Category: reviews

My Latest Book Review Column Is Online at InterGalactic Medicine Show

When I was asked to become the regular science fiction book reviewer for InterGalactic Medicine Show, I was also asked to come up with a title for the column. Alethea Kontis, who does the fantasy book reviews has a clever column title, “Princess Alethea’s Magic Elixer.” What we ultimately settled on for my column title is “The Science of Wonder.”

In my September column, I review a newly reissued edition of Robert Silverberg’s classic 1970s novel Downward To the Earth. And for those who are fans of short fiction and anthologies, I also review Gardner Dozois’ latest Year’s Best Science Fiction, 29th Annual Edition. Head on over to InterGalactic Medicine Show to see what I have to say.

While you are there, check out the latest stories and the terrific interview that Darrell Schweitzer did with Dr. Stanley Schmidt. And take look at the absolutely stunning cover by Eric Wilkerson for Issue #30.

Books Received, August 2012

Since I became the science fiction book reviewer for InterGalactic Medicine Show, publishers have been kind enough to send me books to review. So far, I haven’t been able to review the books I’ve been sent, mostly because they are either (a) not science fiction; or (b) they are science fiction, but are Book n in a series, where n > 1. I can’t possibly go back and read books 1 through n-1 prior to reading book n. And so while I have accumulated a nice little stack, I have stuck to books that seem interesting to me–which at this stage are stand-alone novels, anthologies or story collections.

That said, I promised in an earlier post to list the books I receive once each month. I neglected to do this for August, so here are the books that I received in August:

  • Fate of Worlds by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner (TOR)
  • The Unincorporated Future by Dani Kollin & Eytan Kollin (TOR)
  • Chasing Spirits: The Building of Ghost Adventure Crew by Nick Groff (with Jeff Belanger) (NAL)

That’t it for August. I’ve already received at least one book for this month, but I’ll list it in the next post.

And a fews hints that will help increase the likelihood that I will review a book:

  • It should be clearly science fiction (not fantasy, not horror).
  • It should be a stand-alone novel, or an anthology, or short story collection.

One final note: I already have the books I will be reviewing for my November column (and I’m very excited about both of them). That means the next “open” month at the moment is January 2013.

My latest review column is up on InterGalactic Medicine Show

Remember: I pinch-hit the book review column for 2 months while Alethea Kontis was on her book tour. My second review column is now up. If you want to know what I thought of Redshirts by John Scalzi or Taft 2012 by Jason Heller, head on over to IGMS to find out.

And, as is sometimes the case with pinch-hitters, I guess I did okay, because the good folks at InterGalactic Medicine Show asked me to stay on as the regular reviewer for science fiction. Alethea and I will trade off months, she reviewing fantasy one month, me reviewing science fiction the next. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. My next review column is slated for September, and Alethea will be there in between with some fantasy book reviews for you. Should be loads of fun!

A rental cottage in Castine, Maine: small-town bliss in a family-friendly setting

We just returned from a vacation up in Castine, Maine. I’ll have more to say about the wonderful time we had on vacation, but before I do, I just had to write a review of the place at which we stayed because it was remarkable and the rest of the world needs to know about it1.

Castine is a small village in Maine, located on the eastern portion of a peninsula that juts out into the Penobscot Bay. We–and by we I mean Kelly, myself, the Little Man and the Little Miss–stayed at a rental cottage that seemed perfectly situated, with the mouth of the Bagaduce river spread out in front and a long dirt road, like the tail of a yawning lion trailing behind. The owners, Bob and Sam Friedlander, live in the house just across the driveway from the cottage. They rent out the cottage in the summer months, when the weather in this part of Maine is at its best. And it is no surprise that the cottage is booked for most of the summer because it is the perfect vacation spot for families looking for a quiet, small town setting with lots of activities for adults and children alike.

The cottage itself is built into a converted garage, although you wouldn’t know it from the inside. Walking into the cottage you find yourself standing in and entryway that overlooks a rustic, comfortable living room and dining area, surrounded by windows that look out onto a river sprinkled with sailboats, moorings and lobster traps.


The living room contains a wood-burning stove, although in July and August, it is unlikely, you’ll need it. Nor do you need air conditioning. Open the windows and let the fresh cross-breeze cool the rooms. Those breezes are like the trade winds in Hawaii. The cottage is stocked with books, games, and maps. There is a television in the living room, although I doubt you’ll ever need to turn it on. And for those who simply cannot completely disconnect from the world at large, there is even wireless Internet access.

