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John M. Ford "johnDC" (near DC, MD USA)

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Lies They Teach in School: Exposing the Myths Behind 250 Commonly Believed Fallacies
Lies They Teach in School: Exposing the Myths Behind 250 Commonly Believed Fallacies
Price: £6.58

4.0 out of 5 stars McNuggets of History, 8 July 2016
First of all, this is not a political book. You know the kind I mean—that discredits ideas of the Far Left or Far Right by linking them to incorrect interpretations of historical events. Neither is it a serious discussion of important misconceptions about the past. It’s just a somewhat whimsically assembled collection of mostly interesting “betcha didn’t know” facts. Just like the author says it is.

The book’s first section contains 132 chapters, most of which explore a single misconception. There are a handful of “quickies” chapters with very brief treatments of issues apparently unworthy of their own chapter. Some of the chapter-level misconceptions I found most interesting:

- The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution prohibited the consumption of alcoholic beverages.
- The captain of a ship is empowered to perform marriages on his or her ship while at sea.
- Hostilities of World War I ended, for all parties, when the Treaty of Versailles was signed in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles on June 28, 1919.
- Baseball was invented by Abner Doubleday in 1839 at Cooperstown, New York.
- Gerald Ford is the only U.S. President who was not elected to the executive branch of the U.S. government.
- Showman P. T. Barnum made the observation, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

The final two sections of the book—much briefer than Section 1—address misattributed quotations and outrageously incorrect remarks by famous people.

Don’t mistake this for anything other than light reading. That understood, it is fun light reading. Each chapter stands alone, so it is appropriate to leave in a bathroom or doctor’s office waiting room. It’s probably less appropriate to leave in a historian’s mailbox or on the bed in a death row cell. You may disagree.

In any case, a good read.

Evenflo G202 Position And Lock Gate - Clear Wood - White Mesh
Evenflo G202 Position And Lock Gate - Clear Wood - White Mesh

3.0 out of 5 stars Doggie Gate, 5 July 2016
This barrier is clearly designed to contain toddlers and other small people, but it has its uses for empty-nesters like my wife and me. We have three dogs who are normally well behaved but occasionally want to use different parts of the house—more freely than we do. We use the gates to contain them in their wilder moods and when we have extra timid visitors. They work well for this purpose.

A couple of specifics:

They are tall and sturdy enough to restrain a dog under normal circumstances. But a highly motivated or agitated dog can go over it or knock it down if there is an emergency like a break-in, fire, or thunderstorm. (We’re still working with the dogs on the whole “definition of an emergency” issue.)

I absolutely hate the lever-based locking mechanism this gate is designed around. Effortless? Bah! Never mind what this says about my IQ or the things I should have paid more attention to in kindergarten. I just can’t deal. Not even after my wife, a trained special educator, magic-markered a line on the right slot to put the locking clip into. Fortunately, it works just fine to lock the gate into a fixed size and just lean it against a doorway, propped in place with a hamper or trash can. Now I can use the gate without shame—which was made worse by judgmental looks from the dogs.

So there it is.

The Long List Anthology: More Stories From the Hugo Award Nomination List (The Long List Anthology Series Book 1)
The Long List Anthology: More Stories From the Hugo Award Nomination List (The Long List Anthology Series Book 1)
Price: £3.85

4.0 out of 5 stars The Other Stuff, 4 July 2016
Every year a few speculative fiction works are selected to win a prestigious Hugo award. And every year there are stories nominated for Hugo awards that seem worthy of recognition, but do not win. The editor has selected twenty-one of them from 2015 to create this anthology. It goes without saying that they are of high quality.

The five that appealed most to my tastes were:

Eugie Foster’s “When It Ends, He Catches Her” is about a man and a woman who dance together with a ghost of a chance for a deeper, longer-lasting relationship.

Max Gladstone’s “A Kiss with Teeth” explores how a vampire struggles to live a normal life with his wife and child. It’s about what he can admit to his wife and to himself.

