Saturday, April 5, 2014

Bermuda Triangle

1974
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This 1973 examination of the Bermuda Triangle starts off as a scientific and factual examination of the myth and events that led travelers to request flights that avoided the western Atlantic ocean, but quickly descends into campy theories that makes the book hard to take seriously. Nonetheless, Berlitz treads the line between science and science-fiction in a way that makes both interesting. There is enough credible research to make you doubt the naysayers and actually get a little creeped out at times.
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The bottom line, though, is that despite the author's ability to reasonably present information in a way that makes you view the Triangle and other urban legends with a fresh perspective, he still pushes his love for Atlantis way too hard in this forum (probably to make up enough material for a full sized book), and also the fact that this "#1 bestseller" is tied directly to the "blockbuster movie" titled the Bermuda Triangle completely destroys the last shred of dignity. I had to look the movie up online, and it is a complete mockery of any aspect of the triangle that might be real.
This book is for lovers of urban myths and Atlantis.
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Monday, March 24, 2014

Created, The Destroyer

1971
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In the early seventies as Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris and a variety of martial arts schools and styles were emerging in popular culture, The Destroyer arose as a satire or perhaps evolution of pulp novels by combining the excessive violence and gunplay of book serials like the Executioner and merging it with the philosophy of Oriental fighting.
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In this first novel Remo's teacher Chuin had not yet rose prominently as a lead character, figuring in rather exactly as Yoda does ten year later in the Empire Strikes Back- a teacher more of wisdom than power who only plays as a mid-story turning point for the protagonist. Hence this book lacks much of the fun interpersonal play that helps the Destroyer series to stand out (and provided the only good bits from the movie adaptation). But Remo stands on his own here in his debut appearance. He is tough as hell, and likable even through his worst actions. Even the villains of the story, short lived and somewhat under-developed, are the type of guys you love to hate.
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"I plan on loaning this book immediately to the nearest person I know who enjoys a good action story." That's what I wrote in my GoodReads review three years ago. I then gave the book to a certain co-worker, who is still in possession of said book. I hope he reads it. Or gives it back so I can loan it to someone who will read it. But then again, my bookshelf is filled with books and graphic novels loaned or gifted to me that I haven't touched yet. But at least I provide reasonable anecdotal evidence that I'm working on it!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Cyborg

1972
Cyborg
by Martin Caidin
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As a child, anyone who re-enacted any sort of action in slo-mo, had to do so while making "CH-CH-CH-CH-CH" sound effects, emulating the Six Million Dollar Man. Before Star Wars toys took over the playrooms of young boys in the late seventies, Steve Austin dolls were the prized possession of any cool kid.

But before Lee Majors popularized the idea of a man who could jump fences and run in slow-motion, Martin Caidin had speculated about the use of bionics to rebuild- and strengthen- a human. The novel Cyborg spawned the TV movie and following television show. Caidin writes a technically correct and detailed story and description of the first bionic man. The story of Steve Austin's crash, physical and mental transformation, and rebirth is told in a technical and often dry manner. The details of his surgeries takes up the bulk of the book, examining in a fairly realistic way how a man might cope with being a triple amputee and being a government science experiment- all issues that the TV show basically encapsulated into a six second intro.
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My copy was full of grammatical, spelling and printing errors. The characterization of all but the main characters is shallow, and the two action sequences at the end of the book are a small payoff for anyone who opened this book hoping for a great adventure story.
Overall this book should receive more credit for its groundbreaking work on cybernetic theories, and I wouldn't be surprised if we see much of Caidin's guesswork on bionic limbs finally come to fruition in the near future (if perhaps 50 years too late).
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Two notes of interest- The first is that much of the book takes place in my recently adopted home of Colorado Springs, as the secret bionic lab is located deep in the bowels of NORAD in Cheyenne Mountain. Who knew, right?
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The other is Caidin's nod to crossover fiction, as noted in the Cyborg Wikipedia entry: In the 1990s, Caidin wrote the novel Buck Rogers: A Life in the Future based upon the Buck Rogers comic strip of the 1930s. In this book, Caidin pays tribute to Cyborg by having Buck Rogers receive bionics transplants following his 500-year coma, including several direct references to Steve Austin himself. Again, who knew?
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Although I can't really recommend the book on it's own merits, I would love to hear about your memories of the TV show, or its subsequent spin-offs and reboots.

