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Aaron C. Brown RSS Feed (New York, New York United States)

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Levant Mirage
Levant Mirage
by Oliver F. Chase
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.99
10 used & new from $10.18

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Quirky thriller that works despite itself, October 10, 2015
This review is from: Levant Mirage (Paperback)
It's easier to describe the flaws in the book, than to explain why it succeeds anyway. The protagonist is a brilliant scientist, a war hero (but deprived of his medal of honor due to shameful politics), heir to one of the greatest fortunes on the planet AND a potential political dynasty on the other side, he's got a mysterious past, he's a jetsetter playboy; think Tony Stark and Captain America rolled into one. That can work in a humorous story, such as the James Bond series, but there's no trace of humor in this book (another flaw). But this guy never uses any of his exceptional talents. He spends much of the first half of the book stuck in traffic, and much of the second on airplanes. James Bond didn't get stuck in traffic. And Bond loved and left every attractive female he saw, the hero of Levant Mirage moons pitifully after women who disrespect him and cheat on him. Mostly the hero seems to be along for the ride, although he does some good by encouraging some people. All he really wants to do is pal around with his teenaged daughter.

The shadowy villain has even more superpowers. He's an even bigger scientific genius who is able to infiltrate and take over pretty much anything he wants, while organizing a vast international conspiracy. He does in fact use his powers, but to a totally irrational plot. Given his abilities, he could attain his apparent ends in about ten minutes if he forgot about all the lurid science fiction stuff. And that lurid stuff would make your high school physics teacher cry; but it's not as impossible as the hero's laughably impractical, brain-dead attempt to defeat it.

The book starts slowly, with some convoluted nonsense about shipping orders and product defects that is never really explained, and doesn't seem to lead anywhere. A coherent story emerges out of the mess, but it takes too long. In The Simple Art of Murder, Raymond Chandler explained that in writing pulp detective fiction, whenever the plot bogged down, you "have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand." Oliver Chase has modified this a bit, whenever the action stalls (and that happens a lot), he has some character reveal him or herself to be a member of some new international conspiracy. That does keep things moving, in a fashion anyway, but it makes the plot seem random. Nothing develops naturally, not events, not characters; the book is driven by layers of competing lies.

With all those flaws, how does this end up being an okay thriller? For one thing, the author doesn't really care much about the characters or plot, he's painting a picture of totally dysfunctional government institutions. Instead of pulling together to fight an existential threat, they reflexively lie, bicker and betray each other. The terrorist organizations are at least well-organized and effective, and their members are personally loyal and courageous. Only a few defenders of truth, justice and the American Way can say the same: the hero, his grandfather, two childhood friends, one honest scientist and one honest spy.

This worldview appears to be sincere, exaggerated for effect, but not imagined. Civilians can be lovable, but most are too soft to survive without protection. Most of the hard people who claim to protect them are either effective fanatics or ineffective opportunists. All that stands between us and extremist horror is a few honorable people who know how to be hard, without being innately hard. To quote Raymond Chandler again, "Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness."

The classic noir detective fought against deep human corruption. Oliver Chase's hero follows a similar character development arc, but the enemy is institutionalized corruption rather than human nature. In fact, this book resembles a detective story more than a thriller, despite the military trappings and gaudy plot to end life as we know it. And in the end, that kind of works. You keep reading, not to uncover the awful truth of the fiendish plot, or in hopes that the hero will forestall it, but to see how a realistic man of honor behaves in the battle between evil people and shameful ones. The characters keep you guessing (partly because the author keeps jerking around the plot, but mostly because they are realistically complex). The ending isn't exactly satisfying, and doesn't make a lot of sense, but the surviving characters resolve nicely.

I don't exactly recommend this book, it has too many flaws for that. But if you're willing to take a chance on an offbeat thriller, you will find a lot of interesting things to chew on in this book. It's well-written enough and has enough action that you keep turning the pages, but it's the characters who will stay with you after the plot is forgotten.

