5* Wacky British Humor Suitable for Nerds Like Myself

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This book strikes me as what would result if Monty Python had directed “The Martian”; picture Eric Idle playing Mark Watney. If you’re not a fan of that particular brand of British humor, then this story’s genius will undoubtedly escape you. I laughed myself silly several times at the absolutely ludicrous characters, situations, and scenes. You wouldn’t expect that such a silly, outrageous premise would be brilliant, but it is. As someone who worked for NASA for over twenty years, I think it takes considerable imagination to come up with something so far from reality. Nonetheless, the characters are amazingly well-developed, not only the humans, but the plethora of robots as well.

The plot is more complex than you’d expect and includes not only the totally bungled Mars mission, but a murder mystery as well as a tie back to the Roswell UFO crash. The basic story is that the Brits have put together a mission to Mars, for which a robotic crew was tasked with building and preparing the base. This does not happen on schedule, which means that the humans arrive to a facility that is not only unfinished, but built incorrectly, i.e., too small because they used “old meters” (yards) instead of “new meters.”

The crew is not what you’d expect, but a motley bunch  that ranges from librarians to scientists and their child prodigy-type offspring plus various others unlikely to be part of such a mission. The commander, Flint Dugdale, who acquired that position when the original one was murdered en route, won his place on the ship originally from a reality show, then strong-armed his way into the top seat. He’s rude, crude, and obnoxious, typically swilling beer and belching, thus not endearing in any way, but does lend a certain level of humor with some of his exploits, especially when they finally get settled at the base. I won’t say any more than that because it would constitute a spoiler, as would mentioning any of the funniest scenes that had me laughing so hard I was in tears.

Yes, I laughed a lot, hard, at how outrageously crazy the entire situation was. There is clearly no semblance of reality here, especially on the science side, which the reader needs to recognize. It’s a spoof and a satire, which I felt was well-done. It certainly expanded my knowledge of British slang, including boffins, twonk, pillock, kerfuffle, conkers, and numerous others, which for me added to the flavor of the story and kept me aware that this was a bunch of Brits. Fortunately, I read it on my Kindle, which has a built-in dictionary to help with such matters. As an author myself, I enjoy learning new words and have been known to read the dictionary. So I’m probably not your normal reader.

Clearly this book is not for everyone. For me it was just what I was looking for, something to make me laugh out loud while I was recovering from pneumonia. As a physicist and former rocket scientist, I have a weird, nerd-like sense of humor that resonated with this story. Consider that our college ritual every semester’s end back in the 80s was to have a pizza party and watch “Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail.” To me “The Big Bang Theory” is a reality show. If you can relate to that, you’d probably find this book amusing. I certainly did. You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.

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What Awaits Us on the “Other Side?”

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Review of “The Legend of the Walking Dead” by Joy Nwosu Lo-Bamijoko

First of all, if you think this story relates to the popular television series, “The Walking Dead”, it doesn’t. Secondly, if you think this book is a dry account from an anthropologist’s point of view, it’s not that, either. Rather, it’s what best described as a dramatization or fictionalized account of what the Igbo culture in Nigeria believe happens to a person after death, an account of what goes on in the spirit world, if you will.

When Gloria’s son, Osondu, disappears, she goes looking for him. She finds him, but at a price. They are both dead and in the world of spirits where an entirely different culture, hierarchy of authority, and set of rules apply.

As the story unfolds, the reader joins them in a fascinating journey where “the walking dead” are not zombies, but simply those who have died, yet mingle with the living. Some may not realize they’re dead, others may refuse to leave the world of the living, others, who discover and follow the rules, get established in their new environment, progress, and are given assignments. This is not a simple world where departed spirits hang out on clouds playing harps.

The author has definitely researched the subject and conveying it in story form makes it come alive, no pun intended. There are times when it rambles a bit and there certainly isn’t any discernible plot, given it’s more like a stream of consciousness journey of discovery.

I was fascinated by the similarity to various religious beliefs as well as the work of renowned psychologist, Michael Newton, author of “Journey of Souls” and “Destiny of Souls.”  These two books contain accounts of some of his clients, whom he has regressed back to their sojourn in the Spirit World via hypnosis.

