Books of Mars

In 1898, Herbert George Wells wrote what is arguably the most important novel in the history of science fiction. The War of the Worlds established a lasting benchmark for a whole subset of the genre, that of the alien invasion of Earth. But just as the Martians have journeyed here, so too have we engaged in flights of fantasy there, and could even Wells have imagined the wonders that our robotic ambassadors are now uncovering?

The way science has viewed the red planet has been integral to the development of the fictional Mars, and it is perfectly possible to trace how literature has changed along with our scientific understanding. Equally, it is also fair to argue that if not for the intense interest in creating fictional Martian landscapes and the way these worlds have captured the public imagination, we might not have expended so much effort and resource on attempting to visit this distant world. If we ever land a man or woman on Mars, it will be in large part thanks to the legacy begun by H.G. Wells.

The War of the Worlds has enjoyed an astonishing longevity. When Wells wrote it, I am sure that even he, the great predictor, would I have been stunned at how quickly his story struck a chord and was endlessly re-adapted for new audiences. It seems that The War of the Worlds has an organic and timeless quality that makes it ripe for such re-imagining.

When Wells wrote The War of the Worlds, it was common practice for a novel to be first serialised in popular magazines. Hence in the UK the story first appeared in Pearson’s Magazine, and was serialised in the United States in the pages of Cosmopolitan Magazine; not the health and beauty Cosmopolitan of modern times, but a far more erudite publication whose broad remit included journalism, serious comment and stories from some of the best known writers of the age.

The book in its complete form was published in 1898, but it was only a few months after The War of the Wars had been serialised in Cosmopolitan that a revised (and wholly unauthorised) version began publication in the pages of the Boston Post newspaper. Fighters from Mars took the original text and crudely dismembered it into a shorter version, switching English place names for equivalents in and around Boston. It is an extraordinary oddity, and one that proved so popular that it spawned a sequel, even more outrageous in intent, called Edison’s Conquest of Mars.

Post Apocalyptic

This would see the inventor Thomas Edison lead an invasion fleet to Mars to seek retribution for the Martian attack. Written by a noted popular science writer of the time, it deserves a place in science fiction history not only for the audacious nature of the project, but also for many firsts in the genre, such as space-walks and asteroid mining.

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White Dog

How to Choose A Vacuum for Pet Hair Like an Expert

Pet on Couch

You just moved into a new neighbourhood, and now you’ve been invited to join the local book club. However, with the whole moving process and your furry friends running around the home dragging in dirt and hair on your rugs, you’re frantic and wondering how you’ll clear that mess. You have probably even tried cleaning with some detergents and brushes, but nothing seems to clear out the hair and dander.

Well, if you don’t know already, by getting the right vacuum for pet hair, you can seamlessly clear out all the dirt and built-up cat hair mess. That said, here’s a comprehensive guide to usher you into the wonderful world of pet vacuum cleaners.

Upright or Canister Vacuums

The first thing you have to consider when buying vacuum cleaners is the type of vacuum system you want, and the most common types are the upright and canister vacuums. Both clean carpets and bare floors effortlessly, but upright vacs have a slight advantage, especially if your home is mostly carpeted. They can also work on bare floors, but it would be better if you chose one that offers you a switch to turn off the brush roll to keep the dirt from scattering as you clean.

Canister vacuum, on the other hand, makes vacuuming stairs more manageable, and they come with a long narrow brush attachment that makes it even simpler to clean the tiled and bare floors.

Bagged or Bagless Vacuums

Another aspect you need to consider is if you need a bagless or bagged vacuum cleaner option. Both clean well but if you don’t like shopping for and storing vacuum bags, the bagless option would be your best fit. However, it would be best if you kept in mind that bagless models feature dust receptacles that require emptying and frequently cleaning to maintain the vacuum cleaner’s suction power.

If you also suffer from allergies or are sensitive to pet hair, then you’d be better off with the bagged vacuum cleaner option.

Shop At A Store That Allows You to RoadTest the Vacuum

When you take your preferred vacuum cleaner model for a spin before you purchase it is an excellent idea. So, be sure to check if your local store allows it and check the hoover’s weight and manoeuvrability. Is the cleaner easy to push and carry around? Does it seem robust enough to handle the tough stains and massive pet hair buildup? Is it cost-effective and does it come with a warranty?

