Science Fiction

Review of: The Martian, by Andy Weir

Posted on December 6, 2015. Filed under: Book Reviews, Movie Reviews, Science Fiction |

The Martian, by Andy Weir. Broadway Books: BROADWAYBOOKS.COM 2014 (387pp.) My son Jeremy ordered this book for me as we were walking out of the theater after watching the movie version, The Martian, starring Matt Damon. The movie and the book will be in my all time favorites list, probably top 10. This book was difficult as it is filled with scientific data and formulas, gear and technical terms. But that is absolutely what makes this book as powerful as it is! This is a modern day Robinson Crusoe…on Mars! Yeah, I love me some space opera and military sci fi with lots of aliens and space battles, but the best sci fi is believable and near enough to our time to make it seem achievable. In twenty years from today, 2015, the things written by Weir may be happening! While the book is laced with profanity and presents pretty much an atheistic worldview, the story is a good, positive, can do, pro-America, pro-NASA story of human suffering, ingenuity, and overcoming all obstacles with heroic efforts from a huge cast of supporting characters, including the communist Chinese. This book is simply outstanding! I highly Recommend.

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A Reading Diary, Science Fiction

Posted on November 9, 2015. Filed under: Book Reviews, Science Fiction, The Walker Library |

  1. Fiction
  2. Science Fiction/Fantasy
  3. Hard SF/Military- Ian Douglas
  4. Douglas, Ian. Star Corpsman: Blood Star. Harper/Voyager: New York, 2012 (355pp.) Read in 2013.
  5. Douglas, Ian. Star Corpsman II: Abyss Deep. 2013, (373pp.) Read May 2014.
  6. Douglas, Ian. Star Carrier IV, Deep Space. Harper/Voyager: New York, 2013 (355pp.) Read May 5-15-14 to 5-25-14.
  7. Douglas, Ian. The Heritage Trilogy, Book 1: Semper Mars. EOS: New York, 1998 (376pp.) This is the second time I have read this fantastic book (04-26-15 to 04-28-15). This is one of my favorite books/series because it is so believable in the area of technology. Obviously he got the timing of things wrong, written 1998, but the general flow of the technology is very believable. The military/political action is also outstanding and very believable. The obvious failure for me as a Christian is the main premise of the book that man was “created” by aliens. Still, the “first contact” aspect of the book is outstanding as well. This book is what S-F should be!
  8. The Heritage Trilogy, Book 2: Luna Marine. 1990 (402pp.) This is the second time I have read this book (04-29-15 to 04-30-15) and is one of my favorites as a part of this trilogy. I find the science part of the book to be quite believable although I disagree with the atheistic “we are made by aliens” subtext which is not quite explicit but certainly is being put forward.
  9. The Heritage Trilogy, Book 3: Europa Strike. 2000 (483pp.) Read 2nd time 05-01-15 to 05-04-15. This closes out one of the best S-F trilogies around in a very believable military SF story that shows the progression of science in the future.
  10. Star Carrier V, Dark Matter. Harper/Voyager: New York, 2014 (370pp.) Read 07-25-16 to 08-01-16. This is another good, solid book in the series by Douglas that combines Military SF with Hard SF and touches of philosophy. One of the ongoing themes in the series is the White Covenant, an Anti-religious political pact that forces people to keep their religion to themselves, no evangelizing. By the end of this book, that philosophy is starting to crumble in an interesting way. This book includes a lot more real science and scientific theory.
  11. Military SF- David Weber
    1. Honor Harrington series, On Basilisk Station.
    2. Honorverse series, Manticore Ascendant I: A Call to Duty by David Weber and Timothy Zahn. Baen: Riverdale, NT 2014 (384pp) Read 11-13-16 to 11-17-16. Another Outstanding book in the Weber corpus! This book definitely has shades and themes hearkening back to On Basilisk Station. Introducing a new hero, Travis Long, and going back in time to the beginning of the rise of Manticore before the discovery of the junction. The book tells the story of young Travis Long who joins the navy to get away from an unhappy home life and no future. He finds disappointment with the navy but then finds his life and home there as well. He seeks to live a life of hard work and integrity when all those around him just want to cheat and get by. The politics of Manticore are in the forefront of this novel, as always in the Honor Harrington series, and it is those who want to do the right thing against the liberals who always want more power but don’t like the military. And of course there are some bad guys thrown in, and lots of action.
  12. Hard SF/Military- James A. Corey “The Expanse” series
    1. Leviathan Wakes. Orbit: New York, 2011 (561pp.) Read in early 2013. A very good read, definitely kept my interest. Very realistic descriptions of solar system travel and colonization, business and government complexities with racism. The racism was interesting in that it was people from the inner planets hating Earthers and people from the Outer Planets hating the Inner Planets, etc. I did not really like the alien concept though, but I did like the detective angle.
    2. Caliban’s War. Orbit: New York, 2012 (595pp.) Read in late 2013. Same as above. The military angle and battles are pretty good, but, again, the alien is a bit too weird for me.
    3. Abbadon’s Gate. 2013 (539pp.) Read 06-02-15 to 06-08-15. This one was the best of the three so far in that the alien is now more understandable and it makes sense. The author uses religion quite skillfully in this book, which is a rarity for SF writers. There was a theme of vengeance and redemption/forgiveness. The military angle in this book was quite good with very realistic zero g fight scenes. This is a good series which I will keep up with, but not greatness.
  13. Hard SF/Military- Ben Bova
  14. Grand Tour#1 Powersat. TOR: New York, 2005 (424pp.) 2013.
  15. Grand Tour#2 Privateers. TOR: New York, 1985 (383pp.) 2013.
  16. Grand Tour#3 Empire Builders. TOR: New York, 1993 (406pp.) 2013.
  17. Grand Tour #4 Mars. Bantam: New York, 1992 (549) 2013.
  18. Grand Tour #5 Moonrise. AVON: New York, 1996 (543pp.) 2014.
  19. Grand Tour #6 Moonwar. AVON Books: New York 1998 (501pp.) 2014.
  20. Grand Tour #7 Return to Mars. EOS: New York, 1999 (543pp) March 2014.
  21. Grand Tour #8 The Precipice. TOR: New York, 2001 (422pp.) April 2014.
  22. Grand Tour #9 Jupiter. TOR: New York, 2001 (389pp.) April 2014. One of the best books ever to show the tension between religion and science! Fantastic!
  23. Grand Tour #10 The Rock Rats. TOR: New York, 2002 (384pp.) May 2014.
  24. Grand Tour #11 The Silent War. TOR: New York, 2004 (410pp.) May 2014.
  25. Grand Tour #12 The Aftermath. TOR: New York, 2007 (396pp.) Read May-June 2014.
  26. Grand Tour #13 Saturn. TOR: New York, 2004 (470pp.) Read April 2015. This is a clever book about politics set inside a colony ship bound for Saturn where the thousands of colonists are to choose their government. Bova is showing how the corrupt and evil ideologies of communism, liberalism and fascism vie for power and hinder the science of the trip to Saturn.
  27. Grand Tour #14 Leviathans of Jupiter. TOR: New York, 2011 (500pp.) Read May 2015. Bova returns us to Jupiter to investigate the intelligent Leviathans of Jupiter in another clever story to demonstrate how science can be corrupted by traditionalism and personal hubris. There is this dominant theme in Bova’s series of revealing the enemies of science from every corner. There is an interesting character study or two in the book, especially that of “Dorn”.
  28. Hard SF/Military SF John Ringo
    1. Troy Rising series, Live Free or Die. Baen Publishing Enterprises: Riverdale, NY 2010 (551pp.) Read for the 2nd time 06-25-15 to 06-29-15. This may be my favorite SF series ever! This is in the First Contact Genre but is so much more. The author’s main purpose is stated in the title and he is speaking to our time every bit as much as he is speaking his vision for the future. This book charts an economic view of free enterprise and a political view of realistic conservatism. The main character, Tyler Vernon, is a fairly average guy who sees an opportunity, seizes the day, and forces his vision on the solar system. This book mocks liberalism from front to back. The book excels in its realistic approach to a first contact event and shows that the galaxy is not necessarily a safe place. This is a classic. Volume one of a trilogy so far.
    2. Troy Rising Series, Citadel. Baen Publishing: Riverdale, NY 2011 (522pp.) Read 06-29-15 to 07-02-15. As good as the first volume in this series was, this one is even better! Again there is serious presentation of economics and politics during war, but the character development is also strong with additional heroes/heroines
    3. Troy Rising Series, The Hot Gate. Baen Publishing: Riverdale, NY 2011 (528pp.) Read 2nd time 07-02-15 to 07-04-15. This series gets better with each book! Seriously, this might be my favorite SF series of all time. The economics and politics of this book are right on target without sounding “preachy”. He is showing the realities of war fighting. “The only thing worse than war is loss of liberty,” p.206.
    4. Black Tide Rising series, vol.1, Under A Graveyard Sky. Baen: 2013 (479pp.) Read 07-04-15 to 07-06-15. This is a good Apocalyptic/Zombie series that combines some good, believable, science with excellent survival instruction/action. It is Hollywooded up somewhat as some of the action sequences are simply NOT realistic. Characterization is good as Ringo focuses on the two teenage daughters of the main protagonist, Steve Smith. It was a weird twist to have our hero as a naturalized US citizen from Australia who was a Para and currently an American History HS teacher. The survival at sea motif is unique and really works. A very good read, but not a classic like the Troy Rising
    5. To Sail A Darkling Sea. Baen: 2014 (507pp.) Read 07-08-15 to 07-11-15. An excellent sequel to the first volume with great character development and action.
    6. Islands of Rage & Hope. Baen:2014 (521pp.) Read 08-09-15 to 08-12-15. Good fun reading with continuing character development.
  29. Hard SF, Autumn Kalquist
    1. Fractured Era series, Better World, by Autumn Kalquist. Diapason Publishing: 2015 (141pp.) Read on 10-03-15. This novella has some good ideas, combining a dystopia with some hope for a new world and lots of adventure. This is a prequel to a pre-existing series. The problem with this book, however, is that the writing style is for adolescents (young adult) and does not come close to including enough detail. The plots include an 18 year old who is so distraught over looking for hope and purpose that she attempts suicide but is rescued by a friend. Another plot is that she is a lesbian and this is kind of a coming of age/coming out novel and her lesbianism is a major problem as her society must have healthy babies born to reproduce their losses. The paganism in the book is feeble and is becoming too common in SF writings (see Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series). The basic ideas and storyline are sound so I might go for a second book. Also this book is listed as a novella, so the full sized books in the series might have more of the details I think it needs. All in all, I cannot recommend this book.
  30. Hard SF Andy Weir
    1. The Martian, by Andy Weir. Broadway Books: BROADWAYBOOKS.COM 2014 (387pp.) Jeremy ordered this book for me as we were walking out of the theater after watching the movie version, The Martian, starring Matt Damon. The movie and the book will be in my all time favorites list, probably top 10. This book was difficult as it is filled with scientific data and formulas, gear and technical terms. But that is absolutely what makes this book as powerful as it is! This is a modern day Robinson Crusoe…on Mars! Yeah, I love me some space opera and military sci fi with lots of aliens and space battles, but the best sci fi is believable and near enough to our time to make it seem achievable. In twenty years from today, 2015, the things written by Weir may be happening! While the book is laced with profanity and presents pretty much an atheistic worldview, the story is a good, positive, can do, pro-America story of human suffering and overcoming all obstacles with heroic efforts from a huge cast of supporting characters, including the communist Chinese. This book is simply outstanding! I highly Recommend.
  31. Military SF Tom Kratman
    1. Carrera series vol.1: A Desert Called Peace. Baen: Riverdale, NY 2007 (975pp.) Read 07-23-15 to 07-29-15. This is my first Kratman book, and I am hooked. This was outstanding! The science fiction part of the story is in the background, and is good, and essential for the story, but the military/political/social conflict on this new world takes place in a time period of about equal technology to early 21st century Earth. The main ideas presented in this well told story revolve around America’s response to 9/11 and the societal/economic/military conflict with islam in the 21st Kratman, an Army veteran (LTC in rank) critiques the U.S. military and politics through his writing of this SF story that takes place 500 years from now. And he does a thorough, and searing job of it! I love this guy! He is not subtle. You know exactly what he is critiquing. This book, and presumably the series, will rate up there with John Ringo’s Troy Rising series and David Webber’s Honor Harrington series.
    2. Carrera series vol.2: 2007 (920pp.) Read 08-19-15 to 09-05-15. This is an outstanding sequel to A Desert Called Peace! Kratman carries on with the story of how Carrera builds his army, navy and airforce and fights the muslims, and anyone who gets in the way, for revenge for their terror attack that killed his family. The message he is sending our culture today is that if we want to win in this war we have to actually fight and we must wage total war without remorse. It is interesting that he does find some muslims as allies in his fight. Our political class and military NEED to read these two books! I can see this series expanding to the point where they gain space flight and go back to earth, or…change the story up and tell about what is going on back on earth.
    3. Carrera Series vol.3, The Lotus Eaters. 2010 (496pp. hardback). Read 10-12-15 to 10-15-15. Outstanding! This may be the best book in the series yet! In this book Carrera leads a war against narco-terror groups, and faces betrayal from within, and counters the aggression of another state. However, the real story is that this book is Kratman’s political manifesto, calling for a timocracy, a democratic republic where only the military and veterans have the right to vote and lead. His political excursions under the name of Jorge Mendoza throughout the book are clear statements pointing to the kind of state Kratman wants. Furthermore, Kratman engages the background science fiction story more in this book detailing the corruption and cultural failures of old Earth. His critiques of our society are spot on; his prophetic voice of where our present civilization is heading is more than plausible, I would say it prescient. Because of his forcefulness and deliberateness in his storyline and the many excurses he includes, this book seriously raises the bar on all the conservative, military SF guys (Ringo, Weber, Drake, Campbell, etc.) Perhaps Carrera is not as loveable as Honor Harrington, but his message is loud and clear.
    4. Carrera Series vol.4, The Amazon Legion. 2011 (593pp.) Read March 2016. Another outstanding work by Kratman, this time focusing on how to wage war with guerillas tactics. The book is a little bit out of sequence with the following books however. His emphasis on using homosexuals in a separate unit is bizarre. I just do not think there are enough homosexuals who are patriotic enough to do this.
    5. Carrera Series vol.5, Come and Take Them. 2013 (798pp.) Read April 2016. This series keeps getting better. Usually sequels start to get old, but not with Carrera! Again, this guy’s philosophy of war needs to be taken seriously!
    6. Carrera Series, vol.6, The Rods and Axe. 2014 (671pp.) Read May 2016. Here the war gets into the defensive phase, so Kratman gives his defensive strategy. Outstanding yet again.
  32. Military SF, Jay Allan
    1. Marines: Crimson Worlds I, System7 Publishing: 2012 (229pp.) Read 01-28-16 to 02-02-16. The plot and writing style were so similar to the Marko Kloos novels listed below that I thought it was the same author using a different name, but they are different people. The setting of a future dystopia is very good and the account of all the training that goes into make a future warrior is outstanding. The way the author explains what the ships and crew have to go through because they do NOT have inertia dampening is unique and believable, no other author does it like this. The character development within the novel is good and the storyline definitely got my attention so I have continued to read this series. This is a good “B” grade SF novel.
    2. The Cost of Victory: Crimson Worlds II. 2012 (258pp.) Read 03-01-16 to 03-17-16. This book solidifies with me that this author is worth reading, the 2nd in the series loses nothing and in fact gains.
    3. A Little Rebellion: Crimson Worlds III. 2013 (346pp.) Read 03-30-16 to 04-06-16. Another very good follow on book in the series.
    4. The First Imperium: Crimson Worlds IV. 2013 (274pp.) Read 04-07-16 to 04-12-16. While I am enjoying the story and the plot is getting thicker, I am doubting the use of the ground forces against the aliens who are not biological and therefore have no use for an earthlike planet. The aliens should just nuke the planet it seems to me; therefore, I see a weakness in the plot in order to give more action to the star players.
    5. The Line Must Hold: Crimson Worlds V. 2013 (288pp.) Read 05-10-16 to 05-17-16. Again, the plot and characters are enough for me to keep on reading; I am invested in the characters now and must see it through the end. Other than the halfway stupid aliens the storyline is good.
    6. To Hell’s Heart: Crimson Worlds VI. 2013 (308pp.) Read 09-15-16 to 09-21-16. The plot gets thicker and some favorite characters get killed off again.
    7. The Shadow Legions: Crimson Worlds VII. 2014 (287pp.) Read 10-12-16 to 10-25-16. The plot is still going very strong with some very good twists. I am invested here so I am going to read to the end I guess.