If you’re curious about reincarnation and what goes on in the world of the dead, I can highly recommend Newton’s books as well as Joy’s, all of which convey the message that things on the other side are structured and in most cases, far better than what mortals have to deal with. It’s no wonder we come into this world crying.

You can pick up your copy of “The Legend of the Walking Dead” on Amazon here.

Three Cheers & Five Stars for Scott Skipper’s “Alien Affairs” Trilogy

I read the first book in this series, “Alien Affairs”, a few years ago and always intended to read the others, but had a TBR list that precluded it at the time.  When a health issue drove me toward reading something that would make me laugh (laughter is the best medicine after all, right?), I reread “Alien Affairs”, then immediately dove into the sequels. I was not disappointed.

As a fan of dry, dark humor, not only did this one make me laugh, it was also a great, highly suspenseful story with a complex plot of its own with some new engaging characters. With the human race left sterile by the attack depicted in book one, now the characters need to figure out how to reverse the effects. Coupled with that, however, is a wave of terrorist attacks, which rather than simply using explosives to kill people, disperse the deadly ebola virus instead. Thus, the chase is on, the team trying to second guess the terrorists with regard to where they’ll strike next while also trying to develop the antivirus to say nothing of trying to live their personal lives in the midst of chaos.

Alien technology recorded in an ereader that main character, Carrie Player, obtained in book one, contains the information they need to beat the virus, which they hope to employ to reverse the sterility situation as well, since it’s caused by a virus. Nothing is simple, though, because the aliens are still hanging around committing random abductions to make sure their extermination plan has succeeded. If they discover their mission to wipe us out humanely by attrition has failed, they’ll simply kill off everyone real-time with their gravity wave weapons, though we’re on the trail to developing them as well, thanks to the same ereader.

Anyone who has left-leaning political views would probably find this book outrageously offensive.  I found it refreshing and satisfying, the characters’ goals such that could undoubtedly improve upon the current world situation. There’s no sugar coating of what’s going on or where we’re heading, if someone doesn’t take drastic steps soon. While I appreciate the symbolism vampires and zombies represent in numerous dystopia novels, this cautionary tale doesn’t pull any punches with regard to where the greatest threat really lies. These stories are not trivialized satire; they are well-written, masterfully constructed, brilliant looks at how our way of life is crumbling before our eyes. Read it and weep.

If you haven’t read “Alien Affairs” this book would still make sense since the author did an outstanding job of recapping major events that tie into this one. However, I recommend starting with book one since it sets the stage by going all the way back to the Roswell UFO crash back in 1947. If you’re a UFO or conspiracy aficionado, you’re bound to thoroughly enjoy these well-written, fast-moving stories populated with vivid, often snarky characters you’re sure to cheer on in their quest to save the world from annihilation.

Pick up your copy of Book 2 on Amazon here.

Moving on to Book 3, “Alien Child”, the third and final book in the “Alien Affairs” series, this one is slightly different since it’s written through the viewpoint of Terrie Deshler, who is Carrie Player’s child (born in the end of book two as the result of an alien encounter in book one) who has 2% alien DNA.  Now a teenager, she’s brilliant, snarky, sexy, and telepathic, her black eyes the only visible evidence of her alien heritage. This is enough for her to be viewed as an abomination, so she and her mother become the target of government supported terrorist attacks. Thus, they are forced to live in a walled compound surrounded by heavily armed security details.

Having found an anti-virus which can reverse the sterility imposed upon the world in book one, it is being selectively dispersed only to graduates of Georgia Turnbull’s elite Academy, their goal to repopulate the earth with educated, hard-working, morally solid individuals. Controversial, yes, but what intelligent person hasn’t entertained the thought that there are some people on this planet who simply shouldn’t be allowed to reproduce? Yet, there is the matter of who should make such a radical decision? It’s even more complicated, however, because if the aliens discover their plan to destroy the entire human race has failed, they’ll employ more violent means to do so and be done with it.

