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W. Robinson "Big Bill Robinson" (Slough, England)

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The Arrow of Time: The Quest to Solve Science's Greatest Mystery: The Quest to Solve Science's Greatest Mysteries (Flamingo)
The Arrow of Time: The Quest to Solve Science's Greatest Mystery: The Quest to Solve Science's Greatest Mysteries (Flamingo)
by Peter Coveney
Edition: Paperback

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A big help with my insomnia problem, 27 Dec. 2011
I am very interested in mysteries, and science generally, so when I saw this book for sale in the Oxfam shop, I snapped it up.

The book claims to be about something called "the paradox of the arrow of time". In other words, why does time appear to point irreversibly from the past to the future? If time is a dimension, why can we only see one way into it? Can we construct a logical, mathematically-provable answer as to why time appears this way to us? Indeed, does time even exist? Is it something subjective, or even an illusion?

It's a great subject for a book. Unfortunately, this book did not do it for me, not at all. Why not?

I guess the first reason has to be, it is not written in a popular style. The text is very heavy-going at times, using words and grammatical structures which you need a high IQ to be able to understand. Several times, I found myself having to read the same sentence three or four times to make sure I understood what it was saying. OK, I am not a Mensa member, but I have a reasonable brain, I like to think.

The second reason is, this book does not really stay on-subject all the way through, but veers off into some other scientific disciplines. Of course, this would be perfectly OK if it was relevant to the subject, but I felt that it didn't always have much relevance, despite the interesting science.

Several times I felt that the book was "getting there" - it was moving up the scale of interest from poor to reasonable. Unfortunately, that was about as high as it got for me. A couple of times, after I started to read it, I literally fell asleep. Other times, it just wasn't that interesting. Nonetheless I struggled through to the end.

Finally, in the second last chapter, the joint authors deliver their verdict, regarding why they believe the nature of time is irreversible. For some strange reason, the last chapter is all about circadian and other rhythms in animals and plants. I mean, what? The effect is rather like reading a book on chess openings, only to find that the last chapter is a recipe for cinnamon fruit cake.

Well, I do note that others have felt this to be a good book. That's fine, but I can only write from my own experience. I cannot honestly recommend this book, although if, like me, you have an insomnia problem, you may wish to sample it.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 2, 2015 9:25 AM BST

Bang!: The Complete History of the Universe
Bang!: The Complete History of the Universe
by Brian May
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book for anyone who is not an expert, 25 July 2011
I bought this book in the Oxfam shop (very cheaply I might add) and I have just finished it. I found it to be very good, and a thoroughly enjoyable read. However, I would like to add a few provisos to that statement.

Generally speaking, this is a book for beginners to the subject, who really wish to know more. It would also be suitable for those who know just a modicum, and wish to build on their knowledge. However, if you are already very knowledgeable about astronomy, the book can be a bit trying, because it spends a lot of time explaining basic stuff which you probably already know. If you fall into the latter category, you may find yourself saying "get on with it!" when reading the text.

I also noticed that the book sometimes has a tendency to swing from one subject to another in a slightly erratic way, rather like a weathercock in a gusty autumn wind. For instance, you might have the text on one page telling you about a particular aspect of the Big Bang, and a picture and caption which covers a completely different subject. All the same, the subject is a very large one (needless to say) and the book makes an excellent attempt to cover it all.

I like the strictly chronological approach, which is very sensible, and takes you from the instant of the Big Bang itself, to the far distant future.

Lavishly illustrated throughout, with colour pictures, diagrams and classic astronomical photos, the book sweeps you along. The text is informative without ever once being baffling, so you want to keep turning the next page.

All in all, this is an excellent book for those in the right knowledge band (non-expert) and only the above minor quibbles prevent me awarding the full five stars.

The Walking Shadow
The Walking Shadow
by Brian Stableford
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent - much better than expected!, 19 May 2011
This review is from: The Walking Shadow (Paperback)
Wow, this is such a great SF novel! I finished it last night, and after doing so, I wondered why on earth Brian Stableford is not better-known as an author.

I should explain that I met the author about one month ago, in Reading Oxfam shop, where he was running an event. I decided to buy this book because I wanted him to autograph one for me, and this one was in brand new condition. I wasn't honestly expecting it to be that good. How wrong I was!!

It is the year 1992. Paul Heisenberg, guru and leader of a new religion combining faith with metaphysics, freezes into a deep trance whilst on stage in front of 80,000 people. He appears to have turned into a silver statue. Where has he gone? Will he return, and if so, when? Thousands of his followers find a way to make "the jump" and follow him into the stream of time. For his strange state is not so much a trance, as a form of time travel! Unfortunately the time jumps cannot be controlled, and the jumpers wake up at widely varying times. Heisenberg's name becomes a legend, as people expect him to wake up and put the world to rights.

Several times Heisenberg jumps, finding the world utterly different on each awakening. I don't want to spoil it by going into detail, but Stableford has a vivid imagination and some great ideas, as well as an excellent knowledge of biology and philosophy. What will happen? Will Heisenberg and his dwindling band of followers eventually reach the end of time itself? You will have to read it to find out!

