My Brief History

It is hard to believe that Stephen Hawking is 72 years old. But he is, and has written this memoir to prove it. By comparison with the Richard Dawkins memoir/autobiography I reviewed earlier, Hawking’s memoir is remarkably short at 126 pages. And that includes photos and truncations due to chapters. Not that it isn’t worth the read. But I got the distinct impression Hawking is decidedly uncomfortable writing about himself. The style is generally light and Hawking doesn’t entertain any fantasies about his own importance.

Stephen Hawking is still inspirational to many and My Brief History provides some insights as to why. Don’t expect revelations into physics but do expect appreciations of humanity.

Bantam Press

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

The FFANZ race for 2015 is now open. We are inviting delegates who would like to attend the NZ Natcon, Reconnaissance to be held in Rororua in NZ’s north island over Easter (3-6 April, 2015.) to apply now. (Applications close on 2nd November!)

If you are thinking of being the FFANZ delegate, here are the details:

Candidates should file
-a brief letter stating their intent to run for FFANZ 2015

- A nominator and a seconder, preferably a nominator from Australia and a seconder from New Zealand.

·- A 100 word or less platform statement specifying the candidate’s reasons for running and qualifications for becoming the 2014 FFANZ delegate.

with rabarts@gmail.com for New Zealand fans and celestialcobbler@hotmail.com for Australian fans BY 2nd NOVEMBER, 2014

The duties of the winning candidate will be as follows:

· Travel to New Zealand to attend Reconnaissance, to be held in Rotorua, NZ over Easter, 3rd – 6th April, 2015.

Visit and get to know as many New Zealand Science Fiction fans as time will permit.
Become the Australian FFANZ administrator until a replacement administrator is found, normally this happens when the administrator role is handed over to the succeeding NZ-bound delegate (in 2017 if a race is run every year).

Raise funds and maintain an account to be used by the next Aus delegate(s) in 2016.
Promote connections between Australian and New Zealand fandom by a trip report or other means.

Send required documents to;
rabarts@gmail.com for New Zealand fans
celestialcobbler@hotmail.com for Australian fans

More information about being a fan fund delegate can be found at http://ffanz.sf.org.nz/qanda.htm or http://ozfanfunds.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FanFundANZ

Slaves of Socorro

There is a reason why Flanagan’s “Socorro” sounds like Morocco… it is plainly based on the Morocco of the Barbary slave traders, who preyed upon the European coasts as far north as Iceland through the 16th to 19th century (until they finally got pummelled by the Americans). Problem is that the Vikings raided and traded from the 9th to 11th centuries, so there is no way in our history that a band of Vikings would find themselves rescuing a bunch of Anglo-Saxons from Barbary slavers – which is essentially the plotline of this novel.

It may be young adult fantasy… but I do find the constant anachronisms jarring. Flanagan has put a great deal of research into his sailing ships, but seemingly rather less into other matters – foodstuffs for one thing. Without magic or technology foods just don’t keep unless you get into salting and pickling, so how Edwin’s fillet of beef was edible after a sea voyage of some days I cannot guess. And let’s not get into coffee and potatoes…

But at the same time, Flanagan’s prose is very readable, his characters memorable, and his plot, if a little obvious, is carried off with panache. He’s fun to read, and I know he’s popular with his audience. It’s just that I wish he had been either more realistic or more fantastic in his world construction.

Random House

Supplied by Random House NZ

Reviewed by Jacqui

The Marriage Game

The young Queen Elizabeth was considered a bastard, a heretic, and a usurper, though many nobles sought her hand in marriage in order to rule over Tudor England. Elizabeth kept them all waiting for a yes, while enjoying a close relationship with her Master of the Horse, Robert Dudley. The son and grandson of traitors to the crown, Dudley was dashing but married, leading to scurrilous rumours about them at court. Most believed them to be lovers and Elizabeth not a virgin queen.

Fearing she’d lose her right to rule England to her husband, for over 20 years Elizabeth kept considering offers of marriage, thereby keeping suitors as friends rather than enemies of England. She also had a fear of childbirth and either dying or being supplanted by a male heir. Her advisors urged her to wed as women need a man to guide them and couldn’t rule by themselves and their hopes kept getting dashed.