The Mercury Rebellion: A Science Fiction Thriller (The Solarian War Saga) (Volume 3)
The Mercury Rebellion: A Science Fiction Thriller (The Solarian War Saga) (Volume 3)
by Felix R Savage
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.99

4.0 out of 5 stars I guess this is the Mama's Bear book of the trilogy, October 10, 2015
All three books in this series, The Galapagos Incident, The Vesta Conspiracy and this one share some wonderful virtues. The author has imagined an original and plausible future that is neither utopian nor dystopian. Advances in technology and some scarring historical events have scrambled society, but human nature remains the same. The author has an unerring ability to invent satisfying cultural and linguistic juxtapositions, they are immediately intelligible without explanations. There is masterful wordplay and some deep thoughts about religion, racism, artificial intelligence, human aspirations, government and other topics.

I gave the first book three stars, because its flawed pacing made the book boring at times, and emphasized some flaws. There was some sloppy science and muddled description, silly jargon and too many of the supporting characters were all quirk, no character. The second book is dazzling, a great five star book that rises to a level of the great science fiction novels. This book falls off a bit from that achievement, but it is still a very good novel. I do recommend reading the books in order.

The book starts out well with our plucky heroine landing a dubious assignment on Mercury, where people live underground at one of the poles, and mining robots move around the globe to stay in perpetual night. There is an election and a revolution (the titular rebellion) and about as many sneaky schemes as there are characters to plot them. Events are linked to a hostage crisis in the outer solar system many years previous. Several old favorite characters from the earlier books reappear (some in altered form) and some great new characters are introduced.

The middle of the book is exciting and well paced, but the threads never really come together. There is plot enough for a dozen novels, and it sometimes feels more like the author is jumping from one to another, rather than weaving a coherent story. Nevertheless, the action is robust and darkly humorous, and it does all make sense (insane sense in many cases) although it takes more effort on the reader's part to keep things straight than your average thriller demands.

The ending is the weakest part. In the last ten percent or so of the book, nothing anyone does makes sense. There are enough religious symbols that I suspect the author is making some sophisticated theological point, but I have no clue what it is. Much of the time the story is alternating between actual and simulated reality. The simulated reality parallels actual reality, but it can be distorted. That's hard enough to keep track of when the plot is proceeding normally and people are acting sensibly, but when you throw in magical elements and inexplicable actions, it gets to be too much.

Despite the chaotic and unsatisfying ending, this is an admirable but flawed science fiction novel. The Vesta Conspiracy is a good enough book to make it worth reading the series, and The Galapagos Incident and the Mercury Rebellion are good and very good respectively. I think all science fiction fans should give it a try.

Dutis, Plastic Microwave & Dishwasher Food Storage Containers, Green
Dutis, Plastic Microwave & Dishwasher Food Storage Containers, Green
Offered by Premium Lifestyle Products
Price: $19.74

5.0 out of 5 stars Top quality food storage containers, October 10, 2015
I was given a free set of these to review. I've used them for over a month now, and I'm very pleased. These are sturdy, high-quality containers that make an airtight seal, even after repeated use, microwaving and cleaning in the dishwasher. The snaps that hold the lid lock easily into place, and can be closed or opened with one hand. I've used them for a variety of food, both storage and reheating, and they neither impart flavor to food, nor pick up smells, flavor or taste from food.

The one problem for me, maybe not you, is the detachable lids can get separated from the container if you're a sloppy housekeeper like me. I usually buy storage containers with the lids attached to avoid that problem, but that usually means you can't use them for microwaving, and they're harder to clean. So you can go either way on that.

Microwave and Dishwasher Safe Plastic Food Storage Containers Set With Spill Proof Durable Locking System. Airtight & Watertight Lids Locks in Freshness & Keeps Food Safe, Square 3 Piece Set
Microwave and Dishwasher Safe Plastic Food Storage Containers Set With Spill Proof Durable Locking System. Airtight & Watertight Lids Locks in Freshness & Keeps Food Safe, Square 3 Piece Set
Offered by Premium Lifestyle Products
Price: $19.74

5.0 out of 5 stars Top quality food storage containers., October 10, 2015
I was given a free set of these to review. I've used them for over a month now, and I'm very pleased. These are sturdy, high-quality containers that make an airtight seal, even after repeated use, microwaving and cleaning in the dishwasher. The snaps that hold the lid lock easily into place, and can be closed or opened with one hand. I've used them for a variety of food, both storage and reheating, and they neither impart flavor to food, nor pick up smells, flavor or taste from food.

