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Thread: What are you reading?

  1. #4411
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    Quote Originally Posted by Van Rijn View Post
    Outies by J.R. Pournelle. My biggest issue with it was that it was too obviously a fictionalized version of recent history Iraq as imagined as a colonized planet. I’m no expert on Iraq but they had, for instance, a green zone, and it felt a lot like I was reading the news. She introduced the moties into that environment.
    I think that falls into the "write what you know" category, since she actually is an expert on Iraq, in several different ways. For me, her evocation of life in a city in the middle of a warzone was one of the strengths of the story. I also enjoyed the tie-in with King David's Spaceship. But she wasn't at all true to the original characters of Renner and Blaine, and I think using Moties as POV characters was a mistake.

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  2. #4412
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    Quote Originally Posted by Trebuchet View Post
    I should probably give that a try one of these days. I did read it before, but long ago. I quite enjoyed the naval aspects of it that were reminiscent of the naval historical novels I read.
    I think it was designed with that in mind; Niven and Pournelle set up the physics and technologies so there's places (Jump Points) to defend or blockade, no FTL radio, and shields that prevent a one-hit-kill by planet-glassing lasers but still allow some damage to "leak" in for dramatic flesh wounds.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

  3. #4413
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    I'm re-reading Jack Williamson's classic Seetee Ship and Seetee Shock, written in the 1940s. "Seetee" is CT, short for contra-terrene, an old name for antimatter. Williamson imagines that the asteroid belt is made up of a mix of matter and antimatter asteroids, and his "asterite" miners are attempting to develop technologies using antimatter (which they call "hell in chunks").
    I don't think I've ever read any other stories that involve people trying to manipulate antimatter in asteroid-sized lumps. I'm sure there must be some. Anyone?

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  4. #4414
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    I have just finished "Edison" by Edmund Morris. It was a pretty comprehensive summing up of his life and inventions. I was surprised about how wide he spread his inventive net. From the Light Bulb to a Grinding Mill to make Portland Cement. Like anyone he had his failures like a giant iron ore processing plant. The concentrator cost $2.6 million dollars to build and sold $180,000 worth of product before it closed. In fairness to him he lost almost as much money on the plant as his investors.

    However, I still don't think that, overall, I like his own personal character. He seemed to have a very poor relationship with his children and once a person had left his immediate circle he appeared to lose any interest or care for their wellbeing. I suppose his ability to concentrate on a technical problem and ignore the needs of people is part of what made him so successful as an inventor.

    The biggest problem I had with this book was the authors unfathomable, to me anyway, decision to write this Biography like a real life version of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button". The prologue covers the last few days of his life and his death which is not particularly unusual. However the first Chapter (called Part) covers the period 1920 1929, the second Chapter covers 1910 -1919 all the way down to the final one covering his birth in 1847 and then to 1859. This means that there are often notes about persons or events that are mentioned in the book but which ate covered in later chapters. I ended up reading the book 'from back to front' so I could keep a grasp of what was occurring in his lifeline. I found this conceit bewildering and almost a deliberate attempt to make you work for your knowledge and I see that some of the reviews found this approach as nonsensical as me.

  5. #4415
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    Quote Originally Posted by ozduck View Post
    I have just finished "Edison" by Edmund Morris. It was a pretty comprehensive summing up of his life and inventions. I was surprised about how wide he spread his inventive net. From the Light Bulb to a Grinding Mill to make Portland Cement. Like anyone he had his failures like a giant iron ore processing plant. The concentrator cost $2.6 million dollars to build and sold $180,000 worth of product before it closed. In fairness to him he lost almost as much money on the plant as his investors.

    However, I still don't think that, overall, I like his own personal character. He seemed to have a very poor relationship with his children and once a person had left his immediate circle he appeared to lose any interest or care for their wellbeing. I suppose his ability to concentrate on a technical problem and ignore the needs of people is part of what made him so successful as an inventor.

    The biggest problem I had with this book was the authors unfathomable, to me anyway, decision to write this Biography like a real life version of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button". The prologue covers the last few days of his life and his death which is not particularly unusual. However the first Chapter (called Part) covers the period 1920 1929, the second Chapter covers 1910 -1919 all the way down to the final one covering his birth in 1847 and then to 1859. This means that there are often notes about persons or events that are mentioned in the book but which ate covered in later chapters. I ended up reading the book 'from back to front' so I could keep a grasp of what was occurring in his lifeline. I found this conceit bewildering and almost a deliberate attempt to make you work for your knowledge and I see that some of the reviews found this approach as nonsensical as me.
    Yes, just think of his use of the electric chair argument to discredit Tesla. It amused me the other day to buy a new led lamp using an old style glass envelope a Edison with an Edison screw fitting just as he invented it.
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  6. #4416
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    Quote Originally Posted by profloater View Post
    Yes, just think of his use of the electric chair argument to discredit Tesla.
    Yeah, the electrocuting animals in public displays was really cruel.

