Thursday, January 10, 2019

Slingshot: Building the largest machine in human history by Robert G. Williscroft

Slingshot: Building the largest machine in human historySlingshot: Building the largest machine in human history by Robert G. Williscroft
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Slingshot: Building the Largest Machine in Human History is a hard science fiction novel based on a design concept developed by Keith Lofstrom in the 1980s. The story is about the construction and first trial of a launch loop, a machine designed to launch spacecraft at a much lower cost than the rockets in use today. The idea is fascinating and the description in this book is thorough and highly technical. Here's a sample:

As Slingshot continued to bootstrap itself skyward, teams on Baker and Jarvis performed virtually identical actions. Initially, they loosely passed the skytower cable through the anchoring loops in the sockets. As the rail moved up, they fed cable from a huge reel located on a barge in the harbor, keeping it loose, without tension. Simultaneously, they attached the lift-cable suspensor to the skytower cable every five hundred meters with aramid-based polymer rings. Both the lift and boost cable passed through meter-long tubes connected to each ring that were lined with neodymium magnets. These tubes restrained the cables without friction...

Although the technical descriptions in Slingshot are intricate, the relationships between the characters do not have that level of careful detail, lots of physical intimacy, but little emotional intimacy. There is one “relationship” that is explored in depth, but it's not between two living characters. It is between Margo, the chief engineer, and her mental image of Amelia Earhart, whose plane had gone missing in the same part of the world where the Slingshot project was taking place. Her feelings for her hero are intense.

Another issue I had with the story was the opposition to the launch loop. Any project of this magnitude is going to have problems. The pros and cons should be explored equally. In his novel, Williscroft created Green Force, an extremist group of naïve people who conduct violent opposition to the project and are easily dissuaded from their goals. As the story goes on, the reason for this weak opposition is revealed, but the book is left without any science based explanation of the cons.

Slingshot introduced me to an idea that could have a major impact on the future of space exploration. I loved reading about it and enjoyed the concept enough to check out the Wikipedia page for the launch loop ( ). Slingshot is a perfect book for people who like reading about new technical ideas. I believe fans of shows such as National Geographic's Mars will enjoy this read.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions, Hopatcong Vision Quest, and Under a Warped Cross

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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory

The Lady of the Rivers (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels, #1)The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Lady of the Rivers is the story of Jacquetta St. Pol, a young woman from a wealthy family. She came to England from Luxembourg when she married the English Duke of Bedford. It was an arranged marriage. Her family wanted her to have wealth, title, and influence, but the Duke wanted something unusual. Jacquetta's family claimed they were descended from the water deity Melusina. He wanted to use her power to learn about his rivals and enemies.

Jacquetta is much younger than her husband and is widowed at age nineteen. Her husband's last request of his wife demonstrates that he thought of her as a possession rather than as someone he could respect and confide in. Perhaps from a need for respect or from love or desire, but Jacquetta's second marriage is the opposite of her first.

I love the way Philippa Gregory maintained historical accuracy, but also managed to weave Jacquetta's mystic abilities into the story. Here is an excerpt from a conversation where her great-aunt is explaining the sight she seems to have inherited:

“You have to listen,” she says softly. “Listen to the silence, watch for nothing. And be on your guard. Melusina is a shape-shifter; like quicksilver, she can flow from one thing to another. You may see her anywhere; she is like water. Or you may see only your own reflection in the surface of a stream though you are straining your eyes to see into the green depths for her.”

I also love the way Jacquetta's character is constantly drawn between the goals of power and duty vs. the desire for family and safety. Her two marriages demonstrate this, but this goes on throughout the book as both Jacquetta and Richard, her second husband, must take sides in the power struggles of the times.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions, Hopatcong Vision Quest, and Under a Warped Cross.

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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Her Daughter's Preacher by Jeannie Sharpe

Her Daughter's Preacher: A Second Chances NovelHer Daughter's Preacher: A Second Chances Novel by Jeannie Sharpe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Her Daughter's Preacher is the second book in Jeannie Sharpe's Second Chances series. The books are about people who have had some problems in their lives, but are presented with opportunities to start over. This novel is a light, Christian romance about Corey Fisher, a woman who has lived through the pain of a failed marriage. Her husband, Bennett, was a preacher who “put his church before [Corey], Haley and sweet Sara Anne.” Now along comes Luke Anderson, another preacher, this time from the church (coincidentally named St. Luke's) where Corey's children attend Sunday school. Corey finds this new man attractive and generous (sometimes overly generous). When he confesses his own attraction, she is worried about his impulsive behavior and similarities with her ex.

It's a fun read for people who like sweet (there's even a puppy in the story), fast-paced romances, but what I found most interesting was the underlying theme of a competition between the love someone feels for God and the love that same person feels for his or her spouse. We don't get to know what Bennett was thinking when he left his family, we just know the thoughts Corey had after he was gone. Perhaps Bennett abandoned his marriage more for his own ambition than for a calling. There's also a line in Sharpe's novel that says “...put you first, right after God.” That is a difficult concept as well, worthy of a long discussion.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions, Hopatcong Vision Quest, and Under a Warped Cross.

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Monday, December 10, 2018

Killer in the Retroscape: A Near-Future Mystery by Bruce M. Perrin

Killer in the Retroscape:  A Near-Future MysteryKiller in the Retroscape:  A Near-Future Mystery by Bruce M. Perrin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Killer in the Retroscape is a cross-genre novel. Although most novels contain elements of multiple genres, such as romance within mystery, this well written story puts equal emphasis on mystery and syfy and is subtitled A Near Future Mystery.

