Book Review: Vessel

Good sci-fi book that ended before the story did.

Recently I have had a hard time finding a book that I actually wanted to finish. I’ve abandoned two books by good authors that didn’t hold my interest. I started to think it was me, but then I picked up Vessel by first-time author Lisa R. Nichols, and I was immediately drawn in by the story.

Vessel is the story of Catherine Wells, a lone surviving astronaut, returning from a failed mission to a faraway planet. Her unexpected return plunges her into personal and professional turmoil. But this isn’t merely a human interest story. Something went terribly wrong on the mission and nobody knows what, including Catherine. Now she has to unravel the mystery before it’s too late.

Vessel was an enjoyable read with engaging characters (something lacking in other books I’ve recently read), and a story interesting enough to keep my interest to the end. Wells wove flashback scenes from the mission in with the main storyline, creating a slow-burn effect that was effective. All in all, this book was a fun read, but not without some issues.

First, the characters sometimes behaved in ways that were out of character. For example, a top NASA administrator stakes out the home of the main character because he is suspicious of her. I had a hard time buying that. I don’t mind suspending reality when I read fiction, but the characters have to be believable.

On another occasion, one of the male astronauts who is spurned by a female crew member en route to a new planet, sulks the whole time, even when they are the first human being to set foot on an alien world. That stretched the bounds of credibility in my mind. There were a few other implausible scenarios, but, like the two mentioned, nothing I couldn’t get passed.

Second, the book didn’t end, it just stopped. There are two things necessary for a good novel, an enjoyable journey with a satisfying ending. Wells accomplished the first, but not the second. While the author resolved some issues, she kicked the can down the road on the main storyline. My guess is, there’s a sequel coming, but I would have preferred more resolution in this one first.

I liked Vessel and would recommend it to anyone who is fan of this genre. I look forward to a sequel by this author if one is in the works.

Are We Ready to Connect Our Brains to the Cloud?

Brain-Cloud Interface joins the Brave New World

Do the letters B-CI mean anything to you? Probably not, but they might mean something to your children or grandchildren. The abbreviation, B-CI stands for brain-cloud interface which many are calling an internet of thoughts, or a ‘global superbrain’ as some have described it.

I stumbled across this idea in research for my new book, The Ten Thousand, and while I don’t use these ideas directly, it was too interesting not to pass on (and who knows, maybe it will show up in a book someday.) I won’t bore you with the details, but the B-CI idea was first introduced as something more than science fiction in March of this year in Frontiers of Neuroscience and has gained worldwide attention ever since. Here’s why. Future technologies called neuralnanorobotics will enable neural activity in the human brain to connect with external data storage and processing.

The applications of this kind of technology are both fascinating and a little bit scary. Scientists are suggesting that in the next several decades, information can be directly transferred from the human brain to a cloud-based supercomputer. Likewise, information can be downloaded from the cloud to a human brain. You think kids have it easy today with access to Google, wait until they just have to think it, to know it.

It’s not all about education and knowledge, however. If we can upload and download information from our brains, we can share someone else’s experiences or memories through what is called “transparent shadowing.” (I think there might be a lot of wives who will want their husbands to experience childbirth.) The article in Frontiers of Neuroscience suggests that such an application of this technology will hopefully “encourage and inspire improved understanding and tolerance among all members of the human family.” No doubt, but I can’t help thinking about the more sinister or hedonistic applications that this kind of technology will inspire. The internet has been used in both wonderful and hideous ways. There’s no reason to think B-CI would be any different, no matter how Utopian those developing it might make it sound.

Every generation has to deal with the brave new world technology is foisting upon us. How we face it may say something about who we are. In recent years I have made an effort to think of technology as my friend and not my enemy. This mindset has made my life easier and less stressful. But when I consider connecting my mind to the cloud, I think I’d rather write about it than experience it.

Are There Secret Tunnels Under the White House?

In my book, The New World, Raisa and Alexander escape the White House (for a night of dinner and dancing) through a secret tunnel. Of course, this idea is not new. The 1993 movie Dave showed the President sneaking out of the executive mansion via a tunnel that surfaced in Lafayette Square. The 1997 movie Murder at 1600 claimed that Lincoln had a tunnel built to Lafayette Park. The movie was based on a book by Margaret Truman, daughter of President Harry Truman, leaving one to wonder if she had some insider information.

