31 December 2016

BOOK REVIEW: The True Story of Guns N' Roses: The Last of the Giants by Mick Wall

The True Story of Guns N' Roses: The Last of the GiantsThe True Story of Guns N' Roses: The Last of the Giants by Mick Wall
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Many millions of words have already been written about Guns N' Roses, the old line-up, the new line-up. But none of them have ever really gotten to the truth. Guns N' Roses has always been a band out of time, the Last of the Giants. They are what every rock band since the Rolling Stones has tried and nearly always failed to be: dangerous. At a time when smiling, MTV-friendly, safe-sex, just-say-no Bon Jovi was the biggest band in the world, here was a band that seemed to have leapt straight out of the coke-smothered pages of the original, golden-age, late-sixties rock scene.

'Live like a suicide', the band used to say when they all lived together in the Hell House, their notorious LA home. And this is where Mick Wall first met them, and became part of their inner circle, before famously being denounced by name by Axl Rose in the song 'Get in the Ring'.

But this book isn't about settling old scores. Written with the clear head that 25 years later brings you, this is a celebration of Guns N' Roses the band, and of Axl Rose the frontman who really is that thing we so desperately want him to be: the last of the truly extraordinary, all-time great, no apologies, no explanations, no giving-a-shit rock stars. The last of his kind.

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Wo, what a ride! This book is a crazy and excellent historical exposé of one of the biggest and best rock bands the world has ever seen. A weird and sometimes frustrating story, written in an easy and informal style by a top respected music journalist, I enjoyed this from the first word to the last. While the GN'R saga is generally well known these days, this book seems to offer the story in a fresh and exciting new way which makes it so much fun to read. It's current too (published late 2016) so there is plenty of gen on the "reunion" and the pleasantly surprising Axl/DC shows. I loved it. I recommend it for any fan of Guns N' Roses and/or rock music in general, and it rates for me as the second best music bio that I've read to date after Slash's own autobiography.

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Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God


By ERIC METAXAS
from The Wall Street Journal

In 1966 Time magazine ran a cover story asking: Is God Dead? Many have accepted the cultural narrative that he’s obsolete—that as science progresses, there is less need for a “God” to explain the universe. Yet it turns out that the rumors of God’s death were premature. More amazing is that the relatively recent case for his existence comes from a surprising place—science itself.

Here’s the story: The same year Time featured the now-famous headline, the astronomer Carl Sagan announced that there were two important criteria for a planet to support life: The right kind of star, and a planet the right distance from that star. Given the roughly octillion—1 followed by 27 zeros—planets in the universe, there should have been about septillion—1 followed by 24 zeros—planets capable of supporting life. [see the Drake Equation - LS]

With such spectacular odds, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, a large, expensive collection of private and publicly funded projects launched in the 1960s, was sure to turn up something soon. Scientists listened with a vast radio telescopic network for signals that resembled coded intelligence and were not merely random. But as years passed, the silence from the rest of the universe was deafening. Congress defunded SETI in 1993, but the search continues with private funds. As of 2014, researchers have discovered precisely bubkis - 0 followed by nothing.


SETI radio telescope array

What happened? As our knowledge of the universe increased, it became clear that there were far more factors necessary for life than Sagan supposed. His two parameters grew to 10 and then 20 and then 50, and so the number of potentially life-supporting planets decreased accordingly. The number dropped to a few thousand planets and kept on plummeting.

Even SETI proponents acknowledged the problem. Peter Schenkel wrote in a 2006 piece for Skeptical Inquirer magazine: “In light of new findings and insights, it seems appropriate to put excessive euphoria to rest... We should quietly admit that the early estimates...may no longer be tenable.”

As factors continued to be discovered, the number of possible planets hit zero, and kept going. In other words, the odds turned against any planet in the universe supporting life, including this one. Probability said that even we shouldn’t be here.

Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life - every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart. Without a massive planet like Jupiter nearby, whose gravity will draw away asteroids, a thousand times as many would hit Earth’s surface. The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing.


Jupiter - our stalwart protector

Yet here we are, not only existing, but talking about existing. What can account for it? Can every one of those many parameters have been perfect by accident? At what point is it fair to admit that science suggests that we cannot be the result of random forces? Doesn’t assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?

There’s more. The fine-tuning necessary for life to exist on a planet is nothing compared with the fine-tuning required for the universe to exist at all. For example, astrophysicists now know that the values of the four fundamental forces - gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces - were determined less than one millionth of a second after the big bang. Alter any one value and the universe could not exist. For instance, if the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force had been off  by the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction - by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000 - then no stars could have ever formed at all. Feel free to gulp.

Multiply that single parameter by all the other necessary conditions, and the odds against the universe existing are so heart-stoppingly astronomical that the notion that it all “just happened” defies common sense. It would be like tossing a coin and having it come up heads 10 quintillion times in a row. Really?

Fred Hoyle, the astronomer who coined the term “big bang,” said that his atheism was “greatly shaken” at these developments. He later wrote that “a common-sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as with chemistry and biology . . . . The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”

Theoretical physicist Paul Davies has said that “the appearance of design is overwhelming” and Oxford professor Dr. John Lennox has said “the more we get to know about our universe, the more the hypothesis that there is a Creator...gains in credibility as the best explanation of why we are here.”

