Tag Archives: Book Review

Analog: Science fiction and fact (March 2009)

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Original title: Analog: Science fiction and fact (March 2009).

Title of this edition: Analog: Science fiction and fact (March 2009).

Author: David Bartell, Jerry Craven, Carl Frederick, Robert J. Sawyer.

Gender: Fantasy / Science Ficction.

Saga: Analog : Science fiction and fact.

Editorial: Orion Books.

Edition year: 1, 2009.

Prizes: …

Synopsis [Warning: Spoiler]: As the title suggest, this journal is composed of science fiction stories and facts. I will only write about the science fiction here.

Cavernauts (David Bartell): The exploration of the moon Callisto has lead to the discovery of one of the biggest caves in the solar system. Now it is the task of two cavernauts to go there and rescue the last patrol. While going deep into the cave, they discover that the cave is being drained trying to find diamonds.

After the first death (Jerry Craven): Something has happened to the exploratory patrol and now it is time for Clayborune to try finding them. Prosecuted by the native extraterrestrial race, Claybourne is forced to join them in a ritual. After the ritual, he discovers that what happens to the exploratory patrol was that they become trees. They reach a level of immortality, but sacrificing their conscience and ability to move. He has to escape, but because of the ritual, he is becoming a tree himself. In the end he manges to scape and discovers that it was all a worm that modifies the host to suit his necessities.

Lifespeed (Carl Frederick): A fencer and scientist discovers a substance that can accelerate the neural processes within the brain and hence make you react faster and as a consequence, is like the world moves slower. This allows him to be a better fencer, but at the cost of a boring life (everything just happens too slow).

Wake: Conclusion (Robert J. Sawyer): Caitlin is a blind girl with genius level at maths. Now, by using a experimental device, she is able to see again, but the device also enables her to “see” the web and to communicate with a conscience being that has arisen in the background of the net.

Personal Review: Before commenting about the individual stories, just to mention that this journal belongs to the BookCrossing initiative, so it will be back to where I pick it up and it will be available for more people to read it.

Cavernauts (David Bartell): I like this story for two reasons, the first one is that it doesn’t try to explain the difficult bits, like space engines or how to get to Callisto, and the other one is that it explains a lot about cave exploration. So, it is has a good balance that makes you enjoy it and feel like a real cavernaut (after all, if you are a cavernaut, you will probably know a lot about cave exploration and nothing about how spaceships works, which makes sense). It is nice also that the story includes references to internet and how everybody is connected 24h 7 days a week. However, it fails to anticipate some kind of cave mapping like for instance the one used in Prometheus.

Such kind of systems is currently being used in consoles and is becoming more and more popular, so it doesn’t require too much speculation to anticipate its use in a situation like the one described in the book.

After the first death (Jerry Craven): This books reminds me about old Sci-Fi movies, where a rocket is sent to unexplored territory with a team of brave people inside. What I’m trying to say, is that the “unexplored” situation is quite difficult to achieve. Before ever approaching another planets, it is expected to send probes, satellites and even robots. Later on, when it comes the time to face-to-face encounters (which might be very dangerous due to virus, chemical incompatibilities and even bacteria…), it will be only under very restrictive protocols. For instance, right now, despite we know there might be liquid water on Mars, the robots are not allowed to go find it, because they might carry earth micro-organisms that can contaminate that water.

Lifespeed (Carl Frederick): The brain main element is the neuron. Communication between neurons takes place through diffusion of chemical entities called neurotransmitters. Communication inside a single neuron takes place through an electrical pulse which is generated by change in ions concentration inside an ion channel. This two methods are not bad when executed a couple of times, but when they are repeated a thousand times, or when they require to travel a long distance, then they are extremely slow. That is the reason for the existence of myelin. Myelin covers part of the axon and basically speeds up the electrical pulses through the axon.

So, since this myelin cover in the axons is what affects more the speed of the signals, then it is not a bad idea trying to change it for another material that speeds up signals even more. This is quite complicated, and I’m not sure if there is anything else compatible with the est of the chemical reactions within the brain, but if there is another substance, then changing the myelin will need a gene therapy, since it is encoded in the genes what covers the axons. So, in principle, it might be possible, but extremely complicated. It will be something possible only through a massive team and collaborations between several groups, certainly not something a single scientist can do alone without anybody knowing what he is doing.

Wake: Conclusion (Robert J. Sawyer): This is only the last episode of a much bigger story, but is fine since there is a synopsis of what happened before. I would say that most of the blindness problems arise from lack of communication between the eye and the brain, hence more than needing a new eye, what is needed is an implant to close the gap. However, this is faster said than done, it requires to connect nerves to electronic devices, and that is not easy. On the other side, communication between an electrode and a nerve is being studied at the moment and we might by only a couple of years away from achieving it.

