to the insanity of war.

Book Reviews, the first five…

The cleansing begins with 5 rather abrupt reviews. I hope to be more in-depth later, but I was able to grab some things off the shelf that I already knew the answer to, so let’s get them out of the way.

The Second Coming – John Dalmas

Read about 2/3 of it a while back, was pretty bored, no interest in picking it back up. I was really interested in it based on the blurbs and such, a combination of my love of post-apocalyptic storytelling and “debates about modern faith and spiritual philosophy” seemed like it a nice prospect. In the end though I found the characters flat, the pacing not quite right, and just was generally meh. I sort of wish I’d finished it, maybe I’m missing something, but I just don’t strongly enough believe that that might be true to try. Into the “sell/donate” pile it goes.

Grunts – Mary Gentle

This book was great fun. What’s not to love about a horde of orcs magically gaining military technology like Hueys and RPG’s? Discussing a Dark Lord and a Hind gunship in the same paragraph just makes me giggle.
Ultimately though it’s a single-read book. I don’t feel like there’s much more to get out of it, and even if there was I’d be more than happy to have a digital copy, so this one is going in the sell/donate pile as well. If you like military fiction, fantasy, or just an amusing read go grab it from your local library!

Northworld Trilogy – David Drake

Started reading, got about half way, gave up. Direct to the sell/donate pile. Ponderous and slow, I couldn’t tell if it was military fiction or fantasy. In either case, despite the use of battle suits and technology it’s definitely leaning towards the fantasy side of the scifi/fantasy question. I love Norse mythology, and this book seemed to draw quite a bit from that, however it was in this weird middle-ground between retelling/re-imagining and just borrowing some of the interesting bits. Ultimately I think it just felt too fantasy for me.

Gil’s All Fright Diner – A. Lee Martinez

Another fun book, which had it’s share of good quips, one-liners and amusing concepts. “Armageddon with a side of fries” is an amusing concept, and it was well enough executed, but it just felt like it lacked depth. Definitely not something I’d read again, which is how it earned it’s place in the buy/donate pile. Probably not a good book to be in general YA, but the writing feels a lot like YA. Got a giggle or two though, I’ll certainly admit!

Lord Valentines Castle – Robert Silverberg

This series came pretty highly recommended, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of it, but this first book goes to the sell/donate pile. The pacing is slow, except in some random places where it feels like more time should have been spent but wasn’t. The lost king’s journey of re-discovery, this book is very much fluff fantasy through and through, although I am interested in the characters enough to want to know more.? I may even read it again someday, but I’ll be more than happy to do so with a digital or library copy.

Wow, those were abrupt reviews! I think it’s time to pick a more interesting or challenging book to review rather than picking the low hanging fruit.

Warehouse 13. Welcome to the stupid zone…

We just watched the first episode of a new (?) “SyFy” show called Warehouse 13. Let me tell you what it is: Men in Black meets Eureka meets X-Files. With everything interesting from any of them taken out, a horrible special effects team (Look, when I *SAW* the green on the green screen you need to get a new job buddy), and writers who, based on their apparent belief that they’ve invented something new that nobody has ever done before,? may have just graduated 8th grade.

Beef #1: I don’t even NEED to watch the rest. I’ve seen it. After seeing this one episode I predict the following things will happen within the first few episodes: (I’m not including all the incredibly obvious “something bad happened in his past? HIS DAD DIED YOU MORONS” moments in the pilot.)

  • One of the team gets kidnapped. This causes team bonding all around and further cement the team’s new assignments.
  • Security issues. Someone sneaking around inside the warehouse, probably stealing stuff. It will likely be revealed later that they are exporting these artifacts as weapons, possibly to a competing government agency with some sort of cryptic (yet clearly nefarious) acronym for a name.
  • We will encounter an artifact causing people to behave scandalously. Sex sells, and we’ve gotta get it in soon! This being a scifi (oops! “SyFy”) show “scandalously” of course will mean perhaps a bit of heavy breathing, possibly someone in a shortish skirt. C’Mon, when the alien artifacts make your brain lean toward the pleasure center you get naked and have an orgy in town square until nobody can move a muscle. Nobody ever takes these artifacts seriously enough I say.
  • MOST likely, someone on the team will get into trouble somehow, once again causing lots of nice team bonding as everyone goes around trying to prove that their new best friend isn’t actually involved with nefarious-acronym agency stealing stuff. This is actually a re-hash of the kidnapping episode cleverly disguised. Sadly for the writing staff it’s an adaptation of the same script so they didn’t actually get paid for this one.

Beef #2: Is it really THAT hard to try and be a little original with your science/tech? My pal Big Frankie C commented on a recent post:

My beef is that writers always complain about how hard their job is, and it is a hard job, but they are very very lazy. Real science is every bit as entertaining as junk science, and is just a easy to film. The only place it is harder, is in the writing. If you’re writing a script, all you have to do is find a scientist (the internet works pretty good here) and you can get all the free advice you need.