The greatest miracle of all time, without any close seconds, is the universe. It is the miracle of all miracles, one that ineluctably points with the combined brightness of every star to something - or Someone - beyond itself.

Mr. Metaxas is the author, most recently, of “Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life” (Dutton Adult, 2014).



28 December 2016

BOOK REVIEW: A Miracle of Rare Design by Mike Resnick

A Miracle of Rare Design (Birthright #21)A Miracle of Rare Design by Mike Resnick
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

How far would you go to unlock the mysteries of an alien culture? Journalist and adventurer Xavier William Lennox becomes obsessed with the rituals of the Fireflies, an alien culture of gold-skinned inhabitants living on the planet Medina. When he gets too close to their mysterious society, he's captured, tortured, and banished for defying their laws, but vows to learn what the aliens are so desperate to hide, even if it means becoming one of them. His curiosity doesn't end there. As opportunities arise to study more alien races, Lennox takes cultural immersion to the breaking point. He not only buries himself in the language and customs of the aliens, but also undergoes severe surgeries to become one of them. Each time his humanity is stretched until he faces his biggest challenge-trying to return to the ordinary life of a man who has experienced the universe in ways he was never meant to.

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This Birthright story has left me feeling a little flat, dissatisfied that the big reveal I was anticipating never eventuated. Thankfully it's a short book. I love Resnick's style and he's been one of my favorite authors of any genre so I guess, for this reason, I feel a bit disappointed.

The first phase of the story where the main character "becomes" a Firefly alien to assimilate with them seemed to promise me a grand finale, that I would learn a great secret that these highly spiritual creatures were hiding. But did that happen? Nope. The story then goes on to show him being altered surgically a few more times to be able to manipulate a new alien species to Man's desires each time. It does provoke thought in that his character grows increasingly distant from his human origins each time he's changed, and he can see the limitations and folly of the human species because of his alien perspectives.

Overall it's typically Resnick in that it's easy to read and flows nicely and doesn't waste time with superfluous words, almost pulp-style, which I like. However, the lack of a gritty story or twist means that the entertainment value to me is seriously diminished.

I see that some people have rated this very highly due to the philosophical theme, which is fine, but I was hoping for a little more entertainment and fun.

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24 December 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Rogue One - A Star Wars Story by Alexander Freed

Rogue One - A Star Wars StoryRogue One - A Star Wars Story by Alexander Freed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the shadows of the Empire loom ever larger across the galaxy, so do deeply troubling rumors. The Rebellion has learned of a sinister Imperial plot to bring entire worlds to their knees. Deep in Empire-dominated space, a machine of unimaginable destructive power is nearing completion. A weapon too terrifying to contemplate . . . and a threat that may be too great to overcome.

If the worlds at the Empire s mercy stand any chance, it lies with an unlikely band of allies: Jyn Erso, a resourceful young woman seeking vengeance; Cassian Andor, a war-weary rebel commander; Bodhi Rook, a defector from the Empire s military; Chirrut Imwe, a blind holy man and his crack-shot companion, Baze Malbus; and K-2SO, a deadly Imperial droid turned against its former masters. In their hands rests the new hope that could turn the tide toward a crucial Rebellion victory if only they can capture the plans to the Empire s new weapon. 


But even as they race toward their dangerous goal, the specter of their ultimate enemy a monstrous world unto itself darkens the skies. Waiting to herald the Empire s brutal reign with a burst of annihilation worthy of its dreaded name: Death Star.


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For the combined reasons of not being able to wait to see the movie and being stuck in bed running a temperature with 'flu, I read this novelization with interest and enthusiasm over the course of a couple of days. I'd seen the Rogue One movie trailers, of course, and some amazing concept artwork, which meant that I found myself with some comprehensive imagery for my mind's eye to make use of. This definitely helped me speed through the story with no effort. With no detailed plot points or spoilers from the screen version to influence my thoughts, I was hitting to story with minimal preconception.

To the book itself: I have to be honest and say, the first half of the book was very good and had me hooked from the kick off, but it just seemed to fall a little flat for the third quarter. This was taken up largely with the epic battle where Jyn Erso and her rebel comrades attempt to secure the plans for the Death Star. It just seemed to go on and on without really accomplishing much in terms of the story line. But, if action is your thing, you're going to love it. Right near the end it came good again and I thought the end chapter (and particularly the Epilogue) was great, a fitting end to this story which is a stand alone but which also has hints of coming events in A New HopeWe catch a glimpse of a few characters that we've seen and known before plus see others who are more prominent players like Tarkin and Vader.

Overall it's fine and I give it an actual 3.5 stars, but it's not one of the best Star Wars novels that I've read. It's a solid tale that fits nicely beside the main Star Wars story arc and fleshes out the universe with some good characters and other elements. I just felt that the story got bogged down a bit during that big battle phase. I'm still as eager as ever to see the movie, possibly even more so, and am equally as eager to see the what other projects that come out of the new and revitalized (a matter of some debate in fandom it would seem...) Star Wars franchise.

