Tag Archives: science

UnCommon Origins: A Collection of Gods, Monster, Nature and Science

notsocommonUnCommon Origins presents 22 depictions of moments on the precipice, beginnings both beautiful and tragic. Fantastical stories of Creation, Feral Children, Gods and Goddesses (both holy and horrific), and possibilities you never dared imagine come to life. Including stories from some of the most talented Speculative Fiction and Magical Realism authors around, UnCommon Origins will revisit the oldest questions in the universe: Where did we come from? and What comes next?

anthologies are uncommon on my bookshelf, due mainly to the up and down nature of the stories and my usual preference for singular stories in the books I read.  Breaking new ground, I found I not only enjoyed  the variety of ideas but was also impressed by the quality of the writing on show.

This Sci-Fi offering contains a lot of good stories, possibly from some very twisted minds.  I wasn’t expected to be pulled in so quickly but from the initial story – The Hanging Gardens of Brooklyn – a story about kindness to strangers, foreigners and so much more, it became clear that it was going to be a lot of fun.

Some stories took a little longer to get to the reward but even the less satisfying stories – for this reader, that is – always had the seeds of something interesting to speculate on.  There are a few authors I would be interested in reading more of, which is the pleasure of this book and the curse of the bank balance.

It was rewarding and quite exhilarating to dabble in a bunch of writers whom I have no prior knowledge of, not knowing what will come my way next.  This inventive melding of genres and imagination in a plethora of writing styles ensures that there is something for everybody here and I look forward to rereading some of them again when the fancy takes me.

This collection was brought to my attention through a barrage of emails and latterly my letterbox by perennial blog favourite Jess Harpley and her featured story includes her trademark action packed, high body count style.  As ever though there is so much more behind the action, in this story of slavery, family,  the balance of power and a decision that ultimately leaves everything in the balance. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 19/09/2016 in Sci-Fi


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Penguin Great Ideas

Throughout history, some books have changed the world. They have transformed the way we see ourselves – and each other. They have inspired debate, dissent, war and revolution. They have enlightened, outraged, provoked and comforted. They have enriched lives – and destroyed them. Now Penguin brings you the works of the great thinkers, pioneers, radicals and visionaries whose ideas shook civilization and helped make us who we are.

WP_20160612_001It turns out I have managed to acquire seven of the one hundred great ideas that Penguin is selling at the cheap price of £4.99 without once realising their connection.  Two things strike me as faintly absurd, firstly that I would own seven books in a set but owing to the vast distance between the corners of my amassed collection and a poor memory, that I wouldn’t have made the connection earlier.

Secondly the price which is a steal, it enables people to pick up a bite sized portion of a new author to see what all the fuss is about and it also brings the reader loads of fascinating essays at a ridiculously decent price as well.  Who would not wish to dabble in such studies that have changed the way we view the world and in a good few instances how we actually live.

From tumultuous periods of history to thoughtful essays, the books empower the mind and allow us to read the key thoughts that defined past generations.  These are of course extracts from other books so why pick these up when you can pick these plus more in a book?  Well partly it is the need to know what texts these authors are famous for and also to gauge whose style I get on with so I can chart my reading to take the path of least resistance. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 12/06/2016 in Classics, Essays, Philosophy, Politics, Science


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The Silent Landscape – Richard Corfield

0719565316Deep below the earth’s great oceans lies an alien world that we have only just begun to explore.  The quest to know more about this secret domain began in earnest in 1872 when HMS Challenger set sail from Portsmouth on the first ever sea voyage devoted exclusively to science.  Her scientists and crew sailed from the endangered coral reefs of the Caribbean to the trackless depths beneath the western Pacific, braving stifling heat and stupefying cold, on an expedition that remains perhaps the greatest oceanographic mission of all time.