            

  1. Military SF, Marko Kloos
    1. Terms of Enlistment. 47North: Seattle, WA 2014 (334pp.) Read 08-20-15 to 08-22-15. This is a good start to a promising series. Definitely not up to the level of Weber, Ringo or Drake, but a good read nonetheless. This is a dystopic/military/space opera/First Contact Genre that has believable characters, realistic futuristic equipment and a fine knowledge of military training, etc. It is occasionally Hollywooded up. I will follow this author and see what comes next.
    2. Lines of Departure. 2014 (315pp.) Read 09-08-15 to 09-13-15. This is a worthy sequel to Terms of Enlistment and adds a whole lot of character development and plot twists. Rarely have I started a new author from the “B” list and really enjoyed it, this is an exception. I really like the combination of Military S/F with dystopia and First Contact tossed in. The aliens are bit over the top but that’s ok so far. He has me hooked now! The main plot underneath the alien invasion is that the civilization is crumbling and there are some in the military who stand up and resist tyranny, risking it all. This is encouraging, but also very complex considering the state of the people back home. He is showing the end state of a high tech welfare state system and that there are no good options. The trip home to visit his mother was reminiscent of Thomas Wolfe’s writing from the 1930’s and the Great Depression. Very sad and moving.
  2. Military SF, Jack Campbell
    1. The Lost Fleet #1 Dauntless. Ace Books: New York, 2006 (293pp.) Read 09-21-15 to 09-23-15. This is a good, B grade, SF story that is worth the read and I will begin to read the series. This does Not rise to the level of Ringo, Weber, Douglass, or Kratman though he seems to pattern himself after Weber’s Honor Harrington character. One of the main themes of the book is Leadership. He does include some small technical detail that other writers avoid- he includes the difficulty of fighting space battles with time lag in the information chain. The other authors tend to all overcome time lag due to distance with their technology but Campbell keeps the time lag real as they fight over light hours and light minutes and light seconds. I like also that he is addressing what a free society can lose after fighting a century long war as standards are relaxed, morals are compromised and we become like our enemy. With the deaths of leaders over and over again, institutional knowledge dies with them and tactics as well as discipline must be renewed. Geary is presented as a “Christ figure” to an exntent and the psychological battles get old and tedious. He introduces enough mystery along the way to keep me asking for more and gives me hope for the series.
    2. The Lost Fleet: ACE Books: New York, 2007 (295pp.) Read 10-03-15 to 10-05-15. This a good “B” grade SF series that has an excellent plot and side stories, but stiff, wooden characters and dialog. There is not much character development going to happen here. The action is good, and Campbell does outshine some of the “A” list authors in his handling of space warfare. I will continue to read the series, but the stiff characters may wear me out eventually.
    3. The Lost Fleet: Courageous, by Jack Campbell. 2008 (299pp.) Read 11-13-15 to 11-15-15. Another decent “B” grade SF novel. The dialogue and characterization are dragging me down. I hope to read the whole series, however, as the basics of the story are good and the hints at aliens are tantalizing. One does hope the Lost Fleet gets home eventually.
    4. The Lost Fleet: Valiant, The Lost Fleet: Relentless, and The Lost Fleet: Victorious, by Jack Campbell. ACE Books: New York, 2008 (284pp.), 2009 (320pp.) and 2010 (331pp.) respectively. I can truthfully say that this series grows on you and gets better the more you read. The characterization improves with each book; the characters are now seeming to be real people and carry on real conversations. While Campbell’s battle sequences get some things right, he is the Best so far at using real distances and times in space, he is inconsistent. He gets that it takes days to set up battles that involve light hours of distances, and that it takes a fraction of a second to fight it out as the ships close, but then he has the ships maneuvering and re-engaging too fast. Another weakness is in the total lack of a staff for the commanders. These flaws, while serious, do not detract much from the story line which is always full of surprises. I can definitely recommend the series!
    5. The Lost Fleet- Beyond the Frontier, Dreadnought, by Jack Campbell. ACE Books: New York, 2011 (368pp.) This book continues the new theme of the unknowable aliens, the enigma race and also continues a theme of the plot to get rid of Black Jack Geary by his own people, this time the government. Another nail-biter ending!
  3. Classics
    1. Jules Verne. From the Earth to the Moon and Round the Moon. Nelson Doubleday, Inc.: Garden City, NY. Originally published in France 1865 and 1870 (279pp. total). I purchased these books decades ago and I don’t think I ever read them, although I do believe I had the Classics Illustrated comic book edition and read them as a child. These two novels are included in Verne’s Voyages Extraordinairs series of books that featured geographical and scientific studies which include Five Weeks in a Balloon, Around the World in Eighty Days, Journey to the Center of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, In Search of the Castaways, Mysterious Island, and many others. The Moon books begin in a way that makes me think he is writing a parody of the United States and its obsession with war immediately after the Civil War. Verne does discuss many of the theories current for the day that discuss how to leave earth orbit, reach the moon, and what the moon is like. To the modern day reader it is laughable and ridiculous because we have been to the Moon now. Selenians is the name for the alleged moon people and the most overused word in the book is “savant”. And yet, the book worked for me, it was a good read, and fun. We must realize that this was a serious effort to describe what might happen on a trip to the moon, but about 150 years ago! This book is rightfully a Classic and a forerunner of modern Science Fiction. I would say that this book is required reading for the serious S-F fan who wants to discover the genre’s roots.
    2. A Journey to the Center of the Earth, illustrated by Lars Hokanson, afterword by James Hynes. The Readers’ Digest Association: Pleasantville, NY. Originally published in France in 1864 (280pp.) This was the third in the series of geographical novels in Verne’s Voyages Extraordinaires series. I have read this book before, I think maybe even twice before, and I had the Classics Illustrated comic book as well. Also I saw the original movie starring Pat Boone from 1959 but I have not seen the recent movie of 2008 starring Brendan Frasier. The book has the same problems as From the Earth to the Moon, and the same strengths. He discusses the theories of geology and the geologic column and fossils current for his day which all sound so far away from our science. There are several obvious faults in the story that have nothing to do with science, such as the many months of food they carried on their backs along with all the guns, tools, and instruments. You have to just look past these obvious flaws and relax and enjoy the wonder of the story. The psychology of the story is also remarkable in that the characters include a manic-depressive- Harry, and the eccentric Professor along with the extremely laconic Hans. This is a Classic and a must read for the S-F fans who want to learn of the founding of their favorite genre. This is also a good way to introduce children in the pre-teen to early teen age groups to the Classics and S-F.
    3. Isaac Asimov. The Bicentenial Man and Other Stories, Doubleday & Company, Inc.: Garden City, NY 1976 (211pp.) I purchased this book from the Science Fiction Book Club back in 1979 and I may have read 1-2 stories from it, but if so, I never read the entire book. I finally read it 11-30 to12-24-15. Back in my youth, Asimov was one of my favorites; today I much prefer other authors. However, this book was a joy to read and the light hearted stories manage to examine important issues, usually following the Robot theme. The Bicentennial Man was a great movie with Robin Williams, and the short story was truly great and deserves classic status as it examines the question, What does it mean to be human? It does foretell the future in that there is a gradual melding of the human with the machine, and the machines are taking on human characteristics. There are some mysteries and dramas in this book that use S-F as the setting. If you want to get a glimpse of classic S-F and become acquainted with Asimov this may be the book for you. I highly recommend!
  4. Fantasy/Alternative Universe
  5. M. Stirling “The Change Series”

(1). Lord of Mountains. ROC: New York, 2012 (430pp.) Read May 2014.