The mystery comes when Doug Michaels receives a call from Bette, the ex-wife of Josh Unger, a friend Doug hasn't spoken to in years. Bette can't get in touch with her ex, so she asks Doug to look in on him. When Doug arrives at his friends' home, he discovers Josh's body hanging from a rafter. The death is ruled a suicide, but Doug suspects something more and sets out to find the real reason his friend is dead.

The syfy aspect of this novel comes in its time frame and elaborate setting. Bruce M. Perrin has placed his story in the world of St. Louis, Missouri in the year 2068 and, through flashbacks, the same city thirty-three, twenty-two, and fourteen years earlier. This is a world with high tech benefits like CommCovers, display surfaces placed on walls that can show what's outside or most anything else the owner wants to see. SCAT transportation, government run driverless taxis. Coffee machines on almost every corner that produce “Scientifically Brewed Coffee.” And, most importantly, personified virtual assistants known as virtuants who have access to broad databases and the physical counterparts of the virtuants known as mechanions.

Doug's search for answers concerning Josh's death begins through the ability of Suze, his virtuant, to access information about people and places in the past. He uses her talent to build a retroscape, which is “...a landscape filled with objects from the past.” As the mystery unravels, more information about the high-tech world they live in is revealed, some of it good, but some of it very scary.

The characters in Killer in the Retroscape are wonderful. I love the relationship between Doug and his wife Ali and the virtuants and mechanions are particularly fascinating. This was a fun read and made me think. I recommend it to all, syfy fans or not.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions, Hopatcong Vision Quest, and Under a Warped Cross.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Empty Seats by Wanda Adams Fischer

Empty seatsEmpty seats by Wanda Adams Fischer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The ending of Empty Seats by Wanda Adams Fischer is so different from the beginning, it almost reads like a separate book. The novel starts out as a story about baseball. Here's a quote from Jimmy Bailey's first chance to pitch for the Jamestown Falcons, a single A team in the Montreal Expos system. He's a relief pitcher, showing his coaches what he's got in a scrimmage with Geneva, another single A team.

Russ calls for a fastball. I lean down, coddle the ball, rock back on the pitching rubber, pull my left foot up in a perpendicular motion, bring my right arm back, and fire.

There's careful detail in this writing and, when Jimmy's team is fighting to win, the book gets very exciting. You don't have to be a baseball fan to feel it.

Then the season ends and the three main characters head back to their families. These are Bobby, Bud, and Jimmy, all pitchers trying to work their way up from single A. Here the book changes to a story of young men dealing with the problems life hands them in their own ways, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Baseball has very little to do with this part of the novel, although they still encounter fans from their high school days, still have to deal with their own dreams, and still keep in touch with each other. Here's a quote from this section. This one is also from Jimmy.

Yes, Bud, you are my friend.
You're the real deal.
The peacemaker.
The leader.
My friend.

The description of what it was like to be a young, minor-league baseball player in the early seventies was my favorite aspect of this novel. I had a little trouble transitioning to the tone of the second part, but both sections were well written and exciting.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions, Hopatcong Vision Quest, and Under a Warped Cross.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand

The RumorThe Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Rumor probably should have been named The Rumors, since Elin Hilderbrand's novel is filled with gossip, some based on fact and some flat out wrong. It is hard to know which rumor she considers THE rumor.

Madeline is a writer who suffers from writer's block when she doesn't have an actual event to use for the basis of a plot. She was kidnapped when she was young, by a druggie, ex boyfriend. She got her first publishing break after writing a novel based on that experience. Eddie is an ex athlete, who is obsessed with monetary success and will do whatever he can to achieve it. Grace is Eddie's lonely (and horny) wife. Hope and Allegra are the daughters of Grace and Eddie. Hope is focused on success in school, while Allegra is focused on her popularity and a possible career as a model. There are plenty of conflicts in these diverse interests and Hilderbrand makes the most of them.

One of the sections I enjoyed was when Benton, Grace's gardener with benefits, talks to Hope about the books he loves best. (He was a literature major in college.) I've read most of the books he recommended, but there were a few I haven't. I'm going to try some of them. There are plenty of book lists on the web, but weaving one into a good story is fun.

The book is a little too predictable, but still a fun read for someone looking for something light.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions, Hopatcong Vision Quest, and Under a Warped Cross

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Aisuru by Anma Natsu

Aisuru (Hakodate Hearts, #1)Aisuru by Anma Natsu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The footnotes in Aisuru by Anma Natsu are fascinating by themselves. They are a tour of Japanese culture, describing among other things: Japanese expressions, food types, and place descriptions. For example - “Honto no sumimasen” has a footnote which provides the English definition of “An extra apologetic apology, usually translated to truly, I am very sorry.” Another example defines “yakisoba” as “Fried ramen-style noodles, made from wheat flour, with a thick, sweetened sauce, vegetables, and a protein.”

Yet, this is not a tour guide. It’s a fantasy about a young Japanese woman named Sakura. She is a high school student who suffered damage to her internal organs when her father had a violent mental breakdown described as “integration disorder,” the term used in Japan for schizophrenia. Sakura has been told she will die soon and has decided to live out her life as a normal Japanese student. To achieve this goal and to avoid hurting people she knows too well, she has kept to herself and has told none of her friends.

Sakura is visited by a yokai, who was a friend of her adopted father. Yokais are “a class of supernatural monsters and spirits in Japanese folklore.” (from Babylon NG) This one, Kazuki, also has royal blood. The story continues with love and adventure.

Early in the book Sakura says, “Yes, sometimes I wonder if textbook writers actually like history that much. They always write it in such a boring fashion.” I think Anma Natsu had this thought when writing her novel. This is a wonderful picture of Japan mixed in with a fun fantasy.

Steve Lindahl - author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions, Hopatcong Vision Quest, and Under a Warped Cross.

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