Friday, September 29, 2017

The Essential Ginsberg - Allen Ginsberg

   2015; 451 pages.  New Author? : Yes.    Genre : Non-Fiction; Poetry; Memoirs; Reference.  Overall Rating : 6*/10.

    Allen Ginsberg, born 06/03/26, died 04/05/97, and arguably one of the three most recognizable names associated with the “Beat Generation” movement in the 1950’s.  If Timothy Leary was the spokesman for the movement (“turn on, tune in, drop out!”), and Baba Ram Dass was its spiritual guru (“be here now!”), then Ginsberg was its poet laureate (“whoever controls the media, the images, controls the culture.”).

    Since I’m a child of the 60’s, the Beat Generation is slightly before my time.  And while I could probably tell you that Ginsberg’s most famous poem is titled “Howl”, I couldn’t quote a line from it.  Indeed, while I could cite quotes by Leary and Ram Dass, I had to google Allen Ginsberg quotes to find one to fit in the previous paragraph.

    Which is sad, since Ginsberg’s poetry was a guiding light back then for a young generation who no longer felt content to live the “Leave It To Beaver” lifestyle, where housewives wore dresses and pearl necklaces to cook supper, and Father Knows Best.

    So for me personally, it was time to get acquainted with the writings of Allen Ginsberg.  

What’s To Like...
    The Essential Ginsberg, edited by Michael Schumacher, is much more than simply a collection of Ginsberg’s poems.  It is divided into the following sections:

Part 00 : Introduction (4%)
    A brief overview of Allen Ginsberg’s life by the editor.
Part 01 : Poems (5%)
    The biggest section of the book, and my favorite.  The timespan is 1947-1997.
Part 02 : Songs (39%)
    The shortest section, but my second-most favorite.
Part 03 : Essays (43%)
    Long-winded, yet insightful.  Ginsberg describes feeling “sent” to enlighten us about poetry.
Part 04 : Journals (59%)
    Less pretentious than ‘Essays’, and more revealing.
Part 05 : Interviews (66%)
    Only two interviews, and both dragged for me.
Part 06 : Letters (78%)
    Self-tales of Ginsberg’s travels and misadventures.
Part 07 : Photographs (97%)
    Mostly of his Beat Generation pals.  Tip : The photos are expandable in the Kindle!

    Allen Ginsberg’s overall writing style is basically to convey exactly what thoughts are going through his mind at the present time.  He engages in editing/revising only grudgingly, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a poem, a letter, an interview, or whatever.  This is both a positive and a negative: you get a very honest take on what it was like to be a stand-out member of the Beat Generation, but if you were aiming to do some hero-worship, you’re going to be sorely disillusioned by his candor.

    Unsurprisingly, for me, the best part of the book is the “Poems” section.  Howl is there, and lots of others., all arranged chronologically.  Most, but not all, of Ginsberg’s poems have no meter or rhyme scheme, but a few were, and it was nice to discover he really could write structured poems if he wanted to.   Similarly, the songs, though sparse in number, are inherently metered and rhyming which, frankly is how I prefer my prose 

    For the second time in my last couple of e-books, the footnotes are slickly done, so this may be an improvement done by Kindle.  OTOH, the font sizes varied greatly; that’s something Kindle needs to work on.  I also liked the photographs, they put “faces” on a bunch of the Beat Generation luminaries that heretofore were just names to me.

    I especially enjoyed Ginsberg’s poetic reflections on growing old; there’s a gentleness there that counterbalances the shock-jock effect of his earlier poems. And the poem “Wales Visitation” was apparently done under the influence of LSD, which made for an interesting read.  Also, it was fun to learn the origin of the phrase “Beat Generation”, and I also marveled how extensively he managed to travel, given that most of the time, he was truly a “starving artist”.

 Kewlest New Word ...
Prosody (n.) : the patterns of rhythm and sound used in poetry.
Others : Panegyric (n.).