  1. SF Mysteries/Jack McDevitt
    1. ACE Books: New York, 2013 (389pp.) Read 05-13-15 to 05-14-15. In this book McDevitt returns to the Priscilla Hutchins story after retiring her in his last book. Now, realizing he had a good thing going with “Hutch”, he takes us back to her beginning as a cadet in interstellar pilot school where she gets her license to fly and encounters one mystery/disaster after another in a series of just a few short months. If you are looking for Hard SF with a lot of technical details, this is not for you. My one criticism of McDevitt’s writing is that he makes flying an interstellar waaayyyy tooooo easy. These ships have a one person crew, the pilot, and she can go to sleep, play games, read, etc. the ships fly themselves with their AIs. That criticism being said, what McDevitt does offer are good mysteries and plots with character studies set in the future. In this book he sets up the career of Hutch and gives us much more of the political background for her place in time. It sounds remarkably like today with political cynicism, terror plots, and budget fights. I am a loyal fan and will continue reading the Priscilla Hutchins novels eagerly.
    2. The Hercules Text, by Jack McDevitt. ACE Books: New York, 1986 but greatly updated in 2015, (353pp.) Read 10-15-15 to 10-19-15. Outstanding! One of the best SF novels I have ever read! This is very different from McDevitt’s other novels in that he is writing in the First Contact genre. McDevitt examines the First Contact scenario from how it impacts those who make the contact. He looks at their professional lives, personal lives, politics, military, health, and RELIGION. This is the best handling of religion by a SF author, even better than Ben Bova. Very thoughtful well rounded book and an exciting read! Highly recommend!
    3. Coming Home, by Jack McDevitt. ACE Books: New York, 2014 (356pp.) Read 11-08-16 to 11-11-16. Another Very Good mystery by Jack McDevitt with some odd twists in dealing with historical artifacts from my day!
  2. End of the World/Prepper
  3. Boyd Craven
    1. Devil Dog: Out of the Dark. 2016 (245pp.) Read 10-04-16 to 10-08-16. An acceptable effort at a story from after TEOTWAWKI. The theme is a good guy who is somewhat broken takes care of others while fighting gangs of bad guys. I may continue the series.
  4. Classics
  5. Frankenstein, or, the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley, 1818, A Norton Critical Edition, Edited by J. Paul Hunter. W.W. Norton&Company: London, 1996 (339 pp., text pp.2-156; critical 157-339.) Read 06-28-16 to 09-11-16. I read the novel many years ago and perhaps the Classics Illustrated comic book as a child and I remember the movie vaguely. But this is the first time I have studied the novel. This is the beginning of the Science Fiction genre but it is so much more than a good, scary story. The Critical section of the Norton Critical Edition was generally very helpful in understanding the various layers of the book and I now see it in a totally different light. I highly recommend this edition! The book definitely deserves its Classic status.
  6. Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters by Anne K. Mellor. Routledge: London, 1988 (276pp.) Read 09-12-16 to 10-13-16. This was an outstanding biography combined with literary criticism of Shelley’s works. I found the book to be very helpful and mostly understandable. Mary Shelley lived a messed up life and it comes out clearly in her writings. It was sad, really. The depth of understanding that is woven throughout Frankenstein is amazing considering she wrote it when she was 18 years old. I definitely want more of this kind of book whenever I read a classic!
  7. Frankenstein, A Cultural History, by Susan Tyler Hitchcock. W.W. Norton & Company: New York, 2007 (392pp.) Read 10-14-16 to 11-25-16. Outstanding! This book absolutely confirms how important a work was Shelley’s Frankenstein. This book was Very thorough in tracing all of the cultural impact of Frankenstein for the last 200 years. A case can be made for the book being one of the top most influential novels of all time. From sales popularity the book was not that big of a deal in the 1800s and certainly not from a literary critic’s view either. But it did make it to the stage quickly and then, a hundred years later, it took off like a rocket as the science caught up with the novel and the multiplied the value of the novel. Now its place is secure in the canon of Western Literature and the ideas will always remain with us.
  8. Mysteries/Thrillers

Historical Fiction

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The Walker Library Project Science Fiction

Posted on October 5, 2013. Filed under: Science Fiction, The Walker Library |

Box 1

Weber-Ringo, “Empire of Man” series. March Upcountry. Baen Publishing Enterprises: Riverdale, NY 2001 (586pp.)

Ibid. March to the Sea. 2001 (664pp.)

Ibid. March to the Stars. 2003 (626pp.)

Ibid. We Few. 2005 (540pp.)

This David Weber/John Ringo series about Prince Roger MacClintock is one of the Best modern military SF series around. Great character development, plots and sub plots with plenty of action. Excellent space opera; one of my favorites! As of 10-05-13 I believe that I have read that there will be at least another book added to this series, and probably a whole new series based on Roger MacClintock. I highly recommend! Top Shelf!

 

Ringo, John. “Troy Rising” series. Live Free Or Die. Baen: Riverdale, NY. 2010, (594pp.)

Ibid. Citadel. 2011, (522pp.)

Ibid. The Hot Gate. 2011 (528pp.)

This is a fantastic, top shelf, series of first contact, space war, technologies, mystery, economics, and politics. This series has it all. The characters are real and the action is great. This series presents a conservative world view with SciFi. This may become my very favorite SciFi series. “Live Free or Die” ranks up there with “On Basilisk Station” or “Ender’s Game” or “Rendezvous with Rama” as a classic! Each of the sequels is just as good as the first book. Highly recommend!

McDevitt, Jack. “Alex Benedict” novels: A Talent for War. Ace Books: New York, 1989 (310pp.)

Ibid. Polaris. 2004 (385pp.)

Ibid. Seeker. 2005 (373pp.)

Ibid. The Devil’s Eye. 2008 (374pp.)

Ibid. Echo. 2010 (367pp.)

Ibid. Firebird. 2011 (357pp.)

McDevitt, Jack. “Priscilla Hutchins” novels: The Engines of God. Ace Books: New York, 1994 (419pp.)

Ibid. Deepsix. EOS Books: New York, 2001 (508pp.)

Ibid. Chindi. Ace Books: New York  2002 (511pp.)

Ibid. Omega. 2003 (493pp.)

Ibid. Odyssey. 2006 (423pp.)

Ibid. Cauldron. 2007 (351pp.)

Jack McDevitt’s novels are mysteries set in the distant future and are very non-technical as compared with someone like David Weber. While Alex Benedict is an antiques dealer and amateur archeologist of sorts, Priscilla Hutchins is a pilot for hire. The plots are very intriguing and the stories leave you sitting on the edge of your seat trying to get to the next page as fast as you can. The novels touch on some big sci-fi issues such as first contacts, lost civilizations, dangers of space travel, etc. without getting into all the technical details. This lack of detail works as these are primarily mystery novels but it also leaves you a feeling of the stories being a bit too simplistic at times. As of 10-05-13 I have heard there is another Priscilla Huthins novel in the works. I highly recommend these series.

 

Stirling, S.M. “The Change Series” Dies the Fire. ROC: New York, 2004 (573pp.)

Ibid. The Protector’s War. 2006 (591pp.)

Ibid. A Meeting At Corvallis. 2006,  (622pp.)

Ibid. The Sunrise Lands. 2007, (512pp.)

Ibid. The Scourge of God. 2008, (511pp.)

Ibid. The Sword of the Lady. 2010, (659pp.)

Ibid. The High King of Montival. 2010, (515pp.)

Ibid. The Tears of the Sun. 2011, (672pp.)

I have previously read most of Stirling’s “The General” series about Raj Whitehall on the planet Bellevue after the collapse of a Galactic Empire and enjoyed it except for his idea of a super-computer who is “god-like” who intervenes in a deus ex machine manner. There is a similar theme in The Change Series where the world is mysteriously affected by something that eliminates all electricity, petroleum, nuclear, gunpowder, and even steam power. This series, though very good and compelling, is a combination of science fiction, survivalist, fantasy, military SF, and alternate universe. As a former minister, with a Master of Divinity degree and a conservative religious approach to all of life, the religious aspects of this series are yet another example of why SciFi writers should just generally leave religion alone. The reversion to paganism in the stories is distracting and unrealistic. The first three books are the best, although the whole series is quite good. What makes the first three books so good is the apocalyptic/survival aspects. What would happen if the source of power of our delicate modern society simply stopped? No electricity- no more civilization. The character development and plot are superb and the books are real page turners despite my problems with it. The action and violence are pretty graphic. Even though by reading this series and listing it here I am implicitly recommending it, I would give this series a caution due to the pagan worldview promoted. For survivalists however, I would highly recommend the first three volumes.

Drake, David and Fawcett Bill, editors. “The Fleet” and “Battlestation” series’. The Fleet. Ace Books: New York, 1988, (280pp.)

Ibid. Counterattack. 1988 (311pp.)

Ibid. Breakthrough. 1989, (294pp.)

Ibid. Sworn Allies. 1990, (248pp.)

Ibid. Total War. 1990, (278pp.)

Ibid. Crisis. 1991, (293pp.)

Ibid. Battlestation, Book One. 1992, (258pp.)

Ibid. Battlestation, Book Two, Vanguard. 1993, (264pp.)

This series of short stories edited by David Drake and Bill Fawcett are highly entertaining military SF space opera books. The basic idea is that the galaxy is not a friendly place and we might have to fight for our survival someday. Good, quick reads, but not the top shelf SciFi.

Niven, Pournelle and Barnes. Legacy of Heorot. Sphere Books, LTD: New York, 1987, (400pp.)

Ibid. Beowulf’s Children. TOR: New York, 1995, (493pp.)

Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Steven Barnes almost wrote a couple of classics here, almost. These books rate very highly for the adventure of discovering and settling a new world. The drama and details of what goes into actually colonizing a new planet is way better than most (compares with Alan Steele’s Coyote series). These 2 books go quite a bit deeper than most SF I have read and ask good questions. What hurt the books, and kept them from reaching the very top shelf IMHO is the nature of the monster and climate on the new world. The world was just TOO harsh in the end. That being said…I really wish for sequels to these two books, but, alas, Jerry Pournelle has now passed on.

Cole, Allan and Bunch, Chris “The Sten Adventures” Series. Sten, #1. Del Rey: New York, 1982 (279pp.)

Ibid. The Wolf Worlds. 1984, (298pp.)

Ibid. The Court of a Thousand Suns. 1985, (275pp.)

Ibid. The Fleet of the Damned. 1988, (340pp.)

Ibid. Revenge of the Damned, 1989, (354pp.)

Ibid. The Return of The Emperor. 1990, (371pp.)

Ibid. Vortex. 1992, (373pp.)

Ibid. Empire’s End. 1993, (441).

The Sten series is an action/military style story with a bit of a political point at the end of the series where the authors stand for freedom against centralized government. Sten is a secret agent/assassin set in the distant future. Space travel in this series is unrealistic, it is not so much of an intense techie series as it is adventure. The series is fun, highly readable, but lower tier.

Bunch, Chris. Star Risk, LTD. ROC: New York, 2002, (344pp.)

Ibid. The Scoundrel Worlds, A Star Risk Novel. 2003, (338pp.)

I only read the first two books of the Star Risk series by Chris Bunch. They were fast and fun space opera featuring some ex military security/mercenaries who do difficult jobs that no one else will do. Fun, but lower tier.

Heinlein, Robert. Starship Troopers. Berkley Books: New York, 1959, (208pp.)

Ibid. Stranger in a Strange Land. ACE Books: New York, 1961, (438pp.)

Heinlein is certainly one of the most important fathers of SciFi and these two classics are important books. While I loved Starship Troopers, I was somewhat disgusted with Stranger in a Strange Land although I see why it is culturally important. With Troopers we get an intense look into military life and the traditional theme of first contact= war. I read this book in my late teens, early college and read at least once more in the past 20 years. The movie was a horrid flop, totally missing the ethos created in the book. Stranger was used as almost a bible for the sexual revolution of the 1960’s. While I admit it is a good read, I abhor the philosophy contained and explained. Still, it is a classic and a true SciFi buff should read it.

Douglas, Ian. “The Heritage Trilogy”, Semper Mars. EOS: New York, 1998, (376pp.)

Ibid. Luna Marine. 1990 (misprint in the book- other sources say 1999), (402pp.)

Ibid. Europa Strike. 2000 (483pp.)

Ibid. “The Legacy Trilogy”, Star Corps. 2003, (447pp.)

Ibid. Battlespace. 2006, (482pp.)

Ibid. Star Marines. 2007 (371pp.)

Ibid. “The Inheritance Trilogy” Star Strike. 2008, (387pp.)

Ibid. Galactic Corps. 2008, (400pp.)

Ibid. Semper Human. 2009, (382pp.)

This is another Top Shelf, top of the line, outstanding Military SciFi series that IMHO rivals David Weber’s Honor Harrington series. The thing that makes this series BETTER than Weber’s is that the first 6 books are absolutely so realistic and believeable in so many ways for the time distance in the future. Especially the first 3 books, the Heritage Trilogy, are super realistic for what could happen 30 years from now. Of course, as a Christian, I do see a problem with his view of the origin of man…which is what creates the crisis in the story! Unlike most SF authors who write about religion, he picks a topic, Origin of man, and goes into it with vigor and shows a realistic controversy. And it is a fascinating theological question! The technology mix he writes about is extremely realistic, better than Weber. The military angle he gets absolutely correct and the battles are extremely well done. Unfortunately, the last three books in the series, The Inheritance Trilogy, are not quite as good as the first 6 books. However, in those last 3 books he does ask some important questions about What does it mean to be Human when you meld the human and machine to fight those aliens who gave up their temporal bodies to be machine only. Despite the weirdness of the ideas in the final 3 books, the entire series is a masterpiece in my book, even if it does not garner the praise and fandom of Weber’ Honor Harrington series. Highly recommend!

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The Blob Invades the Arctic

Posted on July 17, 2009. Filed under: News of the Day, Science Fiction |

A mysterious organic Blob, 12 miles long, has invaded the Arctic Ocean off the Alaskan coast in the Chukchi Sea between Wainwright and Barrow. The Coast Guard has verified that it is not any form of petroleum product and that it is in fact organic.

First discovered by some hunters a few days ago, the Blob has not been recognized by any of the old-timers. No one recalls ever seeing or hearing about something like this in the Arctic. It has the scientists stumped for the moment, though many samples have been taken.
It is dark, thick and gooey say those who have handled it, and it smells organic, not like oil. It has some hairy strands on it as well. Initially some suspected that it was algea but it is very odd to be so far north. The latest test results are now confirming that it is Filamentous Algea, but with a different color than the usual red or green.

