Sunday, March 18, 2018

Book Review: The God Problem by Howard Bloom

The God Problem by Howard Bloom

Hardcover, 708 pages

Published 2012 by Prometheus Books

This book is a 600 page trap. Keep in mind there is 100 pages of notes, but that is still a lot of pages for a book that suggests that it will answer the greatest mystery of all time. It says it on the cover "How a godless cosmos creates." On the surface the idea is one of our great minds talks about physics and traces the history of the greatest thinkers getting us closer and closer to explaining how the universe happened. A rational explanation beyond a "sky wizard" created us.

Howard Bloom's books and various accomplishments are great and far ranging but it seems no matter how smart you are a unwise topic to tackle. Our entire species has spent recorded history failing to answer the question at the heart of this book. So I was curious what this noted genius had to say. How does rationally explain the universe.

The structure of the book is interesting. He sets the table by introducing the big bang and the vast power of what science understands about our universe. He suggests the idea we imagine we are sitting at a table watching the universe begin. Then he explores the life and times of the scientists and great thinkers from the ancient world to Einstein who tackled these issues. Each great thinker gets a detailed history and infact that history ended up being my favorite part. I liked learning about Einstein, Kepler and Galileo.

The heart of the God Problem is expressed through the infinite Monkey theorem. That theory suggests that if you left six monkeys at six typewriters long enough they would eventually in a unending universe at some point type the text of Hamlet. To the hardcore atheist the universe is just that a huge cosmic accident. The paradox comes when science shows incredible precision from black holes to the DNA in the most tiny of cells.

My favorite quote from the book expresses this point:

"The Cosmos hides her creativity by preying on the way we oh-so-quickly become blase. She covers up her bombshells and her breakthroughs by tricking us into seeing the extraordinary as mundane." The Einstein chapter was the most interesting part of the book for me. Bloom writes at length about Einstein's ugly ducklings, the aspects of our universe that confused and eluded him. Most of these have been explained and I could see why many readers found this to usless fluff.

The point Bloom was trying to make was that all history of knowledge, through-out time has been working on these questions and still we don't know. I understand that he could have answered these questions faster if he tried. It wasn't until 537 pages in that he finally addressed why the infinte monkey theorem doesn't work for him. "If this were a cosmos of six monkeys at six typewriters, those "things," those particles, would have come in a zallion different shapes and sizes. Not to mention a million colors and textures. And a zillion smells and tastes. But they did not. No way. Particles popped forth in only fifty-seven species."

So after all this the point of Bloom's book is that the answer is not to be found. The journey is and the quest has provides a myrid of answers along the way. Certainly answer enough. For me as a believer in science and the spiritual I enjoyed the journey. I think the order of the universe is not an argument for a sky wizard in a traditional religious sense. It is an argument for a truth beyond our ability to disern, a higher power that could just as easily be natural but one science has yet to explain.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Book Review: Star Wars: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray

Star Wars: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray

Hardcover, 551 pages

Published September 4th 2015 by Disney Lucasfilm Press

This is my third Claudia Gray Star Wars novel and my fourth of her books over all. It is clear that she does the opera in space opera better than anyone else working in the canon SW tie-in fiction. I have been quite serious that I think Disney would be smart to give her a swing at doing a script for the movies. She clears gets the universe.

Lost Stars is very similar to her recent original novel Defy The Stars in that it is 200% Romeo and Juliet this one set against the back drop of the conflict between the rebels and the empire during the events that span the events of the Skywalker saga. This time seen through characters slightly off screen from the ones we have seen before.

511 pages is long for a Star Wars novel, one that seems to be YA focused although unlike even some adult marketed SW novels there is actual love scenes and talk of sex. (let me be clear I give zero fucks about that - just pointing it out). There is a massive amount of story here and I enjoyed how Gray wove in her own parallels and reversals to the existing structure of battles we know. I mean our leads are there at the battle of Yavin, they are at Hoth and Endor and it all comes to a head in events that feed into the Force Awakens.

This is a neat magic trick even if it seems at times that Claudia has to sit on the narrative suitcase to fit all the story into a long book. This could have been two or three books easily.

