Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Martian by Andrew Weir

The Martian by Andrew Weir is amazing in that it is fiction that it has an impressive amount of solid science woven into the story. Apparently, Weir did a fair amount of research to make sure that he had the fact right, only disregarding the facts at one point for the narrative. The story itself is a classic man versus nature survival tale, just taking place on a completely different planet. Astronaut Mark Watney, mechanical engineer and botanist for the Ares 3 expedition to Mars, find himself in a precarious position. His crew had to abandon their habitat and leave him behind in a terrible storm that holed mark’s suit a storm and swept him Mark away. Now, Mark has no way to communicate with Earth, he has to figure out how to make a few months worth of food last a few years, how to keep the Hab running, how to travel a few hundred kilometers in a rover designed for a tiny fraction of that, and, worst of all, how to survive on the disco and old sit-coms that are the only entertainment on hand.

Comparisons have been made with Apollo 13 and Castaway (apparently Tom Hanks would be a killer Mark Watney). Being the more literary type, I mentally compared it to the survival elements seen in Hatchet by Gary Paulsen and Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe and the scientifically accurate adventure seen in Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Frequently, science fiction reads just like fantasy, just with lasers and spaceships instead of magic and dragons.  Really good science fiction is a gem, but it’s even better when you find a science fiction novel that is so heavy on the science part.

It might be worth noting that apparently, The Martian has already been optioned out for movie production with Matt Damon, not Tom Hanks, cast as Mark Watney and with Ridley Scott directing. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Fantastic Audiobook Narrators!

I have truly begun to enjoy listening to books. This is especially true on long commutes. A great book and a great narrator make the trip fly by! Some of the best narrators can make anything they read sound exciting and intriguing.

When I find a narrator I love to listen too, I do a search for other materials they have narrated. It doesn't matter who wrote it or necessarily what the story is about, if I know the narrator is good I will listen to the story. I have chosen several audiobooks strictly based on who the narrator is and it may sound crazy, but I can honestly say I have not been disappointed yet. When the narrator understands the story and the characters, then listening to the story becomes a true delight.

One of the great narrators of all time is Jim Dale. He is the narrator for the Harry Potter Series. He did well over 140 different voices for the Harry Potter series. He made each character stand out and brought the book to life. His amazing narrations have made him a winner of The Golden Voice award from Audie Books and also won him a Grammy award and Grammy nominations for his narrative skill.  His list of narrations include: The Night Circus, Peter and Secret of Rundoon, Around the World in Eighty Days and many more.  

Simon Prebble's British voice is also among Audio Files Golden Voices. He is best known for his narration of British novels but his works include A Christmas Garland by Anne Perry, 1984 by George Orwell and Sherlock Holmes mystery novels. He won best voice award in 2010 for his narration of The Coral Thief. Anything Simon reads, I am willing to listen too. He takes care with his craft using his imagination to fully immerse the reader in the story.

George Guidall, another Golden Voice recipient has narrated such wonderful titles as American Assassin, Bone Deep, Cell and Burnt House. His favorite book to narrate in recent years is I Know This Much Is True because it touches readers on many different levels; love, relationships, wives and first impressions.

Neil Gaiman's British accent and vocalizations make the stories he has written leap to life. The Ocean At The End of The Lane is beautiful and magical. Neil's storytelling held me enthralled and made me want to hop into the car so I could listen to more of the story. In fact I enjoy his narrations so much I checked out all the books he has narrated including his children's book, Fortunately, the Milk...which was wonderfully funny and full of fantastical characters. He is truly a joy to listen too.

Lorelei King is another of my favorite narrators. She is an award winning narrator as well and narrates stories for Debbie Macomber, Janet Evanovich, Patricia Briggs and Darynda Jones. A few of her award winning narrations are: First Grave on the Right, The Cabinet of Wonders, Tallgrass and Fearless Fourteen.