As far as epic voyages go HMS Challenger is up there with the greatest, easily as monumental in impact as the more famous HMS Beagle’s, taking four years to travel 68,900 miles from England to Brazil and South Africa.  Before taking in Antarctica and returning home by way of Australia, Hong Kong and Hawaii all on a vessel measuring 200 by 40 foot.  It’s little wonder 269 of the crew deserted.

This, the last great voyage of the Victorian age and is brought to life through generous helpings of the crew’s diaries which are used to humanise the scientific endeavours and keep the tone light enough to encourage the reader’s inquisitiveness before giving out some fascinating scientific histories.

whilst focussing on life on the ship its dual existence being both a rollercoaster of monotony and of astonishment, the author uses the many discoveries as a springboard to educate the reader not only on how it enhanced our understanding of the seas but also how the geology of our ancient planet was formed.  The Challenger expedition found the deepest part of the sea, The Mariana Trench in the Pacific, numerous new species of plants and animals helping to confirm Darwin’s theories, the idea for plate tectonics and of course kept alive the tradition of looking down on people and places from all other nations as inferior. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 06/01/2016 in History, Science, Travel


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Pale Highway – Nicholas Conley

pale-highwayGabriel Schist is spending his remaining years at Bright New Day, a nursing home. He once won the Nobel Prize for inventing a vaccine for AIDS. But now, he has Alzheimer’s, and his mind is slowly slipping away.

When one of the residents comes down with a horrific virus, Gabriel realizes that he is the only one who can find a cure. Encouraged by Victor, an odd stranger, he convinces the administrator to allow him to study the virus. Soon, reality begins to shift, and Gabriel’s hallucinations interfere with his work.

As the death count mounts, Gabriel is in a race against the clock and his own mind. Can he find a cure before his brain deteriorates past the point of no return?

With a growing elderly population, this book serves as not only a character study on one man’s fight against his own mind and body but also to highlight the continuing need to help the older generation and try to understand before it is our turn.

The name of the nursing home where Gabriel resides is the Bright New Day Skilled Nursing Center which is one of those names that by association makes the place sound awfully bleak.  Behind the name is and let’s be fair a pretty cynical business structure in a lot of cases, staffed by worker who want to make a difference but are strung out by the lack of help and corner cutting, as the author’s own experiences in this field attest.

It is poignant and refreshing for a book to be written about those who feel forgotten by their relatives and the outside world, it’s perhaps something that should scare, the fear that our bodies could rebel against us and we would end up confused and in one of these centres.  This is captured well here, the day-to-day struggles of keeping one’s dignity and constantly finding one’s place in the world make for a sense of dislocation and reorientation something that is more of a habit than innate.

I found it a challenge to focus on the book in hand as opposed to real life as both are so intertwined, which is the book’s strongest point.  Fleshing out Gabriel’s character in particular with chapters detailing, in order some of the key moments of his life, allow a compare and contrast with the man we know and the journey he has taken.  It’s a rich life, full of vitality and experience, a reminder to us all to pay attention to who we meet and how we can effect one another. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 18/11/2015 in Fiction


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Childhood’s End – Arthur C. Clarke

AdulthoodBlotting out the light from the stars they have linked so effortlessly, the silent ships hang suspended over the great cities of Earth…

Armed with a staggering power and an infinite wisdom the invaders from outer space shock Earth into submission – but what is their purpose?

To mention any more of the story would be to give away key plot points and like film trailers, books are sadly not immune from giving things away before you even get to the main feature.  Even my 1956 Pan edition gave some important things away but the newer copies are even worse. It’s a risky business this book buying.

I love this cover, it’s wonderfully dramatic and of its time and being one of those annoying fault picking people I can’t help but imagine the cost of the repair bill from the sonic boom that that ship appears to be causing.

There is something quaint about this book, with a familiar Cold War beginning and then the imagined future in which people are starting to watch three hours of TV a day!  Clarke may be celebrated for preempting technological advances and such but he was pretty up on the social aspect as well. It doesn’t feel too archaic though, it’s a pleasant jaunt, a B-movie in a book or B-lit as I term it.