    It amused me the other day to buy a new led lamp using an old style glass envelope a Edison with an Edison screw fitting just as he invented it.
    The screw-in makes sense, they'd need to fit existing sockets. The bulb shape though? Pure tradition.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

  7. #4417
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    I just finished Scott Ellsworth’s The World Beneath Their Feet: Mountaineering, Madness, and the Deadly Race to Summit the Himalayas, which was a Christmas gift from my brother P. I enjoyed it a lot, I realized that I didn’t know very much about Himalayan mountaineering in the 1930s compared to the 1920s or 50s, and on the American side it was cool to learn about the Harvard mountaineers who I mostly knew as Bradford Washburn’s friends from the books about him that I read a few years ago. Jack Theodore Young in particular sounds like a pulp novel hero. On the German side, the portrayal of the rise of the Nazis and the folly of staying “apolitical” in a growing dictatorship is chilling, and Ellsworth isn’t afraid to describe German climbers who attempted to hide their affiliation with the Nazis after the war. And, of course, we have a detailed look at the early lives of both Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary before their eventual triumph in 1953.

    I thought that the writing style was a bit overdramatic in places, and there were a few typos— one sentence didn’t have any punctuation and the notes mention “the abdominable snowman”. It was somewhat jarring for so much of the book to be about the lead-up to World War II only for the war itself to be covered in only one chapter— it would have felt more natural to have spent more time covering the wartime history of the climbers we had been following for the rest of the book, especially because several of them were involved in mountain warfare or cold-weather equipment testing for their militaries during the war.

    The book’s finale describes the 1953 expedition to Mount Everest and the handling of the late journalist Jan Morris and her gender is somewhat awkward— she’s introduced with “…who would later world-renowned as the travel writer Jan Morris, but in 1953, she was James Morris”, which I think is all acceptable. In the recounting of the expedition itself, Ellsworth uses “James”, and “he”, which is accurate to how Morris would have been referred to on the expedition itself and in contemporary sources. I know many transgender people are uncomfortable being referred to by their prior name, but I’m not sure if Ms. Morris read the book before her passing last year or what opinion she may have had on being referred to in this way. So yeah, that was a bit awkward to read through at the end, because I wasn’t sure if she would have liked it or not.
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  8. #4418
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    Superheavy, by Kit Chapman. About the synthesis of the transuranic elements, and easily the best bit of popular science writing I've encountered in a long time--good mix of history, science, and anecdotes both amusing and jawdropping.
    My favourite so far is Glenn Seaborg's 1951 Nobel Prize speech, which he delivered in Swedish, the native language of his parents. There were shocked noises in the room when he started speaking, and he had the horrible idea that he'd uttered something accidentally offensive. But the next morning's Swedish newspapers revealed that his Swedish language had been perfect--but he'd spoken with his parents' accent, which turned to be thickly non-standard and very non-prestige.

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  9. #4419
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    Lately, a couple of classics: Michael Moorcock's Warlord of the Air, which was an enjoyable read if not totally captivating. Next: Isaac Asimov's The Caves of Steel, which I'm enjoying somewhat less.

  10. #4420
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    Quote Originally Posted by KaiYeves View Post
    “the abdominable snowman”.
    Too bad the fur hides his flat stomach.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

  11. #4421
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    I'm about halfway through Project Hail Mary, the latest by Andy Weir. The story is already in early production to become a feature film with Ryan Gosling as the protagonist. And the book reads like it.

    I'm pretty much enjoying the story but to get into the specifics would reveal too many spoilers. In fact I'm thinking about starting a thread where the science in the book (and Weir's missteps) can be discussed. Like his other stories, especially The Martian, there's a LOT of 'hey, here's a problem how do we/I fix it?"

    ETA: And some major handwavium...maybe possible within the realm of physics - and biology - but seems like a stretch. Still, it was an enjoyable read.

    ETAA: And it's clear that Weir does a ton of research in order to cram so much science and engineering into his books. Better when he gets it right but his effort is admirable.
    Last edited by schlaugh; 2021-Jul-11 at 02:44 PM.