The one problem for me, maybe not you, is the detachable lids can get separated from the container if you're a sloppy housekeeper like me. I usually buy storage containers with the lids attached to avoid that problem, but that usually means you can't use them for microwaving, and they're harder to clean. So you can go either way on that.

Zenik Eye Mask for Sleeping - Lavender Eye Pillow Ideal for Sleep & Migraine Relief - Made in USA - Hot or Cold Therapy for Headache, Sinus Pain & Stress Relief. Feel Amazing in Just One Use - Gift Boxed! (Lavender)
Zenik Eye Mask for Sleeping - Lavender Eye Pillow Ideal for Sleep & Migraine Relief - Made in USA - Hot or Cold Therapy for Headache, Sinus Pain & Stress Relief. Feel Amazing in Just One Use - Gift Boxed! (Lavender)
Offered by Beauty Therapy
Price: $24.95

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nice materials and workmanship, but mediocre as a sleep mask or compress, October 10, 2015
The picture for this item shows the mask on a very small person, on most adults it will cover both eyes, but not the nose and forehead, and it will not drape down the sides. It will not shut out all light by itself.

On the good side, the lavender smell is delightful, not at all heavy or artificial. The outside is pleasantly silky and the seams are solid. Putting it over your eyes is soothing, although you would have to sleep on your back and be a very quiet sleeper to use it as a sleep mask. There is nothing to hold it in place.

On the less good side, it does not do much of a job as a hot or cold compress, at least compared to the gel products made for that purpose. It's too small for one thing (unless you're as small as the person in the picture). You have to spray with water in order to heat it in a microwave, and you can only make it lukewarm. The result is a steamy warmth that doesn't last long. Some people might like it, I didn't. If you put it in the freezer for two hours, as directed to make it cold, it's too cold to put on your skin comfortably and it warms up too quickly to provide much soothing.

Overall, it's a five-star small lavender eye pillow, but I think most people will be disappointed in it as either a sleep mask or a compress.

Mycroft Holmes
Mycroft Holmes
by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.59
76 used & new from $14.86

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good news, bad news and a gripe, October 8, 2015
This review is from: Mycroft Holmes (Hardcover)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I'm going to start with a minor item, but one that bothered me. The publisher chose to headline the Amazon description with, "A new novel written by NBA All-Star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar!" My minor gripe is there are 24 NBA All-Stars each year. Calling the leading scorer in NBA history and a standout player in many other respects an "NBA All-Star" is like calling Willie Mays a "Gold Glove outfielder," or Wayne Gretzky a "prolific NHL scorer." My major gripe is the exclamation point. Not to get all micro-aggressivey here, but would the publisher have done that if Bill Bradley or Phil Jackson had been the author? How many excellent books and columns does KAJ have to pen before people catch on that he can write even though he can also dunk a basketball?

Now that I've got that off my chest, on to the book. It's a fun light read with some real strengths, but unfortunately it also has some major flaws however you look at it. KAJ is most famous for inspiring histories, usually involving heroic figures whose achievements were marginalized or neglected due to prejudice. The writing is clear and pleasant, simple enough for young adults and non-book-lovers. More active readers might prefer a bit more dash and polish, but the accurate research and personal voice usually make up for the somewhat pedestrian style. This book delivers on historical research grounds, despite being a work of fiction. It's a painless--an enjoyable--way to learn some bits of history probably not included in your high school textbooks.

