May 22, 2018

Review: The Genius Plague by David Walton

On sale now!

Could we be too smart for our own good? We recent finished a real page-turner, a near future science fiction thriller in an all too plausible future reality. The Genius Plague by David Walton out late last year from Pyr Books is a tale of a fungal spore out of the Amazon jungle, taking over humanity. Tales of strange mental feats and a rare and indecipherable tribal language emerges from South America and catches the attention of NSA cryptolinguist Neil Johns. The spore not only boosts the intelligence of its hosts, but encourages them to take the necessary steps to ensure its own survival and propagation… even at the expense of the human hosts themselves. The CIA and U.S. military are dispatched to deal with the threat, and promptly become infected, as hosts for the fungal spores disseminate it with crop dusting aircraft.

Sound far-fetched? Well, there’s good evidence to suggest that lots of our own behaviors are largely motivated by our own bacterial gut flora. A zombie-like brain parasite will cause ants to climb to the top of a tall blade of grass and wait for the fungus to split its carcass open, spreading more spores. toxoplasma gondii in the gut of your average feline is another great example, as it will cause mice to become attracted to the smell of cat urine, causing the cat which generated said urine to consume the hapless mouse, and well, the cycle of life continues. Rabies is another grizzly example of a virus that hijacks the mind of its host for its own nefarious ends, all to ensure its survival own. And heck, addiction itself in humans is a sort of symbiosis: have a pleasant narcotic effect on the human brain, and those brains will find ways to propagate you and assure that you will survive and thrive. Perhaps, just such an infection is out there in the jungle, awaiting human contact. Neil’s brother Paul, a mycologist (one who studies fungus) barely survives an infection on an exploratory stint in the rain forest, and later becomes a champion for the fungus itself. The idea is enticing even to Neil, as their father suffers from Alzheimer’s, and the spore seems to, at first, bring back the man they thought they had lost themselves. But as the fungus begins to win over converts, a larger threat looms, as the solution may be to enslave what’s left of humanity itself in order to preserve it. We’ll stop short of any further spoilers there, but we will say that the book climaxes with a great showdown at the home of the United States nuclear weapons stockpile at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, one with a horrific vision for the possible future of mankind. There’s a great story on the science of evolution in The Genius Plague as well, one that makes it all the more terrifying: the fungus itself isn’t intelligent; its just learned a great new strategy from the standpoint of its own survival, to make sure humans want to keep you around. Neil later realizes that the only way to defeat the fungus may be to convince it (in the minds of the infected) that it’s own survival depends on hiding rather than thriving, another common evolutionary tactic.

Be sure to read The Genius Plague for the vision of an all too real apocalyptic thriller.

Dating Artemis: An Astronomical Sci-Fi Mystery Solved?

On sale now.

I love it when a hard science fiction book presents an astronomical mystery.

I came across just such a mystery reading Artemis, the latest science fiction novel out late last year from Andy Weir.

Artemis presents the story of Jasmine Bashara, a young girl trying to make her way in the first settlement on the Moon. Artemis is a thriving town, built around Earth tourism at the Apollo 11 Sea of Tranquility landing site.

We won’t introduce any spoilers here; suffice to say, if you like some hard science blended into your fiction, you’ll love Artemis. Like The Martian, Artemis also seems to be near-future science fiction, both culturally and technologically. We say “near” as in something that’s plausible over the next half-century or so. Also like The Martian, Artemis doesn’t peg the exact date when the events transpire… or does it? As an amateur astronomer and avid sky watcher, I noticed a few clues that just might pin down the exact future date of the tale.

Dating the Martian

Weir puts lots of research into his novels. With The Martian, he states that if you can work out the Hohmann transfer windows between the Earth and Mars needed for the Ares III mission to rescue and return Mark Watney back to Earth, then you could pin down the date in the 2030s when the events in The Martian transpired.

Is there a similar puzzle in Artemis? Well, I think there could be, based on you key celestial sights mentioned in the book.

Artemis runs on Kenya Time, as missions headed to the Moon depart from the equatorial country, taking advantage of its maximum rotational boost eastward and its favorable laws encouraging space companies to set up shop there. Kenya Time is Universal Time, +3 hours.

The most conspicuous objects in the sky as seen from the Apollo 11 landing site are the Sun and the Earth. “Daytime” on the Moon lasts about two weeks from sunrise to sunset… but the Moon is locked with one hemisphere turned perpetually Earthward, so the Earth would never set. Instead, Earth would go through phases like the Moon does as seen from the Earth, as it slowly circles a spot high in the sky due to the rocking nutation and libration motion of the Moon.

Earthrise as seen from Apollo 8 in orbit around the Moon. Credit: NASA

The phases you see from the surface of the Moon, however, are opposite to what you see on the Earth. This means when the Moon is Full from the Earth, Earth is at New as seen from the Moon. Likewise, waxing versus waning phases are reversed.