  12. #4422
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    I recently read Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, by Caitlin Doughty--the "Ask a Mortician" woman. It's fascinating and much more personal than her YouTube channel.
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  13. #4423
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    I just read Arkad's World by James L. Cambias. I’ve been hearing good things about Cambias and am trying a couple books by him.

    This feels, for the most part, like an old school science fiction adventure story, with just a touch of connection to Citizen of the Galaxy. Arkad is a human teenager, the only human on a planet with a number of alien races. His mother died when he was young, and he is poor. He has some limited knowledge about Earth because of a device that’s a bit like a tablet computer. He hears three humans have appeared in the city and tracks them down. He finds them, and learns they are there to find a human ship that landed there years prior. He wants to get off the planet and somewhere with humans so he helps them in return for a promise they’ll take him with them. It turns out that Earth had been invaded and this was one of the last ships to escape with things they think could help free Earth. They are resistance that also escaped and they go off across the planet to find the ship.

    There are some interesting alien races and good descriptions of events as they travel across the planet, though characterization of the humans could have been better. They were a bit too cardboard. Much of the story could have been written decades ago, though there were some fairly modern elements. I liked the old-school feel of the story, but I felt like the end was a bit abrupt and I was left a bit underwhelmed. Decent, but I was hoping for more.

    I bought this with another book by the same author called The Godel Operation. I’m just starting that now, it is set thousands of years in the future in the solar system, with a billion habitats (called “the billion worlds”) and a population of a quadrillion. It is being narrated by a thousands of years old robot with a sophisticated AI who is traveling with a human. I’ve only started, but the premise is very interesting to me. It’s been getting some good reviews, but my opinion often differs from reviews I see.

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  14. #4424
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    Today, I've got to start reading Daddy Long-Legs for the column I have due on it . . . tomorrow.
    _____________________________________________
    Gillian

    "Now everyone was giving her that kind of look UFOlogists get when they suddenly say, 'Hey, if you shade your eyes you can see it is just a flock of geese after all.'"

    "You can't erase icing."

    "I can't believe it doesn't work! I found it on the internet, man!"

  15. #4425
    While moving around the books I realized how many haven't been read for a while and I need to get out of some negative head space online so I am going to try to read at least two a week of more starting with a Dr Who book based off an old episode Timelash and there is old Isaac Asimov collection of essays.
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  16. #4426
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    I got two packages with books in yesterday's mail, one I'd bought myself and one a surprise from a Facebook friend. The one I'd bought myself was . . . a disappointment. It's an update of the 1890s White House Cookbook. However, it's updated with the intention that we not actually make the recipes from the original cookbook. It instead replaces them with "healthier" versions. Margarine instead of butter. Egg substitute. "Liquid Butter Buds." No salt in anything, which is . . . not substantially healthier and really bad for cooking. So I have to return that, because that's pointless. The box, though, was a treasure trove--a Hawkeye graphic novel that plays with a lot of private detective references. A Stephen King I hadn't read, Elevation, that is zippy and fascinating. And a Stephen King that I might already own but was still a nice thought, Lisey's Story, that is a longer read that I'm still enjoying quite a lot.

    Before that, I'd read Daddy-Long-Legs, an epistolary novel from about 1910 that I needed to read before watching three movie versions of it for an article for this afternoon. It's a fast read, obviously, as I read it yesterday morning, and it's fun. An interesting take on the Peppy Orphan trope.
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    Gillian

    "Now everyone was giving her that kind of look UFOlogists get when they suddenly say, 'Hey, if you shade your eyes you can see it is just a flock of geese after all.'"

    "You can't erase icing."

    "I can't believe it doesn't work! I found it on the internet, man!"

  17. #4427
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    I finished The Godel Operation by James L. Cambias. I liked it more than Arkad’s World by the same author. Still though, maybe I’m expecting too much, but while I’m happy I read it, and probably will check out other books by this author, I still was hoping for a bit more. Maybe I am too familiar with the background ideas, but I was hoping for the story to tickle my sense of wonder more strongly. That said, there were some things I liked quite a bit, and I wouldn’t mind seeing more stories in this universe.

    Important note: There is a glossary at the end of the novel. Read it first. There were things like the “inner ring” that were never fully explained in story, but were in the glossary. I would also have really appreciated a map of the (somewhat changed) solar system, and a separate guide to some of the major features would have helped greatly for immersion.

