David Beat Goliath – the Reason Why is Not What You Think #review #bookreview #history

Surprise - moral of the story not what you thinkDavid and Goliath teaches a lesson, but not the lesson you expect. Modern readers misunderstand the story and have the original message wrong. That is so cool, I’m reviewing this non-fiction book for my news post.

We think of David as a hopeless underdog facing an unbeatable foe, saved only by divine intervention. “No one in ancient times would have doubted David’s tactical advantage once it was known he was an expert in slinging.”

Ancient soldiers using slingshots were as formidable as archers. Goliath was a sitting duck, a heavily armored infantry warrior. There was no way he could chase down and engage David.

What we commonly think of as strengths and weaknesses can be very different in reality, and the underdog wins more often than we expect. This book covers varying subjects such as children of wealthy parents, the Troubles in Northern Ireland, primary school class sizes, deterring crime, and girls’ basketball. Gladwell offers individual stories and adds research to generalize his points. What you think you know ain’t so – delightful.

Advantages may make someone stronger for a while, until getting “more” becomes a weakness. The once-stronger side focuses on what worked in the past and how things “should” be done, blind to the challenge that confronts them.

Consider “wars over the last two hundred years – how often do you think the [more powerful] side wins? Most of us would put that number at close to 100 percent… [but] just under a third of the time, the weaker country wins.”

Children of wealthy parents can be less self-sufficient than their peers.

There is an optimum class size for elementary school but Americans obsess over reducing class sizes: “77 percent of Americans think that it makes more sense to… lower class sizes than to raise [good] teachers’ salaries. Do you know how few things 77 percent of Americans agree on?”

“Cracking down” on criminals and insurgents often makes the problem worse. For people to obey an authority, they must feel that the authority is fair. “What matters in deterrence is what matters to offenders.” When legitimacy is lost, offenders become willing to bear extreme forms of punishment. For example, “a reasonable assessment of the research to date is that [extreme] sentence severity has no effect on the level of crime in society.”

Personally, I believe that what really happens in the world is more important than what should happen. We’re wasting time and money while defeating our own goals.

This short book offers an important argument: the upside Surprise - the story's moral not what you thinkdown “U” of strength and weakness. Advantages that strengthen you for a while can top out and become liabilities.

Before you double-down on an action, think about this and consider what the evidence tells you.

BTW, Goliath may have suffered acromegaly: speculation on the diseases of historical figures is always intriguing. I found the story of David and Goliath surprisingly interesting and fun; much better than the “favorite Bible stories for children” sort of idea I had before.

PS: I read a digital version of Gladwell’s book. After the cover and title pages is a “welcome” with links to “Begin Reading.” The table of contents, and copyright page come after the text. Since on-line retailers offer previews starting at page one, this arrangement gives the reader the maximum preview of text, and placing typical front-matter at the end is no inconvenience in an ebook. Ebooks are evolving and I enjoy the format.

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Fascinating Premise is an Excuse to Pit Ancient Armies in Battle #review #bookreview #scifi

Earth shattered through timeSegments of the Earth are suddenly transmorgified into their own past – “a patchwork of eras, from prehistory to 2037, each with its own indigenous inhabitants”. Two small groups of “moderns” from 2037 briefly make contact and agree to meet in the only place where a technological signal has been detected – Babylon. Along the way they meet Victorian era British soldiers and two famous ancient armies – led by Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan.

What I thought of the story
The book claims Clarke’s Space Odyssey series as its inspiration – a time odyssey instead of a space odyssey. I guess that’s why it opens with furry pre-human hominids. While interesting, they only appear occasionally and don’t add much to the story.

Once the premise is established and the weird world explored a bit, the book slows down. Its main purpose seems to be to show us what it would be like to live in the ruling courts of Alexander and Genghis. Very smelly among other things.

When two rulers dedicated to world conquest meet, it may not be much of a spoiler to say mayhem ensues. Personally I’m not a big fan of battles and began skipping entire chapters. The book ends in a mystical alien sort of way which allows a narrator (not a character) to provide a glimpse of what’s going on.

I liked parts of the book and skipped other parts, so that averages out to an “okay” rating from me.

What others are saying
As you’d expect from a legandary author, Time’s Eye has a high sales rank on Amazon – roughly top 7% in its time travel category on Kindle. (Amazon is starting to hide the data that lets me calculate a rank, so I may not be able to do this in the future.) From 109 reviews it gets 3.7 stars, which isn’t bad.

Readers who disliked the book found the middle with its long trudge to Babylon boring. Others called it “entertaining” and “interesting if not compelling,” while some say they’re going straight off to buy the rest of the trilogy.

About the hardcover book
I’m always a little skeptical when a book’s description starts by telling me how famous the authors are. Here’s the pitch:

Sir Arthur C. Clarke is a living legend, a writer whose name has been synonymous with science fiction for more than fifty years… a genuine visionary. If Clarke has an heir among today’s science fiction writers, it is award-winning author Stephen Baxter… [who] demonstrated dazzling gifts of imagination and intellect, along with a rare ability to bring the most cerebral science dramatically to life. Now these two champions of humanism and scientific speculation have combined their talents in a novel sure to be one of the most talked-about of the year, a 2001 for the new millennium.