    Will that happen to me?
    Of course, it’ll happen to thee.
    Will my arms wither away?
    Yes yr arm hair will turn gray.
    Will my knees grow weak & collapse?
    Your knees will need crutches perhaps.
    Will my chest get thin?
    Your breasts will be hanging skin.
    Where will go – my teeth?
    You’ll keep the ones beneath.
    What’ll happen to my bones?
    They’ll get mixed up with stones.  (loc. 2588, from the poem ‘Don’t Grow Old’)

    At this point, Ken Kesey – a man whom you may have heard of as a major contemporary novelist – who lives near San Francisco and sympathized with both marchers and Angels, intervened.  We all had a party at the Hell’s Angels house.  Most everybody took some LSD, and we settled down to discussing the situation and listening to Joan Baez on the phonograph, and chanting Buddhist prayers.  (loc. 3866)

Kindle Details...
    The Essential Ginsberg sells for $10.99.  There are a number of other (non-poetry) books available that are authored or co-authored by Ginsberg – mostly letters, memoirs, or books about other members of the Beat Generation, and ranging in price from $9.00 to $15.99.  If you’re looking for books containing his poetry you can go “sparse” with a 47-page version of Howl and Other Poems ($2.99) or “comprehensive” with the 1000+page  Collected Poems 1947-1997 ($9.99).

 “It should be easier for a poet to understand a revolution than for a revolution to understand poetry.”  (loc. 3664)
    There were some quibbles.  As good as the Poems and Songs sections were , the Essays and Journals sections seemed at times pretentious and slow to me.  And while Ginsberg’s honesty is laudable, what I saw was a sometime jaundiced poet/writer who often just wanted to get high, get naked, go to orgies, and shove the adoring flower children out of his life.  In the end, his writings reinforced my opinion that all self-proclaimed spiritual leaders, regardless of denomination or particular religion, are a bunch of narcissistic charlatans.

    Allen Ginsberg was both a complex and troubled soul; a Jewish, homosexual, New Yorker who was into gurus, meditation, and all sorts of drugs.  He was anti-war, anti-nuclear energy, and loved to write explicitly about gay and hetero sex.  His poems will challenge you, shock you, and maybe even enlighten you.  It’s too bad the other sections didn’t do likewise for me.

    6 Stars.  I think I would’ve enjoyed The Essential Ginsberg more if it were laid out in strict chronological order, regardless of what kind of writing a piece was.  After the Poems & Songs were done (at 39% Kindle), the rest of the book was a slog until the photographs at the very end.  Still, I am happy I took the time to explore Allen Ginsberg’s writings; it was a worthwhile and enriching experience.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Seventh Plague - James Rollins

   2016; 425 pages.  Book #12 (out of 12, but #13 is due out in December) in the Sigma Force series.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Action-Thriller; Save-the-World (several times over).  Overall Rating : 8½*/10.

    After two years of being missing and presumed dead, Professor Harold McCabe, an archaeologist with an obsession with Moses and the ten plagues, has suddenly wandered out of the Sudanese desert and back into civilization.

    Well, “civilization” was in this case a small village on the edge of the desert, and Professor McCabe was at death’s door when the villagers found him.  They cared for him as best they could, but he died soon afterward.  His body was then shipped to Cairo and that’s when things turn strange.

    For starters, the cadaver is showing signs of partial mummification.  Even weirder is that the process appears to have been initiated by Professor McCabe himself.  Why in the world would he do such a thing?

    Then comes the final surprise.  The opening of the body is suspected of triggering some sort of outbreak of a lethal and unknown disease.  Everyone on the Egyptian forensics team who's been exposed to Professor McCabe's body is falling victim to some sort of virus, and a majority of them are dying from it.

     You could almost call it a plague.

What’s To Like...
    The Seventh Plague is your typical James Rollins “Sigma Force” tale. The action starts right away and really never lets up.  All your favorite Sigma Force peeps are here, plus some cameo appearances in one of the prologues by Mark Twain, Nikola Tesla, and Stanley, he of the famous “Dr. Livingstone, I presume": quote.  The settings are great, and run a climatic gamut: cold and wet England, cold and dry northern Canada (Ellesmere Island, and when's the last time you read a book with that setting?), hot and dry Sahara desert, and hot and wet Rwandan jungle.

