Tag: Aliens

Announcing: The Warbler Weekly (And a Book Review!)

According to the Gregorian calendar, it is nearly the end of February. Somewhere around the middle of this month—and truth be told, I can’t remember the exact date—The Warbler celebrated its seventh birthday. Seven years! It’s been an interesting time, to say the least, and I am immensely grateful to you, readers and friends, for helping me forge my love of reading into something tangible.

Today, I’m delighted to tell you about something new. More than a few of you know that I, along with several colleagues and friends, host a weekly writing podcast called Write Right on which we discuss a variety of writerly topics near and dear to my heart. I’ve been mulling over the idea of expanding this blog into a multimedia extravaganza for some time, and at the repeated insistence of my friend G. Derek Adams, I have done just that.

Meet The Warbler Weekly. It’s a companion to this blog (which I’ll continue trying to update with written reviews as often as I am able) in which I’ll cover one book or several works by a single author every week. The podcast will likely expand into other topics as I pursue a variety of endeavors, so I’m keeping it very loose. I’ll be publishing a post on the site every time I publish a new episode, too.

I’m using Anchor to host and distribute it, but the platform offers a bunch of neat features. For instance, if you download it, you can record questions or comments on episodes and send them to me, which I can in turn feature on future episodes. An asynchronous conversation, audible to all kinds of book nerds. Sounds fun, right?

The first episode is up right now, and you can subscribe to the podcast on any of your favorite services—links below to the big ones.

The first book review on The Warbler Weekly is Aliens: The World’s Leading Scientists on the Search for Extraterrestrial Life, a book of nonfiction essays compiled by Jim Al-Khalili. Give the episode a listen and let me know what you think!

Anchor Podcasts      Apple Podcasts       Google Play Music      PocketCasts

A Closed and Common Orbit – Becky Chambers

While I haven’t read The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, the first book in Becky Chambers’s Wayfarers series, I found A Closed and Common Orbit, last year’s Hugo-nominated sequel to that volume, a deeply enjoyable and approachable read. The characters are rich and honest, the universe is extensive and fascinating, and the writing is excellent.

At the core of A Closed and Common Orbit is one question, explored from several angles: what is personhood?

Whether the AI learning the limitations of a single body, an escaped genetically engineered slave finding out about the world outside her prison, a ship AI exploring motherhood, or an alien shifting between genders with fluidity, each character arc deals with the question of personhood. (Personhood as opposed to humanity is something particularly interesting to explore, given our own proximity to artificial intelligence and our somewhat limited understanding of consciousness.)

There isn’t an adventure at the heart of A Closed and Common Orbit, but there is action and change, despite the slow pacing of the novel. From a quick search, I gather that the pacing presented a problem for some readers, but I feel that a book about asking difficult questions and exploring them with genuine care should take it slow, be methodical, and not detract from it’s central premise with an epic dressing.

I am sure that, by making a categorical statement, I am shooting myself in the foot. There’s no doubt that it’s possible to write a compelling adventure that deals with the essence of personhood. That isn’t this book, though. This book takes time to show the confusion, fear, pain, and the joy, wonder, and curiosity that are part of the conscious experience. It made me think. A lot. And for that, I genuinely appreciate it. In a year filled to brimming with excellent reads, A Closed and Common Orbit may have fallen short of where it otherwise might have been on best-of lists. It’s an excellent book. One I won’t soon forget.

A Closed and Common Orbit is available on Amazon. (Use that link to buy it, if you like, and support The Warbler while doing it!)

Behold a Pale Horse – William Cooper

Caveat Emptor: I get into a somewhat aggressive discussion about biblical literalism below.

Before I dig into this review, I have a confession to make: I didn’t finish Behold a Pale Horse. I couldn’t. I think that if the election had gone differently, if the world didn’t seem so crazy right now, that I might have been able to finish it.

But I just couldn’t get through it. William Cooper’s frantic writing, logically fallacious conclusions, and absolute certainty about the end-times in which the Illuminati rise to power (the dates of which are well behind us) made it impossible to read. It may be that I’m throwing the baby out with the bathwater here, given the likelihood that there are kernels of truth contained in the sprawling madness of Cooper’s words, but I’m not too bothered by that prospect.

Cooper alleges that all secret societies are connected, that all serve the Illuminati, and that all are working toward a singular goal: the subjugation of humanity. Meh. He also thinks that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is actually an Illuminati document, and pretty much any time the Protocols are invoked, my eyes roll so far into the back of my head that I can see my own neurons shutting down.