Like the other books in this series, this one is loaded with political incorrectness. However, anyone who thinks we’ve made strides forward in the past several years is either blind or can’t be playing with a full deck. It’s thought-provoking to consider who the real enemy is: The aliens who want to destroy the human race because they don’t want our propensity for violence unleashed on the entire galaxy? Or the terrorists and their sympathizers in the government itself, who are clearly on the path to destroying civilization as we know it?

Yet, when push comes to shove, the aliens turn out to be Carrie and Terrie’s allies, providing some very satisfying, high-five moments, though the problem remains regarding the alien’s refusal to accept a failed mission due to the sterility issue. There are certainly plenty of other loose ends that the author could continue to develop, should he so choose to continue the series.

I blew through this book in a single day, wondering how it would end, which certainly held some interesting twists and surprises.  Dark, satirical humor and suspense aside, this thought-provoking series addresses numerous sobering issues. Clearly we live in a world that has chosen a path that can’t possibly end well without intervention. It wasn’t too difficult to see both the alien point of view as well as that of the Turnbull Academy with regard to human behavior. As a side note, if you’ve read any of Dr. Steven M. Greer’s books on the UFO phenomenon, you may recognize that there are various elements of this tale that could be more truth than poetry. We can always hope.

Pick up your copy of “Alien Child” on Amazon here.

5-Stars for “Finding Billy Battles – Book II” by Ronald E. Yates

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I learned so much from this well-written and meticulously researched book. I’m not usually that much of a fan of historical fiction, but in this case it was a welcome educational experience. As Billy’s journeys take him to Saigon, the Philippines, and even turn-of-the-20th-century Germany, this story is richly imbued with cultural and historical facts I previously did not know. This included something as simple as where white pepper comes from, but most especially the dark history of colonialism. I had heard of the Spanish-American War, but had no idea it was fought in the Philippines, much less why.

I have grown up simply accepting the fact that the British, French, and Spanish did a considerable amount of exploring, which also constituted conquests for more land and resources. This is apparent by the languages spoken in diverse parts of the world, far from where they originated. Getting a glimpse into the climate and attitudes of the 19th century, especially how indigenous people were trampled and exploited, brought up multiple considerations that had previously been entirely off my radar.

While colonialism’s defenders note that it brings a higher standard of living to these areas, it is also at a high price to the cultural norms and freedom of those unfortunate enough to live in such a place. Insights into Saigon in the late 1800s provided a new understanding into the Vietnam War and guerilla warfare. While in some cases, America has helped defend these countries, in others it has been just as guilty as the European conquests. Ironically, American is the prime example of a country that rebelled successfully against colonialism, yet then went on to force it on others, for example Native Americans. We are no better than anyone else and it’s easy for me to understand why other countries hate us.

The best part of this story is that all these fascinating details were woven into the plot of a story with believable characters caught up in this historical drama, from the Old West, to pre-WWI Europe, and overseas in the Far East.  I recommend it highly to anyone who enjoys a meaty, well-researched read that serves up more than an interesting story. History buffs will love it. While it is the second book in a trilogy, I thoroughly enjoyed it and had no trouble following it without the benefit of reading the first.

Pick up your copy on Amazon here.

“Immortal: The Soulmate” by Terra James

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This suspenseful sequel was another great page-turner, which picked up where “The Chosen” left off. While unconventional, the author’s technique of writing each chapter in a different character’s first-person viewpoint works nicely for understanding the characters and their motivation. More insights into the different cultures, particularly the link between Emmaline as a witch and Dravon as a vampire were illustrated, as well as a closer look at the Fae, with a bit more magic introduced.

One of the best parts of this series is the way the author gradually takes you into a fantasy world, which eventually feels normal with its supernatural population of witches, vampires, werewolves, and fae, and how these different cultures interact. There’s a great lesson and analogy in this story for human races in general with regard to getting along, that it’s together in cooperation that great power is achieved. However, there will always be opposing sides of good and evil, so nothing is ever simple.

I especially liked Sadie’s blessings as a healer where she used another language. I didn’t bother dropping it into Google Translate to find out if it was real or not, but it looked convincing and added a really nice touch of authenticity.