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  1. Fair warning: the cottage owners are family, but I’ve never allowed that to preclude an honest review, especially when the experience was as grand as ours.

My first guest book review column for InterGalactic Medicine Show is now online

Remember, I am pinch hitting the book review column in June and July for Alethea Kontis, who has been on her book tour to promote her new novel, Enchanted. My first guest book review column is now online. In it, I take a look at the Million Writer Awards anthology by Jason Sanford, and 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson. Head on over to InterGalactic Medicine Show to check it out.

“If By Reason of Strength…” reviewed in the April 2012 Analog

My novelette, “If By Reason of Strength…” is reviewed by Don Sakers in the April 2012 Analog, which I just received in the mail today. Sakers describes the story as:

A thoughtful, engaging SF story at an attractive price… what more could one ask?

The story is published through 40K Books in Italy. 40K publishes original novelettes and novellas including stories by Paul Di Filippo, Mike Resnick, Cory Doctorow, and Jeff VanderMeer. It is available on Amazon and the iBookstore.

It is very cool to have something reviewed in Analog, another one of those things that I sometimes fantasized about, along with, you know, selling a story to Analog.

Incidentally, I will have another story coming out from 40K in the not-too-distant future. Stay-tuned…

(ETA: Updated to add link to online review page.)

Review: 11/22/63 by Stephen King (5-stars)


Stephen King’s most recent book, 11/22/63, is a time-travel adventure about a man from 2011 who uses a time “bubble” to attempt to prevent the Kennedy assassination. Writing a book  like this is a bold move on the part of Mr. King. In the science fiction realm, time-travel stories are rampant and can easily become cliched and overdone. Furthermore, the Kennedy assassination is a kind of Grand Central Station for time travelers in fiction. It has been done in stories, books and television. So combining the two yet again was something of a risk. But after reading 11/22/63 it was a risk that I am grateful that Stephen King decided to take. The book is an outstanding example of what can be achieved when two over-used story lines are looked at with fresh eyes and a fresh approach. I loved the book from start to finish and most of the time had difficulty putting it down.

The story is told from the point of view of Jake Epping. Jake is a teacher in Maine. His friend, Al Templeton, who runs the local burger joint, lets him in on a little secret. In the back of the burger joint is a portal into 1958. It is a little hard for Jake to accept until he tries the portal for himself. Al has been back to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination, but is sick with cancer and passes the torch to Jake. Before Jake can try to prevent the Kennedy assassination, he first needs to prove to himself that the past can be changed and affect the future. This little side quest takes Jake on an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride through familiar territory: Derry, Maine, in 1958. After his hard fought success, he returns to 2011 and decides to take on the mission to prevent the Kennedy assassination. This means living in the past for 5 years. And meeting someone special and falling in love. I won’t give away the ending but it is equally as thrilling as the rest of the book.

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Review: Firebird by Jack McDevitt (5-stars)


Jack McDevitt’s latest novel, Firebird (Ace, 2011), is the sixth adventure following Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath. Alex is a well-known antiquities dealer and Chase is his pilot and assistant.

After agreeing to look into the value of some objects that once belonged to the famous physicist Christopher Robin (who allegedly disappeared near his home and was presumably lost in the ocean), Chase and Alex uncover a series of events that Robin was investigating himself: sightings of unidentified spaceships that appeared out of nowhere and then faded away. Their investigation takes them to a number of worlds, including in which one of the worst disasters in human history took place. The world is dangerous now, those who visit don’t return. But Alex and Chase brave that world in search for answers. What they ultimately find–the why Robin disappeared, why the strange ships have been appearing and disappearing throughout history, will take your breath away. And what they do about it makes for one of the most nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat climaxes I’ve read in a long time.

Firebird is the best Alex Benedict novel yet and it just goes to show that as good a writer as Jack McDevitt is (see my review of Time Travelers Never Die), he keeps getting better. This novel presses all of my science fiction buttons: it’s got a fascinating mystery, big cosmological events, black holes, lost spaceships, artificial intelligence. While the story itself, told as always from Chase’s point of view, focuses on the mystery, it can’t help but reveal new facets to characters I have grown to think of as friends. At times, the tension is high between Alex and Chase and we get a glimpse of how they came together in the first place. We also learn more about the AIs in this distant future, and the subject of the novel allows for intriguing discussions of philosophical questions: religion, intelligence, and what it means to be sentient.