What I found most interesting about my partial (around 50%) read of the book was an observation I made regarding Constitutional Purists. Cooper’s rabid loyalty to the Constitution (with which he lumps in the Bill of Rights, a concept I’ll expand on below) reminds me of Biblical Literalists. People whose deeply held beliefs require certain cognitive sacrifices—to actively ignore millennia of human progress; to make use of the consumer benefits of the scientific method while denying the process that leads to those tangible discoveries; to selectively choose that some biblical Truths are more True than others, while still others can be completely ignored.

When Cooper talks about the Constitution, he talks of an infallible work of genius, a document of such tremendous power and unfailing wisdom that it alone could rule the land. And he lumps in the Bill of Rights—the first 10 amendments to that infallible Constitution—along with them.

Think about that for a minute. The Bill of Rights, comprised of those tremendously important changes to the infallible document, specifically having to do with personal freedoms. The thing was designed to change with the changing world.

Change is terrifying, no doubt about that. Our understanding of the world around us is constantly bombarded by new information, and that bombardment has only grown more fierce with the development of the astounding communication technologies on which we rely every day.

Which brings me back to Behold a Pale Horse. Much of the book was written long before its 1991 publication, and in the intervening years many of his certainties about the pending collapse of individual freedoms and the subjugation of humankind have failed to come to pass. 2000 went by without a hitch. As did 2012. No alien takeovers. No government prison camps—aside from the for-profit prison industry, but that’s another can of worms. No Grand Conspiracy. Nowadays, with the prevalence and power of the individual to do research online, Behold a Pale Horse seems more like a guy with a “THE END IS NEAR” sign than a prescient and brilliant book about Hidden Truths.

What drew me to this book was the discussion of the UFO phenomenon, which it does get to, but it dwells far too long on the idea that Alien civilizations are in on the whole “subjugation of humanity” thing. I don’t buy that, either. I don’t think we’re important enough, or valuable enough, frankly. It’s the same audacity of that biblical literalist, that the world was created for us. That we are the most important and magnificent things out there, divinity notwithstanding.

I think it’s much more humbling to acknowledge the truth of the Pale Blue Dot. We’re here, and we have the most remarkable and strange and perhaps unknowable gift of consciousness, and for the tiniest of moments on the cosmic scale, we can observe the most magnificent concert of physics unfolding. To me, that’s much more interesting than bunkers and evil supergovernmental organizations and mean aliens that want to harvest our organs or whatever.

I don’t often put a book down without finishing it, even if I loathe it. This was an exception—I didn’t even hate it, truth be told. I just couldn’t compound the anxiety and frustration of the current political climate with the shenanigans in Behold a Pale Horse. And, for what it’s worth, there are much better UFO books out there.

Inish Carraig – Jo Zebedee

Inish Carraig is a book that was robbed of placement on the shortlist for last year’s Hugo awards, its spot taken by the likes of the inimitable Chuck Tingle, who was placed there by the antics of a group of angry men whose only wish is to Make Science Fiction Great Again.

I hadn’t heard of the book, or of Jo Zebedee, its author, when she emailed me toward the end of last year asking for a review. I imagine that, in some ways, that was the dastardly puppies’ goal. To relegate strong authors to obscurity.  It’s tragic, because so many great books, like Zebedee’s, are casualties of the puppies’ campaign. As I said to her in an email, it’s a tremendous honor for this ol’ blog o’ mine to get contacted by a Hugo nominee. If my review won’t compel you to pick up Innish Carraig, I hope at the very least you’ll check out her other work at jozebedee.com.

Inish Carraig is, among many other things, a great read. Its characters are well-built and compelling (if occasionally frustrating in the way teenagers can be), its setting is electric, and the story so solidly built that I honestly had no idea how the conflict would resolve. Up until the very last pages, I was guessing what would happen, and I was wrong on every count. The surprise was perfect, the resolution satisfying, and the the whole thing packed up neatly.

The story follows John Dray, a survivor of a brutal alien invasion, as he attempts to feed his siblings in bombed-out Belfast. He’s caught up in a conspiracy that is way over his head when he’s accidentally responsible for the genocide of the on-planet occupiers, a sort of insectoid race which came to Earth for its resources.

What follows is equal parts action adventure, mystery, teen angst, and political maneuvering. John is caught in the middle of a galactic war between bizarre species, and the safety of all humanity hangs in the balance. It’s all very epic.

It would have been a clichéd YA novel, if not for Zebedee’s hard approach—it’s definitely not a kids’ book—and excellent planning of the story. She seeded my brain with all of the proper assumptions/red herrings to keep me from predicting how the book would end, and that left such a deep satisfaction in me that as I finished the last paragraph, I actually sighed with contentment.