Tom Crosshill’s “The Magician and LaPlace’s Demon” personalizes the timeless conflict between science and magic. The vast universe still isn’t big enough for two competing narratives about how everything works. There can only be one.

Carmen Maria Machado’s “The Husband Stitch” is the life story of a woman who will do anything for her man except for one thing. Over time this one thing becomes more and more important.

Yoon Ha Lee’s “The Bonedrake’s Penance” reminds us that every child eventually learns to see their mother as someone other than their parent. Even when the mother is an all-powerful, impregnable space station.

The stories in this collection are varied and engaging; there should be something for a wide range of readers. I’m glad I spent some time with it.

Deep Navigation: A Collection of Stories
Deep Navigation: A Collection of Stories
by Alastair Reynolds
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Across the Universe, 27 Jun. 2016
These fifteen stories are taken from various points in Alastair Reynolds’ writing career, making the collection a good introduction to his work for anyone who isn’t ready to jump into one of his full-length novels. It’s been a while since I read an anthology and really liked more than half of the stories, but this one did it.

Here are the eight that I really liked:

“Monkey Suit” is one of those pick-up-the-pieces mysteries. The protagonist has to figure out what killed his lighthugger crewmate while he was outside the ship making a repair. His-semi-intelligent spacesuit is little help.

“Fury” showcases the lifestyle of the emperor through the eyes of the man responsible for his personal security. It’s possible to be a success even if the emperor gets assassinated every so often.

“Stroboscopic” reminds us that you need an edge to play each new virtual game and keep winning. Game designers and investors also need an edge. Clarity is a fond nostalgance.

“The Star Surgeon’s Apprentice” is good old-fashioned space opera with pirates, aliens, a sprawling galactic civilization, magic-level tech and everything that goes with it. Don’t waste too much time figuring out which side you are on.

“On the Oodnadatta” follows a couple of guys into the desert to deal with a runaway train. There are some other pieces to work into the story before it ends.

“Viper” introduces a virtual reality interrogation technique that gives the questioner tremendous leverage in the prisoner’s apparent surroundings.

“The Sledge-Maker’s Daughter” lives outside of a small village where everybody knows everybody else’s history. It doesn’t make the present or the furture any easier.

“Tiger, Burning” takes an investigator far from home, to another brane with its own laws of physics. There is a murder to be solved before he can leave for home.

The stories are entertaining and well-representative of Reynolds’ fiction. None of them require previous exposure to his other fiction, but some have clear connections that Reynolds fans will appreciate. They generally have that overwhelmingly high tech feel and virtual reality twist one expects from Reynolds. It’s an excellent collection for any speculative fiction reader and a must-have for Reynolds fans.

Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories
Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories
Price: £5.69

4.0 out of 5 stars Sticking Together, 27 Jun. 2016
I have gotten used to making the novel-length commitment necessary to appreciating China Miéville’s oddly-textured style. This collection of twenty-eight short stories supplies the same experience in smaller doses. The author’s omission of an introduction is an appropriate choice; the stories are better experienced without framing or buffering.

My six favorites:

“Three Moments of an Explosion” somewhat arbitrarily divides the last act of a condemned building’s existence into three overlapping scenes.

“The Dowager of Bees” is about a card game that is so complex that players must be very careful about the rules. It’s my favorite story in the collection.

“Säcken” explores the uncomfortable meme of something unwanted dropped into a weighted burlap sack and thrown in the lake. It becomes more familiar.

“Keep” plays out in the middle of an epidemic, with the characters variously concerned about infection, quarantine, and side effects. It seems almost normal for a small trench to start forming around any infected person who stays in the same place too long.

“A Second Slice Manifesto” introduces a new approach to painting and describes several representative works created in this style. This art can only be appreciated from a very specific perspective.

“Four Final Orpheuses” lists four different versions of what Orpheus might have been thinking as he stepped into the light. Some are darker than others.