    I liked the clever blend of religion with science, even if it did strain the limits of my believability at times.  And FWIW, the titular “Seventh Plague” is not of any particularly greater importance than the other nine; James Rollins attempts to explain all ten of them via naturally-occurring phenomena.  Michael Crichton would be proud.

    There are a bunch of neat drawings in the book; those were an unexpected treat and help the reader with the puzzle-solving.  The self-mummification is a nice twist, and I enjoyed the “elephant painters”.  Overall, The Seventh Plague felt more “sciency” than usual for a Sigma Force novel, and that’s a plus for me.

    The baddies aren’t exactly “gray”, but neither are any of them pitch black.  All of the main ones have a redeeming quality or two, and some of them live to fight another day.

    Everything builds to an exciting, if somewhat un-twisty, two-location ending,  I liked the accompanying double (or even triple) epilogue(s) as well.  And the “Truth or Fiction” afterword by James Rollins is way-kewl.  This is a standalone novel, as well as part of a series

    “If nothing else,” she said, “I could use a tall pint.  Maybe two.  To help settle the nerves.”
    She offered him a small smile, which he matched.
    “Since it’s for medicinal purposes,” he said, “the first round’s on me.  I am a doctor after all.”
    She looked askance at him.  “Of archaeology.”
    “Of bio-archaeology,” he reminded her.  “That’s almost as good as a medical doctor.”  (pg. 46)

    “Which path do we take? Esophagus or trachea?”
    Derek shifted his beam to the damaged left tonsil.  “It looks like there was more traffic in and out of the airway.”  He pointed out the evident trampling in the trachea compared to the esophagus.  “So I say we ignore Robert Frost and take the road most traveled.”
    Gray nodded.  “Let’s move out.”
    Only Kowalski seemed disgruntled by this decision.  ”Yeah, let’s go deeper into the belly of a demon-wrestling god.  How could that possibly go wrong?”  (pg. 201)

 “Elephants didn’t build this. … I don’t care how good they are at tool use.”  (pg. 341)
    There are a couple quibbles.  Once again, the puzzles to be solved are incredible abstruse, but our Mensa-minded heroes seem to easily cut through them.  I kept rolling my eyes each time they sussed out another conundrum, but it has to be said, it’s entertaining as all get out.

    Ditto for the ending.  It’s very exciting, yet somewhat predictable.  I mean, really now, what do you expect will happen when you have a herd of wild elephants standing around, at your beck and call?

    But I pick at nits.  James Rollins writes action-thrillers, not police procedurals.  The Seventh Plague delivers exactly what one expects from Rollins, and there's no indication that he’s getting tired of researching and writing these Sigma Force novels.  That means I’ll be on the look-out for the next one in the series, The Demon Crown, due out on December 5th.

    8½ Stars.  Subtract ½ Star if you’re the type of reader who just has to solve the puzzles in books like this before the heroes do.  You won’t.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Periodic Tales - Hugh Aldersey-Williams

   2012; 429 pages.  Full Title : Periodic Tales – A Cultural History of the Elements, from Arsenic to Zinc.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Non-Fiction; Science, Chemistry; Reference.  Overall Rating : 9½*/10.

    Did you ever wonder what the “bis” in Pepto-Bismol is?  Or how about the “Bromo” in Bromo-Seltzer?  Or maybe you want to make your own charcoal from that old tree in the backyard.  Even better, let’s make a diamond from that charcoal.  They’re both just carbon, aren’t they?

    For that matter, why should gold be so valuable?  Yes, it’s pretty scarce, but copper is less plentiful than silver, and yet somehow, the latter is our runner-up to the gold.

    And who the heck came up with names for the elements like Yttrium Ytterbium, and the mind-boggling Gadolinium?  Who is the “Lawrence” that gave Lawrencium its name, and why didn’t he just go by “Larium”?

