‘Spear of Light’ – Human vs. post-human on a planet facing destruction – #scifi #bookreview

Spear of Light

The Glittering Edge, Book Two

Brenda Cooper

Pyr – Kindle, paperback

Spear of Light is the second book in The Glittering Edge duology. And it has been my introduction to Brenda Cooper’s science-fiction writing.

For the most part, I am impressed. While I missed Edge of Dark, the duology’s first book, I am pleased at how smoothly I was drawn into Spear of Light, a complex but engrossing tale of humans, post-humans, and robots on the “re-wilded” planet, Nym. This second book in the duology stands nicely on its own.

The general flow of the novel is summarized on other sites, such as Amazon and Pyr, so I won’t rehash it here. But a lone ranger, Charlie Windar, wants desperately to save his rebuilt planet and is caught in the middle of an approaching war between the post-humans (the Next) and the Shining Revolution, a group of humans who want to attack the Next, no matter if it means Nym will be wrecked (again) in the process.

Meanwhile, the Next, who previously were banished from Nym’s solar system and later returned in force, are now quickly building a massive new city on Nym. And the humans caught between the Next and the Shining Revolution cannot figure out why the Next seem driven, this time, to uncover something mysterious within Nym’s ancient history.

(Thanks, Pyr, for sending a review copy.)

Si Dunn

 

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Some Book Choices for ‘National Week of Making,’ June 17-23, 2016 – #books #WeekofMaking

The White House and the University of the District of Columbia are two of the sites helping spotlight the National Week of Making, June 17-23, 2016.

“America has always been a nation of tinkerers, inventors, and entrepreneurs,” a White House news release recently stated.

“Empowering students and adults to create, innovate, tinker, and make their ideas and solutions into reality is at the heart of the Maker Movement.”

Step Away from that SmartPhone and Make Something! 

Do you worry that your children or grandchildren now spend too much time messing with cellphones and game players and no time learning basic life skills such as how to work with tools to create or repair things?

Do you worry that you have become a slave to time-wasting digital distractions and have lost touch with how to make stuff, repair things or create something new from available materials?

It may be time to be come a maker, too, and an advocate for others who need to expand their horizons beyond the devices clutched tightly in their hands.

Some How-to-Make-Something Book Selections

In recognition of National Week of Making and the third annual White House Maker Faire, here are some books from Maker Media that can help you and others get into (or back into) the art, science and fun of making things and learning useful skills.

Start Making!

A Guide to Engaging Young People in Maker Activities

Danielle Martin and Alisha Panjwani

Maker Media, paperback, Kindle

Making is “the process of creating projects based on your ideas and interest,” the authors emphasize. “This Start Making! guide offers a series of creative do-it-yourself (DIY) projects that introduce young people to the basics of circuitry, coding, crafting, and engineering.”

Start Making! describes “a series of activity sessions that you can adapt to your situation” as an organizer and/or leader of activities for children and teens. “You can offer your own version of Start Making! activities in your home, at the library, at an after-school club, at the local community center, or anywhere else young people can gather to work on projects together.”

Tinkering

Kids Learn by Making Stuff, 2nd Edition

Curt Gabrielson

Maker Media, paperback, Kindle

Giving kids the time, opportunity and motivation to tinker with things (and make things from other things) can have big educational payoffs, the author, a science teacher, contends.

To the question “Are kids learning anything while they are having fun?”, he gives an enthusiastic and lengthy reply: “[H]eck yes they’re learning something, and it may be the most valuable thing they’ve learned all week, and it may raise all sorts of questions in their minds that inspire them to learn more about what they’re tinkering with, and it may start them on a path to a satisfying career, not to mention good fun on their own time, and it may put them in the driver’s seat of their own education by realizing their competence and ability to learn through tinkering, and they may begin to demand more of just this sort of learning opportunity.” Whew!

By the way, don’t just hand this book to a kid and say “Go have fun!” It is mainly written for adults who are willing to help children learn the joys of using their hands and minds to make stuff and try simple experiments.