So, the eyePod part is ok… but sending the data back to Japan from United States will create such a big delay that the devices will not be functional (even with signals travelling at the speed of light it will add about 80 ms delay just fro travelling plus the time spent in the network nodes).

ligth speed

This problem with speed opens what might be the biggest problem with a conscious mind in the “back of the network”. This entity will be much more slower than a human (even if it is more intelligent). It is difficult to quantify how much slower, but it will take light about 120 ms to travel around the world. That is a significant part of a second, and it will take several signals to cross the world only for synchronization (which is an important part of how the brain works).

So, the eyePod part is ok, the conscience mind living in the network, despite being used quite a lot in novels… sounds quite impossible. At least as something that can think as we do or even faster. It could be more intelligent, but it will be slower.

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Superman Earth One Vol 3

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Original title: Superman earth One. Vol 3.

Title of this edition: Superman earth One. Vol 3.

Author: J. Michael Straczynski, Ardian Syaf, Sandra Hope, Barbara Ciardo.

Gender: Fantasy / Science Ficction.

Saga: Superman.

Editorial: Earth One (DC Comics).

Edition year: 1, 2015.

Prizes: …

Synopsis [Warning: Spoiler]: Vol III Zod arrives on earth while Lex and Alexandra Luthor plan to provide the earth with a weapon able to remove Superman’s powers. Disguised as a friend of Superman, Zod arranges a deal with planet earth to kill him. The fight between Clark and Zod is short but intense, Clark is about to die and has no support from any human being… but her nest door best friend Lisa. Meanwhile, Luthor, who initially tried to stop Superman, shoots his weapon towards Zod helping Superman to stop him at the cost of Luthor’s life. The book finishes with Alexandra Luthor killing Zod and claiming revenge on Superman.

Somewhere in the middle of the story it is revealed that Zod initiated a civil war in Krypton and when he was defeated and exiled… he gave the clue to Krypton’s enemies on how to destroy the planet. Zod killed everybody on Krypton.

Personal Review: As I mentioned in the review of the previous volumes in this edition, Earth One is a relaunch in an alternative universe. So, many things will be different while others remain the same. With this new volume, general Zod appears and in some way, what was said in the previous books is undone (as it turns out that Krypton’s destruction is made by Zod). On the other hand, Luthor turns to be a good guy (turns on Superman just because he is scared, but realizes that Superman is the good guy). One major change is that, as it seems from the ending of the book, one of the main villains is going to be not Lex but his wife Alexandra (seeking revenge).

There also something else that is introduced in this book… Kryptonite, and it seems Alexandra is going to use it in the future.

Now for my review, which will start with the Kryptonite and the ray invented by Luthor. As I pointed in the other review, it was a major flaw in the previous books that science was not properly addressed. In order to prevent that, there is not much science in this book, or at least they don’t try explaining it. They only point that Superman’s power source comes from a strange interaction with some particular frequencies of light. One frequency powers him, other turns him down (this is simplified version, as it might be something more complex or otherwise a simple light source will be enough to defeat Superman).

Is this book better than the second? It is. Is it better than the first one? No, and the first one was not extremely good either. In my opinion, the story is taking to long to build up, and meanwhile the things narrated are not epic nor interesting. For instance, Superman fight with Zod is diluted, without soul. It was supposed to be something able to destroy the earth… but instead they barely destroy a few cars.

On the other hand, relation with Lisa (girl next door), is revealing a complex Clark, a Superman afraid of the world as much as the world is afraid of him. Will they accept him? Will he be able to have a normal life if everybody knows him?

In short. The book is still not a masterpiece and lacks a good plot (on the visuals is amazing). The only things that saves it is that Superman speaks to the united nations as a wise man will do, not as we saw in some movies, making him a closer Superman, one that deserves a place on earth.

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By the way, my guess for the next volumes is that Superman hides Lex weapon on the moon and somebody will use it (either against Superman or helping him).

Orsinian Tales.

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Original title: The Orsinian Tales.

Title of this edition: Orsinian Tales.

Author: Ursula K. Le Guin.

Gender: Novel.

Saga:

Editorial: Batam Books.

Edition year: 5, 1981.

Prizes: …

Synopsis [Warning: Spoiler]: This is a set of short stories that take place in an invented country called Orsinia (somewhere in central Europe). They focus on a dramatic personal experience of the characters and are based in different time periods.

Personal Review:  Although I like Ursula’s books, I have to say that she is difficult to read for non english native speakers. This book in particular is a good example. Some stories will go easily while others you have to read and read again in order to understand what she is trying to say. A part from that, barely 2 or 3 stories catch my attention, all the others are boring or too complicated with many relatives involved to really track all the relations between characters.

In short. If you like Ursula and want to read as much as possible from her, then read it, but if you are more into fantasy rather than novel, don’t read it.