    The story takes place in the tenth millennium solar system. Eventually there are indications they are using something close to the current calendar, where we would be considered early third millennium. There are a billion habitats and a quadrillion sentient biological entities. The inner ring is essentially a giant computer built from the broken apart planet Mercury, in the form of a ring orbiting close to the sun. Running in the computer are a huge number of AI entities (far more than the biological ones), many smarter than humans. In the story, the inner ring has a part but mostly as background. As far as I can tell, technology is more or less limited to working in what is currently known to be physically possible, but very advanced. So no FTL, for example. On the other hand, they can manufacture (relatively low mass) black holes. Interstellar colonies are mentioned but play no part in the story.

    The story starts in a habitat that is in a comet-like object in the outer solar system. The main character is a thousands of years old AI running in a small robot described as looking much like a spider. The AI has a human friend and they end up on a quest through the solar system for a dangerous thousands of years old macguffin. They meet and get involved with others on their way. I don’t want to say too much about that as it gets into plot details, the story is mostly about their journey. I did feel it had a satisfying plot resolution (something that I can’t say about Arkad’s World).

    But I would have liked to see them go more places in the “Billion Worlds.” They spend a lot of story time in a habitat out around Saturn, and it isn’t described in that much detail. Then they go to Mars. Now, I did like the description of tenth millennium Mars:


    “Space around Mars is crowded. There’s the Deimos Ring, linked to the surface by six elevators and housing a trillion beings. Above that is a gap where the big circle of solar mirrors hover perpetually over Mars’s night side, balancing between the solar wind and the planet’s gravity.
    Beyond the mirrors is Mars’s outer halo, a loose torus of habs, captured asteroids, and comet chunks orbiting between thirty and a hundred thousand kilometers. There’s something like twenty thousand of them—everything from little micro-habs of just a few thousand people on up to a pair of giants with ten or twenty billion inhabitants.
    And darting among all of these, at any given time there’s about a quarter-million spacecraft ranging from dumb payloads, to work pods, to personal transports, to shuttles, all the way up to city-sized cyclers—half of them making vector changes or deploying sub-craft.”


    Very nice, and has similarities to notions I’ve had (although I would expect the statite mirrors to balance gravity and sunlight pressure). I’ve long thought that most of any Mars population would end up in space near it, with Mars acting as something of an anchor.

    I also liked some of the on-planet descriptions, like a description of a city of a 100 million that was not the biggest on the planet, but was historically significant as one of the earliest founded, built into and around lava tubes, a city on Mars older than the Great Pyramid is now. Mars was terraformed but it took to the sixth millennium to where the air pressure was high enough they could remove the domes of domed cities.

    I really would have liked more descriptive background like that, these are the things that immerse me in a story. From a science point of view, it was done reasonably well. For instance, traveling from Saturn space to Mars took a fair amount of times, and the humans spent it in hibernation.

    All in all, minor issues aside, I recommend this book.
    Last edited by Van Rijn; 2021-Jul-23 at 07:58 AM.

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  18. #4428
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    Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius.

    3rd reading for me.

  19. #4429
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    The Coast of Summer, by Anthony Bailey. It’s an account of his sailboat cruising around southern New England in the early 90s, and the early chapters take place on Long Island in my local area, so that’s a lot of fun to read about.
    The greatest journey of all time, for all to see
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  20. #4430
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    Nothing. I need to start on something. Probably Guards, Guards.
    Cum catapultae proscriptae erunt tum soli proscript catapultas habebunt.

  21. #4431
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    Having read Guards, Guards; I need to see which to read next. And discovered that between that and the next one, there was a short story anthologized A Blink of The Screen. Which I had downloaded a year or two ago and forgotten to read. So I'm reading it.
    Starts with something he wrote at age 13 and is still pretty good. And precursors to the Bromeliad Trilogy and the Long Earth series.
    Not bad!
    Cum catapultae proscriptae erunt tum soli proscript catapultas habebunt.

  22. #4432
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    I've just finished Blake Crouch's Recursion. A new twist on a time-travel "change war". Marvellously complex plotting that keeps shooting off in new and ever-more unexpected directions, as well as a something of a melancholic meditation on life, love and loss. The most compelling read I've had in years.
    I've never read anything by Crouch before, though I've enjoyed TV series based on his work: Wayward Pines and Good Behavior. I'll certainly now track down more of his work. He writes really well.

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  23. #4433
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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    I've just finished Blake Crouch's Recursion. A new twist on a time-travel "change war". Marvellously complex plotting that keeps shooting off in new and ever-more unexpected directions, as well as a something of a melancholic meditation on life, love and loss. The most compelling read I've had in years.
    I've never read anything by Crouch before, though I've enjoyed TV series based on his work: Wayward Pines and Good Behavior. I'll certainly now track down more of his work. He writes really well.

