Orbit of Discovery: The All-Ohio Space Shuttle Mission

1937378721-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Orbit of Discovery: The All-Ohio Space Shuttle Mission by Don Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the beginning of the 20th-Century the state of Ohio has seemingly been on the forefront of manned flight from the Wright Brothers to Neil Armstrong to the flight of an “All-Ohio” crew of STS-70 aboard the shuttle Discovery. Don Thomas in Orbit of Discovery relates the entire history of the mission from his assignment to the crew to the post-mission events as well as the event that is it best known for, the woodpecker attack that delayed the launch.

Thomas begins his book with the sudden halt in his pre-flight routine when a love sick woodpecker drilled holes in the foam of the external tank forcing weeks of delays that put him and the other four members of the crew spinning their wheels. This pause allows Thomas to give an account about how he personally got to this point through his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut to his course of study in school to achieve that dream then his three time failures to join the program until finally succeeding on this fourth try. He then goes into his time in the program before his flight on the shuttle Columbia and quick turn assignment to Discovery soon after his return. Thomas then related the year long process of training and preparation for the mission until the sudden halt in the process when a woodpecker used the external tank to attract a mate. After NASA was able to repair the foam, the mission returns to normal save for the humor inclusions of Woody Woodpecker throughout the flight in space and the numerous post-mission events that Thomas relates in detail.

The uniqueness of the mission’s delay as well as the fact that the crew was entirely made up of astronauts from one state—well one was given honorable citizenship—made for a good hook for any general reader who might have an interest in the space program. Thomas with the assistance of Mike Bartell gives a very reader friendly look into what it was like to be an astronaut and the course of shuttle missions from assignment to post-flight events without becoming bogged down in technobabble. At the end of the book is included an appendix for profiles for all the astronauts that came from Ohio which is in the spirit of the book and adds a nice bit of history for those interested.

Overall, Orbit of Discovery is a well-written and easy to read book that gives a first-hand account of everything that went into a space shuttle flight. Don Thomas’ own story of his journey to finally getting to the program adds to the account in allowing the read to see how much dedication goes into becoming an astronaut. For those interested in any way in the space program, this is a highly recommended book.

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Genesis Revisited (The Earth Chronicles #4.5)

Genesis RevisitedGenesis Revisited by Zecharia Sitchin
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

How advanced in thought and science were the ancients? And is modern science catching up on what they knew? These questions are the basis of Zecharia Sitchin’s Genesis Revisited in which he looks back at the scientific developments since publishing of his book The 12th Planet (up until 1990) to show that his finds in that and subsequent books are being proven.

Organized in a well throughout manner, Sitchin begins each topical chapter—save the final two—looking at the scientific consensus and findings that have been advanced since the 1976 publication of his first book. Then after laying the foundation going back to the Sumerian texts that he first wrote about to show that modern science is now replicating the knowledge of the earliest civilizations that was brought to them by the Anunnaki of Nibiru. The last two chapters were focused on more “recent” developments, particularly the Phobos 2 incident and the sudden cooperation between the United States and the USSR in space particularly in regards to Mars.

Obviously the biggest flaw of this book is that it was published in the fall of 1990 meaning that there has been almost 30 years of advancement of scientific knowledge that has made some of this science discussed in the book outdated. Yet I have to give Sitchin credit for keeping things simple when explaining his theories by only hitting the high points and then referencing the reader to his earlier books for a more in-depth look. This allowed Sitchin to focus on the modern science more in each chapter as a way to compare it to his theories of Sumerian knowledge. Although the last two chapters contain some speculation of (then) current events they don’t diminish from Sitchin the achievement of staying focused so as to bring new readers to his books.

Essentially Genesis Revisited is a book that allowed Zecharia Sitchin to reach new readers who had not heard of his previous books as well show is long time readers new evidence that confirmed what he had been writing about. Although the book’s science is now dated, for those interested in ancient astronauts it’s something they might want to check out.

The Earth Chronicles

A (First) Read Through of Discworld

For a little over four years I’ve been reading one of the longest series in fantasy humor we might ever see, Discworld. Beginning with The Color of Magic on May 23, 2014 and finishing The Shepherd’s Crown on June 12, 2018 I read 41 books (plus a short story in an anthology) with a lot of laughs and a lot of interesting takes on the cliches of fantasy and real life issues.  But now it’s over and I’ll just be retreading old territory now when I read them again, and there will be an again.

So now that I don’t have any more Discworld books to look forward to, only look back on, I’ve decided to type out some of my thoughts.

Discworld_ReadingGuide_Infographic_EpicReads
Image Courtesy of Epic Reads

I read the series in order, the outer in the image above, though from the beginning I was looking forward to the Death installments (blue) because it was the TV adaptation of Hogfather that interested me in the series in first place and wasn’t disappointed.  Yet the biggest surprise enjoyment was Sam Vimes when I read Guards! Guards! and I looked forward to every Watch (green) book that followed.  The biggest disappointments was the slow decline of Rincewind throughout his series, Wizards on the above image, and that the Witches (pink) series really didn’t feel quality until after Magrat became Queen and was no longer an official witch only to become a better character.