    If questions like these tickle your fancy, you might want to pick up Periodic Tales by Hugh Aldersey-Williams.  Prepare to be both enlightened and amused.

What’s To Like...
    Periodic Tales is divided into six parts.  Surprisingly, the author  goes neither in the order of Atomic Numbers, alphabetically, nor by columns in the Periodic Table.  The chapters are:

Part 1.  Power (5%).
    In which he focuses on elements associated with earthly power – gold, iron, etc.  I thought the subsection about Wollaston & Chevenix and their work with the Noble Metals was  fascinating.
Part 2.  Fire (23%).
    Elements that burn.  Elements that are corrosive.
Part 3.  Craft (43%).
    Elements that artisans can work with..  Tin, lead, silver, calcium, etc.
Part 4.  Beauty (60%).
   Elements used for their lustrous and inherent colors, either "as is" or in a compound.  Paints, etc.
Part 5.  Earth (73%).
    Elements that are mined.  Including the Rare Earth metals.
Part 6.  Epilogue (82%).
    Closing thoughts from the author.

    I didn’t do an exhaustive search, but it appears all of the elements get at least passing mention.  At times, Aldersey-Williams lumps a bunch of them together, such as the trans-uranium and rare-earth elements.  Even one of my pet elements, Lawrencium, gets a nod, albeit a brief one.

    Nevertheless, quite a few of the elements do get detailed attention.  Stylistically, the author uses any or all of the following to acquaint us with any given element:
    Production: how to synthesize a given element.  What you can make by reacting it with something.
    Historical: particularly if the element has been known for ages.
    Discovery:  who first isolated it, and/or correctly identified it as a new element, including mini-biographies of some of the foremost chemists and physicists of the day.
    Properties: density, color, reactivity, etc.
    Cultural: where do we find it is literature, paintings, books, etc.
    Political: the pros and cons of fluoridation, homeopathy, etc., and sparingly used by the author, which is a plus.

    As expected, the text abounds in trivia about each element, and I ate these bits of interest up.  Some examples of the tidbits discussed: the Willamette meteorite, how to make charcoal, how to extract Iodine from kelp, sulfur and its bad reputation, polysulfides (which I work abundantly with), phlogiston, Wilfred Owen, aqua regia, etc.  I could tell you amazing anecdotes about making my own aqua regia in high school chem lab, but perhaps it’s best to keep those misadventures to myself.

    I particularly enjoyed reading about some of the claimed-to-be elements, that were later disproved, such as occultum, coronium, and nebulium.  Just because you find something new, doesn't necessarily mean it's elemental.  I was also surprised by how many elements weren’t discovered until the 1800’s.

    There are a ton of pictures to go along with the commentary, and that was a plus, even if they were small in the e-book formatPeriodic Tales is written in English, not American, so you get words like grey, colour, aluminium, lustre, tonne, etc.  The book is a vocabularian’s delight; see the next section for just a few of the great unfamiliar words I encountered.  The footnotes were handled as smoothly as I’ve ever seen in an e-book.  And if you’re OCD like I am, keep in mind that the text ends at page 398 (84% Kindle).  The last 16% is the Index, Bibliography, etc.

Kewlest New Word ...
Synecdoche (n., and not pronounced even remotely like you'd expect.) : a figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa, as in “Cleveland won by six runs” (meaning ‘Cleveland’s baseball team’).
Others : ludic (adj.); palaver (n.);  caryatids (.n, pl.adj.); tetchy (adj.);orotundity (n.); BOGOF (acronym); Piranesian (adj.); quiddity (n.);  semiotics (n., pl.); menhir (n.); intaglio (n.); field-fares (n., pl.); hoicks (v.); auto-didact (n.);

    Working with tellurium is always unpleasant – the compound that it forms with hydrogen is like hydrogen sulphide, with its infamous rotten-eggs smell, but far more offensive.  Later, Seaborg managed to delegate the tellurium chemistry to his own student, who had great trouble ridding himself of the stink.  Days afterwards, it was even possible to tell which library books he had been consulting from the revolting odour they exuded.  (loc. 1085)

