Showing posts with label aliens. Show all posts
Showing posts with label aliens. Show all posts

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Scan by Walter Jury, Sarah Fine


Rating: WARTY!

This was another failed experiment in trying new audiobooks. It failed because the main character is a whiny, self-obsessed, foul-mouthed little jerk who lost my interest in the first few paragraphs. Why anyone would want to read about him, let alone root for him is a mystery to me. The book's narrator, Luke Daniels, was completely utterly wrong for the character. I don't care if he's won a dozen awards, his reading was atrociously wooden. If you've ever seen one of those old Chinese Boxer movies with the impossibly deep, gruff and mature voice in the English dub given to the graceful young male lead, or seen an anime with a little almost feminine male character given the deepest, most commanding voice, then you'll have an idea of how this sounded: WRONG! No, just no.

I don't know exactly what this authorial collaboration is all about but Jury is out. He's a Hollywood insider who seems more interested in writing a screenplay thinly-disguised as a novel than he is in writing an actual novel. Not so Fine is a psychologist who ought to know better. I have no interest in reading anything else from either of these authors. Be warned that Scan isn't a novel, it's an overture to a series which means it doesn't have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It's all beginning and there's no end to it. None of this is apparent from the book cover.

It's your tired done-to-death story where the child is being trained up to be a special snowflake, but the idiotic and inevitably single parent(in this case dad plays Sarah Conner) is a clueless jerk, always on his son's case without offering a word of encouragement or rationale, so when he predictably and inevitably gets killed, Tait is completely in the dark.

The reader isn't, however because the author hammers us over the head with painfully obvious foreshadowing. The story is that aliens have been slowly integrating into human society and replacing us for four hundred years - and they still didn't get the job done. That's how incompetent they are. Tait is human, but his girlfriend is an alien. That's no spoiler because it is so obvious to the reader that it serves only to make Tait look like a complete moron that he hasn't figured it out despite all of his training. I guess dad failed.

I gave up on this about a third the way in because it was simply horribly written. Tait is foul-mouthed for no reason at all. I don't care about swearing in a novel if it feels like it's part of the character or the story in general, but in this case, it felt like it was tacked on as a poor place-holder for Tait being bad-ass. Tait couldn't find bad ass with both hands tied behind his back, and his cussing contributed nothing. It felt like it was done by a two-year-old who had heard a bad word, and was repeating it for shock value. It didn't work.

The thing that reveals Christina's alien heritage is a scanner devised by Tait's dad, who evidently has not heard of DNA testing. The story reads like this scanner is crucial because it can distinguish between human and alien, but who cares? Really? If you're going to have a MacGuffin, then please don't insult your readers' intelligence with it! Find one that makes sense and is actually critical.

And on that topic, No, just no to the bad science depicted here! The closest species on Earth to humans is the chimpanzee and the Bonobo, but neither of these can interbreed with humans. How in hell is an alien species from a different planet where it underwent a completely different origin and evolutionary path ever, I mean EVER, even if they look just like us, going to interbreed with humans?

It's fundamentally nonsensical and someone with scientific credentials like Fine, ought to know this, It's basic biology. If two organisms can interbreed, they are not human and alien, but the same species, period. I truly detest ignorant writers who think they can write science fiction, yet don't even have the most basic grasp of the sciences. So no, a huge NO to this novel.


Monday, April 25, 2016

The Aliens Are Coming! by Ben Miller


Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
p103: "...one of the most distant object known..." - 'object' needs an 's' added to be grammatically correct.
p104: (footnote) Inflation came before the Big Bang!
p118: "...whih has five protons..." should be "...which has five protons..."
p130: "Mars' gravity" should be "Mars's gravity" since Mars is singular.
p224: The printing press wasn't invented in Gutenberg - it was invented by Gutenberg - Johannes Gutenberg who lived in Strasbourg at the time.

Note this is a review of an advance review copy. The errors listed above may well have been corrected by the time this book is published.

I first encountered Ben Miller in a TV show called Death in Paradise, which I fell immediately in love with, only to discover that he leaves the show after the first season. He had good reason, but I was crushed. I felt so betrayed. I never wanted to speak to him again. Not that we have ever actually spoken, but then came this book and I forgive him for everything!