 

Getting Started with 3D Printing

A Hands-on Guide to the Hardware, Software, and Services Behind the New
Manufacturing Revolution

Liza Wallach Kloski, Nick Kloski, and HoneyPoint3D™

Maker Media, paperback, Kindle

In a consumer-grade 3D printer, “thin strand of melted plastic is laid down, layer by layer, on a flat surface where it cools and hardens into an object,” the authors explain.

This book will not turn you into a manufacturing expert, but it does introduce major aspects of 3D printing and shows how to get started with computer-aided design (CAD) and 3D printing. It also introduces new makers to the two main types of consumer 3D printers: FDM, which use filament for fused deposition modeling, and SLA, which use resin for stereolithography.

Likewise, you learn the benefits of outsourcing your printing to firms with bigger, more expensive machines than a typical home user can afford. Meanwhile, consumer-focused 3D printing service bureaus offer another, less expensive choice. And you can have printing done by a local “hub” source, which may be one person offering to run your project on his or her 3D printer. In any case, you focus on creating a good design and uploading your files, and then your creation gets printed and shipped to you—or you go pick it up.

The book also covers topics such as what supplies you will need, how to get and use free 3D modeling software, how to correct mistakes in your models and prints, and how to lay out a 3D printing workspace.

 

Getting Started with Processing.py

Making Interactive Graphics with Python’s Processing Mode

Allison Parrish, Ben Fry, Casey Reas

Maker Media, paperback, Kindle

“Processing.py,” the authors explain, “is an interactive programming and graphics framework for the Python programming language.” This book shows how to create drawings, animations, and interactive images, even if you have never used Python or had any other programming experience.

Processing.py helps make coding more accessible to artists, educators, designers, and beginners. And the book can be used by children, teens, and adults.

Indeed, Getting Started with Processing.py is a good way to introduce a young person to computer programming, because the simple programs that are entered cause images to be created and objects to be moved. And the parameters of the images and objects often can be changed to create new effects.

 

Encyclopedia of Electronic Components

https://www.linkedin.com/in/sidunnVolume 3, Sensors

Charles Platt and Fredrik Jansson

Maker Media, paperback, Kindle

This final volume in the Encyclopedia of Electronics Components series focuses on a wide range of sensor devices that detect or respond to such factors as light, sound, heat, location, presence, proximity, orientation, oscillation, force, load, human input, gas and liquid properties, and electricity. The text describes what the sensors do, how they work, and how they can be used.

The authors note that many sensor devices previously were very expensive but “are now as cheap as basic semiconductor components such as a voltage regulator or a logic chip, and they are easy to use in conjunction with microcomputers.”

Si Dunn

“Rain Dogs” – Adrian McKinty’s best Sean Duffy murder mystery? #bookreview

Rain Dogs

A Detective Sean Duffy Novel

Adrian McKinty

Seventh Street Books – paperback, Kindle, audible

Now that I have suckered you into this review with a question, I’m going to give you something of a cop-out answer: Rain Dogs is the best Sean Duffy detective story I have read…since the last Sean Duffy detective story I read, which is Gun Street Girl. I have now read all five Sean Duffy mysteries, and I am a rock-solid fan of each one. Adrian McKinty is one hell of a good novelist, and his Sean Duffy series is first-rate police-procedural fiction.

Rain Dogs did unnerve me for the first few pages–it got off to a bit of a plodding, unexpected start. What? Detective Inspector Sean Duffy is helping protect Mohammed Ali from adoring crowds in Belfast?

And, it takes a while for the mystery Duffy must solve to come into focus. Yet, there is also plenty of introspection and unease on Sean Duffy’s part, and this keeps the reader engrossed and the story moving forward. Duffy has reached a point in his career when midlife crisis suddenly is in full-tilt boogie mode.

He has grown weary of the sameness in his job, weary of the Troubles that keep Protestants, Catholics, and paramilitaries in violent conflict, weary of constantly having to check under his car for mercury tilt switch bombs placed there by one side or the other or by criminals wanting him dead. Meanwhile, it keeps raining, raining, dreary raining. And Beth, the latest woman in his life, has broken off with him and moved out, taking most of what’s left of his heart with her.