The stories were as enjoyably weird as I expected. I did notice patterns in the author’s topic choices that weren’t apparent in his longer works. There were maybe one too many stories in script form, for example. After the second one it stopped seeming clever. The patterns reminded me of the second time I saw Robin Williams on late-night TV. Suddenly he didn’t seem quite so original as he was clearly drawing repeatedly from the same set of ideas. Still very good, but not quite as good when you can see the brush strokes.

That said, still a very good collection. Worth reading, worth keeping to reread.

The Fox's Tower and Other Tales
The Fox's Tower and Other Tales
Price: £1.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Flashes of Inspiration, 23 Jun. 2016
I became a fan of Yoon Ha Lee’s fiction by first noticing it in several Year’s Best speculative fiction anthologies. It was a treat to encounter more in Conservation of Shadows. Expecting more stories in a similar style, I found something different. The forty stories are brief and clearly more fantasy than science fiction. The collection reads like fairy tales collected by a folklorist and offered up before they are dumbed down for small children.

Here are five of my favorites:

- “Raven Tracks” explores how birds leave their mark.
- “Magician’s Feast” is an endless menu of fine food made for company.
- “Harvesting Shadows” is the work of those who stand in the light.
- “The Stone-Hearted Soldier” knows “…that sand is nothing but stone given wisdom by the hand of water over time.”
- “The Gate of Bells” cannot open because “the rule is the rule” and cannot be ignored.

Each story stands well alone. Together they begin to seem first, like variations on a theme, and then repetitious. As the title and author admit, there may be too many about foxes. The author confesses to dashing off a few to generate a little immediate cash. Let’s admit to being jealous of someone who can pull that off reasonably well.

It All Changed in an Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure
It All Changed in an Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure
by Larry Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3.0 out of 5 stars This is Your Very Short Life, 12 Jun. 2016
This is the possibly-anticipated follow-up to Rachel Fershleiser and Larry Smith’s Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. The basic idea is the same—the authors asked a number of people, some of them famous authors, to summarize their lives in exactly six words. This form of flash nonfiction may not catch on as much as the authors hope, but it’s good for a quick and quirky read. Finally, a bathroom book that really can be read in one sitting, so to speak.

Ten of the better bios in their entirety:

- My rise to fame went unnoticed. –Steven Newman
- Bachelor party. YouTube video. Wedding cancelled. –Daniel Little
- First comes love, then comes stalking. –Jeff Metcho
- I turned eleven. No Hogwarts letter. –Laura Murray
- The miserable childhood leads to royalties. –Frank McCourt
- I found my mother’s suicide note. –Anne Heausler
- So I only get six words? --Lalah Hathaway
- There will be no white flag. –Kamila Ema
- Could be poop, could be chocolate. –Erin Kennedy
- “Live long and prosper” says it. –Leonard Nimoy

The end of the book includes selected longer author bios and explanations of some of the six-word summaries. Read this if you like to have jokes that weren’t funny explained to you. If you enjoyed these you should take a break to clear your head and then look at volume one or one of the authors’ other two books: Six-Word Memoirs on Love and Heartbreak: by Writers Famous and Obscure and I Can't Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous & Obscure. Do take the break first, though. The format wears a little after a while.

The Unreal and the Real Volume 2: Selected Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin: Outer Space & Inner Lands
The Unreal and the Real Volume 2: Selected Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin: Outer Space & Inner Lands
Price: £6.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Subtle Insights into Imaginary Cultures, 16 Feb. 2016
This is the second volume of “The Real and the Unread: Selected Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin.” The first book, Where on Earth, contains her more “mundane” stories. This book contains stories that are more clearly fantasy or science fiction. Le Guin fans may balk at the distinction; I can only answer that it is the one the author makes in the introduction.

This collection serves as both an effective introduction to Le Guin’s work and a reminder to longtime readers of what we enjoy about her style. Her best short science fiction reads like ethnography written by a careful observer of alien cultures. They are made convincing by the details, personalities, and author/protagonist reactions included—and sometimes by what is not overtly included but feels present by implication, extension or closure.

Four of these stories stand out for me, but please read them all.

“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” is perhaps the author’s best-known story and deservedly so. It is a heavy-handed morality tale that works as intended even though its intent is crystal clear. It reads a little like it might have been written down by a folklorist who only later realized its worth.

