Category: Science

Two Brief Reviews:

MigrationMigration by David York

Migration is a quirky short story by David York.  It’s similar to a shaggy dog story you heard over and over as a child and although you know the punchline, the telling is the bigger part of the entertainment. As the story goes along, you nod to yourself knowingly.  You’ve seen this before and you think, “Stupid humans, and your little plans, thinking you are the biggest, ‘bestest’, smartest thing on the block…or in the universe.  Well, little man, you just wait until you get out there in the big, cold, cruel cosmos…you just wait.”

Well, you just keep nodding knowingly to yourself, you keep thinking to yourself you know this story, and you know how it ends.  You keep thinking that, because when the end comes, it’s not going to be where you think it is.  Not only is it not going to be where you think it is, you’re going to turn a couple of pages and realize it’s not who you think it is, what you think it is, or how you think it is.  In the end.

There are a couple of spots in the narration that could be a little clearer in terms of who is who and which ones are the good guys.  It’s also always nice to read what Americans would refer to as Britishisms in a story, as it enables the reader to see the scene through the author’s eyes.  (If you’ve ever heard someone from Philadelphia describe the North Philly slums, and a New Yorker describe Harlem, you’ll know that they are vastly different and in hearing the words you can picture the reality.)

Nice short story, something to entertain for a couple of hours.  Or one long train ride.

bible-salesman-novel-clyde-edgerton-paperback-cover-artThe Bible Salesman by Clyde Edgerton

I’m not sure if this novel would be considered a slice of life novel, literature or something else entirely.
It makes it hard to describe The Bible Salesman, since I’m not sure what Clyde Edgerton was reaching for.

Whatever it is, I’m not very fond of this type of literature.  I’m not really sure why, but if you give me a tale of triumph over evil or a tale of succumbing to evil, I’m good. But ask me to follow a couple of small time thieves around for a couple of months, throw in a girl (or two) and then just kind of end it (I’m not saying how it’s ended because that’s a quality part of this story.), I just have a hard time staying with it.

This is a good story. The characters are well developed, the plot is believable, although there are scenes that didn’t seem to further the narrative. I kept expecting the meaning would be revealed in the behavior of the characters, but I was somewhat disappointed.  There are some other aspects that didn’t quite mesh for me.  Was the Bible Salesman really that naive? I realize it is a necessity of the plot, but he needed to be more naive in a bunch of other ways to make this stand up…that just doesn’t happen.

There are, however, a lot of parts that I really could relate to, and that is probably what kept me coming back until I finished the book.  I am well acquainted with southern family reunions, “kissing cousins” and what not.  Holy Roller churches, Bible Drills, and Sunday School with the Children of Israel and the Egyptians. (God killed all those Egyptians in six inches of water…and you either know what I’m talking about or you don’t.  If you do know, you’ll ‘get’ a lot of what goes on with the Bible Salesman.)

So, if it sounds appealing to you, it certainly did to me, and I did read the whole thing. For the most part I enjoyed it. Even though it’s not my particular cup of tea, I’m glad I bought the book.  If you’ve no knowledge of or interest in the South in the 50s, fundamentalist Baptists and car thieves it’s probably not what you’re looking for.

imagesThe Discovery of Socket Greeny —  Tony Bertauski

Rarely do I find a book that keeps me up at night.   Tony Bertauski’s The Discovery of Socket Greeny is that book.

When saving the world involves jacking into the virtualmode, with your two best friends, fighting a genetically perfect super-warrior, while the virtual world around you is being flushed down the toilet by an overload of random data, and if you go down, you don’t get to go back to your body. It’s game over.

Meet Socket Greeny, he’s sixteen has a crush on his best friend, not that he’s aware of that, and can stop time.  He’s not aware of that either.  A shadowy group finds stopping time a valuable commodity in keeping the human race safe (mostly from themselves).

A threat against humanity is rising, and gaining strength quickly. This threat comes from virtual reality and must be stopped there.  Paladin Nation is not convinced that Socket is the answer.  If anything they believe him to be a loose cannon.  He doesn’t know or understand his power and turning him loose could prove fatal for everyone.  Socket? He just wants to go back to his friends and live a normal life. Not that he knows what that is either.