This is an excellent story with engaging characters. The cliffhangers are done skillfully, i.e., in a way that makes you want to find out what happens next without making you growl at an abrupt non-ending. It was suspenseful enough for me to keep reading, but my emotional involvement was fairly low. If a book can make me both laugh and cry it will easily earn five stars. This one didn’t do either, but it’s generally imaginative and well-written so I’ll give it four and a half.

Pick up a copy on Amazon here.

A Very Elegant Conversation with a Vampire

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5stars

Review of “A Perilous Thirst” by Rhani D’Chae

This short story is as elegantly written as its cover implies, taking you straight into the mind and very cold heart of a traditional vampire. We’ve had an “interview” with a vampire sometime back, but this is a “conversation” with a vampire, or perhaps, “seduction” by a vampire. And what an entrancing and enlightening one it is!

This is not a friendly, warm, fuzzy, and moral creature, even though he states that he has never forced himself on anyone. Nonetheless, he is of the human blood-sucking type from which nightmares derive. This is one who has lived for thousands of years, has amassed plenty of money, has sophisticated manners as well as tastes, and is now living in Tacoma, Washington in 1987.  As the story begins, he has not indulged his sordid nature for four months and the lack of nourishment is agonizing. He’s in a bar, perusing the potential menu items, while explaining his dilemma and buying drinks for–you!

He explains the reason for his abstinence is not only because he’s gay, but due to his concern with contracting HIV. This is a horrible fate for vampires because they cannot die, but nevertheless waste away if they become infected. Thus, he is extremely cautious in choosing his next victim. He finds one whom he gets drunk and offers to take home, continuing his soliloquy as he returns to his own residence.

The writing is no less than literary in caliber, tastefully done, and amazingly unoffensive, given the topics under discussion. Yet there are bits of subtle, albeit dark, humor, such as referring to his catches as “tv dinners”, a reference to fang-sized condoms, and noting he prefers to live alone not only to more easily conceal his true nature but because “the young men of today tend to equate cohabitation with a ‘relationship’, and so while I am simply attempting to keep my sustenance close at hand, they are picking out bedroom furniture and embroidering our initials onto the bath towels.”

If you’ve been indulging in the usual vampire fare out there these days, much of which is clever and entertaining, you nonetheless should spend an evening with a real vampire, one who could easily have been one of Count Dracula’s contemporaries. This was the perfect read for Halloween and offered a fascinating glimpse into a true vampire’s persona and character. It was chilling, yet fascinating, and truly one of the best pieces of outstanding writing I’ve seen in a long time.

You can pick up a copy on Amazon here.

“Elon Musk: 199 Best Quotes” Only Scratches the Surface

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As an Elon Musk fan, I enjoyed reading this collection of quotes. I was a little disappointed that so many were redundant, but there were nonetheless some jewels. I recently read Musk’s biography by Ashlee Vance, which I highly recommend, and this book of quotes was a nice refresher, though there are many sides of Musk that weren’t reflected. He is far more complex than these would indicate. If you’re really interested in getting to know who and what he is and how he got there, I you need to read Vance’s biography.

Some of my favorite Musk characteristics are his “If you want something done right, do it yourself” philosophy and his “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” management view. I was definitely impressed with the fact he’s the father of 5 boys, a set of twins and a set of triplets, for which he has shared custody with his former wife, and that he’ll take them to work with him. There’s also the matter of his indomitable spirit that kept him pressing forward in spite of various failures. Having been bullied to the point of hospitalization as a child, he has definitely risen above that, definitely demonstrating that “the best revenge is to live well.” None of this was covered by these quotes.

My personal opinion of Musk is that we need more people like him in this world of entitlement where so many are sitting around waiting for a handout or the world to come to them. He is the ultimate self-made man whose primary goal has not been money, but the good of the planet and humanity. While this quote book is a nice introduction, it barely scratches the surface of what he has accomplished and how, much less his very humanitarian motivation. The quotes included match the title and are nicely documented (which takes up nearly half of the book), but if you really want to learn about him, this is only a drop in the bucket.

You can pick up a copy of the quote book here and Vance’s biography here.