It’s fun to write about secret passageways, especially in the nation’s capital; the possibilities for intrigue are plentiful. But are there tunnels that the president can use to leave the White House secretly? Answering that question is a little bit tricky. Of course, there is plenty of speculation online about underground passageways and bunkers in Washington, D.C., but how much of that is true?

After some research here’s what I can say with some certainty. In 1987 a tunnel was dug which connected the West Wing with the East Wing. It was purportedly used to give secure access to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center which is located beneath the East Wing. Nixon is said to have used this tunnel to visit Reagan in the West Wing.

Beginning in 2010, a tunnel was excavated near the West Wing. It took more than two years to complete. According to officials, the tunnel is being used to access utilities. Others have speculated that it’s a new White House bunker or command center.

The most famous “secret” White House tunnel that appears to be based on facts, connects the White House with the basement of the Treasury building across the street from the East Wing. The granite vault deep in the Treasury basement was to be used in the case of an attack during WWII. Plans were underway to build a bunker beneath the East Wing, but after Pearl Harbor, a tunnel was excavated to the Treasure basement while the East Wing project was ongoing. The East Wing bunker eventually finished and became the Presidential Emergency Operations Center.

There seems to be little dispute that this tunnel exists. It was kept as a wartime secret until Republican Congressman Clare E. Hoffman discussed it in the House of Representatives in late 1941. Since then, it has been public knowledge.

Now here’s where my story comes in. According to one source I found, the basement of the Treasure building is also connected to the Treasure Annex, which is across Pennsylvania Avenue. No one is sure why a tunnel was built to connect the two buildings, but people speculate that is was for security or because of the unpleasant D.C. weather. The fun part of this story is that the tunnel is said to lead to a locked door at the back of Treasury Annex. This door is at the end of a long, narrow alleyway that empties on H Street two blocks from the White House. This is where Raisa finds herself with Alexander when she emerges in public for the first time after being taken from her home.

From the East Wing to H Street

If you go there today, you will find an alley, with a ram-proof vehicle barrier and bulletproof secret service kiosk. Is this an alley, which leads to a door, which leads to a tunnel, which leads to the White House? I know there’s an alley, as to the rest, I can’t say for sure, but it makes for a great story.

The “secret” alley on H Street.

An American Monarch?

In my book, The New World, a monarchy replaces the fallen American government, at least in the nineteen states that have banded together calling themselves the New World. But how likely is it that a monarchy would take root in the land of the free and home of the brave? Perhaps more likely than you think.

Consider these titles, all within the last several years, and note the publications from which they come.

  • America Needs a King – Politico Magazine
  • The Case for a Monarchy In America – HuffPost
  • Stop Fighting it. America is a monarchy, and that’s probably for the best. – Washington Post
  • Consider a Monarchy, America – The New York Times
  • Why America Needs a Monarchy – The Federalist
  • The Americans who think a monarchy would solve their political problems – The Guardian

When I first dreamt up the idea of a monarchy on American soil, I never imagined that people were actually talking about it, but they are, and I find that fascinating.

So what are they saying? Instead of summarizing and providing commentary, I will simply paste some quotes from these various articles. Now, to be fair, some of these articles and opinion pieces are satirical, but most are not. Either way, they provide a fascinating peak into a subculture that most of us haven’t seriously considered.

“Our political system has been irrevocably poisoned by political partisanship.” – Sean, a monarchist on Reddit as quoted in The Guardian

The notion that something is deeply wrong with how our government works is inescapable, so it’s no surprise that people are searching for alternative ideologies. – The Guardian

In 2018, the New York Times cited a study conducted by a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, which discovered “‘robust and quantitatively meaningful evidence’ that monarchies outperform other forms of government”, and provide nations with “stability that often translates into economic gains”. – The Guardian

We threw the baby out with the bathwater when we kicked the monarchy out of America, and we ought to bring it back. – The Federalist

In America we’ve combined power and reverence in the office of the presidency, but legal authority and veneration compliment each other about as well as Scotch and back pain medication. It’s safer to ingest them separately. – The Federalist

The government is basically a giant Human Resources Department with tanks, and the president is in charge of it. A monarchy saps that ridiculous self-importance. – The Federalist