I can’t even add to that. I KNOW your show is about paranormal, but can we perhaps just once try just one tiny little bit to have something plausible and/or possibly related to paranormal things in ways that we agree are not understood? Don’t use phrases like “pandora’s box” if you don’t want to look stupid okay? ONE well timed placement of the phrase “quantum entanglement” and I might be happy. Toss in a cat joke or two and heypresto, satisfaction. Pots that produce ferrets when you wish for something “impossible” bother me. If it grants wishes how can it be “impossible”? Hmmm? Schrodinger’s ferret? W.T.F?

In short: everyone involved with this show please quit your job and come become a homeless person here in portland for a year or so. Get some life experience, maybe a little perspective on the world. Stop pushing useless poorly created tripe on a public that very desperately needs a little bit of intelligence and original thought.

Look for my review of the movie “Moon” coming soon. I’ll give you a hint: it’ll be exactly the polar opposite attitude.

The next question, or: Robinson and Sturgeon! How could you go wrong?

The latest episode of Spider Robinson’s podcast (Spider on the Web) is a reading of Theodore Sturgeon’s story “Slow Sculpture”.

I really don’t know what to say about it, so I shall ramble. If I were ever to be half so wise as either of these men I would be happy.
It’s possible that I like it because I can easily identify with the main character . It’s also possible that I like it because it’s a very good story, told by a very good narrator. (And author of his own right.) It won the Hugo and the Nebula both, so that’s saying something!

Go listen. I’ll wait!

While you were listening we watched a show about the life and times of various medieval castes. It’s interesting how much people in those times argued and discussed issues, thought about big things. Minstrels as political rabble-rousers keeping people informed of the news is kind of fun. Interesting how involved the average person was though. This is somewhat relevant actually, so let’s get back to the story!

One of the things I love about this era of SciFi is the way they take the things that are happening (or will happen) and present them in a way that makes you question the world. Good stories should make you think about something and relate what you’ve just learned to your real world. You should be able to identify with the characters, understand the issues facing them, and bring something back to your real world.
How often do you get that on CSI eh?

Earlier today I was listening to some podcasts. The latest episode of Skeptoid and there were some ideas about why TV/Movie entertainment contains so much bad science. I agree with Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning. People just want to be entertained, and the people making the decisions about the entertaining are the ones who choose to allow thoughtless bad-science-filled tripe to become the order of the day. Don’t you think stories like Slow Sculpture are entertaining and interesting? Couldn’t we have stories like that as entertainment? I’m thinking of movies like Watchmen here, movies that actually may have some opportunity to make you think critically and analyze what you’re seeing.

Maybe I’m bitter and cynical, but it seems to me that people have no interest in what Sturgeon termed “Asking the next question”. Spider speaks on this issue often, including his indictment of humanities desire to return to space that you heard in this episode. (I highly recommend some of his other works on the topic. Look back through his podcast feed to the early episodes.) Why is it that people aren’t interested in things like returning to the moon? I would posit that it’s tied to the “just wanting to be entertained” issue. I shall try to write more eloquently on the subject someday.

Do you know that there was a monk (Eilmer of Malmesbury) who built himself wings, 900 years before the next manned flight? He flew 200 yards, and broke both his legs. But he said “It needs a tail!” and wanted to try again. Apparently his abbot forbade it. But he had it right! I find that amazing!

Ask the Next Question!

Zoe’s Tale

Anyone who can invent a word like “unhugged” to describe a perfectly common thing that there is currently no word for, gets a gold star as far as I’m concerned. John Scalzi gets the gold star, and every other award I can think up.

This was my first read of Zoe’s Tale. Having previously read his books Old Man’s War, and The Ghost Brigades some time ago I never quite got around to finishing the rest of the series after they were publish. Listening to an episode of The Secret Lair where they discussed Old Man’s War prodded me into moving it up the “Books to Read” queue in OmniFocus. (Yes, I’m exactly THAT much of a geek.) I have now re-read the entire series. Why being a constant fan of Scalzi’s blog The Whatever (You should check it out) hasn’t convinced me to do this sooner probably speaks to his poor marketing skills. (A joke, for anyone who doesn’t get it.)

When the story got to “What you are” vs. “who you are” part at the back, I think I may have missed a few words on account of my eyes being unexplainably covered with salty liquid. Haven’t quite figured that one out yet. Tried to re-read, but got the same effect. Suspect my copy has some sort of weird chemical on the pages of chapter 20.

Or, it could just be that this is one hell of an amazingly written book. I’ve been a proponent of Old Man’s War since the day I read it, and Zoe’s Tale so nicely complements the universe, filling in some gaps left in The Last Colony, and giving the entire universe even more of a human-interest angle.

The entire Old Man’s War universe (all 4 books) will be of great interest to anyone interested in the concept of “Sci-Fi”. Remember the first time you read Starship Troopers? Armor? This is right up there. Asks intensely interesting science questions? Check. Hard moral dilemmas? Roger! Creates a deep connections to the characters? Maybe induces an occasional tear? Right’o! Induces you to wish your life had led down a path where you might someday get to go to space or explore something instead of sitting at home writing blog posts? Umm.. [sigh]
That’s what Sci-Fi should do, and that’s exactly what the Old Man’s War books do.

I really cannot say much more. READ IT.