Mark Deakins is also a narrating treasure. He is an actor, author and narrator. I first listened to him as the narrator for the Maze Runner series. He has also narrated the following books: Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie, Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult, and Look Me In the Eye by John Elder Robinson. The last book listed is the one that made one of my friends a believer in audiobooks. Look Me In the Eye is a nonfiction story that is funny, poignant and absolutely awe inspiring.  Perhaps anyone could read it and make it capture your attention,...but I really believe it takes special talent to read a story and bring it to life.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of excellent narrators--just a few of my favorites. If you have not listened to a good book find a book read by one of these narrators and get ready to hear an excellent story. Perhaps you'll find yourself enjoying your ride to work or even find that doing housework is not as bad as chore when you have a fantastic story to listen to. If you already listen to audiobooks and have a favorite narrator...tell me about him. I am always up for listening to another great story. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Disasters Caused by Man: Aviation & Space

"Disaster books are a literary genre involving detailed descriptions of major historical disasters, often based on the historical records or personal testimonies of survivors. Since reportage of both natural disasters and man-made disasters is commonplace, authors tend to be journalists who develop their news reports into books."

The past few months we've covered fire disasters (volcanoes, etc.), water disasters (hurricanes, etc.), and earth disasters (earthquakes, etc.). The next few weeks we will be covering man-made disasters including this one about aviation and space accidents.  Give these books and authors a try--you won't be disappointed.

First Fatal Airplane Accident 1908
The first aviation accident was the crash of the Roziere balloon in France in 1785, which killed two people.The first accident involving an airplane was in September of 1908 when the Wright Model A crashed in Virginia and injured Orville Wright and killed Signal Corps Lt. Thomas Selfridge.

Thomas Selfridge
Thomas Etholen Selfridge--(Feb 8, 1882 – Sep 17, 1908)--He graduated from West Point in 1903. He was a member of the Aerial Experiment Association and designed their first powered aircraft, the Red Wing. He piloted two of the Association’s aircraft, and in doing so he became the first US soldier to pilot a powered aircraft. He was also the first US military officer to fly an airplane solo. When the Army agreed to purchase a Wright Flyer (for testing), Selfridge was appointed to observe and participate in the flights.  On a September morning in 1908, he became the first person to die in a powered aircraft when the plane he was a passenger in, nosedived 75 feet into the ground.  He died a few hours later.

The Hindenburg 1937

The Hindenburg Explosion--May 6, 1937--Lakehurst, New Jersey--36 fatalities included 13 passengers, 22 crewmen, and 1 handler on the ground.  For many years, the cause was attributed to the flammable hydrogen exploding.  But since the late 1990s, some have hypothesized that static electricity from the mooring ropes ignited the aluminum shell and the flammable dope coating it.  Whatever the cause, public airship travel was pretty much ended after this deadly crash. Two years later the first transatlantic plane flight took place.

--The Hindenburg Disaster by Peter Benoit

--The Hindenburg Disaster by Aaron Feigenbaum

Tenerife Memorial
The Tenerife Collision--March 27, 1977--Tenerife Island, Canary Islands--583 dead--the worst commercial airline disaster in history. Two Boeing 747 jumbo jets collided on the runway (KLM flight 4805--no survivors) and (Pan Am flight 1736--61 of 335 survived).  It was caused by the KLM pilot's bad judgement, dense ground fog, and the heavy accent of the air traffic controller.  This horrible tragedy resulted in new rules and regulations regarding controller language usage, taxiing instructions, and runway configuration.

--The Deadliest Plane Crash (DVD)

Pam Am Lockerbie Bombing--December 21, 1988--Lockerbie, Scotland--270 dead (259 on board and 11 on the ground)--At 31,000 feet, an explosive device detonated and broke up the plane, raining debris and death on the Scottish town once known for its fossils but now forever linked with terrorism.

