The Cubs Way by Tom Verducci, read by the author

Sports Audiobook - The Cubs Way by Tom VerducciThe Cubs Way by Tom Verducci
Read by Tom Verducci
13 hours [UNABRIDGED]

I started following the Cubs a season before wunderkind Kris Bryant took the field (2015), so I am not what you’d call a long suffering fan, but I sure enjoyed the 2016 season. The World Series was best thing to happen in 2016 for certain.

This book is an account of how the Cubs were built. The players, the coaches, the front office – how was the team put together, piece by piece. That was all interesting, but the most valuable thing I got out of the book was a look at the philosophies of Theo Epstein (the Cubs’ President of Operations) and Joe Maddon (the Cub’s Manager). As I walked the dog listening to Joe Maddon’s 13 Core Principles of Management I, as a close follower of the team, could not only see how his philosophy directly impacted the Cubs, but I could also see the application of much of what he said in my own job. The same with much of what Epstein had to say about building a team.

Tom Verducci both wrote and read this book, and he’s an excellent narrator. His account of Game 7 near the end of the book had me as glued as I was on November 2, 2016. What a game that was. And what a team this is. Highly recommended, I enjoyed it a great deal.

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Apollo 8 by Jeffrey Kluger

History - Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon by Jeffrey KlugerApollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon by Jeffrey Kluger

A lot of things didn’t go well in 1968. Senior Time Magazine writer Jeffrey Kluger (author of Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13) gives us the story of one of the things that did: NASA’s Apollo 8 mission in December of that year.

Astronaut Jim Lovell, commander of Apollo 13 and the focus of Kluger’s Lost Moon, is one of the crew of Apollo 8, but the person Kluger spends the most time with in this book is this mission’s commander, Frank Borman. When the Apollo program was struggling, especially after the Apollo 1 accident that claimed the lives of Gus Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee, Borman spent a lot of time on the Apollo capsule factory floor representing the astronauts. He was so good at the job that he nearly lost his place as an astronaut due to extreme competence.

As the Apollo program fell behind the schedule set with President Kennedy’s “before the decade is out” challenge, and with Russia making giant strides, a decision was made that changed everything – instead of executing the cautious plans currently in the schedule for Apollo 8, why not make a bold leap forward and make Apollo 8 a lunar orbital mission, thus accelerating the schedule? Kluger details the preparation over the following 16 weeks that led to the mission, which became the first manned mission to the Moon.

Without the successful Apollo 8 mission, containing and achieving the goals set for it by the launch date, Apollo 11 would not have been the Apollo that landed on the Moon. How that would have changed things is fodder for authors of alternate history.

Two remarkable things about the Apollo 8 mission:

First, it is where the famous “Earthrise” NASA photograph comes from. Borman, Lovell, and Anders were the first people ever to be far enough away from Earth to see it as a globe. All previous missions achieved orbit around Earth or less. In other words, all the astronauts to this point could look “down” and see the Earth beneath their feet at all times. Apollo 8 was the first mission for which that was not true.

    …Now, however, Borman, Lovell, and Anders could see the planet floating alone, unsupported, in space. The Earth was no longer the soil beneath their feet or the horizon below their spacecraft. It was an almost complete disk of light suspended in front of them, a delicate Christmas tree ornament made of swirls of blue and white glass. It looked impossibly beautiful – and impossibly breakable.
    What Borman said aloud was: “What a view!”
    What Borman thought was: This must be what God sees.
    Then he collected himself. “We see the Earth now, almost as a disk,” he radioed down.

Earthrise, Apollo 8, NASA

Second, at one point on the way to the Moon, the Apollo 8 capsule stopped climbing uphill against Earth’s gravity and started falling toward the Moon due to the pull of the Moon’s gravity. Borman, Lovell, and Anders were the first people to be far enough away from Earth to experience that. The first people to be far enough away from the Earth for the Moon (or any other object) be the primary gravitational influence.

Both of those things are amazing to consider!

Jeffrey Kluger’s Apollo 8 is a crystal clear, well written history of this important event in the history of mankind’s exploration of space. It’s filled with details and he lingers just long enough to consider the implications of what was happening. It’s got a quick pace, it’s enjoyable, it’s moving.

According to a telegram Borman received after the Apollo 8 mission from a stranger: “Thank you, Apollo 8. You saved 1968.” The Moon was one thing, but saving 1968? That wasn’t a small feat, either.

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Sandkings by George R. R. Martin

Science Fiction Short Fiction - George R. R. Martin wrote some excellent science fiction stories back in the late 70’s and early 80’s. “Sandkings” is one of the most popular of those. It won the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Locus Award for Best Novelette. This time I read “Sandkings” in Volume 1 of Martin’s big Dreamsongs collection.

I so thoroughly enjoyed A Game of Thrones, the first volume of George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series, that I eagerly read “Sandkings” the first time I came across it. I found the novelette to have the same clear, readable prose style as his novel. It also showcased Martin’s ability to build suspense. Another time through (my third?), I still think it’s excellent.