Something like this was dealt with the past by Steve McQueen….Maybe Mulder and Scully should be investigating.

www.adn.com/2835/story/864687.html

www.adn.com/news/alaska/story/867160.html

This next site has some cool up close pics of the Blob:

www.examiner.com/x-13058-San-Jose-Weather-Examiner~y2009m7d16-Goo-away-mystery-blob-menacing-the-northern-Alaskan-coast

And, of course, here is the old Steve McQueen movie:

www.imdb.com/title/tt0051418/

www.amazon.com/Blob-VHS-Steve-McQueen/dp/6304507348/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=video&qid=1247842587&sr=1-1

The world and the universe around us is all created by God, even the Blob. It is the Christian, biblical worldview that lifted man out of the trap of superstition that prevented us from examining the universe around us for fear of offending the gods. For the Christian, we know that God created it all and then set man as the ultimate creation to rule over it in God’s stead. Therefore, science is glorifying to God and was part of the original instruction given Adam in the Garden: to tend the Garden and name the Animals is the beginning of the scientific method.

Science advanced in no other place in the world than in Europe. Other places like China, the muslims in the mid east, the ancient American Indians, all had some rudimentary science, but it was not until the late middle ages in Europe that science and technology exploded. It is no accident the scientific revolution happened in Christian Europe.

Today’s atheists have a new fundamentalism that seeks to oppress the truth instead of liberating the truth.

This Blog about the Blob has been brought to you by:

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One Second After by William R. Forstchen, a book review

Posted on May 12, 2009. Filed under: A Theology of Patriotism, Book Reviews, Guns and Hunting, Political Issues, Science Fiction, The Christian Survivalist |

One Second After by William Forstchen is the single most terrifying, realistic, dystopian novel I have read in my life. After the Bible, this is the One Book You Must Read This Year. Soon. Now. This book is very carefully researched and is extremely accurate, detailed, and emotionally charged. If you have a weak stomach, be prepared to puke as you read it. But you Must read it. If you cry easily as you read a real tear- jerker then get a box of Kleenex. In fact, by a case of Kleenex, they will come in handy later. You’ll see. I read Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon, and Nevil Shute’s On the Beach as a kid, along with Bradbury’s  Fahrenheit 451 and various other novels with a dystopian bent. See my review of Anthem by Ayn Rand here:

mark12ministries.wordpress.com/2008/11/17/anthem-by-ayn-rand-a-book-review/

As horrifying as those novels were, One Second After hits so close to home and is so realistic that it literally kept me awake last night, all night, even though I laid the book aside at 2100. This book is making me change some priorities.

******SPOILER ALERT**************

The story takes place in the typical small college town of Black Mountain, North Carolina.

www.blackmountain.org/

A former Infantry Colonel in the Army, Dr. John Matherson, is a history professor at Montreat College and is thrust into city leadership when an EMP bomb goes off over the country wiping out all electric power and electronic devices.  America is instantly plunged into the darkness of the 19th century unprepared. Forstchen walks you through the difficulties this small town faces in the first days, weeks,   months, and the first year. It is not a pretty scene; it will disturb you like nothing else you have read. There is no happy ending here.

The author sets up the crisis beautifully by giving a splendid background to the town and the professor’s family. It’s his youngest daughter’s birthday, Jennifer, and when he is talking on the phone with his daughter’s godfather, a general from the Pentagon, he hears shouting and panic in the background and the general has to leave hurriedly, the cell phone goes dead, along with everything electric in the house. Their first thought is another power outage, but it affects his daughter’s diabetes blood monitor too and just one of the tragedies of this book of tragedies is set up.

Still thinking it is just a power outage Professor Matherson cooks the hamburgers on the grill in preparation for Jennifer’s party when she makes one of the scariest observations: “Hey Dad, something strange…Listen.” He stood there silent for a minute…”I don’t hear anything.” “That’s it, Dad, There’s no traffic noise from the Interstate.” He turned and faced towards the road…but she was right; there was absolute silence.

The next terrible tremor came when the professor looks up at the evening sky and realizes he sees no jet contrails, not one, and they are on the route to Atlanta so there are always 2-3 jets in the sky, always. Next, he sees the smoke from distant fires in the mountains that were not right. “The chill…it reminded him of 9/11.”

When Jennifer’s grandmother, Jen, drives up in her classic Ford Edsel she announces, “Damndest thing. Power’s out up at the nursing home. And you should see the interstate, cars just sittin all over the place, not moving.” This sets up more tragedies.

The professor and his mother in law decide to drive into town to pick up Matherson’s 16 year old daughter who should have been home by now. As soon as they get to the Interstate, however, the Professor realizes the problem is bigger as he sees all the cars stalled. Notably, he takes this trip without a gun. That will change. On this brief trip to the highway, he sees his daughter walking home with her boyfriend, but then, a beautiful woman in business attire comes to the fence and tries to get him to take her into town since his car is working and her BMW is not (yet another theme- shiny new cars become worthless, old junkers and classics priceless). He turns her down, along with many others asking for help. (Yet another couple of themes introduced that are carried throughout the  whole novel.) Yes there is a love story that is developed in the book, two actually, and there is joy and tragedy accompanying them both.

In chapter 3 there is an encounter between John and the convenience store owner and John tells Hamid to stash his remaining cigarettes as an investment. This encounter comes up again and again in the book, but ultimately, in the next to the last chapter we read this, John sees a teenager with a stand set up downtown selling two plump squirrels and a rabbit. the going price was 7 bullets for a squirrel and 20 bullets for the rabbit. “John’s earlier prediction that cigarettes might very well become currency had been wrong. Nearly every last one had been smoked long ago….It was bullets that were now the currency of choice, espcially .22 and shotgun shells.” (p.317). It is interesting that as I write this, the ammunition shelves at all sporting goods stores are bare. Ever since the election of Barack Obama, there has been a run on guns and ammo. That brief episode points forward to the extreme scarcity that will soon exist, the return to a barter economy, and the value of bullets and wild game. Even our addictions, like  cigarettes, will pass away as people try to just survive.

It is on Day 2 that John goes in to the town and meets with the police chief, Tom,  and Charlie Fuller the Director of Public Safety and the Mayor Kate Lindsey. In that meeting John brings up EMP and gives them a copy of an old paper he had presented with one section on EMP. “EMP. Electromagnetic Pulse. Its the byproduct of a nuclear detonation.” “We’ve been nuked?” Kate asked, obviously startled. “I think so.” (p.63).

On p.71 they start to talk about priorities, security is mentioned, and water. They realize that without refrigeration food will be a problem. But they act too late in many regards, and it has not even been 24 hrs.

Another theme  emerges in this meeting with an attempt by the Chief to take over John’s Edsel  since it is running and none of the police cars are. John very coldly tells him “That car is mine, my family’s. You declaring martial law?” “I think we’ll have t, ” Kate said quietly. “When you do, come and try and take it, Tom.” “What do you mean try?” “Just that, Just try.” The theme is Martial Law, freedom for the individual vs.the needs of the State in an emergency. This conflict will continue throughout the book.

The Professor leaves the meeting and goes to the college where we are introduced to Washington Parker, a Marine veteran  who runs campus security. He is already thinking and organizing the college kids into a security force. He is one of the heroes of the story.

The next scene suddenly shows how serious things are getting and again, sets the tone for the rest of the book. The place is the drugstore where John is going to try to pick up some insulin for his little girl, Jennifer. The drug store is now a mob scene and John has to get violent with a violent man. this sets up three strands of the story: John is a man of action and violence when needed, John is trying to save his little girl’s life, and he gets injured thus setting the stage for his relationship with the woman from the BMW whom he refused to give a ride to the previous night. Makala Turner is a nurse and is one of the heroines of the story. The themes are: looting mobs, violence, medicine and love.

The author takes us through the various survival strategies as the crisis deepens until the climax of the story with a large battle between the town’s militia and a roving Posse of druggies and gangsters who are also resorting to cannibalism. Cannibalism is another theme in Forstchen’s other books (see The Lost Regiment series- one of my all time favorite sci fi series.)

I will not go through all the episodes, but I do want to address several of the topics that come up.

FIRST, there is the stubborn disbelief of the evidence by Dr. Matherson and everyone else. Nobody initially wants to say what the problem is and everyone thinks it will clear up by the next day. This, too, is a theme that is carried through to the end of the book in the last chapter when Col. Matherson has a discussion with the general leading the first relief column to reach Black Mountain, a year later. When disaster strikes, especially a sudden, yet gradual disaster as an EMP blast, where the true ramifications are felt out gradually over a year’s time, people go into denial. FAILURE TO ACT IN THE FIRST 24 HOURS IN A FEW KEY WAYS CAUSED MORE OF A DISASTER. P.37 “There was a thought, but it was too disturbing to contemplate right now. He wanted to believe that it was just a weird combination of coincidences, a power failure that might be regional, and would ground most flights due to air traffic control. Maybe it was some sort of severe solar storm, potent enough to trigger a massive short circuit; a similar event happened up in Canada several years ago.” Lesson #1 ACCEPT REALITY AND ACT IMMEDIATELY ON THE NEW TRUTH. Hesitation by Professor Matheson and others in leadership caused some serious problems.

LESSON #2: ESTABLISH SECURITY OVER THE KEY LOCATIONS AND ASSETS IMMEDIATELY, IN THE FIRST 24 HOURS AT LEAST, FIRST 8 HRS PREFERABLY. Failure to secure the drug stores and grocery stores immediately led to a chaotic looting spree. City government must recognize the severity of the crisis and act accordingly. BUT, police forces are nowhere near big enough to do this job. THIS IS WHERE A MILITIA MUST BE USED. THERE IS NO TIME TO GET THE NATIONAL GUARD MOBILIZED AT THE STATE LEVEL.

LESSON#3: THIS KIND OF A CATASTROPHE CALLS FOR MARTIAL LAW. SECURITY IS THE FIRST PRIORITY.

LESSON #4: SECURE WATER, FOOD, FUEL, MEDICAL SUPPLIES.

LESSON #5: THE NURSING HOMES, HOSPITALS, MEDICINE DEPENDENT PEOPLE, ELDERLY, ILL AND VERY YOUNG WILL DIE OFF RAPIDLY IN THE FIRST WEEK. YOU MUST TRIAGE THE PEOPLE, KNOW WHO IS GOING TO HELP THE COMMUNITY AND BE SURE THEY SURVIVE. THE OTHERS WILL JUST DIE. Late in the book the city leaders realize they will run out of food and all will starve so they give less food to the non-essential people while the essential people, the young college students who have formed the militia for example, get more food because they are doing the hardest work. Harsh, but realistic.

Again, the nursing home scene will make you puke and/or cry. It is graphic, unpleasant, but you have to read it.

LESSON #6: Guns and ammunition will be essential for hunting and for defending against thieves and for defending the city against the roving gangs and “armies” that will form.

LESSON 7: Cleanliness and sanitation will be essential to prevent epidemics. Though the book did not go into this much, but it did a little, the loss of working sewers for a lot of people causes a big problem. Imagine the large Apartment Complexes in your city with 3, 4 or more stories. Water shuts down, sewer shuts down. Where will people go to relieve themselves? What happens when toilet paper runs out in a couple of days? Large Apartment complexes will become stinking hell-holes in 3 days.

LESSON 8: In the novel, because it was a college town, there were some students and professors who knew enough about local plants to begin foraging for food. They harvested dandelions and mushrooms. In an urban environment, can you do that? The woods of North Carolina were all around so hunting squirrels, rabbits, deer, game birds and even bears and wild hogs was readily available…until all the animals were killed off. In the big city there are squirrels, rabbits, pigeons and dove, but not much else.

LESSON 9: The book stresses neighbor helping neighbor, small towns defending themselves against the masses of people traveling on the highways exiting the big cities. Time and again it was stated that people in cities flocked to the countryside thinking that more food was available, when the reality was…they were starving too. In other words, the local geographic unit must bind together quickly, and be prepared to defend itself, fend for itself, and feed itself. Some natural alliances are possible with communities right next together as in the book.

LESSON 10: Leaving home, leaving the big city, seems like a good idea at first, but proves to be a very BAD idea. If you live in a city and have nowhere close to go like a lake house, grandpa’s house, stay put.

LESSON 11: The small towns let in some of the traveling folks who had good job skills needed, nurse Makala for example. Lawyers, accountants and bankers, etc. were useless and not accepted. They died on the road.

LESSON 12: Maintaining our cultural values and form of government in an extremely bad situation. Yes they declare martial law quickly and do have a community feeding program, militia, hospital, etc. But they do keep some private property and freedom. They allow those with a reserve of food to keep it, they just cannot eat at the public feeding until they run out of food at home (and a search will be made). John is allowed to keep his car and a pilot who has an older airplane keeps his plane but runs missions for the town. When it is time to try criminals they are given a brief trial, then executed. Col. Matherson becomes the executioner since he is at first not a part of the city government or Police Force. He gives a couple of good speeches along the way to the townspeople to keep them from descending into barbarism.

