Saturday, July 29, 2017

All Up

All Up: Odyssey of the RocketmenAll Up: Odyssey of the Rocketmen by J.W. Rinzler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wernher von Braun gave President Kennedy a tour of his rocket assembly plant in Alabama. A few years earlier, he had given the same tour to President Eisenhower. Remarkably, several years earlier, he gave a tour of his rocket assembly plant to Adolph Hitler at a place called Peenemünde. This extraordinary book tells the history of rocketry and spaceflight as historical fiction. It covers the pioneers of rocketry from Germany, the United States, and Russia who were inspired by the likes of Jules Verne to fly into outer space. The characters had one passion in common, but the means to achieve it were as varied as the origins of the players. Jack Parsons, a founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, was a Satanist. Wernher von Braun catered to Hitler’s plans to destroy Britain to fund his research. The Russian, Korolev, nearly died in the Gulag before becoming chief designer of the Soviets’ rocket program. As the science inched forward, Walt Disney, Arthur C. Clarke, and Stanley Kubrick replaced Jules Verne as the inspirational forces that kept the public spending to put a man on the moon, and to keep the public ignorant of the alien bases already there.

All Up is unique in several ways. Although it reads like pure history, it deviates into some rather fanciful realms. Mr. Rinzler has done an enormous amount of research and compiled it into an enormous book. All Up exceeds 210,000 words. The depth of the coverage of the topic is profound. This is a very descriptive book—sometimes excessively. The endless description of people smoking did get tiresome and its omission might have cut twenty thousand words. I realize it was a sign of the times, but the modern reader might prefer to ignore it. The characters, and there are many of them, are amazingly well developed. The author shows prodigious skill in maintaining continuity in his characters throughout the great length of the story. The episode dealing with Apollo 11 was extraordinarily well done. Despite being certain of the outcome, it had me on the edge of my chair. I have to say frankly, the book should have ended there. The wrap-up after the moon landing was a little anticlimactic, although relatively brief. The other unconventional aspect of All Up is its complete disregard for that bugbear of editors, viewpoint. There are myriad viewpoints in this book. Having candidly revealed my issues with it, I enjoyed it very much, obviously, or I would never have waded through nine hundred pages.


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Half Life Coming Soon

Half Life
Chapter 1

“Dammit,” he said aloud and speed dialed his wife. “Hi, honey, I just got a call from San Onofre. I have to go down there. I’m going to be late.”

“This time of day? Can’t you send somebody else?” his wife asked.

“I’m the only one authorized. You know how they are about jumping when they call.”

“I thought that place was closed.”

“I guess they still have to maintain it. Don’t bitch. This is what feeds your Nordstrom habit. Go ahead and eat.”

“No, call when you leave there, and I’ll start thinking about dinner.”

“Okay. Bye.” Before replacing the receiver, he punched the intercom button and told his office manager where he was going. He checked his aluminum Haliburton briefcase for the things he would need: sketchpad, tape measure, pencils, a good plastic eraser, and his site badge. He snapped the case shut, took his hardhat from the hook, and left by his private entrance.

He negotiated the Range Rover onto the freeway. In the middle of the afternoon, traffic was already thickening. The 5 Freeway repeatedly slowed to a stop. It was going to be a long day. After San Clemente, he exited at Basilone Road and followed Old Pacific Highway to the main entrance of the decommissioned nuclear generating station. At the guard shack, he held his site badge out the window and asked where to find his contact, Jerry Ortega.

The guard said, “Let me check, sir,” and put his phone to his ear. A minute later he said, “Center trailer in the contractors’ area on the left side of the employees’ lot.”

“Thanks,” Eric said and drove to the cluster of temporary offices. Christ, what it must cost to keep this place sitting here, doing nothing. He grabbed his case, slipped on his hardhat, and clipped the photo ID onto his shirt pocket. The air beside the sea was pleasantly cool. He climbed the steps and pulled the trailer’s door open. Inside, the air was icy. “I’m looking for Jerry Ortega.”

“You found him. Industrial Fabricators I take it.”

“Yep, Eric Day.”

They shook hands, and Eric sat in the visitor’s chair next to Ortega’s desk. “Welcome to San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, SONGS. Relax for a minute,” he said. “I have to get you an escort.”

“Make it a blond, will you?” Eric said grinning.