I guess that’s inevitable when a publisher has a living legend in its stable.

I read an old hardcover edition from 2004 which included a CD with two of Baxter’s novels (downloadable pdf files that I haven’t read yet, but I reviewed another of his books here) If you buy a used copy be sure to ask if the CD is included.

There was also a pdf on how the book was created (which includes author biographies and lists of works). From these notes and wikipedia I get the impression that Clarke and Baxter developed the outline for the book and Baxter wrote it. Maybe that applies to all three of the books in the trilogy, since the last was published in December 2007 and Clarke (who had been ill for years) died three months later. A sad day.

Interstellar Colonization or Soap Opera? #scifi #space #interstellar #review #bookreview

arkwrightArkwright – the name of a pivotal character and a wonderful title – is a story based on interstellar travel that is rooted in real physics, limited by the speed of light. No warp drives here. Author Allen Steele divides the story into four “books” plus one “interlude,” each separated by at least a generation. While the interstellar project spans the whole story, each “book” stands alone.

Book One, the first third of the story, follows a science fiction writer who gets rich and uses his money to create a private foundation dedicated to interstellar travel. This section is set in the world of 20th century scifi, though it could really be set in another industry, and – considering the money the writer must accumulate – probably should be. If you read classic scifi the name-dropping will be fun, but the famous names are only background noise.

The characters’ various relationship issues are featured but don’t follow through the entire story.

My favorite quote comes from a character complaining about science fiction stories.

Everyone who writes about space travel gets it wrong… the people who write it either pay no attention to science or simply get it wrong…if you want to distinguish yourself from all the other fellows who are writing science fiction… get the science right.

Steele embraces this advice and offers his fascinating premise for getting space travel right. It’s a grand idea backed up with awesome technology, which I won’t spoil here. This doesn’t mean the rest of the story’s science is ho-hum. Robotics, artificial intelligence, and especially bioengineering and terraforming exceed our current abilities, but don’t seem to violate getting the science right. There’s even a bibliography if you’d like to check for yourself.

Relationships and hook-ups are featured (Sex mostly occurs “off-screen”)
Given Steele’s nod to the early 20th century’s Golden Age of scifi, which is often considered short on characterization, it seems odd that he spends most of his writing on relationships. Discussions of the starship are fairly short and often feel incidental. This seems doubly odd since the book’s description calls Steele a “highly regarded expert on space travel and exploration.” I would have liked more from his space travel expertise.

If you’re keen to follow the starship plot, you can skip Book One and Book Three. There’s enough recap in the other sections that you won’t miss anything – perhaps this reflects the story’s beginnings as a serial.

Steele has a habit of shifting back and forth in time as he writes, using flashbacks or a structure where a character tells you the outcome and then goes back to relate the events. I got used to the style easily enough. It does result in characters “telling” their story which is a supposed no-no for modern fiction where “show, don’t tell” is the writing tip.

What others say
Arkwright has an Amazon Sellers Rank in the top 16% of its category of Hard Science Fiction – that’s a popular book. There are 65 customer reviews that average 3 1/2 stars – not bad. Complaints reflect my review – too much soap opera instead of the starship promised in the description.

Even reviewers giving the book 5 stars note that the “science fiction doesn’t start until well into the book,” but if they liked the cross-generational family dramas, they liked the book.

What is Hard Science Fiction?
Since both fans and critics notice the emphasis on relationships, it makes me wonder about the Hard Science Fiction category. Certainly the notion that hard science fiction is mostly about detailed technology is wrong. How many technical terms must authors throw in – or replace with common English – to gain or shed the category?

In my own series about a colony on Mars, I try to get the science

Join the first colonists https://books2read.com/u/bQZp1eright. Settlers have technical training to keep their life support equipment and robotics operating (the robots are rather cool if I do say so myself). Some have relevant university degrees, but they’re people, not walking technical manuals. Their mission is more like the real-life Mars One and less like NASA. They face danger, have conflicts, and explore the Red Planet as they try to build a home on Mars. Some of my readers today may step foot on Mars tomorrow – or morrowsol as Martians say – and will be able to tell me how well I did.

Reviewers who have commented on categories, though, call Glory on Mars hard science fiction, so I followed their lead and added that category on Amazon.

Subscribe to my readers’ club and I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Check out all four of the On Mars books, post reviews, and let me know: are they hard science fiction?

Old Man’s War – science fiction book review

Old Mans WarOld Man’s War

By John Scalzi

This book ( http://bit.ly/19p4HVM ) is advertised as “continuing the tradition of Robert A. Heinlein… reads like an original by the late grand master.”  I’m no expert on Heinlein, but that seems true (middle-period Heinlein, without the later pedagogical discussions of government, sex, and religion.)  Scalzi starts with foreseeable technology, briefly explained, and then goes far beyond, allowing his characters to accept it all with a shrug.  What Scalzi wants the reader to know is often provided by the characters directly hearing or reading an explanation.

The characters share an optimistic outlook and a wise-cracking sense of humor.  The main character talks directly to the reader a couple times.  The characters are all ready to take a one-way trip as soldiers in a space war based on very little information, but without regret.  This type of character does remind me of Heinlein.  Also like Heinlein, in Part I the characters have sex for fun (without being pornographic) and the women have remarkable libidos. Continue reading