Meanwhile, things keep going from really bad to really worse for Duffy, a suburban cop in the Carrickfergus branch of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). He suddenly finds himself investigating the second “locked room” violent death of his checkered career. This time, it looks a lot like a case of suicide. And there is high-level pressure to wrap up the case quickly and put it away. A big business project with many potential jobs for Northern Ireland is on the line.

But Duffy, even when depressed, drunk or beaten down, cannot let go of the suspicions and strong sense of justice that keep him moving forward.

As a detective and empathetic human being, he never stops pushing against the rising tides of bureaucracy, burnout and self-doubt.

“I stared down at the body again. There was something not quite right about this crime scene, something that I was missing, but try as I might I couldn’t figure out what it was. Had Beth’s departure frazzled me, or was it just thirteen long years of this exhausting profession in this exhausting land?”

Not even pressure and criticism from British government agencies can turn him aside once he has a theory and starts following it.

At one point, after chasing a lead into Finland and back, he is confronted by a shadowy representative of an unnamed British agency that is trying to get him to quit the case, in the name of fifteen hundred potential jobs for Belfast and Northern Ireland:

“You must be aware of your RUC record. A less-than-stellar police career, no real high-profile convictions. The fact that you never found out who killed  Lizzie Fitzpatrick in that other so-called ‘locked room’ incident when you were with Special Branch. The fact that, for the last six years, you’ve been treading water here. A constant source of embarrassment to your superiors, a disappointment to your friends.”

To which Duffy retorts: “Maybe I’m not a great detective, maybe I ‘m not even a good detective, but I am fucking persistent….The UK government might not like it, the Irish government might not like it, but if I can make a case, the RUC will support me and the police down south will support me, too. Cops everywhere love nicking villains.”

Sean Duffy indeed is persistent. That is why he is able to solve cases that many other cops would not recognize, nor have the desire, energy and drive to pursue.

But, again, the strongest driver in Duffy’s life is his personal sense of justice. He will bend rules, strain budgets, knock heads, disobey orders, and sometimes even go around or straight through a few laws to get his hands–or his bullets–on a murderer.

Adrian McKinty fans and readers new to McKinty will find much to relish in Rain Dogs. Duffy is at his driven-down-but-rise-above-it best in this book. And some surprising changes occur in his life. If, with this book, you are new to the Sean Duffy series, get “the Troubles Trilogy” ASAP: The Cold, Cold Ground; I Hear the Sirens in the Street; and In the Morning I’ll Be Gone. Oh, and don’t miss the trilogy’s fine sequel, Gun Street Girl. One Sean Duffy tale, you may agree, is not enough.

Si Dunn

Step away from the ‘smartphone’ and try using your hands and mind to make something – #bookreview

The Make: Series of How-to Books

A British scientist made headlines a few years ago when she warned that young people no longer make or repair things. It has become all too easy for them now, she cautioned, to simply throw away old or broken devices and buy new ones.

A key point was that many things currently being discarded could be fixed or refurbished and put to new uses. It would just take a little effort, a little learning, and some imagination.

I ran into some of that “no longer make or repair things” attitude a few years ago while working temporarily as a substitute teacher. If you have ever been a substitute in a public high school or middle school, you likely know that students often view “subs” as an excuse to pay absolutely no attention to anything he or she says.

When I could get no interest or response to the day’s assigned work in a science class, I tried introducing a challenge: Imagine you have become stranded on a desert island in the Pacific Ocean, and you have just a few items with which to try to survive and attract the attention of a passing ship. The items ranged from coconuts and palm fronds to a pocket mirror, a small magnifying glass, a couple of cups, some string and a safety-pin.

I figured the kids might come up with some clever ways to (1) crack open the coconuts for food and liquid, (2) start a fire using a magnifying glass and dried palm fronds, (3) use the string and safety-pin to catch a fish to cook over the fire, (4) use the cups to boil seawater and capture the steam to make a little drinking water, and (5) prepare a separate pile of palm fronds to burn as a rescue signal to a passing ship.

Ha. At first, the students seemed intrigued and engaged by the challenge. They immediately started calling out survival “strategies.” Unfortunately, most of their ideas started with two concepts: “First, I’d go to the mall and buy…” or “First, I’d go online and buy….”