Unfortunately, pervasive and intense violence distract from the history lesson and make the book unsuitable for most young adults. It's at the level of sadistic thrillers about serial killers or graphic war stories. The violence is entirely from the fictional elements, it is not related to the historical events, nor is it consistent with the time period. Real events, like the horrors of slave ships or daily violence against women and children, are passed over lightly, while the fictional bad guys inflict senseless tortures more familiar to the 20th century than the 19th. Another complaint is that women characters are either subservient or insane and evil--with the sole exception of Queen Victoria, whose role seems entirely at odds with the themes of institutionalized and socially-enforced racism and corruption. If you don't like what Victorian England did to minorities, colonies and deviants, it's hard to see how you trust Queen Victoria.

If you forget the education and just consider it from the standpoint of an investigative adventure story, it has some great elements. The plot is complex and original, the locations and characters are colorful and the action is plentiful and satisfying. The problem here is pacing. Far too much time is spent describing travels or not-very-interesting details of Victoriana. A thriller has to be taut, with constant suspense and relentless action. Any menace felt in the book is resolved quickly, after which the story slackens off for a bit before a new action scene looms.

There is also good news and bad news from the perspective of Holmesian speculation. The authors have found an interesting new angle to approach the canonical stories, asking how Mycroft Holmes might have become "the most indispensable man in the country," and what that might explain about Sherlock Holmes' adult character. These are provocative questions and they are given satisfying answers, consistent with Arthur Conan Doyle's work, and making sense in their own right. Sherlockian partisans may not agree with the interpretation, but they will find plenty of interesting ideas to debate. The authors are respectful of Doyle's universe, but not pedantic about it. The most daring departure, which is wholly successful, is to postulate that Mycroft started out as a reckless adventurer and traveler, rather than someone born with "no ambition and no energy."

The problem here is the style clashes so strongly with Doyle's prose that it feels like the authors stole their characters from Doyle rather than built on the originals. Sherlock Holmes became an enduring legend--and a major subfield of the entertainment industry--because he adapts so readily to a variety of interpretations from plays, radio, television, movies and stories. Much of what makes up Holmes today are details not from the original stories, but added by directors, actors and authors since. This book will never be part of that collection, because it alienates itself in style.

Overall, this is a mixture of good and bad elements. It's entertaining to read, educational and thought-provoking. But its flaws prevent it from being more than pretty good whether you're looking for fictionalized history, thrills or Holmesian scholarship.

The Golem of Paris
The Golem of Paris
by Jonathan Kellerman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.37
64 used & new from $8.43

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An intelligent thriller that's actually thrilling, October 7, 2015
This review is from: The Golem of Paris (Hardcover)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I loved the earlier book in this series, The Golem of Hollywood, and agree with the anonymous Vine reviewer who posts under "Amazon customer" that this one is not quite as good. It's still five stars in my opinion, for the excellent writing, deep themes and fascinating research and speculation. But some of the best parts of this book are not as fresh as they were in the original, and some of the best parts of the original are missing here. There are some new elements, but they do not make up for what was lost.

Looking over the other reviews of both this and the earlier book, it's clear that a minority love them for reasons similar to mine, and a majority find them disjointed, confusing and even ridiculous.That doesn't surprise me. The books meld very different elements and styles: mystical passages drawn from biblical apocrypha, historical accounts from late medieval central Europe, Jewish philosophy, mysticism and practice, gritty and realistic modern Los Angeles, supernatural modern Los Angeles and international police work. You might get the impression that this is an unreadable dense mess, appreciated only by a few readers with narrow interests. That would be a mistake.

These books are eminently readable. They're great stories. They do make a few more demands on the reader than a by-the-numbers thriller, but you don't need specialized interests or expertise to enjoy them. If you have any interest in timeless questions of good and evil, the nature of being the roots of Western morality and how to live a good life; you will be fascinated by the novel perspectives presented in these books, expertly informed by modern psychological insight, and framed in realistic modern terms as well as fantastic ancient ones. It would probably help to spend half an hour on Wikipedia reading up on the Old New Synagogue, Jewish mysticism and some apocryphal biblical texts such as the books of Adam and Eve, the book of Enoch and the book of Giants (you might also watch The Golem to set the mood). This is worthwhile in its own right, and will heighten your appreciation for the Golem books.

