Friday, April 20, 2018

Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One day you start the normal morning routine on a Mars expedition, but the end of the day you’re bleeding and alone on the Red Planet with everyone believing your dead. The Martian by Andy Weir follows the life and death struggle of astronaut Mark Watney on the surface of Mars as he attempts to stay alive and find a way to contact NASA to get him home.

On the sixth day of the third manned mission to Mars, an intense dust storm scrubs the mission but during the evacuation the mission’s botanist and engineer Mark Watney is seemingly impaled by a broken antenna and left behind. However luck would have it Watney has only a minor injury, but alone on the surface. Taking stock of everything left at base camp, Watney begins planning how to survive until the next mission to Mars and figuring out how to contact NASA, both of which he eventually does through not without significant challenges. Meanwhile NASA has had to do an about face on Watney’s status and begin to figure out how to save him, which means doing things as quickly as possible but results in setbacks and later teaming up with the Chinese to resupply Watney’s crew who “mutiny” by demand to get back to Mars to save their friend.

Weir created a science-based scenario with all the physical and elemental challenges that a stranded astronaut would face on Mars, as well as how it would happen. Watney’s easy-going persona, well as easy-going as one could get while stranded on Mars and hoping to find a way off, makes for numerous laughs that along with Weir’s very easy to read prose makes for a book that is hard to put down. Yet I can’t avoid some of the downsides to the book, namely the end of the book that is almost predictable from the outset and the somewhat manufactured drama especially concerning the internal workings of NASA to results in the crew “mutiny”.

The Martian is a very readable hard science fiction novel, the debut work of Andy Weir. The main character and Weir’s easy prose made this book hard to put down and made me linger reading “just one more page” at night, thus making this a book that I can’t help but recommend to both science fiction fans and general readers alike.

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Monday, April 16, 2018

Book Review: William Miller and the Rise of Adventism by George R. Knight

William Miller and the Rise of AdventismWilliam Miller and the Rise of Adventism by George R. Knight
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Great Disappointment in October 1844 appeared to have brought the end of Millerism and Adventism; however it proved to be just the end of the movement’s initial rise. William Miller and the Rise of Adventism by George R. Knight follows the life of William Miller and then the development of the movement that sprang up from his preaching of the imminent Second Coming of Jesus in ‘about the year 1843’, including the men who helped shape the movement with him and then influenced the believers after October 22, 1844.

Knight begins the history by placing the Christian theological background that influenced the rise of Biblical prophetic study as well as revivalism, including showing that Millerism was the last gasp of the Second Great Awakening. He then delves into the life of William Miller, the events of which would later influence his abandonment and later rediscovery of his Christian belief before his studies brought him to his monumental belief that Jesus’ Second Coming would occur ‘about 1843’. While Miller’s message was engaging from the start, his preaching was only in rural New York and Vermont until chance brought him in connection with younger men who found the truth of his words but knew how to use the day’s modern methods to spread it farther than Miller ever knew possible. Knight relates the growth of the movement among believers in numerous denominations which later leads to a reaction from those same denominations as well as the Millerite leaders attempt to keep down fanaticism amongst believers. The meat of the book covers the “Year of the End” from March 1843 to October 1844 with all the internal and external tension that occurred during that time as the expectation of Jesus return was a daily hope until the date of October 22 was accepted. The final section of the book relates the histories of the Millerites that kept their Adventist hope after the Great Disappointment.

Given the subject matter and Knight being the most prominent Seventh-day Adventist historian today, one could have expected prominence of the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist church. However, save for Joseph Bates who was a prominent Millerite in his own right, the future Seventh-day Adventists are kept until the last two chapters of the book. If anything this was a story of the Millerites and Adventists who didn’t become Seventh-day Adventists, which is important for both those within and without the SDA denomination to learn about and especially for the former to learn lessons from history. For the general Church history reader, this book reveals the last big gasp of the Second Great Awakening that occurred in the United States as well as the ramifications of it over the past 170+ years.