    Grant Hutchison
    Thanks for the recommendation. I've been looking for new science fiction authors so this sounds pretty good.

    I'm waiting for the sixth Expanse book but decided to bide my time with A Game of Thrones. And as the last few people to emerge from our cave, we've started watching the series as well; the book is helping us to understand the literal and figurative landscape.

  24. #4434
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    I noticed Netflix is adapting it too. Of course, Netflix adaptations are hit or miss, but mostly miss.

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  25. #4435
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    I am also pleased to hear of new science fiction authors that I can try.

  26. #4436
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    Quote Originally Posted by Van Rijn View Post
    I noticed Netflix is adapting it too. Of course, Netflix adaptations are hit or miss, but mostly miss.
    It'll need to be considerably modified for a visual medium. Crouch is quite a cinematic writer--there's a scene early in the book that made me think immediately of how effective it would be in a movie--but so much of the hectic pace of the later plot depends on exposition via the internal experiences of the two main characters, I can't see how it would transfer to the screen without a major rewrite.

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  27. #4437
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    I'm about halfway through The Apollo Murders, the novel written by astronaut Chris Hadfield.

    Alternate-history Apollo program, very much after the fashion of the For All Mankind TV series. In this one, Nixon redesignates Apollo 18 as a military mission, rather than cancelling it. It's scheduled for launch in 1973, which corresponds to the arrival of Lunokhod 2 on the Moon and the launch of the Salyut 2 / Almaz 101.1 military space station by the Soviets. There's a bit of business about Lunokhod having some sort of secret agenda, too, which leads to the Apollo 18 mission being designated to check out Almaz in LEO before heading for the Moon to land next to Lunokhod. Mayhem ensues.

    The astronautical detail is, as you might expect, very good. The prose can best be described as clear and workmanlike. Overall, it reminds me very strongly of reading Martin Caidin's Marooned. Which is a good thing, as far as I'm concerned.
    Lots of real people feature--poor Gene Kranz gets stuck with another disastrous mission, and it's not even on his usual odd-numbered rotation. (I presume Hadfield ran the plot and dialogue past Kranz, who has much more than a walk-on part.)

    So far, an entertaining read, though it requires a quite complicated set of unlikely events to set up the action for the second half.

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  28. #4438
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    I picked up a copy of American Gods. It is very intriguing, I'm enjoying it very much. It might be the close proximity to Halloween that's got me.
    Solfe

  29. #4439
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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    I'm about halfway through The Apollo Murders, the novel written by astronaut Chris Hadfield.

    Alternate-history Apollo program, very much after the fashion of the For All Mankind TV series. In this one, Nixon redesignates Apollo 18 as a military mission, rather than cancelling it. It's scheduled for launch in 1973, which corresponds to the arrival of Lunokhod 2 on the Moon and the launch of the Salyut 2 / Almaz 101.1 military space station by the Soviets. There's a bit of business about Lunokhod having some sort of secret agenda, too, which leads to the Apollo 18 mission being designated to check out Almaz in LEO before heading for the Moon to land next to Lunokhod. Mayhem ensues.

    The astronautical detail is, as you might expect, very good. The prose can best be described as clear and workmanlike. Overall, it reminds me very strongly of reading Martin Caidin's Marooned. Which is a good thing, as far as I'm concerned.
    Lots of real people feature--poor Gene Kranz gets stuck with another disastrous mission, and it's not even on his usual odd-numbered rotation. (I presume Hadfield ran the plot and dialogue past Kranz, who has much more than a walk-on part.)

    So far, an entertaining read, though it requires a quite complicated set of unlikely events to set up the action for the second half.
    Oh well. That turned out badly enough that I almost couldn't be bothered finishing it. The interesting set-up in the first half failed to deliver any sort of engaging plot in the second half.
    It was a good example of how being expert in the background to your thriller doesn't make you a thriller writer. The astronautical background was excellent, as you would expect, and Hadfield had obviously done his Apollo homework (though there was one pretty obvious problem with the timing of his lunar landing), but the plot and characterization left much to be desired. Some good moments, but his characters had to keep making utterly inexplicable decisions in order to move the plot along, and the eventual McGuffin on the Moon just couldn't justify the rest of the plot.

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  30. #4440
    Since I probably won't be seeing Dune the theaters, I pulled the book from my bookshelf and started to read this afternoon.
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