Ortega spoke briefly on the phone, then he said to Eric, “I did better than a blond.”

“What do mean?”

“Wait and see.”

To pass the minutes waiting for the security escort to arrive, they chatted about the Dodgers, and Eric promised Ortega a set of tickets. The door of the trailer opened and a woman in her twenties entered. Ortega saw the expression on Eric’s face and covered his mouth to hide a smirk. She could have been Sophia Loren’s daughter—a classic, sensual beauty in blue jeans, tee shirt, Day-Glo orange vest, and a hardhat. She said, “Hi, I’m Jamie,” and shook hands with Eric.

“It’s a pleasure. I’m Eric.”

“Where do you want me to take him?” she asked Ortega.

“Unit One coolant intake trash guard.”

“Cool, an afternoon at the beach. Eric, you ready? Follow me.”

I’d follow you anywhere, he thought, smiling, with his gaze locked on her perfect features. “Lead on.”

“We don’t have to go through the containment area, so you won’t need a film badge,” she said, taking him down a flight of tread plate steps.

“So, why are we worried about the coolant intake if the place is decommissioned?” he asked, while she unlocked a gate in the perimeter wall.

She looked slightly surprised. “All the fuel’s still here. We have to keep it cool.”

“Really? I thought it was buried in some hollow mountain in Nevada.”

“No, the last administration nixed that idea, and the shiny-headed governor won’t let it be transported on the highways, even in dry casks.”

“What are dry casks?” he asked.

“Semi-permanent storage vessels. Good for about thirty years.”

“So, it’s a smaller risk to let it sit here with several million people all around it?”

“You got it. Oh, good. I wasn’t sure the tide was out. There’s the trash grate.” It stood just beyond the low tide line. The thing was a cylindrical cage of galvanized rectangular tubes with a conical cap of rectangular bars.

“Crap. Somebody could have told me to bring a bathing suit.”

She laughed lightly. It sounded pretty. “It’s not very deep, but if you want to strip to your shorts, I won’t be offended.”

“Thanks, but I’ll just roll my pants up and take my chances.” He sat on the warm sand to untie his shoes. “Can I ask you a personal question?”

“You can ask. I might answer.”

“Why are you schlepping around doing gopher work at a decommissioned power plant instead of modeling or working in films?”

That drew a full throaty laugh. “Aren’t you sweet? It’s because I go to school at night to be a nuclear engineer.”

“Really? Isn’t the nuclear industry on its way out?”

“Maybe for generating electricity, but we still make bombs, and somebody has to take care of those fuel rods for the next hundred and eighty thousand years or so.”

“Huh? Well, good for you. Can you take notes for me? I don’t think I can handle a tape, a pad, and a pencil while keeping them dry.”

“I can help you.” She bent to unlace her work boots. “I’m not as big a prude as you,” she said, unzipping her jeans and pushing them down her silky thighs.

Eric’s eyes showed white all around the corneas when he saw the shape of those legs.

“It’ll give the watchmen something to talk about.”

It was his turn to laugh. “Whatever you say. Okay, then, do you mind holding the dumb end of the tape?”

“That sounds like a sexist remark. Where do I hold it?”

“Hook it on the edge of this tube.” He walked the tape around the structure while the little wavelets lapped at the rolled cuffs of his pants. When he reached where she held the ‘dumb end,’ his pant legs were wet to the crotch. “Shit,” he said, “I should have followed your example.”

“Told you.”

“Two hundred and twenty-six and three-sixteenth inches.” She released the end of the tape and gave him the sketchpad. He noted the circumference, the height of the cylinder and the cone, the dimensions of the tubes and the bars and had to force himself not to gawk at her lower torso.

“Is that it?” she asked.

“One more thing.” He handed her the pad and reached into the water between two bars. “I’ve got to see what kind of flange this thing is mounted on.” Bending to feel for the flange, his eyes lowered to the level of her panties. He could not prevent them from stealing a long, furtive look. As he felt around the periphery of the grate, counting the nuts he encountered, he was able to manage a few more stealthy glances. “Okay, eight bolts, inch thick flange—back to terra firma.”

She had a shop towel in the hip pocket of her jeans, which she used to dry her legs. She handed it to him as she started to pull on her pants.

“You came better prepared than I did,” he said.

“Always prepared, that’s my motto.”

“Isn’t that the Boy Scouts’ motto?”