    The first primitive electric telegraph line was built in the 1790s by Francisco Salva and was capable of transmitting sparks from Madrid to Aranjuez fifty kilometres away.  Salva proposed a separate wire for each letter of the alphabet with the arriving spark briefly illuminating letters in turn to spell out messages.  (He apparently also considered connecting a person to each wire and having them shout out the letter when they received an electric shock.)  (loc. 3323)

 Civilization, it is immediately apparent, is simply organized resistance to oxidation.    (loc. 2242)
    I don’t really have any criticisms or even quibbles with Periodic Tales.  It is well-written, and with a lot more details than I had expected, which made for a pleasant read.  I suppose I could've asked for all 118 elements (there were only 103 when I was in school) to have detailed attention paid to them, but I think that would’ve made for some slow spots.

    Full disclosure: I’m a chemist, so this was happy reading ground for me.  Using silver nitrate as an analytical test for the presence of chlorine is a test method I'm familiar with, and it was fun to see it in cited in this book.  Surely any scientist is going to enjoy Periodic Tales.

   However, if you are not a science-lover, or if you have recurring nightmares about being forced to take chem lab in high school or college, I can see where reading this book might get tedious. So perhaps the target audience for Periodic Tales is rather narrow.

    9½ Stars.  Science, History, Vocabulary, Culture, and Make-Your-Own Chemicals.  What more could a geeky nerd like me ask for?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Japanese Devil Fish Girl - Robert Rankin

   2010; 373 pages.  Full Title : The Japanese Devil Fish Girl and Other Unnatural Attractions.  Book #1 (out of 4) in “The Japanese Devil Fish Girl” series; Book #32 in Robert Rankin’s bibliography.  New Author? : No.  Genre : British Humor; Quest; Save The World.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    The traveling show called the “Most Meritorious Unnatural Attraction” needs a new attraction.  Their current one, a pickled Martian, is becoming flaky.  Literally.  Apparently keeping a Martian cadaver for long periods of time in a vat of formaldehyde causes it to start dropping off chunks of corpse.

    For George Fox, a roadie employed by Professor Coffin’s one-wagon itinerant freak show, and whose main charge is to keep the cauldron of stewed alien from spilling over as the Professor’s cart seems to find every pothole in the muddy road, life could be better.  But hey , no one ever said the carny’s life was a bed of roses.

    Still, the show must go on, and a replacement attraction must be found.  And wouldn’t it be great if George and the Professor could find the holy grail of traveling freak shows – The Japanese Devil Fish Girl?  But by definition, she’s probably in, well, Japan, and that’s a fair distance from our heroes in their plodding steam-powered show-wagon.

     Perhaps there is a faster means of transportation to be found in late-Victorian Era steampunk England.

What’s To Like...
    The setting for The Japanese Devil Fish Girl is 1895 London in an alternate, steampunk universe where H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds really did take place, with the Martians getting whupped, and the subsequent counterattack on Mars leading to our meeting the Venusians and Jupiterians.  Robert Rankin gives a nice synopsis of this alt-history on the flyleaf of the hardcover version, which is what I read.  But if you’re dealing the book in a different medium, he also works the backstory into the text itself.

    The chapters are short – 46 of them covering 373 pages.  The book is written in the author’s usual, somewhat rococo (for lack of a better term) writing style, which I happen to like, although admittedly it’s an acquired taste.  The sentence structures are contrived, and the descriptions often flowery.  But that’s a plus to me.

    Several historical figures make cameo appearances – Charles Babbage, Nikola Tesla, etc., and Adolph Hitler and Winston Churchill have somewhat larger roles.  But really, it’s all about George and the Professor, Darwin the monkey butler, and George’s love interest, Ada Lovelace, also a historical figure.