This book lacks the wonderful mystical chapters of the original, and is much sketchier on the police procedural aspects. In fact, it loses interest in the central murders, ignoring some clues carefully planted earlier in the story and never resolving them in a satisfying way. The ritual elements are much less important, and the supernatural characters are getting a bit too familiar, like sitcom angels and demons rather than obscure and awesome entities.

On the plus side, there is some intense material on the horrific psychiatric abuses behind the former Iron Curtain. However, I feel this treatment was too brief and specific for such an important topic. It wasn't one mad scientist and his evil minion, it was official and systemic. It also has links to some Western abuses, which are not explored in this book. I don't suggest every book that mentions Soviet bloc mental hospitals has to take on their full scope and history, but taking the topic a bit more seriously would fit very naturally into this book, and the authors are certainly capable of tackling it.

I also enjoyed a thread concerning the protagonist's mother evolution from sheltered atheist, dominated by parents and stressed for success, to sensual believer, to broken vessel. This was riveting and authentic, and the effect on the people around her is drawn skillfully. The French police characters were welcome additions. I was less impressed by the Russian characters who seemed to be straight from Central Casting.

One minor gripe is I would like to find a book in which a good looking professional woman has a pleasant and uncomplicated sex life; no frigidity alternating with inappropriate passionate affairs, no sex as an offensive weapon. Also, the protagonist, Jacob Lev, is falling a bit into Alex Delaware like self-indulgence (one of the authors, Jonathan Kellerman, has a wonderful series of novels featuring a psychologist/detective Alex Delaware). In my review of the Golem of Hollywood, I speculated that son Jesse was responsible for correcting this persistent flaw in Jonathan's characters. I have no idea if that is true or not, but if so, Jesse has to work a bit harder.

Overall, this is a thought-provoking, entertaining, beautifully written collaboration between two great writing talents. I recommend it to all readers. Depending on your background, it may be a bit more work than the average mystery, but it is well worth it. Also, I think it's important to read the first book first.

by David Walton
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.60
78 used & new from $0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars Fails as either soft or hard science fiction, October 6, 2015
This review is from: Supersymmetry (Paperback)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
In a space opera, the author takes a familiar melodramatic plot from another genre and adds a thin science fiction veneer. A common choice is to borrow from Westerns, but replace the Colt Peacemakers with ray guns, and the stage coach with a rocket ship. There's no explanation of how ray guns work or why they are preferred to projectile weapons, and the technology level can be wildly uneven.

Viewed as a space opera, Supersymmetry is too heavy to be successful. It draws on the demon-fighting mythology genre, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Instead of demons from the hellmouth, we have a varcolac from another dimension. What that means is never explained, but it has the ability to take over humans, in which case their eyes disappear. No reason is given for that, nor any plausible biological mechanism for the transformation. It also has the ability to sling Higgs singlets (a hypothetical particle that might exist) backward in time to cause precisely-calibrated macroscopic events. The good guys, as well as assorted bad guys and in-between guys, have standard magic abilities to turn invisible, apperate, kill with thoughts and let bullets pass through themselves harmlessly.

As usual, the technology levels make no sense. Everyone has implants that give them an always-on, high-speed internet connected directly to their eyes (or perhaps optic nerves or brain, it's never explained; it also produces audio heard only by the user) which they control mentally (or perhaps through eye muscle movements). In addition to standard web features like email, text messaging and web searches, it allows neat things like direct real-time access to another person's visual experience so fast and high quality that the user experience is the same as direct vision. Fine, someone might invent that some day. But then why would everyone still carry mobile phones around? How many televisions would you expect to see? Why would the police interrogate suspects when they could get direct access to everything the suspect saw and heard in the past? How would people get lost?

