Tag Archives: science

Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body by Jo Marchant

As is usual I received this book courtesy of somewhere or other, this time Shelf Awareness.

The nutshell on this book is summed up in the subtitle rather tidily. The author investigates, in very readable fashion, the connection between our mental well being and our physical well being in every facet of interpretation which can be applied to the phrase. She starts with the placebo effect but makes her way eventually all the way to belief in God and new age medicines.

To the positive, the book is fairly well balanced while remaining upbeat and optimistic. I came away pondering how such concepts could help people I know get a better handle on their own wellness. The author is detailed and helpful but also puts the brakes on when appropriate to keep her readers from going off any dangerous cliffs. She cites numerous studies but doesn’t become bogged down by them. If I had to sum up each chapter in a few words:

Chapter 1/2 – Placebo Effect
Chapter 3 – Pavlovian Conditioning
Chapter 4 – Illusory physical performance barriers
Chapter 5 – Hypnosis
Chapter 6 – Pain Management through distraction
Chapter 7 – Impact of human connection on health
Chapter 8 – Impact of stress
Chapter 9 – Meditation
Chapter 10 – Health benefits of Friendship and Social connectedness
Chapter 11 – Vagus nerve stimulation
Chapter 12 – The Role of Religion

To the negative, the last half of the book really does begin to slide downhill and by the time you get to Chapter 12 you’ve really had enough. By the conclusion I was skimming and the last bits seemed somewhat glued on and accessory.

In summary, the author does a wonderful job of achieving balance between promoting new and somewhat unfashionable ideas and protecting readers from the quackery that has popped up in this realm as of late. I really do believe that some of the techniques in this book could be terrifically helpful and have earned further research.

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Book Reviews: Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart

The nutshell on this book is that it is, essentially, a self-help book. It doesn’t start out that way but at the end of the day, it’s quite a lot of fluff.

I was excited about this book for the entire first chapter. It starts out VERY grippingly. My thrall was complete. Then as the chapters dragged on, my enthusiasm drifted away like snow before the wind. Watch my YouTube video for the face-to-face description:

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Universe 4 – Edited by Terry Carr 1974

519QW9-HHhL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Like our last post this too is a collection of rather random sci-fi goodness but this one is from the 70s. I give a brief reflection on my thoughts after reading each story below.


Assault on a City – Jack Vance
At 48 pages this one is a full-blown novella. At its heart, it is a story of class struggles in a future that has taken fashion to an amusing extreme. It’s a solid story and an easy read in an hour.


A Sea of Faces – Robert Silverberg
At under 20 pages this brief foray into the genre is primarily psychological. In it a woman with a mental disorder is treated and we see the situation from inside the mind of the patient. The trip back to consciousness is illustrated as a journey on a mysterious floating island that has to be steered back to the mainland so the patient can rejoin the rest of society.


And Read the Flesh Between the Lines – R. A. Lafferty
In this brief story we have what I would categorize as an alternative history of sorts. Our protagonist, if he can be called such, has an Australopithecus as a servant and lectures his guests that a full third of history has been intentionally wiped from the collective recollection of society. This is a bizarre and rather surreal tale and one would not go amiss in noting that what it lacks in plot it makes up for in setting of the scene.


My Sweet Lady Jo – Howard Waldrop
Weighing in at under 20 pages this one reads like a twilight zone script. I will attempt not to spoil but know merely that it has a wry twist at the end. I cannot claim that it’s a terribly original twist but a twist none the less. In the story, man has bridged the gap between the stars but is still in the early, clumsy phase that requires him to sleep away the decades waiting. One such intrepid group has made the journey to Terra Nova and back again. How will they get on with the people of Earth who have passed decades while they slumbered?


Stungun Slim – Ron Goulart
This is a story of a stark but fairly realistic future. Interestingly, I find that of all the stories in this collection, this one stuck with me the least. The only lasting impressions I have is of public executions and insane personal debt with the most notable item being a $4,000 personal computer from the J.C. Penney catalog.