Artwork/photo credit:
http://volveralpasado.bligoo.cl/el-hombre-nuclear-the-six-million-dollar-man#.UjvIrIznaU
Mark Thiessen/National Geographic

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Hellstrom's Hive

1973

Hellstrom's Hive

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First, some blog housekeeping. I know so many of you have been clamoring for me to return to blogging.

Okay, that didn't happen. But I was reminded last night that I haven't touched this blog since I started my new job last November. It was already difficult to recall the details of books I had read two years earlier, and now I've pushed that to a 30 month deficit. So just in case anyone is out there reading this blog with a critical eye towards my review skills, I apologize that no one is paying me to write this blog and do it well. I think I'm reasonably safe from the whole 'in case anyone is reading this blog' bit.
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Now, on to a very very short review of a book by the author of one of my favorite books.

I really really really liked Hellstrom's Hive. I've always been a fan of Dune but have just recently started reading Herbert's other earlier stuff. You can tell Hive is where he really starts picking up the steam that made Dune possible. Intruiging characters, culteral clashes and a view of society and personal relationships that transcends norms and general comfort- this is the stuff that great sci-fi is made of. My only complaint is that it ends too soon and leaves you wanting much much more.

A very short re-cap would be to say this book starts out as a bit of a spy thriller, but quickly descends into a madhouse story of science fiction and mysterious cults. Herbert's ecological themes start to move to the forefront of his storytelling, toe to toe with his command of humanity's social fixations, nicely captured in insect-ology (as opposed to his stark desert settings that have become synonymous with his name).
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Seeing as I have shelves of unread books to read, many of which were borrowed by good friends nearly a decade ago, I won't be re-reading any books soon, but like Dune, this is a book I would happily consume again, knowing that it strikes the perfect balance between fun pulp and thoughtful commentary.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Ancient Mariner Problems

     Shlomi Dinar, the Associate Professor and Associate Director for the School of International and Public Affairs of Florida International University and "hydro-politics" expert, suggests that "the wars of the next century will be about freshwater" (Dinar 2009, 109).  Although smaller regional skirmishes would be expected, it is unlikely that an interconnected global community will resolve critical resource inadequacies with acts of hostility.


     Conflict, violent or otherwise, is essentially a measurement of degrees of cooperation.  For example, a multi-national treaty to divvy up resources and play well with others represents a very high degree of cooperation. While two states vying for a single resource could possibly represent only an assumed cooperative agreement to compete violently in the theater of battle. Therefore, the scarcity of a resource desired by more than one State, can influence to what degree of cooperation States are willing or able to enter into. There is a “direct relationship between scarcity and cooperation,” (Dinar 2009, 110) and as the population of the Earth drives exponentially onward to the point of critical mass the resources that we all need to survive are becoming exhausted.


     To examine to what degree international States can be expected to cooperate when the most essential of resources, namely fresh water supplies, becomes contested, we must consider first other factors that influence the likelihood of a cooperative scenario. The modern era has seen an unprecedented level of interconnectivity between States. Interconnectivity nullifies the zero-sum game and creates a greater need to cooperate at a higher level.  Because “interdependence not only highlights the sensitivities between countries, but also their reciprocal vulnerabilities” (Dinar 2009, 114) States are more apt to cooperate at a higher degree in order meet their basic needs as well as their social and political requirements.

     Although the idea of sharing a finite resource does not meet the realist ideal of State self-sufficiency, it is important to remember that, while bygone eras saw the State as the primary actor in most international relations scenarios, the power to influence cooperation is not necessarily a State held function in contemporary global society. Also, because “Decision-makers are usually not theorists” (Mowle 2003, 563) the worldview of international policymakers, be it a framework of liberalism or realism, could have less influence than motivated structures or individuals who seek to encourage or discourage cooperation as a function of resource division. It is important to be flexible enough to “shift the level of analysis from the State—which has neither intent nor independent action—to the individuals within the state who direct purposive action” (Mowle 2003, 562). It is this shift from State held influence to a greater degree of individual or structural impact, along with the growing interconnectivity between States and populations that assures that some degree of cooperation will be utilized to deal with the impending scarcity of fresh water resources.