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08 December 2016

How Will Our Religions Handle the Discovery of Alien Life?

By DAVID A. WEINTRAUB
@ Nautilus


What would your priest, rabbi, or imam say if we discovered alien life?

For the religious, knowing that life on Earth is not unique may demand radical new ways of thinking about ourselves: How special and sacred are we? Is Earth a privileged place? Do we have an obligation to care for beings on other planets?  Should we convert ET to “my” religion? These questions point to a deeper issue about whether our religions can adapt to the idea that humans are not the only sentient beings in the universe capable of worshiping God.

Some faiths might unearth new meanings in ancient texts and develop ways of incorporating alien life into their world-views. Other religions that are less flexible in their interpretations of scripture or that claim humans are the only intelligent beings in the universe might struggle to adapt.

Whether we are believers or not, none of us can fully escape the influence of religion in our culture. Religion is one of the oldest parts of our social fabric, and is one way—perhaps the main way—that society will process first contact. Here is a brief list of how some religions think about aliens, whether they will try to proselytize them, and which religions are likely to remain intact in the wake of the potential discovery of alien life.

Read more HERE.


14 November 2016

BOOK REVIEW: The Invincible by Stanisław Lem


The InvincibleThe Invincible by Stanisław Lem
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The interstellar cruiser Invincible lands on Regis III, which seems bleakly uninhabited, to investigate the loss of sister ship, Condor. The crew discovers a form of quasi-life born through evolution of autonomous, self-replicating machines. Individually or in small groups they are harmless and capable of only simple behavior. When bothered they form huge swarms displaying complex behavior arising from self-organization and are able to defeat an intruder by a powerful surge of EMI. Some members of the crew suffer complete memory erasure as a consequence. Big clouds are also capable of high speed travel to the troposphere. The angered crew attempts to fight the enemy, but eventually recognize the meaninglessness of their efforts in the most direct sense of the word.
The novel turns into an analysis of the relationship between different life domains and their place in the cosmos - a thought experiment demonstrating that evolution may not necessarily lead to dominance by intellectually superior life forms. The plot also involves a Conrad-like dilemma, juxtaposing human values and the efficiency of mechanical insects.

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An interesting albeit dated hard sci-fi tale of a starship sent to a planet in search of a missing vessel and crew sent there previously. It's an easy read and relatively short, with a simple yet complex (if that makes sense) story of discovery and realization that "life" in the universe can come in unexpected forms and along varied evolutionary paths. I liked the sense of wonder of the the journey of discovery through the story. As a negative, I found the characters a bit boring and uninteresting for the most part. I just never got to know them, so to speak, and had this aspect been a little more engaging, then I feel the story would have been taken another level. This is how I often feel about older science fiction books from authors such as Arthur C Clarke, great story ideas but minimal and often lackluster characterization, to my more modern tastes, anyway. Overall it was enjoyable, but definitely more of a seasoned sci-fi fan book than one for the "uninitiated". I just found out that the edition that I read was translated from the original Polish via German into English, so maybe this could account for some of the one dimensional characters and their portrayals? I'm going to assume so, and give Mr. Lem the benefit of the doubt.

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13 November 2016

BOOK REVIEW: A Night Without Stars (Chronicle of the Fallers #2) by Peter F. Hamilton

A Night Without StarsA Night Without Stars by Peter F. Hamilton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The planet of Bienvenido is on its own, isolated from the rest of the universe. And it’s waging war against the ruthless Fallers, aliens which have evolved to conquer whole worlds. Kysandra is leading an underground resistance, aided by biological enhancements that give her a crucial edge. But she fears she’s fighting a losing battle. This is especially as the government hampers her efforts at every turn, blinded by crippling technophobia and prejudices against enhanced 'Eliter' humans. However, if the resistance and government can’t work together, humanity on this planet will face extinction – for the Fallers are organizing a final, decisive invasion. Bienvenido badly needs outside help. But the Commonwealth, with all its technological expertise, has been lost to them for generations. Desperate times will call for desperate measures, or humanity on Bienvenido will not survive.

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This was everything that I'd hoped it would be, an epic and satisfying conclusion to this pair of books set in PFH's truly awesome Commonwealth universe. Set a number of years after the events of the preceding Abyss Beyond Dreams, the pace never really lets up and there's action aplenty, including a very cool battle at the beginning where an old foe from the past makes another appearance. We're also given snippets of information about what has come before, background information that helps to flesh put the vast plot lines that Hamilton weaves.
As usual, there are cops and detectives as a key characters, all part of the mission to rid the isolated world of Bienvenido from the relentless and ruthless Fallers. Things have changed quite a lot for the planet since it's expulsion from the Void which was depicted in the previous book. Now we're beginning to see the use of modern Commonwealth tech and devices, and society is divided into factions that either have the use of this tech, welcome it and want more, as well as those who yearn for the old simple times prior to the expulsion (or Great Transition as they call it). This creates paranoid society that the Fallers take advantage of. There are even 20th century style rocket missions into orbit to nuke the Faller trees which ring the planet. Very cool.
The story ramps up very quickly as a new player is deposited on Bienvenido in an attempt to enact a final blow to the Fallers. As well as events on the planet itself, we learn of the other planets in the group that are also marooned in starless intergalactic space, light years from anything else.
Without going into more detail of the various plot elements which you will be generally familiar with if you've read the previous book, I'll summarize in saying that this book is classic PFH. It's excellent modern space opera and is huge fun to read. It's typically (for Hamilton) quite long, but it's by no means arduous. It's the best sci-fi that I've read this year, and it was well worth the wait.

