All posts by ntbadmin

Half Time

Half Upon a Time
(Half Upon a Time #1)
by James Riley (2010)

Life’s no fairy tale for Jack. After all, his father’s been missing ever since that incident with the beanstalk and the giant, and his grandfather keeps pushing him to get out and find a princess to rescue. Who’d want to rescue a snobby, entitled princess anyway?

Another example of mixed up magic, fractured fairy tales and a modern re-interpretation of the classics.

This story throws just about everyone from fairy-tale land into the mix. At first it works, with the focus on Jack, there is humour and a sense of fun adventure. Unfortunately the author wants to throw more characters at the story.

So by the middle things are getting complicated and the fun tone becomes serious. In the end not a bad read, just something that could have been improved if someone pruned that beanstalk of a plot back a bit.


Astrid’s Bike

Astrid Maxxim and her Amazing Hoverbike
by Wesley Allison (2011)

From the 180,000 acre campus of Maxxim Industries, fourteen year old girl genius and inventor Astrid Maxxim works alongside her father, Dr. Roger Maxxim, on projects to make the world a better place. Her latest invention is a flying scooter—the hoverbike. Is it the target of an international spy ring, or are they after secret Project RG-7.

After humorous fantasy and the previous Sci-Fi book, this looked to be a bit different. It’s definitely aimed at the teen market. The protagonist is a young girl, she mainly interacts with her friends. Adults are brought in to advance the plot and provide some tension.

At only 37,000 words it’s a short read and while up to Allison’s usual standards, not a series I would continue with.

Orville 2

Orville Series 2

Episode 13 “Ja’loja”
The USS Orville travels to Moclus for Bortus’s Ja’loja, the annual urination ceremony that is attended by Moclan family and close friends. First Officer Kelly Grayson begins dating ship teacher Cassius, straining her relationship with Captain Ed Mercer.

Bit of a slow start to the series.

Episode 14 “Primal Urges”
The Orville spends time observing the planet Nyxia that is being consumed by its expanding red star. Bortus has been leaving work early and avoiding his mate, Klyden, to secretly spend time in pornographic simulator programs. Fed up, Klyden seeks to divorce Bortus via the Moclan custom of killing a spouse.

Episode 15 “Home”
When Isaac breaks Alara’s forearm during an arm wrestling challenge, Alara discovers her body is slowly losing its superhuman strength as it adapts to Earth’s gravity. At Dr. Finn’s recommendation, Alara returns to her home planet, Xelaya, to re-acclimate. While convalescing at her parents’ house, old familial conflicts resurface, prompting the family to visit their island vacation home to get reacquainted. Things go awry when fellow vacationers Cambis Borrin and his wife show up, seeking revenge against Alara’s scientist father.

Episode 16 “Nothing Left on Earth Excepting Fishes”
After making their romance known, Captain Ed Mercer and Lt. Janel Tyler leave for a short vacation together. While en route, the Krill capture their vessel. Janel is tortured, forcing Ed to divulge his (decoy) command codes; he soon learns that she is actually Teleya, the Krill teacher Ed encountered during a previous mission.

Episode 17 “All the World Is Birthday Cake”
The Orville detects a signal from Regor 2, a planet searching for other intelligent life in the universe, and initiates first contact. The Regorians welcome Ed, Kelly, Claire, Bortus, and new Xeleyan security chief, Talla Keyali. However, when it is learned that both Kelly and Bortus have birthdays in a few days, the Regorians denounce them as “Giliacs,” people who are predisposed to violence.

Episode 18 “A Happy Refrain”
Claire develops romantic feelings towards Isaac and wants to pursue a relationship; Isaac considers it an opportunity to study human romantic relations, but lacking emotions, is unable to return Claire’s affections.

Episode 19 “Deflectors”
The Orville travels to Moclas to have new regenerative deflectors installed. Bortus’s former boyfriend, Locar, a brilliant Moclan engineer, oversees the installation. Locar becomes attracted to Keyali but says Moclans preferring females to males is a punishable crime; she agrees to keep their relationship secret.

Episode 20 “Identity”
After Isaac collapses and becomes inert, the Orville travels to his home world, Kaylon 1, hoping he can be revived. Mercer also wants to learn whether the Kaylons have decided to join the Planetary Union.

Episode 21 “Identity Part II”
As the commandeered Orville and the massive Kaylon fleet race toward Earth to exterminate all biological life, the ship’s crew remains imprisoned in the shuttle bay.

Part 2 is a big all out space battle. There is a saying.. “Space is big.. really big”. But here the fighting is almost in two dimensions and really close.