Not to be confused with several other volumes with this same title, The Aliens Are Coming!: The Exciting and Extraordinary Science Behind Our Search for Life in the Universe, is a book is about aliens in space: where are they? Are they even? How are they even? Would we actually know if we received a message from them? It's beautifully written, and it's highly amusing. It's also factual and smart, scientific, and very entertaining, covering the origin of life on Earth and extrapolating from what we know of that to ponder what we might discover in space.

The author did his homework, and given that he was studying Natural Sciences at St Catharine's College, Cambridge, and was planning on pursuing a PhD in solid state physics before he relinquished those pursuits to take up comedy and acting, he definitely knows what he's talking about - and almost more importantly, he knows how to share this knowledge in a light-hearted manner with others in a way even I, with my math, can understand!

That's not to say it was all plain sailing! At one point he brings up the old Carl Sagan chestnut that 'extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence', which is nonsensical. An extraordinary claim requires no more evidence to support it than does an ordinary claim, because any claim requires sufficient evidence to establish it, and that's it. Once it's established, there is no requirement that we must keep piling on ever more evidence until it reaches extraordinary amounts before we can rely on on it! I really liked Sagan's Cosmos series, but I liked Neil deGrasse Tyson's version better. I went to one of Sagan's talks once and frankly, he was a bit of a jerk and pompous, too. I didn't like him in person.

At one point I read that "...the tennis ball in the men's final at Wimbledon..." makes gravitational waves. There's no disputing the science there, but why the men's final? Why not the women's or the mixed doubles? Why mention that at all, why not say "...the tennis ball in the final at Wimbledon..." or better yet, "a tennis ball," since there's more than one in use? It felt a bit genderist, but this was a relatively minor complaint when compared with all the things which the author got right.

As it happens, gravitational waves were discovered in September 2015, but not reported until February 2016, which accounts for why it's not mentioned here, I assume. At least they're confirmed with 99.99 (etc.) percent confidence, so I'm on board! Two black holes (not to be confused with back-hoes!) merged and released energy the equivalent of three solar masses. That's pretty impressive by any standard. When you realize how much energy is out there for the taking - if we only had the smarts to figure out how to get it safely - it makes our pathetic and self-destructive search for more oil and gas pretty sad, doesn't it?

I really liked the chatty way the author tosses in random examples (well, they're random to me!). This is how we get brief mentions of subjects like Breaking Bad, Simon Cowell, Lady Gaga, and cups of tea. There's lots, lots more of course. I loved this book and I recommend it as a first class read about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (aka SETI) and what the likelihood is that we'll ever find any.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Have Wormhole, Will Travel by Tony McFadden





Title: Have Wormhole, Will Travel
Author: Tony McFadden
Publisher: Smashwords
Rating: worthy


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration of any kind for this review.

Errata in the ebook:
There are some really bad problems with quality control in this novel that a dedicated beta reader and a spell-checker would have fixed.
The biggest gaff is Sabrina's changing age. On page 26, Sabrina tells her dad in so many words that she's twenty one, yet on page 76 she says she's lived in the city for twenty-five years. Someone screwed up their back story!
On p54, there's also a misspelled Pasadena (spelled as 'Pasedna').
There's "Brom" Stoker on p101!
On p117 "Making sure you’re stories match?" should be "Making sure your stories match?"
On p221 "Aurora Australias" should be "Aurora Australis"
here's on oddity: "Callum left the Physice Building…"?! Physics building? I am not sure if this is an error or not. Physice isn't a word (at least as far as dictionary.com and wikipedia are concerned!) but I've found that very word doing Google searches, so who knows? I know I never heard it before, and if it is an error, it's not the kind of error that an effectively employed spell-checker would miss.

I had really mixed feelings about rating this novel and decided, on balance, in the end, after some thought, to rate it just barely a worthy read. Call it the madness of the season, call me 'growing soft in my old age', or whatever, but it only just squeaked by. Hopefully the author will be encouraged to continue to write - and to write much better novels after this one.