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Nice post about my Vacation in the Golden Age over at RT Book Reviews

Over at RT Book Reviews, Elisa Verna has written a nice post about my Vacation in the Golden Age. This is so cool! I’ve been taking this Vacation primarily for the enjoyment, and blogging about it allows me to share that enjoyment with others. So I’m delighted whenever I discover there are others out there who enjoy it as well.

How Evernote has helped me go paperless (a status update)

Last fall, I went paperless at work. One of my goals for 2011 was to go paperless at home. As I have discovered, this is not as easy as just dumping all paper. It takes a concerted effort, but one that I think has already started to pay dividends.

Going paperless requires replacing paper with digital versions of documents, notes, etc. And those digital versions need to be stores, organized and easily searchable for it to work. Furthermore, they need to be archived and backed up. I don’t know if my efforts to go paperless would have been possible without Evernote. For those who don’t know, Evernote is an application that allows you to “remember everything.”  In its simplest form, it allows you to capture notes and organize them. The notes are stored in the cloud and are therefore accessible from anywhere you have an Internet connection. Evernote’s basic service is available for free, but I have been using their premium service (which gives you unlimited storage as well as a number of additional features) for quite a while now. Most importantly, perhaps, Evernote has a solid iPad and iPhone app that make capturing information and accessing your data from these devices easy.

What follows is how I have used Evernote and other tools to go paperless this year. I also outline how far I’ve managed to get in the first 8 months of the year, what challenges I’ve had, and the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

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Thoughts on A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin


I finished reading A Storm of Swords at 12:05am this morning and thought that the intervening sleep would help me write a cogent and sensible review of the book, but as of this morning, I’m still left feeling rather breathless by everything that happened, especially towards the end. The book is so long, with so many character and events that it seems to be impossible to do a traditional review of it (at least to me) and so instead, I’ll leave you with some general impressions from the book. There may be some spoilers herein so proceed with caution.

  • First, I loved it. It took me a long time to read it, not because the book was 1200 pages but because I had many other things going on at the same time. Nevertheless, the book engrossed me, hooked me and made it very hard to let go. The last four or five nights I went to bed early and then spent the next 3-4 hours reading simply because I couldn’t put the book down and had to find out what happened next.
  • There were around a dozen view point characters in the book. Two in particular impressed me this time around. The first was Jaime Lannister. It was fascinating to get into the head of a character who we’ve seen only through other people’s eyes for the first two books. It was interesting to learn his motivations, and to learn that despite what we might have heard of him, he might not be such a bad guy after all. He had an impressive transformation in this book, making his escape with Brinne all the way back to King’s Landing. He lost something along the way, but he gained much more in my view. Without that long road back home, he might not have been able to stand up to his sister and father in defense of his brother the way he did.
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Blog on IDrive: Cloud backups and peace of mind

I have been using IDrive since the fall of 2009 as a means for securely backing up all of my data, and while I’ve posted about it before, I’ve never really done so in detail. But it is worth blogging about because it is, in my mind, the perfect solution for data backups*.

When people talk about backups, they are usually only talking about half of a solution. It is one thing to make sure the data on your computer is backed up. It is quite another to be able to quickly and easily restore that data. IDrive is a complete solution, one that makes restoring data as easy as backing it up.

IDrive is a cloud-backup solution. That is, it backs up your data, whether you are on a Macintosh or Windows computer, to the Internet. It does so in a secure fashion, and your files are accessible to you from anywhere you have Internet access. Like most backup systems, IDrive typically will do a full backup of your computer (or the files that you select) and then subsequent backups are incremental, backing up only those files that have changed.

We have all heard stories–if not experienced for ourselves–the frustration, if not pain, of losing data. My biggest loss came a month or two before I started using IDrive. The hard disk on my MacBook died. I was backing up to an external disk, but it wasn’t a completely automated backup and I did lose some data that I wasn’t able to recreate, most importantly some photos from a trip to Europe. After the loss, I went about looking for the best possible solution for backing up data. Being an application developer by day, and working in a large company, I had some notion of what worked and what didn’t, what people tended to complain about and what they liked. My set of requirements looked something like this:

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