Sunday, February 16, 2020

A Dragon and Her Girl, LTUE Anthology #2

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Greetings to all of my Internet friends and neighbors, with an extra cookie for those of you who are a part of the LTUE universe. And for family members who have stumbled upon this post, please kiss my new granddaughter for me, as well as all the rest. I WILL show up. Eventually. With presents.

Confession: Some time ago, I was given a review copy of the LTUE release for this year, “A Dragon and Her Girl.” I rather ignored it.

  1. For one thing, I am still somewhat overcome by, well, Life, The Universe, and Everything. When you have a ginormous family (10 kids, 15 grandkids, 1 great-grandson) plus some uncounted number of brothers, sisters, cousins, one remaining parent and two step-parents, SOMEBODY is almost always guaranteed to be in difficulty, and it brings ouches. Plus, I have pneumonia.
  2. For another thing, I have had occasion to realize that I really DON’T like fantasy. It’s mostly the turgid writing that seems to infect the genre, I think.
  3. And finally, the title put me off. I had to slosh through so much precious, gender-identity-conscious, woke fiction during the last Dragon Award competition that my innards started to bleed. (And if you’ve never experienced THAT, count yourself lucky!) So, “The Dragon and HER GIRL,” with the twice-designated female character, just had my back up.

So, bruised and battered by circumstances, alienated by the potential for purple prose and Neo-uber-feminist tractation, I balked. HOWEVER! The proceeds from the book sales go to funding scholarships for students to attend the conference.(NOTEWORTHY!) Furthermore, I loved the work submitted for first anthology in the series, “Trace the Stars,” that I felt I owed it to The Most Reverend and Learned Doctor Joe Monson (editor) to read it. So I did, and it was lovely. And I hereby offer my apologies for forming an opinion without evidence.
All proceeds from this review will be matched (up to $100) and donated to the LTUE Scholarship fund.

The cover art (above) is magnificent, the sort of thing you might want to hang on a wall for friends to view. Donated by a person not previously known by me, a certain Kaitlund Zupanic, there is much to be admired here.

A Game of Stakes Max Florschutz
Victoria, daughter of famous Count Antares, the Wolf, is seeking a husband via a dragon, Dostoy the Mighty. She has established three challenges for her prospective suitors: The first was that a suitor had to be fleet of foot enough— or clever enough— to make it to the Stakes board with Dostoy defending it. The second was that they must beat him in a game. And the third was that she herself would duel them.

Dragon Soap M. K. Hutchins
These are smallish dragons, about the size of a raccoon. And they aren't really ENEMIES: more like pests. They keep stealing radishes. Somebody has been messing around with the ecology, it seems. And the poor folks who live way out in the woods are the people who are paying the price.

Li Na and the Dragon Scott R. Parkin
Unique among these stories, this is a tiny slice of, at least, a novel. It's more likely that the story will need multiple installments. Li Na, the protagonist, has been tending to the worship of the dragons in her household for her entire life. With the birth of her seventh daughter, multiple threads come together to form a crisis.

High Noon at the Oasis Jaleta Clegg
She’d turned into a horse, somehow.  She couldn't recall much of anything that took place before that. But she could smell out magic, and water, and even lies, and somebody was going to pay.

The Wild Ride Christopher Baxter
We have a husband-wife team of something with tusks; we have a wild dragon round-up. Each one is going to grab a wild dragon, ride it to the end, and they hope to use their winnings to buy their own ranch. They might die, though.

Rising Star Michaelene Pendleton
Near the end of a wild pursuit of a mage, a dragon gets slammed through dimensions into the desert outside Los Angeles. And there, she finds a Hollywood agent at the end of his rope.

The Diamond-Spitting Knight S. E. Page
All she wanted was to be a princess. With a tiara, and everything. But somehow, the gifts that pixies give always turn out to be a pain, and she gets imprisoned, more or less, because she spits jewels when she speaks. If ever a fair young maiden needed rescue, it was poor Millet.

Amélie’s Guardian Bryan Thomas Schmidt
This is a pure, sweet tale of redemption, birthed by mutual need and affection.

Aer’Vicus Jodi L. Milner
A girl and a dragon learn together, and that's a good story; however, a throw-away line grabbed my attention, and is one of the best parts of the entire book. Here it is:
 “It’s as if you are a mouse standing on a corner of the road squeaking as loudly as it can about the surprising lack of cheese in its life." (Joe Monson and Jaleta Clegg. A Dragon and Her Girl (Kindle Locations 2497-2498). Hemelein PUblications with LTUE Press) 
Loyalties Josh Brown
Anessi has fought to keep her people alive, even though most of them have died in the process. When she is sent on a mission to kill a dragon, she finds the end of her quest.