Things to love. The title! I also loved that the cover proclaimed 'in Glorious digital 2D', but I did find it a little odd that the sun was shown apparently rising above the North Pole. Maybe it wasn't the sun. Or maybe this novel is much more of a disaster story than I’d thought! Normally I don't get into covers because the author has little to do with them, but self-published novels are different.

Other things. This novel is written rather simplistically, like it’s a first novel. The simplicity is endearing in some ways, and really annoying in others. I just chewed out another novel for its exhausting breathlessness, but in this novel, given the way it’s written, a bit of breathlessness seems to work. I guess that's the difference between YA and mature, huh? McFadden certainly keeps the story moving without it bogging down in reams of exposition, and there's enough technical detail to give it verisimilitude, but nowhere near enough that McFadden traps himself in statements which are provably false. I admire that! On the other hand, the novel is largely conversation, very much like a first time author might write. There's very little description of, well, anything!. If you like to make up your own story, then I guess this will suit you. Me? I like the author to do some of the work at least - otherwise we may as well be writing out own tale! As it is, this novel could have been set pretty much anywhere in the civilized world and the same story could have been told, so why then set it in Sydney, Australia? I don't know! we really got none of "Sydney": no atmosphere, no flavor, no taste. I regretted that.

On the other hand, it is refreshingly set in Australia as opposed to the tediously omnipresent USA, so credit has to be given to any author who both realizes and publicizes that there are interesting and cool places elsewhere in the world and "The World" ≠ "The USA"! In addition: the premise for the novel is interesting, if not exactly original. Aliens are living in secret amongst us, deflecting humanity from finding means by which to short-circuit the massive and prohibitive distances between stars - so that we can't spread out and cause problems with our alien neighbors, you know. Unfortunately, one guy has managed to sneak by the aliens' attention, and is on the verge of doing precisely what it is which they're trying to stop.

Because these aliens live on a planet orbiting a red dwarf star, they're rather averse to bright light and are oxygen-starved, so they like their food bloody in order to benefit from the hemoglobin. Unfortunately, this makes no sense since there's no mechanism which takes O₂ from food and puts it into the blood stream. If there were, we wouldn't need to breathe! OTOH, maybe the alien physiology is different. Like Alice, they use mirrors to move between locations, although they're issued newly developed 'travel sticks' at the start of this novel, meaning that mirrors are no longer requisite for travel. So McFadden has pretty much all of the elements in place to depict these long-lived aliens as the source of vampire myths on Earth. This was a good plot idea, but McFadden really didn't go anywhere with it.

One young woman, Sabrina, is onto the two local aliens, honestly believing them to actually be vampires. Far from being afraid of them, she's actively trying to track them down and contact them, but they're aware of her and are avoiding her like the plague, considering her to be a nut-job.

There are two issues here which typically remain either unexplored by writers, or which are simply glossed over. One is the question of the feasibility of an alien physiology being able to derive nourishment from alien (i.e Earth) food sources. Here again, a decent working knowledge of evolution would serve writers well, since they way we, as organisms, exploit our environment for energy is tightly tied-up with our evolutionary origins, and organisms which evolved in an entirely alien eco-system are unlikely to have much success in reaping their energy (or more accurately, the raw materials which produce energy) from a system in which they never evolved. But it’s possible, I suppose! I’d rather see writers tackle this head-on, though and have the aliens adjusted artificially to be able to use Earth food sources. They certainly have the technology to do this in this novel, it would appear!

The other issue is their apparent physical attraction to humans. Our closest living relatives are chimpanzees, and call me naïve, but I don’t know of anyone who is attracted to chimpanzees (in the way I mean), so why would actual aliens find humans attractive? If the aliens resemble us closely, then there does exist this possibility, I admit, but it's such a cliché, and I don’t buy that all aliens will automatically be 'chasing human skirt', which is what's implied here. This isn't helped by the amazingly politically incorrect behaviors on both the aliens' and the humans' parts. Yes, people do behave politically incorrectly, and there's no reason for writers not to portray such people, but I don't see that it contributed a thing here. It did serve as an annoying and juvenile distraction from the story. Indeed, the more I read of this novel - that is, read the alien conversation - the more absurd it sounded to me. I know they've been living amongst humans for 400 years (more on this in a minute!), but something just seems off about their interaction with each other and the language they use.