Desert Places – Pamela Sargent
Like a previous story, this one reads like a Twilight Zone episode. In it, we follow a family as they move from house to house attempting to stay ahead of some destructive force that’s gobbling up their world. At the end we find that the destructive force…. well, now I wouldn’t tell you that, now would I? That would be obvious spoilage. Suffice to say that it’s a keen allegory that has played out a million times on a million worlds including our own


If the Stars Are Gods – Gordon Eklund and Gregory Benford
Of all the stories in this collection, this is probably my favorite. In a nutshell, aliens visit the Earth and they want to talk to the entity in charge. Which, it turns out, they believe to be the sun. The story goes into a fair amount of detail about how the aliens came to believe in the sentient nature of stars and points out effectively how our physical environment shapes our long-term mental framework about how the universe works. At the risk of somewhat of a spoiler I will reveal that the aliens evolved on a planet with an extremely elliptical orbit and large axial tilt so their seasons were acutely variable in temperature. At certain points when proximity to the sun coincided with the proper angle of inclination to the sun entire populations had to pick up and move to the other side of the planet. One wonders how early life could possibly evolve in such conditions but it does make one ponder the ramifications of such an arrangement. At any rate, as has been amply illustrated by my prolonged babbling, this one made an impression.


When the Vertical World Becomes Horizontal – Alexei Panshin
In direct opposition to my feelings about the previous story, this one left me flat. Clearly some huge mental shift is taking place in humanity during the course of the story but it is intentionally kept vague and impenetrable to the point that I cannot muster any emotion from this story at all.


And there you have it. Well, there I have it. I don’t honestly expect anyone to read these but some future version of me that’s trying to remember what that weird book was that had the story of the aliens that looked like the Apple logo. So hello, Future me! How’s it going? Did we ever figure out what that weird growth was in the corner of the back yard or did it take over the universe?

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Space Science Fiction Magazine – August 1957

spaceI picked this little gem up from a Yerdle swap a few months ago and have finally gotten around to reading it. I’m not trying to do a book report here but do want to jot down a few notes just to jog my memory in the future.


“Flying Saucers Do Exist” – Steve Frazee
This 48-page novella is simply the standard narrative of a young man who shows up in town with a wild story about aliens and the townsfolk have a hard time swallowing his tale. As time goes on more evidence comes to the fore but not until… well, I don’t want to be a complete spoiler but needless to say it’s not a happy ending.

One item of note is that Frazee’s aliens are pretty unique in their creepiness.  It’s rare that non-humanoids make an appearance in space lit but in this case they’re weird H-shaped creatures that cartwheel around their craft.  The imagery is a bit jarring.


The Thing From Outer Space – Jean Martin
At about 18 pages this one is very brief. I’d categorize it as a weird mix of gardening, alien visitation and a love story. If my grandfather were to summarize it he’d probably say something along the lines of “Alien critters came down and got in the punkin’ patch”. The overall moral pitch of this tale though is a not common one. Didn’t God make all of us, even aliens? It points out.


The Star Dream – Raymond F. Jones
I’d summarize this 25-page story as a love-triangle with sides that span space and time. Our protagonist is building a massive device to fling himself to the nearest star in hopes of finding his long-lost love. This is all well and good except that his Earth-wife isn’t terribly happy about the competition. The narrative flows along well enough until it reaches its horribly maudlin conclusion and bows out with the line (paraphrasing) “I’ve found something so much faster than the speed of light: an angel’s wings”


An Experiment in Gumdrops – Russ Winterbotham
At under 10 pages this was one of the briefest stories in the edition but to me it was one of the most pointedly apropos. A businessman travels to an alien planet and recruits a life form with a very helpful skill to assist with his newest business venture. He pays for this unique talent with the most minimal of remittances and all seems well until the alien wises up… in a manner of speaking.

This one has a strong undercurrent of that old adage that you never know what you’re missing until you have it. Ignorance truly is bliss even if you’re on a barren rock digging your way through solid stone for a living.