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08 October 2016

BOOK REVIEW: A Second Chance At Eden by Peter F. Hamilton

A Second Chance at EdenA Second Chance at Eden by Peter F. Hamilton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the author of the bestselling 'Night's Dawn' trilogy, a novella and six stories set in the same brilliantly realized universe.

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A truly superb collection of shorter works from an equally superb author. This is one of those books which took me a long time to getting round to reading. It's been literally sitting on my bookshelf alongside my other Peter F Hamilton volumes for a couple of years. Each story adds a little extra to the awesome spectacle that is the Night's Dawn trilogy, whether it's to further explain a particular facet of the Confederation universe, or to give background to a certain plot element. I was forced by circumstance to read this compilation in a rather start-stop fashion, but this proved to be no problem due to the quality of the stories, and I was always eager to get back to it. Any fan of Hamilton and/or the Confederation universe will totally adore this, and I reckon it could be read with no problem at all by a reader with no previous experience of the series or the author. The Confederation universe is a masterful science fiction creation that will go down in sci-fi literary history as one of the best (well it should do!) and this collection is integral and wonderfully complimentary to it. I hugely recommend it.

Following are my thoughts and rating of each story:

Sonnie's Edge:
I didn't think that I'd enjoy this one as much as I did, it's exactly what I like which is a simple and engaging story. It's about a genetically-spliced girl involved in the gruesome blood sport of "beastie-baiting", fighting soulless biologically engineered creatures in front of baying crowds. It's introduces and describes the biological technology (bitek) and "affinity" bonds that play a huge part in the Confederation Universe and Night's Dawn trilogy stories. It's a tad brutal, for sure, but fun and interesting with a cool ending. [4/5]

A Second Chance At Eden:

The main novella length story in this collection is classic PFH, a whodunnit murder mystery told in the first person from the perspective of a policeman/security chief who has just arrived at the awe-inspiring 10km long living space habitat Eden which orbits Jupiter. This habitat, as well as couple of others being developed nearby, has been seeded and grown from a special type of bitek polyp analogous to coral, and is essentially a huge living organism.Eden is home to a burgeoning society of industrial and philosophical idealists who are relishing life away from Earth's restrictions and prejudices. Eden can be communicated with via "affinity" bonds, and affinity is introduced in some detail in this story. As the story progresses we see how this is central to what will eventually become the "Edenist" society of the Confederation Universe novels.Throughout the story, there are subtle and not so subtle attacks on current established religious thought and practice which are also present in the Night's Dawn novels, and make me wonder about PFH's motivations in this regard. Does he have a particular dislike for religion, with an axe to grind with religious institutions, Christianity in particular? Whatever the case, this does add depth to the story which is as much about philosophical ideas as it is about technological and biological advances.The story itself is an easy read and kept me interested the whole way through, because of both the great story line and also the world building aspect of the bitek habitats and Edenist society. It's a crucial read for fans of the Confederation Universe. [5/5]

New Days Old Times:

There's a definite darkness that hovers over the events of the Confederation universe stories, and this shows this with a tale that will sound all to familiar to most. It shows that human self-imposed boundaries and prejudices have no barrier in the vastness of space. Set on the planet Nyvan, seventeen light-years from Earth which is part of a rapidly expanding human expansion outward to numerous colony planets. While most of these colonies were begun with noble intentions, it appears that those prejudices eventually rise to the surface. Again, this story pokes an accusing finger at faith institutions and spiritual belief which is a hallmark of this collection and the Night's Dawn series as a whole. A sobering short story that introduces us to another facet of the Confederation universe along with more information in a world-building sense that I enjoyed in one sitting. [4/5]

Candy Buds:

I had a little trouble getting my head around this one at times, but it's a fine enough story and easy to get into. I needed to re-read portions to fully grasp the twist at the end. If I had any advice for someone who is about to read this story, that would be to pay extra close attention to the details or you may miss things as I did. Again, there are some really cool depictions of affinity bonds and also of Confederation colony world society. Not a favorite of mine, it lacked the "bigness" that I like in scifi but it's typically well written and the plot good enough to keep me on the hook. [3/5]

Deathday:

Very good and very engaging story in which we closely follow a man on a quest driven by emotion to slay an unusual alien creature with which he appears to share a sort of connection. It's set on a world which has not quite lived up to expectations for the man, and this adds to his disillusionment and fanatical devotion to his goal. A story that moves along at a good rate, and has a very intense ending. [4/5]

