Intelligent life

You may all think that I’m primarily a crime thriller kinda guy, a lot of the book reviews I post here are for crime, crime thrillers and thrillers. My current work in progress is also a crime thriller. So I clearly fit into a very neat little box created out of stacks of James Patterson releases for the month. But I like a lot of genres, I think most readers do, in fact I’d go as far as to say that all readers read more than one genre unless they are still battling with Where’s Waldo.

Needless to say, despite my current work – and several others in the pipeline – being crime thrillers, I have several outlines for stories in other genres. One of my first big ideas – quite literally, as I have a 50 page synopsis and several instalments plotted – was for a sci-fi story. Think Jack Reacher crossed with Jet Li (Did you know Jet Li is a real life hero?) inspired by Heinlein. Anyway, the main character, Caleb, is the last of his kind and is trying to save humans from themselves, whether that be leading a civil war, or deposing dictators at the various human colonies. Of course there have to be aliens in space.

The problem I’ve always had with aliens in books and movies is that they are too much like us. On Star Trek they could even pass for us, as long as they wore a headband.
But it isn’t just that they look so much like us, why would aliens even think of us as awesome? Would humans be actually interesting to aliens? If aliens are watching our broadcasts you could just about guarantee that they don’t consider any of the life on this planet intelligent.

Alien: So you consider your race intelligent?
Human: Why yes.
Alien: Explain Glenn Beck.
Human: Okay, some of us aren’t as…
Alien: And you dig up stored gases to change your atmosphere so that it wrecks your climate.
Human: But we needed fuel for power. We’ve got solutions to that now.
Alien: One word: Politicians.
Human: Please don’t wipe out our planet!

So in my alien research for my novel/s I finally found inspiration. Who better to inspire me than Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Richard Dawkins?*

See the rest of the discussion between Dawkins and DeGrasse here.

*Yes Carl Sagan would be inspirational too, but he isn’t in the video.

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Getting your terminology right

Sometimes I cringe, sometimes I laugh, because sometimes writers just haven’t done their homework. Speaking as an avid reader (check my Goodreads stats), it often disappoints me when I see mistakes in a book, TV show or movie. In a movie it isn’t really acceptable, they have consultants whose job it is to make sure they don’t mess up. A TV show might have a consultant who will get a call during their lunch break at their real job to confirm details, the consultant isn’t really listening because they know the scene has already been filmed and the writer has just been told to check to get them out of the director’s hair. In the book there is only the author to blame – editors could care less.

Lets not delve into those little facts and descriptions that always garner criticism, lets talk terminology. Is it too much to ask to have writers use the correct terminology for things? Unless your character is meant to be ignorant, a minute on Google (or one of the competitors) should be able to tell you that a passant is the strap on the shoulder of shirts or jackets that epaulettes are attached to and that a chevron is a ‘V’ shaped insignia that is often used to signify rank and may or may not be on the epaulette or the sleeve. This is just to cite one annoying example I have recently run across. Don’t get me started on CSI – the katana is only one of many swords made of folded steel!!

Anyway, I ran across an interesting list that shows how terminology is often misapplied just to cheer everyone up: mostly me.

1. A firefly is not a fly – it is a beetle

2. A prairie dog is not a dog – it is a rodent

Dogs and rodents are slightly different

3. India ink is not from India – it is from China and Egypt

4. A horned toad is not a toad – it is a lizard

5. A lead pencil does not contain lead – it contains graphite

6. A douglas fir is not a fir – it is a pine

7. A silkworm is not a worm – it is a caterpillar

8. A peanut is not a nut – it is a legume

9. A koala bear is not a bear – it is a marsupial

10. An English horn is not English and it isn’t a horn – it is a French alto oboe

11. A guinea pig is not from guinea and it is not a pig – it is a rodent from South America

12. Shortbread is not a bread – it is a thick cookie

13. Dresden China is not from Dresden – it is from Meissen

14. A shooting star is not a star – it is a meteorite

15. A funny bone is not a bone – it is the spot where the ulnar nerve touches the humerus

16. Chop suey is not a native Chinese dish – it was invented by Chinese immigrants in California

17. A bald eagle is not bald – it has flat white feathers on its head and neck when mature, and dark feathers when young

18. A banana tree is not a tree – it is a herb

19. A cucumber is not a vegetable – it is a fruit

20. A jackrabbit is not a rabbit – it is a hare

21. A piece of catgut is not from a cat – it is usually made from sheep intestines

22. A Mexican jumping bean is not a bean – it is a seed with a larva inside

23. A Turkish bath is not Turkish – it is Roman

24. A sweetbread is not a bread – it is the pancreas or thymus gland from a calf or lamb

Neil Gaiman’s speech to graduates

At my graduation ceremonies we had some bureaucrats being given honorary doctorates for their services to political backroom handshakes. Needless to say, their speeches were less than inspiring. While I’m not a fan of giving away honorary degrees to celebrities, it is good to see they are giving them to some deserving people who can give an inspiring speech to graduates.

Take it away Neil.

Make good art, especially when the zombies take over.

Idiots are getting smarter

Ever had an argument on the internet and realise that the person you are arguing with is putting their gross ignorance on display for others to see? Have you then noticed that far too many people support their ignorance?

This post is dedicated to all the people out there who try to bring science and knowledge to the internet: may all your posts be peer-reviewed.

Book Review: The Increment by Chris Ryan

The IncrementThe Increment by Chris Ryan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my second Chris Ryan novel and definitely not my last, good 3.5 star book. Chris and Andy McNab are both authors, both ex-SAS, both drawing upon their experience doing this thriller stuff for real. If I had to pick between the two authors, I’d have to say that I didn’t really want to piss either off. Chris is the better writer, but one thing I’ve noted is that both of their novels have an element of luck involved in the protagonist’s success.

I’m guessing the reason for this is down to experience of combat. I’d love to hear from combat vets and their thoughts on this. I suppose being shot at would feel random as to who doesn’t get hit.

This adventure has Matt Browning finding that no-one ever really quits doing work for the intelligence services. The reason for this not getting a 4 star is that the story is a little cliché and somewhat predictable. Still plenty of plot twists to enjoy.

View all my reviews