I had expected this book to be a pure biography of William Miller; however the history of the movement named after him turned out to be a far better surprise. William Miller and the Rise of Adventism is for numerous audiences for those interested in Adventist history, American religious history, Christian history, and many more. While George R. Knight is a prominent Seventh-day Adventist historian, his scholarly approach gives the reader a full, unbiased picture of this time.

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Saturday, April 14, 2018

Book Review: Loony Coon by Sam Campbell

Looney CoonLooney Coon by Sam Campbell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One cannot doubt that raccoons can be both a source of problems and of humor, but sometimes a raccoon comes along that takes it to extremes. Loony Coon is the eighth book of Sam Campbell’s Living Forest series which features the antics of the titular raccoon in question as observed by Sam, his wife, Giny, and their friends around the Sanctuary of Wegimind while also visiting an old timer who has is own private sanctuary with a domineering goose.

Sam and Giny visit “Coony Castle” after not seeing a raccoon regular at their cabin, Andrea, and discover that she’s giving birth to six babies though one immediately stands out with a floppy left ear and adventurous behavior—Loony. Although they express interest in all of Andrea’s family, it’s really Loony that becomes the focus of their attention as well as their newest human friends. Sonya Eck, a young fan of Sam’s, and her parents visit the Campbell’s home not only give their daughter a nature experience but to help her mother Dorothy to not fear animals which results in her own misadventures amongst the wildlife. The Campbells with new friends in tow visit another nature lover several times; Warden Olie, whose animal friends is second only to that of the Campbells though the goose Grandmaw might be the most domineering animal ever encountered in the series, features in a few humorous situations peppered throughout the book. The end of the book finds Loony, his mother Andrea, and a sibling sharing “Coony Castle” for the winter and Dorothy on nearly friendly terms with her daughter’s pets after a most interesting summer and fall.

Like the majority of the books in this series the length of this book is around 230 pages and is a blend of styles, from the familiar prose of Sam and using other’s stories to fill in content of the book. Unlike the previous book, Campbell’s words are used throughout however he invests more space for the stories of others though in his words. The dominating feature of the book is how baby raccoons develop, with Loony as the featured star, however the mission of Dorothy Eck to not fear animals is the strong secondary feature of the book that gives hopes to anyone who is intimidated by animals to learn that others have dealt with them. And the interludes with Warden Olie feature extreme fun while also helping give the book its’ usual element of forest philosophy.

Loony Coon is a wonderful mixture of nature related humor and adventure which is a special feature of Sam Campbell’s Living Forest series. If you’ve enjoyed the previous books of Campbell’s you’ll enjoy this one, but if you’re knew of Campbell’s writing this might be a nice book to start with.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Book Review: The Lost Realms by Zecharia Sitchin

The Lost Realms (The Earth Chronicles, #4)The Lost Realms by Zecharia Sitchin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Any contact between the “old world” and the “new world” before Columbus—besides the Norse—has been font of speculation writers for decades if not centuries, but what if contact was orchestrated by an otherworldly source? The Lost Realms is the fourth book by Zecharia Sitchin in his The Earth Chronicles as he explores Mesoamerican and South American structures, hieroglyphics, and oral histories in conjunction with the same from Sumer to reveal their connection.

Beginning with the Spanish arrival in the Americas, Sitchin recounts their wonder at the structures and the treasures of the cultures they encountered, plundered, and destroyed in their conquests. He then transitions to determining “who the Amerindians were” and then analyzing their architectural achievements as well as the cultural histories that were displayed on their walls, comparing them to sites in Sumer and Egypt as well as noting their many similarities especially in astronomical alignments. Sitchin begins relating the mineral wealth that was not only historically located in both regions but are also currently still being mined even today. Finally Sitchin wrapped up his book by connecting events in Sumer, especially relating to tin shortage then sudden abundance, to those in the Americas as brought about by the “gods”.