Thane and Ciena are from the same backwater outer rim world. They enter the imperial academy together and constantly compete for top of the class. This competition comes to a head when they admit they have feelings for each other. After graduation she is assigned to lord Vader's Star Destroyer and he is set serve on the Death Star. Thane only survives by being sent on the mission to explore the remains of the rebel base Leia sent them to on Datoine. Both are effected by seeing Aldderan and death star blown up. Ciena digs in with the empire because she feels trapped by honor code of her people to follow her oath. Thane is disgusted and joins the rebellion recruited by a fan favorite character. Once they are opposing sides despite the large universe, they end up near each other in battle. Gray finds smart ways to weave them in close to the Skywalker saga so events are familiar but their story is strong enough for them to carry their own narrative. It is a neat storytelling magic trick but the bottom line is the story works. As corny as the romance is and believe me it is, it all works in a Star Wars context. The story worked for me through out.

I have seen a few online comments that laughably mis-understand this book. Ciena's rationalization of the Death star seems to a few misguided readers to be a defense of the Atomic bombs used at Hiroshma and Nagasaki. For Ciena to be a fully formed character who sides with the empire she has to make this rationalization, to suggest this is Claudia Gray's point of view or the point of the novel is pure comedy.

In the end this is top notch space opera and a must read for Star Wars fans interested in reading the new Canon.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Book Review: The Wave by Walter Mosley

The Wave by Walter Mosley

Hardcover, First Edition, 209 pages

Published January 2006 by Warner Books (first published December 27th 2005)

Walter Mosley is an author who is known for his crime and mystery fiction. I had read a couple of his crime books back in the day and had no idea that he wrote science fiction until I heard about it on a podcast. I think it was Christopher Golden who mentioned his genre work on Three Guys with Beards. I am not sure I got the book he suggested as an example but I saw the The Wave on the shelf at the library so I jumped on it.

The Wave is a strange sci-fi novel, and I went into it totally cold not even reading the dust jacket before starting. I think the mystery is the best part of the novel, and for the first 80 pages I was super into it. The more I learned the less interesting the story was for me. The main character is Errol who is one year into a divorce, while he has a new love he is still fragile. The novel opens when he is getting a mysterious series of phone calls. "It's cold, Naked." He thinks he knows the voice and the mystery deepens when he hears more and more word. The voice that sounds like his father calls him by the nickname only he used. The reason that is strange is his father has been dead for nine years.

The voice wants help and asks him to come to the cemetery, the same one he had buried his father in nine years earlier. When he gets there he finds a young man, naked, and alone. Without basic skills the thing about this man he calls XT is he is a dead ringer for his father but younger. That mystery was masterfully set-up, with a raised eyebrow I was very interested in what was happening in the book. Once the details were laid out in the story I was not as interested in the concepts that drove the story.

Mosley tells a tale that doesn't have much science in it, the themes are more allegorical, which is odd for a book that is told with a minimalist prose style. The biggest weakness to mean are the characters like Errol whose is our voice is paper thin. the most interesting character is his resurrected father GT who falls out of the story for way to long. At this point we have to suffer through a government conspiracy story line that was far less interesting.

None the less I still enjoyed the book over all and want to read more Mosley. The characters and the general voice were interesting and carried me through. It is a short book that is overloaded with ideas. Without spoilers the concept mixes hippie like Gaia worship with supernatural elements that might have benefited from a wider scope.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Book Review: Shaker by Scott Frank

Shaker by Scott Frank

Hardcover, 335 pages

Published January 2016 by Knopf

I have a interesting set of feelings when it comes to Scott Frank. I am a big of him as writer, even more so than I am of his actual work. Let me explain that a bit. I mean I love movies he has written Logan, Out of sight, Get Shorty and Minority Report for example. I really liked his new Netflix series Godless, and think it is the best modern western I have seen recently. But more than his films I have always enjoyed and learned from reading/ listening interviews with him on the craft of writing.

I remember a interview with him about Minority report in the now defunct Creative Screenwriting that taught me lessons about structure I still use today when telling any story.

Shaker is a crime novel. no weird elements or anything super natural but it is told with a really well laid out non-linear structure. The magic in this case is Frank's skills at telling this story for maximum impact.