Ash and Blood Hannah Marie
I'm not sure, but I THINK that this story illustrates the corrupting nature of power. It's certainly gory enough, with a more than ample casualty list.

Therapy for a Dragon Sam Knight
Hmmm. Marjorie, strapped onto an interrogation couch, certainly needs dragon therapy. I'm not quite sure that the therapy is for the dragon, though.

Taking Wing Julia H. West
The little crippled girl, Sofria, sat on one corner of the widest street in Tarnisi. And, over time, she began to speak with the gargoyle perched high above her on the ledge. And it spoke to her, as well.

Lullaby John D. Payne
Any parent of multiple small children knows the middle-of-the-night torture of dragging yourself out of bed to care for one (or more) who is sick, or hungry, or lonely, or wet. Dismal, dismal, dismal. But, at least you have the hope that they will grow out of it. Dragons, though, live for a very, very long time.

Rain Like Diamonds Wendy Nikel
In a time of drought, with the people starving, it falls upon the monarch to heal the land. That's the price of ruling.

Here by Choice Gerri Leen
You had one job: guard the woman who was ready for paradise. Wait; she changed her mind!

Dragon’s Hand David VonAllmen
Well, this one is a combo: you get magic, the Old West, and card strategy, all mixed into one.

Take out the Trash Melva L. Gifford
Snicker, snicker. I don't know how many puns are hidden in this little beauty. It really is about taking out the trash, at a magic school.

Burying Treasure Alex Shvartsman
Okay, somehow, we wind up with a dragon on the throne. But this is a SMART dragon, who puts into place significantly enlightened policies which will, eventually, result in prosperity. In the meantime, though, there are some unemployed soldiers around.

Dragon in Distress Mercedes Lackey and Elisabeth Waters
Turns the hero-rescuing-maiden-from-dragon story on its' head, but it's a bit pervy, too. Adults only.

Okay, so that's my review. I think LTUE was over yesterday, so the book ought to be live on Amazon now. Here's the link, if you want to learn more.

Peace be on your household.

Friday, January 31, 2020

RED Friday Review: The Replicant War, Chris Kennedy

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(The Good Guy is in the mecha)

And here is THE LINK to the book. And if you click on the link and buy stuff, I get a pittance.
I think my condensed Goodreads review is already up, and I'm about to submit a (condensed) review to Amazon as well. If that goes up quickly, I'll post a link here. Otherwise, I'll put it in the comments later, when it does get posted.

A great good RED FRIDAY to all my friends and neighbors out there in Internet Land. Every Friday is RED Friday; we wear something RED, and we Remember Everyone Deployed. And to my family members who have stumbled across this, I believe I have solved the problem that kept me home a couple of weeks ago. Now, as soon as my transportation works out, I'll be there.

Today, I am reviewing Chris Kennedy's "The Replicant War." Now, while this book WAS a Dragon nominee, it was NOT one of the books I reviewed last August. That's because I only review nominees in four categories: Best SF, Best Fantasy, Best Alternate History, and Best Mil SF. "The Replicant War" was nominated in the "Best Media Tie-In" category, and that's an area about which I know nothing. 

SO: Why am I reviewing it at all? 
First, because it was written by Chris Kennedy. I have been quite impressed by the work his fledgling publishing house has put out, especially the stories in the Four Horsemen Universe. When I think of the long years of drought that was the 1970s and 1980s for guys like me, who grew up with SCIENCE! ROCKETS TO THE MOON! and the few, paltry items we found in those decades; well, the abundance of good writing available now is a delight.
Second, well, umm...mecha saves the world? 

So, let me get this out of the way first: as far as I can tell, the qualification for the  "Media Tie-in" category is that this story is based on an immersive online game, Worlds of War, which doesn't actually exist (yet). In fact, the tech to deliver the game experience doesn't exist yet.  
There is, however, a sho-nuff video game,  Turbolance, referenced in the story. I don't know anything about it, other than the description given in the text (knights with lances on motorcycles), but if you are interested in checking that out, THIS LINK is provided in the prefatory material.

Brenda Mihalko and Ricky Ryan are responsible for the cover art; fans of the 4HU will recognize the look and feel of their work. Nicely detailed scary things, etc.

Although we aren't given dates, I think we can assume from other clues that this takes place in the not-too-distant future. The only tech advances I could find is that hardware providing for a completely immersive gamer experience is available to the players, and they are only mildly astonished by the system's tech. 

Our protagonist is one Ryan Johnson, a senior majoring in Game Design at the fictional Oliver Wolcott University in Washington, DC. We meet him as he is prepping to enter the gamer for the first time, something he has been looking forward to ever since rumors of the game's release hit the internet.