“The Empire”: Sci-Fi Thriller Extraordinaire from JRD

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This complex sci-fi thriller is loaded with twists, turns, and entanglements between worlds, cultures, and religions. Dizon has created a fascinating universe full of convincing conflicts which reflect those facing the world today, but elevated to spacefaring civilizations. While hard science fiction focuses on advanced technology and its applications, political science fiction looks at a future based on extrapolating Earth’s vices into a dystopian nightmare that encompasses entire planets as opposed to countries.  If there were ever a case against space colonization, that is certainly it. If we can’t even get along with our fellow earthlings, what business do we have venturing out into space? Allegedly, the ETs are against us attaining the ability for interstellar travel for that very reason and this novel certainly provides a case in point.

To sum things up, Styrena Stone, daughter of the president of what is an interstellar remnant of the USA, has been kidnapped by terrorists who have a devious political agenda. They want her mother to sign a non-aggression treaty so they can proceed unencumbered with their intent to conquer other worlds. There are two individuals determined to rescue Styrena, Von Kilgore, former member of the Global Intelligence Agency, and Grav Drachna, rogue starship captain and general bad boy. As you would expect, these two aren’t exactly on friendly terms. Intricate schemes are made by both sides, along with a host of political schemes and conspiracies which come together in a nail-biting climax that holds plenty of context for a sequel.

Dizon’s subtle humor had me in stitches from time to time, largely related to his character naming convention, which I won’t spoil by revealing. His writing style is crisp and moves at lightspeed. I would love for him to include a dramatis personae to help keep everyone straight, since there are so many characters involved, each with his or her own agenda, both political and personal. The author’s ability to create vivid characters, each with a strong personality and motivation is what adds depth and suspense to Dizon’s stories, adding the potential for plenty of surprises.

Setting all this intrigue against a futuristic interstellar backdrop will draw in science fiction fans as well as those who are already hooked on Dizon’s ability to create unforgettable characters immersed in suspenseful situations. I can’t wait to see where this potentially epic story goes next.

You can pickup a paperback on Amazon here or an ebook at Barnes & Noble here. The electronic version is also available on Smashwords and most online retailers.

Immortal: The Chosen

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This fast-moving story gets this series off to a well-written, suspense-filled start. While I’m not that much of a vampire fan, I was nonetheless taken in by the strong characters and interesting plot that gives the vampire/werewolf/witch culture an interesting new twist. Great fiction begins with convincing characters with whom the reader can connect, and the author did a great job of populating her tale accordingly. This was achieved by getting inside each one’s head by switching the point of view for each chapter.

While such a technique can be confusing, this was done effectively and allowed the reader to get to know the thoughts and feelings of each important member of this intriguing story. This method was much more intimate than an omniscient view point, which often weakens the reader-character connection. This method worked very nicely and reminded me of piecing together a mystery by reading the journals of each character.

My only criticism, which is really quite minor but enough for me to give it four stars, is that toward the end there were quite a few names thrown around of late-breaking characters whose place in the story was a bit fuzzy. I suspect they will be more important in the next episode and this was simply an introduction. However, I tend to stick to the convention of minimizing reader confusion by not naming characters who do not relate directly to the plot (except in the case of red herrings, of course). This resulted in having to deal with a lot of faceless people with foggy identities as the story climaxed, a slight distraction that really didn’t add anything other than slowing things down as each new person was logged in, so to speak. Nonetheless, it did show the gathering of forces that would play an important part in the sequel, even though this could have been done without names.

While the ending was a cliffhanger, it was handled in such a way that it didn’t leave me gasping or frustrated, but could see the next volume coming together. I thoroughly enjoyed this story, liked the characters, and will definitely be reading the sequel.

Creative Fun for Halloween!

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If you’re looking for ideas for a Halloween-related story, either for yourself as an author or as a parent or teacher, this book is for you. Loaded with fun and appropriately creepy premises, there’s no need to look any further for inspiration. Teachers could easily use this jewel to spawn a creative writing assignment that students would actually enjoy. Great fun, not only for Halloween, but for coming up with stories around the campfire. Fostering a child’s creativity and imagination is highly recommended by educators and these clever ideas provide plenty of brain fodder. Don’t miss it!