In the story, a man named Simon Kress lives on a planet somewhere (I’m fairly certain it’s not Earth, but I don’t recall it ever being specifically stated). He’s a rich man that is fond of exotic pets. He’s also a powerful man that is fond of his power. On a shopping trip to replace some of his pets that died after being neglected during an extended business trip, he purchases some sandkings – intelligent ant creatures that work with a collective hive mind. He puts them in a large terrarium, and he observes with delight as the creatures war with each other over resources.

Even more fascinating? The sandkings worship. Kress projects a hologram of his own face over the terrarium, and the creatures build shrines to him, etching his likeness on their small castles. When Kress gets bored, he shakes things up a bit by not feeding them. He manipulates them into fighting in every way he can think of. And things go badly.

The story is as much a commentary on the dangers of playing God (or the need some people have to do so) as it is a horror story about uncontrollable dangerous creatures. In fact, it completely succeeds at being both of those things, which is why I enjoy re-reading it so much. It’s a rich story that leaves me both unsettled and contemplative.

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Reading Update

I’m currently 1/3 of the way through Sundiver by David Brin and am really enjoying it. I broke away from that briefly to make sure I read The Running Man by Stephen King in time for the SFFaudio podcast on Sunday. I’m enjoying it as well.

After the two failures to connect with Hugo nominees, I am not as enthusiastic about reading enough of the list to cast a vote. However, I still plan to try Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer and Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. I won’t read any of the others.

I also plan to read the novella category. I like the idea of publishing more novellas, so I’m hopeful. I started Kij Johnson’s The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe and liked it quite a bit. I’m a bit dense though… the title seemed familiar to me but I didn’t make the Lovecraft connection until Randolph Carter made an appearance. I now want to read The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath before returning to Boe. Love it!

So, finish The Running Man, then Hitchhiker’s Guide by Adams for Good Story, then finish Sundiver. After that, with the Hugo novellas interspersed, I’m going to work my way through this list of late 70’s SF, all of which I have on hand, and some of which are re-reads:

Gateway by Frederick Pohl
Inherit the Stars by James P. Hogan
Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey
Lucifer’s Hammer Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
Midnight at the Well of Souls by Jack L. Chalker
Journey by Marta Randall
More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon
A Greater Infinity by Michael McCollum
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

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Upcoming podcasts

I picked the next couple of items for discussion on the Good Story podcast.

The last two picks I had were heavy so I thought “what’s the opposite of heavy”? To my mind came The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. An old favorite. We’ll definitely be talking about audio drama a bit in that episode… as much as I can get away with!

For my movie pick? Inherit the Wind, starring Spencer Tracy, who is particularly good in this movie. It’s a courtroom drama around a case where a high school teacher is on trial for teaching evolution. I have no idea how accurate it is in comparison to the Scopes Monkey Trial, but people connect the two all the time. I’ll look into that. The movie has a lot to say about belief, science, and society.

I’ll be back on SFFaudio (recording May 7, posting I don’t know when) to discuss The Running Man by Stephen King, who published it under the name “Richard Bachman”. I’m sure we’ll hear the words “Hunger Games” at some point in that discussion. Jesse also wanted to talk about a few movie versions, so I better get busy on this one!

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Reconnection


Over the past several years, I’ve read less and less. There are lots of reasons for this, but those reasons all fit in the file drawer labeled “Distraction”. It has been a very long time since I’ve finished an SF novel that I would consider “current”.

Using Hugo nominees for Best Novel as a guide, it looks like I stalled completely in 2013. That year I started but didn’t finish two of the nominated novels and didn’t read any of the others. In 2014, the same. I dnf’d two of the nominees and didn’t attempt any of the others. In 2015 and 2016, I didn’t read nor attempt to read any of the nominees.

Looking at this year’s Hugo nominees, I see an opportunity to reconnect. Three of the Hugo nominees are sequels, and two of those are sequels to previous Hugo winners. I haven’t read any of those, but in doing so I’d be reading a couple of previous Hugo winners in addition to this year’s stuff, so bonus.

When I’m finished, like them or not, I’ll feel able to rejoin the conversation.

Here are the books I’ll read:
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (currently reading)
The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin (nominee)
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (nominee)
Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer (nominee)
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders (nominee)
A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers (nominee)
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
The Dark Forest bu Cixin Liu
Death’s End by Cixin Liu (nominee)

I have till July 15th if I want to finish in time to vote. No deadline at all if I don’t care about voting. I’ll leave that in the air.

My history of posting lists isn’t so good. There’s something it that is unmotivating. At the moment, I’ve starting reading again in a big way and I’d love to post here more regularly. I’m very interested to find out if I like these books or not. If the list doesn’t damage my enthusiasm, then I’ll post something here about each one.

I won’t force myself to finish them. I will treat each of these like I do other things I read: if I’m not looking forward to getting back to the book after reading 40 pages then I’ll drop it and move on.

UPDATES:

– I read 40 pages of All the Birds in the Sky and set it aside. No real connection there for me.

– Once I got 250 pages or so into The Fifth Season, I skimmed to the end. There was some powerful stuff there. Some images/emotions will stick with me, including a dead boy on the floor at the beginning and his mother, and the power of the orogenes. After these two books, I wonder if this is a problem between me and fantasy in general? Reading this book, I was thinking, “yeah, that’s a nifty idea” but just wanted to move on. I’m not interested in the sequel. People love this book so I’m sure it’s me.

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