“Maybe. Hey what’s that?” She pointed down the beach.

His eyes followed where she pointed. “Probably a dead seal.”

“I hope you’re right. Let’s make sure.”

The shape being buffeted by the small waves appeared to be fifty yards from them. She started for it at a trot. Puzzled, he left his case and shoes and followed.

The body was clearly not a sea lion. It was over twenty feet long and serpent-like. “Holy shit,” he said, “that’s an oarfish.”

“I know,” she said, “this is bad.”

“Well, it’s bad for the oarfish, but we should be okay.”

“Maybe not. There was another one here yesterday.”

“Then it’s probably the same one.”

“No, we called the Long Beach Aquarium to come get it. I saw them take it away.”

“It must be pretty rare for these things to wash up on the beach.”

“It’s damned rare, and the same thing happened just before the Fukushima earthquake.”

“You don’t believe that, do you?”

“These are deep sea fish. Only one has ever been seen in its natural environment, and several of them washed ashore near the epicenter just before the quake. The Japanese believe this is a precursor to a quake.”

“Sounds like an old wives’ tale to me.”

“Whether it is or not, I have to report it.” She keyed the mic of the small walkie-talkie clipped to the lapel of her vest. “George, you copy?”

The tinny voice on the radio said, “Go ahead.”

“It’s Jamie. We’ve got another oarfish.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No, I’m standing right next to it.”

“Okay. Don’t let it float away. I’ll call the aquarium.”

“Roger.” She gave Eric an apologetic look. “I have to stay here until the aquarium people arrive, and I can’t let you go back through the plant without me.”

“What if we just drag it higher on the sand?”

“We can do that, but I still have to stay here. I should be able to find another escort for you. Let’s try to move it.”

The tail proved too slippery to grip, so they moved to the head and each grabbed a gill.

“Yuck,” Jamie said. “This is gross.”

“It’s a good thing it’s dead.”

“This thing weighs a ton.”

Eric put his back into it, and they were barely able to turn the huge eel-shaped carcass. That was the second the shockwave passed under their feet, and they both lost their grip and fell backwards on the wet sand.

Waves of energy pulsed across the ground, and Eric could see them rising up the twenty-five-foot wall of the power plant. He looked at Jamie. She started to rise but the rolling sand tripped her again.

“Dammit,” she shouted over the roaring, “it’s the big one.”

Eric made it to his hands and knees, but the shaking prevented him from rising any farther. “I hope the sand doesn’t liquefy,” he shouted as much to himself as to her.

“You could have gone all day without saying that.”

“Sorry. Take my hand.”


He was momentarily stuck for an answer. “What if it liquefies under just one of us? Besides, I’d like to hold your hand.”

Through his vertigo, he saw her smile and reach for his hand. “Oh, my God, how long can it last?”

He said, “Your fishy Fukushima quake lasted three minutes. I think the Alaska quake lasted four.” He tried to look at his watch but could not hold still enough to read it.

“It already seems like a lifetime.”

Over the rumbling coming from the fractured earth, he heard alarms wailing on the other side of the tall wall. Farther south, just beyond the limit of the plant, the bluffs were crumbling onto the beach. Looking the opposite way, the agitation on the surface of the sea resembled the roiling boil in a pot of water. The breaking waves lost all definition. They shook and foamed without rolling forward.
A crash riveted their attention in its direction. Part of the plant’s defensive wall collapsed.

Jamie said, “They designed this place to withstand seven-point-oh.”

“They should have shot for an even ten.”

“Nothing could survive ten. The planet would split in two.”

“I was joking. How secure are the fuel rods?”

“Seven-point-oh secure. If the pools crack or the pumps fail, it’s meltdown time.”

“That’s worse than being swallowed by liquefied sand.”

“Yeah, we have to evacuate the area.”

“We can’t even stand.”

“It has to stop sometime.”

“I love an optimist.”

“How long has it been? It’s getting to me,” she asked.

“I don’t know. How long would it take the fuel rods to melt down?”

“It wouldn’t be instantaneous. Out of water, maybe half an hour.”

“You know there’s going to be a tsunami.”

“I know, but that’s another thing you didn’t have to say.”

“Shit, think about how bad the aftershocks are going to be.”

She tugged on his hand. “Let’s hope this isn’t a foreshock.”

“Now, you’re the one stating the unthinkable.”