Artemis gets these phases right where it makes mention of them. On their own, however, one cycle of phases is pretty much like another… even making mention of something like an eclipse wouldn’t really pin the date down, as several lunar and solar eclipses happen, every year.

We get a possible lead, however, from the following passage when the protagonist checks her Earth-phase watch:

”Lene checked her wristwatch. ‘Ten thirteen a.m…and there’s currently a half-Earth, by the way. It’s waxing.’”

Now, that’s a little more specific… converting 10:13 AM Kenya Time to 7:13 Universal Time we just need to reverse the phase, and find when there’s a waning Last Quarter (half) Moon seen from the Earth around the same time.

Combing through the Astro-Pixels listing of Moon phases for the 21st century for Last Quarter Moons that will fall on 7:13 UT plus or minus one minute , I came up with the following possibilities:

August 30th, 2021 (it’s not likely that there’ll be a lunar outpost in just over three years!)

August 9th, 2099 (more likely).

Earth on August 9th, 2099 as seen from the surface of the Moon. Credit: Stellarium.

Of course, a few caveats are in order. Phases such as New, Full and Quarter are only instants in time. You could look up at the Moon (or the Earth, from the surface of the Moon) several hours one either side of Quarter phase and it would still appear pretty much half-illuminated. I own a Casio watch that shows the current phase of the Moon, for example… but it would be hard to pin down the exact moment of the Full or Last Quarter Moon with just the watch display alone.

Our very own “Moon phase watch…” photo by author.

Is the passage a true “tell” planted by the author? Maybe, maybe not. There are other methods the author could’ve used that are even more exact. Transits of Mercury and Venus across the face of the Sun, for example, are also visible from the surface of the Moon. On November 12th, 2190, for example, Mercury will transit the Sun, just hours from a solar eclipse… and if you’re visiting the Apollo landing site on November 13th, 2236, you can see Mercury transit the face of the Sun, during an eclipse:

Perhaps, future celestial phenomena will make their way into an Artemis sequel?

Read more original hard science-fueled tales by Dave Dickinson.

 

Book Review: The Castle in Cassiopeia by Mike Resnick

On sale now.

There’s nothing like the swashbuckling action of jumping from one globular cluster to another. We recently came across just such a fast-moving tale, with The Castle in Cassiopeia by Mike Resnick, the latest in his Dead Enders saga out from Pyr Books. [Read more...]

Review: No Humans Allowed

On sale now!

“Your droids,” says the unnamed bartender in a famous sci-fi flick, “they’ll have to wait outside.”

Perhaps, cyber-discrimination is a pressing social issue in a “galaxy, far, far away…” But what if those protagonists ever manage to turn in table on humanity? [Read more...]

Review: Edge of Dark by Brenda Cooper

On sale now!

Note: This week, we’re hearkening back to ‘Classic Astroguyz’ with a book review. We largely stopped doing reviews since we started traveling long term over this past year, as it’s tough to receive hard cover advance copies… but hey, we can still read pdf versions, and will still conduct reviews of electronic copies. [Read more...]

The 2015 Nebula Awards Showcase

On sale now…

Looking for the very best in science fiction? Along with the Hugos, the Nebulas honor the very best of the best in sci-fi without the -y’s. Reviewing the Nebula awards has become a sort of institution here at Astroguyz as well, and serves as a great way to not only digest the finest of the genre, but gives us a great scope of all the cutting edge stuff. [Read more...]

Free Fiction Friday: Helium Party Part 5

On sale now!

Here it tis… our weekly healthy serving of free science fiction for you, the discerning public. Be sure to start back on chapter 1, and you can read Helium Party and other tales of original sci-fi by yours truly.

But now, let’s join our intrepid gang The Citizens of Silliness in orbit around Jupiter:

Helium Party

by

David Dickinson

Chapter 5

“Lanky, Tinker, standby to deploy those catcher pods…”

I watched the console as a beacon lit up ahead. Of course, the outline of the flashing indicator was in the obligatory clown-head shape.

“You’ve got full helium bladders to pick up!” I exclaimed.

“You’re a smart one, there, Toots,” Crunchy replied. “Think we’d go home empty handed?” “We drop ‘em, and we pick em up.” [Read more...]

Book Review: Recycled Pulp edited by John Helfers

On sale in September 2015!

Remember the pulp novelettes of yore?

Named for the woodsy, low cost paper they were printed on, dime store pulp novels were an integral part of many readers’ childhoods. They were formulaic, sure, but we always knew the tales within would deliver.

The folks at Fiction River recently challenged authors to concoct some pulp tales of their own, and the results were far from rigid or predictable. [Read more...]

Review: Universe Between Edited by Dean Wesley Smith

On sale now!