I went into the book knowing nothing deciding to read this based on the strength of Frank's career. This was a wise move that I suggest doing, but if you need more convincing I will carry on. The story has many characters and the POV switches when need-be but the main focus is Roy Cooper. When we meet him he is a mystery hit man, we know he is badass but we don't know how or why. We follow him on a hit that he has to travel cross country to LA to do. He is not excited about leaving the east coast and can't wait to be done with LA.

The hit goes fine, but on his way out he happens upon a group of young wanna be gangstas mugging a middle aged jogger. What Roy doesn't know is that the victim is a candidate for mayor, so when he steps in and gets shot it makes front page news. The various factions from the ganagstas he beat up to the mobsters who sent him and the cops investigating him all swirl around the story.

The most interesting elements of the story are all Roy Cooper, who and what he is. Sure there are surprising and funny events along the way. The back story of Roy Cooper is brutal, and heartbreaking, it is the heart of what makes this crime novel special and step above.

Do I think this is a must read? Not really, but I enjoyed it alot and I think crime readers will enjoy it. Scott Frank is a great writer and I hope this is not the last novel we get from him. I will read or watch anything he does.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Book Review: Radio Free Vermont by Bill McKibben

Radio Free Vermont by Bill McKibben

Hardcover, 224 pages

Published November 7th 2017 by Blue Rider Press

It will be really easy for me to talk myself out of this book. I enjoyed it enough when I was reading it. Read it very quickly over two days of commuting to work, but the more I think about it something has be giving me pause. Look I respect author Bill McKibbean who is one of the most important global climate change activists on the planet. He has for decades written with passion and knowledge about environmental issues in non-fiction. He is very good at that.

In his first novel McKibben reacted to the election of Donald Trump by resisting in the form of fiction. I love the idea, enough that when I saw it on the shelf at the library I wanted to get it. I had heard the author promoting the book on the Geek's guide to the Galaxy podcast and of course was very interested. Environmental resistance has a long history with books like Free The Animals and Edward Abbey's Monkeywrench Gang being the most famous. In genre circles we have classic like Skipp and Spector's The Bridge and John Brunner's The Sheep Look Up.

Radio Free Vermont is a story told mostly through the words of Vern Barclay, a long time local radio talk show host in Vermont. He does everything from news to high school Hockey scores. He is not the only character several other Vermonters play a role, a computer whiz named Perry, a former Olympic athlete and my personal favorite Barlclay's mother in her 90's. Fed up with the way things are Barclay uses a pirate signal to release podcasts promoting the idea of a Vermont separate from the United States. Once the signal goes out it inspires acts of resistance around the state.

Barclay and Perry carefully lay their ideas while remaining hidden. They call for a town-hall meetings around the state to vote on the idea of staying apart of the country. While this doesn't make members of the government happy, the FBI and local sheriffs try to find them. I found it odd that a huge story-line in the novel is these activists being painted as terrorists and wanted fugitives. They really are just suggesting meetings, and a vote.

One of the blurbs from Naomi Klein says it is James Bond meets Prairie Home Companion. Which is the opposite of selling the book to me. It also has me wondering if Klein has ever seen a Bond movie? Because there is nothing remotely James Bond here, and the story has got to be the most vanilla revolution ever. I don't remember the James Bond movie where he organized town hall meetings. The stakes are low, the tension as light while nothing seems that dangerous. It is promoted as a fable and it reads like a hippie's daydream for change. It is hard for me to take it too seriously. Bill McKidden is an important voice but I personally think I would prefer to read his non-fiction.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Book Review: Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

Hardcover, 304 pages

Published July 2015 by Saga Press (first published April 2014)

British Science Fiction Association Award Nominee for Best Novel (2014)

The Kitschies Nominee for Red Tentacle (Novel)(2014)

James Tiptree Jr. Award Honor List (2014)

I love a good story, no matter how they are told, and most novels feel like novels. One of the most impressive things about the work of Nnedi Okorafor is that her stories, short or full length novels have more of a folklore feel than a trope laden genre novel. As corny as this might sound they feel like they are being told on a porch or around a campfire. This is true of her Benti books despite being space opera, I mean that is a literary magic trick.

