Earth Can’t Hide Alien Boy Forever #fantasy #book #newadult #scifi

I Am Number FourI Am Number Four was written for teenage boys. Five years after publication, it still scores in the top couple percent of its Amazon sales categories. I like a lot of Young Adult books, so I had high expectations.

You may recall the book was made into a movie in 2011. From comments I read, the movie was forgettable. But that’s not unusual for a movie adaptation, so I don’t hold it against the book.

I guess I’m just too-much-not a teenage boy. My reaction is a more modest “meh.”

Swords mean fantasy
Despite being tagged as science fiction, this is a fantasy story – not that there’s anything wrong with that. It may have aliens but – come on – it opens with swords. Magical swords.

The fifteen year old hero comes from a world where some kids – called Garde – are super-strong and super-fast. But that’s just the beginning. They develop specific superpowers in their teens, like becoming invisible or fire-proof. An alien race of monstrous beings has slaughtered the inhabitants of their home world. (Because the monsters destroyed the environment on their home planet – a little message there.)

Despite having killed a whole planet’s population of super-powered people, the monsters feel threatened by nine Garde who escaped to Earth as young kids. The monsters are therefore hunting them and their adult companions – each kid has one Cepan, or guardian. The Garde/Cepan pairs scatter and hide. Fortunately, they look exactly like humans and fit in perfectly. Of course, they don’t reveal their alien nature to anyone on Earth or ask for help.

There’s more magic
Because of a “charm” the monsters can only kill the kids in a certain sequence and if they kill one, a scar magically appears on the ankles of the others. Three scars have appeared on Number Four, so he knows he’s next. He and his Cepan move and assume new identities twice a year anyway, so when that third scar appears, they run – to a tiny rural town with a surprisingly well equipped high school – the home ec lab has ten kitchens and there’s a class in astronomy.

None of that is a spoiler because it’s all explained in the first few pages. Then the story can begin.

As the August 2010 “Amazon Best Books” review says
I Am Number Four is a breathless page-turner of a sci-fi novel that will have readers rooting for the teen alien who must unleash his fire power to save himself, his human friends, and the planet.”

At fifteen, Number Four, going by the name John Smith, is due to develop his superpowers any day now. But his first concern is with the stereotypes at his new school – a pretty girl who makes him nervous when she’s nice to him (which leads to a lot of kissing), a bully jock, and a geek in a NASA tee-shirt. At least John gets to adopt a strange stray dog.

I was indeed turning pages quickly, scanning rather than reading every word after John’s first couple days in his new school. Some of the story I expected but there was also a quirky twist I liked. I don’t think it will be much of a spoiler to say there’s a climatic battle.

BTW – the author is shown as Pitticus Lore – a name from the Garde’s world. Cute.

Tremendously popular
With over 1,000 Amazon reviews averaging four stars, and still ranked number three in its kindle Best Sellers category of sci-fi aliens, you don’t need me to tell you this book is hugely popular. The follow-on books in the series are, if anything, more highly rated and close behind I Am Number Four in sales ranking. I’ll just add this book is most likely to appeal to tween and teen readers.

Geometry at Night #science #math #geometry #poem

Babylonian_tablet_recording_Halley's_comet

Cuneiform tablets

A holy city worshiped bulls
Two thousand years ago
And gave the world astrology
Or so the story goes.

Masters of geometry
They watched the sky at night
Saw stars that moved in retrograde
And puzzled at the sight.

Movements of the planets
Produce a twisted dance
They charted it with dents in clay
They had no proper graphs.

Geometry was once supreme
Before the calculus
Trapezoids drawn in the sky
For brains that functioned thus.

by Kate Rauner

Geometry is different – I’ve noticed that some people connect with geometry even if other forms of math leave them cold.

Astroarchaeologist Mathieu Ossendrijver, of Humboldt University in Berlin, has deciphered cuneiform tablets that predicted the planet Jupiter with fancy geometry found nowhere else in the ancient world.

“Ancient Babylonians used a complex geometrical model that looks like a rudimentary form of integral calculus to calculate the path of Jupiter. Scientists previously thought this mathematical technique was invented in medieval Europe.” livescience.com

“Trapezoid calculations were a tool for calculating Jupiter’s displacement each day along the ecliptic, the path that the sun appears to trace through the stars. The computations recorded on the tablets covered a period of 60 days, beginning on a day when the giant planet first appeared in the night sky just before dawn… Learning how the Babylonians astronomers acquired their geometric acumen ‘would tell us something about why human beings do science in the first place, and from time to time do it very well indeed.'” sciencemag.org

Eat Like a Martian – Cassava #MarsSurvivalTips #scifi #Mars #book

Settlers on Mars will need to grow their own food. While potatoes may appeal BORN Ebook cover 300 dpito Americans, the Sino-African colony that joins the first settlers in Born on Mars rely on cassava. As one of the most drought-tolerant crops that can grow in marginal soils, it seems like a good candidate for Mars.

You may have heard of cassava as part of popular “paleo” diets.

