Page 116: "...we don't seem to pass any rhinoviruses back and forth with animals...." Interesting! I distinctly recall that some sciencey book I read as a kid said that ferrets could catch human colds. Current references say this is not the case (though they can catch influenza)*. I just unlearned something!
Page 152, footnote, regarding being hit by a bus: The description of the "being hit by a car" process would not apply in the case of a bus, 'cause the bus has a big flat front resembling the ground, only vertical.
Page 154: A typesetting issue in the Tsiolkovsky Rocket Equation has given us a rectangular delta. (There's another funny-looking equation on page 176.)
Page 156: We reach the end of "Everybody Out" having been introduced to Project Orion, but with no mention of laser launchers. I'd be really interested in having these included. (Yeah, I could go off and do the work myself. And wear out my poor little brain.)
Page 164: First mention of CON should be INT.
Page 175: Neutrino steam? I'm having silly ideas.
Page 197: But, by gliding away from the base of the cliff, won't you miss the cotton-candy pit?
Page 241: Unit peeve! I hate it when people use kilograms as units of weight. The Imperial system is goofed up enough by casual misuse of units; can't we try to preserve the meanings of the MKS units?
Page 261: Sorry, but the definition of "sunset" given on pages 228~229 would seem to exclude eclipses.
Page 304: What, no index?
* This suggests a way of telling a cold from the flu. If you can give it to your ferret, it's flu.
Before breakfast. Which offers some clue as to how hooked I was.
I'd only bought it because ESR's review was intriguing. Besides, 'twas cheap on Kindle; what had I to lose, apart from four bucks and a bit of my time?
The action commences a decade hence, with a crackpot's warning: the aliens are coming! And they'll be here in only 33 years! We need to take action!
It progresses from there in a manner logically consistent with the author's assumptions about the world of the next few decades and with the needs of the storyline. And the storyline? Worthy of Doc Smith, only a lot better grounded in plausibility.
Following the tale across the decades from the points of view of view of a few key characters is conventional, but it works. And, since none of the characters is privy to key information, they're kept guessing almost as much as the reader. Some of them are larger than life, but none are superhuman.
The mainstream tech of the day is a conservative extrapolation. The advanced tech, driven by the demands of a fanatical wealthy industrialist: fantastic, but not absurd. Imagine throwing money at many of the things that show promise now; keeping it up for several years, weeding out the losers; and merging the winners. Plus one necessary MacGuffin.
There's just the right level of predictability: at various points, Clever People Like Me* will have a very good idea (though not a certainty) what just really happened. But these don't dominate the book.
The aliens' motive for their great journey? No spoilers here. It's not one I would have thought of. Heinlein might have, or George O. Smith. For that matter, it would have been perfect for early-1970s Doctor Who, and yet somehow the writers never came up with this one. And yet: once having been revealed, it makes sense.
Some little items are Nivenesque, one explicitly so**. I expect there are other lurking tributes that I didn't catch.
And that last little twist at the end, well: it opens up vast possibilities. As ESR suggests: sequel hook, for good or ill.
Now for the quibbles.
The book could have used better editing and proofreading. There are various homophone errors scattered around; a glaringly wrong word choice (I'm not sure what the right word would have been; the expression Mays was reaching for may not actually exist in English); and a distance of 100 nautical miles is a mere 100 kilometers a couple of pages later. There's also a subplot that I didn't see wrapped up; though there were pretty good hints dropped, I think the resolution disappeared in all the excitement of first contact.
There's a lot of NAVSPEAK in various places; this presumably conveys information compactly to readers with naval backgrounds, but it leaves civilian readers running to Google.
And the energy budgets... well, I'll assume Mays did the math and then swept it under the rug as a story-killer. It's not as egregious as the Honorverse, let alone the Skylark series, and being wildly optimistic about energy sources is a necessary convention of the genre.
The world of the future looks rather too much like that of today, in my opinion; for one so cynical, Mays seems to be taking the optimistic view that the next few decades will see slow decline on the political and economic fronts, rather than accelerating decline and catastrophic upheaval. Well... I hope he's right.
There seem to have been some changes to South Bay geography. A shipbuilding company in Santa Clara? Dang on-line map doesn't show city boundaries, but: would the ship be launched in Salt Pond A8?
Overall, if you're looking for a well-constructed Ripping Yarn that's imaginative and won't insult your intelligence, this is a good read, and Mays is now firmly on my "watch for his next book" list.
Oh, and if the list of quibbles seems longer than the good part? It's because I can't write much more good stuff about the book without great honkin' spoilers. And the book deserves not to be spoiled.
(Next time I find myself with book-devouring time, I should read Peter Grant's latest. Time to be checking out more of the new authors. 'Cause Clarke, Asimov, and Heinlein are all dead, and Niven's not writing that much anymore.)
* Who Talk Loudly In Restaurants.
** Amazingly, one of the characters is a scientist who read sci-fi novels as a kid. This falls somewhere in the not-so-fine line between the world of that Alien prequel (a large group of smart humans, in the not-too-distant future, none of whom have seen Alien) and that of Fallen Angels (no explanations; if you haven't read it...).
Opening premise: an alien spaceship is on the way, and they didn't call ahead. Their intentions are presumably inimical (else they would have sent radio signals first), and we have only 33 years to respond!