In the last week the world of this author and the wider one of Afro-futurism has exploded with the release of Black Panther. I have seen dozens of posts of people looking for novels in this marketplace. Nnedi Okorafor is no doubt the most exciting active voice in this world. I have read her novel Who Fears Death which is in development at HBO with George RR Martin as a executive producer. My favorite work of hers is the Binti Trilogy. (NOTE:I have not quite gotten to book three yet- soon)

This novel is somewhat of a alien invasion story but more of a first contact tale set in Lagos, Nigeria. The setting is one NO understands as it is a city she often visited. My first interest in this book came when I heard the author on the excellent now defunct podcast Midnight in Karachi. The idea of setting the traditional contact and arrival sci-fi story in this setting with non-American characters sounded awesome. The change in setting often can help a story in a well explored sub-genre shine. It is clear that happened in this case.

The story starts as our point of view characters witness the arrival of the extra-terrestrial beings who are living below the water off the coast of Nigeria. This alien takes a human form and as the waters rise flooding the city the characters have to learn to communicate with the alien and take it's message to their president. These visitors came with a offer that is hard to refuse.

This is not a shoot-em up alien invasion story so if that is what you are looking for you might want to pass. This is an inventive science fiction novel but accessible. There are so many elements of this novel that defy expectations. One by one the characters strengthen the book from Adaora, the marine biologist who has a complicated and richly told conflict with her husband. The novel finds moments to confront patriarchy. Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa presents a type of African character most American readers have not been exposed too. He is famous in Africa, home grown star. Agu, the soldier opens the book to the internal conflicts of Nigeria.

The story is spread between multiple points of view and the narrative is expertly woven, building to perfect effect. I read this book quickly and could have read a longer version. I rarely feel that way. As an author NO is also so creative that you feel like you are stepping into a world of it. The city is the ultimate character. You can feel the deep feelings she has for the place. I highly recommend this for all sci-fi fans, and anyone interested in African fiction.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Book Review: Another Way to Fall by Brian Evenson and Paul Tremblay

Another Way to Fall by Brian Evenson and Paul Tremblay

Paperback, 215 pages

Published January 1st 2018 by Concord Free Press

The idea behind this press/ book is super cool. The book is free, you just have to take the time to request a copy. Each one is numbered, my copy is 236, the idea is instead of paying for the book you make a equal donation to a charity and then pass the book on. As a huge believer in the book-a-shpere I love everything about it. So in this review you'll get a short take of the novels and a little piece about the non-profit that I donated to.

So this book has two short novels including Evenson’s Baby Leg and Tremblay’s The Harlequin and the Train. I am a fan of both but Evenson is one of of my top ten authors so I was a little more motivated to get into his piece. Both short novels are super weird and surreal horror. There is no doubt you are getting more than you paid for because both authors are super talented and two of the best writers working in genre fiction today.

Brian Evenson writes with very odd structure and some of the most inventive prose I have ever read. Baby Leg is a fantastic work of paranoia that is very dreamlike. The plot is hard to describe but becomes more nightmarish as it goes. A man named Kraus wakes up in a cabin missing a hand and is unsure who he is. He is tortured the image of the woman with a baby leg, and if that was not disturbing enough we have just started. The short novel builds on the creepy dread of the man starving but unwilling to get food, all of this was gut wrenching in delivery. There is a great moment when Kraus goes to a shop to and gets identified.

This short novel has more moments of terror and surreal paranoia than many Philip K. Dick novels. Another great example of Evenson at his best. Weird and genius.

Tremblay's novel The Harlequin and the Train appears on the surface to be a more straight forward story of cause and effect. Starting with a train wreck and featuring the conductor I was under the impression we were heading toward a Crash style story. The movie not the amazing JG Ballard novel. This piece is about chance, choice and destiny with some gruesome more hardcore elements that come into play.

I felt a little lost at times. I was OK with this because Tremblay's writing is engaging and he is skilled. I certainly felt like some things were going over my head. As weird as Baby Leg was I was with it from start to finish. I admit I was ready to be done with the second novel probably 20 pages before it ended.

That said I think the publishing concept is great and looking at the board members I hope this series continues. So below the pictures of the book I have details on the non-profit I supported.

Beltane Holistic Animal Massage is a 501c3 non-profit here in San Diego. BHAM provides massage in the county animal shelter for abused and needy animals. This helps animals who might not be able to be adopted feel more comfortable in several cases BHAM helped animals find homes. The SD county shelter is a kill shelter so this is life-saving work. BHAM also helps foster dogs adopted by rescues in their studio. You can get details at: