Terminal World
Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alastair Reynolds is most popular for his hard sci-fi opera type books, but with this one he takes a slight deviation and brings some new elements to the story. Here you’ll find a mix of steampunk, mystery, angels, airships, cyborgs, and a strange tower, all wrapped at it’s heart with exotic physics that is just barely hinted at as the story unfolds. But in the end, the writing stands out clearly as Alastair Reynolds.

I didn’t consider this among the best of the Reynolds books, but I still felt like it deserved four stars (most of his get five stars from me, especially anything ‘Revelation Space’ related); I admit, I’m partial to the real hard science stuff he typically does. But the characters felt real enough, with a reasonable amount of character development. There could have been a bit more detail in the airship battles, but that’s probably just me. The plot moved along at a good pace balancing action with discussions.

In the end there isn’t a full and complete explanation for how and why things exist in their current state (no one knows who built the tower or why), but there is enough to close the story and leave you with something to ponder. I suppose it leaves enough open ended question to allow for the possibility of a sequel if the author ever chose to return to this world. I found this to be a nice twist on the steampunk theme and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys that genre.

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Mortality
Mortality by Christopher Hitchens

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is difficult not to be moved by the words of a dying man, but it’s even harder when those words come from a man who is so eloquent in his writing. These are the final writings of the late Christopher Hitchens and they hold very little back when describing exactly what it is to go through the attempt at fighting the cancer killing you from the inside. The words bring home the feeling of what it really means to face your own mortality, and I’m not sure anyone else could have put the open face on it the way only Christopher Hitchens did. While not always as uplifting and positive in the way Randy Pausch’s ‘The Last Lecture’ was, it is extremely honest.

This should be a must read for anyone who cares about the human condition while facing our mortality. It is a short read and does not require a large amount of time to complete. Included at the end are notes and snippets left behind that had not yet been turned into full writings and a final chapter from Chrostopher Hitchens wife. As she admits, in the end, Christopher Hitchens always had the last word, and does so again with this book.

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The Lowdown on GMOs: According to Science
The Lowdown on GMOs: According to Science by Fourat Janabi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This small eBook contains several articles of opinions and facts from a cross section of individuals involved in the debate on GMOs, with a slant toward the scientific side and what the actual data show. It paints a very clear picture that much of the fear mongering over GMOs is the left wing’s version of science denialism. Most of the current data show that GMOs are indeed helpful, and not dangerous to us at all.

While this was a nice review of the scientific stance on GMOs, don’t go looking for this to be a full accounting of the data available. The articles come from scientists, journalists, farmers, and even bloggers; some of the articles seem to be just filler and didn’t provide any real value in my opinion. There is a great “facts” section in the back that you can check into, as well as a summary of reports from many leading scientific institutions, not just big Ag businesses. In the end this has intrigued me enough that I think I would like to see if there is a more thorough book that could provide greater detail and a deeper understanding of this subject.

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The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths
The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths by Michael Shermer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a truly ambitious work that attempts to bring an understanding to why and how we form our beliefs and rationalize them. The book goes through the ways in which we form beliefs and then find ways to justify those beliefs. Mr. Shermer’s theory attempt to persuade us that this is in fact the default human behavior, that rational scientific thought is actually harder for us. And looking at the range of science denialism I see in the world today this seems to make some sense. Several different types of belief systems are covered, from the typical religious belief to conspiracy theories and aliens, with a focus within each type of belief on how our brain seeks patterns and gives agent to those patterns.

I feel that the book presents a significant argument that we do indeed form our beliefs first, and rationalize them after the fact, even the most dedicated scientist. And this is why the use of the scientific method and constant peer review is essential to the process of revealing the real facts and truths about the universe in which we live. It’s just too easy as individuals to get caught up in what we want to be true instead of what is.

The end of the book goes through a review of our current scientific beliefs and how we got to the point we are now. Here Mr. Shermer uses what was discussed previously in the book to show how old beliefs continue to hold sway and are difficult to overcome even in the light of new evidence.

I found this book to be a fascinating must read for anyone who ponders the questions of how we think and believe within our minds.

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Erasing Death: The Science That Is Rewriting the Boundaries Between Life and Death
Erasing Death: The Science That Is Rewriting the Boundaries Between Life and Death by Sam Parnia

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I felt like this book was about two completely different subjects, ones that certainly overlap, but could still have their own books respectively.

The book starts by diving into the topic of resuscitation science and current state of our knowledge about what happens when someone goes into cardiac arrest. This portion of the book was the best part in my opinion. It explores the need for a new set of standards in cardiac arrest care and offers suggestions on how we can implement such standards. In the process it also goes into the details the expose how what we thought was the life/death boundary has had the goal markers moved, and how they may move further in the future.

The second portion of the book starts to dip into the area of NDEs, or near death experiences, and the definition of a soul. At this point I began to fear that this book was going to stop being about science and start going into paranormal subject matter. Thankfully, the author did not go down that rabbit hole and kept the discussion within the realm of scientific investigation and his involvement in the AWARE study. The downside of this was that there was nothing truly new to report on the subject, just a rehash of long debated ideas. As such, I felt it’s inclusion in the book didn’t really add anything.