You need to be precise about everything and also try to see if the switches and levers are easy to access and also adjust. You don’t want to buy a vacuum cleaner only to end up more frustrated.

Vacuum Cleaner Attachments

A ‘bag’s full ‘indicator light is also an essential feature to have on your vacuum cleaner, especially if it also comes with an in-built headlight.

Other attachments you need to consider including the incredible crevice tool that allows you to get the dust out of your drawers, heating and air-conditioning vents. You don’t want to host the book club only to have your guests breathing in the dusty air.  For your upholstered fabrics and drapes, the upholstery attachment offers you excellent service. You might also want to get the dusting brush for getting rid of dust from the blinds, lampshades and mouldings.

As a pet lover, you know that it isn’t easy dealing with shed pet fur. It can make you cancel on several events. However, you don’t have to be the neighbourhood, Debbie Downer. With the best vacuum for pet hair, you can tackle any task thrown your way and have the best time at the book club meeting!

Equity Release

How the Equity Release Mortgage Helped Lisa’s Venture

Lisa had always dreamt of being a published author. She was a financial expert and worked in the banking sector for twenty years. After retirement, though, all Lisa wanted was to make her dreams come true. After working in the financial world for more than a decade, she knew a lot about the equity release mortgage. So, she got her financial advisor, as required by the Financial Conduct Authority1 (FCA) and Equity Release Council (ERC), to help out with the process and get the cash she needed to get her books into the market.

Understanding Equity Release

Books of Mars

Equity release is a mortgage scheme that allows you to untie the equity tied up in your home. You receive the tax-free capital in the form of a lump-sum2 or as a monthly income. Typically, the plan consists of two schemes, the lifetime mortgage plan and the home reversion plan. The lifetime mortgage is the most popular and allows you to continue living in your home until you move out permanently or pass away. In this plan, you pay the total loan you received plus any interests accrued overtime, one of the best providers out there is aviva equity release.

With the home reversion plan, however, you sell a portion, or your entire estate to the plan provider, of which when you move into residential care or die, the lender puts up their house for sale and takes their share of the estate. The remaining proceeds go to your family. Unlike with the lifetime mortgage plan, in this scheme, there are no accrued interests.

Taking out a home reversion plan also means that you receive a pre-arranged amount of cash to spend as you wish, in return for selling the part (or all) of your estate to your lender. The money you receive is discounted since you continue to reside in your home as long as you want.

It also enables homeowners to raise a more considerable sum of cash as compared to the lifetime mortgage plan. You also get the chance to ring-fence3 a portion of your estate for inheritance purposes and benefit from your share of ownership when there are increases in the estate market value.

Lisa chose the home reversion plan since it best suited her needs.  After consulting her adviser and with her vast knowledge about equity release and other mortgage plans, she opted to go with Bridgewater Equity Release company, who helped her get the best home reversion deals.

Bridgewater is one of the best equity release companies.

It’s a subsidiary of Grainger PLC, the most popular home reversion plans specialists of residential property in the UK. Moreover, since Lisa lived in Wales, Bridgewater was her best option.  The firm offers equity release plans in England, Wales, and Scotland.

Bridgewater’s home reversion plan required the homeowner to be 65 years of age, and it offers you a flexible release plan with a starting lump sum of £50,000. Lisa’s home was worth €200,000. Thus, Bridgewater offered her a lump sum of about €120,000 – they offer up to 60% of your home’s market value in a plan based on the property value and age of the individual.

Lisa used this cash to finance her first book ‘The Financial Guru’, and with a sale of over a million books, she’s now about to publish her second book. Like her, you can also actualize your dreams with equity release. All you need is a home worth more than €70,000 in the UK, and be over 55 years of age. It’s that simple!

Time Travel

Book Review: Timeline

Timeline
Author: Michael Crichton
Genre(s): Time Travel

Time Travel
Synopsis wrote:
In an Arizona desert a man wanders in a daze, speaking words that make no sense. Within twenty-four hours he is dead, his body swiftly cremated by his only known associates. Halfway around the world archaeologists make a shocking discovery at a medieval site. Suddenly they are swept off to the headquarters of a secretive multinational corporation that has developed an astounding technology. Now this group is about to get a chance not to study the past but to enter it. And with history opened to the present, the dead awakened to the living, these men and women will soon find themselves fighting for their very survival–six hundred years ago. . . .

