Book Recommendation: “The Radium Girls”

Image result for radium girls bookIf you look on the right panel of this fine blog you will always see what book I am reading. My literature taste includes, History, Biography, Historical Fiction (although I have lost interest in this genre lately), Science Fiction and of course Star Trek. What I am going to do from time to time is recommend a book that I hope some of you, my dedicated readers will enjoy. So let’s take a look at the first book recommendation.

“The Radium Girls: The Dark Side of America’s Shining Woman” by Kate Moore.

This book was released on April 18, 2017 and I stumbled upon it while browsing the Kindle book store. I love history – especially what I call “hidden history”. Stories that come out of left field – that I previously knew nothing – or very little about. This book, which I am still reading fits that bill perfectly.

This is an amazing and very upsetting work about events that have gone unreported for far too long.

The Story

On April 20, 1902, Marie and Pierre Curie successfully isolate radioactive radium salts from the mineral pitchblende in their laboratory in Paris. In 1898, the Curies discovered the existence of the elements radium and polonium in their research of pitchblende. One year after isolating radium, they would share the 1903 Nobel Prize in physics with French scientist A. Henri Becquerel for their groundbreaking investigations of radioactivity.

In 1922, a bank teller named Grace Fryer (pictured below) became concerned when her teeth began to loosen and fall out for no discernible reason. Her troubles were compounded when her jaw became swollen and inflamed, so she sought the assistance of a doctor in diagnosing the inexplicable symptoms. Using a primitive X-ray machine, the physician discovered serious bone decay, the likes of which he had never seen. Her jawbone was honeycombed with small holes, in a random pattern reminiscent of moth-eaten fabric.

Image result for grace fryer radium

The girls were paid the modern equivalent of $0.27 per watch dial, so the harder they worked, unknowingly swallowing deadly amounts of poison each time to make a few extra pennies, the faster death would approach. In their downtime, some even messed about painting their nails, teeth and faces with the luminous paint, marketed under the brand name “UnDark”.

From here we are led through the horror of what happened to the girls (usually from their mid teens to mid 20’s) who worked as ” radium dial painters”. Their terrible tragedy is made all the more horrible by the negligence of the plant owners.

In the end this is a true story, brilliantly researched and written by Kate Moore which reveals the courageous fight for justice of the Radium Girls against the long odds and brutal tactics and lies of the companies involved and their cronies in the medical and legal professions and in politics. Even sadder is the fact that residents of towns where radium factories set up demonized the factory workers.

How familiar does all this sound today? How safe do you feel in a country where worker protection laws are being stripped and scuttled on a daily basis? If we refuse to learn from events we will surely suffer from their repetition.

I can say this is one of the most haunting books I have read in a very long time. Do yourself a favor and check it out this summer.

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Book Review: “Planet of the Apes – Tales from The Forbidden Zone”

If you are a dedicated reader of this fine technology blog you surely are aware that I am always reading a book. From history to science to tech to biography to Star Trek and science fiction in general I always have a trusty book on my night stand.

With this in mind I decided that it would be pretty cool to take a few moments to mention my book reads right here – on this very blog. I must do it here because I do not have the energy or time to start another blog! I understand if you want to skip these book mentions & reviews but forgive me – I need to get it out of my system.

This evening I finish a pure joy of a book, “Planet of the Apes – Tales From The Forbidden Zone”. This is a collection of 16 short stories from the Apes universe.

Why is this book so much fun? Well I grew up fascinated by the Planet of the Apes universe. Only second to Star Trek did the Apes universe capture my imagination (as it still does). Also you must understand Planet of the Apes books are actually quite a rare thing. This year there are several books being released, with this being the first and only original one. This collection of stories is such fun because the sheer range of the tales here are a sight to behold.

Apes Stories Of All Kinds Abound

There are side-stories such as John Jackson Miller’s “Murders’ Row” with its intriguing perspective on Escape From The Planet Of The Apes, tales that delve into the back-stories of classic character such as Anderson and co-author Sam Knight’s “Of Monsters And Men”, explorations of Ape culture such as the tales written by Greg Cox and co-editor Handley, and stories that present new additions to the mythology such as Keyes’ tale which also takes readers beyond the usual North American setting of the franchise. There are stories that fill-in plot holes such as Ty Templeton’s story that sets up the aforementioned film Escape or that act as sequels such as Dayton Ward’s “Message In A Bottle” that helps to start wrapping up the canceled 1970s live-action TV series (which I still enjoy). There’s even room for some poignant tales such as Bob Mayer’s “what if?” sequel to the 1968 film or co-editor Beard’s epic “Silenced” that will have you looking at parts of the series in a whole new light.