Two types of cassava are a staple food for over half a billion people in the developing world. Bitter cassava (roots, peels, and leaves) has cyanide based compounds that must be removed via proper cooking, but sweet cassava contains very few such compounds and has a delicate flavor.

cassava Manihot_esculenta_-_cross_section_2One traditional preparation is to mix a thick paste of cassava flour and water, spread it in a thin layer spread over a basket, and let it stand in the shade for five hours so the cyanide compounds break down. Another is to peel the roots and soak them in water for three days to ferment. The roots then are dried or cooked.

But perhaps settlers on Mars can skip those steps. If I can give my scifi settlers a cool Artificial Intelligence and construction robots, surely I can give them cassava bred to remove cyanides.

Cassava Porridge
1) Bring 2 cups of water to a boil.
2) Meanwhile, beat cassava flour into 2 cups of cold water until the mixture is smooth.
3) Add the cassava mixture to the boiling water.
4) Keep stirring until the mixture is smooth.
5) Cover the porridge and place in a 350ºF oven.
6) Bake until the mixture has thickened to a dough-like consistency – about 45 minutes.

I think I’d like to sweeten it with stevia.

Noodles
Step One:
1) In a large bowl, mix 1 cup cassava flour with 3 to 4 tablespoons cooking oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. On Earth, add a couple eggs and the noodles will hang together better.
2) Use your hands (don’t burn yourself!) to blend and knead the mixture into a ball of dough
3) Lightly dust an area to roll out your ball of dough with a bit of cassava flour
4) Roll out your dough with a rolling pin to desired thickness
5) With a straight edged knife, slice your noodles as fat or thin as you like.
Step Two:
1) Bring 8 cups of water to a boil
2) Transfer the noodles to the boiling water and cook until they float, just a few minutes
3) Remove noodles from the water with a slotted spoon and transfer them to a strainer
4) Shake off excess moisture and dust with finely chopped herbs

For more Eat Like a Martian:
fish supper
mealworm snack
practice for Mars on Earth
Banana beer from Born on Mars
And Liz, in Glory on Mars, tries to make bhang, though she doesn’t have all the ingredients.

Thanks to

wikipedia cassava culinary

portuguese recipes cassava porridge

paleo pasta noodles

Age of Humanity #poetry #anthropogenic

How does a mine move so much dirt? Here's my car next to a mine truck tire.

How does a mine move so much dirt? Here’s my car next to a mine truck tire.

Our numbers and our industry,
Fossil-fuels and farming,
New minerals called pottery –
Are bricks and glass alarming?
Chemicals that we create,
Plastics, fibers, microbeads –
Mining moves three times more silt
Than all Earth’s rivers can succeed.
Greenhouse gases, mass extinction,
And synthetic fertilizer
Disrupts Earth’s nutrient flow,
Leaves Nature’s rate of change a miser.
Only since the last Ice Age
Came a Totally New Epoch.
We have grown civilized
And now see where that led us.
Epochs used to last for ages,
Now the Holocene,
Only twelve millennia old,
Yields to – Anthropocene.
We humans mark the planet,
We humans modify,
We humans are the greatest cause,
We’re fruitful and we multiply.
Thanks to bloomberg.com for five signs of the Anthropocene. I’ve posted about the Epoch of Humanity before. It started in the year 1610 CE.

Eat Like a Martian-Potatoes #MarsSurvivalTips #Mars #NASA #science meets #scifi #book

The MartianWhat does a newbie author have in GLORY Ebook 300 dpicommon with a best seller and with NASA? Potatoes.

Recent science fiction stories agree – potatoes will provide the calories for the first human Martians.

NASA wants to know if that will really work.

NASA has launched a project to see whether potatoes could grow on the Red Planet, one day allowing a human colony… It is the most adaptable food staple… water efficiency, up to seven times more than for cereals such as wheat and corn… rich in zinc, iron and vitamin C.”

NASA will try growing potatoes “in conditions simulating those on Mars, including extreme ultraviolet radiation and drastic temperature variations.” No, NASA. We scifi authors know you need a greenhouse of some sort – probably with artificial light since the place must be shielded from radiation.

It may be that vegetables colonize Mars before people do, perhaps with robots tending to them.”

Today, Mars is the only planet we know of that’s inhabited entirely by robots. Maybe soon, by potatoes, too.

More Eat Like a Martian:
fish supper
mealworm snack
practice for Mars on Earth
Banana beer from Born on Mars
And Liz, in Glory on Mars, tries to make bhang, though she doesn’t have all the ingredients.