Timeline is by far the best novel Michael Crichton has written in quite some time, his other recent works didn’t sit well with me, and is one of my favorite books to reread over and over. The movie adaptation was terrible, lets get that out of the way, and those who didn’t like the film should not class the book in the same ranks. Fans of science-fiction, time travel, or even history will love Timeline.

One of the most intriguing parts about this book is how the characters set forth to time travel. Crichton has an original concept for the idea of time travel, as well as the effects of time travel, and explains it well to the readers. Needless to say there is no complicated “butterfly effect” in this book, only good fun in a time period other than the present. Crichton also adds to the novel by showing multiple problems with the time travel method he uses to make the story a tad more realistic, though as with most of his fiction works there is no truth to the concept. One of these problems is transcription errors, in which people come back from time travel with fingers in the wrong place and internal bones messed up. Michael continues to come up with new and interesting ideas for his readers, and Timeline is no exception.

The other major factor in this story is the time period that the time travelers visit when going to find their lost companion. This is where the author really stars as he shows off his research and intelligence. The Middle Ages are painted perfectly, sounding as historically accurate and realistic as they could be. People talk in the right accent and use the right type of arrogance and tone associated with their class. Duels are fought on horses with swords and lances and other weapons, while beautiful queens run nations behind the back of the “real” leaders.

As for the characters, Crichton delivers some memorable ones. My personal favorite is the muscleman Marek who acts as if he were actually from the time period the time travelers visit, and not the present. Crichton also creates a villain in multi-billionaire founder Donniger and makes sure that he gets what is coming by the end of the novel.

All in all Timeline is a great book and a fun way to learn a little history that readers may not have known before. Time travel is always a fun concept and Crichton does not fail to deliver in his only book using it.

Enders Game

Book Review: Enders Game

Ender’s Game
Author: Orson Scott Card
Genre(s): War, Aliens

War,Aliens
Synopsis wrote:
Winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards
In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut—young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.
Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.
Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender’s two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If, that is, the world survives.

War,Aliens

For fans of reading, the few of us still out there, there comes a point when a book just clicks with the mind and just becomes all one can think about. Being a big fan of books myself, I was not able to find this special book until stumbling upon Ender’s Game in the library one day. Since reading this book the first time, I have probably glanced through the same words that I can remember line by line about fifty times since.

There are a number of reasons why this book is so good and so appealing to fans of the science fiction genre. Having won Nebula and Hugo awards, Orson Scott Card has an established masterpiece in the community that is well known around the States. Upon reading this novel the first time, a reader will find that the book flows well and feels fun to read. The battle scenes are something that anyone can enjoy, as they are easy to picture and described in detail. These sequences make it easy to forget that the combatants in the said battle are simply kids that should be in elementary or middle school.

The characters as a whole are well written and given depth. Ender, the title character, is one that the readers will initially root for because of his strength and determination. Even when he has brief collapses, the reader is confident he will find a few to prevail. Peter, Ender’s brother, is a character that readers will initially despise and end up feeling good about. Without giving away too much, Peter is clearly a changed character by novel’s end who is as much a fighter for good as Ender is. Other than those two, Ender is surrounded by many fellow schoolmates at his Battle School that help in his development as a soldier and more importantly as a person. If I had time to, I would discuss in depth what each of these characters brings to the table, but for now I will just leave it at that every one of them could have their own book and be interesting in it.

As mentioned before, Ender’s Game is a book that can be, and should be, read more than once. I can’t count the number of small details, some of which were critical to the plot, I missed through the first or second reading. These details are what makes this book such a terrific read.

Overall if a reader is looking for a book that is good fun and offers multi-dimensional characters and plot development, Ender’s Game is a great sci-fi novel to start with. It is my favorite book by far, and I am sure that any reader who picks it up will find it is his or hers as well after finishing.

Andromeda Strain

Book Review: The Andromeda Strain

The Andromeda Strain
Author: Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton is well-known for his blockbuster, spectacular books like Jurassic Park and Timeline which take popular concepts like the return of dinosaurs and time travel and uses them in an unique and interesting way. Every now and then, however, Crichton will come up with a book that deals with something entirely different. The Andromeda Strain is a book about a disease which seemingly has came from outer space and is causing people to die. While it is clearly not as explosive as some of his other novels, this book is worth taking a look at and a good read.