Indeed, the modern history of Europe has shown that those countries fortunate enough to enjoy a king or queen as head of state tend to be more stable and better governed than most of the Continent’s republican states. By the same token, demagogic dictators have proved unremittingly hostile to monarchy because the institution represents a dangerously venerated alternative to their ambitions. – The New York Times

Doubtless, entrenched republicans will respond that hereditary rulers may prove mad or bad. But democracies have dynasties, too. America may have thrown off the yoke of King George III, but Americans chose to be governed by George Bush II. – The New York Times

The advantage of monarchy is that the institution “extinguishes the hopes of faction” by rising above the toxic partisanship of competing parties and vying elected officials. . . It may be remembered that no British monarch has been assassinated for about five centuries, while no fewer than four American presidents have been murdered in the last 150 or so years. A factor to ponder, I suggest. – The New York Times

[Justice] Scalia says our Presidents are more “George III than George Washington.” He’s right. – The Washington Post

The truth is that the Constitution, as Thomas Jefferson put it, “wears a mixed aspect of monarchy and republicanism.” – The Washington Post

Patrick Henry, the Virginian, said the Constitution “squints toward monarchy.” – The Washington Post

John Adams would later note that the Constitution had established a “monarchical republic, or if you will, a limited monarchy” and that the presidency would naturally excite the “fears, apprehensions, and opposition” of the sort that the English Crown stirred. – The Washington Post

Last month, two media events converged – the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency and the first run in the US of The Crown, the Netflix series about Queen Elizabeth. Both proved remarkably popular (at least on TV), and watching them both back to back, so to speak, I began to wonder if the US would not be better off under a Monarchy as well. – HuffPost

The Monarchy provides Britain with a sense of stability; a final firewall against anything going too far astray. It is not a bad idea. – HuffPost

Legend has it that at the end of the Revolutionary War, George Washington was offered the Crown and the chance to become King of America. He turned it down. Maybe that was a mistake in retrospect. – HuffPost

Indeed, nothing can stir patriotic anger more than the suggestion that the U.S. president is acting like unelected royalty. Yet even before independence, John Adams argued in favor of a “republican monarchy” of laws, lamenting, “We have so many Men of Wealth, of ambitious Spirits, of Intrigue … that incessant Factions will disturb our Peace.” – Politico

While Adams favored a republican monarch with absolute veto powers, today we need a person who can sit above politics and help strengthen our commitment to republican values. We need a king, or something like one. – Politico

So there you have it, the beginning of a ground-swell that will lead, one day, to an American monarchy. Well, maybe not. But it does provide a nice backdrop to the rise of my heroine, Queen Raisa!

If you haven’t yet purchased The New World, you can get a copy here.

Should “Old” Adults Read Young Adult Novels?

I am fifty-one years old. Today I found myself in a conversation with someone who was at least that old (he had gray hair, and it didn’t appear to be premature). The topic of our conversation was young adult novels that we liked, which raises an interesting question – should adults who have matured past the twenty-something stage of life read novels aimed at a young adult audience.

One of my children asked me a similar question not long ago. I was talking about a book I had read (or was reading, I don’t remember) and my son, who’s twenty, said, “Why do you read young adult books?” That’s a good question. I mean, is a middle-aged man reading a young adult book like the kid who’s too big playing in the fun-zone at the mall?

I say, no (no big surprise, right) and here’s why. Young adult doesn’t mean childish, or at least it doesn’t have to. Like any other genre, there are good YA novels and some that are not so good. The good ones are written well and have compelling themes, like any good book. Now, I haven’t always been a fan of YA literature. It was The Hunger Games drew me in. Knowing nothing about the story, I watched the movie and was immediately fascinated by the world Suzanne Collins had created, enough to read the book and the next two in the series.

I’ll admit that I have a thing for dystopian and post-apocalyptic stories, so this was right up my alley. But it was the skillful writing and the treatment of the themes that made the book so compelling, and isn’t that what makes a good book, good? And if it is, why should the audience be limited to the world of young adults?