The rest of the robots

Asimov; robots;book;

Original title: The rest of the robots.

Title of this edition: The rest of the robots.

Author: Isaac Asimov.

Gender: Science fiction.

Saga: Asimov Robots.

Editorial: panther 

Edition year: 1, 1969.

Prizes: …

Synopsis [Warning: Spoiler]: As the own Asimov states, the book is made with stories that didn’t fit anywhere. They are robot stories, sometimes involving Susan Calvin, all happening before the Foundation, but not following the same plot.

Robot AL-76 Goes Astray: A robot designed to work on the moon gets lost on earth and as a result of its program, builds a machine to harvest resources. His design is much more efficient and the humans around him are scared because robots are prohibited on earth. In the end his machine is destroyed and there is no way of reproducing it.

Victory Unintentional: There is an alien civilization living on Jupiter. Due to the high pressures on the planet, they never get out of the surface and no human has ever been there. An expedition of robots is sent for the first contact. Jupiter’s population, initially hostile, comes to peaceful terms with earth because they mistook the robots, and their capabilities, with average human beings.

First Law: Very short story of a robot escaping and letting one man to die. It seems the robot had a child and was protecting it.

Let’s Get Together: Americans versus Russians. The Russians let know the Americans they have a group of humanoid robots that will meet inside united states and when that happens… explode.

Satisfaction Guaranteed: The new robot version has to be tested with humans… the chosen one is the wife of one of the engineers… At the beginning she was not sure about it, but after a while she falls in love with the robot. In fact, she is so much in love with him that the robot has to abandon her in order to protect her.

Risk: A spaceship that uses teleportation has to be tested…. with a robot. Unfortunately it doesn’t work, and a human has to be sent in order to study why. The reason… the commands given to the robot induce him to overturn the controls and destroy them.

Lenny: Dr Susan Calvin finds a robot with some oddities in the neural networks that allows him to learn as a human. She trains him to speak. He is also able to develop feelings.

Galley Slave: A robot is developed to perform article reviews. While it represents an advantage for the community, one evil professor tries to accuse him of deliberately changing his manuscript. However, it’s own lack of knowledge about robots betrays him and he is finally accused in court.

Personal Review: This is a very nice collection of stories with the pure Asimov essence. Because they are very brief, sometimes is difficult to judge if they are good or bad (in general good). The one I liked the most is “Victory Unintentional”, because it goes beyond the usual stories of robots including aliens. More interesting, it gowns around the question about humans/robots. Asimov imagined Jupiter as the scenario for his novel, but imagine something much more further away. In the other side of the galaxy for instance. Imagine that we send a spacecraft in a 1000 years voyage with robots in it. They will be our expeditioners, our ambassadors… and most likely, by the time they arrive, they will be like ourselves. Interesting.

The second story that i liked most is Satisfaction Warranted, because it describes perfectly how our society will be like with robots. Personal assistants, friends, people who care about us and help us having a better life. They are not a menace or a big technical leap but new friends and companions.

The other stories are good to build a background around the robots universe, but for me they are not as good as the ones I like. For instance, Risk is a good story, but they use a human to inspect the spaceship because a robot is too valuable to loose it. Why not a radio controlled robot? Some kind of drone, not as complex as a real robot but good enough to go into the spaceship? The problem here is that this is a story about all or nothing.

The selfish gene.

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Original title: c

Title of this edition: The selfish gene.

Author: Richard Dawkins.

Gender: Divulgation.

Saga:

Editorial: Oxford University Press.

Edition year: 1, 1989.

Prizes: …

Synopsis [Warning: Spoiler]: The gen is the basic entity in terms of evolution. When you think of evolution you need to think of the gen as a self-replicating structure that competes with other gens for the materials to replicate. The best ones will replicate, the worst… well, there is no second price. In this challenge the gens choose to cooperate, to be selfish and to build elaborate survival machines known as cells, tissues and bodies.

Personal Review:  My field is physics, but I have some background in complex systems, and viewing this book from that perspective, this is a must read.

What is important here is that this book will go a little bit further than the “survival of the best fittest”. Allowing people with a good scientific level to reason into further details and general public to have access to a more updated view inside the field.

I think what the book does very well is turning the table and putting the gene and not the individual as the key element in the evolution game. This allows to go further into the implications of evolution and the book discusses a few examples quite interesting.

For those not willing to read it, this video tells more or less the key elements of the book.

Something that the book also introduces is the meme idea. Meme’s have been around since humans begun to create abstractions from the reality, but it is not until very recently that the idea of meme has hit the big public. As in the gene pool, there is a meme pool where meme’s compete for time in human brains, the more interesting (or funny), the more attraction and the best chances to survive longer time and pass from one mind to another (self-replicate). Chances to mutate or evolve may be different from meme to meme. For instance a Mozart’s composition is a meme that will not evolve quite fast, but still remain in many brains, while the internet memes change and mix together quite fast.