And Manly beach! I know this is a real place (I looked it up), which I had thought was named after someone (as in Gerard Manly Hopkins, for example), but it turns out it was actually named for the "manly" natives who were initially found there! I couldn’t help thinking of that meaning for this, every time I read it. Like this beach isn't for skinny weaklings who get sand kicked into their faces; no, this is a manly beach! I think I would have been tempted to invent a beach name in place of this one, had I written it!

There are three women in the novel (Jackie, Mandy, & Sabrina) and none of them are distinguishable from one another. Jackie is Sam's boyfriend, and Sam is the guy who has invented the wormhole travel which has so upset the aliens. The other two are really non-entities and fade from the story rather speedily, which was fine, because all three seemed to me to be the same person when you got right down to it. The absolute acceptance of Sabrina's vampire theory by her friend Mandy, and worse, by Jackie, was absurd. This was especially so in Jackie's case, where she swallowed the eventual alien story without a hiccup, but rejected out of hand her boyfriend the physicist's claim to have created a wormhole? Where's the rationale in that?! There is absolutely no skepticism from anyone, and this flew in the face of the skeptical persona which was initially established for Jackie (although she quickly abandoned that).

There is also a huge disconnect between the aliens' stated reason for monitoring and seeking to contain Earth: that humans are a violent race who have a history of muscling in wherever they visit and turfing out the natives, with their final solution: wipe out all humans! Hypocrite much, aliens?! The aliens were a bit sad, actually.

But let's talk about Jackie behind her back! Jackie is a fitness guru who's getting ready to dump Sam and hook up with the alien (at least, let me say, that's was very loudly telegraphed). I saw no real impetus for her attitude or behavior with regard to Sam (or the alien for that matter). Yes, there are hints, but nothing that would precipitate her radical switch of loyalties, unless she's as bad as other elements of the story have led me to believe of her. For example, in pursuit of aliens, she abruptly cancels her fitness class by means of leaving a scrappy, abrupt, and apparently hand-written note on the gym door! What - there's no texting or email in Jackie World™?

That struck me as being dumb, callous, and worse, if it was intentionally (as opposed to thoughtlessly) written this way, it tells me that Jackie is a every bit as much of a jerk as is Sam, and she's a hypocrite to boot, to be wailing about Sam's callous treatment of her when she treats paying customers even worse than Sam treats her. Am I supposed to think this of her? She's certainly not a likable character; she's way too shallow and self-centered to appeal to me. But it gets worse! Jackie not only abandoned her entire day's classes at the drop of a hat, she suddenly felt it crucial on the next day that she get changed and get to her next class on time when Callum wants to talk to her?! Again with the illogical. Is Jackie schizophrenic? Whatever she is, she's certainly not someone I would want to know, so the alien is most welcome to her! I guess the aliens are either less picky or more desperate than I am! Callum wants to talk to her about the guy she just dumped - like she can somehow explain to the guy who talks down to her that there are dangers inherent in the sub-atomic physics he's getting into. Honestly? After 400 years, Callum still evidently knows nothing about humans!

I don’t find this unqualified acceptance that 'there are vampires' (which then switches to 'there are aliens' without a hiccup) to be realistic, but I decided to go with that for the sake of enjoying the story. But the aliens' view of Earth is somewhat bizarre. We learn that the aliens, despite supposedly wanting to stymie humans' development of advanced technologies, have actually given a kick-start to some advances, which strikes me as being counter-productive, from their PoV. OTOH, if they were that advanced, and they wanted to help, then why not help where it matters: by offering alternative means of energy to move humans away from fossil fuels and destructive technologies? Why not teach by generous example instead of by threat?