Obviously you can forget all that, and try to enjoy it as a mindless thriller. One problem with that is it lacks the features that make a satisfying adventure tale. The story meanders without the taut pacing of a thriller. The characters are too shallow to care about, the action scenes are wooden and the descriptions are too clinical to convey any feeling. The other problem is extra stuff loading down the story. From the space opera perspective, there are tedious wasted passages of physics, and far too much navel gazing. Yes, if you were split into two people at age 14, each with the same memories but with lives diverging afterwards, you would likely have some identity issues. You might wonder who was the "real" twin, and which one your Dad liked best. But you probably wouldn't obsess about these questions every other page of what is supposed to be a fast-paced, action story. A physics genius with severe neuroses and social issues might feel bad a lot, but too much of that kind of internal musing destroys the pace of the story. Finally, about ten percent of the text is devoted to explaining an earlier book by the author involving the same characters (Superposition), which will be repetitious to those who have read it, and annoyingly out of order to those who have not.

Most of those problems disappear if you consider this a hard science fiction book. In that case the characters and plot are secondary to exploring interesting speculation grounded in science. The illogical combinations of technology are still problematic, as are magical touches like the eyeless humans animated by the varcolac, but those could be forgiven if some of the other science made sense.

Unfortunately, that's not the case. The book spouts all kinds of jargon, but the author does not appear to understand it. For example, invisibility is conferred by a computer somehow measuring every photon or other particle hitting a person, computing each particle's path if the person were not there, and somehow creating a new particle to follow the computed path. There are at least a dozen major problems with that. For instance, while this technique would allow the background behind a person to be seen, it would not erase the image of the person, which is composed of photons reflected and emitted from her body. For another no possible computer could do the calculations for 10^21 particles in the nanosecond required, even if some kind of quantum magic allowed information to be transmitted faster than light. The complete absurdity of this is when a character needs a bigger computer to handle all 10^51 particles that make up the object to be made invisible, it fits in a backpack (admittedly, a heavy backpack) -- and the computer itself is part of the invisible object. How can any computer, even in theory, compute the position and motion of every particle of itself?

Another example concerns an analysis of the debris from a stadium explosion that determines it occurred in ten dimensions.To think what that means, think of an explosion that takes place in a two-dimension world, like a picture. It would push things out from a central point, forming a circular blast zone, assuming conditions are identical in all directions. Instead assume an explosion happens in a third dimension, and that the two-dimensional picture world is crumpled in that third dimension. To the two-dimensional people it might seem that there were many blasts, perhaps destroying two seats in a stadium, but leaving the seat in between them untouched, and throwing the debris from the two destroyed seats in different directions. This seems to be what the author has in mind.

This is clever, as far as it goes. But the investigators deduce the ten-dimensional structure by comparing where various seat numbers ended up relative to their initial positions. One problem is that the extra six dimensions posited by the brane theory the author adopts are not flat enough to accommodate the smallest subatomic particle, much less a seat number. You might deduce a ten-dimensional brane explosion from the nature of exotic particles released or some residual field, but not by counting seats. Another is that the amount of data derivable from seat numbers couldn't possibly distinguish the number of dimensions involved in the explosion.

A more fundamental problem is the author's confusion between quantum uncertainty and macroscopic probability. I'm willing to grant that some future technology might allow sending a Higgs singlet back in time to a precisely calculated location to change some kind of quantum state. Like Lorenz's famous example of the flap of a butterfly's wings in Brazil setting off a tornado in Texas, that quantum event could eventually lead to a change in a single atom, which could change a chemical reaction in a neuron, which could lead to a different decision; such as a person leaving after the eighth inning of a lopsided baseball game versus staying until the end. The energy differential of the butterfly and tornado is probably about a trillion, and of the Higgs singlet and a neuron firing about a trillion trillion, but it doesn't seem impossible.

However, the butterfly's wing flap or the Higgs singlet can only "cause" the larger event because things were balanced on a knife edge anyway. You can't calculate the effect of the flap/singlet without knowing about every other particle and force. Moreover, you can't create only a tornado/early exit and leave everything else unchanged; the flap/singlet changes everything. So this is not a way to surgically alter the past to gain a calculable change, it's a way to send the universe down a different path with massive and unpredictable results.