Apart from the immersive experience, he follows a path familiar to anyone who has ever played a game of any kind. Certainly, his early experience is an exact match for a computer-based game, but I couldn't help but be reminded of the time my dad taught me how to play solitaire when I was in kindergarten. 

With all the similarities, however, there are enough differences that Ryan begins to suspect that there is more to the game than meets the eye. He's right.

And the review STOPS RIGHT THERE, almost, because spoilers, and I ain't gonna.

Almost: There is nothing about this that would cause a responsible parent from keeping it from their teenager. The language is PG-13; not too gory, no sexual content at all.
Almost: While the story DOES include lots of technology, and much of it gets blown to smithereens, it's the decisions made by the characters that drive the story. 
Almost: The Amazon description refers to "The Replicant War" as a ", action-packed LitRPG novel..." LitRPG is not a classification I was familiar with before last year, when I reviewed a book with that classification. That work was awful! It seemed to be nothing but screenshots of a game being played online. THAT'S NOT WHAT THIS IS! This is a correctly put-together story. No assembly required, etc. 

So, there you have it. It's a good read, and after six months, I have finally gotten the review done.

Peace be on your household.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Gold on the Hoof, by Peter Grant : Old + New= EXCELLENT

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From "A Dash for the Timber"
 by Frederic Sackrider Remington

And here's the link; if you click on this link and then buy the book, I get a small (2.3%) referral fee. This is not a huge income thing for me; I made $1.63 during the last quarter of 2019, but evidently, I'm still supposed to disclose that lest people think me unethical. 

A condensed form of the review can be found on Goodreads and on Amazon; the Amazon review will let you vote on it, which I hope you will do. If I remember, I'll post a link to the Amazon review in the comments. CHANGED MY PLAN! Here's the Amazon review.

Greetings to all my internet friends and neighbors, who are providing me with encouragement to return to the Days of Review without clamor or threats.   And to any of my family checking in, really sorry I didn't get down to Macon this week, but the glass splinters in the dough for the candy rice balls was that one final detail that shut me down. I'll try again later.

It was indeed a fortuitous day when Peter Grant immigrated to this country. Based on what details he has chosen to reveal, he had already seen and done more than most could ever imagine, on the African continent and perhaps elsewhere, and he used his life experiences as a prison chaplain; you REALLY should read "Walls, Wires, Bars, and Souls" if you'd like to get a sense of what it means to be an authentic Christian, ministering to damaged men in a damaged prison system.

Grant is also one of the great geniuses of our times, which he demonstrated by marrying an Alaskan bush pilot. Where else could you get such a combination of steel nerves, insanity, attention to detail, and spirit of adventure? It's all wrapped up in the rather petite package we know as Dorothy, and if we seek her out for basic and advanced independent book marketing helps, rather than book a trip to Moose Droppings, it's only reflective of our limitations, not hers. She is quite an author as well, and together they appear to have one of those great marriage-chemistry things going, where the total is far more than the sum of the parts. 

"Gold on the Hoof" is the third (of four, so far) of the books in the "Ames Archive" series. It was released on August 26, 2019, and I grabbed a copy IMMEDIATELY, and read it as soon as I could get to it. And there, progress ended, alas. I'll not go into detail about the reasons for the pathetically long delay associated with this review, but O My Best Beloved, it is through no fault whatsoever of the book.

In fact, let me open this review by saying that the very best of the literature of the Old West is found here, absent features that might make reading those stories painful for the modern reader. FEAR NOT, though; this is NOT de-constructed, revisionist work, written solely for the benefit of those who wish to re-write history. 

Specifically, here are some things you won't find: a pretense that there was no lingering racial prejudice after the Civil War; the idea that the life of the aboriginal people of the American West was one of bliss and harmony with nature, until the white man came along; that all it took was hard work and a plow for frontier life to be idyllic. Furthermore, the real, unavoidable conflicts between a nomadic hunter-gatherer culture and that of the incoming farmers and ranchers is treated seriously, and sympathetically. This entire series is like that, which makes it the best treatment I have come across.

Walt Ames is a former Confederate soldier, who came West after the Civil War. Good fortune provided him with working capital, which he increased buying surplus, obsolete military weapons and refitting them to meet more current standards. He also recognized the need for reliable freight handling, and built up a good shipping business. Not without opposition, he lost a hand and a much-loved wife, Rose, to the bad guys in the process. They all paid with their lives, and forfeited their substantial takings to Walt.