The reality of being stranded in isolation without immediate communication did not even register with them at first. When they did begin to try to imagine surviving without their smartphones, they quickly ran out of ideas and became sullen or antagonistic toward me.

This experience also became the straw that finally broke the back of my desire to continue as a substitute teacher. I had grown up at a time when making, tinkering, building, and repairing all were noble pursuits for a teenager interested in science, electronics, space and engineering. If I wanted a shortwave radio or a new type of model airplane or a small rocket I could launch in my back yard, I built them from scratch or combined pieces of previous projects. None of this experience registered with my students. And my next attempts to stir up enthusiasm for making and repairing things similarly fell flat.

Make It So?

Do you worry that your kids are growing up not knowing how to make things or fix things? Do you fret that you no longer remember how to make things or fix things?

Working with your hands, eyes and brain – and not just mindlessly swiping an index finger across a tiny screen – can be both physically and mentally rewarding.

Of course, the web is alive with “how to” information for making or repairing almost anything. And I make occasional pilgrimages to public libraries and bookstores to find reference materials and instruction books related to specific projects.

I am an unabashed fan of the “Make:” series of books from Maker Media. I don’t build all of their projects, but I do try out some of them. And I enjoy reading about zany, yet sometimes practical, stuff such as (1) how to use a magnet to tell if money is counterfeit, (2) how to create artwork that actually does something, using just a handful of electronic components, (3) how to generate electric power with several lemons connected in series, or (4) how to make some really good paper airplanes and paper helicopters. The “Make:” books consistently feature clear, well-organized instructional text, illustrations and photographs of how things go together.

Books such as Tinkering: Kids Learn by Making Stuff (2nd edition), Easy 1+2+3 Projects, and Planes, Gliders, and Paper Rockets can appeal to parents and children who are in elementary school or older. For older kids and their parents, or for would-be engineers, Make: books such as Bluetooth, Getting Started with Intel Edison, and 3D Printing Projects can be helpful and enlightening how-to guides. Books on numerous other topics also are offered.

Do your kids (and/or you) seem unhealthily addicted now to clutching and staring at smartphones all day? You may want to try putting the devices aside and seeing what you can create with your hands, your mind, some household materials and a few readily available gadgets that don’t require pricey data plans and contracts.

You can do it! Power off now! (Okay, for just a few minutes at first if you insist and if you have a really bad case of smartphone withdrawal.)

— Si Dunn

‘Woman with a Blue Pencil’ – Characters in a mystery novel that is being rewritten find themselves in conflict in a world that keeps changing – #bookreview

 

 

 

Woman with a Blue Pencil

Gordon McAlpine

Seventh Street Books – paperback, Kindle

 

What if the characters in a mystery novel are alive in some other universe, and their world keeps changing, because their book, unknown to them, is being edited and rewritten?

And what if one of those characters is trying to solve a murder, but almost everything he knows or remembers, in his version of 1941 Los Angeles, keeps changing or vanishing? What if the people to whom he has been close suddenly cease to exist or no longer know who he is?

Woman with a Blue Pencil is well-written and cleverly structured. It can make you laugh with pleasure when you realize how the story will unfold along two tracks. And you can get engrossed in the actions and motivations of both main characters as their separate tracks begin to merge, and they come into conflict.

This is an intelligent murder mystery with a heart, a message and a poignant, surprise ending. It is set just before and after the Pearl Harbor attack and its aftermath, including the now roundly condemned, racism-driven mass roundup and internment of Japanese-American citizens living on the U.S. West Coast.

Behind the two tracks of story in this tale is an ambitious young Nisei (first-generation Japanese-American) writer who has been trying to get his first novel published. Now, suddenly, he has been relocated to one of the internment camps. And the woman with the blue pencil is his book editor in New York. She keeps trying to help him come up with a new plot that replaces his now-unsalable Japanese protagonist with a Korean-American one, plus create a strong, Western-sounding pseudonym that the author can hide behind once his book goes to market in World War II America.

One word sums up this novel-within-novel: Brilliant.