The Lives and Loves of Tiarella Rosa:

One of my definite favorites of this collection, which I'm actually surprised about, but most of the sci-fi boxes are ticked for me somewhere along the way in this story. Essentially a tale of a man on the run from his former employers, who arrives on a planet to hide and ends up living with the unusual woman Tiarella and her daughter on an idyllic island. The story that follows is quite an interesting one, in that things are being manipulated toward certain ends. There's plenty of bitek and affinity stuff in these pages and it's a very good expose of a typical Confederation society, which makes it a great part of this collection. [5/5]

Escape Route:

An excellent story, again ticking most of the sci-fi boxes. The Lady Macbeth and her crew are central elements of the Night's Dawn trilogy and here we're introduced to them in a great yarn. Her captain and crew are hired to head out to a remote system to recover minerals from a debris field, but all is not as it seems (as you'd expect). While prospecting, they discover a derelict alien vessel which turns out to be ancient, and inside is some interesting technology. This changes the stakes entirely. The story also gives us a possible clue to the background of the Sleeping God and the methods employed in the epic conclusion of the Night's Dawn trilogy. A well-paced story that was for me the the easiest read of this collection, the balance of character, plot and action is spot on for my tastes. [5/5]

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29 September 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Binary by Eric Brown

BinaryBinary by Eric Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On what should have been a routine mission to the star system of 61 Cygni A, Delia Kemp finds herself shunted thousands of light years into uncharted space. The only survivor of a catastrophic starship blow-out, Delia manages to land her life-raft on the inhospitable, ice-bound world of Valinda, and is captured by a race of hostile aliens, the Skelt. What follows is a break-neck adventure as Delia escapes, fleeing through a phantasmagorical landscape. 
As the long winter comes to an end and the short, blistering summer approaches, the Skelt will stop at nothing to obtain Delia’s technical knowledge – but what Delia wants is impossible: to leave Valinda and return to Earth.


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Yep, as I thought: I enjoyed this very much. A "half-novel" in that it is the first installment of a two-part story that will be published next year as a single volume. It is quite typical of Brown's more recent sci-fi stories which have a distinctive pulp feel. I've mentioned this before in other reviews of Brown's work, and it's a style that I find myself liking a lot. There's more of a focus on the yarn and not so much on depth of character or world-building, etc. Many of Brown's other works show his prowess in those areas, but this one is pure fun. The story follows a scientist as she becomes marooned on an unknown alien world and her adventures there. The planet and the aliens are interesting without becoming a distraction to the overall, and rather simple, plot. The whole thing works because of some well used tropes and overall it blends together into a cohesive whole that is a satisfying read. It's what I think of as a great bedtime read that doesn't tax your mind but keeps you interested with a sense of wonder which is a facet that Eric Brown does so well.

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18 September 2016

6 Reasons Science Says You Should Read A Book

Anybody who knows me will tell you that I love books and reading. The written word is a most incredible medium for presenting information whether that be fictional literature or factual stuff, because it involves the mind like no other. As a huge bonus I get to enjoy some escapism, to be semi-separated from my surroundings. I find this immensely relaxing and a great sanity maintaining exercise.

TV? You can shove that (apart from the odd motorcycle race or Rugby match...), some movies are okay if the story line is good, but books are the bees knees.

Anyway, below are a few scientifically proven benefits to reading books which confirm what we already knew, really.

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BY JUSTIN GAMMILL
from iheartintelligence.com

1. READING BOOKS MAKES YOU A BETTER PERSON

In 2013, Emory University did a study that shows that people who read fiction are more empathetic. Researchers compared the brains of people after they read to the brains of people who didn’t read. The brains of the readers showed more activity in certain areas than those who didn’t read. Specifically, in the central sulcus of the brain, the primary sensory region, which helps the brain visualize movement. When you visualize yourself performing an action, you can actually somewhat feel yourself in the action – hence the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey, I suppose. A similar process happens when you envision yourself as a character in a book: You can take on the emotions they are feeling.
The researchers concluded that people who take on the emotions of characters in a book show a heightened sense of emotional awareness, making them more empathetic. Empathy towards those around you makes you more sensitive to the emotional state of people around you.


2. READING IMPROVES SOCIAL SKILLS

So if reading makes you more empathetic, technically it improves your social skills all around. A study that was published in the journal Science found that after reading literary fiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence. These are all skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking.
The abstract from the study states: “Understanding others’ mental states is a crucial skill that enables the complex social relationships that characterize human societies. Yet little research has investigated what fosters this skill, which is known as Theory of Mind (ToM), in adults. We present five experiments showing that reading literary fiction led to better performance on tests of affective ToM.”


3. READING IS GREAT FOR YOUR RELATIONSHIP

According to relationship expert and psychotherapist Ken Page: “Research shows that people can grow closer by revealing and sharing new thoughts, ideas and fantasies with each other, [and] reading a book and then discussing it is a fun and entertaining way for couples to grow closer.”
Even Ella Berthoud, a bibliotherapist at the School of Life in Bloomsbury, London said, “One of the joys [of reading together] is that you discover new aspects of each other, or you may rediscover a connection you had.”
You read it here, folks – reading is sexy.