As with previous books, this one began academically but unlike previous ones this one remained so for the vast majority as Sitchin thoroughly detailed the cultures and sites so as to give evidence for his closing arguments. Yet at times this academic approach became tedious with minute detailing that seemed more to be more word padding than anything else. However, this book was still the shortest of the series with less than 280 pages of text and with a bigger font than previous volumes as well. The final chapter of the book was the payoff as Sitchin used the evidenced he had brought—without repeating it which overwhelmingly helped—to argue for the Annunaki intervention in the Americas led by Adad (Viracocha) and Thoth (Quetzalcoatl).

My remembrance of The Lost Realm was completely different upon my rereading, but despite that the book’s detail is its strength while its minuteness is a liability. Sitchin’s argument for his theory is better presented with less redundancy that has plagued others. Overall this is a good book written by Sitchin to advance his theory.

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Thursday, April 5, 2018

Book Review: Snuff by Terry Pratchett

SnuffSnuff by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sam Vimes lives for being a copper, but Lady Sybil demands that he take a vacation and thus city-born and bred Vimes heads out into the countryside away from the action. Snuff is the 39th book of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series as well the eighth and final book of feature the Watch of Ankh-Morpork. Yet even on vacation Sam Vimes cannot help finding crime taking place and then the fun begins.

Strong-armed to a vacation to his wife’s family estate, Sam Vimes begins walking around the country-side and interacting with the locals who don’t know what to think of Lady Sybil’s husband. Besides the common man, Vimes interacts with some of his “gentlemen” neighbors including Lord Rust who reminds him that his jurisdiction is only in Ankh-Morpork. His suspicions raised, Vimes is then clumsily framed for murder and is detained by the local constable, Feeney Upshot. Taking the young man under his wing, Vimes begins investigating the case especially when he finds out that the blood used was from a butchered goblin girl, a fact that makes Vimes want to find who is responsible. As the case progresses, Vimes and Upshot find evidence of goblin snatching and the smuggling of tobacco and troll narcotics then to the killer of the goblin girl who is guarding a new shipment of goblins. Vimes and Upshot race and catch up with a river boat then battle the lowlife smugglers for control of the boat during a vicious storm. Ending up in Quirm, Vimes leads the local police on a chase to a smuggler ship and find the man he was framed of killing alive and well then later catches the goblin girl’s killer when he tries to kill Young Sam. Vimes returns to Ankh-Morpork to discover the fallout from his investigation and then realize that he actually wants to go on vacation back to the country to relax.

Beginning this book, I didn’t know what to expect especially after the last Watch book, Thud! However, my unease was quickly forgotten as Pratchett kept the narration of the book almost entirely—at least 95%—from Vimes’ point-of-view which help keep the book focused unlike the previously mentioned book. The now six-year old Young Sam was a nice addition to the overall story as it not only added to overall enjoyment of the book, but also added to the solid foundation of Vimes’ fatherhood. The only thing that could be a complaint was that Pratchett sometimes wrote some sections twice as long as they should have been, which while not becoming tedious were after a while making me dart ahead to see when they would be wrapped up.

Snuff is a fun investigative romp around the countryside and down the river. It is a very quality send off for Sam Vimes in the Discworld series and if you’re a fan of this particular series of books by Pratchett and haven’t read it, I encourage you to.

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Saturday, March 31, 2018

Book Review: The Seven Secrets of Somewhere Lake by Sam Campbell

Seven Secrets of Somewhere Lake (Living Forest #7)Seven Secrets of Somewhere Lake by Sam Campbell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Grand Canyon is considered one of the world’s greatest natural features and living in and around it are numerous species that add to its wonder, especially when you are a naturalist. The Seven Secrets of Somewhere Lake is the seventh book of Sam Campbell’s Living Forest book series in which Sam, his wife Giny, and friends both new and old have interactions with animals both at the Sanctuary of Wegimind and the Grand Canyon.