References

Dinar, Shlomi. "Scarcity and cooperation along international rivers." Global Environmental       Politics, February 2009: 109-35.


Mowle, Thomas S. "Worldviews in foreign policy: realism, liberalism, and external conflict." Political Philosophy 24, no. 3 (September 2003): 561-92.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Pain is in between the forefinger and the thumb of the beholder.

There is no certain tyranny more obstructive to the spirit of man than an ill placed pimple.  I realize that sounds theatrical.  But consider nostril or taint, for examples of the extreme, as particularly painful placements of said flare-ups.  Earaches and dental woes are not to be disregarded and I've known men more virile and sturdy than most that have been leveled by lower back tenderness.  And fibromyalgia or other exotic conditions of the nerves or supporting systems do not sound very fun at all.  All kind of injury and insult to the human frame could be listed here as complaints that would theoretically best the errant zit on the hierarchy of hurt.  However, it is the anyday nuisance of an upsurge of an infected sebaceous gland, in the least opportune situation, that inspires my most tearful wincing and uncharacteristically unmanly quivering.  

Friday, November 16, 2012

Marvels

1939 to 1974
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In the haze of the early nineties I accompanied a close friend, Ben C., up to Washington state. I don't know what we were doing, I am sure I was completely along for the ride with no concerns as to destination or purpose. I do recall, however, it had to do with the fact that he was on a paintball team, and that the bulk of our visit was spent at a teammate's house.
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This teammate was a family man, and being an irresponsible but 'grown" kid myself, I was a bit anxious that I was left alone with an actual physical child while Ben discussed paintball business with his colleage. My inhabitions relaxed, however, when I saw that this kid had a stack of comic books. I asked him if he'd mind showing me what he had, and he was happy to oblige.
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What he had was, in fact, mostly garbage. In the early nineties the two major comic companies had taken everything that made simple cheap comics so great in the seventies and eighties and twisted it, regurgitated it, commercialized it, overpriced it and dumbified it. But one series the kid had stuck out like a sore thumb and drew my attention like a Blue Morpho butterfly at a maggot convention.
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Marvels has two very major spins on traditional comics that launch it's success and work so very well together. The first is that it was the initial showcase of Alex Ross's photo-realistic painting. Using paint in comics had been done before, but never with the care, love, detail and realism of Ross. The second is that the story takes place in the Marvel Universe, but deals with it strictly from the viewpoint of a normal every-man family guy who watches New York get runover by power-mad robot freaks and Atlanteans on a weekly basis. The one-two punch of three dimensional depth and color combined with a story that fleshes out the reality of the Marvel U hypnotized me. Years and years later I still force my wife to gaze upon some of Alex Ross's exceptional cover artwork and admit it's excellence.
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Not anyone could've pulled it off. Both Ross and writer Kurt Busiek imbue the Marvels series with an adoration and knowledge of the characters and their history. There is no attempt to re-write the stories for younger audiences or revamp tham to modern trends. The entire series is true to the original Lee and Kirby eras, both in style and content. The setting is very much from World War II into the seventies, covering major turning points in Marvel history from the viewpoint of a Daily Bugle photographer, concurrent with the timeframe of the original comics, much as how I am reading all of my books and comics. Nowadays it just seems like Peter Parker gets bit by a super spider every two years, and the story gets tweaked each time, doesn't it, kids? Well, this is how it all orginally happened, gang- No fancy Oscorp tech or Sam Jackson Nick Fury, just a bunch of nerds in corderoy suits and bow ties, driving '68 Plymouth Valiants.
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While not everyone will be amused by the Marvel Universe retrospective or Ross's cameos of real and fictional stars, Alex Ross should earn a Marvel Universe Nobel Peace Prize for his photo-realistic watercolor style which has truly redrawn the comic book industry and made him one of- if not the most- sought out artist in the comic book business.
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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Education of Oversoul Seven