Si Dunn

 

 

 

 

‘The Secret Life of Anna Blanc’ – This debut murder mystery has everything from comedy to horror – #bookreview

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc

Jennifer Kincheloe

Seventh Street Books  –  paperback, Kindle

 

This feisty debut novel makes the case that it’s tough to be a female detective…especially in 1907.

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc is a clever blending of mystery, murder, and social commentary, along with elements of a comedy of manners and a romantic comedy. There is some horror, too.

The story is set in Los Angeles in the midst of the suffrage movement, when women were seeking the right to vote and trying to win other rights, as well. (Ironically and dishearteningly, some of the early 20th-century women’s struggles remain unresolved more than a century later.)

Anna Blanc is a giddy, naive young woman trying hard to get away from her overprotective father and have some kind of “real” life, a life that does not limit her to being a wife, socialite and perhaps a charity volunteer. But her forceful father keeps very close tabs on her and is trying to marry her off to a suitor who is putting money into Anna’s family’s failing bank.

Using an assumed name and lying that she is married, Anna manages to get hired as a police matron for the Los Angeles Police Department. She is supposed to help work with female prisoners in the male-dominated city jail.

For a while, Anna manages to hide her new employment from her family. But after she discovers that some recent brothel deaths actually have been murders, she soon figures out that the LAPD is not willing, nor caring enough, to investigate them. So, with no detective skills except curiosity and what she has learned while secretly reading crime novels, she decides to investigate the murders herself.

And, in the midst of her inquiries and clue-gathering, she begins to fall in love with someone her father definitely would not approve of—indeed, would disinherit her immediately if he found out.

If you prefer your detective stories classically hard-boiled and served up with stiff drinks of violence and darkness, you might prefer to skip this fine, entertaining debut novel. But if you can handle a murder mystery that ranges in tone from lighthearted to tense to gritty and even eye opening, definitely look into The Secret Life of Anna Blanc.

Si Dunn

WRATH OF THE FURIES: Roman detective Gordianus the Finder tries to go undercover amid angry Greeks bearing arms – #bookreview

 

Wrath of the Furies

A Novel of the Ancient World

Steven Saylor

Minotaur Books – hardback, Kindle

As a young student, I deliberately avoided the ancient world—all of those armless and headless statues, magnificent carved-stone structures collapsed into rubble, “wonders of the world,” and gods and goddesses who allegedly had both magical powers and human frailties.

Now that I am somewhat older (okay, a lot older), I have read several of the 15 novels in Steven Saylor’s popular Roma Sub Rosa series of historical mysteries. The series features a clever Roman investigator known as Gordianus the Finder. Gordianus is a fictional character, but he encounters many of the ancient world’s real-life kings, queens, generals, political leaders and other figures while trying to solve murders and other crimes.

Thanks to Saylor’s expertise and irrepressible enthusiasm for ancient Roman and Greek times, I have found myself both enjoying his engaging fiction and pausing now and then to look up more about the people, places, things, and customs that Gordianus is encountering in each book. In other words, I am learning some eye-opening things about the ancient world and wishing I had gotten an earlier start.

In Saylor’s new novel, Wrath of the Furies, set in 88 B.C., Gordanius is a young man of just 22 and still somewhat subject to youth’s reckless belief in invincibility.  He receives a cryptic message, apparently a distress signal, from his former tutor and friend, Antipater, and decides to sneak into Greek-held territory to try to rescue him. Of course, this is at a dangerous moment. Greek forces led by the brutal King Mithridates are taking back Greek-speaking cities previously held by the Roman Empire. Some of Italy’s states also are revolting against Rome. So now is not a good time to be Roman detective snooping around amid angry Greeks bearing arms.

It is also not a good time for travelling with your slave (and lover), Bethesda, while trying to disguise yourself as a mute so your Roman-accented Greek won’t give you away. And it is an especially bad time to be going to the ancient Greek-speaking city of Ephesus (where King Mithridates now holds the home-court advantage), particularly when you don’t realize that sinister and powerful forces are drawing you in, and you must solve the mystery of Antipater’s message before it gets you and others killed.

Wrath of the Furies is a fine addition to Steven Saylor’s excellent Roma Sub Rosa ancient history-mystery series.

Si Dunn