Setting Walt apart from the robber-baron mentality of the super-exploiters is his easy-minded commitment to treating people with fairness. As a result, he has inspired great loyalty among his employees and associates. This quality is what allows him to turn the windfalls he receives along the way into solid working capital, and permits him to launch new businesses. 

The economics of his decisions are explained in enough detail to show that this is a plausible story; and, if Walt DOES stumble upon a few pots of gold at the end of rainbows, it always makes sense as to why those pots are there in the first place. In any event, his business plans are always based on hard-headed research and meeting real needs of real people, not "and hope we get lucky."

The core of the story is Walt's trip down to Mexico to buy good horses to sell to the Army, and for his own use. This permits some good discussion about the short-sighted practices of the past, which captured the best of the wild horses descended from those abandoned in the West by the Spanish, and left the culls to breed. That program has now resulted in only a very few good quality horses being available for captures, whereas in the past, many more would have been found. 

That's not the only example of the good research that went into the story; there is a nicely-done discussion of the economics of payment with government greenback dollars, not backed by specie, contrasted with payment in gold. As mentioned earlier, there is also a quite sympathetic treatment of the real collision of the way of life followed by the tribes which followed the buffalo herds, and the increasing violations of the territory set aside for them by buffalo hunters who were getting rich by selling hides. It's not ignored that the custom of following the herds is also what makes it feasible for raids between tribes, a hobby now expanded to prey on settlers moving west. And, we even learn how to cook a turkey without plucking it, so we can eat it for breakfast.

Grant's depiction of Walt Ames is NOT that of a superman. Yes, he DOES get lucky from time to time, but he also has placed himself in condition to take advantage of luck when it presents. There is absolutely NOTHING else about the character that makes him a ....oops...what is the male equivalent of a Mary Sue? At any rate, he is NOT an impossible character. His sole defining quality is that of keeping faith, or, in doing unto others as he would have them do unto him. This keeps him (mostly) out of those interminable semi-Hamlet moments that seem to pop up everywhere in hero stories, where the hero has to berate himself on the horrid choices he has to make. Walt isn't immune to a bit of that; he does wonder if there were anything he could have done differently to prevent the murder of Rose. However, he makes his life plan VERY clear, in a small jewel of a conversation he has with Jimmy and Randy, two teen boys who are along for the trip to help with the gear and stock:
“Just remember – don’t go tryin’ to take a fight to anyone who doesn’t really need it. He gets a vote, too, an’ he may be better with a gun than you are. You don’t want to find that out the hard way unless you got no other choice.”
(Grant, Peter. Gold on the Hoof (Ames Archives Book 3) . Sedgefield Press. Kindle Edition. )
I found this to be a VERY restful and absorbing read; Chaplain Pearce, you'd like this one.  I wasn't really seeking "comforting" when started  the re-read (which was necessary after all these months), but I surely did need what "Gold on the Hoof" brought me. 

Well researched; good story; believable characters; recommend without qualification for any age.
Five Stars.

Peace be on your household.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Cold Case Murder Clue

Greetings, internet friends and neighbors, and a great good morning to you! And to those family members who have made their way here, I surely would appreciate the return of the big Tupperware containers. My gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, made a bodacious portion of mac and cheese (it's the ONLY mac and cheese I will willingly eat) and I have to put it in the icebox. If you can't bring it in person, at least send me a text (or comment on this post) and tell me where you might have hidden the larger food storage items.
I ain't playin' wit' you!
I need to store this!

This morning, I was thinking about a death, under mysterious circumstances, that was THE talk of the nation, a little more than a half-century ago.

Lacking anything that might reasonably be considered as proper crime scene evidence, for as contemporary documentation we have only the record (ummm...literally) of certain allegedly non-involved local residents discussing the death of a local teen. While this claims that the death was a suicide, the location and circumstances of the young man's death were sufficient to stir widespread speculation as to what really happened.

Time: Early summer. The actual date of the death of William Joseph McAllister is somewhat vague, but probably took place on or about June 1 or 2, 1967.
Location: rural Mississippi. Although a cursory impression of the community is that of just one more sleepy, dusty Delta farming settlement, appearances can be deceiving. Just shy of 12 years prior, another teen-age male had been killed in the exact same location. Despite the similarities between the cases, there has evidently been NO official effort to link the two murders. (Both were teens; both were guilty of nothing that could be regarded as a crime; both bodies were discovered in the very same river.) -FOOTNOTE 0-

Although the circumstances surrounding the death of a young man in rural Mississippi were vague in the extreme, that did not stop speculation. It is, perhaps, the very meaninglessness of this death that has provided so many with the desire to find answers. No one likes to believe that violent death can visit innocents without warning, but it was becoming quite difficult to hold on to this fantasy in the light of the casualty lists coming back from Viet Nam. Perhaps, the more a belief is challenged, the more we tightly hold on to it.