I also love it that the Planet of the Apes short lived 1974 TV series gets some much deserved loved with a couple of awesome stories in this collection.

Apes Quality

Perhaps more than the individual stories is the sheer quality of the overall product. Anthologies, by the nature of them being a hodgepodge of different authors, tend to be hit and miss with some stories being better than others. There are exceptions to almost every rule and this proves to be such as case as there isn’t a single miss in the entire collection. Every single story here presents its own intriguing (and sometimes knowingly contradictory) take on Planet Of The Apes as we know it with always intriguing results.

Good short fiction always leaves you begging for more and this collection is full of such tales.

Tales From The Forbidden Zone is among the rarest species of anthologies. That’s not just because it finally presents a collection of Planet Of The Apes short fiction but because of the sheer quality of the tales it presents. It is a book that expands and explores the Planet of the Apes franchise in new and exciting ways, sometimes outside the box but it never ceases to be interesting. So if you are one of those with even a modicum of interest in classic Apes, this is an anthology for you.

I went Ape for this book and if you – like me fondly recall the Apes movies & TV series you will GO APE for it as well!

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TOS 50 Book Mission #3 – “Devil World”

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1979, Bantam Books

My year long mission to read nothing but Star Trek books as my way of celebrating Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary continues…

My 3rd Star Trek book in this crazy year long reading mission finds the Enterprise crew on shore leave at Starbase 13. No shore leave actually leads to a vacation for the crew and this one is no different. On leave Kirk quickly encounters a young woman who follows the philosophy of Jainism which is “to harm no living creature, no matter how small”. To this effect, she wears a face mask so as not to inadvertently swallow an insect and kill it. The woman is searching for her father, who turns out to be a Starfleet officer who left the Federation for the Klingon Empire some years before.

In the meantime, the starbase commander asks Kirk to take on his son as a personal steward, as the young man has washed out of Starfleet Academy, and needs direction in his life.

Through the commander, Kirk also learns more of the story of the woman’s father: he had been stranded in space in only a survival suit for nearly a month before being rescued, and had moved to the Empire on promises of his own planet, since contact with any creatures is now painful to him.
Now, it is learned that the man has travelled to Heartland, a quarantined planet, where the colony started 40 years ago had withdrawn, with every colonist turned mad. The inhabitants of the planet, a dying races called the Danons, resemble satanic creatures, with reddish skin and forked tails. Kirk takes the Enterprise to retrieve the unauthorized personnel. Complications ensue.

This is a somewhat better outing than Eklund’s first Trek novel, “The Starless World” which I read just prior to this one. Here Kirk is again a bit out of character, while Spock and McCoy are portrayed fairly well, but other characters such as Scotty and Sulu show little character at all. Chekov at least tells Russian stories, but there are few telling character touches, as if the author was obviously unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the characters.

Again, the plot is interesting, but the writing is very different then the later Pocket Books (post 1981). As I mentioned before when talking about the Star Trek Bantam Books the authors only had 3 seasons of the original series to go on. No movies and only a few other books written prior to use as fodder. Maybe it’s my age but I tend to enjoy these older Bantam novels because most of them really have the feel of a TOS episode.

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TOS 50 Book Mission #2 – “The Starless World”

I still have my original first printing of this novel (1978) which I of course used for this reading.

Book #2 on my one-year mission to read as much Star Trek as possible as my way of honoring what Star Trek has meant to me, ironically during my first 50 years (as well) takes me to 1978’s “The Starless World” by Gordon Eklund. I read this one back in high school so I forgot almost everything about it.

The Story

While charting black holes and stellar masses near the Galactic core, the Enterprise manages to rescue Thomas Clayton, a Starfleet washout who now is an independent scout for the Federation. Amazingly enough, Clayton is aboard a Starfleet shuttlecraft from the starship Rickover which disappeared some two decades earlier. Clayton is completely insane; he has explained he is doing his god’s bidding. While beginning an investigation into this mystery, the Enterprise is suddenly drawn into a Dyson sphere where they encounter a Klingon ship.

After a brief exchange of hostile words (their weapons don’t work), Kirk, Uhura and Sulu beam down and encounter the only remaining inhabitants: short, plump, white chimpanzee-like humanoids. After befriending Ola by stopping her from becoming a carnivore’s dinner, she takes them to her village of Tumara where they are soon joined by McCoy and Spock who are forced down to the planet’s surface by the deranged Clayton. Spock is increasingly of the opinion that Ay-nab, the sun of the Dyson sphere known as Lyra, is a superintelligent being. There is also a rather odd and unnecessary sub-plot of Uhura meeting her father, one of the crew of the Rickover who are now little more than zombies whose souls Ay-nab feeds.