LESSON 13: Religion is kept in an important role by the author. Good pastors and Christians are praised, prayer and religious services are observed.

LESSON 14: Our society has a lot of people with mental illnesses who are on medications for same. What happens when their meds run out?

OVERALL LESSON: OUR SOCIETY IS A VERY COMPLEX TECHNOLOGICAL SOCIETY THAT IS EXTREMELY FRAGILE. IF A DISASTER HAPPENS, YOU HAVE TO SURVIVE WITH WHAT YOU HAVE ALREADY IN YOUR POSSESSION AND YOU HAVE TO HAVE THE KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS, HEALTH AND DETERMINATION TO SURVIVE. IN THIS BOOK, 80% DIE OFF IN THE FIRST YEAR.

As a committed Christian I found this book to be faith friendly. Yes, there were some curse words and the Lord’s name was used in vain a few times. The violence is quite brutal and graphic, but not gratuitous; it is an essential part of what the book is trying to teach. Positive values are stressed and sins, such as selfishness are portrayed realistically and with consequences. No one is ideal here, all are shown to be sinners, but many are portrayed as noble, sacrificing their lives in combat and through starvation so that others might live. Justice is portrayed, as is mercy. The Bible portrays warfare very realistically in various places but none so graphically as in 2 Kings 6-7 where a siege is underway in Samaria and the people are starving. It is prudent for Christians, even in the comfort and luxury of our modern day, to prepare for what Forstchen says might happen.

This book serves as a serious wake up call to America and it should be read by every American. Our politicians need to be shaken awake. Action needs to be taken today. But don’t count on it. Another lesson from the book, Help doesn’t come from the Federal Government until the last chapter. Prepare yourself and your family.

Here are some links:

First is Forstchen’s homepage-

shadowboxent.brinkster.net/Forstchen/home.html

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_R._Forstchen

An article on EMP:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electromagnetic_pulse

www.fas.org/nuke/intro/nuke/emp.htm

And here is a scary news story about how our enemies, Iran for one, are already working on this weapon:

www.worldnetdaily.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=69056

Here is a review of the book by Mark Steyn:

www2.macleans.ca/2009/06/11/so-your-bank-account’s-wiped-out/

Here is an update that reveals that our military has neglected the hardening of their computers and comm gear in recent decades, not taking a limited nuclear war seriously:

www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/07/report-blasts-military-for-not-being-nuke-proof/#more-28163

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Beowulf’s Children, by Niven, Pournelle and Barnes- a Book Review

Posted on April 3, 2009. Filed under: Book Reviews, Science Fiction |

“Beowulf’s Children” is the sequel to “The Legacy of Heorot” and is a rich, interesting, disgusting tragedy  that has elements from the Book of Genesis, Beowulf, and Oedipus  all in one volume. Although I have to give the book a Hard “R” rating, and cannot recommend it to minors, and most Christians probably wouldn’t want to read it, it is one of the more fascinating, skillful, and complex SF books around. It is a coming of age novel, but the young people are super brilliant and live on Tau Ceti 4, abandoned by Earth, distrustful of their parents who have “ice on the brain” and intent on conquering the savage planet that is their inheritance.

Godlessness in the Last Days

2Timothy 3:1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. 9 But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.

Published in 1995 by Tor Books, this 493 page book is an excellent sequel to the first volume that explores the second generation on Tau Ceti 4, and how they rebel against the conservative, cautious and wounded natures of their parents. Coming of age novels do usually show rebellion, attitude and sexuality- this does so with a vengeance and an evil twist.

The plot revolves around Aaron, one of the Star Born, a bottle baby who did not grow in a real womb, but the artificial womb on board the starship Geographic. Without parents he was raised by the community along with the 2 dozen others of his kind. His brilliance, natural leadership abilities and physical prowess combine to make him the leader of the Star Born. But the problem is that he has sociopathic tendencies.

An expert manipulator and control freak, Aaron Tragon’s mission in life is to break free from the constraints of the older leadership on Camelot, an island, and start a colony on the mainland so that they can begin the real study of this planet that will be their home. The older generation, scarred and scared by the Grendels, a reptillian monster that can attack at speeds around 90mph, can eat just about anything and is incredibly hard to kill, once were adventurous, but now, chastened by so many deaths in the Grendel Wars, are hesitant to let go of the apron strings and allow the younger generation to explore. Aaron, through manipulation that involves bedding the governor’s daughter, and getting her pregnant, gets his way, but at a terrible price. But Aaron will pay any price to get what he wants.

One of the best features of both volumes in this series is how much they tell about the process of settling a new, alien world. Most SF books lightly skip over the details of new worlds with alien biology. This book gives details. No doubt, to some, these kinds of details will be too detailed and boring. To me, however, the details make it come alive. No wonder Tom Clancy liked this book! Unfortunately, the authors do include a s super computer with some kind of super manufacturing process that can make just about anything they order, they just have to extract enough raw material from the planet. That whole process is almost like deus ex machina or like the Star Trek “duplicator”.

The authors make the wildlife and flora come alive, terrifyingly alive. They do a fabulous job of making the planet seem real, from the tiniest bugs to the largest animals to the weather patterns. Showing the diversity of the Grendels is a masterful touch and detailing the thought processes and the changes within Old Grendel leads us to look on the Grendels in a wholly new light from the first volume. The evil enemy has now become an individual.

One of the more disturbing aspects of the major theme, coming of age, is the complete lack of spirituality, faith, religion and even morals in the younger generation. Back in the first novel, at the funeral service for those killed in the first big Grendel attack, they realize it may have been a mistake to not have included a minister or rabbi in the group. They pay for that mistake with their children.

Because there is no religion, and because all STD’s have been eliminated, free sex abounds. The sex scenes are to numerous to count, but the authors, thankfully, spare us most of the details. The intent of the sex scenes is not to titillate, but to show how shallow casual sex becomes. Sex without the love and security of marriage leaves many of the key characters empty. This is discussed at length in pp.407-410 and marriage on pp. 64, 97-98. I came away thinking that the authors were not satisfied with monogamous, lifelong marriage, but realized that sex without rules was a bad plan. It doesn’t seem they had a good solution. That is fitting because when you cross God’s boundaries for sex, it will ultimately bring pain, loneliness and failure. For comparison’s sake, the sex in Niven’s Ringworld books is pretty pointless and does not enhance the story at all, but the sex here, like in Clarke/Lee’s Rama series, does make a point that enhances the story. Likewise, when comparing this book with something like “Stranger in a Strange Land” by Heinlein, you do not get the idea that Niven, Pournelle and Barnes, are advocating the lifestyle they are portraying. They show the lifestyle as being flawed. Nonetheless, the sex makes for a hard “R” in my rating. Parents should not let their children read this book; it is for adults.

The book is good about showing the failure of the idea that “it takes a village” to raise a child. Because the “bottle babies” were conceived and born outside the womb, and were not adopted by parents for the most part, they feell no loyalty to the older generation and hae a disconnect with people in general. This is shown in their failure ot bond with each other despite their sexual freedom. There is loneliness here, expressed not just by the bottle babies, but by the whole colony that has not heard from earth in over 20 years and by the older generation singles who did not not marry. The book has a good discussion of what the could go wrong with the bottle babies because of no womb experience. This is sobering as our society draws closer to this concept.

The authors go even deeper into the psychology and makeup of various characters than the first volume did. The character development is outstanding as it shows the journey Aaron takes from popular youth leader to arrested sociopath/prophet. The sad journeys of Mary Ann and Sylvia, Cadmann, and their children Justin and Jessica are painfully real and well told. The authors do a heroic job of setting us up for the deaths of not just one key character, but 5-6. Not many authors will kill off that many key characters in a book, but this is a savage world and this book is very realistic. People die. Sometimes horribly, sometimes by murder, and sometimes through grief.

There are some biblical and literary themes throughout both volumes. Biblically, there are certainly the constant references to Paradise and Eden. Just as in the Genesis account, or in Milton, there is a serpent in paradise. Aaron is one serpent, the weirdness of the planet is another. Aaron plays the role of Oedipus and Cain both. Shangri-La refers to James Hilton’s famous book, and yet in this Shangri-La, people do not live forever. There is the concept of the starship Geographic resembling a Noah’s Ark certainly, and the fact that Earth no longer contacts them lends itself to the story of Noah, no one is left but the residents of Tau Ceti 4.

This book is more than just a good story well told. It is a realistic look at what the human race can accomplish in regards to moving beyond our planet and it presents the very real obstacles we will be faced with both in the alien world and within our own souls. I highly recommend this book but with a strong caution due to the sexual content. These two books cry out for another sequel, and another. I really do not see why they have fallen out of print, expecially considering the success that Allen Steele is having with his Coyote series. There is a market for realistic books about settling alien worlds. Niven, Pournelle and Barnes have a great idea going here and we need more.

According to the link to Barnes&Noble below, the book will be re-released in August of this year. That is good news.

search.barnesandnoble.com/Beowulfs-Children/Larry-Niven/e/9780765320889/?itm=1

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beowulf’s_Children

www.goodreads.com/book/show/69448.Beowulf_s_Children

www.sffworld.com/forums/showthread.php?t=6618

templetongate.tripod.com/beowulf.htm

www.christian-sauve.com/reviews/1997/books97b.htm#Beowulf

www.amazon.de/Beowulfs-Children-Larry-Niven/dp/0812524969

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Legacy of Heorot by Niven, Pournelle and Barnes, a book review

Posted on March 26, 2009. Filed under: Book Reviews, Science Fiction |

Modern man has become very adept at denying the presence and reality of evil; so adept, that we frequently ignore, persecute and even prosecute those whose job it is to protect us from the evil that is out there despite our warmest wishes and adolescent dreams to the contrary. Warriors are a special breed who recognize that evil exists, who know what evil is capable of, and who will overcome their fears and the obstacles society puts in their path to confront and kill the evil. Or be killed in the process.

Legacy of Heorot by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournell and Steven Barnes (pub. 1987 with400pp. in my Sphere copy) is one of the best SF books in the “Exploring a New World” or “Colony” genre and it goes beyond showing the adventures, trials and dangers that come with being Earth’s first colony on another world, it delves into the nature of evil and examines how people respond when confronted with ravenous, hot evil. This book should not be out of print! It deserves to be a classic.

1Chronicles 12:32 Of Issachar, men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, 200 chiefs, and all their kinsmen under their command.

The story is largely that of Col. Cadmann Weyland the Lone Soldier sent on this expedition to Tau Ceti Four, who, at the beginning of the book, questions his own value in Avalon, the first colony on another world. He thinks, “No world would ever be tamed by robots. It took men…The early days were good days. We were comrades in an untamed land. Then we found Paradise, and they don’t need me at all…They need the engineers, and the tractor drivers, and, God help us, the administrators and bean counters, but never a soldier.” (p.9) Cadmann will be criticized and villified as an alarmist seeking to scare his fellow colonists so that he stays relevant. Even after the terror of their first major encounter with evil, they will tie him down, take his gun, and almost accuse him of murder. All because they refuse to recognize that inside their paradise lurks an evil that is voracious. Their rejection of the one man who warned them, the one man who could save them from their own complacency, almost kills them all.

Legacy of Heorot gives us tiny samples of the planning and conduct of the expedition to Tau Ceti Four and I absolutely wish this story was in two volumes and much more time had been spent on explaining the National Geographic expedition. Niven and co. got so much right on this part of the story it shames most other writers who write of colonization efforts.

For starters, I like the whole idea of the ship being from the National Geographic Society, although as expensive as this had to be, there had to have been government backing as well to make it more believable. The little bit the authors include about the selection process was great, but could have been expanded considerably. They describe the Earth as “rich, comfortable, satisfying; and crowded, and full.” (p.9) Some 40 million university graduates applied, and about 100,000 were seriously considered for the expedition. Throughout the story you learn more and more about the colonists. Almost all are PhDs and all have two major skill sets it seems. Only about 200 adults came on the journey, and that was considered the minimum amount necessary to start a new world considering the need for genetic diversity. More explanation here would have been nice. But throughout the story the authors tease you with little details like this, and it leaves you wanting much more.

The fact that they talk about the trip taking 100 years is interesting because Tau Ceti Four is only bout 12 light years distance from Sol so that trip took almost 9 years per light year. But, that means they were moving at over .1 C, which is FAST. The year 2193 is given on one of the maps in the book so we are looking at leaving Earth around 2092 perhaps.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tau_Ceti

And that is a long time to sleep. Here again the authors throw in some realism and detail- 8 of their colonists died in the cryogenic sleep chambers, but many more emerged damaged. Some lost so much of their mental capacity as to be little more than children now, for most of the others it was just a lower IQ, or personality changes that were detrimental. Being Earth’s first colony ship, there was no way to know what would happen on a journey of a hundred years. The authors do a good job of showing some of the struggles individuals had with their new disabilities or diminished capacities. This leads into part of the resolution of the plot.