Note: once we’d returned from our travelling expedition last month, we arrived to an expected stack of review books from the past year. Though our current writing obligations demand that we can’t go full tilt back in the world of book reviewing, we thought we’d crank out the current stack we found on our doorstep as part of our summer reading. As a writer of both fiction and non-fiction ourselves, we feel that just about every book deserves a fair shake, especially if someone gave us the privilege and obligation to read and review em!

The fantastic is often were you find it. Adventure awaits in the realm of the very small, the very large, and in time frames too fast or slow to be perceptible to the human eye. We always love the idea that the strange and wonderful is always riding side-by-side with us through life, if we only know where to look for it… [Read more...]

Review: The Man-Kzin Wars XIII Created by Larry Niven

On sale now!

Galactic interspecies war has never been hotter. And one of the most enduring conflagrations in modern scifi-dom has been between humanity and the cat-like Kzinti. The Kzin were first introduced by science fiction author Larry Niven in his 1966 short story “The Warriors,” and went on to become frequent players in his Known Space stories, including his classic novel Ringworld. [Read more...]

November 2013: The Month in Science Fiction

The pre-holiday movie season has begun. As we approach the cusp of the holiday season, several fine science fiction offerings are already in theatres. We were duly impressed with Thor 2, and glad to finally see Orson Scott Card’s science fiction classic Ender’s Game at last get its big screen due. Heck, we even enjoyed the movie Gravity, despite its minor (and one major) science faux pas… spoiler alert: you can’t journey to the International Space Station from the Hubble Space Telescope! Now, all eyes are turning towards the big screen adaptation of Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games. [Read more...]

Review: Contagion Toxic City Book Three by Tim Lebbon

Available for pre-order now!

Escaping from an embattled  London has never been tougher. This week, we take a look at a near-future apocalyptic landscape with our review of Contagion: Toxic City Book Three by Tim Lebbon out next month from Pyr Books. Fans of this space will remember our action-packed reviews of London Eye: Toxic City Book One and Reaper’s Legacy: Toxic City Book Two.

Newsflash: fans of the series can also rejoice, as ABC TV is working on the development of the Toxic City series into a future scifi series titled Evolve! [Read more...]

Review: Skirmishes by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Available for pre-order now!

Boss is back!

We have to admit; when this week’s review copy arrived last week, we HAD to bump it to the very top of our “must read” list!

The Diving Universe, conceived buy Hugo-Award winning author Kristine Catherine Rusch is a refreshingly new and fleshed out realm of sci-fi action and adventure. And the latest offering from the Diving Universe, titled Skirmishes out next month from WMG Publishing, doesn’t disappoint. [Read more...]

August 2013: This Month in Science Fiction

This month’s science fiction action is as hot as an August summer. Have you caught Europa Report? How ‘bout Elysium? Or After Earth, or the Tom Cruise science fiction adventure Oblivion? Even the superhero adventures have been hotter than ever, from The Man of Steel to Iron Man 3. Smashed moons, from Krypton’s Wegthor  to Earth’s very own Luna are now in vogue, but otherwise, there has been nary a dud in the summer sci-fi season. And the year’s not over, as we anticipate Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Enders Game and Gravity for the Fall cycle of movies as well.   [Read more...]

Review: Snipers by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Out in July!

Where would you head if you could go back in time? Does time flow in a linear fashion like a river, or are an enormous number of universes branching off from every instant?

OK, so maybe you can’t go back and become your own grandfather or grandmother… but just how much would our actions alter time? That’s just one of the questions posed in this week’s review, Snipers by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Fans of this space will be familiar with Rusch’s outstanding work in the Diving into the Wreck universe, including City of Ruins & Boneyards as well as the Retrieval Artist novel Blowback. Rusch knows how to construct a science fiction thriller that’ll keep you turning pages right up until the end. [Read more...]

Review: Galactic Courier by A. Bertram Chandler

Out now from Baen Books!

Traverse the worlds of the Galactic Rim lightly, and carry a big laser cannon. Those might be the words of wisdom of starship captain and all-round opportunist John Grimes in this week’s latest science fiction review.

Galactic Courier is a magnum opus by A. Bertram Chandler out from Baen Books that covers no less than four novels in the Commodore Grimes saga; Star Loot (1980), Matilda’s Stepchildren (1979), To Keep the Ship (1978) and of course,  Star Courier (1977). [Read more...]

May 2013: This Month in Science Fiction

Welcome to a new and exciting monthly feature from yours truly here at Astroguyz.com. As you know, when we’re not creating science and science fiction literature, we’re consuming it with gusto. This is a tradition that goes back to the halcyon pre-internet days of our youth, when books and Space: 1999 reruns were “what there was…” [Read more...]

Review: How Dark the World Becomes by Frank Chadwick

Out now from Baen Books!

Word is out in the cosmos; humans are first class criminals.

This week’s review offers an interesting insight into a question astrobiologists and science fiction fans have often pondered; how would we stack up against other alien species? Are we smarter, dumber, faster or the only race dexterous to play Eruption on the guitar this side of the Milky Way? [Read more...]