I have read a lot of SF over the years, and I know a quality SF novel when I read one. This one goes straight into my all-time SF top 30, no question. It is very exciting, haunting, intriguing, and satisfying. Wow! Highly recommended to SF fans everywhere.

Greybeard (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
Greybeard (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
by Brian Aldiss
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An odd book - original, well-written, but never very exciting, 25 April 2011
A couple of weeks ago I was in the Oxfam shop, looking for a science fiction item to buy. I plumped for this one, and I've just finished it.

On the good side, it's a well-written book, with good characters. What happens is that the testing of WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) in space have affected the Van Allen radiation belts around the earth, rendering the human race (and most higher animals) sterile.

So, without children, civilization slowly and inexorably crumbles. England is run, not by a national government, but by regional warlords. A group of old people have established themselves in the village of Sparcot, growing enough food to get by, and avoiding the plague which has decimated the population of the cities. One man, Greybeard, growing tired of the same old way of life, decides he has to leave, to seek his fortune. So off he goes, with this wife, rowing down the Thames.... The book meanders along for a while, telling us what Greybeard does and has done.

Suddenly, about halfway through the book, there is a major gear change, and we find ourselves in the USA, and a completely different storyline ensues. I found this big change rather difficult to swallow, as it's a bit like reading a completely different book!

Eventually the story moves back to England, with the old fogeys and has-beens trying to make the best of things. I found it quite difficult to get into this book, despite it being well-written. It's a bit like watching a mediocre play - not bad, but you are quite relieved when it comes to an end. It's just a bit dull, and I cannot honestly recommend it.

Aliens: Encounters with the Unexplained
Aliens: Encounters with the Unexplained
by Marcus Day
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars A colourful, well-structured book, let down by dreadful proofreading, 14 Jan. 2011
Well, first of all this is a very colourful volume. On every page there are colour photos, diagrams etc. to go along with the text.

I also think that the book is very well-structured. It takes a logical, rational course, giving each of the types of alien contact in turn (CE1 through to CE5). For instance, CE1 is where you merely see a light in the sky, which goes away again. CE3 is where you actually see alien beings (hence the movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and so on.

At the end of the book is a very useful guide to current UFO "hotspots" (places where people see UFOs on a regular basis). There is also a good glossary of terms.

So what's the bad news? The answer is, the appalling spelling mistakes to be found in the text! Who on earth did the proofreading?? I can only think that the answer is "no-one". Just someone going through the text with a good dictionary would have ironed-out most of the errors. Talk of the soil surface on the Nazca plains having been "scrapped-off" (scraped off), "ice flow" (floe) and several other clangers. I personally find this very annoying, and I have deducted a star because of it.

The book also has a tendency to take UFO reports too literally; i.e. it is insufficiently critical. This is particularly true of the Bible passages quoted, which are taken at face value ufologically, when they are very much open to interpretation.

If you have an interest in UFOs you might want to add it to your collection, but it's no classic.

An Autumn Land and Other Stories
An Autumn Land and Other Stories
by Clifford D. Simak
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Nothing special I'm afraid, 12 Dec. 2010
I purchased this book from the Oxfam shop the other day, and finished it last night.

There are about eight short stories in the book. Normally I like the writing of Clifford Simak, but unfortunately this volume is not great, to be honest. Most of the stories are either boring, or a bit strange, or a bit difficult to figure out.

My favourite story in this book is "Contraption" which is a lovely tale, but very short, being only nine pages long. A very sweet story though. In second place I would put the story "Jackpot" which is a good piece of SF, with a moral to it.

Most of the other stories seem to start well, but go downhill. One or two of the stories end when you least expect them to, and you are left wondering what the story was supposed to be about. This is particularly true of the title story.

It's a pity, because I have read some of Simak's other short stories, and found them to be excellent (e.g. The Creator and Other Stories). However, I would politely advise you not to go chasing round the bookshops trying to find this one.

The Left Hand Of Darkness
The Left Hand Of Darkness
by Ursula K. Le Guin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly enjoyable, but I would not call it a masterpiece, 26 Oct. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I've been meaning to read this book for donkey's years, ever since a mate of mine said what a good book it was.

I agree with him - it is a fine novel. I got the strong impression that it was not so much science fiction as just fiction, but it is none the worse for that.

On a bitterly-cold planet, Gethen, also known (appropriately enough) as Winter, there exists a human civilization. However, all of the people are the same gender. Imagine that - if there were no opposite sex to you, what would the world be like? This is the theme explored by this novel. It is a reasonably short book, and it's great to see a lady author competing in this almost-all-male field.

Le Guin writes beautifully, almost poetically, and creates a vivid and real world, with various countries, political systems, religions, and traditions. It is very believable. Without giving too much away, what happens is that an envoy from "proper" humanity is sent to Gethen, to try to persuade the planet to join a confederation of human planets. How will he be received? Will he succeed in persuading them to join? You will have to read it to find out.

