Monthly Archives: January 2016

Venus by Ben Bova

VenusVenus by Ben Bova
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Venus is my type of science fiction – more science and less fiction. Of course it is an adventure thriller, and the story line includes some impossibilities, but there is also a lot of hard science in there. It is set in future, a hundred years or so, when men have industrialized the asteroid belt and set up colonies on the moon and Mars. Venus, however, has never been explored by “boots on the ground.” Van Humphries, the unlikely hero of the story, sets out to be the first, in order to recover the body of his brother who preceded him in an ill-fated attempt to explore our nearest planetary neighbor. Of course there is a beautiful young female scientist on board …

If you’re not careful you’ll end up learning a lot of actual facts about Venus while you are caught up in the drama of the tale. Van has a competitor, a mortal enemy of his father, the zillionaire who set the reward. The human story is riveting but I think you will enjoy the drama of the science, the excitement that NASA and the world enjoys when a real space mission goes well and we learn all kinds of new things. The prose is clear and easily understood, although the author overuses the word clamber and has a couple of other annoying idiosyncrasies. The narrator is very good for the audiobook.

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Intelligence and cussing

I participate in an online forum for self-published Kindle authors. A member asked the forum if Amazon would block his book if it contained swearing or blasphemy. He was assured that it would not, but then the thread got into the possible negative reactions of some readers. I pointed out that I don’t like excessive cursing either, but I am realistic enough to know that people do swear in real life and I use it in my writing when a strong expletive is called for or sometimes to show a character as a low-life. (That’s normal people talk for “poorly socialized individual.”)

Another author took great offense at the suggestion that people who swear are in any way less intelligent or less worthy than those who don’t. He cited this study to support the notion that science has proven people who swear are more intelligent than those who don’t. There are several problems with that notion. First, the study shows nothing of the kind. It only shows that smart people have bigger vocabularies than less-smart people, including knowledge of swear words. Duh! Second, studies have actually shown a strong positive correlation between IQ and various class-related behaviors, including swearing. See The Bell Curve for example. In short, the book showed, the more intelligent people behave as low-lifes less often than dumb people. If that weren’t enough, my life experience, and that of a majority of others, is that less intelligent people swear more often. See this link.

What was funny, though, was that the other author called me too judgmental. It’s not exactly a Tom Swifty, but my reply  was:

“You should be less judgmental,” Tom said judgmentally.

Language on Vacation by Dmitri Borgmann

Language on Vacation: An Olio of Orthographical OdditiesLanguage on Vacation: An Olio of Orthographical Oddities by Dmitri A. Borgmann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This fascinating book is more in the nature of a reference book than a non-fiction discourse. It catalogs wordplay in every form imaginable: palindromes, anagrams, beheadments, tautonymic reversals, anchored transposals, antigrams, pangrams, acrostics, isograms, and many more. Much of it is presented in the form of puzzles where the reader is invited to try to identify the anagram, etc. Most of these are lengthy and difficult. Answers are provided in the back section, which can make it tedious if you are just interested in reading about the wordplay and not taking the quizzes. The book would be an excellent resource for puzzlemakers, crossword enthusiasts, and bloggers who write about wordplay (like me). There are humorous bits and the writing style is lighthearted and playful, not pedantic. The book was written in 1965 and is no doubt out of print. I skimmed through a library copy, but it isn’t something one can sit down and read straight through. While the book isn’t for everybody, those with an interest in the topic will enjoy it.

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X by Sue Grafton

X (Kinsey Millhone, #24)X by Sue Grafton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What can I say? I’m a sucker for Sue Grafton. So what is the X for, you long-time fans may ask? Just about everything. Some major characters are named Xanakis. A business is named XLNT shipping. There’s a map with an X marked on it. Finding the X’s is just part of the fun the reader will have with this one.

In this one Henry, Kinsey’s heart-of-gold landlord, is being taken advantage of by a clingy and conniving new neighbor woman. She also find herself looking into the cases of a fellow private eye, a character killed off in the last book. Then there’s that snotty Kim Bass who deserves a comeuppance. Kinsey has her work cut out for her once again.

The mystery isn’t the the compelling element in this or any other Kinsey Millhone book. It’s all about her attitude. She’s one tough cookie, a dispenser of justice, a cynic with an independent streak a mile wide. She’s just the one to see that the softies like Henry aren’t taken advantage of. As always, she goes about it in a straightforward way, proceeding as a real detective would.

I always enjoy the geographical references, too. They remind me of when I used to live in “Colgate.” If you’re inclined to read this book and don’t already know the series, I would suggest going back and starting with A is for Alibi and reading through the series in order.