For that matter, why live in secret (and for four hundred years?!) amongst us? Four hundred years ago there was no way in hell we were any threat to anyone off-planet, so why move in then? It makes no sense whatsoever. Better yet, why not simply come out into the open and share their concerns about where we’re going technology-wise if they’re supposedly so advanced and conscientious? Callum (alien #1) is thoroughly incompetent. Not only has he failed to sabotage Sam's efforts to transmit matter instantaneously from point A to point B, he has very effectively aided him by showing him how to do it with far less energy. That part of this story I honestly couldn’t swallow, and much less could I swallow that Callum is invited to aid Sam in his efforts at a demonstration for university faculty (and military) and Callum doesn’t do a single thing to ruin the demo and discredit Sam! He thinks of this only later, and instead, he expends every thought he has in self-recrimination and whining about how advanced Sam is in his use of this technology!

The story was, as I said, not original, but it was inventive, and it was a rather confused. Normally I wouldn't be happy with a story like this, and I wasn't exactly happy with this one, but I was able to finish it (although I admit I skimmed a bit towards the end) and in doing so, I saw enough in here, speaking in general, overall terms, to give me pause for thought as I was reading it, and I am hoping that McFadden will continue writing, and keep all his best bits in whilst ruthlessly tossing out all of his worst bits. So I hopefully, and optimistically, rate this a worthy read.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Cast in Sorrow by Michelle Sagara





Title: Cast in Sorrow
Author: Michelle Sagara
Publisher: Harlequin Luna
Rating: worthy

This is the Chronicles of Elantra Series #9. There are brief reviews of the entire series on my Novel Series page.

Normally I don't do covers because I don't care what a cover looks like; I care about the content, and the writer has absolutely no say (and no se) in what crap goes on there unless they self-publish, and even then many of them hire someone else to create the cover, so I have to ask on Sagara's behalf: which idiot writes book blurbs like the one on this back cover: "The end is only the beginning"? Seriously? Is that meant to be deep or something? This is the major advantage of self-publishing - it’s all your own. You get to say how it reads, how the cover looks, what the blurb says, Yours may be just as idiotic, but at least it's your idiocy, and not someone else's! Nuff said!

I can't begin to express how thrilled I was when I saw this one on the library shelf. I snatched it up in a spit second. Unfortunately, I couldn't start on it right away because I had two others to finish. But now I am into it, and it's like coming home. Michelle Sagara is a KICK-ASS writer who knows how to build a completely enthralling world, and she's created a serious contender for Hall-of-Fame All-Star All-Time female hero in Kaylin Neya. I will detail this in detail giving you the detailed details as soon as I've had a nap!

As accomplished and skillful a writer as Sagara is, there's still the odd occasion when she could use some editing! For example, on p335 we get this: "…why would be live as a pet?" which should, I'm assuming, be: "…why would he live as a pet?" Sad to say (and I don't recall this from earlier novels, but maybe those had it too), Sagara is yet another devotee of long moments, and long minutes, and even a long half hour! And the number of times she uses the phrase "like, and unlike" or a variant of it, is really, really annoying!

On the confusing front, I found this piece on p49: "The stairs that fronted it were flat and wide, the columns that held the roof almost the height of the trees that stood to the right and the left of the building." When I first read this, I was confused about what she was saying, and I had to read it again to get it. This interrupted the story for me. Leaving aside the interminable argument about the use of 'that' over 'which', it seemed to me that the sentence ought to read: "The stairs that fronted it were flat and wide, and the columns that held the roof were almost the height of the trees that stood to the right and the left of the building." Maybe the whole sentence should have been re-thought and split, perhaps? Yeah, it's a minor quibble, and it's her novel, not mine, but if writers are wanting to keep readers happy, an iota of extra attention to legibility can go a long way.

Another instance appeared shortly afterwards, on p55, where the first four paragraphs at the start of chapter 4 have a character speaking without offering any indication as to who it is. This is why it's a good idea to read what you've written - both at a later date, and out loud so you can get a feel for how others might perceive it. When you read out loud, you read a little differently than when you read inside your own head. Just a thought!