In the end, he gets to go back to his friends and suddenly there’s that whole virtual world, with the super-warrior and the random data, and the threat to the entire planet catastrophe.  Suddenly, I couldn’t put the book down.  There was too much going on, too many variables to keep track of.  There was no slack in the pace allowing me to catch my mental breath and try to put the pieces together to see where this was going.

I’ve never done very well at keeping track of what is YA and what is not.  It really doesn’t matter to me if your hero is flawed and 16 or flawed and 39.  If anything, flawed youth is much easier to relate to.  We’ve all been teenagers, had zits, been in love and felt like a freak.  Youth is something we know and understand, struggles we can internalize.

In youth, we understand the uncertainty and indecision, the uneasiness of leadership.  We’ve been there.  We can even be sympathetic to the youthful antagonist.  We can still see the origins of his corruption. A child sociopath incurs not our wrath but our sympathy.  Someone, somewhere, failed this child and in somehow we find in it a way to forgive him his sins.

This is that story. When the forces of evil are on the verge of total victory and the forces for good are stretched too thin to hold back the tide that threatens to overwhelm humanity, Socket finds a way to step up. He finds a way to get around his obstacles, real and imagined. He finds in himself what’s always been there. Socket Greeny goes where he must, thinking he knows the risks, though the risks are far beyond his knowing.  He prevails, saving the lives of his friends and the human race at the same time.

When last I checked, The Discovery of Socket Greeny was free on Amazon. The Socket Greeny Saga including parts 2 and 3 is available as well.

Halfway Home — Hugh Howey

51+TigdtjhL._BO2,204,203,200_PI35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_In the interest of full disclosure: I virtually know Hugh Howey; to be exact, I know Hugh Howey virtually.  That has nothing to do with my thoughts about this novel.

I am well behind the power curve with my reading friends because I have been delaying reading Half Way Home until such time that I could really enjoy it.  Having cleared my slate, and knowing I’d be able to read it through in one sitting (no, it’s not that short, it’s just that good) if necessary, I cracked it open, on my kindle on the way to work, yesterday.  I finished it on my way home tonight.

This is a brilliant story. All the things I look for in a tale are in there.  There’s hard science, star travel, pathos, conflict, death and loss, but most importantly the will and drive to overcome obstacles of nature and man, and to survive in a hostile environment.  There’s also an artificial intelligence, a madman at the helm, love and desire and the loneliness of leadership.

Colonists are thrown into space landing on some predetermined planet with the sole mission of enriching the company/country that sent them.  “All for the glory of the colony” has been imprinted on each colonist as they have been trained by the AI that guides their journey.  Except that something goes wrong.  Horribly wrong.  In the end, only a tenth of the colonists remain, and the AI (referred to as Colony) keeps secrets about what they are now expected to do.

There are even more secrets and it falls to the colony psychologist to work out what Colony intends. Porter must shoulder a burden of leadership he does not want and one which seems almost overwhelming, but a burden that can not truly fall to anyone else.  All around him he sees couples forming and finds he truly is alone among the 53 remaining colonists.

You really must read this novel if you consider yourself a science fiction aficionado.  This has elements of the space operas of the early sixties, and the subtle complexities of more recent efforts to define star travel in fiction.  With technology becoming ever more capable of sending humans to another sun and another planet, it is increasingly difficult to write scientifically plausible plots.  We already know what WON’T work, and defining what does work in fiction has many pitfalls.  This is true particularly in a genre that is read by a more technically minded audience.

Howey has avoided these by leaving the science to the AI, and leaving the dealing with technology to the humans. This leaves him free to work the natural surroundings of a planet that may or may not be hostile.  It also leaves him to work in detail with the intricate workings of man as an individual, as a member of a tribe and as cog in the larger wheel of a social construct.

His character development is in tune with his characters’ developing. This may sound tautological, but in fact, the characters have to discover themselves and what they are made of after the initial tragedy, and each internal journey is worked out even as the character works it out with others. It is subtle and complex, and Howey pulls it off to perfection.

The story line is well considered, and has the right amount of unexpected events that the reader isn’t waiting for what’s next, and can’t predict what’s coming.  This is listed as YA in some places, but I would argue that it’s an adult novel that young adults would find accessible.

If you’ve read this and you haven’t read Wool, go there. Do that.