Though nowhere near as in depth of a psychological novel as the 3 sequels to Rendezvous with Rama, the psychological aspects were still good and quite realistic. Again, more would have been better. Obviously the authors go into the greatest depth with Cadmann, but also, they go into some detail with the psychology of the monsters, the Grendels.

The authors include some scientific details, teasers really, about banks of human and animal embryos. In  Rama II, Nicole had to look at the probability that she and her husband and their friend were stranded on Rama for the rest of their lives. In order to propagate the species she mated with both men to give her children different sets of genes in order to reduce the chances of birth defects when they mated with each other. That kind of situation was alluded to by Niven and co. but more detail would have been nice. The same was true about their crops and animals, more details would have improved the book.

But now to the main story. One puzzle about Camelot, the island’s name, (and I like the thinking behind colonizing an island first!) was the lack of wildlife and diversity in the fauna. This mystery will be solved in the final quarter of the book as the identity of the monsters becomes known.

When the evil begins, it begins small. A dog goes missing and it is suggested that it just went feral. When the turkeys and chickens begin getting eaten, it is blamed on the feral dog. But when huge three-toed tracks are discovered by the chicken coop, it is suggested that a practical joke was being played. The authors are showing that their Camelot, their Paradise, is coming to an end and the colonists don’t want to believe. But Cadmann believes; he knows. The Warrior can feel the danger lurking in the shadows. But no one listens, except for one of the more seriously brain damaged colonists.

When the cattle are being eaten, the colonists finally wake up and figure out no feral dog could have done this. Cadmann takes his brain damaged friend, Ernst, hunting to see if they can lure the monster to a blind. The monster is drawn alright, and Ernst is eaten and Cadman barely survives. Meanwhile, back at the colony, another monster attacks and eats a child and disembowels the mother. Cadmann returns and is treated like a criminal, strapped down, his rifle removed. Cadmann says, “Your’e scared, aren’t you? Well it’s about time! Maybe some of you will stay alive.’ He patted the Webley, ‘Anyone who’s smart will get one of these for himself.’ Cadmann laughed bitterly, ‘I’m not even sure we can stop it.”

The creature that attacked the settlement had been mortally wounded in the brief battle, but it wasn’t dead yet. It came back for more, when Cadman was restrained and drugged. The Grendel killed a few more colonists, almost killed Cadmann, then dove into the river aflame and dying. Now the people realize they need a Soldier; the monster was real, there was more than one, and they were tough to kill. But their rejection, ridicule and false accusations against Cadman drove him to abandon his fellow colonists. He retreated to the hills, to Cadmann’s Bluff.

With two Grendel’s down, the colony activated their defenses as best they could without Cadmann, but they realized they owed him an apology. Mary Ann, an agricultural PhD, is the only one who can reach him, so she forces him to accept her in exile. Together they build a home and start a romance. Weeks pass, and the colony makes its repairs, Cadmann builds his separate homestead in a much more defensible place, and normal life resumes…but way too early in the book. You have a feeling in the midst of the colonists rebuilding, celebrating and prospering, that something bad is going to happen. They are thinking (and the authors actually include) “ding, dong, the wicked witch is dead!”

Then the unthinkable happens. On a day of celebration another Grendel attack happens, in broad daylight witnessed by most of the colony. There are more out there. The rest of the book is taken up with hunting down these dinosaurs who have some kind of a system in them that can make them move up to 90 mph but overheats them in the process, therefore, they must stay near the water. They are tough, big, with powerful jaws and sharp claws, teethe and a tail.  The colonists, led by Cadmann,  hunt all over the island and successfully eliminate all Grendels.

All mature Grendels, anyway. Here the book goes into a fascinating twist that points out an ecological quirk of the planet and demonstrates how man can inadvertently wreck an ecology to his own peril. The fish the colonists had been catching for food had the same DNA as the Grendels. Too late, they figure out that the fish that filled their streams, lakes and rivers were Grendel tadpoles. The mature Grendels were highly competitive and, if no other food source was available, would eat their young. Since the island had long since been depleted of virtually all other life forms, the Grendels primarily subsisted on the “samlon” as the colonists had named their tasty fish. With the adult Grendels killed off, the tadpoles were now allowed to mature.

A few months after all the mature Grendels were gone, a sudden explosion of adolescent Grendels arrives. About 1- 1 1/2 meters long, they are still fast, fierce and deadly. By the time the colonists figure out that they inadvertently upset the balance of the ecosystem, it was almost too late. They activate their defenses, send their pregnant women and babies to the orbiting ship, move all food and supplies to Cadmann’s Bluff which is more defensible, and start battling the Grendel Hordes. The battle resembles some of the battle accounts I have read from the Korean War or Viet Nam when the communist hordes are overrunning the wire. They even have helicopters dropping the equivalent of napalm.

One of the few failures in the book is how the final battle just kind of fizzles out for no reason. It is suggested that the Grendels gave up because they had learned to fear man. The colonists figured out a way to spray the Grendels with their own hyperoxygenated blood with the “speed” compound that sets Grendels off. This caused them to go into a frenzy and overheat. That part just didn’t work. The colonists now seek to destroy all the samlon and smoke them and store them for meat; but they realize that none can remain free. The book ends a little bit cheesy with, “The four of them faced each other, and suddenly, as if with a single sigh, they came together in a group hug. ‘I still can’t wuite believe we’re safe.’ ‘Maybe that’s good,’ Cadmann said seriously. ‘Maybe we’re only safe as long as we’re a little afraid.’ ”

The group hug I could live without, but Cadmann nailed it. This is a key to understanding humans. As long as we are challenged with a danger that keeps our mortality in clear view, we do not grow complacent, lazy, and narcissistic. We humans need the danger of frontier like Frederick Jackson Turner wrote of a hundred+ years ago. In the end, the Warrior is vindicated and civilization, though greatly wounded, may survive.

Some reviewers of this book were focusing on the ecological damage that man causes wherever he goes. These tree huggers wanted the Grendels to win or for man to somehow co-exist with them. They just don’t get it. Man is a part of nature too. We must compete for food and space like all the other animals. There is no moral equivalency between Grendels and Humans. It is kill or be killed. Man MUST change the environment in order to survive. There is no room for the soft tree huggers on the frontier.

I see  the strongest message of the book, the central theme being this: Evil is always lurking in the shadows, we cannot be complacent and allow it to consume us, we must be prudent and ready to defend ourselves, our loved ones and our community. There were no gray zones in the book, it was kill or be killed. The Grendels represented an existential threat, no quarter was offered, none was even possible. The Evil lay hidden, buried in caverns of cool water, yet the spawn of evil was all around. the danger was not recognized until almost too late. The big evil was killed off, but the cleverly disguised little evil, was allowed. Evil is evil, whether it is mature or in its tadpole state, and it must be eliminated.

The book was published after the movies Alien and Aliens which comes the closest to resembling the plot and the nature of the evil. Whether the movies had any influence on the authors of the book I do not know.

There is spiritual truth here that we need to heed. In God’s universe he has seen fit to allow evil for a time. Man, created in God’s image, can discern good and evil, we are moral creatures. But how do we choose? Do we choose to deny the existence of the Grendels? Do we cast blame on those who point out the danger- God’s prophets and ministers? Col. Cadmann? Sadly, as sinners, we are incapable of properly identifying the evil in our midst and we are helpless to control it. Like the colonists of Avalon, we need One who will fight for us. That someone is Jesus Christ.

The very nature of evil is described quite well by the Grendels. Evil is never satisfied, it always hungers for more. Its appetite can only be satiated temporarily. Evil, when well fed, grows until masters those whom seek to use it for their own means. Evil eats their own. Evil will ultimately be devoured in the Lake of Fire.

They did not bring any ministers with them on Tau Ceti 4, only a psychiatrist. This typically reflects our society of today. However, once they had suffered mass casualties from the Grendel attack, and they were preparing to bury their dead in a mass grave, they realized that they had a spiritual need and that it was probably a mistake to have not brought along a minister or rabbi. That is typical, we don’t need a preacher, or a warrior, until we realize we are all about to die.

In conclusion, this is one of the very best colonization books in SF. It rivals Allen Steele’s Coyote. I highly recommend the book and wish it had been a two volume book (yes I know there is a sequel). The fact that the book is out of print amazes me. This should be a classic.

APPLICATION: There is the obvious spiritual application, of searching out the evil that lurks in our own hearts and seeking the cure in Christ. But there is also a word for our times politically. The modern democratic party and the socialist Barack Obama are political adolescents who deny the evil nature of mankind. Their desire to control the economy and culture inherently arrogantly assumes that they know better and are free from selfish motives and are pure from evil. Conservativism recognizes that all men are created in the image of God, but are also fallen creatures who run with feet of clay. Democrats think the world will listen and care, and will behave. Conservatives know otherwise. There will always be wars and rumors of wars. Even as Pres. B. Hussein Obama cuts the military budget but raises every other of spending, the enemies of America are rejoicing and expanding their militaries. When the warriors are needed, they will respond, but will it be too late next time?

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Legacy_of_Heorot

www.amazon.com/Legacy-Heorot-Larry-Niven/dp/0671695320

www.sffworld.com/brev/si535p0.html

www.orionsarm.com/books/Legacy_of_Heorot.html

www.christian-sauve.com/reviews/1996/books96b.htm#Heorot

shrinkwrapped.blogs.com/blog/2008/06/the-legacy-of-h.html

www.zbrushcentral.com/zbc/showthread.php?t=23607

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Eon, by Greg Bear, a Book Review

Posted on March 12, 2009. Filed under: Book Reviews, Science Fiction |

“Eon”, a hard SF novel of the near future (and distant future at the same time ;-0)  published in 1985 by Greg Bear, is an end of the world/first contact/BDO-BigDumbObject/time travel story that seeks to examine the possibilities of traveling between many parallel universes. For this reviewer  the first 2/3s of the book worked, but the last 1/3 failed. In this review  I will briefly summarize the story, compare it with other, similar, stories, and attempt to find the truths and lies of the worldview portrayed.

Isaiah 44:6-8

6 Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel
and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
“I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god.
7 Who is like me? Let him proclaim it.
Let him declare and set it before me,
since I appointed an ancient people.
Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.
8 Fear not, nor be afraid;
have I not told you from of old and declared it?
And you are my witnesses!
Is there a God besides me?
There is no Rock; I know not any.”

The Stone, or the Potato as the Russians called it, appeared in the year 2000, and though it had the shape of a familiar asteroid from the belt, its movements and earth orbit clearly were not natural. As the various space agencies explored it, they discovered it was hollow, and had been occupied. 300 km long by 100km wide this enigmatic BDO was a relic of somebody’s past, but earth’s future. Divided into 7 huge chambers, the Stone had cities, forests, lakes and rivers, but no visible occupants. The biggest mystery was not “where had they gone” but rather, why the 7th chamber had no end- the Stone was bigger on the inside than on the outside.

The novel begins with the politics of dealing with the Stone in the shadow of a limited nuclear war that had occurred a few years prior. The main characters are a 20 something math genius, Patricia Vasquez and her boss, Garry Lanier. The character development in both is very good throughout the novel as they both work to the point of exhaustion and nearly crack under the strain. The third main character is the Russian officer, Mirsky, who journeys from being a Russian soldier trained to kill Americans to gain control of the Potato, to an altered by aliens, resurrected man with a new found thirst for freedom and thought.

The story of exploring the Stone and the civilization left behind with Vasquez and Lanier is an outstanding adventure that comes close to Larry Niven’s “Ringworld”. It doesn’t come close to Clarke’s “Rendezvous with Rama” however. “Eon” had potential, I wish that it was two books, and that the first volume gave us the entire story of discovery and exploration. Greg Bear’s ability to describe how the various chambers and cities and the corridor was not as convincing as Niven’s or Clarke’s, nor as artistic. The physical descriptions left me a bit unclear and confused at times, especially later, along the axis and at Axis City. For sheer excitement of exploring a BDO nothing beats Clarke’s “Rama” series and Allen Steele’s “Spindrift” is a close second.

What Bear does get right is the shock when Vasquez, and, later, Mirsky, learn in the Library that the Stone is from Earth’s future and that there are histories in the library that tell of the coming nuclear war. Bear very convincingly builds the tension as the date of the war arrives, and passes, giving you hope that the war can be avoided. But the war arrives anyway and the horror is made all the more intense because it was known in advance.

Knowing the future is a terrible burden. Garry Lanier had been weighed down for months because of the discovery of these histories. This is the strongest ethical dilemma that Bear gives us to ponder in the novel. What would have done, knowing that a nuclear war was GOING to break out? Again, however, the many ethical dilemmas given in the Rama series by Clarke and Lee are much deeper and are more thoroughly examined.