A fictional story of Elizabeth’s rule, this book is very well researched and gives life to long-dead figures from history. You get a glimpse of what-might-have-been and what life inside the Tudor court must have been like. I thought the book would be dry and boring as the language was stiltingly old-fashioned but a few ages in I was hooked by the story. I have a deep admiration for Elizabeth and how she managed her affairs and kept everyone dangling for years. It must have been so hard being a woman then, not to mention ruling a country with people plotting your death.

Hutchinson

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

Sextant

The search for a reliable and portable method of determining longitude produced two instruments: the chronograph and the sextant. Dava Sobel has told the story of the chronograph, and David Barrie has stood up and told the story of the sextant. Both machines were the result of previous improvements, the chronograph descending from clocks while the sextant derives from the astrolabe and the quadrant.

Barrie divides the book into two threads – the development and use of the sextant and his own use of it. Like the chronograph, the sextant is falling out of use due to the rise of GPS navigation and Barrie felt forced to relate the importance of the instrument before its use completely disappeared, much like David Lewis did with Polynesian celestial navigation in The Voyaging Stars. Barrie’s book works as a moderator to that of Sobel’s, and proves the case that both chronograph and sextant were necessary for an accurate longitude placement.

The style of Sextant is such that it is an easy read. Barrie’s personal experience with the sextant gives him a degree of authority necessary to explain its workings and uses. He then proceeds to highlight some of the more extreme situations the instrument had been used in. Due to it being used primarily with naval navigation, these situations usually involved strong winds and icebergs or roughing it in the Pacific. The navigators Barrie selects to highlight the importance of the sextant – Bligh, Frank Worsley, Joshua Slocum, Flinders et al. – may not all be famous for navigation, but therein lies the vagaries of history.

The text is generally easy to read, and Barrie has provided a decent set of illustrations and maps to illuminate the text. There are also two sets of plates covering both the historical journeys as well as Barrie’s voyages. All that is needed now is a volume on the men and women responsible for providing the data and observations without which both the chronograph and sextant were useless. But that really is a nerdy subject.

William Collins

Supplied by HarperCollins New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

Singing Home the Whale

City boy Will Jackson is hiding out in a small South Island fishing community while he recovers from a humiliating incident that was filmed and has gone viral. When he discovers an abandoned baby Orca, his life becomes more chaotic as he calls for help to protect it from hostile locals. The orca and Will develop a unique bond through his love of singing, as well as Will finding friends that help him recover.

Each chapter is told from a different perspective, Will’s or the orca’s, and gives the heartbreaking back story to the baby whale. The plot moves quickly and is full of drama, tension, and romance, with the characters real and well-rounded. The story explores many environmental issues and shows how important it is to be involved.

This book made me laugh, made me cry, made me think. I recommend it for adults and teens alike, and anyone with the faintest interest in marine life will love it.

Century

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

George and the Unbreakable Code

Stephen Hawking writing children’s fiction? Well, yes, along with his daughter Lucy, who is a trained journalist and an advocate for science education. This book is a mixture of a fictional story about a boy named George and his friend Annie with segments of non-fiction mainly on the subjects of astronomy and computer science. These non-fiction segments seemed rather more complex, and at a higher reading level than the fiction (they even used a smaller font) – and I’m sure that I’m not the only one who wishes that publishers would place these sections between chapters, and not in the middle of sentences, interrupting the flow of the story!

That story is quite simple, as you might expect, with the children looking for the creator of a computer virus that is causing havoc across the world, and of course, cleverly defeating him in a very classic “Famous Five” manner. A number of McGuffins are used to advance the plot, and allow the children to wander the Solar System, principally a supercomputer called Cosmos that can create a space door to pretty well anywhere.

Which does make this into something we see very little of, proper science fiction for kids, the kind that encourages them to become interested in the sciences, which is presumably the authors’ objective. By and large, they succeed, and you certainly don’t have to have read the earlier three books in the series. (However, I’m not sure that designating the villain’s title as “I AM” was entirely wise, since that is pretty well guaranteed to give offence in some quarters).

Random House

Supplied by Random House NZ

Reviewed by Jacqui