If you're into pulp science fiction, this is definitely the book for you. With cardboard cutout police detectives and FBI agents, plenty of mad scientists and secretive goings on to please any fan of grade B Hollywood movies, lots of spectacular special effects and a most improbable hero, I expect to see the screen play appearing soon at a multiplex near me. Patrick Astre's novel has few new twists to intrigue even the diehard fan of the body-snatching-alien-invaders genre. And lest I give away too much of his thin plot, I can only say that the climax of the story is based much more on fantasy than science. (Independence Day?)
This is the long running weekly science news magazine distilled down to an audio format that runs in just under one hour. Articles cover a wide range of current scientific topics, including biology, chemistry, physics, information technology, and medicine. The stories are written to be understandable to a general audience, while also containing sufficient technical detail to appeal to the geekier among us. Mark Moran, the reader, has a clear, pleasant voice with good pacing. My only quibble is that he apparently doesn't always check for the correct pronounciation of technical terms and names. For the most part the errors don't interfere with the listener's ability to understand the story, but at least once in each weekly issue, a term is so mispronounced that I find myself doing a mental stumble while I try to sort out which word the author of the article had used.
We cannot know who was the first human being to ask the ultimate questions: What is our place in the universe and why do we exist? Currently there are two seemingly irreconcilable ontologies that claim to provide answer these questions. A panoply of religions claim to provide metaphysical meaning to life. Traditional spiritual beliefs have been faith-based and essentially untestable, despite heroic efforts over the centuries to provide "proofs" for the existence of God. On the other hand, since the Age of Enlightenment, science has increasingly sought to explain everything through the workings of only physical processes. Only a few scientists are willing to express, as Stephen Weinberg, the ultimate consequences of denying any nonphysical aspects of being, "The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless." A surprising number of scientists do continue to find ways, however, to be both scientists and believers and have put their viewpoints in writing. It might be easy to think that it's not possible to add anything new to a debate that has existed for centuries. Nevertheless, Bernard Haisch has proposed a fascinating and intriguing way to justify the existence of an intelligence behind the workings of the cosmos that he chose to call God. His arguments are presented through in the form of explorations of quantum mechanics and string theory in a way that they can be understood by a layperson. Although the "God" that is proposed is similar to the Judeo-Christian deity with which many of us are familiar, he is certainly not the bearded Jehovah painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, nor the one incarnated in the form of the Christian Jesus. I generally favor audiobooks in the range of 8 to 12 hours in length. I had downloaded this book because I found myself unexpectedly two weeks into the month and wanted something shorter than my usual selection. As it turned out, I found this book so interesting that I finished it in less than a week.
This novel is really a classic adventure story of a boy becoming a man through experiences that challenge him physically and mentally, that happens to be a classic hard science fiction story set on a planet around another star system. The sci-fi aspects function rather more as plot devices to enable the author to put the protagonist, a fifteen year old child of wealth and privilege in a feudal society at the start of the story. When the society is suddenly beset by a revolt of the peasant "volk," Joseph must find his way 10,000 miles from the estate of his cousin back to his own home. He is helped along the way he is rescued by the other sentient species native to the planet, as well as by sympathetic members of the "volk." Along the way while he comes to question the beliefs and values of the society in which he was raised. I would recommend the book highly for teenagers, with the caveat to parents that there is some fairly graphic sexual content, alhtough presented tastefully and lovingly. The reader has a good voice who adds just enough dramatization to add to the enjoyment. My only quibble, since I take the "science" in science fiction very seriously, is that the author assumes (as do most science fiction writers) that human beings will go to distant worlds populated by plants, animals, and sentient creatures that not only look outwardly very similar to earth species, but that have a biology sufficiently similar that we can live off them.
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