Thursday, March 24, 2022

Book Review: A World Out of Time

book cover for A World Out of TimeJaybee Corbell awoke after more than 200 years as a corpsicle—in someone else's body, and under sentence of instant annihilation if he made a wrong move while they were training him for a one-way mission to the stars.

But Corbell picked his time and made his own move. Once he was outbound, where the Society that ruled Earth could not reach him, he headed his starship toward the galactic core, where the unimaginable energies of the Universe wrenched the fabric of time and space and promised final escape from his captors.

Then he returned to an Earth eons older than the one he'd left...a planet that had had 3,000,000 years to develop perils he had never dreamed of—perils that became nightmares that he had to escape...somehow!

I found this book last summer at the annual Newtown Library book sale. Having enjoyed Niven's Ringworld series, I thought that I'd give it a try. I didn't notice that cat-snake thing on the cover right away. I think my mind blocked out the head because you look at that thing and think, "WTF?"

The book blurb covers the events that transpire over the first third of the book. The remaining two-thirds deals with Corbell alternating between figuring out how to stay alive—he's well over a century old and not long for the world—and figuring out how the hell Earth got so screwed up while he was away.

Published in 1976, it has a lot of the literary elements common to sci-fi during this period (New Wave): sex, the end of civilization, alienation, social isolation, and class discrimination. Throw in a dose of libertarian distrust of the state and you're good to go. Niven also spends a good deal of time playing with physics puzzles to convince the reader that this is hard sci-fi and not space fantasy. I don't think it was necessary, but maybe he felt the need to placate that crowd.

It was an entertaining story despite the warts: The sex scenes were totally male fantasy, and women were reduced to the maiden/mother/crone trope. Corbell isn't the best person to be a protagonist—he could be annoying at times—but he occasionally shows promise. Ultimately, he's all we've got. We have to root for him so that we can find out why things got to be the way they are. The explanation was worth the ride, though I wouldn't blame women for disagreeing.

3 stars


Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Book Review: No-Waste Kitchen Gardening

book cover for No-Waste Kitchen GardeningI don't think that it's controversial to say that too much food gets wasted around the world. Scientific American published an article in their October 2021 issue whereupon it was stated that "40% of food produced is lost across the supply chain from farm to table." At the current pace of population growth and economic development, the world will need to convert an area the size of India to farmland over the next thirty years to keep up with demand, and this was before Russia invaded Ukraine—two very important agricultural producers.

And that's not even getting into landfill issues.

What this book aims to do is offer people some ideas on how they can cut down on their fruit and vegetable waste. Some people with the means to do so already have compost piles wherein they can take this waste and convert it into topsoil. But this book offers a means to eke out more edible produce from one's leftover produce.

It is by no means a magic method to regrow everything. Some of the food we eat doesn't get a second chance to produce more food. Broccoli, for instance, is a flower. Once we eat it, the leftover stalk is only good for compost. Some of the food we eat won't re-grow in the form we want, but will get a second life as something else. Root vegetables like carrots will not become carrots again. Instead, the leaves can be nurtured to grow and then consumed as salad greens.

But that still leaves plenty of produce that can be re-rooted, re-grown from existing roots, or grown from seed taken from the fruit itself. Onions, potatoes, celery, scallions, lettuce, pumpkin, garlic, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes are just some of the produce bought from the store (or farmer's market) that can be granted an extended or new life.

Before this book had been gifted to me, I had experimented on my own with food scraps. Using similar methods, I successfully grew onion and potatoes. My favorite variety of tomatoes are Roma, but the only tomato seeds or plants I ever see in stores are for the large varieties. So I salvaged the seeds from one particularly delicious specimen, and I was able to successfully grow fifteen plants all of which bore fruit! All this is to stay that while I haven't tried the author's methods per se, I know that it's possible. In fact, I just started trying to re-grow some lettuce.

So whether you're looking to do something for the planet, start a victory garden, want to educate kids on where our food comes from, or you're a hobbyist gardener looking to experiment, this book is worth checking out.

4 stars.


lettuce growning in waterSo this was my first attempt to re-grow some lettuce shortly after finishing this book. It got off to a good start but then some aphid-like bugs found it and ate it from inside out, leaving behind a sticky residue. Kinda bummed about that.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Book Review: The Haunting of Tram Car 015

Book cover for The Haunting of Tram Car 015Cairo, 1912: The case started as a simple one for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities — handling a possessed tram car.

Soon, however, Agent Hamed Nasr and his new partner Agent Onsi Youssef are exposed to a new side of Cairo stirring with suffragettes, secret societies, and sentient automatons in a race against time to protect the city from an encroaching danger that crosses the line between the magical and the mundane.

This story takes place several months after the events in A Dead Djinn in Cairo, but it involves different characters. We're introduced to Inspector Hamed Nasr who is training a new recruit, Agent Onsi, to the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural. As is apparent from the title, one of Cairo's tram cars is haunted, and it is up to Hamed and Onsi to solve it.

Hamed and Onsi make for a great detective pair. Hamed is the grizzled veteran while Onsi is the Oxford educated fresh face who's memorized chapter and verse of the paranormal criminal code. Hamed's instincts and Onsi's enthusiasm for the job serve each other well. There's enough humor in it, too, that it could be an alternate history buddy cop movie.

The worldbuilding builds on Dead Djinn and fills in more details here and there. We get more elements of magic-powered steampunk mixing with Middle Eastern culture as Cairo struggles with growing pains: trying to throw off a past of superstition and embrace its future as a modern city. There's a vote on women's suffrage that runs parallel to the investigation. The detectives find themselves interacting with women that are involved with the movement as they seek help with exorcising the tram car of its foul occupant. In the hands of a clumsy author, this could've come across as agenda-driven, instead, it just enriches the story.

4 stars