My Thoughts

Gordon Eklund does a really good job of telling a science fiction story first, then a Star Trek story which I really appreciate. The Star Trek novels written before the films were launched almost always have this kind of science fiction first plot point. Maybe it’s because I love classic science fiction that thsi appeals to me. That being said this IS a Star Trek book after all and for the most part works as a classic episode type story. However there are a few errors here and there (the Enterprise is a Constellation-class ship, for one, and Spock uses way too many colloquialisms for a Vulcan). However, Eklund really does manage to craft a credible and weird world. The theme of a star being an intelligent being is not new to Eklund, and it harkens back to his Nebula-award winning novella (co-authored with Gregory Benford) and later revised novel “If the Stars Are Gods.

During this year long Trek Book Mission I hope to delve into a couple of the original Bantam books (1970-1981) that were released prior to the films. This is because these books, for the most part really capture the feel of simply reading a lost original Star Trek episode. The authors of the books pre-1980 only had the original TOS episodes to draw from which sometimes, I find refreshing.

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TOS 50 Book Mission #1 – “Yesterday’s Son”

Just in case you did not know, 2016 is the 50th Anniversary of Star Trek. Star Trek has played a big part in my life since my earliest memories. The characters, the stories and a world in which people’s differences are celebrated and everyone is working towards a common good, namely the exploration of the universe itself has always appealed to me and in many ways made me the person I am today. Well enough of that – there will be time a plenty to talk a little more about my relationship with a 50-year-old TV series during the year.

I was considering how I could celebrate Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary in a unique – personal way. I love reading books of many types. History, Science, Historical Fiction, Non-Fiction, Science Fiction and of course Star Trek. I think I have indeed arrived at an unusual and personal way to honor Trek this year. I am going to try to put all other books aside this year and read nothing by TOS Trek. This year there are several new TOS novels arriving. I figured in between these publications I can mix in some of the classic TOS Books I have enjoyed during the past several decades.

Will I make it? Can I read nothing but TOS books this year? I will try my best and I will of course try to take time to chronicle each one here on my technology blog. There are over 150 TOS Books out there plus several new ones arriving this year so there will be plenty to choose from, old & new.

Up first was 1983’s highly regarded “Yesterday’s Son” by A.C. Crispin.

I read this book when it was first released and remember enjoying it very much. So I grabbed it as my first my first book to re-read on this Trek 50th Anniversary Read-a-Thon.

Zarabeth, Spock & McCoy from the third season episode, “All Our Yesterdays”.

Like so many of the best books about the characters from the Star Trek original series, this one expands on a previous episode from the original series. Even better in this case, it uses points from three (yes 3) episodes in the original series. The first is from “All Our Yesterdays”, when Spock and McCoy are accidentally transported back in time to the prehistoric past of the planet Sarpeidon. While there, they meet the exiled Zarabeth and Spock reverts back to the emotional state of a primitive Vulcan and impregnates Zarabeth.

 


When a crew member of the Enterprise stumbles upon an image of a Vulcan inside a cave on Sarpeidon, Spock quickly realizes that it was made by his offspring and it is his Vulcan duty to rescue the child (Zar). Their only hope is to use the Guardian of Forever, introduced in the episode “The City on the Edge of Forever”. After obtaining permission from the Vulcan T’pau introduced in “Amok Time“, Spock, Kirk & McCoy travel back in time. After a brief struggle they are able to find Zar and bring him back to the present. The relationship between Zar and Spock is very strained as Spock refuses to acknowledge Zar’s paternity.

 

Kirk & Spock trying to figure out what’s up with the Guardian of Forever from perhaps the best episode of the entire Star Trek franchise, “The City on the Edge of Forever”.

We discover that Zar possesses strong senses of empathy and telepathy. Shortly afterward the Romulans invade and take control of the planet containing the Guardian, Zar is called into action as only his heightened senses can penetrate the Romulan cloaking device, which has been placed on the Guardian planet. The Romulans have no idea what the guardian actually is, but they have noted the Federation ships protecting the planet and of course assumed that they were guarding a military secret. With Zar’s critical help, the Romulans are defeated and the secret of the Guardian is safe. Once this is done, Zar realizes that he is in the wrong time, and when a record search reveals that the civilization of Sarpeidon underwent a dramatic transformation during the normal life of Zar, it is clear that his place is back there.