I'll content myself with one final example: teleportation. This is popular in science fiction, and lots of mechanisms have been proposed for it. The author doesn't bother with explanations. One problem is what happens to the stuff that was there before you teleported in? The author says you enter from the middle. If that means an atom in your liver appears first, then the surrounding atoms and so on, you have a problem with timing.

If the process takes one second, then it would take one the order of one joule of energy to move the air out of the way. That's about the same energy as dropping a baseball from two feet, no big deal. But you'd have a real problem as your internal organs were exposed to air, and your heart was disconnected from blood vessels. Also, both teleportee and witnesses at both ends would notice a slow process, like the transporter on Star Trek, this does not happen in the book. But the energy required increases as the inverse square of the time taken (this only accounts for the energy to move the air molecules without resistance, there would be additional energy due to the pressure effects, which would be significant at faster speeds, especially faster than sound). If the translation happens in a millisecond, it takes a million joules (about what one pound of TNT delivers) and bystanders would notice the heat and shock wave, surviving ones anyway.

One possible way around this is to fold the person in another dimension. Imagine a circle of some soft material in a picture. You could pinch it in the middle and pick it up, to two-dimensional observers the circle would appear to shrink, and its insides would never be exposed to air. You could reverse the process to place it somewhere else in the picture. So you could do this slowly enough to move the air without excessive energy, but bystanders would see the teleportee shrink into nothingness at one location, then appear as a point in another and grow into a full-size person. The teleportee would see the world growing larger, then shrinking back to normal at a new location. This does not happen in the book.

Another classic problem is how does the teleportation device know the boundaries of the person, plus clothes and anything the person is holding (including another person)? These are convenient features for fiction, but in hard science fiction we need some kind of explanation. The book claims that people bring their momentum with them when they teleport, so a person falling at high speed who teleports to location near the ground will smash into it and die. I'll accept that premise, except that when people teleport to farway locations on the Earth, they don't go zooming off on the momentum vector of their old location (for example, a person teleporting from a point on the equator is moving about 1,000 mph eastward due to rotation of the earth; if she teleports to the opposite side of the globe, she'll find herself moving 2,000 mph relative to everything else. Characters never teleport that far in the book, but they do go far enough for this effect to matter.

The problem with all this stuff is not that the physics is wrong. Lots of hard science fiction is enjoyable even though the premises have been superseded by subsequent research. Fred Hoyle and Robert Forward are among the best hard science fiction authors of the 20th century, despite including ideas that are inconsistent with modern understanding. The problem is that the author has not thought through the science to give any coherent theory of what's going on. That makes the books useless for scientific speculation, other than the 3 AM dorm room stoned variety. Rules are chosen for dramatic convenience, not scientific logic. This also means they can be changed at any time, for example, we discover suddenly that the invisibility cloak does not work on infrared radiation. Why the frequency of the photon matters is unexplained, but it suits the author's purposes at the time.

I'm conscious that all the other reviewers to date loved this book, some found the story exciting, others praised the science. The first issue is one of taste, all I can say is I found the story only mediocre compared to other space operas. For the second issue, the author gets a lot of terms and jargon right, and makes a decent initial foray into imagining some possibilities, but he doesn't think anything through, and he doesn't get the high school physics right, much less the cutting edge research.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 10, 2015 3:31 PM PST

Passage at Delphi (Apollo Series)
Passage at Delphi (Apollo Series)
by A.K. Patch
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.95
18 used & new from $9.61

2.0 out of 5 stars Wooden historical romance with tangled plot but some good ideas, October 3, 2015
After 22 five-star and one four-star reviews, I obviously have a minority opinion. I found the writing wooden and the characters weak. The plot has many threads that get tangled rather than woven. The biggest problem is the rules seem to be made up as the author goes along. When a book has this many magical elements, without some kind or order to them, things quickly become random. While there is an impressive amount of accurate historical detail, the author fails to convey any feeling of the physical or intellectual reality of different eras.