Michael Crichton
Synopsis wrote:
The United States government is given a warning by the pre-eminent biophysicists in the country: current sterilization procedures applied to returning space probes may be inadequate to guarantee uncontaminated re-entry to the atmosphere.
Two years later, seventeen satellites are sent into the outer fringes of space to “collect organisms and dust for study.” One of them falls to earth, landing in a desolate area of Arizona.
Twelve miles from the landing site, in the town of Piedmont, a shocking discovery is made: the streets are littered with the dead bodies of the town’s inhabitants, as if they dropped dead in their tracks.

The thing I liked most about this novel was the semi-mystery format to it. In the beginning all but two people in a town are killed by the virus and no one has any idea how it happened. Here the reader can begin to see the clues and try to piece together the mystery of why two people survived themselves. Anytime a book can get the reader involved into its plot, it is a good thing. By the end of the novel the mystery is solved and spelled out for the people reading the novel, allowing them to now go back and see where the foundations for the solution were laid earlier in the book.

Of course, there is another part to the book aside from the small mystery. The disease is a type of life form that can multiply and evolve if a nuclear bomb were to go off. Of course this means that a nuclear bomb is set to go off and someone must stop it before it does. The meat of the book is devoted to this plot, as one man attempts to stop this virus from taking over the world by halting the nuclear weapon. This story is interesting and good, but not Crichton’s best work.

What makes this book so intriguing is it is easy to wonder what would happen if a life form such as the one presented became apparent on the Earth. While highly unlikely, it has been deemed possible by scientists and is being looked into currently. Crichton, as always, does his research on this subject and gets a good book.

Overall this is not the best book a person will find in the book store but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a read. The Andromeda Strain is a good book, and anyone who likes the usual works of Michael Crichton will most likely find this book to their liking as well.

Probability Moon

Book Review: Probability Moon

Probability Moon
Author: Nancy Kress
Genre(s): Aliens

Synopsis wrote:

Humankind has expanded out into interstellar space using star gates-technological remnants left behind by an ancient, long-vanished race. But the technology comes with a price. Among the stars, humanity encountered the Fallers, a strange alien race bent on nothing short of genocide. It’s all-out war, and humanity is losing.

Aliens

In this fragile situation, a new planet is discovered, inhabited by a pre-industrial race who experience “shared reality”-they’re literally compelled to share the same worldview. A team of human scientists is dispatched-but what they don’t know is that their mission of first contact is actually a covert military operation.

For one of the planet’s moons is really a huge mysterious artifact of the same origin as the star gates . . . and it just may be the key to winning the war.

REVIEW

This was mostly a weird read. The concept of “Shared-Reality” was a little confusing and mostly too “alien” to me for it to real catch on as a concept that was possible.

Sure, Science Fiction doesn’t have to be even remotely possible, but I find myself more drawn into novels that contain concepts/technologies that rooted with plausible science, the shared reality concept wasn’t really, to me, conveyed in that way.

Along with that I also found myself not liking or disliking any characters all the way through, leading me through the book as more of a casual observer than a true experience, which was a real let down.

Will I be reading the next part? The answer is yes, but I’m in no real hurry to do so. Will I be reading more Nancy Kress, definitely!

T-rex Dinosaur

Book Review: The Lost World

The Lost World
Author: Michael Crichton
Genre(s): DNA, Dinosaurs

After creating an initial hit of a sci-fi novel that explored the possibility of a return of dinosaurs to this world, Michael Crichton decided to follow up Jurassic Park with the sequel The Lost World. While many of the familiar names were missing in this book, some of the characters from the original did indeed return, including many of the deadly dinosaur types!

DNA,Dinosaurs

As with the first book, The Lost World really excels when the dinosaurs are on the pages. Crichton falls into a groove writing about these long extinct animals and knows how to use every one of them now. While no one will really ever know what the dinosaurs looked like exactly, Michael is great at painting a picture of what they should look like. And as always he does enough research on the subject to create pictures of what the leading scientists believe these animals would look like as well.

The most important thing to remember is that, as with most Crichton books, the movie is nowhere near the same as the book. There is no T-Rex rampaging through the streets of a suburb in California in the book, as there is in the movie. In addition many of the characters in the book do not appear in the movie for various reasons, and are replaced by people made specifically for the big screen.