--The Boy Who Fell Out of the Sky: a True Story by Ken Dornstein

Edward White, "Gus" Grissom, and Roger Chaffee
The Apollo 1 Fire--Cape Kennedy, Florida--January 27, 1967--3 dead--American astronauts Roger Chaffee, Virgil Grissom, and Edward White died when fire broke out in their space capsule on the launch pad during a routine test.  Their deaths resulted in an 18 month total re-haul of NASA's design, workmanship, and safety protocols.  It would be twenty years before another astronaut was lost in an accident.

--The Apollo 1 and Challenger Disasters by Gina De Angelis

Challenger Crew
The Space Shuttle Challenger Explosion--9 miles above Earth, headed to orbit--January 28, 1986--7 dead--The seven died when a booster engine failed, causing the shuttle to break apart just 73 seconds after launch.  The lost were:  Teacher-in-Space payload specialist Sharon Christa McAuliffe; payload specialist Gregory Jarvis; and astronauts Judith A. Resnik, mission specialist; Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, mission commander; Ronald E. McNair, mission specialist; Mike J. Smith, pilot; and Ellison S. Onizuka, mission specialist--this accident grounded the shuttle fleet for nearly three years during which various safety measures, redesigns, and new policies for the future were implemented.

--The Challenger Explosion by Roberta Baxter

--The Challenger Disaster: Tragic Space Flight by Carmen Bredeson

--Challenger Revealed: an Insider's Account... by Richard C. Cook

Columbia Crew
The Space Shuttle Columbia Explosion--Re-entering Earth's atmosphere from orbit--February 1, 2003--7 dead--The 7-person crew perished when the Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas and Louisiana--the lost crew were: Commander: Rick D. Husband, Pilot: William C. McCool, Payload Commander: Michael P. Anderson, Payload Specialist: Ilan Ramon (the first Israeli astronaut), Mission Specialist: Kalpana Chawla, Mission Specialist: David M. Brown, and Mission Specialist: Laurel Blair Salton Clark--The shuttle program was grounded for more than two years while safety measures were added, including procedures to deal with catastrophic cabin depressurization, better crew restraints, and an automated parachute system.

--Columbia: Final Voyage: the Last Flight of NASA's First Space Shuttle by Philip Chien

--Too Far From Home: a Story of Life and Death in Space by Chris Jones

"Hubris and science are incompatible."
Douglas Preston

“The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye and 'slipped the surly bonds of earth' to 'touch the face of God. ” 
Ronald Reagan

"The cause in which they died will continue. Mankind is led into the darkness beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand. Our journey into space will go on. The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today. The crew of the shuttle Columbia did not return safely to Earth; yet we can pray that all are safely home."
George W. Bush

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

In the classic manner of Vonnegut, Sirens, defies genre labels and is inherently difficult to describe. There is science fiction, there is morality, there is religion, there is war, and there is love and loss. But I am not sure that Sirens could be called a novel of any of these (although it was nominated for a Hugo in 1960).  The primary characters are Winston Niles Rumford and Malachi Constant. Rumford, an intrepid man that got stuck in a chrono-synclastic infundibulum. This means he appears, at regular intervals, on Earth and other planets dispensing prophetic proclamations while accompanied by his dog, Kazak. Constant is incredibly rich and sybaritic, but suffers a number of interesting turns. Malachi is told by Rumford that he will have a son with Beatrice, travel from Earth to mars to mercury and to Earth again before finally ending up on Titan, a moon of Saturn. The subsequent plot defies summary nearly as well as Sirens defies categorization. But each step of Malachi’s journey is filled with that odd, poignant mixture of humor and tragedy that Vonnegut can do so well.