A quite interesting observation is that some memes cooperate together (as genes do). For instance, religion is a meme and celibacy is another meme. There is no reason for them to cooperate, but the fact is that if they do, there is more chances for them to survive. The idea here is that if monks practice celibacy, they will expend more time into the religion, making it possible for the religion to self-replicate.

Bear in mind that this is an essay and that some terms are quite vague, so it is easy to generalize them from one context to another. That doesn’t mean applying the ideas to a field will help making advances in the field. For instance, car shapes can be think as a meme that self-replicates and evolves. Since every new generation goes back to the designing table and starts from ideas that worked in the previous version… there is parallelism with evolution. But this doesn’t mean you will know how to design the new car. You know what you should not put on the car and that some features can be kept, but you will have no idea about how to proceed.

In resume, I encourage you to read it, because I learn quite a lot from it and I’m now willing to read its continuation, the extended phenotype.

Rich dad poor dad

rich dad poor dad

Original title: Rich dad poor dad.

Title of this edition: Rich dad poor dad.

Author: Robert Kiyosaki and Sharon Lechter.

Gender: Motivational.

Saga:

Editorial: Electronic copy.

Edition year: 1, 2000.

Prizes: …

Synopsis [Warning: Spoiler]: If you become an specialist who works for money, then you will never be rich, since the more money you earn, the more money you spend. You need to make money work for you.

Personal Review:  Critics say this book is useless, and it uses some anecdotes to support some vague ideas. No real learning comes out of it. Well, the real thing about the book is that it is a best seller, and that is a fact. So, good or bad, the book sells, and that is probably what Kiyosaki wants.

My personal review of the book is that in fact it is not a literature masterpiece, and that the message is vague, with no clear idea of how to turn it into useful actions in your life, and with many repetitions around the same idea. In some chapters it looks like somebody else is writing that chapter and hasn’t read the chapter before, because he repeats almost everything. But despite all of this, it does have some powerful ideas that can help you. I mean, the book will not tell you how to change your life, it will trigger the idea that maybe you need to change your life.

I understand why people want to become rich, and the book states that sometimes, even if that is what you want, you might be doing it more and more difficult to achieve. The problem is that if you earn money in the traditional way (working for it), they you have to pay more and more taxes, and by buying things, you buy responsibilities that drains your money, so it becomes more and more difficult to improve your wealth. On the other side, if you make money work for you and you invest it carefully, it will grow by itself, allowing you to enjoy life. Sound good isn’t it? The problem is that the book will not tell you how. Is like telling you that in football, if you keep passing the ball you will make it more probable the opponent to take it, you have to try to score as much as possible, but i don´t tell you how to do it.

On the other hand, the book is good to change your mindset. Sometimes it is more important to change somebody mindset, and make him realize what is his way of thinking, than actually telling him what actions to take. In my case, the book has changed my mindset and made me realize that some of the actions I took are driven by lazinesses. Taking courses, gaining experience, become an expert in a field… and increasing my CV in a particular area is easy, but it might not be the path to success. For instance, if I stay on this track, I will become a good asset fro a laboratory, but I will never become a good leader for a laboratory or get my own group. it is a complete different set of abilities and they require an effort.

Star Wars

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Original title: Star Wars.

Title of this edition: La Guerra de las Galaxias.

Author: George Lucas, Donald F. Glut, James Kahn.

Gender: Fantasy / Science Fiction.

Saga: Star Wars.

Editorial: Círculo de Lectores.

Edition year: 1, 1995.

Prizes: …

Personal Review:  I think it is not necessary to resume this book, since it is probably one of the movie adaptations most watched of all times. What I need to say is that this story influenced very strong my childhood and my adult life. It is not only a story, its a complete universe that allow us to fantasize and enjoy dreaming of the possible stories.

Despite the books are quite similar to the movies, they still have big differences (you can check the differences with respect the movies here:  Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker  The Empire Strikes Back (novel) Return of the Jedi (novel)). The major difference that I notice is that in the books we can actually see what are the feelings and thoughts of the main characters. I would say that it is quite interesting Darth Vader’s though while at the Emperor’s throne in the new Death Star. After reading this you realize that Vader’s thoughts are actually good, but too naive and controlled by the dark side. So, he thinks the Galaxy can be safe place, but he thinks he cannot defeat the emperor, and also, he thinks he can do it better than the emperor but keeping the same government system.

Also, it goes deeper into Luke development and personality. It’s not only what we see in the movies, but also what he feels and it makes a difference. The Luke in the book is making complex decisions and he is tempted by the dark side. I’m sure that is going to be a huge part in the new movie that comes.