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Making a Murderer – Steven Avery

It seems that the Netflix “docudrama” Making a Murderer is popular right now and Mr. Avery has a bunch of supporters calling for his pardon. There is apparently an online petition going around to have President Obama pardon him. I decided to watch the show, but only got ten or fifteen minutes into it before deciding it was trash. Here’s why.

First, if you don’t know the story at all, the short version is that Avery is from a working class junk dealer family. He was convicted of a rape, did eighteen years for that, and then was freed when DNA evidence proved he wasn’t the rapist. After his release he sued the state of Wisconsin for wrongful conviction, but before that got resolved he was arrested and convicted of an unrelated murder. The show takes the defendant’s side and portrays the police and prosecutors as conspiring to frame him because he is suing them.

I don’t know if Avery committed that rape or the murder, and I don’t care. I do, however, think he is a danger to society and we are all better off people like him are locked away. That’s not to say I approve of people being incarcerated for crimes they didn’t commit. I am making a judgment on Avery himself. He is, in a word, a scumbag.

The show begins by showing his upbringing in rural Wisconsin, portraying him as a blue-collar kid picked on and avoided by the middle-class farmers around him. Personally, I think farmers are at least as hard-working and blue collar as junk dealers, but let’s move on. The show suggests that he and his family were just non-conformists and subjected to prejudice by their neighbors just because some of them had gotten into trouble with the law. Avery admits to the interviewer that he “made a couple of mistakes” when he was young and drunk. What “mistakes?” He set fire to a cat for the enjoyment. That’s right, he’s an animal torturer. The show didn’t go on to say whether the cat survived. That was the most graphic detail, but the whole picture was of a low-life sadistic sociopath. I never even got to the evidence of the murder trial. To me, anyone who sets fire to an animal for the “pleasure” of seeing it suffer belongs in prison for life anyway.

Why anyone feels sympathy for this miscreant is beyond me, but I think it has to do with low IQ. The petition that is going around is directed to President Obama. Did all 200,000 of the signers flunk sixth grade? Avery was convicted of murder by a Wisconsin court. Only the governor of Wisconsin can pardon him. The president can only pardon people convicted of federal crimes. You know, that pesky Constitution thing about separation of powers between the federal and state governments. I know I got that lesson in elementary school.

The prosecutor in that case has recently been appearing on TV refuting the show, claiming it left out a lot of forensic evidence that incriminated Avery. The show’s producer appeared and basically said the show’s a success because people are watching and they tried to present all sides. She never refuted any of the specific claims by the prosecutor about the evidence omitted from the show. The original idea of the show was for it to be a documentary, but the lawyers decided they couldn’t characterize it that way and made them change it to “docudrama.” There’s only one good explanation for that change. It isn’t factual. From my own experience, I know that even real reporters and publications get the facts wrong all the time. Someone who sets out to make a “docudrama” (like “J. Edgar”) intends to create a fiction to perpetuate a point of view or support for a cause, or just create a controversy that will drive publicity and viewers. Truth or accuracy is is at best irrelevant and at times a hindrance to the goal. So I recommend people not watch the show, whether or not Avery is guilty of the murder. Don’t make him a hero.

Geocaching update

I don’t mention geocaching a lot in my blog because I see it as more of an extension of my writer side than my geocacher side, but I still enjoy geocaching. I’m especially looking forward to the Mega event planned for this summer here in Silicon Valley: Cachin’ the Bay, My books are even on the Featured Products page. If you follow the links for registration and swag, click on “LUNCH AND MORE” to get to this page.

In case you’re wondering what the souvenir editions of Cached Out and the Geocaching Trilogy are all about, here’s a more complete description. The books are paperbacks, but not the small pocket paperbacks you may think of. All are 6″ x 9″ trade paperbacks, essentially the same size as hardcover books. The souvenir edition of Cached Out will have a special title page with the Cachin’ the Bay logo. You can also request an inscription when ordering. I will be getting in touch with everyone who pre-orders to find out if they want an inscription or autograph. The Trilogy will have the souvenir edition of Cached Out, The other two books, Fatal Dose and Death Row will be the regular edition. The cover of the boxed set will have the event logo on it as shown on the page. The price is the same as the price from Amazon for the regular edition. These souvenir editions will not be sold anywhere else other than this webstore page. Of course, I will be at the event and willing to autograph books and meet my fans, A big thanks to all of you who have supported my Cliff Knowles Mysteries. I have a sixth one planned for this spring and will feature quite a bit of geocaching in the plot line. Happy New Year.

Cached Out

Cover to Geocaching Trilogy Boxed Set