4. READING PREVENTS ALZHEIMER’S

A 2001 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, questioned 193 people about their participation in 26 different hobbies like physical activities, like gardening and knitting, intellectual hobbies like reading, and passive ones such as television viewing. They found that elderly people who regularly read or play mentally challenging games are 2 ½ times less likely to have the debilitating illness, which affects 4 million Americans.
The study’s main author, Dr. Robert Freidland, claims people who don’t exercise their gray matter stand a chance of losing brain power.


5. READING IS RELAXING

Dr David Lewis from the research group Mindlab International at the University of Sussex found that after test subject’s stress levels and heart rate were increased through a range of tests and exercises; they only needed to read, silently, for six minutes to slow down the heart rate and ease tension in the muscles. In fact it got subjects to stress levels lower than before they started.
Reading reducing stress levels by 68%. Listening to music only reduced stress levels by 61%, having a cup of tea of coffee lowered them 54%, and taking a walk lowered stress levels by 42%.
Dr Lewis said: “Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation. It really doesn’t matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination.


6. READING SHARPENS YOUR BRAIN

This study in Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, author Robert S. Wilson, PhD says: “Our study suggests that exercising your brain by taking part in activities such as these across a person’s lifetime, from childhood through old age, is important for brain health in old age.
For the study, 294 people were given tests that measured memory and thinking every year for about six years before their deaths at an average age of 89. After they died, their brains were examined at autopsy for evidence of the physical signs of dementia, such as lesions, brain plaques and tangles.
The research found that people who participated in mentally stimulating activities, like reading, both early and late in life had a slower rate of decline in memory compared to those who did not participate in such activities across their lifetime. Mental activity accounted for nearly 15% of the difference in decline beyond what is explained by plaques and tangles in the brain.
“Based on this, we shouldn’t underestimate the effects of everyday activities, such as reading and writing, on our children, ourselves and our parents or grandparents,” said Wilson.



04 September 2016

‘Alien cliques’ may be keeping Earth isolated says study

by unknown author
from www.rt.com

If the idea really is true that aliens are deliberately preventing humans from contacting them, then extraterrestrial civilizations most likely formed a number of cliques rather than a pan-galactic government, a new study suggests.

The Fermi paradox – named after physicist Enrico Fermi – says that if sentient life is not unique to Earth, then our galaxy should have plenty of other civilizations, including some more technologically advanced than ours. The paradoxical part is that we have not detected any signs of them.

Our galaxy - teeming with life?
A supposition called ‘the zoo hypothesis’ is one possible solution for this conundrum, and states that alien civilizations are for some reason deliberately keeping humans from detecting any extraterrestrial life.

One problem with this answer is that it would require the galactic community to form a united government to agree on and enforce such an information blockade. In a paper published online this week, astrophysicist Duncan H. Forgan used a model which showed that if there are indeed multiple civilizations in the Milky Way, they are much more likely to form a number of cliques than a single galactic club.

The model accounts for a number of factors, including the time when each civilization advances enough to participate in interstellar communication, the distances between their origin worlds, and the lifetimes of the civilizations.
“We find that for there to be only a single group (a ‘Galactic Club’), the mean civilization lifetime must be extremely long, and the arrival time between civilizations must in fact be relatively short. This is perhaps an unlikely scenario, as it would require a large number of civilizations to emerge across the galaxy in a very short time frame,” the paper said.
The study also found that a single long-lasting civilization arriving early in the galaxy’s history would still be unlikely to knit all civilizations into a united club. But if all civilizations arrived relatively uniformly and lasted much longer than a million years, then such a club could exist.

A more likely scenario however is that there are multiple conflicting cliques of civilizations that cannot agree on a universal policy.
“One clique attempting to place an interdict on contacting ‘primitive’ civilizations is likely to encounter significant problems if another clique disagrees,” Forgan said.
“It may well still be the case that the Earth resides in a region of space occupied by a conservative clique bent on non-contact,” the paper added.
“However, as our ability to detect unintentional signals from both living and dead civilizations increases, we should presumably be able to break the deadlock imposed in this scenario.”
The paper was published on the pre-print website arXiv.org.


02 September 2016

A New Documentary Promises to Prove We're Not Alone in the Universe

by Germain Lussier
from io9.gizmodo.com



Film distributor The Orchard just picked up the rights to release a documentary called Unacknowledged: An Exposé of the Greatest Secret in Human History. The company is planning on putting it out in 2017, and its press release has some of the loftiest and, frankly, most exciting/unbelievable claims imaginable.

We love it.

According to a press release, the film will present “the best evidence of extraterrestrial contact dating back decades, with over 100 hours of top-secret military, corporate and intelligence whistleblower testimony, documents, and UFO footage.”

How? Well, director Michael Mazzola reportedly focuses his film on Dr. Steven Greer, “an emergency doctor and founder of the global Disclosure Movement who has briefed many senior government officials, including the CIA Director, Pentagon Admirals and Generals and senior members of Congress.” Greer is very confident in this findings.