1973
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Based on the teachings of Seth! Seth is apparently a spirit - or oversoul, I guess- who communicated with the author, Jane Roberts, in a psychic fashion. The Books of Seth are transcripts of her conversations with Seth. This I learned from wikipedia.
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The Education of Oversoul 7 is a fictionalized account of the history and future of mankind as described by Seth. I guess. I inherited this book in a collection of science fiction novels from an out-of business bookstore, and sci-fi is definately where this book belongs, regardless of how much anyone may beleve in Seth.
PhotobucketThere are some suprisingly advanced sci-fi concepts to be found in the story, but the overall kookiness of the oversoul structure and 'Ancient Astronauts' concepts so popular in the seventies leave the reader quite confused about how to regard this book. I regard it as something fun I read but better left in a used-bookstore shelf.
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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Essential Classic X-Men, Vol. 3

1969-1973
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My understanding of the prefixes involved in this volume is that 'Classic' means 'reprint done for money' and 'Essential' means 'done in black and white to save money'. I usually avoid these black and white collections. These comics are antiquated enough, why make them even plainer? Seriously- comics made in b&w are often stylish and designed to look cool in a film noir fashion, especially with color splashed in al'a Sin City. But these old Marvel comics were inked by people who were preparing them for color, and reprinting them to look like generic comics in the newspaper seems to diminish them. But this large tome was the easiest way to access a key span of time in the early X-Men stories that I had never read, and since my library doesn't charge me any more or less for what books I borrow, I happily got essential. And classic.
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I'll admit the format allowed for a better appreciation of Neal Adam's artwork. The cover highlights the underappreciated work the infamous Roy Thomas and Adams put into their failed effort to save the X-Men from being canceled. Much of the penciling does shine through in the essential format. And while the introduction of Havok- a Summers kid who is actually more angst-ridden and whiney than his older bro, Cyclops, did nothing to boost sales and prevent the X-Men from getting shit-canned (temporarily), I've always been a long-time fan of Thomas and I think the work, as broken up as it is, holds up as an epic era for the X-Clan.
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The real hidden gem was the origin of the Beast (the further mutated Hank McCoy, that is). How Marvel figured their best bet at keeping the X-Men alive was in a Beast solo title is beyond me, but watching his evolution from ape-like humanoid to black furry superbeing to blue fuzzball up to the point where he had to finish his storyline in The Incredible Hulk is pretty interesting stuff to a Marvel-ite who had only read about it in The Official Handbook previously. Nowadays it's pretty common to revamp comic characters, switching up their costumes, powers, personalities, appearance and even origin. But to have Hank leave the X-Men, go solo, mutate farther than any mutant had at that time, and start title-hopping were all very bold moves in 1972. It also set the Beast on the course of his Marvel career- nearly every writer who has touched him has toyed with his mutations and team-status. McCoy will always be the X-Man who may call himself an advisor, a friend or partner to the team, but in truth always has been and always will be an X-Man.
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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Colonel Butler's Wolf

1973

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When my wife brought me home several boxes from the science fiction section of an out-of-business bookstore, there were quite a few novels that had clearly been overflowed from other sections. I found a good number of books in the spy-action-mystery genre, written in the seventies through the nineties. I figured that when I had read them I would pass them along to my father, who is more interested in espionage and intrigue. That was over ten years ago, and this is one of the only book's I've gotten to so far.
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A stand alone story which is part of a larger series, I was disappointed by the choppy flow of this book as well as having a hard time following the lingo and culture of early seventies Brits. Interesting main characters gave the book some color and interest, but rare and clipped bits of action were eclipsed by meetings among the characters that dragged on over the course of several chapters. I wanted to like this book, and wouldn't rule out giving Price another try, but can't say this was a good novel by any standards.
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Photo Copyright © 2011 Rachel Day.
My favorite part of the book is a throwaway scene in which one of the main characters (Col. Butler, perhaps! I don't remember.) is snooping through a closed building at night and encounters a bad guy who has somehow gone and caught himself on fire. The flaming baddie charges the Colonel and his reaction is to be understandably startled and afraid. While his super-spy brain understands that he is being rushed by a man on fire, he still has a primal reaction of fear at the strange visage. The point is that he compares the man on fire to a demon from James Blish's novel Black Easter. Having just read Black Easter I was very tickled at understanding the arcane reference, and perhaps felt a bit self-congratulatory about my timeline reading clusters.
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Anyway, I gave this book to my dad on his last visit to Colorado, and am still awaiting his review.

ADDENDUM: For a much more educated and in-depth review and interview of Anthony Price and his work, please see the blog from which I snagged the pic of the author here.