And yet, that attempt to hold on to the belief, plus our tendency to believe the FIRST witness to an event, blinded everyone to a critical clue, found in the opening lines of the single record we have. Admittedly, most of the speculation came from those living in cities and towns, places where the rhythms of agricultural life are unknown.

Still, once revealed, the blatant lie stands out, and cannot be unseen. To point it out, I must disclose certain agricultural truths.*FOOTNOTE 1: SPOILER CONTAINED IN FOOTNOTE*

Although farm life is a 24/7, 365 day/year occupation, there are DEFINITE seasons where some tasks MUST be done in a timely fashion, or dire consequences result. Most of these are related to the life cycle of plants, although animal husbandry needs prevail at times. During the (few) moments when neither of these tasks demand immediate attention of the farmer, the time is devoted to repair and maintenance of fences, equipment, and shelter.

With a proper understanding of this agricultural rhythm, we can evaluate the alibis offered by those seemingly most interested in the death of the young man, especially since the actual date is disclosed. The first task mentioned is carried out by the narrator. It is tedious work, but does not require the massive upper body strength that certain tasks do. Cotton is a cash crop for farmers, and the health of the crop requires that each plant be given clear access to sun, rain, and not be in competition with those pesky weeds that seem to proliferate without cause. The cotton can be planted, depending on local conditions, any time from the first of April through Memorial Day, and, as soon as the young plants begin to show, and have developed a strong enough core, a trustworthy family member or hired hand is sent out to kill everything that isn't cotton. This process is referred to as 'chopping cotton,' although the cotton itself is NOT chopped.

A second essential farm task is haying. There are any numbers of grasses that can be used to make hay, and those are selected based on the needs for feed, as well as the needs and nature of the soil.  For reasons not fully developed here, however, **FOOTNOTE 2: SPOILER CONTAINED IN FOOTNOTE**, it is essential that the  selected grasses reach a certain degree of maturity, at which time the proper balance of nutrients is reached, and the non-nutritive woody components have not become dominant. As well as the time spent growing, the time of day when harvesting is critical; grasses cut in the early morning will not have stored the maximum of photosynthetic sugar, and will be wet with dew, making them likely to mildew while on the ground waiting to be baled.

The clue. And THIS provides us with the clue that we need***FOOTNOTE 3: SPOILER CONTAINED IN FOOTNOTE*** in order to determine a false statement in the alibi. For reasons related to local ground chemistry, weather, and common planting schedules,  IT IS ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE for the two tasks mentioned to be performed simultaneously on the date mentioned. Thus, we have a broken alibi, leading us directly to the (figurative) smoking gun. And, after more than a half-century, the case is solved.

From the record:
It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day,
I was out chopping cotton, and my brother was baling hay.
(Ode to Billy Joe, Bobby Gentry, 1967)

Peace be on your household.

Footnote 0:  I have seen no record that Bobbie Gentry had this in mind, but the Tallahatchie Bridge crosses the river in Money, Mississippi, immediately adjacent to the site of the store where Emmett Till allegedly whistled at a white woman, for which he was lynched on August 28, 1955. And yes, my 2020 mind just created the association between the two murders.
Footnote 1:  I don't know any agricultural truths. I used Google to look at stuff.
Footnote 2: They aren't fully developed, because I don't fully understand them, and they are boring to anyone without a vested interest in growing hay.
Footnote 3: No, it's NOT true, as far as I know, that chopping cotton and baling hay couldn't be performed on the same day. I just made that part up, because the story needed it.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

A Short Testimony of the Conviction of Things Hoped For

Greetings, etc; if I don't hurry through this, we will be late for church, and it will be my fault.

When I was a goof teenager, maybe 17 years old, I discovered a little bit about the Bible. And I briefly attended a Campus Crusade for Christ study, just long enough to memorize I Corinthians 13, about the still more excellent way, which is love.

From Campus Crusade for Christ, 1970

(No, I didn't understand it. But, at least I was exposed to it.)

Decades later,  I discovered the riches in what we have recorded as the second letter Paul wrote to the church at Corinth. I had life experience by then that allowed me to see truth in the words.

"...we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life;
9 indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead;
10 who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us..." (II Cor 1:8b-10, NASB)

In September of 2007, when I realized I could no longer do my job, I clung to verse 7:
we had the sentence of death within ourselves, so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead. 
I even spoke that verse to my boss, as we were arranging for my termination. Don't know if it meant anything to him at that point, but it sure meant something to me. It was what got me through those awful days at the very end.