    Several of the Rankin iconic running gags are here – the Lady in a Straw Hat, Hugo Rune, and Dimac, although I was disappointed that Fangio was missing.  But there’s new stuff too – Lemuria, and the secret arts of Evil Breath and the Scent of Unknowing.  There’s even a smattering of French – a petit déjeuner and the belle epoque – and I always like that.

    As with any Robert Rankin novel, the emphasis is on wit and satire, not the storyline.  Absurdities abound, but this is why I'm a devoted reader of this author.

    “I missed you at dinner.  Shared a table with a Russian research chemist named Orflekoff, and his grandson, Ivan.”
    George did not rise to that one.
    “Also an American false-limb manufacturer by the name of Fischel and his little son, Artie.”
    Nor that one.
    “And an upper-class Shakespearean actor called Ornott-Tobee and his brother, Toby.”
    “Indeed?” said George.  “And did you by any chance meet with the highly hyphenated Mr. Good-mind-to-give-you-a-punch-on-the-chin-if-you-do-not-stop-making-all-these-terrible-name-jokes, and his son, Ivor?”. ( pg. 111)

    “Quite a pretty thing,” said the professor.  “Assuming of course that it is not an instrument of torture.”
    “I like the champhered grommet mountings,” said George.
    “And I the flanged seals on drazy hoops,” said the professor, in an admiring tone.
    Both agreed that the burnished housings of the knurdling gears had much to recommend them, aesthetically speaking, yet mourned the lack of a rectifying valve that would have topped the whole off to perfection.  (pg. 241)

Kewlest New Word…
Sola Topi (n.) : An Indian sun hat made from the pith of the stems of sola plants.  (Google-Image it)
Others : Saveloy (n.); Verger (n.)

“Do the hokey-cokey and poke my ailing aunty with a mushroom on a stick.”  (pg. 347)
    I enjoyed The Japanese Devil Fish Girl, but have to agree with other reviewers, this is not going to be anyone's favorite Robert Rankin book.  For me, the book started out slow, and it was quite some time before I could fathom what the main plotline was.  But once our heroes get passage on the airship (doesn’t every steampunk novel have an airship?), the pace picks up nicely and stays that way for the rest of the story.

    The ending is kind of a stutter-step affair, and yet it works rather nicely.  The reader gets Robert Rankin’s interpretation of the Book of Revelation, and it’s a lot more interesting than most of the ones your local fundamentalist fanatics dream up.  There’s a deus ex machina involved, but I liked the way Robert Rankin handled this – he just flat-out admits it in the text.

    Overall, the plotline is more coherent than usual for a Robert Rankin tale.  Whether that’s a plus or a minus is a matter of each individual's literary taste.

    8 StarsThe Japanese Devil Fish Girl is the Book One in a four-volume series, of which I’ve previously read the final installment, which is reviewed here.  You don’t have to read these in order, and I’m sure I’ll read the other two whenever they cross my path in a used-book store.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Origins - Andy Wallace

   2012; 521 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Science Fiction; First Contact.  Overall Rating : 7*/10.

    Something is killing the crocodiles in Australia.  It might be some sort of virus, or perhaps some sort of bacteria.  Professor Ethan Harris and Jake Robinson, Down Under, have asked their old buddy at Charnwood Genetics, Dr. Mark Holland, located at Loughborough University in the UK, to take a look at the crocs’ DNA, to see if he can determine the cause of their demise.

    Meanwhile, a couple miles away from Mark, at Elvaston Castle, estate manager Kate Watson discovers that at certain times there are weird tremors outside the old Moorish temple on the castle grounds.   This is odd, since the temple is boarded up and sealed off to anyone trying to get into it.  She checks with her colleague “Jas”, and he feels the mini-quakes too, so Kate knows it’s not a matter of her imagining things.

    And just another couple miles away from her, Jacob Ellis, a 35-year-old insomniac, is suffering from a recurring nightmare where he is abducted by aliens who perform some sort of ghoulish surgical procedure on him.  Jacob’s not sure what they exactly do to him because he always wakes up before that.  Still, the nightmare occurs every night, and it’s wearing him out.  Maybe he should see a psychiatrist.