An aside note: I picked up this title for two reasons. First, both Vonnegut and Sirens are frequently mentioned in The UniverseVersus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence, the book for October’s meeting of Uncorked. Second, I was making a weekend trip to Indianapolis, Vonnegut’s hometown, and was planning on stopping by the Vonnegut Memorial Library. In the midst of prowling the streets of Indianapolis for some pizza, I came across this huge portrait of Vonnegut by Pamela Bliss it was pleasant and unexpected. Anyway, I can recommend pretty much everything mentioned in the previous two sentences in addition to Sirens

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The House of Small Shadows

Keep one kitten, destroy the rest . . .

To say that Catherine Howard's life has been difficult would be an understatement. Given away at birth, picked on by bullies throughout her school years and beyond, prone to crippling panic attacks and surreal dissociative episodes, she's always been an outsider. After an unfortunate episode involving a spiteful coworker, Catherine loses both her job and the life she's built for herself in London. Things look hopeless for her until a kindly old gent named Leonard Osberne takes her under his wing and offers her a job as a valuer for his stable of eccentric--and wealthy--clients. Such a sweet old man, Leonard even has a cutesy nickname for Catherine: kitten. The job is interesting, but the best is yet to come when he lands her the find of the century: an immaculate collection of antique dolls--and more--belonging to elderly recluse Edith Mason, niece of London's most famous taxidermist, M. H. Mason. To catalog Mason's estate, Catherine must stay at her gothic Victorian manor, the Red House.

That's when things take a turn for the weird, and ultimately, for the worst. Valuation aside, Edith insists on exposing Catherine to all of her uncle's "art," dark and increasingly demented pieces that trigger disturbing childhood memories for Catherine. Add to that her unsettling feeling of being watched (by who? Wheelchair-bound Edith? Her silent housekeeper, Maude? Or worse, M. H. Mason's precious marionettes?) and Catherine feels herself coming undone. By the time she realizes that landing at the Red House was no stroke of fortune, it may be too late for her to leave. 

The House of Small Shadows is Adam Nevill's latest (The Ritual, Last Days), and with it he continues to live up to his well-deserved reputation as "Britain's answer to Stephen King," producing finely written contemporary horror that never fails to leave his readers looking over their shoulders. And if you've been hanging on to your childhood doll collection, The House of Small Shadows just might inspire you to get rid of it once and for all. Horror lovers, and fans of Clive Barker's early work particularly, will enjoy this.  

Saturday, October 11, 2014

October's In the Queue

This month's In the Queue has it all suspense, humor and sex appeal. 

 Crooked River by Valerie Geary
Full of emotion and suspense, Crooked River is an inventive and atmospheric story about family and friendship, good and evil, secrets and lies, grief and forgiveness. This coming of age story is part ghost story, coming of age story and a mystery that will grip the reader's hearts.

Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk
Palahniuk's newest novel is an unsubtle, often hilarious, over-the-top satire about rampant consumerism and one man's attempt to (literally) control women's sexuality. This novel contains sexually explicit content.

Yes, Please by Amy Poehler
Yes, Please offers Amy's thoughts on everything from her "too safe" childhood outside of Boston to her early days in New York City, her ideas about Hollywood and "the biz," the demon that looks back at all of us in the mirror, and her joy at being told she has a "face for wigs." It is chock-full of words and wisdom to live by.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Women of the Wild Blue Yonder: The Aviators

This fourth and final installment about female aviators focuses of the women themselves and their contributions to aviation history. 

Ann Baumgartner Carl--(1918-2008)-- became the first woman to fly an USAAF jet at Wright Field when she flew the Bell YP-59A twin jet fighter. 

Cochran with Canadair Sabre Mk.3 No. 19200 at Edwards AFB

Jackie Cochran--(1906-1980)--was a pioneer in the field of American aviation, considered to be one of the most gifted racing pilots of her generation. She was an important contributor to the formation of the wartime Women's Auxiliary Army Corps (W.A.A.C.) and Women Airforce Service Pilots (W.A.S..P).

Eileen Marie Collins--(born November 19, 1956) is a retired NASA astronaut and a retired United States Air Force colonel. A former military instructor and test pilot, Collins was the first female pilot and first female commander of a Space Shuttle.  