Apparently the aliens' motivations will be revealed later in the book, and will be plausible for their level of technology and the trouble and expense involved in launching such a mission.
But meanwhile, what can I think of?
Well, obviously, they could have discovered that their sun was getting all wibbly-wobbly, and their solar system would soon become uninhabitable. Having decades to respond, they have time for more than "toss some random baby in a tiny probe and send him off to Earth", and embark on a Strangelovian project of packing their top politicians, mad scientists, and supermodels into an interstellar life-pod. (Shades of the Golgafrincham "B" Ark!)
Or - and this was inspired by one of the homophone errors that got past the proofreader of this book - it could be some corporation sending a vast shipload of its assets out-system to avoid home-system taxes.
No? So how about this one: their total civilizational debt has grown to the point where it makes sense to send a hugely expensive expedition across the expanses of space to peddle their government bonds here.
What about: they departed around... oh, never mind. 1937. I was going to suggest that they were pissed off when I Love Lucy went off the air. Or My Favorite Martian. What popular radio show was cancelled in 1916? (Gotta allow 20 years for the next episode to fail to reach them, and a year for them to build and launch their invasion fleet.)
They're finally getting around to checking on their colony here, left during their long-ago Age of Exploration?
(I understand there are space battles yet to come, so none of the explanations I'm coming up with really fit. Whatever. It's fun coming up with them.)
Currently on the Kindle, for those odd bits of time: Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.
Reading through the first chapter, regarding the Mississippi Scheme, I notice... well, first, of course, is that PTerry must be familiar with the tale, 'cause it starts with the preposterous premise of a notorious international scoundrel being put in charge of the brand-new National Bank. But, once past that obvious absurdity, things start looking rather less Discworld and rather more Ben-Bernank. (And Nixon, and FDR, and all the rest of the familiar players.)
Now on to the South-Sea Bubble, and... wait, haven't we seen this movie before? I mean, again?
Factoring in something I read a few years back regarding Tulipomania (not sure what aspects of that are covered in this book; that's the next chapter), and I'm beginning to see a pattern here.
A grand economic scam driven, or at least enabled, by the rich and powerful begets many lesser scams of similar (if sometimes more blatant) nature. Little scams fall apart quickly, ruining a few people; the big scam can go on for years, before collapsing and ruining a nation.
You read any adventure yarns set more'n a few years ago, and you start noticing plot aspects that Just Wouldn't Work Today. Like, no end of situations that only arise because people don't have cellphones.
Well, currently on my Kindle is a tale that involves a terrifyingly difficult effort to reach an inaccessible plateau somewhere in South America. And I keep wondering: why couldn't someone, back when the expedition was organized, have pulled out his Magic Elf Box and looked up "Zeppelin Rentals"?
Because Zeppelins were a thing in 1912, right?
Update: still on the same book, though now they've just decided to ignore for the moment the impossible task of getting back down from the jungly plateau. Because, obviously, they can't fabricate a thousand-foot-long rope from indigenous materials. I guess there'll be some clever solution later on, possibly involving blue clay. Either that, or they die up there and some later expedition retrieves the narrator's notes.
In The Compleat Enchanter (as in other such multiverses), when Harold Shea is transported to a world where some particular form of magic works, any technology he takes along with him becomes inoperative.
What if that's because Shea is a psychologist, and our world's technology is, to him, magic?
If, say, a metallurgist were transported to one of these magical worlds, would stainless steel work for him? Would matches work for a chemist?
Story possibilities! (OK, so maybe it's been done and I haven't encountered it.)
Hm. Engineering student at university, who's read enough sci-fi to know better, gets involved with eldritch redhead who turns out to be Shea's granddaughter... that idea's been floating around the back of my head for years, and this could add an interesting twist: tech transported across worlds works if and only if it's not magic to the person trying to use it. Could have implications for a wizard transported to our world: only the spells he truly understands are portable.
...Now I need to find time to re-read those stories and see if this notion fits....
OK, so it's time to admit that with the current H1N1 symptoms I'm not going to be getting much accomplished today. Better to read a book. Maybe something trivial and un-demanding. Randomly on the Kindle: Tom Swift and his Helvetica FetishArial WorshipAerial Warship.
As we're ambling through the introductory material, the red shed catches fire. Oh, no! Not the red shed! Seems they mustn't use water to extinguish it, on account of there being a bunch of calcium carbide stored therein.
Er, wait. Isn't calcium carbide always stored in airtight containers? Because otherwise it'll absorb moisture from the air? My supply is in a little paint-style can; how was it stored back in the day?
And Tom saves the day by sprinkling how many tons of sand on the conflagration, from his airship?
(Yeah, waiting until the heat pops the lids off the cans and then applying water would be bad news. Extinguish early!)
Recently having read Life on the Mississippi, I think I can spot a subtle influence. Or, it could have been one or another of Twain's other writings.
A couple of things come to mind, that might have saved Vimes (in his various identities) some improvisation.
First, with regard to jurisdiction: surely the Lord of the Manor has feudal powers and obligations within his fiefdom, unrelated to any position he may hold in some foreign police department?
And, second, with regard to the legality of shipping goblins to Howondaland by way of Quirm: if goblins aren't people, but property, then that particular batch, having been taken (if I understand the geography correctly) from the Ramkin estate, is Vimes's property, which had been stolen. Right?
So, in any event, it seems to me that Vimes ought to have had other options for dealing with the situation.