This morning, I was faced with IRREFUTABLE evidence of His redemptive, resurrection power in my life, disclosed via, of all things, a gift made by my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, to a friend in need.

This is NOT Vanessa, but it is the image she has chosen to represent herself.

In September 2007, I could only walk blindly, in hope; today, I walk in hope realized.

Peace be on your household.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Stellaris: People of the Stars

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And here's the link!

Greetings to all my internet friends and neighbors, who have long been wondering if I was EVER going to return to my review habits. And to any of my family checking in, I still don’t have that family reunion ice cream recipe.

Some recent history. A few days ago, scientist/author Robert E Hampson, who has aliases known to many, pointed out that he had requested that I review a book.
Last August.

Now, at the time, he very graciously accepted the reality that I was in the throes of reviewing the nominated works for the Dragon Award, and couldn’t interrupt that frenzy. No problem, he said. Just get to it when it’s convenient, he said.

Well, neither he, nor I, had any idea that circumstances (armed with a bludgeon) were on the way, or else we might not have been so casual about the arrangement. But that, as they say, is all water over the dam, washing away villages downstream and creating havoc and establishing conditions for disease epidemics. So, we shall speak no more of that, and simply proceed with the review.

What kind of book is this? It’s the kind that will last you a long, long time, IF you are somewhat like me. I know this because a series with a similar format has lasted me for nigh on 40 years. I speak of “There Will Be War,” edited by the late great Jerry Pournelle, and the illustrious (or, wonderful, delightful, inestimable, still alive) John F. Carr (and if I were to allow myself to launch into everything I wished to say about this and them and that,  nothing else gets written. So, forcible stop).

More specifically, it’s an anthology that addresses a single topic (the future of humanity in space) through a combination of short fiction and non-fiction articles. Now, IF you are somewhat like me, you are going to immediately devour the short fiction first. And then, over time, you are going to return to the non-fiction, and you are going to become involved much more deeply. I tried to come up with a food comparison, as in fast food versus Thanksgiving Feast, but I could think of nothing that will do justice to either component.

Just know this: the short fiction also educates, and the non-fiction also entertains. Also know that the environments being considered for human life are lethal, so that failure to make the right choices, every time, results in extinction.

The content.

Foreword by Robert E Hampson. PLEASE don’t skip the Foreword! Not only do you get the story of the genesis of this volume, you also get a brief, interesting review of problems already encountered in real life in sustaining human life in space, as well as the science fiction treatments.

Burn the Boats by Sarah A. Hoyt. They say Sarah A. Hoyt is a real person, but I’m not so sure.  I’d say that she might be a cyborg, but for two things: she writes about cats in a way only a human could; she also ALWAYS respects the science in a story, but her stories are incredibly perceptive studies of the PEOPLE who interact with the science. The people in this story must accommodate themselves to changes they had NEVER considered, or go extinct. And they have children.

Bridging by William Ledbetter. At first, I thought this was a Norse fantasy, and I recoiled; I mostly don’t appreciate fantasy. It’s NOT, though; it just incorporates names (and maybe themes) from that mythology into a science fiction. There are two groups of space colonists living in close proximity, but one lives under a gravity field much stronger than that of Earth, while the other lives in free-fall. They hate and fear each other, because of ancient stupid acts, but if they can’t find a way to join, they both are at risk of going extinct.

The Future of Intelligent Life in the Cosmos by Martin Rees. The first non-fiction article in the collection, this one is particularly wide-ranging. (First impression? It’s more of a concept dump than I prefer.) Advances in bio-tech, AI, and space propulsion are all essential. A significant point: if the exploration is funded by the government, can the level of risk needed to progress be accepted? He thinks not.

Stella Infantes by Kacey Ezell and Philip Wohlrab. There is a tiny sub-plot in one of James Michener’s massive works (I THINK it’s “Hawaii,” but am not sure) about the missionaries who were sent on long voyages to set up missions on potentially hostile shores. Despite their reputation of being sexual prudes, almost all of the young couples had their first child SIGNIFICANTLY before nine months had elapsed after reaching their destination. If it was like that on long sea voyages, what about long space voyages? There is plenty of discussion here about medical implications of space pregnancy, and for that, I feel certain we can thank Wohlrab. Ezell, once again, utterly fails to disappoint in her ability to make a person in crisis come alive.

Maintaining Crew Health and Mission Performance in Ventures Beyond Near-Earth Space by Mark Shelhamer. With respect to long-term residence in space, it doesn’t even appear that we know what it is that we don’t know. Shelhamer examines the current process of assessing the risks, and then moves forward. The ability to simulate living in a gravitational field appears to be essential, but there is no way of controlling for everything that MIGHT happen.