“We are excited to have the support and distribution heft of The Orchard for this historic documentary film that establishes that we are not alone in the Universe,” said Dr. Steven Greer in the release. “It is time for the truth to be known and we are honored to have The Orchard as a partner in this effort.”

“There’s no question, no matter your beliefs, that Dr. Greer has tirelessly and consistently exposed startling revelations about UFOs, technology and the secrets being kept from the American public,” added Paul Davidson, EVP Film and Television for The Orchard. “We are thrilled to be partnering with him to bring his most stunning work to the widest audience possible.”

Here’s an early trailer for the film:


Now does anyone think this film actually will prove anything? Of course not. But I love this kind of stuff and I can’t wait to see what findings, footage and more brought about such positive feedback.

Unacknowledged: An Exposé of the Greatest Secret in Human History will be released in 2017.

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25 August 2016

New Earth-Like Exoplanet Could Be Discovery of the Century

From Gizmodo

In what’s being hailed as one of the biggest astronomical discoveries of the century, scientists with the European Southern Observatory (ESO) today confirmed the discovery of an Earth-like exoplanet in the habitable zone of Proxima Centauri—our nearest neighboring star. Details of the team’s discovery were just published in Nature.
Rumors of a possible Earth-like exoplanet first surfaced on August 12 in the German weekly Der Spiegel. Citing an anonymous source with the La Silla Observatory research team, the magazine claimed the rumored planet “is believed to be Earth-like and orbits at a distance to Proxima Centauri that could allow it to have liquid water on its surface—an important requirement for the emergence of life.”
Now we know those rumors were true: There is clear evidence for a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, a small red dwarf star located just 4.25 light years away, slightly closer to Earth than the famous binary pair of Alpha Centauri A and B. It’s been dubbed Proxima b, and the ESO team pegs its mass as being roughly 1.3 times that of Earth.

Read more HERE.

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19 August 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang

Story of Your LifeStory of Your Life by Ted Chiang
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dr. Louise Banks is enlisted by the military to communicate with a race of radially symmetrical aliens who initiated first contact with humanity. Woven through the story are remembrances of her daughter.

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Upon realizing that the upcoming movie Arrival is an adaptation of this story, I thought that I'd have a peek. This is a good hard sci-fi story, albeit a rather mind-bending one (for me anyway) that follows linguist Dr. Louise Banks who has been brought in by the military to attempt communication with a race of seven-limbed symmetrical aliens who have arrived on Earth at various points around the globe. What follows is certainly an interesting tale as Banks and others endeavor to learn about the aliens and their intentions. She eventually becomes quite familiar with their language forms, one of which is totally non-verbal and communicated via complex 'symbols', and from this she ends up receiving understanding of a whole new level of communication which is described by the numerous 'flashbacks' (or 'flashforwards') throughout the story. It took me some time to cotton onto what was happening and the fullness of what she was really learning from the aliens, and the whole thing makes much more sense once I did. Not a particularly exciting or tense story (as depicted in the Arrival movie trailer) but interesting nonetheless, and quite typical of Chiang's rather intellectual style. Not really my flavour but very, very well written and the author shows here what a class act he really is.

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10 August 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Starship Coda (Starship Seasons #5) by Eric Brown

Starship Coda (Starship Seasons, #5)Starship Coda (Starship Seasons #5) by Eric Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ten years after events depicted in Starship Spring, David Conway is enjoying life on the idyllic world of Chalcedony, Delta Pavonis V. Then he receives a communique from his ex-wife who reveals that she is undergoing a remarkable medical process. Not only that, but she is coming to Chalcedony and wishes to meet him. What follows will force Conway to look back at the tragic events of his past and face the mendacity of those seeking to gain from his fame as an Opener of the Way. Starship Coda is the moving epilogue to the successful Starship series.

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This short story is exactly as the name suggests, a concluding event, a summation of the Starship Seasons series of novellas. While probably not vital or essential to the series, it nonetheless provides fitting closure to the main background story of the main character David Conway. If you've read the Starship Seasons stories then you'll love this and it'll provide you with an additional measure of satisfaction for what is an excellent series. I have to say it, Eric Brown fails to disappoint me again.

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08 August 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Starship Spring (Starship Seasons #4) by Eric Brown

Starship Spring (Starship Seasons, #4)Starship Spring (Starship Seasons #4) by Eric Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“That year, a little over six years since meeting Hannah van Harben, life for me was just about as good as it could get.”
David Conway is happily married with a young daughter, and wants for nothing. He has an idyllic life on the colony world of Chalcedony, with friends Matt and Maddie, Hawk and Kee – but things are about to get interesting when the friends holiday at Tamara Falls on the planet’s equatorial plateau. Buried far beneath the Falls is a dormant alien army – the Skeath, ancient enemies of the Yall: an army which is threatening to come to life, if the evil Dr Petronious gets his way… Starship Spring is the triumphant conclusion to the Starship Quartet.