“I’m getting seasick.”

“Me too.”

“Eric, I’m afraid. Can you hold me?”

He pulled her to him and held her sideways on his lap. “If you’re going to be sick—”

She lost it. Still heaving, she said, “I’m sorry. I couldn’t—”

“It’s okay. My pants were wet anyway.”

“Poor San Clemente,” she sobbed.

“Is that where you live?”

“It was. There can’t be anything left of it.” Her sobbing increased.

“We’re going to be fine, Jamie. Everybody will be in the same boat. We just have to get through it and carry on.”

“Look out for the—”

Water—an open palm slapped the side of his face. Water, salt, and sand poured into his nose, mouth, and ears.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Made for Me (Made for Me, #1)Made for Me by Pamela Schloesser Canepa

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Abrielle has trouble making decisions. She relies on her personal computer to make them for her, even to the extent of what to order for dinner on her first date with Sampson. Sampson was less than forthcoming when he completed the online dating questionnaire. Being an android didn’t seem like essential information. He was also a little careless when he decided to join Abrielle in a glass of wine, because alcohol shorted his circuits, but he was able to tell her how to reboot him and the rest of dinner went well. Sampson was commissioned by an elderly ballet dancer for companionship. She emancipated him in her will, but he had developed a taste for human females. Abrielle was liberal enough in her thinking to not be prejudiced toward androids. This unlikely couple became an item, and due to a glitch at the fertility clinic, find themselves in a position to adopt a child. Life would seem to be idyllic except for the fact that androids have an expiration date.

Made for Me starts well. The reader is attracted to the somewhat ditzy idiosyncrasies of Abrielle, and the voice of her character shows the first few scenes in an engaging way. Then Sampson takes the viewpoint, and he reveals his doubts and worries, again in a convincing way. However, the narration fails to remain consistent and turns into telling the story in place of showing it. There is very little dialogue that might allow the characters to present the story in their own words. What the reader gets instead is a recitation of often sterile facts. When the adopted child, Norrie, takes a turn with the narration, her voice is anything but child-like.

Ms. Schloesser Canepa has created some interesting concepts in this futuristic tale. One that I liked was the idea that Abrielle is working in a fertility clinic at the start of the book. After she and Sampson agree to adopt a ‘mistake’ that the clinic made, she goes to work for a cemetery that specializes in biodegradable ‘burial pods’ that sprout into apple trees. A story about the marriage of an android and a human has great potential. It might resume where Blade Runner ended. Made for Me didn’t satisfy me in that regard. Sampson and Abrielle’s life together was just too mundane. This is petty, and I know it, but I couldn’t shake the idea that Sampson (with a ‘P’) was supposed to be Samson. Made for Me is a quick and breezy read. Don’t let the ranting of one cranky old man dissuade you. See for yourself.

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Thursday, July 6, 2017

Long Time No Posts

I'm reading a very, very long book about the pioneers of rocketry, which I will review by and by. In the meantime, I didn't want you to think I'd quit reading. In fact I read a pre-release book for an Australian author, Cenarth Fox. I believe that's his real name--cool huh? His book is called Tricky Conscience, and it doesn't have a cover image yet, so I thought I'd plug A Little Rebellion, which, in my opinion, is my best effort and is half price for the month of July at Smashwords.

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Now, here is my review of Tricky Conscience by Cenarth Fox.
When I hear that it has been released, I'll remind you.

Why can’t people do the right thing? Bernie’s idealism gave him a brainstorm. If he could concoct pharmaceuticals to ease the torment of mental illness, why couldn’t he formulate one to give wrongdoers a bad case of conscience? Well, he did just that, but the world that beat a path to his door did not bring accolades. A crooked—that is typical—politician, assorted drug lords, and a greedy employer are determined to squelch, steal, or exploit Bernie’s formula. He is ill equipped to defend himself from the various menaces, and would most likely succumb but for a quartet of old ladies with a surprising capacity for mayhem.

Tricky Conscience has an Australian accent, which was an education for a Californian reader. Cenarth Fox’s foray into the realm of humor is a departure from his earlier work, and it shows a breadth of skill. The characters are well formed, if sometimes hapless. However, Mr. Fox does great villains. The prose is, how shall I say it, invigorating? Maybe athletic. So, take a walk on the down under side. It’s good for a laugh.