On p305 Kaylin grabs Teela's hand and pulls it down and then says "What are you doing?", but the speech isn’t included with the paragraph of the yanking o' the hand, so it made it seem like Teela had said it. This was unnecessarily confusing. Sagara needs to learn when to identify the speaker. Again this is something a writer should be able to catch if they put the writing aside for a period of time and then come back to it and read it out loud. This is also an advantage which comes en suite with the "tell the story as fast as you can" style of writing, where you write the whole thing off (so to speak!) in one and the hell with editing, but then go back, once it's finished, and read it through, editing as you go.

On p364, there is a real classic: "Which guttered the little bit better entirely". I have absolutely no idea whatsoever what the heck Sagara means by this. It’s not even English in any meaningful sense! But enough of this nit-picking! Let's move on.

So this story takes off where Cast in Peril left off, kinda half-way through. None of her other volumes (at least as I recall - it's been a while!) are like this: they're complete stories even while still an integral part of the series. Oh, and yes, this is a series where you really need to start on volume one to get everything that follows. The Barrani party with whom Kaylin is traveling to a ceremony in which she is to play an important part, is under attack and threats follow them, but within the first few chapters they arrive safely in the territory known as the West March where the ceremony is to be held. Kaylin will be safe until she tells the tale, but after that, all bets, it appears, are off. This writing is some of Sagara's best in her descriptions of the bizarre things which happen in the forest right before they achieve sanctuary in the Lord of the West March's property. It's fascinating to me, but this novel wasn't all plain sailing.

Having said that, I have to also add that chapters five and six are all but unintelligible in far too many places. I don't recall having this problem with Sagara's previous volumes in this series, but I pretty much read those one after another, since I was quite late coming to this series. This not only made the read pleasurable, since I had virtually no down-time between volumes, it also made it a lot easier on me in keeping track of people and events than it must have been for those people who read one novel, and then had to wait a whole year before they were able to continue the adventure. I think I had a real advantage with this flow, and this is what enabled me to enjoy the novels far better than others who had a much more staccato experience.

I know that other reviewers have expressed complaints about her poor writing - where she has a conversation start up and it's entirely unclear who is saying what and to whom. This goes back to what I said earlier about reading out loud what you wrote, and before you do that, wait a month or so. If you can't quite grasp who is doing or saying what, or why, then you know for a fact your readers won't exactly be on top of it either, and it's your fault if they're not!

Like I said, I don't recall experiencing this difficulty before, but chapters five and six in this novel are a classic examples of this problem - of the same problem I had at the start of chapter four, which I mentioned above. These two chapters also recap (after a fashion) some previous events; the problem is that it's been so long since I read those other volumes that the recaps were useless, since they were so very sparse and mentioned names and actions which I couldn't recall well (or at all!), without giving any context for those names.

In another genre, when one reads a series, the names are much more familiar and the roles those people play, much more ordinary. But I think the writer has a real responsibility to help keep the reader enlightened when taking an excursion into a fantasy world where both names and roles are pure invention and unfamiliar to the reader. Sagara fails dismally at this in these two chapters, but then she picks it up somewhat when Kaylin has to once again heal the Barrani consort - who promptly disappears during an all-out assault on Lord Lirienne's West March central (or is it central march west? - whichever it is, they're almost given their marching orders - west, right, west right, quick march - until Kaylin comes to the rescue), and by them it's almost April....

So all is forgiven because Sagara takes off again after the, ahem, bad chapters and takes it to the next level which is the one right after the mezzanine (if you're south of the border that will be the mexanine), but before you get to the sign which says "Next Level and Then Some", okay? If you reach the sign saying, "She's all that and a bag of chips" then you've gone wa-ay too far at this point. All righty then.

So, despite all the itty-bitty annoyances, Sagara puts together a pretty engrossing tale, full of amazingly imaginative scenes, and curious events, slowly but surely adding this volume to the rest in terms of stories I can say are enjoyable and addictive. I love Kaylin and An'teela, and I love especially how Sagara brings them closer as friends in this story, having each of them open up more to the other than they ever have before - but then she threatens to seriously split them apart. I'm not going to say any more on that score, but it made my skin crawl in considering that she might really do this!

So to conclude, I recommend this!