Crow’s Funeral #poetry

The deceased lies before them,Common Raven (640x482)
The crowd is all in black.
They’re watching for the villain
Who may be coming back.
It’s not known if they’re mourning,
They do not shed a tear.
They watch and they remember
In anger what to fear.
Humans are unusual
In tending to their dead.
Elephants, chimpanzees,
And porpoises, it’s said,
Will touch and groom,
Seem agonized.
But do they soon forget?
Only corvids, of the birds,
Gather for a wake.
As crows attend a murdered friend
Plan vengeance they will take.
By Kate Rauner
Thanks to livescience.com. I’ve seen heart-breaking videos of elephants grooming a dead herd mate – especially a mother with a dead baby. I believe they mourn. My llamas don’t seem to react much to a dead herd mate’s body, but I’ve watched them search for a missing friend.
Another crow poem: Crow and Pitcher

Mission to Saturn Hardest of Hard #SciFi #book #space

 

Caravaggio_Judith_Beheading_Holofernes

‘Judith Beheading Holofernes’ by Caravaggio in 1599 – PD in USA. What’s that got to do with Saturn Run? Read on…

John Sandford is best known for his prolific series of hard-boiled suspense thrillers, but here tackles science fiction with co-author Ctein in Saturn Run.

An American telescope detects an object entering orbit around Saturn. Natural objects don’t act this way – it must be under intelligent control and no one else on Earth seems to have noticed. The Chinese are about to launch a colony to Mars, so they could quickly repurpose the mission and beat America to Saturn and whatever awaits there. So the race is on with only America aware they’re running – at first.

No Wantum Mechanics
A large part of the story follows how the characters turn an existing Earth-orbiting space station into a ship that can reach Saturn in a remarkably short time. The authors reject “wantum mechanics,” or “totally made-up non-science that saves the crew in the last dozen minutes of a bad Star Trek episode. ‘Captain, if we invert the polarity of the phasers and couple them to the warp drive, we can produce a beam of… unbelievablon particles.'”
As explained in the fascinating Authors’ Note, they spent a lot of time solving their technical problems, even running orbit simulations in a special Windows program. Saturn Run shares every bit of that effort with you. They admit to one piece of wantum mechanics, but given what that is (no spoilers in this review!), I think it fits the story.
What you get
are loads of technical descriptions and political machinations in a story that runs 448 pages in my epub edition. The story may be engaged in a race to Saturn, but the book is leisurely, taking its time to explore technology and present characters.
For example, one engineer is seated on a Virgin-SpaceX shuttle (nice tie-in to real-life) about to leave Earth for the space station. Instead of taking off right away, the story regresses to describing her amazingly automated apartment and the details of propulsion problems.
There’s even a cat on the mission – a detail I especially like since I sent a cat to the first colony on Mars in my book (shameless plug) Glory on Mars.
Here’s a taste of the book’s style:
• The f-bomb pops up quite a few times. [Meh. I’ve gotten used to it.]
• “A thousand kilometers above the Washington machinations, Captain Naomi Fang-Castro wrapped up the last meeting of the day, a report on the ongoing repairs to backup electrical storage units. The repair work was fine, but there was a shortage of critical parts…” [Space can be as tedious as your job.]
• “She wasn’t an obligate vegetarian and vegetarianism wasn’t obligatory in space, especially not if you were the station commander.” [Interesting detail.]
• “He ripped off the top of the envelope, using the dangling ribbon that protruded from one end.” [How about – He ripped the envelope open.]
• “The ten o-clock train arrived three minutes after she walked onto the platform. She scampered aboard, sank into a seat, and sighed. She was twenty minutes from downtown Minneapolis, not much to see on the way but endless tracks of suburban houses. Way too late for sanity’s sake, and Senior Star power engineers didn’t get overtime.” [Not just technical issues get detailed treatments.]
• “Massive-scale heat pipes with fractal fluidic passages to pump the energy from the fissioning fuel into boiling superheated fluids that drove the generator turbines. Thermomagnetic liquids and magnetic pumps and transformers to siphon waste heat.” [The authors assure me this isn’t simply techno-babble.]
• “He lived in a condo complex built around an enormous swimming pool, and populated by affluent, good-looking people. Most affluent people were good-looking, not because they inherited the right genes, but because the surgery was so good and painless and safe.” [Basically irrelevant to the story.]
• “When the station personnel paused by the window, framed in a rectangle slightly wider than it was high, they looked like paintings by Caravaggio.” [This didn’t help me much – I had to look up Caravaggio, who gets mentioned three times. Therefore, the picture above – by Caravaggio.]
• “… unhitched the lid… pressed it up against… nudged the controller… fifteen-second pan… killed his rotation… did a slow zoom-in… moved closer… alarm beeped.” [I’m getting tired of typing, and admit I got tired of reading at times, too. I skimmed ahead to the part I was waiting for.]
How Saturn Run stacks up
From the common-wisdom writing advice I’ve read, only an established money-making author could get this much “telling” past an editor. But, the day I checked, Saturn Run was ranked 15th in its Kindle category (scifi space exploration) out of 2,235 titles. That means it’s selling in the top 1%. And you can’t claim Sandford’s reputation suckered buyers in. The book has 4/5 stars from 600 reviews.
Phenomenal.
But clearly this book is for fans of hard science fiction.GLORY Ebook 300 dpi

Glory on Mars is also called hard science fiction, but the flavor is very different – no physics lessons :) The first colonists to Mars have taken a one-way trip and that may be a mistake. Journey with them as they struggle to establish their colony and explore Mars near Olympus Mons, the largest (extinct!) volcano in the solar system.