    These three scenarios seem unrelated, but they aren’t.  And when they merge, everyone involved is going to find that their lives are in jeopardy.

What’s To Like...
    Origins is an ambitious effort at what I can best describe as a “first contact” story.  It quickly becomes apparent that “the others” are a vastly superior race, technology-wise, and I always like it when we humans are the underdogs.  There are 44 chapters and a prologue, encompassing 521 pages, but the chapters vary greatly in length, including an extremely long chapter 30, which basically covers the history of the last 65 million years of plant Earth.

    There’s a strong female lead (Kate), and a way-kewl transporter system that would be really neat to try out.  There is also a bit of Time-Travel, although that seems to be confined to the “others”.  The book is written in English, so you have words like metres, faeces, vapour, and aeons; but I’ve always enjoyed reading novels in Brit-speak.

    There’s a bunch of cussing, and while this doesn’t offend me, I keep wondering if it is really necessary in a story like this.  Yes, it adds realism to the dialogue, but in this case, I think it could’ve easily been waived.  I liked the settings – England and Australia, especially Ayers Rock., although there was a certain “Google Earth” feel to the descriptions.  There aren’t a lot of characters to follow (and really, the only ones you need to keep track of are Kate and Mark), but don’t get too attached to any of the others as I think Andy Wallace had a case of “George R.R. Martin envy” when it comes to killing characters off.

    I was scared that this was going to be another “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” tale – all building-up and no actual contact.  So I was pleased when our heroes journey to an Alternate Earth, and meet up with the aliens at 92%.  The final 8% of the book is action-packed and with a surprise ending that I didn’t see coming.  Not everyone is going to be happy with the way things turn out, but I for one thought it was well done, and with a great twist.

Kewlest New Word. . .
Folly (n.) : a costly ornamental building with no practical purpose, especially a tower or mock-gothic ruin built in a large garden or park.
Others : Lay-by (n.; Britishism).

    “I can make us some coffee,” he said, “or there’s juice in the fridge … or, if you prefer something alcoholic, I’ve got some wine…”
    “I had a couple of glasses at the barbeque,” she said.  “If I drink any more, I won’t be able to drive home – and I’ll end up having to sleep over ‘’ she smiled.
    “Well in that case,” Mark said, smiling back, “I’ll crack open a bottle.  Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon?”
    “Shiraz please,” she replied.  (loc. 3107)

   “Well, if you genuinely believe that they’re just a bunch of inexperienced, wannabe scientists,” Kate mocked, “we definitely need to stop them – and quickly.  It’s bad enough having your life controlled by a group of highly evolved, super intelligent beings … but Beaker from The Muppet Show?  God help us!”  (loc. 5802

Kindle Details...
    Origins sells for $0.99 at Amazon, and is in fact only available as an e-book there.  It is Andy Wallace’s sole offering, at least so far.

“So … all we are is a race of lab rats?”  (loc. 6795)
    There are some weaknesses.  First of all, there are a slew of typos, to the point of where they got distracting.  Yes, the author at least used spell-checker, but that doesn’t catch everything, and I found myself screaming for a proofreader to come clean things up.  Also, the detailed descriptions of everything can get tedious, and after a while they take their toll on the book’s pacing.

    The more serious issue with Origins is the storytelling itself.  I felt like the author was making the plotline up as he went along, with no pre-planned idea of where he wanted things to do and how to get there.

    This made for a lot of superfluous actions.  There was a barbecue get-together, which didn’t really move the story along one bit.  Mark grieves for his parents, killed in a tragic car accident many years ago, but if you’re waiting for that to impact the storyline, you will meet with disappointment.  And why-oh-why was a second Australian operative introduced, when she doesn’t have anything to do with anything?

    7 Stars.  I found the overall concept of Origins to be refreshingly creative.  But it really needs some polishing and editing to make it shine.  And some beta-readers who aren’t afraid to be brutally honest wouldn’t have hurt either.