Taking three episodes as the basis for the story is an excellent way to begin and Crispin carries it out very well. It is an exciting story put together very well. In 1988 A.C. Crispin published a sequel, “Time for Yesterday” which continues the story of Zar. I will probably choose that one at some point this year.

This was great way to kick off my year-long TOS Book read-a-thon. “Yesterday’s Son” is an excellent novel that every Star Trek fan should check out.

You can always check out my ongoing list of completed TOS Books on the right side panel of this fine blog.

What’s up next for me and the crew of the Enterprise? Maybe a trip as chronicled back in the days of Bantam Books (1970-1981). 

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Kindle Unlimited Arrives

hi-852-amazon-logo-kindle-03428959If you love reading eBooks on a regular basis, Amazon has a new service that it hopes will appeal to you. What surprised me is this. Unlike other Prime “add-ons” like Prime Instant Video or Prime Music, this one will cost you extra, even if you are currently a Prime member. That being understood Kindle Unlimited will give you unlimited access to over 600,000 eBooks and thousands of audio books for $9.99/month.

The $9.99 a month is odd and I am wondering if the eBook publishers are actually in on this or if it will be seen as an Amazon attack on the book publishers.

The service is available using Kindle hardware devices, Amazon’s existing Kindle apps or with the Kindle cloud reader.

Amazon is offering a 30-day free trial of Kindle Unlimited. And if you sign up there is a free 3-month trial of Audible.

You can learn more by clicking the advertisement above.

You can learn more by clicking the advertisement above.

 

There are some issues with this service if you ask me. 600,000 eBooks is actually not as many titles as you would think. While popular books from the Harry Potter series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Lord of the Rings trilogy are represented, Kindle Unlimited does not support all of the major book publishers, such as Pocket Books which produces the “Star Trek” line of eBooks so you can guess how I feel about this. Another issue is that this service is limited to the United States.

Only time will tell if this service will be a winner for Amazon.com. However I have a bad feeling regarding what this will mean for book publishers and authors.

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Microsoft’s Free e-Books

Who ever said you can’t get anything for free. Recently many Microsoft ebooks were made available completely free. You can download as many of these as you would like and read them on your favorite mobile device. Did I say they were free?

Eric Ligman, Microsoft Senior Sales Excellence Manager, has released many free ebooks, covering topics such as Windows 8 and 8.1, Windows 7, Office 2013 and Office 365, OneNoteAzure, Lync 2013, and SQL Server. There are ebooks and resource guides for all things Microsoft.

For the past few years, Ligman has been writing posts in which he has given away almost 150 free Microsoft ebooks, and now he has another 130 more titles available to download for free, in addition to all the ones previously offered.
Yes, that’s right — there are now close to 300 titles available.ebooks
The books are available in various formats including PDF, EPUB, and MOBI.

You can browse the full section and download any that take your fancy, from here.

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Asimov’s Amazing 50 Year Prediction

One of my favorite science fiction authors is the late great Isaac Asimov. Asimov (1920-1992) was one of the most prolific science fiction authors of the 20th century and many of his novels are still considered “must reads” for anyone wanting to explore science fiction literature.

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Along with Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke – Asimov is widely considered one of the big three “masters of science fiction”. Asimov not only wrote countless major science fiction masterpieces but science books as well explaining science concepts to mass readers.

In addition was Isaac Asimov a modern day Nostradamus? Many in the technology world are asking this today because in 1964, Asimov wrote a piece for the New York Times titled “Visit to the World’s Fair of 2014”. The article was written as the 1964 World Fair was opening. In it, he tried to predict what the world would look like 50 years from the time at which he was writing. And while he wasn’t right about everything he predicted he was right about much.

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Now Let’s take a look at just some of Asimov’s eerily accurate predictions. Each of these (bold) are word for word from Asimov’s article for the New York Times written in 1964 predicting the state of technology in 2014.

1. “Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone. The screen can be used not only to see the people you call but also for studying documents and photographs and reading passages from books.”

Facetime, Sykpe, Webinars, ebooks, and social media photos all come to mind here. He nailed this one.

2. “Not all the world’s population will enjoy the gadgety world of the future to the full. A larger portion than today (1964) will be deprived.”

Right again. Technology development has the first and third worlds more distant from one another than ever.

3. “Gadgetry will continue to relieve mankind of tedious jobs.”

It’s no secret what happened to all of those repetitive factory jobs humans used to hold down. They are for the most part gone.

4. “Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence.”

If by “very good” Asimov means human-like, then he’s right. Certainly robots exist, but they don’t yet possess the human-mimicking body form and artificial intelligence many assumed they would by now.