So, in the end I am unable to give this book more than 3 stars. It’s worth a read to learn about the latest science in resuscitation, it left me discovering nothing new in the arena of NDEs, consciousness, and the soul.

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The Origins of the Irish
The Origins of the Irish by J.P. Mallory

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is the attempted summary of the author’s many years of research into the origins of the Irish people. It is an interesting, but rather dry subject matter; the author at least attempts to put in a touch of humor from time to time.

The book starts all the way back at the beginning with the geological movements of the land of Ireland to understand where it comes from and how the geography was formed, the author arguing that this is as much a part of what makes an Irishman as the culture and heritage. He then proceeds through all the major ages of man to look at what archaeological evidence exists for the potential migrations into Ireland. He also looks at the genealogy evidence, the myths and legends, and the rise of the Irish language. All of this evidence leads to the inevitable conclusion that we can’t confirm with any certainty where the Irish came from, but we can take an educated guess.

If you have any interest in the background of what it means to be Irish then this book is well worth a read. Who knows, maybe I have a touch of Niall of the Nine Hostages’ genes running through me (well, at least I’d like to imagine so).

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Promise of Blood
Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The concept of this book caught my attention immediately, and the introductory price for this new series helped too. Here was a fantasy story set in a world where gun powder and pistols were just beginning to dominate, and then add that touch of fantasy magic. It seemed like the perfect unique new universe to visit, though I wasn’t sure if it would live up to my expectations. By the time I was done this book not only met my expectations, it surpassed them.

The book moves nicely with gritty fast paced action and a good mix of magic and technology; it’s a much different feel than your average sword and sorcery fantasy setting. And the world building is as grand as any veteran fantasy/sci-fi author. The politics are there, but I do feel we could have gotten a little more detail in that arena, but maybe the sequels will expand further. The author’s dialog is very natural and contributed to making the world and the events feel very real.

My final consensus is that this is a series well worth your effort to begin if you love fantasy and want a slightly different take on the genre. There is also a good number of short fiction pieces available that will add to world building and I strongly recommend reading them as well. I wish more authors would begin doing this type of short fiction to give the audience something while waiting for the next installment. I will be adding the upcoming sequel to my pre-order list.

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Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine
Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine by Paul A. Offit

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second book I’ve read by Paul Offit and it’s as fantastic, clear, and conversational as the first one I read. In “Do You Believe in Magic?” Dr. Offit tackles the controversial alternative medicine topic with a firm grasp of the history between standard practice medicine and the alternative medicine industry. This is a critical look at what does, and what does not work in the field of alternative medicine, alone with the abuses the industry is rife with. It clearly shows how the supplement industry gets a complete pass from examination before supplements hit the store shelves, along with numerous cases of supplement contamination and abuse. There is also a chapter that looks at why the placebo effect may be the real reason so many people think alternative therapies work when they are show to be ineffective in studies. The book goes on to further show how many modern day snake oil salesmen have robbed people of potential life saving treatments for something that either made their illness worse, or did nothing while their disease got to the point it could no longer be treated.

A well written expose that you should read if you care about your health and well being and want to be sure your not the next one taken advantage of by snake oil salesmen. In many cases it can be a matter of life and death.

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Save Our Science:How to Inspire a New Generation of Scientists
Save Our Science:How to Inspire a New Generation of Scientists by Ainissa Ramirez

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A good look at how we have failed our children with the current educational system that makes schools focus on teaching to the test, specifically the standardized ones given to students each year. It further exposes the fact that this has been made even worse by removing much of the science from the tests, which in turn causes schools focused on these tests to eliminate science programs from their curriculum. And what causes schools to focus on the tests? The fact that their financial packages are directly tied to it.

Ainissa Ramirez uses all of this information to show how we are failing to produce the next generation of children who can take us to the moon, or cure the worst diseases. We simply do not have enough children going into Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics fields to fill the needs our current technological society needs. While they are busy texting away on their smart phones, too many of them have no idea how they really work under the plastic shell.

But, while Ainissa notes that removing the focus on standardized tests will be difficult to do and require much effort, there are things we as a society can do now to counter the effects. She goes on to set out a list of things we can do to show kids that science is exciting.

If there is one point of the book I disagree with, it would be where Ainissa mentions paying teachers based on performance; I fear that that would actually continue to focus on the standardized tests.

If you have kids and care about their future this is a must read book.

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Blackstar Act One: Purified
Blackstar Act One: Purified by Joshua Viola

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a fun cyberpunk sci-fi story from the combined talents of a good musician and a solid writer. This book is really a novella that will have additional episodes coming in the future, so don’t expect to know the final outcome at the end of this part. Being a novella, it doesn’t quite flesh out all the aspects of the world it inhabits and will most likely leave you with a lot of questions in the end. I do think a little more could have gone into the scenes to expose the background more, but at the same time it didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the base story line.

What really stands out for me is the music that goes along with the book. It is the combination of these two arts that I think sends this over the top and I don’t see how you can tear the two apart. So, in light of that be sure to checkout the Celldweller and Scandroid music to fully enjoy this book.

I look forward to the next novella in the series and I would recommend this book to anyone who likes this sub-genre of science fiction and/or the genre of music.

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