At the Bottom of the White by Todd McCaffrey. Although there is some nifty tech in the story, most especially the technique of using people in re-entry ships to ‘bounce’ cargoes up and down (just read the story, ok?) what really makes this story pop is the evolved culture of a long-term trader, journeying between star systems, which have developed on their own, in isolation.

Pageants of Humanity by Brent Roeder. Tee-hee! Roeder has captured the brainless chatter of talking heads, providing commentary on a beauty pageant in which the outcome determines whether a far-flung system still meets the requirements for humanity. It contains some well-conceived rationale for making the determination, but it’s such a yock to read it presented this way. Loved it!

Homo Stellaris — Working Track Report from the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop by Robert E. Hampson and Les Johnson. Ummm...this is the report. It’s PACKED with info, and if you have any interest in people in space, read this. It’s a summary of a LOT of work, and I can’t further distill it.

Time Flies by Kevin J. Anderson. If you have chosen to travel, but not to arrive, how do you manage to do it? These are people who trade information and goods between far-flung star systems, and they have the technology to go into a super-slow time. Every so often, they shift from slow to normal time, to check on ship functions, and when approaching a planet. If you were able to, essentially, live forever that way, would you do it?

Our Worldship Broke! by Jim Beall. Although NICELY presented, I had to ask for help on this one. Fortunately, my son-in-law, Sam Blackstone, used to be one of the guys who run the nuclear tea-kettles on a submarine (and that’s all he can tell us). So, I had him read this one, and he said: a person without some engineering background might struggle with how some of the concepts work with each other. He really liked the accuracy of the article “speaking directly about the success of nuclear power and how the Navy organized it from the very beginning;” the people, places, and things Beall references are all as described. Sam also suggested I’d find reading up on Hyman Rickover, the Father of Naval Nuclear Power, to be interesting. Thanks, Sam!

Nanny by Les Johnson. The POV swaps between Angela, beginning when she is age nine, and Manuel, an adult crew member on an interstellar voyage. Soon we begin to wonder: how did all these kids wind up with no adults? We find out. 

Those Left Behind by Robert E. Hampson. Melisande, bka “Mace,” and her older brother Sandy are dedicated space people. Besides having the brains to do the science, they were highly motivated to get a way from home essentially destroyed by Dad’s alcoholism and Mom’s fluttering from cause to cause. So, they both opted for some physical changes, to make their bodies more adapted to working in space. A final home visit for a Thanksgiving meal became explosive (or nearly so).

Securing the Stars by Mike Massa. You cannot allow sabotage, or even sloppiness, to interfere with spacecraft systems; there are no convenient repair shops. Massa identifies some similarities between the isolation and hostile environment on a space mission with some Earth-based environments; the conclusions are inescapable: a space mission isn’t a democracy.

The Smallest of Things by Catherine L. Smith. Just because SOME things are similar in our exoplanets, that doesn’t mean they are really Earth-like. Smith shows us the challenge of alien strangeness, compounded by human goofiness.

Biological and Medical Challenges of the Transition to Homo Stellaris by Nikhil Rao, MD. Before we go, while we are going, and once we get there: what can kill us? What can just mess us up? Well….lots of things. Here are some of them.

Exodus by Daniel M. Hoyt. (Okay, if Sarah A. Hoyt ISN’T real, then they are doing a really good job of covering that up.) Ginny is a science geek born to parents who “Only know of physics like Ex-lax,” and are proud of it. She devotes all of her efforts to get away, but it turns out not to be that easy, because, evidently, a LOT of people want to get away, and then she finds there are some things hard to leave. This story does an EXCELLENT job of showing the results of alternative, and competing, research tracks: if the other guys make it work, all that you have done may go into long-term storage.

Afterword by Les Johnson. Nicely reflective on What It’s All About.

Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop,  by Joe Meany. A further explanation of the group, and how to join them in the goal of becoming People of the Stars, Homo Stellaris.

Well, there you have it. Grab a copy of the book, and read it for the next forty years.

Peace be on your household.

Monday, December 30, 2019

I Woke Up Troubled This Morning

Greetings, to all my friends and neighbors out there in Internet land! And, for those family members who meet the three criteria (above the daisies, able to use a computer, and both aware and interested in my blog), I hope you don't have to go to the dentist today, unless it's for a social visit.

I woke up troubled this morning. For some reason, I was listening (just in my memory banks) to the first lines of Joan Baez singing "The Ballad of Joe Hill" at Woodstock, 50 years ago last August. I have no explanation as to why that should be so, but, to help clarify, I both listened to the song again, and did a bit of research on Joe Hill.