Many people state that they wish they knew what was going to happen next in their lives, but few, if any, are able to carry that burden. For the Christian who believes in the God of the Bible, we know that God is both omniscient and eternal and therefore knows the beginning from the end. Those of us who also believe in God’s sovereignty over time know that God does not merely know the future, he ordains it. Here is one the areas that theology meets physics and math, and here is where Bear missed an opportunity. Unlike Clarke and Lee in the Rama series, Bear doesn’t touch the theological issues that arise in his story. What a shame.

Psalm 90:1-4

90:1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
2 Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

3 You return man to dust
and say, “Return, O children of man!”
4 For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.

As Patricia learns of the impending end of the world, a theme develops that will carry all the way through to the end of the book and her story: she wants to go home. In fact, there is one line in the book that mentions the Wizard of Oz and when you combine that with her constant longing to go back home, her dreamlike state, her youthfulness, you realize that Greg Bear was deliberately giving us an Oz experience. The only thing missing was a dog and a witch. But I digress…

This is where the main theme of the book begins: it is an investigation of the concept of there being multiple, parallel universes, an infinite number of parallel universe, and what would happen if you could move between them  in time. The last third of the book is preoccupied with this theme and Bear goes into so much scientific and higher mathematics jargon and detail that it ruined the story for a layman like me. Math and science are the stuff of SF I know, but this just did not work. The overall theme and the BIG question I liked, but as a story…not so much.

The political intrigue in the first third of the book was quite good, and really left me wanting more than was given. Here I would give the advantage to Bear over Clarke in his original Rama, though the later volumes written with Gentry Lee were better in this one area. Bear should have given us more in regards to the Russian mole and a bit more of the earth side politics. He did very well with the infighting amongst the Russians once they were inside the Stone; that was very realistic.

Bear excelled when he gave us the battle for the Stone. This is clearly one of the best military SF battle sequences ever. From the chilling accounts from the sea battles on earth to the gory battle in the bore hole dock area to the paratroopers dropping into the various chambers, this was an outstanding space battle that had the ring of truth. He could have done better, though, by using some of the tricks that Orson Scott Card used in “Ender’s Game”.

Overall, the plot works despite the difficulties of the last 1/3 of the book. It is a good story told well, but does not approach the level of a classic such as Ringworld or the Rama series.

The worldview that is portrayed is, like most SF, almost totally without  religion. The view of man is very realistic in that it shows that, despite evolution (?) or deliberate genetic manipulation and augmentation, man remains flawed. There are lies, conspiracies, and rebellion even in the magical kingdom of Oz, Axis City. The approach to sex is casual, in that the sex scenes are between people who are not married, nor necessarily even committed to one another. Only one scene has enough details to earn an “M” rating, the others are PG. Marriage finally enters the book in the closing chapters.

How would I rate this book? In comparison to the Rama series and the Ringworld series I would put this one somewhat ahead of Ringworld in some ways, but behind in others…even though I acknowledge that Ringworld is a “Classic” and Eon isn’t, I personally enjoyed it just as much as Ringworld…but untimately it has to come in behind Niven’s work. I would rate Eon above Ringworld Engineers, however. Rama is at the top of my list. I don’t think any series or book will beat out the Rama series. Eon is a good book with a great idea in the first 2/3rds that should have been expanded. If you are strong in math and physics, maybe the last 1/3 will be more interesting to you than it was for me.

Revelation 21

21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

www.gregbear.com/

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greg_Bear

www.sfsite.com/07b/eon132.htm

www.sfcrowsnest.com/sfnews2/02_sept/review0902_14.shtml

dspace.dial.pipex.com/l.j.hurst/gbear.htm

www.angelfire.com/ky2/arpeggio/Eon.html

cloggie.org/esseff/millennial-9.html

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Alien, Aliens, a Review of the Movies and Book

Posted on December 20, 2008. Filed under: Movie Reviews, Science Fiction |

“In space no one can hear you scream.”

“I’m not afraid of the dark I know. It’s the dark I don’t know that terrifies me. Especially when it’s filled with noises like that distress call.” (Lambert to Kane in the book Alien (1979, Twentieth Century Fox, p. 44) by Alan Dean Foster.

There is evil out there, and its sole purpose is to kill you, consume you, and use you for its vile and unholy purposes. You cannot tame it, negotiate with it, bribe it, nor use it for your purposes. Either you kill it, or it kills you. That is the theme of Ridley Scott’s Alien.

1Peter5:8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

Revelation 20:1-3 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.

Summary:

Alien, 1979, is one of the top ten Science Fiction movies of all time, probably in the top 5. It is a fairly simple movie, with not many characters and only 1 subplot. It has one of the best monsters of all time in cinema and the tension, the drama and suspense, the terror rivals anything Hitchcock ever did. It is a mix of SF, film noir, and horror all in one.

Directed by Ridley Scott, screenplay by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, starring Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, Tom Skerritt as Dallas, the Captain, Veronica Cartwright as Lambert, Harry Dean Stanton as Bret, John Hurt as Kane, Ian Holm as Ash, and Yaphett Kotto as Parker.

The commercial mining vessel, Nostromo, is pulled off course and the crew awakened from their frozen sleep for the interstellar distances, due to an apparent distress signal coming from a small planet off the beaten path. Due to the Company’s orders, they are required to investigate. The crew separates their tug from the 20 billion ton ore carrier/refinery and lands on the unknown planet, experiencing some maintenance trouble on the way down, due to the strong dust storm.

Some critique the movie for moving slow at the beginning as the first 20 minutes or so is taken up with primarily routine shipboard material. For the hard core SF fan this is a bonus because it does show what driving an ore hauler would be like. This is a touch of realism that I require in good SF stories. It makes it believable, not to mention that the routine aspects set you up for what comes next.

Upon investigating the source of the signal, the ground party composed of Cpt. Dallas, Lambert and Kane discover a giant alien space ship. Inside they find the skeleton of a giant (12-15 feet tall?) humanoid still in a command chair, but with evidence of his ribs having been broken from the inside, like a small explosion.

Kane is lowered into a hole and descends close to 100′ when he comes into a room filled with what appear to be leathery vases that contain what is discovered to be eggs. As he touches one of the eggs it comes to life and in the first “gotcha’ scene in the movie it erupts with  a creature that looks like a cross between an octopus and a hand that lands on his helmet face plate. The creature melts through the spacesuit faceplate and wraps itself around the face of Kane.

Dallas and Lambert drag Kane back to the ship and Ripley, the ship commander in the absence of Dallas, follows protocol and refuses entry to the ship by the threesome because they have an alien attached to Kane and need to be quarantined. Here is where the sublpot begins. Ash, the science officer, disobeys Ripley and obeys Capt. Dallas, breaking ships orders and science protocol both, by opening the airlock and admitting Kane, Dallas and Lambert in so that he can take care of Kane and study the alien life form.

This is the undoing of the ship’s crew as the alien eventually kills Kane in the most gruesome scene in the movie, hides, grows and kills the remainder of the crew one by one. The movie and the book both do a great job of communicating the obscene nature of the Alien. It is described by science officer Ash as the perfect organism, adapting to any environment, taking over its host as a parasite, being almost impossible to kill with a highly corrosive, acidic blood and being very intelligent. Lambert calls out Ash for admiring the alien.

The great subplot is that Ripley begins to suspect Ash for having an agenda that favors the Alien. First he failed to accurately interpret the SOS call- Ripley translated the call and found it to be a warning, not a call for help. Second, he allowed the ground party to board the ship with an alien life form, thus endangering the entire crew. In the book, there was an extra scene where Ripley and Parker almost had the Alien out of the lock into space, but Ash sounded the alarm prior to openning the dock door, thus warning the Alien. Finally, Ripley goes to Mother, the super computer, and finds out about Ash’s secret orders, and confronts him. In the ensuing fight, the second most gruesome scene in the movie, Ash’s head is cut off and it is revealed that he is not human, but a robot. He had orders from “The Company” to bring back the alien at all costs.

The Company knew about the Alien all along and had purposely misled the crew, used the crew, to do something unsafe, illegal, and unethical, just so the Company could make a profit. Imagine that.

The Alien kills off everyone except for Ripley and the cat, Jonesy. Ripley sets the ship for self destruct and flees on the shuttle with the cat in the nick of time. The ship explodes in a huge nuclear fireball. Just when you think she is home free, a large, slimy, dark green hand appears. The Alien was on board the shuttle. Ripley hides in a locker and puts on a spacesuit, draws the monster out of its hiding place and opens the shuttle airlock. The Alien is cast into the outer darkness.

The movie ends with Ripley and Jones the cat inside one of the cryogenic sleep machines, alone in the dark, supposedly heading for home.

Aliens, 1986, directed by James Cameron and starring Sigourney Weaver again with O’Bannon and Shussett as the writers, and Carrie Henn as Newt,  Lance Henricsen as the android- or “synthetic” Bishop, and Michael Biehn and Cpl. Hicks, continues the story in a very good sequal.

Ripley is rescued from the shuttle of the Nostromo, after 57 years of hibernating. She is shocked upon being awakened at how long she was out in the darkness. She is shocked even more to learn that the company not only does not believe her story, but has colonised the planet LV-426. She tries to warn them of the evil that is there, but they seemingly, seemingly, do not listen to her. Ripley is practically blamed for the loss of the Nostromo and is given a low level job as a cargo handler at the space station.

The company representative, Ripley’s “handler” tries to persuade her to go back to the planet LV-426 because they have lost contact with the colonists. She eventually agrees to go with the Marines back to investigate the colony along with Burke, her Company handler.

Upon their arrival they only find one live colonist, Newt, a girl about the age of 8-9. Very quickly the Marines, Burke, Ripley and Newt are hunted down by the Aliens, and few survive. Burke is shown for being on a mission by the Company to, again, retrieve an Alien for a profit. Thankfully, Burke is eaten.

Ripley, Newt, a wounded Cpl. Hicks and the “synthetic” Bishop are the only survivors to escape the planet before the nuclear plant blows. Of course, like in the first movie, one alien makes it back on board the ship. Ripley dons her loading dock mechanical suit and does battle with the Queen Alien, ultimately shoving her out the dock. The movie ends like the first, with Ripley in a cryogenic sleep locker.

Analysis:

The overwhelming theme is that Evil exists and it is relentless in its pursuit of vicitms. No amount of adolescent wishing it away will work. No compromise is possible. It is human verses alien, to the death. There is no shade of grey in this battle, no middle ground, no sympathetic view of the poor, under-privileged alien who was hatched on a cold windy, deserted world.

The sub-plot is that Ash, and later Burke, wanted to take the alien back to “The Company” for a profit. Both violated multiple rules to get their way and both met their fates for thinking they could control the evil they had unleashed.

The heroine, Ripley, early on suspects things are not right, suspects Ash and later Burke and the Company. She leads the fight against the evil and exhibits tremendous courage throughout the ordeal, yet shows an incredible tenderness with young Newt in the sequel. She pays a price for her fight against evil in that she was in deep sleep for 57 years and has the nightmares.

Yet, when others are endangered, she volunteers to return, realizing that she must confront the evil to overcome her own wounds. When the Marine unit breaks down, it is Ripley who takes charge.

There is an undertow of anti-business in the movies and book as the greed of the Company overrules morals, ethics, and common sense. This shows that there are always those who are willing to sell their souls to the devil, and sell out those closest to them, for a profit, fame or power. This is always the case with sinful man.

What these movies and book say to us: Evil is out there and we must learn to stay away from it. When unavoidable confronted with evil, it must be resisted and fought. We must fight to the death because evil would have our souls. We will always be tempted to profit materially from evil or to try to use it. but in the end evil will eat those who play with it.

I believe in a real, personal devil, Satan, Lucifer who was created by God as an angel of light, yet chose to rebel against God and has now been cast down from heaven. He is the Evil One, who was a liar and murderer from the beginning. There is a spiritual war that is being waged around us and many are already captured in the cocoon woven by the Evil One, slowly being consumed, awaiting death and hell.

Just as the evil embryo grows unseen in the host/victim only to break out eventually and kill its host, so too does sin grow in the hearts of fallen man and ultimately break out, does its damage and eventually kills its host.

Jesus Christ is the only One who has conquered Evil and he provides the salvation that we need.

A contemporary application: while there is much evil in the world today, I must say that the current fight with Islam is the main battle. It is almost impossible today to name the evil that we are fighting, and euphemisms, like the “war on terror” are failing. I do not say that individual muslims are the enemy, though clearly some are, the “radicals and terrorists”. But it is islam itself that is the great spiritual darkness of our day. And those in the West who would seek compromise with Islam, or who say that all religion is the problem, they are evil as much as Burke and the rest of the Company were.

Recommendation: these movies are rated R and deservedly so. The intensity of the drama, the violence and gore, and the language (several profanities with the Lord’s name used in vain many times; several obscenities with multiple uses of the F-word). So why should a Christian watch something like this? To remind you that there is Evil out there, and many fail to recognize it. To spur you on to do battle against the evil and to not fall prey to those who would deceive you and seek to use you for their profit.