There is some interesting speculation about the nature of western civilization and the interaction of historical accidents with forces of human good and evil. While it was hard for me to take seriously when spoken by a blond Apollo (a literal Apollo) who carefully arranges his hair with one curl on his forehead, taken on its own it's worth reading.

The book has the feel of a screenplay in that there are long passages of dramatic physical descriptions that have no connection to the story. Characters are enveloped in ovals of blue light with lightning flashing inside. We never learn the source or meaning of these embellishments. You expect this sort of thing in a movie to give visual interest when silly things are happening, but I don't see the point in a book, at least in a book without illustrations. The reader can't see them, and they add nothing other than visual interest.

Overall, this book is too loaded down with plot for a good romance and too silly for a thriller. It works best as a historical meditation, but there are too many distracting elements and the writing is too wooden to be really successful.

I suspect the readers who will like this best will take it as it goes without wondering too much about what it means, imagining the dramatic visuals and enjoying the history lesson. Readers looking for a credible story, interesting characters who develop, a logical plot, stylish writing or a feeling of history will be disappointed.

CCbetter® Intelligent New Generation 3D Printing Pen (Version 3) with LCD screen free PLA/ABS filament lightweight safety holder-Creative and Educational Gift for Kids-(Blue with black)
CCbetter® Intelligent New Generation 3D Printing Pen (Version 3) with LCD screen free PLA/ABS filament lightweight safety holder-Creative and Educational Gift for Kids-(Blue with black)
Offered by CCBetter Direct
Price: $149.99
3 used & new from $67.59

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scaffolding, scaffolding, scaffolding, September 8, 2015
Let me begin with safety. Nearly all 3D pens use a heated tip to melt the plastic extruded to produce the object drawn. For the pen, the tip can get to 235 C, which is the temperature of a cool soldering iron (however the tip is smaller and holds considerably less heat). Unless you tried, or were extremely unlucky, it would be hard to get more than a painful small burn from careless use. However, given that it's tempting to wave the pen around in the air for some projects, and to use it close to your fingers for others, this isn't something I'd recommend for unsupervised children's play. On the other hand, it's not scary dangerous, it's far safer than a clothes iron or a soldering iron, so most adults and careful children can enjoy it without fear.

I tried this pen with a number of different input plastics and it works well with all of them. The only minor gripe is if you want to change colors or plastic types within a project, you have to eject a significant amount of the first material (which cannot be reused) and then restart your work (the new stuff will not connect seamlessly to the old stuff, even if it's the same type of plastic).

For repair work, it seems great, but I was not actually successful in any attempt. On the good side, you can reconnect breaks in virtually any materials, even things that you couldn't easily glue, or parts that are hard to access. You can weld things together tightly, or recreate flexible connectors of any shape you can imagine. The trouble is the extruded plastic is brittle and not very strong, even if you are careful about reinforcement. So you can easily make a workable copy of that silly bit of plastic that broke and the manufacturer charges $40 for a replacement, but it will likely break again in a week. It's possible that more experienced workers could do a better job, I just played around on my own, without reading any instructions.

For play, it is great. If you go to the Internet to watch videos, you'll see people swinging the pen around in the air. In my experience that never works, unless you want to create a messy ball of twine. If you want to create fun objects out of thin air, the key is scaffolding. It's easy to draw the components of what you want to build, but you need them held in place as you reinforce them and connect them to each other. I see videos of people who draw the components on paper first and then trace them, but they never show you the stage where they connect the pieces together. In my experience, you need to draw each component in place if you want the resulting project to look like a single object, as opposed to pieces wired together with coat hangers. That means you need to first build some scaffolding to support pieces in place while you draw others.

I see other people using the pen for decorating flat objects. I have no interest in that, and there seem to be better ways to accomplish it. But having used the pen, I think it would be easy to do this.

Overall, the pen is loads of fun, but at least for me, not really good for anything. You can make a model of the Eiffel Tower about half as good as the cheapest tourist junk, in half an hour, with no talent and no training. If that makes you happy, consider this toy. If you have talent or are willing to take the time to learn how to use the pen properly, it might have some actual value, I can't say one way or the other.

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