Episode 22 “Blood of Patriots”
The Orville rendezvous with a Krill ship to initiate peace talks. Upon arrival, they find the Krill firing on their own shuttlecraft, which crash lands inside the Orville’s shuttle bay with two occupants aboard. Gordon recognizes one as his old friend and Union officer, Orrin Channing. He and daughter, Leyna, have escaped after 20 years in a Krill prison camp.

Episode 23 “Lasting Impressions”
The crew examines a time capsule from 2015 Saratoga Springs, New York. One recovered item is a cell phone contributed by Laura Huggins, a young 21st century woman who wanted future discoverers to know about her and her life. Impressed with her candor, Gordon uploads the phone’s data to the ship’s computer and requests a simulation of Laura’s environment and life.

Episode 24 “Sanctuary”
After undergoing a weapons upgrade at Moclus, the Orville takes on two Moclan passengers, engineer Toren and his mate Korick. The duo are smuggling their female infant offworld to avoid gender “corrective” surgery or persecution. Bortus uncovers their secret, but, sympathetic, agrees to remain silent.

Episode 25 “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow”
Kelly and Ed reminisce about their first date, seven years earlier. Ed is open to them reconciling but Kelly prefers their relationship as it is now. Meanwhile, Isaac is experimenting with a neurology-based time-travel device. Kelly is near the device as the Orville passes through a gravitational wave, and a Kelly from seven years in the past is transported to the present.

Episode 26 “The Road Not Taken”
Nearly a year after the original timeline was altered, the Kaylon have conquered half the known galaxy. Ed and Gordon now survive by scavenging supplies. After barely escaping the Kaylon, their ship is captured by Kelly, who has reunited the Orville officers, minus Bortus and Isaac, from her original timeline.


EV vs Auto

EV vs Auto

Interesting experience over the weekend test driving two possible upgrades to my 2009 Toyota Yaris.

The first is the 2012 Nissan Leaf.

Nissan Leaf

The second is a 2016 Toyota Yaris Automatic.

2016 Toyota Yaris

A bit of background. I have only owned and operated manual transmission cars. Starting with a Hillman Hunter, then a Toyota Starlet (cira 1980), another Starlet then my current Yaris.

2009 Yaris

Driving the Leaf is a bit like putting a manual in first gear, putting your foot down and feeling a steady surge in power up to road speed without the noise of a high revving car. It’s very smooth and steady.

The experience of the automatic transmission was very different. When accelerating from start, there is a little shudder as the automatic transmission engages and the car moves forward. Then, at around 10-15km per hour there is a discernible surge as the next gear is engaged. This continues a few times up to 50kmph.

As a long-time manual driver I found this disconcerting as I have always been in charge of the engine power transmission through the accelerator and clutch.

Or maybe it was my recent experience with the Leaf (and previously with a BWM i3) for comparison that I was disappointed.

I can only assume that long time automatic transmission drivers adapt to this. I just found it annoying.

The leaf is heavier (1,535kg) than the Yaris (1,035kg) and this does show in that the Yaris just feels lighter and more maneuverable. Also, with its more enclosed dashboard/seating area the Leaf feels a bit more up-market.

The Leaf is also half a metre longer (4.48m vs 3.945m), so while both cars are hatchbacks the Leaf is bigger and feels more like a family car.

Another surprising discovery was that I have become used to the 2009 Yaris dashboard with its digital display and numerical speedometer.

The new 2016 Yaris has reverted to an analog clock style and I was finding it took maybe half a second longer to read the speed.

The Leaf has a dashboard with the speed shown in a high position above the steering wheel. Much Better.


So from my experience (so far) an electric car is just as good (or better than) a manual transmission. I’m sure my next car will be electric.

Not sure if I will go with a Leaf, or wait until some of the smaller EV’s make their way into the New Zealand second hand market.


Wish List

Pininfarina Battista

5 March 2019: Car Maker Automobili Pininfarina claims its Battista does 0-62mph in less than two seconds, 186mph in less than 12 seconds, has a top speed of more than 250mph, and does 280 miles on one charge (only £2,000,000).


Fatal Exchange

Fatal Exchange
(Fatal #1)
by Russell Blake (2011)


Tess Gideon, a female Manhattan bike messenger with an appetite for the wild side, becomes embroiled in a rogue nation’s Byzantine scheme to destabilize the U.S. financial system.

One of Blake’s earlier works and shows his skills with plot and characters. Just as good as his Jet Series, although a bit more gore.