“Mazes” is a first contact story told from the point of view of a captured alien. It is persuaded to perform a number of intelligence tests while its human captors attempt to communicate. Frustration ensues.

“The Matter of Seggri” is presented as excerpts from various official and personal documents written while a native planetary culture is exposed to the knowledge and values of a spacefaring civilization. These narratives track societal changes in gender roles and the personal impact of these changes.

“The Author of the Acacia Seeds” begins with careful anthropological investigation of records left behind by an insect, including cautions about the speculative nature of this work. We then see other researchers apply this interpretive framework to other literature-producing organisms.

These stories are imaginative, richly textured, and enjoyable. I recommend you devote some quality time to them.

The Old Equations
The Old Equations
Price: £0.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Time is Not on Our Side, 14 Feb. 2016
This review is from: The Old Equations (Kindle Edition)
The title of this short story is a play on “The Cold Equations” by Tom Godwin. In Godwin’s classic story, a spacecraft stowaway gets an unpleasant surprise when she is discovered. The main characters in Jake Kerr’s story also discover some unanticipated side effects of space travel. Most of the story is presented in the form of radio transmissions between an astronaut traveling away from Earth and his wife and commanding officer back home.

It’s an okay story, but nothing to radio home about. Your time would be better spent with Tom Godwin’s earlier, more innovative story. It can be found in Eric Flint’s compilation of Godwin’s work, The Cold Equations.

No Title Available

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I Knew It!, 4 Feb. 2016
Characters in movies and TV shows do a lot of things that don’t make much sense. And you see them over and over again in different movies by different actors directed by different directors. I’ve watched decades of horror movies and I still can’t understand why characters split up with a monster on the loose, walk backwards around corners while looking for danger from behind, and don’t just leave the haunted house and go home.

Roger Ebert has been noticing these things, too. And he’s noticed a lot of them, organized them into a list, and even explained a few of them. Ebert has gathered recurring movie clichés from his fans (two thirds of the entries in the book are credited to others) and listed them along with his own gems. And he gives each of them a cute name. Some will seem quite familiar; others may prompt you to watch your favorite movies with a new eye.

Here are ten that stood out to me:

- “As Long as You’re Up, Get Me a 2 ◊ 4.” When a fight in a bar breaks out, nearly everyone in the place begins fighting, spontaneously and without cause— even with people they have been sitting next to for some time.

- Bathroom Rule. No one ever goes into a movie toilet to perform a natural function. Instead characters use the bathroom to take illegal drugs, commit suicide, have sex, smoke, get killed, exchange money, or sneak out through the bathroom window.

- Climbing Villain. Villains being chased at the end of a movie inevitably disregard all common sense and begin climbing up something— a staircase, a church tower, a mountain— thereby trapping themselves at the top.

- Female Voice of Destruction. If the auto-destruction feature is activated at a secret base or spaceship, the countdown is always announced by a female voice.

- Grave Talk. Handy screenwriter’s tool where a character can reveal his personality and motivation by explaining everything to a tombstone.

- Law of Poignant Remnants. Whenever the wreckage of a plane crash is shown, there is always a teddy bear or doll in the midst of the wreckage.

- Magic Shave. When a shaving actor is interrupted after just a few strokes, he wipes the lather off with a towel to reveal a close-shaved face.

- One-at-a-Time Attack Rule. In any situation where the hero is alone, surrounded by dozens of bad guys, they will always obligingly attack one at a time.

- Phantom Photographer. A family’s vacation snapshots always include every family member, even if they were twenty miles from the nearest neighbor.

- Sci-Fi Currency Conversion. In any science-fiction movie, anywhere in the galaxy, currency is referred to as “credits.”

So if you are creating a drinking game for your favorite movie or just want to be reassured that others see these things, too—this book is for you. It is both amusing and thought-provoking, good for reading in the bathroom or other rooms. I recommend buying it instead of checking it out of the library. Mostly because of the bathroom reading thing.

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