Part political thriller, part adventure story, with a generous dash of philosophy, this is a good read, and I recommend it. However, I frankly did not get the impression of it being a masterpiece. For me it simply did not have the "wow" factor of a true classic. However, it was sufficiently good that I would like to read more of Le Guin's books.

Inverted World (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
Inverted World (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
by Christopher Priest
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One of the most haunting SF books I have read, 5 Oct. 2010
The wonderful thing about SF is that one can create an entire world which is utterly different from our own, even a different shape! Hal Clement has done this in his book "Mission of Gravity" and Christopher Priest has a bash at it in this book, and does it brilliantly, creating a planet of hyperbolic shape, but one inhabited by normal people, who speak to each other in a polite and matter-of-fact way.

Imagine a kind of enormous railway carriage in which people live, being hauled along railway tracks across the desert. Why are they moving? Why make that colossal effort? Almost everyone living in the City, as the vast carriage is known, have no idea why. Only those who have left the City to explore are aware of the reason, and they are under sentence of death if they reveal the truth.

How can people be persuaded to keep the faith? How do they overcome obstacles in their path, to keep the City on the move? And above all, WHY? This highly-imaginative and haunting novel really keeps you guessing.

I thought about giving this 5 stars, as I notice other reviewers have done. My feeling is that it falls just a mite short of this. Personally I didn't quite get the ending, for a reason which I am unable to reveal, as it promptly gives away part of the plot! Nonetheless, certainly 4 stars and full respect to those who have given 5. Highly recommended to all SF fans.

The World Inside
The World Inside
by Robert Silverberg
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If you thought today's world was crowded...., 27 Sept. 2010
This review is from: The World Inside (Paperback)
Imagine a world where human population explosion is not feared, but deemed to be highly desirable and wonderful. A world in which any and all sexual restrictions have been abolished, and faithfulness to one's husband or wife is deviant and abhorrent. A world in which most people live out their entire lives inside giant thousand-storey skyscrapers which cater for their every physical need. Such is the world of this fine SF novel.

Silverberg uses his fertile imagination to the full in this book, creating a world of the middle-distant future, where the human population of earth is 75 billion, and increasing rapidly. Vast "urban monads" stand starkly on the earth, each housing literally hundreds of thousands of people. No-one is permitted to leave. A family with only four "littles" (children) is strangely small - most families have eight, ten, twelve children. Vast tracts of land beneath the monads is given over to intensive agriculture, to feed the uncountable millions who live within the world inside....

It's a very original basis for an SF novel, and it works well. However, potential readers should be aware of Silverberg's propensity to write very frankly about sex! In fact, a mate of mine described this as not SF but SP - science porn! You have been warned.

That said, it is a great book. How do the people live their lives? What are their hopes and fears? Can they ever escape the monads and walk on the earth? You will have to read it to find out! The book is not too long, and I also love the ending, which I won't reveal here obviously.

Silverberg has written a huge amount of high-quality SF, of which this book is an example. Not quite a 5-star, but 4 is about right. If you like SF this is a good one.

Beyond Top Secret
Beyond Top Secret
by Timothy Good
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars A great UFO book - but can hardly be called neutral, 14 Sept. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Beyond Top Secret (Paperback)
I have read a number of Tim Good's UFO books, and I have to admit, they are very good. This one is no exception. He writes well, he is persuasive, and his research is meticulous.
However, it has to be said, Mr Good comes across as fairly desperate to believe that space aliens are visiting this planet! You have to understand that there are lots of ideas and possible solutions to the UFO phenomenon, and the idea that extraterrestrials are visiting this planet is just one idea among many. Mr Good nails his colours very firmly to the mast in this book - he really believes. Which is fine, of course! He is perfectly entitled to his opinion. However, the fact that he does believe so strongly in the extraterrestrial hypothesis makes for a book which is not really critical enough of the subject. In other words, he tends to take the reports at face value instead of being a bit more critical.
Take the Big Daddy of all UFO incidents - the Roswell Incident. There are many ufologists who have spent years studying and researching this one incident, and a lot of them have now said that they no longer believe that this incident was a case of space aliens visiting the earth. In particular, the idea that alien bodies were found at the crash site is a piece of nonsense, which has gradually entered the mythology of the incident as it has been told over the years. As to what crashed, I don't know. But it was just debris that was found.
Mr Good even gives some credence to that well-known charlatan, Mr George Adamski, who claims to have visited the planet Venus, having been taken there by alien spacecraft! OK, so the author accepts that some of Adamski's claims are ridiculous, but then says that some of Adamski's claims are "less easy to dismiss". Well really. There are lots of these nutters, who claim to have been contacted by aliens and are now the voice of interplanetary parliament, etc etc. Mostly they are just trying to draw attention to themselves, and ensuring that their name lives on after their death.
So is the UFO subject a lot of tosh? No, not at all! There have been some remarkable cases (Varginha and Kelly-Hopkinsville are two) which may possibly be due to space aliens. But you must be careful to sort the wheat from the chaff. Mr Good needs to be a bit more critical to get my respect. So read and enjoy - but keep your skeptical wits about you!

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