One of the most critical parts that separates the book from the movie is the presence of the paleontologist Richard Levine. Without Levine the book would have lacked someone who could explain dinosaurs, while seeming credible, and add to the concept of the book. As Alan Grant did with the first book, Richard Levine enhances the Lost World and makes it a better book overall. The movies decision to cut out Levine enormously affected the quality of the production. Ian Malcolm, like in the movie, is also back in the book.

The action in The Lost World is just tremendous. The scene in the trailer, which is also in the movie but cut shorter, is one example of a great sequence in which the dinosaurs meet humans. All the familiar “evil” dinosaurs are back, from the tyrannosaurus rex to the raptors who hunt in packs.

All in all The Lost World is not as good of a book as Jurassic Park, but it attempts to use the same basic formula and comes up with a fairly fun read. Those who enjoyed the first book should pick up the second to see what it is about.

Science Fiction 2

Specialty Science Fiction in a Nutshell

I’m sure that a lot of young people today are beginning to discover written science fiction, as opposed to movie and TV SF, much as I did when I was a teenager. They may not be aware of an interesting and endearing phenomenon people my age experienced in the 1950s and ’60s, that of the specialty press publisher of science fiction.
I started buying Astounding SF in 1957, and before long I was seeing ads for books from Gnome Press, Shasta Publishers, Fantasy Press, etc. I think the names themselves clued me in to the fact that they were uniquely oriented to the SF field, but I had no idea that most of them were one or two-man operations.

Specialty Science Fiction

No idea, that is, until I ordered something that was out of print, and got a postcard about it, hastily typed and signed by Martin M. Greenberg, publisher of Gnome Press! Imagine ordering something from Doubleday and Co. and the chairman of the board drops you a line, “Gee, Billy, I don’t think we have any more of those, we’ll have to give your four dollars back. How’s your folks?”

It seems certain that the first and longest lasting of these publishers was Arkham House, founded as a venue to present the work of H. P. Lovecraft in a more permanent form than the pulp magazines in which he first appeared. Arkham went on to publish other Weird Tales authors like August Derleth, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Robert Block, Greye La Spina, etc., but they also made infrequent forays into the world of science fiction with outstanding books like A. E. van Vogt’s Slan.

Fantasy Press did as much for Edward E. Smith Ph.D. as Arkham did for Lovecraft, and Smith was still alive to appreciate quality hardcover publication. They issued books from his classic Skylark and Lensman series, and Spacehounds of IPC, in very interesting and attractive volumes with a small illustration embellishing the initial letter in each chapter. Even when the major publishers began science fiction programs, they weren’t doing anything like this.

Probably most of the major serials from Astounding during John W. Campbell’s tenure as editor achieved hardcover publication. In addition, many of the better serials and short stories from other publications were collected, as well as a number or originals which had never seen print in the magazines.

And unlike the major publishers who obtained jacket art and design from the same agencies that provided it for the other fiction in their line, the specialty publishers built their list of artists for their illustrated books from names the fans were used to seeing in the pulp magazines and amateur journals.

Hannes Bok provided excellent painted covers for Skull Face And Others and the House on the Borderland, both issued by Arkham House, The Titan from Fantasy Press, and for John Campbell’s Who Goes There? from Shasta.

Edd Cartier had the covers for I, Robot, Foundation and Empire and Cosmic Engineers from Gnome Press, and a sinister Dr. Lell with an hourglass for Masters of Time from Fantasy Press.

Ric Binkley, not the biggest fan favorite, nevertheless turned in a very satisfactory series of covers and chapter headings for the Doc Smith books about Kimball Kinnison and for others such as John Campbell’s The Black Star Passes.

And every Avalon book I’ve ever seen has a cover by Ed Emshwiller.

Fiction wasn’t the only thing produced by the specialty publishers. Advent, for example, was primarily known for its books about science fiction: critiques, memoirs, concordances, SF history, etc. This has served a valuable function in helping fans, old and new, to keep in touch with the field and to appreciate its history.

The era of the science fiction specialty publisher has pretty much passed. Fantasy Press, Shasta Publishers, Gnome Press, FPCI, Prime Press, these are all gone. But limited editions are still being produced, and will continue to be issued by enthusiasts who decry the fact that wonderful pieces of imaginative fiction and art are lying ignored by businesses whose prime motivation must always be determined by the bottom line.