The only great weakness in the movies is in Aliens, with the Marine unit poorly depicted. Cameron really did a disservice to the USMC on that one. When will Hollywood hire a military consultant? That is majorly irritating. From their attitudes to their uniforms to their leadership (that LT was such a remarkable wuss) and their tactics Cameron got it all wrong.

I highly recommend the movie, though it is not for the faint of heart.

Here are some reviews but I could not find any review that discussed the deeper aspects of the story, the reality of evil and what to do with it.

www.filmblather.com/review.php?n=alien

www.eyeforfilm.co.uk/reviews.php?id=5122

filmfreakcentral.net/dvdreviews/alienlegacy.htm

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Rama Revealed, by Arthur C. Clarke and Gentry Lee, a book review

Posted on November 26, 2008. Filed under: Book Reviews, Science Fiction |

The final chapter in this 4 volume  series, Rama Revealed, offers up a feast for the thinking SF fan as the authors conclude this fantastic journey into the hearts  and souls of humans, human society, an alien society and cosmology. This book deals with the emotional struggles of family and friends forced to live in an alien culture, the nature of two different kinds of authoritarian societies, the morality of war, and debate over creation, evolution and Intelligent Design. It is my humble opinion that the Rama series by Clarke and Lee is the best SF series of all time.

Matthew 25

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, [6] you did it to me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Rama Revealed by Arthur C. Clarke and Gentry Lee, Bantam 1994, picks up where Garden of Rama left off, with Nicole in prison, awaiting execution while on board the Raman starship heading for Tau Ceti. The 2,000+ humans on board have managed to wreck the environment, allowed themselves to be led by the nose into serfdom, and have participated in a genocidal war against another species for no reason other than coveting the other species’ land.

Nicole is rescued from death thanks to the high tech, miniature robots sent from her husband Richard who is living underneath the island of “New York”. She and most of her family and a few friends escape the totalitarian state of New Eden and spend months living in hiding before being “captured” by the octospiders and spending months trying to survive in an alien civilization. The humans of New Eden eventually wage war against the octospiders and the pacifistic octospiders eventually, reluctantly fight back with their only weapons- biological agents which decimate the human side.

As the two species are set to destroy each other the Ramans intervene by putting everyone to sleep until the spaceship arrives at the Node at Tau Ceti. At that point judgment is meted out and the vast majority of the humans are placed on a ship that will carry them nowhere but to their deaths and the decent minority are rewarded.

In this review I want to focus on a few themes that Clarke and Lee brought out and interpret them through a biblical world view. First is the idea of continuing to sin when there is overwhelming evidence that you are being observed. Throughout the Rama series it is made known, even to the characters in the story, that the Ramans have the technology to observe you 24×7. The Raman purpose for this grand experiment is to thoroughly know, understand and catalogue all space faring creatures in this part of the Galaxy. Throughout the books it is made clear that everything is being watched and studied.

On p.56 ‘I suppose you’re right,’ Nicole said wistfully. ‘But it’s depressing that we, as a species, behave so barbarically, even when we are fairly certain we’re being observed.’ At times later in the book the octospiders show the humans how they have “bugged” the human side and can see everything that goes on. Even one of the alien species has such a perfect memory that when it links with Richard in Garden of Rama or with Nicole in Rama Revealed, they can see things perfectly that they never witnessed. The idea is that we are being watched.

Two lessons from this idea: 1) Are there aliens here now, watching and observing us humans? Are they watching us like some kind of grand experiment, ready to intervene if we cross the line and try to nuke ourselves? With the hundreds, yea thousands of UFO sightings, one can get the idea that if there are that many aliens flying around in cloaked star ships or flying saucers, what are they doing? What are they waiting for? 2) God is watching us all the time; he is omnipresent and omniscient. He sees all and knows all. It is insane to sin.

One of the more morbid scenes in the book is when Nicole asks to see what her straying daughter, Katie is doing. Reluctantly the octospiders let her watch as Katie engages in intravenous drug use and kinky sex. The idea though, is that the Ramans, not just the octospiders, are watching and evaluating the humans; and judgment day is approaching.

But we have a tendency to ignore the fact that we are being observed. We put that out of our mind. The old bumpersticker “God is my Co-Pilot” is true, yet we behave as if it weren’t. Luke 8: 17 For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.

Another idea from the novel is faith. Nicole invariably has faith in the goodness of the octospiders and in the mission of Rama. She is not merely optimistic, she has a stalwart faith. This is contrasted with the unbelief of the crowds of humans who fall in behind the dictator Nakamura or who just try to live their lives. Ellie’s husband, Robert is a good case in point. He never believes and would rather be lost in his work. He eventually goes back to the ‘dark side’. Nicole’s faith is rewarded in the end with the ‘beatific vision’ in the Knowledge Node (hearkening back to the tree of knowledge in Genesis?) There she receives the revelation of the meaning of it all. Faith is rewarded.

There is an interesting duel between Creation, Evolution and Intelligent Design throughout the book that is never resolved; they are left in a useful tension. P.168 “I don’t believe all this just happened,” Nicole said. “Not on another planet. Not anywhere. Natural evolution simply does not result in the kind of interspecies harmony we have witnessed the last two days.” “What are you suggesting?” Richard asked. “That all these creatures were somehow designed, like machines, to perform their funcitons?” “it is the only explanation I can accept,” Nicole said.

As they spend time with the octospiders they realize that their strength is in biolgical engineering. From food and energy production to transportation the octos have engineered animals/bugs to do their work for them. Conversations at the end of the book show Nicole that God was involved in creation and is using an experimental method to produce a harmonious universe and includes some evolution and some direct interference to get the job done. In this train of thought throughout the book I can see the atheist Clarke and the Catholic Believer Lee, also a scientist, arguing back and forth, yet settling on this compromise. Now, if only the school systems would agree to compromise and allow for all three ideas to be taught and discussed….

The political discussion in the book is also quite revealing. The octospiders live in a type of socialistic state, that optimizes everyone’s usefulness. They allow room for the free spirits who want to do their own thing, but they must at lest pull their own weight or face execution. Be productive or die. This is very different from the human form of socialism that allows people, indeed it motivates people, to be non-productive. The authors are good to show that the price of socialism in loss of liberty.

This also touches on the subject of euthanasia amongst the octos. When one of their species gets too old to pull their weight they are terminated. Ultimately, sadly, Nicole takes this option in a way, and allows herself to die at the end when she could have lived on. But more on that later.

Dr. Blue, one of the octospiders, says on p.305 “We have plenty of evidence that without sound termination and replenishment policies, a colony of nearly immortal beings undergoes chaos in a relatively short period of tme.” Here is a staggering way of dealing with what would be a population explosion that would consume all the resources of a planet or spacecraft. This is a common theme in much of the SF I have read. What do you do with people when medical science advances so far that you can live for hundreds of years? And this issue is not merely for the future, we live in age that has got more promised in medicare and social security than it can possibly produce and pay out. With life expectancies growing and food supplies not growing, we have a problem.

One of the issues presented in books 2-4 of this series is the differences between children whether between Ellie and Katie or Galileo and Kepler. The book shows that genetics plays a huge roll in behavior and our choices in life. Are we predestined, programmed for how we turn out or is it a result of our nurturing and choices? After reading this series I would say that Gentry Lee may be an Augustinian in regards to predestination verses free will.

On p.455 is a brief but interesting discussion of free will vs. sovereignty: “Why didn’t you intercede a long time ago? Before all this occurred? Before there were so many deaths?” The Eagle didn’t answer immediately. “You can’t have it both ways, Nicole, ” he said at length. “you can’t have both free will and a benevolent higher power who protects you from yourself.” “Excuse me, ” Nicole said with a puzzled look on her face. “Did I mistakenly ask a religious question?” “Not really, ” the Eagle replied….

Yes Nicole, you did ask a religious question. One of the standard questions I have received through the years as a minister is this very question. “If God is good and all powerful, why doesn’t he intervene and stop the evil? Why does so much pain and sorrow and tragedy have to continue?” The Eagle’s answer here is less than adequate, but it is a start.

People do grow tired of the effects of evil in the world. They cry out for God to do something, to intervene. But when I pose the question, “how much evil would you like God to stop? Stop the hurricanes and earthquakes? Stop the wars? Stop the murderers? Stop you from hating your neighbor and talking bad about them and passing on rumors?” You see, we are always for God to intervene and stop somebody else’s evil, especially when it is hurtful to us. But we are less than enthusiastic about God stopping our free will, stopping our evil But then our evil is always accompanied by good reasons…

The Ramans do eventualy intervene, but only when their investment in the experiment is about to be destroyed. God also intervened at just the right time to accomplish redemption when he sent his Son Jesus to be born of the Virgin and to die on the Cross and to be Resurrected from the grave. He will intervene again when he sends the Son back to complete what he started at the cross, banish evil.

The interesting twist in the tragedy of Katie’s life is how she ends it all. In her story I see glimpses of Samson and Delilah. She is doomed and knows it, so she takes out the Philistine when she goes. In the end, her love for her father overcomes her addiction to drugs, sex and power. She dies redeemed and her story screams that there is hope for all, even to the end.

I was fascinated by the octospider way of war. Being an Army veteran and having studied military science most of my life, I was suprised at the theory of war the octos had developed. They were pacifists, until their very existence was threatened. Then they would fight dirty, using biological weapons, and fight to anihilate the enemy. No partial war with them, send a virus and wipe them all out! The war was mercifully stopped only when the Ramans intervened or there would have been no humans left. The really surprising thing however, was not their mode of war, nor their determination to win; rather, it was that they would then execute all of their own who participated in the planning and conduct of the war. They so hated war, and rightly understood that those who fight are forever changed, that they would eliminate the warriors as soon as they were not needed. I was somewhat reminded of Orson Scott Card’s novel, “Enders Game”, by all this. This used to describe the American way of war. We were naturally a peaceloving people who tried to avoid war. But get us involved and we would fight to the end. Not any more.

The final section of the book presents us with something like Judgment Day with a heaven and a hell. When the Carrier docks at the node, the Ramans separate the “sheep from the goats”. The vast majority go on board the Carrier where each species is separated from the others, thus symbolizing exile, isolation and loneliness- attributes of the biblical hell. Furthermore, the selection process was conducted by the ‘god-like’ Ramans based upon their continual observations which are recorded in files on each person- the book of life. Broad was the way to destruction as the vast majority of humans boarded the Carrier and only a few chosen went on to the Node. On board the Carrier there was no reproduction, all were sterilized- thus symbolizing death and decay, fruitlessness. They were going nowhere, just away from the Node, into the “outer darkness” with no destination. They could not return to the Earth, nor were they of any use to the Ramans. The Ramans promised they would not interfere or intervene. Hell is the absence of God. Left to our own devices, without the presence of the Holy Spirit or God’s Word, we will surely make hell worse than it was originally. Theirs was to be pointless existence until they died, slowly, one by one. Can you imagine being the last few? And then the last one? On board a huge alien ship with no hope. Hell.

Compare that with life at the node. The aged could receive new bodies and virtually live forever and have all their wants and needs taken care of by the beneficent Ramans. Heaven. When Nicole was in the Node of Knowledge I couldn’t help but see a comparison with Moses on top of Mt Nebo, looking at the Promised Land, but dying there and never crossing over.

In the end, Nicole chooses to die rather than live forever. She had strangely adopted the attitude of the octospiders when she did not need to. Though her death, in many ways, was a fitting end to the book and the series, I wish it were different. But one of the goals of Clarke and Lee throughout the series was to portray a normal human life lived in extraordinary circumstances. The character development of Nicole and Richard and many of the others was deep and detailed. Many reviewers had nothing good to say about the book because of the “soap opera” qualities in the book with all the details of Nicole’s feelings and thoughts and everyday activities. To me, that is what made the book.

The authors realistically portrayed what real people would go through if they were marooned on board an alien spacecraft for the rest of their lives. This story was believeable and yet fantastic at the same time. It was not a shoot ’em up space opera. It was a thorough analysis of the questions and problems of living with aliens.

In my final analysis, this is the best series of SF books I have ever read. It is obvious to me that Gentry Lee has a theological as well as scientific mind and I deeply appreciate the way he addressed many serious issues. This is indeed a novel, a series, for the thinking SF fan.

I am surprised at the scarcity of good reviews on this book. Here are the few I found.

www0.epinions.com/review/Rama_Revealed_by_Arthur_C_Clarke_and_by_Gentry_Lee/content_22121647748

www.amazon.co.uk/Rama-Revealed-Arthur-C-Clarke/dp/1857232526

search.barnesandnoble.com/Rama-Revealed/Arthur-C-Clarke/e/9780553569476

Finally, check out this great article from Christianity Today about Sci Fi and Spirituality:

www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/february/16.20.html

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