The characters of YA novels indeed are themselves, young adults, and the themes are crafted to appeal to a young adult reader. But that shouldn’t dissuade an “older” reader from enjoying the literature. It may even add to the pleasure of it; who doesn’t like to relive youthfulness. Young doesn’t have to mean unsophisticated. (I would prefer some of the YA books were less “adult” in their themes and content.) Seeing the world through the eyes of a young person can be refreshing and compelling for those of us who are a little bit older.

So, even though this might seem like a shameless appeal for you who are no longer twenty-something to read my book The New World, it’s more of a reflection on why this genre appeals to people outside of it’s target audience. If you, like me, are intrigued by the world of YA literature and want to find some books you might enjoy, here are a couple of links that will help you get started. But first, a word of warning: I haven’t read all of these books, and can’t vouch for them regarding their writing style or content. So, I would suggest that if you find one you are interested in, check out some reviews to make sure it fits your standards and desires.

50 YA Novels Adults Will Love, Too

These YA Books Should Be on Every Adult’s Reading List

10 YA Christian Books to Read

Book Review: Nemesis

Random musings about books that I like.

Nemesis

by Brendan Reichs

So, here’s a confession right up front; I am a slow reader. Everybody has something they don’t like about themselves and would change if they could. This is it for me. Although I have never been diagnosed, I am probably dyslexic. A quick perusal of the symptoms tells me it’s likely. (Especially the one that reads, “Appears bright, highly intelligent, and articulate but unable to read, write, or spell at grade level.”)

So, what does this have to do with Nemesis by Brendan Reichs? I sometimes don’t finish books that don’t capture my attention because it takes too long. If I could zip through a mediocre book quickly, I could put up with it more readily. But because it takes a while, I don’t have the patience for it. Nemesis was a book that I almost put down . . . but I didn’t. And I’m glad I didn’t.

Two factors led to me almost abandoning this book. First, the story took some time to build. The story starts out with an intriguing premise – a girl is murdered every other year on her birthday – but took a while to get to the point of it all. There are a lot of twists and turns in the story, but almost too many. I found myself saying, “So where’s this going, already?” The good news is that it did go somewhere fairly interesting.

Here’s the second reason I came close to closing the book for good – the writing. I don’t like to pick on authors for their writing styles because writing is much harder than it looks. (If you don’t think so, try writing a novel sometime.) However, I found this book to be a little more basic than I had hoped for. It wasn’t until I discovered the reading age was 12 and up that the writing began to make sense. (I literally picked the book off the shelf in the library without knowing anything beyond the description on the cover). Okay, so I’m not exactly the target audience. I can live with that, and I decided to finish the book.

Spoiler Alert

Nemesis is a conspiracy theorist’s dream come true. The government has been executing a well-funded plan, spanning nearly two decades, designed to save humanity from an extinction-level event brought about by an asteroid. The plan is to upload the consciousness of a group of kids who live in a small town to a computer, and they do. Of course, the kids know nothing about it (they never do), so they are thrown into a virtual world, modeled after their hometown, where no one else exists but them, and none of them can die.

Once they learn the truth, chaos ensues (it had been building for a while) and shortly thereafter, the book comes to an end. Which provides me with one minor complaint; Nemesis is only the opening act for the series. Nothing is resolved by the end of the book. I have no problem with series, but I do like some resolution before the book ends. The characters were adequate, although not a strong part of the book. When it comes down to it, the story is intriguing enough to keep going.

The bottom line is that I enjoyed it and will read the next in the series.

Launching The New World

The New World will launch on October 1st, and I am putting together a team of people to help launch it. Success is rarely an individual effort, and with your help, I’ll get my debut novel off the ground and into the hands of readers. As a part of the team, here’s what you will need to do:

  • Receive a free copy of my book, The New World, to read.
  • Write an honest review on Amazon.
  • Share information about the book on social media.

If you’d like to join the team, I am looking for the first twenty responses. Use the button below and fill out the contact form to join. I will email you a Kindle version of the book unless you specify you would prefer a paperback in your message.

A View from the Top

An important part of the story in The New World takes place in the Capitol building and on it’s grounds. To add as much realism to the story as possible, I researched the Capitol; it’s history and architecture. The Architect of the Capitol website is an excellent resource if you want to investigate more on your own.

The best part of my research was traveling to Washington and taking a private tour of the Capitol, including a tour of the building’s two domes. Few people realize that the Capitol actually has two domes.