The Campbells begin the book making a sincere pledge to one another not take in any baby animals, but then a trapper family sends them a letter asking for help. That help turned out to be taking in fawn named Zipper, then a few days later it was taking in Zowie a baby fox from the same family, next was an puppy abandoned right in front of them that they named Zanie, next was a baby skunk named Zinnia they saved from some dogs, and finally were seven beavers—the titular secrets—they hid in a secluded lake. The Campbells found themselves in a dilemma as they planned to go to the Grand Canyon to take film and pictures of animals around the natural wonder; luckily they were able to get their young friends Hi-Bub and Tony come to spend the summer at the Sanctuary freeing them to head to Arizona. While the Campbells are around the Grand Canyon they made friends with a Hopi named John Corn and his son Kona, who are instrumental in helping them get film and pictures of animals, when Sam remembers to take the lens off the camera. Meanwhile the boys sends numerous letters giving details about what was happening around the Sanctuary including interactions with one of the members of the trapper family—Bill—that make the Campbells nervous about the relocated beavers. Returning to the Sanctuary, the Campbells find the boys in good spirits and the beavers safe, and later learn that Bill had learned of the beavers and informed Sam so he could keep an eye on them as he’s rejoining the army thus making Sam change his impression of the man.

The book was as long as the previous few books in the Living Forest series at 236 pages, but this one was stylistically different. While Campbell’s own words featured the activities that he was a part of, the letters by Hi-Bub and Tony were quoted verbatim thus adding new voices for a non-insubstantial portion of the text while the Campbells were in Arizona. While animals were the main focus of the book, there were some important human issues that were faced with John and Kona missing their wife/mother, Hi-Bub struggling to find himself, and Bill’s own personal change of attitude towards animals. There is some classical Campbell philosophy, especially when it concerned Hi-Bub, but the focus on the book was nature and adventure.

The Seven Secrets of Somewhere Lake is another wonderful book by Sam Campbell that not only features animal and human antics and adventures in the Sanctuary but also the Grand Canyon. If you’ve enjoyed other books of the Living Forest series, you’ll also enjoy this book.

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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Book Review: Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov

Second FoundationSecond Foundation by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The completion of the original Foundation trilogy sees the masterplan of Hari Sheldon righted by his secret safety valve. Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov sees first the Mule and then the First Foundation itself looking for Sheldon’s second institution because they felt it was a threat, while the Second Foundation attempts to keep the plan going forward.

The book is divided between two novellas, the first and shortest concerns the Mule’s search for the Second Foundation so he can destroy it and rule the Galaxy. He sends two men, one “Converted” and one “Unconverted”, to find his enemies and then follows them to the knowledge of both. Yet the Second Foundation had planned a trap for the Mule, who had deduced that his “unconverted” man was a spy which was planned. The Second Foundation psychologically changes the Mule’s mind from conquest into plan rule so he can die naturally. The second story takes up two-thirds of the book and set 55 years after the first with the First Foundation in knowledge of the Second, which endangers Sheldon’s plan. A group of anti-Second Foundation group meets on Terminus with a young lady eavesdropping to figure out how do destroy their rivals, through the actions of this young lady their conspiracy advances and a war between the Foundation and Kalgan is ignited by happenstance. The young lady is helped to Trantor and later sends a message to her father, who is able to apparently destroy the Second Foundation on Terminus and Kalgan. Only for the leader of the Second Foundation to explain to an apprentice the plan for them to disappear from knowledge so they can keep Sheldon’s plan safe.

Unlike the previous book in the trilogy, this book was written comparably well including both plot and characters. With a telepathic element in both stories, this helped the overall narrative and its myriad of “plots within and upon plots” in both. The point-of-view characters while not the roundest of characters were still better than most in Foundation and Empire, though the second novella “Search by the Foundation” is as long as “The Mule” in the aforementioned previous installment Asimov’s writing was noticeably better in handling the length. Though there was a little tediousness to the second novella, it was mild compared to the previous book and frankly the story moved quickly.

Reading Second Foundation reminded me of reading Foundation and why this trilogy is considered a classic of science fiction. Though Isaac Asimov isn’t a perfect writer, his ideas are engaging and this series shows that perfectly especially in this final book of the trilogy.

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