Pauline Mary de Peauly Gower--(1910-1947)--British pilot who was instrumental in creating the Women's section of the A.T.A. and helping get equal pay for female pilots.  In 1943 she became the first woman to be appointed to the board of a state airline when she joined the British Overseas Airways Corporation. She died giving birth to twin sons in 1947.

Amy Johnson--(1903-1941)--Amy Johnson was a pioneering English aviator. She set numerous long-distance records during the 1930s.  Johnson flew in World War II as a part of the A.T.A. where she died during a ferry flight.

Hazel Ying Lee--(1912-1944)--she was a Chinese-American pilot who flew commercially in China and for the U. S. as a member of the W.A.S.P.  She was the last member of the W.A.S.P. to be killed in service to her country on Nov 25, 1944.

Lidya "Lilya (Lily)" Vladimirovna Litvyak--(1921-1943)--WWII Soviet pilot who was the first woman in history to shoot down an enemy plane and one of the world's only two female fighter aces.  Flying under the call sign White Lily, she is credited with up to 12 solo kills. Litvyak died in 1943 when her plane was shot down as she attacked German bombers in Ukraine. She was 21.

Nancy Harkness Love--(1914-1976)--she organized the first group of woman in America to fly military aircraft, the W.A.F.S. and was the commander of the ferrying division of the W.A.S.P. until it's end in 1944. 

"Nachthexen"--Night Witches--three regiments of Soviet women combat pilots who flew night bombing missions and were so successful and deadly the Germans feared them, calling them "Nachthexen" - night witches.  The women of the 586th, 587th, and 588th Night Bomber Regiments dropped 3,000 tons of bombs during the course of the war, with over 23,000 sorties were flown by 2-woman teams. 

Nadezhda "Nadia" Vasil'yevna Popova--(1921-2013)--trailblazing military pilot of the Soviet Union.  Highly decorated; she set the record for missions flown in one night by executing eighteen sorties over Poland in 1945.  She was shot down on numerous occasions, flew rescue and supply missions, and completed 852 missions throughout her career.   

Marina Mikhaylovna Malinina Raskova--(1912-1943)--A famous Soviet navigator and decorated pilot during WWII.  She founded three air regiments (400 each) of all women combat pilots and crew which would eventually fly over 30,000 sorties in WWII.  She was killed in an air crash in 1943.  

Hanna Reitsch--(1912-1979)--was a German test pilot and the first woman to fly a helicopter.  She was one of only six women who flew for Germany during World War II.

Helen Richey--(1909-1947)--was was a pioneering female aviator and the first woman to be hired as a pilot by a commercial airline in the U.S.  In 1936 she and Amelia Earhart came in fifth at the Bendix air race and she also flew for the A.T.A. during WWII.  Richey was also the first woman sworn in to pilot air mail and one of the first female flight instructors. 

Sally Kristen Ride--(May 26, 1951 – July 23, 2012)--was an American physicist and astronaut. At the age of 32, she became the first American woman in space.  She remains the youngest American astronaut to travel to space. She died of cancer in 2012.

Melitta Schiller, Countess Von Stauffenberg--(1903-1945)--was a prolific test pilot for Germany.  She was of Prussian and Jewish ancestry but her value as a pilot protected her from reprisal. She was shot down in April 1945 and died of her wounds.

Mildred Strelitz--was the first woman engineering aide to participate in test flights at Wright Army Air Field, Ohio on Nov 9, 1943.

Since World War II, women have been involved in every facet of aviation history.  From commercial airline pilots, combat pilots, astronauts, and everything in between.  In the air and on the ground, women have had an upward struggle to be recognized and credited for their roles in flight.  They are an inspiration to little girls everywhere who have that dream of flying into the "wild blue yonder".

American Women and Flight Since 1940 by Deborah G. Douglas (History)