5. “Mankind will therefore have become largely a race of machine tenders. Schools will have to be oriented in this direction.”

Tech maintenance & services is a huge job sector today, and it is only projected to grow moving forward. That is, of course, until we have machines that repair other machines.

6. “Wall screens will have replaced the ordinary set; but transparent cubes  will be making their appearance in which three-dimensional viewing will be  possible.”

 As Asimov predicted, most homes have thin televisions  mounted on the wall. Advances in 3-D viewing devices and technology continues to  improve. 3-D imaging technology is utilized frequently in  today’s computer programs and 3-D movies have become box-offices hits.

7. “The world population will be 6,500,000,000 and the population of the  United States will be 350,000,000.”

World population grew at a  faster pace than even Asimov predicted with 7,137,577,750 on Earth on Jan. 1,  2014. He was close on U.S. population growth, which stood at 316,148,990 on July  4, 2013, according to the U.S. census.

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As you can see Asimov was very close on many of his 50 years into the future predictions. Today with technology advances moving so quickly it is often difficult to predict 6 months ahead. Another fact from these amazing predictions from a science fiction author is that good science fiction really can transport the reader into worlds and time periods yet to arrive with amazing accuracy.

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Looking Back on Challanger

What is the most complex accomplishment of our government in the past 50 years? To me this is a “no brainer”. The ability to put human beings in space and return them safely home, as President Kennedy first proposed in the mid 1960’s is easily the correct answer. We, the United States of America through NASA have now done this hundreds of times.  All of this has not come without great risk… and tragedy.

NASA has made errors in design and judgment. There have been three occasions which led to death and disaster are February 21, 1967, when three astronauts will killed on the Launchpad while conducting a live test of Apollo 1. The second failure was on January 28, 1986 when the space shuttle Challenger exploded during launch killing all 7 astronauts on board. The most recent NASA disaster was when the Columbia exploded on re-entry killing all 7 astronauts on board on February 1, 2003.

On a mathematical scale alone the percentage of our success reaching into space is impressive. However percentages when considering human lives is an entirely different consideration. Each of these three disasters were caused by human error and each time started with problems in system design followed by arrogance by those making decisions even when the design flaws were brought to their attention.

So much of what we do on a daily basis and how we make decisions can be learned by reflecting on these 3 NASA disasters. NASA’s space program is in a slow down period at this time because the space shuttle program has been retired after 20+ years of missions and although the new Orion program promises a return to the moon and then Mars it will take longer then it otherwise should, primarily because of our slumping economy and the non-committal of society in general.

This weekend I watched the new Discovery Channel movie, “The Challenger Disaster” which was excellent. Although there is some “dramatic license” with the telling of this true story it is well worth your time if you want to learn more about that space shuttle disaster. This is the Discovery Channel’s first dramatic feature film, The Challenger Disaster, staring Bruce Greenwood, William Hurt and Brian Denney.

The film is based around Richard Feynman’s investigation into the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster that killed all seven astronauts during liftoff.

Based on Dr. Feynman’s book What Do you Care What Other People Think, the film will follow Feynman’s efforts to discover the cause of the shuttle’s explosion and expose the truth behind the disaster.

The Challenger Disaster premièred on Saturday November 16th The Science Channel and airs throughout the month. I recommend everyone check it out.

I have not read the book “Truth, Lies and O-Rings: Inside the Challenger Disaster” by Allan J. McDonald but it sits on my Kindle in the on-deck circle. This book has received excellent reviews and is now considered the best account of what went wrong with the Challenger. If you are interested in learning more check it out.

 

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Ulysses S. Grant. Your story is remarkable. From a modest background you struggled to make a living until the Mexican War started. You enlisted and served in that war with distinction. After the war you served in peacetime and because you missed your wife so badly and children so much you left the service. Loose from the service you struggled to support you growing family failing at the many things you tried. Another war erupted this time, this time it was the North vs. the South. You joined President Lincoln’s cause and moved up the ranks and finally became the president’s trusted general and eventually earned command of the entire army. You of course went on to defeat the rebellion and help Lincoln end slavery.

After the war you were thrust into the presidency where you tried your best to follow Lincoln’s reconstruction plan. For the record you were truly the only president to walk where Lincoln walked. You even made peace with the Indians. The only president by the way to do this.

After your presidency the south would not see truly enjoy peace again until the civil rights movement, almost 100 years later in the 1960’s.

After your presidency you and your wife toured the world.

As you turned 62 financial and medical tragedy struck. This is where this story takes the reader.

Hopefully I have grabbed your attention and you check this excellent book out which covers the final last year of a true American hero.

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