Well that’s what I think after my first read through those 41 books and frankly now that I’ve done that, I know I have to go back and read them again now that I know what happens “in the future” to these characters.  Maybe my opinion for the first three Witch books will improve, maybe my opinion of The Color of Magic and The Light Fantastic will go down, and maybe I might hate Eric even more.

Those are all possibilities for whenever I begin my reread of Sir Terry’s fantastic series.  But maybe this time I might do add the various visual adaptations to review along side the books, something I failed to do with Hogfather and still fail to with Deathly Hallows.  Maybe I can get my act together?

However before any reread of Discworld begins, I’ve got a few more series to cover again including a reread of The Wheel of Time as well as reading the around 250 books I still have on my book shelf and any new ones that get published in the upcoming years.  In the mean time if you want to look at all my reviews of Discworld to go my series page that has links to each book’s review, which can be accessed at the SERIES tab above or at this link here.

Feel free to make any comments you want about Discworld in the comments below.

The Shepherd’s Crown (Discworld #41, Tiffany Aching #5)

0062429981-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Endings are sad no matter if it happens suddenly or you know it’s been coming for some time, but all good things come to an end. The Shepherd’s Crown is the final book of Tiffany Aching journey into mature witch as well as the 41st and last Discworld book by Terry Pratchett. Not only was this the last book, finished before Pratchett’s death, but saw the biggest development in the series ever—warning spoilers below.

While Tiffany Aching continues work as the Chalk’s witch both see and Jeannie the kelda feel something is about to happen, which it does with the death of Granny Weatherwax in Lancre that sets off a chain of events. Granny leaves everything, including her steading, to Tiffany thus making her be seen as “first among equals” amongst witches. But the death of Granny results in a weakened barrier between the Disc and Fairyland as many elves seeing the Queen as scared and cautious after her defeat by Tiffany years before and it only grows when they learn goblins have been accepted in human society and that iron—railways—now rule the land. The Queen is usurped by Lord Peaseblossom who begins raiding into Lancre and the Chalk, which adds to Tiffany’s burden of covering two steadings in to locales that becomes a bit easier when a Geoffrey leaves his noble family and travels to Lancre to become a witch and turns out to have some talent—for a man. Gathering together witch allies, the Feegles, elderly men looking for a fight, and the deposed Queen to battle an invasion, Tiffany uses the power in the Chalk to defeat Peaseblossom—who killed the Queen in battle—then summon the King of the Elves—who kills the usurper for killing his wife—to prevent them from ever returning. Afterwards Tiffany knowing no witch can replace Granny give the Lancre steading to Geoffrey then builds herself a hut from the bones of her own grandmother’s hut to have an official residence of her own.

Pratchett did not complete this book as he would have liked to as Neil Gaiman stated in a later interview and the clues were there for a more emotional ending and closure for fans, but this unfortunate missed opportunity does not detract seriously from the book. On the whole, the plot and character developments were nearly perfect with the only except of Mrs. Earwig who felt like she had more to be developed but that Pratchett hadn’t had enough time to provide it.

The Shepherd’s Crown is a book of endings for numerous reasons and because of that some people do not want to read it, especially those who have been fans longer than I have. However eventually I hope those people will eventually read Terry Pratchett’s last Discworld book and see that even right up to his own meeting with Death that he strove to create something that made you think and show your emotions.

Discworld

Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life

0140434887-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life by Herman Melville
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

While known today for vengeful captain chasing a white whale, Herman Melville’s writing career began with a travelogue of his adventure on the Nuku Hiva and was his most popular work during his life. Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life is a semi-autobiographical book that Melville wrote about his approximately 4 week stay that he “expanded” to 4 months in the narrative.

Melville begins his narrative when he describes the captain of the “Dolly” deciding to head to the Marqueas Islands and then events surrounding the ship’s arrival at the island as well as the actions of the French who were “taking possession” of it. Then Melville and a shipmate named Toby decide to ‘runaway’ to the valley of the Happar tribe and execute their plan when they get shore leave. Climbing the rugged cliffs of the volcanic island, they hide in the thick foliage from any searchers but realize they didn’t have enough food and soon Melville’s leg swells up slowing them down. Believing they arrived in the valley of the Happar, they make contact only to find themselves with the Typee. However the tribe embraces the two men and attempt to keep them amongst their number, but first Toby is able to ‘escape’ though Melville can’t help but think he’s been abandoned. Melville then details his experiences along amongst the cannibalistic tribe before his own escape with assistance of two other natives of the island from other tribes.

The mixture of narrative of Melville’s adventures and the anthropological elements he gives of the Typee make for an interesting paced book that is both engaging and dull. Though Melville’s lively descriptions of the events taking place are engaging, one always wonders if the event actually took place or was embellish or just frankly made up to liven up the overall tale. The addition of a sequel as an epilogue that described the fate of Toby, which at the time added credibility to Melville’s book, is a nice touch so the reader doesn’t wonder what happened to him.