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This is the fourth adventure in the excellent Starship Seasons series of novellas from one of my all-time favorite authors. This one is another typical example of Eric Brown's work, and epitomizes what is (to me) some of the most fun and relaxing sci-fi to read. Like the other stories in the series, as well as much of his other work, this novella is written in Brown's great easy and sort of pulp style that I love so much, and this lends itself to the delivery of a fun read that I find myself quickly absorbed into.

In Starship Spring, we again join David Conway and his likeable band of friends on the planet Chalcedony for another adventurous journey of intrigue and discovery. The story skips briskly along as you'd expect from the previous stories and has a fine conclusion, with plenty of alien wonder and intrigue. Character depth is fine for the type of stories that these are, and the world building is excellent once again.

Each of the novellas could be read as a standalone story without any real problem, but the events do follow a timeline and loose thread that would be best picked up from Starship Summer which is the first story of the series. This has been a fabulous little series of stories and takes Brown yet another step up the ladder in my author rankings. I see that recently there has been a coda for the series released and I have just purchased said story that will no doubt top off one of the best group of easy sci-fi stories that I've read to date.

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28 June 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Saturn Run by John Sandford

Saturn RunSaturn Run by John Sandford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The year is 2066. A Caltech intern inadvertently notices an anomaly from a space telescope—something is approaching Saturn, and decelerating. Space objects don’t decelerate. Spaceships do.

A flurry of top-level government meetings produces the inescapable conclusion: Whatever built that ship is at least one hundred years ahead in hard and soft technology, and whoever can get their hands on it exclusively and bring it back will have an advantage so large, no other nation can compete. A conclusion the Chinese definitely agree with when they find out.


The race is on, and an remarkable adventure begins—an epic tale of courage, treachery, resourcefulness, secrets, surprises, and astonishing human and technological discovery, as the members of a hastily thrown-together crew find their strength and wits tested against adversaries both of this earth and beyond. What happens is nothing like you expect—and everything you could want from one of the world’s greatest masters of suspense.

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A great book, no doubt about it, and probably one of the more "solid" novels that I've read in years. By that, I mean that it kept my attention firmly from beginning to end and left me feeling satisfied. It's a combination of techno-thriller and hard sci-fi and, while I know that could sound rather heavy, it actually works well and flows superbly. I reckon that if Larry Niven and Tom Clancy were to have collaborated on a book it would've come out something like this. The sci-fi elements (which are almost space-opera in flavor) were nothing outstanding but solid nonetheless, and from this I get the feeling that this book is aimed more at a general audience rather than the dedicated sci-fi crowd. In general, there's not a whole lot to criticize, the subject matter and plot are great, it's written very well and the story moves about from scene to scene seamlessly. The characters are excellent as is the dialogue, and there's no shortage of all of the good stuff including a fair dose humor along the way as well, which was actually one of my favorite aspects of the book. The only reason that I didn't give it the fifth star was that I was expecting a big and surprising twist which never eventuated. As I said, I still felt satisfied with the end, but it felt like it was building up to something bigger. That should not put anyone who enjoys a good thriller from reading it, and I reckon it's not likely to disappoint.

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20 June 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Helix Wars (Helix #2) by Eric Brown

Helix WarsHelix Wars by Eric Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Helix Wars, sequel to the best-selling Helix is a fast-paced adventure novel about the ultimate threat to the Helix itself and to humanity, whose role it is to protect it.

The Helix: a vast spiral of ten thousand worlds turning around its sun. Aeons ago, the enigmatic Builders constructed the Helix as a refuge for alien races on the verge of extinction.


Two hundred years ago, humankind came to the Helix aboard a great colony ship, and the Builders conferred on them the mantle of peacekeepers. For that long, peace has reigned on the Helix. But when shuttle pilot Jeff Ellis crash-lands on the world of Phandra, he interrupts a barbarous invasion from the neighbouring Sporelli - who scheme to track down and exterminate Ellis before he can return to New Earth and inform the peacekeepers.

Helix Wars, sequel to the best-selling Helix, is a fast-paced adventure novel about the ultimate threat to the Helix itself.


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Following on from the earlier book Helix, where a human starship crashes onto a huge and spectacular helix shaped construct containing thousands of worlds, Helix Wars continues the story a couple of hundred years later. It's a good yarn, no doubt about it, but this was definitely my least enjoyed Eric Brown story to date. The reason for this is not so much with the delivery, which is typically good, but I was surprised to find myself rushing a little and trying to avoid text skipping during a large portion of the book. This is the first time I've experienced this while reading Brown's work. I think I know why, many of the action sequences were just a tad painful, and certainly felt like the author was positioning them in the story for the sake of having action, not so much because they'd add to the story, which I guess in general they did, it's just that it was a bit too much. I don't remember Helix being like this. With all that said, the tale itself is good, and contains the usual Eric Brown epic scale and wonder, huge alien artifacts, species and cultures, lots of good sci-fi stuff. It's certainly advisable to read Helix first, as this introduces much of the background information and characters that have roles in this book. The conclusion is okay with enough room left for further expansion, etc. and I sense that there could be further Helix stories in the future. Mostly recommended, mainly if you enjoyed Helix, but it's not a book that I would steer a first time Eric Brown reader toward.

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