The thing I like about the story most is that the main protagonist is not expected to be an invincible hero (like Jet). Instead, it’s a team of Police, FBI and CIA that solve the crimes and bring in the bad guys.

Recommended for thriller fans.


Last Iota

The Last Iota
(The Big Sheep #2)
by Robert Kroese (2017)

Navigating the boundaries between the Disincorporated Zone and LA proper is a tricky task, and there’s no one better suited than eccentric private investigator Erasmus Keane. So when movie mogul Selah Fiore decides she needs to get her hands on a rare coin lost somewhere in the city, she knows Keane is the man for the job.

This follows immediately from ‘The Big Sheep’ and is just as good.
Looking for the coin (a physical artifact of a new online encrypted currency) the story turn out to be a meditation on the meaning money.

What is it ?

Does it really exists and if nobody believes in it, will it disappear ?

And it’s also a sci-fi crime story with plenty of action.

Orville 1

Orville Series 1

The Orville is an American science fiction television series created by and starring Seth MacFarlane. MacFarlane stars as Ed Mercer, an officer in the Planetary Union’s line of exploratory space vessels. After his career takes a downturn following his divorce, he is given the ship Orville as his first command, only to discover that his ex-wife, Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki), has been assigned as his first officer. Inspired by several sources, including Star Trek and The Twilight Zone, the series tells the story of Mercer, Grayson, and the crew of the Orville as they embark on various diplomatic and exploratory missions.

Episode 1 ‘Old Wounds”
Introduction of the characters: Ed Mercer (McFarlane) divorces his wife, Kelly Grayson, after catching her cheating on him. Feeling guilty, she call in favours to get him a position as captain of the U.S.S. Orville, a mid-level exploratory vessel.

This first episode is OK, but it’s not clear what the genre and tone will be. It feels very Star Trek-TNG.

Episode 2 Command Performance
The technologically advanced Calivon capture and imprison Mercer and Grayson for a new exhibit in a zoo filled with humanoid species from throughout the galaxy. Alara is left in command of the Orville, as Bortus has laid an egg and must incubate it. Left in charge, Alara disobeys orders and retrieves Mercer and Grayson, along with a kidnapped alien child.

This feels like another story I have seen from the original series – feels like they are recycling old TV shows.

Episode 3 “About a Girl”
When Doctor Finn refuses Bortus and Klyden’s request for her to perform sex reassignment surgery on their daughter, a standard Moclan practice on the rare occasion a female is born, they petition
Mercer to order the procedure.

The first real ‘issues’ episode. This could be a metaphor for other injustices. Fortunately they don’t resolve the problem by having the Crew’s opinions prevail.

Episode 4 “If the Stars Should Appear”
The Orville encounters an immense, 2000-year-old derelict ship drifting into a star. Mercer, Grayson, Kitan, Finn, and Isaac enter, discovering an artificial biosphere and a civilization of
three million who worship an entity called Dorahl.

Not a new concept in SciFi, from Arthur C Clarke’s ‘Rama’ series to Wesley Allison’s ‘Princess of Amathar’. A Dyson sphere is a hypothetical mega-structure that completely encompasses a star and captures a large percentage of its power output. The concept is a thought experiment that attempts to explain how a space-faring civilization would meet its energy requirements once those
requirements exceed what can be generated from the home planet’s resources alone.

Grayson is held prisoner by their theocratic dictator. Although this is mainly due to her approaching him as an enemy.Eventually the crew rescue her and reveal the nature of the world to the inhabitants. Liam Neeson turns up in an ancient video recording.

Again a bit derivative but it does have a satisfying ending.

Episode 5 “Pria”
The Orville rescues Captain Pria Levesque (played by Charlize Theron) from her imperiled mining ship. The beautiful Pria charms the crew and romances Mercer.

Anything with Theron is going to be good, and she delivers the goods, captures the ship to ‘sell’ only to be beaten by the security officer.

Episode 6 “Krill”
After recovering an intact Krill shuttle, Mercer and Malloy are ordered to pose as Krill soldiers to board one of their vessels and obtain a copy of the Ankhana, a sacred religious text via which
the Krill believe by divine right they are superior to all other species in the universe.

Everything about this story seems forced and illogical, designed to put the Captain in situations where he has to make ‘difficult’ decisions.

Episode 7 “Majority Rule”
Grayson and an undercover team land on Sargas 4, a planet with a culture similar to 21st-century Earth, to search for two missing anthropologists. LaMarr is arrested after what is considered
inappropriate public behavior and receives more than a million “down” votes by viewers watching a televised clip of the film footage.