Overall Typee is a nice, relatively quick book to read by one of America’s best known authors. While not as famous as Melville’s own Moby Dick, it turned out to be a better reading experience as the semi-autobiographical nature and travelogue nature gave cover for Melville to break into the narrative to relative unique things within the Typee culture.

City of God

0140448942-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_City of God by Augustine of Hippo
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

As a backlash against Christianity grew after the sack of Roman in 410 AD, Augustine of Hippo took up his pen to respond to pagans and philosophers as well as inform Christians about their priorities between heaven and earth. The City of God is one of the cornerstones of medieval Christianity and thought that even influences the world today.

Augustine divides his work into 22 books divided into two parts. The first part was to refute the accusation by pagans that the sack of Rome in 410 AD was punishment for abandoning the gods of Rome for Christianity. Throughout the first ten books of his work, Augustine critiques the Roman religion and philosophy from the multitude of deities and the contradictory beliefs related to them as well as the conflicting philosophies that supported and opposed them. The second part, consisting of the last twelve books of the work, discussed the titular City of God and how it relates with the city of man—the present world.

Augustine’s critique of pagan religion and philosophy in the first part of the book is honestly the highlight of the book. Not only did he defend Christianity but also exposed the contradictions within pagan religious beliefs a well as numerous schools of philosophies which defended or opposed those beliefs. If there was one downside within the first part, it would have been the troubling theological ideas that Augustine espoused that seemed more based on Plato than the Bible. However, it was in the second part of book that Augustine’s faulty theology truly became apparent so much so that I had to begin skimming through the text to prevent myself from contradicting Augustine in my head instead of reading. While not all of Augustine’s theology is wrong, God’s omniscience and human free will is an example, some of the defining examples I want to cover is the following: the immortality of the soul and eternal burning in hell connected to it, the claims that passages from the Old Testament are analogies for Christ and the church, that all of Psalms are prophecies written by David, the angels were created on the third day, and many more. It became too frustrating to stay focused and I admittedly might have skimmed over some of Augustine’s better theological arguments, but it was that or tossing the book.

City of God is both the refutation of pagan Roman practices and the theological understanding of Augustine for Christian believers. It’s importance for medieval Christianity and thought cannot be underscored enough, however that does not mean that every reader should not look at it critically.

Organizing for Mission and Growth: The Development of Adventist Church Structure (Adventist Heritage Series)

ad8a54e8e748d64597474506877444341587343Organizing for Mission and Growth. The Development of Adventist Church Structure by George R. Knight
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Throughout the history of the Seventh-day Adventist history there has been a constant question “To organize or not to organize, and if so how?” Organizing for Mission and Growth is the third book of the Adventist Heritage Series written by Adventist historian George R. Knight. In covering over 170 years in fewer than 190 pages, the book covers the struggles to first organize then restructuring and then reinvigorating the church so as to achieve its mission to spread its end time message.

The Sabbatarian Adventists out of the Millerite movement were small and disorganized across New York and New England, but their former denominational experiences and theological beliefs in the evils of organization forces the rising leaders of the group to do much of the work themselves particularly James White. While White himself initially was against organizing and “making a name”, the essential one-man operation that he was preforming led him to reexamine scripture and rethinking his anti-organizational ideas becoming a strong advocate for the organizing of the denomination so much so that he refused to become its first president. But as the decades past and the church grew, the strengths for church structure for a small number of believers over the breath of half a nation became detriments as membership grew and expanded worldwide leading to crisis that brought about restructuring at the beginning of the 20th Century. However, the divide in ideas about how to restructure causes nearly a decade of drama before it was resolved. Yet throughout the 20th Century the organization of the church was tweaked and reinvigorated with innovation on several levels but in the 21st Century many have begun questioning the extent of how much administration is needed compared to the previous 100 years.

Unlike what he was able to cover in A Brief History of Seventh-day Adventists, Knight goes in-depth on how Seventh-day Adventists got their name and how they structured their denomination’s organization and the debates for and against as well as how it innovated. Knight does not go in-depth over the entire course of the 155 year history of the General Conference, but he focuses on what needs to be in-depth like James White’s struggle to found the denomination and later the 1901-3 restructuring of the denomination by A.G. Daniels and others against the efforts by A.T. Jones and others who wanted a much decentralized organization (congregationalism). Yet the events of 1901-3 also had a theological element that while touched upon was discussed more in A Search for Identity, another Adventist Heritage Series book focused on the development of Seventh-day Adventist theology. This limited focus created a very strong book that gave the reader a clear history of its topic without going down various rabbit holes.

Although Knight intended Organizing for Mission and Growth to be the third of a seven book series related to Adventist heritage, however for over a decade it has been the last he has written. This fact does not take away how important this and other Adventist Heritage Series books for Seventh-day Adventists who are interested in the history of their denomination, it’s theological beliefs, and it’s organizational structure as they are the primary readers Knight aims for.

A Brief History of Seventh-day Adventists
A Search for Identity: The Development of Seventh-day Adventist Beliefs