The first, smaller dome, was part of the original building. It was originally wooden, and then replaced by a sandstone structure. When you stand in the rotunda and look up at the Apotheosis of Washington, you are looking at the interior of this dome.

Seated above and around this dome is the iconic iron dome that the Capitol building is known for. It was added when the Capitol was expanded to include the wings on the north and south sides where the Senate and House of Representatives meet, respectively. It was thought that the smaller dome was too diminutive for the expanded building, so, a second dome was added. The result is a fascinating feature of the Capitol building; space between the domes.

A stairway consisting of 362 steps leads from the main level to the top of the dome. Along the way you can view the floor of the rotunda from an interior walkway about halfway up. Continuing to the top of the first dome, there is a second interior walkway just below the Apotheosis of Washington, one hundred, eighty feet above the floor. From there, stairs take you to a door that opens on a narrow walkway encircling the top of the dome.

The Tholos (the circular temple-like structure on top of the dome) is directly above this walkway with the Statue of Freedom above that. The view of Washington, D.C., from on top the dome is worth checking out if you ever have the chance.

This is ground level between the domes.
On the right is the original sandstone dome. On the left is the iron dome.
The interior walkway at the top of the original dome, 180 feet above the rotunda floor. Notice the support structures through the windows supporting the iron dome. The painting in the top of the picture is the Apotheosis of Washington.
I have a healthy fear of heights, so this was a stretch for me.
The Tholos. Above this is the Statue of Freedom, but you can’t see it from this angle.
A view from the top.
Now, for the long walk down.

“The New World” Coming Soon to Amazon

Jamie watched in stunned disbelief as the United States Senate abolished the federal government with a single vote. As the seventeen-year-old daughter of a U.S. Senator, Jamie was sure that would be the most shocking news of the day. And it was…until she was chosen to be the first queen of the New World.

Under the visionary leadership of Creighton Ashwill, the New World has taken its first tenuous steps as a monarchy. Still reeling from the devastating effects of a virus two decades earlier, the people are ready to embrace their queen, ready for change. However, not everybody’s on board with the radical new government, least of all Jamie. But, as she’s finding, the tide of history is hard to resist.

Now as the presumptive queen, Jamie must navigate startling revelations about her past, hidden agendas by those in power, and newfound love to discover if her destiny will lead all the way to the throne.

Watch for The New World, book one in The New World trilogy. Sign up to follow my blog via email to get an official book launch announcement. 

The Journey to a New World

I wasn’t looking for it. It found me, and it wouldn’t leave me alone. Like a worm boring its way through an apple, a story idea dug itself into my brain. I’ve always been told that a writer is someone who writes. I’ve never understood what that meant until one day in April of 2018 when I felt compelled to get my computer and start typing. 

To be honest, the thing that made a nest in my mind wasn’t an idea for a story as much as an opening scene that I could see unfolding before me. It was the beginning of a story, set in the United States Senate as the country we know and love comes to an end. I started writing and let the story take me along. The more I wrote, the more I grew to love the main characters, Jaime and Alexander, and the more I wanted to know how their story would end. So I kept writing. And the story grew. In fact, it grew awkwardly like a gangling teenager. That meant rewriting sections to bring it under control, which I did.

Finally, the story made it through the awkward teenage years. Pretty soon, I had a full-grown book, The New World. It had a beginning, middle, and end, and I was proud of it, like a parent whose proud his newborn has ten fingers and ten toes. I have two grown kids, and I won’t tell you that seeing my finished manuscript was like having a baby, but it was pretty cool. All along the way, my wife read each chapter as I would finish them or revise them, giving me needed words of encouragement and critique. So, just like raising our kids, The New World is very much a team effort.

I told you our kids are grown, but they’re more like mostly grown, right on the edge of moving out into the world on their own. As a parent, that moment is both rewarding and a little bit scary. Those are the same emotions I have as I get ready to launch The New World. But at the end of the day, it’s a good feeling. I hope you enjoy reading my debut novel as much as I enjoyed writing it. Sign up to follow my blog and you’ll be the first to know when it hits the shelves. 

I am hard at work on the sequel, The Ten Thousand. I don’t have a projected publication date for it yet, but the Lord willing, it won’t be long, so stay tuned.

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