Inish Carraig isn’t what I expected, and I think that, reading my own words above, it probably isn’t what you expect either. The long story can be condensed thus: Inish Carraig is an excellent take on the alien-invasion paradigm, drawn with stark lines that give no quarter from the anger and terror that such a situation would impose, especially on young survivors. You should absolutely pick up a copy.

Inish Carraig is available on Amazon.

Chariots of the Gods — Erich von Daniken

9781452671536Several years ago, while working at PlayStation, I was introduced to the most compelling evidence I have ever seen for the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence. That there is extraterrestrial life is, to me, a given. That there is intelligent extraterrestrial life also strikes me as true, it not because of statistical likelihood, then certainly because of the aforementioned evidence.

That evidence came in the form of a four hour documentary called “The Disclosure Project,” in which people who are trained observers — pilots, control tower operators, radar technicians… Mainly military and paramilitary personnel —  soberly talk about their experiences with UFOs and other phenomena. I’m not asking you to watch all four hours of it, but I encourage you to check it out. It might blow your mind a little bit.

“The Disclosure Project” started me down the rabbit hole of research into extraterrestrials. The issue is that the “good stuff” is obfuscated — some say intentionally — by stories and individuals that must be ignored outright. Finding the wheat among the chaff is, unfortunately, not unlike searching for a particular piece of hay in a haystack. The labyrinthine world of extraterrestrial research collides with many other communities, from New Agers to conspiracy theorists and everything in between, and among the group are the Ancient Astronaut theorists.

Simply put, the Ancient Astronaut theory states that ancient texts — religious texts in particular — contain accounts of extraterrestrial visitation. The theory uses things like the great pyramids, nazca lines, and other relics of the ancient past to further prove their point; ancient peoples, they reason, can’t possibly have had the technology to build those things. Therefore, aliens.

The-Ancient-Aliens-Guy-And-The-Ancient-Astronaut-TheoryI’m not certain, but I believe the principle text of Ancient Astronaut theory is Erich von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods, which was on sale at Audible.com over black Friday.

So I happily purchased it, knowing that I’d get to it eventually, and a few weeks ago I had roughly five and a half hours of chores to do during which I listened to the book in its entirety.  The narrator, William Dufris, performed admirably, but considering that the book is non-fiction, performance wasn’t a thing to which I gave much consideration.

What I cared about was the substance of the book. I wanted to find in it compelling evidence that would show me beyond a shadow of a doubt that civilizations visited this planet thousands of years ago and sparked human society.

But I didn’t find it in Chariots of the Gods. What I found instead was more of the same frustrating tactics that plague the UFO discussion at large: the faulty logic that absence of evidence for one condition constitutes evidence for another, the assumption that ancient religious texts are literally true, and half-formed points followed by series of leading questions designed to distract from the lack of complete evidence.

That isn’t to say that the book wasn’t interesting; on the contrary, I found it to be a fascinating look back in time, to the late 60s, when the moon landing electrified the world and filled people with wild dreams of a technological, interplanetary future. It is particularly interesting to see von Daniken’s wishful predictions about moon colonies in the 80s and humans on Mars by the 90s. I often wondered while listening to the book whether his thoughts were representative of the zeitgeist or if he was an outlier. I suppose I could ask my parents, who would have been in their early twenties at the time.

But back to the book. I understand the point of a persuasive essay, sure, but a Chariots of the Gods only has a handful of salient points within its pages. That being said, I find Ancient Astronaut theory plausible—which would essentially make humanity a cargo cult— which is why I was even more disappointed in the book than I ought to have been.

By asking a plausible question and following up with hysterically delivered series of hypothetical absurdities, von Daniken weakens his salient points. He rests his hat upon the assertion that the Epic of Gilgamesh, Bhagavad Gita, and old testament are literally true, that Ezekiel’s vision of the heavenly Merkabah (Chariot) was an eyewitness account. He takes them to be truths without offering any kind of support for that assumption, leaning (I surmise) on the convenience of widespread belief in gospel truth.

That particular assumption fails my first litmus test, and that so many of the subsequent arguments are built on this shaky foundation weakens the whole book enough for me to want to throw the babies out with the bathwater. There are good points in there: rock quarried from places too far to transport conveniently, with no evidence of said transport; mysterious metal alloys that make no sense; accurate drawings of the Pleiades constellation on rocks; and many, many others. Instead, von Daniken and his heirs argue that Sodom and Gomorrah were annihilated by nuclear weapons.  In my mind, that’s not a relevant point.

At the end of the day, the five-hour book is worth listening to, not only because of its sporadic delivery of real head-scratchers, but for its effectiveness as a window into the recent past. And if you click on this here link, you’ll be throwing me a bone, which I appreciate. But if you’re looking for something a bit more serious to dig into UFO research, look at Disclosure (part one, part 2) and  Sirius.