One of the best of the series. Here the writers create a satire on social media. Popularity is everything. But the ending is rather contrived and allows everyone to escape.

Episode 8 “Into the Fold”
While traveling to a recreational planet in a shuttle, Isaac, Finn, and her sons, Marcus and Ty, fall into a spatial fold, and crash land on a planet a thousand light-years away from their original location.

Really, just an episode to allow Penny Johnson Jerald (Kasidy Yates of DS9) to strut her stuff, from mom to action hero.

Episode 9 “Cupid’s Dagger”
The Orville is dispatched to mediate talks between the Navarians and the Bruidians, two alien species at a centuries-old stalemate over which race lays proper claim over the planet Lapovius.
Also assigned to the matter is Darulio (Rob Lowe), the Retepsian whose affair with Grayson a year prior ended her marriage to Mercer.

The best of the series. Mainly due to the script and story structure. It manages to get Seth McFarlane for fall for Rob Lowe (in blue face). The humour really works, mainly because it is done by secondary characters. The solution to the talks becomes apparent to the audience before the characters discover it. And the final line “maybe” resonates through future episodes.

Episode 10 “Firestorm”
When Lt. Payne is trapped beneath debris during a plasma storm, Alara’s pyrophobia causes her to hesitate, resulting in his death. Blaming herself, she tenders her resignation, which Mercer

Another episode concentrating on a main character (Halston Sage as Firestorm). It soon becomes apparent that she has stepped out of ‘reality’ when major characters die. Fun to see some action,
but like all the ‘alt-reality’ stories, not very satisfying.

Episode 11 “New Dimensions”
With Lt. Newton leaving the Orville, Mercer must find a new chief engineer. Although Yaphit is next in line for the position, Cmdr. Grayson discovers that LaMarr has been concealing his
intellectual gifts.

This is just an excuse for the art department to show some very cool Tron-like graphics. As expected, there is reference to Flatland by Edwin Abbott.

Episode 12 “Mad Idolatry”
Grayson leads a shuttle team that crashes on a suddenly appearing planet with a Bronze Age society. After leaving, the crew discovers that the planet phases in to the universe for a short period every 11 days as 700 years passes on the planet.

The series ends with one of its best. The theme of societies evolving and leaving behind their religious part is not new. But the mechanism by which it happens is different, and manages to
provide some surprises.

Women Power

Women of Power
by Wesley Allison (2011)

The life of a superhero is tough. All American Girl fights super-villains, alien invaders, and terrorists as she tries to get product endorsements and a magazine deal. That’s nothing compared to her private life though. She’s only just broken up with her super boyfriend Perihelion when he’s scooped up by Omega Woman, and now rival Skygirl has moved into her territory.

Probably one of the least successful of Allison’s books. This is due to the inherent nature of the superheroes. They are almost indestructible, so there is no sense of jeopardy.

Also it’s a short book at 36,000 words. So there is little space for character development. He even throws in an alien invasion for good measure. Feels like this would make a better comic.

Tesla’s Stepdaughters

Tesla’s Stepdaughters
by Wesley Allison (2010)


In a world where men are almost extinct, someone is trying to kill history’s greatest rock & roll band. Science Police Agent John Andrews must negotiate a complicated relationship with Ep!phanee, the band’s lead singer; drummer Ruth De Molay, bassist Steffie Sin, and the redheaded clone lead guitarist Penny Dreadful, as he protects them and tries to discover who wants to kill the Ladybugs.

Set in a steampunk alternative world this is kind of a detective story, although the detective-ing  only enters the story at the end.

The Ladybugs are obviously a female version of the Beatles, with a longer lifespan and more output.

Short but entertaining, the last quarter of the book is a list of all the songs and albums the musicians released.


Big Sheep

The Big Sheep
(The Big Sheep #1)
by Robert Kroese (2016)

Los Angeles of 2039 is a baffling and bifurcated place. After the Collapse of 2028, a vast section of LA, the Disincorporated Zone, was disowned by the civil authorities, and became essentially a third world country within the borders of the city.

Navigating the boundaries between DZ and LA proper is a tricky task, and there’s no one better suited than eccentric private investigator Erasmus Keane. When a valuable genetically altered sheep mysteriously goes missing from Esper Corporation’s labs, Keane is the one they call.

Unlike the previous Kroese novels I have read, this is is near future science fiction,  without the humour/ It still has a light, witty tone, but the story takes on a lot of Sci-Fi tropes, from the mass media to consciousness to cloning.

Underlying at fun and weird plot twists is a basic detective story: Who stile the sheep any why.

Recommended for anyone who likes Science Fiction.