I already knew he was an early 20th century labor organizer, who was executed under dubious circumstances. What I didn't know was that most of his work was as a songwriter, putting revolutionary words about organizing (at the time, unions were a revolutionary concept) to the tunes of popular songs. One of his works, "The Preacher and the Slave," was set to the tune of the hymn "In The Sweet By and By." His song bewails the practice of those in authority offering poor workers starvation wages, while encouraging them to keep working hard, because they have a reward in heaven.
(Parenthetically: I have not verified this from other sources, but the single site I referenced claims that the term "pie in the sky" originated with this song. I will leave the proof of this as an exercise for the reader.)
(Also parenthetically: Without doubt, the practice of denying a worker appropriate wages is wicked in itself; to cloak greed with the promise of a heavenly reward multiplies the evil. Going beyond the employee-employer relationship,  James tells us that religious words are worthless, if we offer them to a brother or sister in place of providing for their physical needs.)
And I thought: I have food, shelter, and clothing, as well as other comforts that the rest of humanity throughout time, as well as most of the world today, could only dream about. I also have the hope of glory, which is Christ in me. So,
Why then, do I find myself praying so fervently for the things I need to make it through the day?
 I'm not sure, but I think it's because I'm troubled about our country.

There may be a lot of leaders out there, working hard to bring peace, but the noise that reaches me here in my home is that of factions fighting for power at the expense of all else. Long ago, I decided I was NOT going to try to follow political parties, or attend to ANYTHING that seemed to be divisive. Even so, the noise reaches me. I have heard that there are some saying that NOW, TODAY, is the time for active opposition, whether to a government policy, or to a civilian faction espousing some other point of view.

Admittedly, I may hear more about this than some of you, since my one remaining hobby is owning and operating (and reloading for) obsolete (also known as CHEAP!) firearms. However, apart from what seems to me to be a ludicrous battle raging over gun control, I'm also aware that there are some fairly significant issues of freedom of speech and freedom of religion that appear to be on a collision course, and I don't see that as having a good outcome.

It's not all one way, of course, and it hardly ever is. A couple of weeks ago, the editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, a magazine I have long had great respect for, and one of the tiny number of magazines I subscribe to, posted an editorial titled "Trump Should Be Removed from Office."
(insert firestorm of reaction here)
Figuratively speaking, that is. This blog post does not have the bandwidth to actually carry a  firestorm of reaction. Pretty sure you need 4K, 5G, 3D VR, and lots of other alphanumerics to convey a  firestorm of reaction.
(Also also parenthetically: This isn't the first time that Christianity Today has spoken out against a problem with the behavior of a sitting president. The editorial quotes criticisms made in 1998 regarding the seeming inability to tell the truth on the part of then-President Clinton. At the time, he was assailed by Ken Starr's Whitewater investigation, Paula Jones' sexual harassment claims, and final proof of his dalliance with a 22-year-old infatuated intern, Monica Lewinsky (who probably paid the highest price of all concerned.)) 
For me, the great issue with the Galli editorial is that he went beyond identifying problem behaviors, both in the White House, and from the seemingly unquestioning evangelical supporters of the administration, to pronouncing sentence on the president: he should be removed from office. THAT, in my opinion, is NOT within the purview of the editor-in-chief. YES, identify the issues, and tell it like it is! Absolutely! But, DON'T pronounce the sentence. As Galli correctly states, that decision rests in the hands of the Senate, with the impeachment process, and with the electorate, if he remains in office.
Perhaps I am mistaken. I am not in the Trump camp, and thus as unaware as possible about all of the fragrance surrounding, etc, etc. When I was 19, I was a Democrat; by the time I was 33, I voted Republican. I considered affiliating with the Libertarians, but they are just a little bit crazier than I wish to be considered.

Regardless of all, I woke up troubled.

Part of today's study was Psalm 12, and it helped, a bit.
1 Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases to be,
For the faithful disappear from among the sons of men.
2 They speak falsehood to one another;
With flattering lips and with a double heart they speak.
3 May the Lord cut off all flattering lips,
The tongue that speaks great things;
4 Who have said, “With our tongue we will prevail;
Our lips are our own; who is lord over us?”
5 “Because of the devastation of the afflicted, because of the groaning of the needy,
Now I will arise,” says the Lord; “I will set him in the safety for which he longs.”
6 The words of the Lord are pure words;
As silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times.
7 You, O Lord, will keep them;
You will preserve him from this generation forever.
8 The wicked strut about on every side
When vileness is exalted among the sons of men.
May all of good will be found in the safety for which we long. 

Peace be on your household.