Once into the book, the familiar Clarke theme of our place in the universe, our journey through the stars and time if you will is explored.  The scale of the notion is impressive, for most of the book these bigger scale concepts are largely played down in favour of the more human side of things, unlike the Rama series and the Odyssey books where the big ideas were the major focus.  This difference in focussing makes for a more subtle approach to the stories of our civilisation and its adaptation to the new and the abstract.

Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 02/08/2015 in Sci-Fi


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Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions – Edwin A. Abbott

FLEAAEdwin A. Abbott’s droll and delightful ‘romance of many dimensions’ explores this conundrum in the experiences of his protagonist, A Square, whose linear world is invaded by an emissary Sphere bringing the gospel of the third dimension on the eve of the new millennium. Part geometry lesson, part social satire, this classic work of science fiction brilliantly succeeds in enlarging all readers’ imaginations beyond the limits of our ‘respective dimensional prejudices’. In a world where class is determined by how many sides you possess, and women are straight lines, the prospects for enlightenment are boundless, and Abbott’s hypotheses about a fourth and higher dimensions seem startlingly relevant today.

There are those books that sit on your shelves for years, patiently waiting for you to come to your senses and devour them and this is just such a book. It brings together the joys of maths, philosophy and fun all in one easy and entertaining to read combination.

It’s a fantastic abstract journey, something akin to Gulliver’s travels or Allan Quatermain, giving you a chance to consider something totally alien yet immensely easy to visualise realities.

Taken at face value, this tale is a wonderful jaunt around a two-dimensional world in which you will get to understand such things as how the inhabitants can distinguish each other when they all appear as lines, as well as learning about the hierarchy, politics and history of Flatland.

For those of you who love a bit of subtext, the book is a razor-sharp satire on Victorian culture, its morals and ideologies.  Naturally women get a raw deal, although Abbott, a supporter of Women’s rights makes some salient points throughout the book on the position and the almost parallel culture the two sexes led at the time.  The politics of keeping the masses docile against the rich and the lack of a decent education system both come in for a fair bit of parody as well, the absurdity of such a system would be amusing were it not a mirror for real life.  That all of the above still goes on in the world today is genuinely a chilling thought to my mind. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 17/02/2015 in Classics, Philosophy, Sci-Fi


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The Drowned World – J. G. Ballard

TDWFluctuations in solar radiation have caused the icecaps to melt and the seas to rise.  Nature is on the rampage.  London has been transformed into a primeval swamp, and within its submerged landscape giant lizards, dragonflies and insects compete for dominance.  Human fertility is in decline and buildings sink beneath waters infested with decaying matter.  Into this wasteland a group of intrepid scientists venture to record the flora and fauna of this new Triassic age.  Soon ghostly voices haunt their waking and nightmares permeate their sleep.

After years of being wary of the sci-fi genre, I find myself increasingly enamoured by the stories that tackle those profound existential questions of life and our place in the universe and thankfully here is another one to add to the list.

The story centres around a group of scientists who are exploring and mapping the geography and the inhabitants of this new world.  What they didn’t foresee was the effects that their surroundings would have on them and then of course there are the dreams…

Ballard’s début novel is a wonderful creation of life in the near future, a returning to a geological age long past and an exploration of the effects that that would have on the modern mind.  It’s a regression into the psychology of the mind you might say.

Being the author’s first book, I will admit that it isn’t the strongest writing and in many ways it is a book of its time with respect to the portrayal of some of its characters.  Even though they are noticeable from the off though, they aren’t particularly significant and to dismiss the book on those alone would be criminal.

The story is only 175 pages long, yet manages to feel like a true odyssey.  Interestingly the book has the feeling of many genres meeting, one minute it feels like an exploration story, such as The Lost World and then progresses in feel to the self exploration of  Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 21/08/2014 in Sci-Fi


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