A Practical Man’s Guide – Jack Vance
At a mere 7 pages this one hits fast and quick. Our protagonist is the editor of a DIY magazine and he’s come across a real doozie of an idea from one of his readers. The submitter’s description of the idea is vague enough that we never really do find out for sure what it is but when the editor follows the submitter’s incomplete instructions he finds himself…. well, we don’t really know where. This one is a delightfully open-ended little story that might end up a thousand different ways. Almost everything is left to the reader’s imagination.


Slow Djinn – Mack Reynolds
As you might guess, this little story revolves around that most ubiquitous and troublesome of magical servants, the Djinn. Rather than being a malevolent beast though this one is just downright idiotic. He certainly does try but despite the intent all goes to rot and ruin until his clever master finally figures the right way to utilize this slave’s exponential ignorance.


Critical Mass – Arthur C. Clarke
Who knows what horrendous thing will happen if Clarke’s main character can’t contain the destruction that’s rumbling down the road in this tiny story. Excitement builds to a fever pitch until nobody can stand it any longer in this honey of a tale.


OK, so that’s the 2-minute overview. On to the next book!

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Movies: Squid Man (****)

I picked this movie solely on the idea that it was new and looked lonely on Amazon Instant Watch. Am I glad I did? Yes, on the whole but it’s not going to be for everyone.

This is a difficult one to wrap words around because it’s so many things at once. It starts out as the comedic movie you would expect. It’s not so much funny as it is sort of smirkingly amusing and in bits seems to remind one of Office Space.

About a third of the way in, the movie takes a decidedly romantic turn and all thoughts of comedy are left behind. It’s also about this time that the movie starts to have a point contrasting the man-child outlook of unmarried men with the more serious viewpoint of unmarried women. There’s a kernel of a lesson here but it’s brief and not much to look at, though colorfully enough portrayed.

The last third of the movie is primarily a super-hero action flick with scads of really bad make-up and intentionally cheesy special effects. It’s not an unpleasant sort of bad really just not a believable sort of good, if you catch my drift. I can tease an interesting lesson out of this section too as it looks at causality and the random events that rule our lives. I *THINK* this may be the main point of the movie but saying anything for sure is really a dodgy proposition in this case.

So in summary, I liked this movie and I’m on the bloody edge of recommending it but you have to be in a really open-minded mood to sit down and enjoy it. It’s just so many things and you have to be ready to accept all of them or it just won’t work. This is a movie to watch on your own when you just don’t know what to watch. Trying to watch this with anyone else will just result in annoyed glares from across the room.

PS: If you read the word ‘romance’ and are thinking, “oh, he said romance, that’ll be nice!” do not watch this movie for its romantic aspects. The last 60 seconds of the film are sufficient to leave anyone wishing for happy romance agape with disappointment. I will say nothing else in an effort to avoid spoilers.

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Book Reviews: The Martian – Andy Weir

Please click the photo and vote my review helpful! (If you find it so anyway)

As usual I received this book free of charge in exchange for a review, this time from NetGalley. Also as usual I will give my candid thoughts below.

The plot of this one is basically Castaway plus any movie you’ve ever seen set on Mars. Guy’s marooned on Mars and only has his wits to survive the situation.

On the positive side the level of detail here is amazingly intricate and the author tells you every single detail of every cliff-hanging situation and its eventual resolution. Also, the main character is one of those rare individuals who responds to stress with humor so the book manages to be quite funny in its way despite the rather grim situation being faced.

To the negative, the science in this book is OK but at times left me scratching my head in perplexity. It’s obvious the author has done his homework but there were more than a few holes. For the most part I managed to ignore them but anyone who is hyper-technical will likely be inflamed at the whole thing. Finally, after a while the meticulous detail tended to be rather draining. I started and finished this book in a single 5-hour sitting and by the end I was just exhausted and ready for it to end. I highly recommend that you do NOT attempt that.

In summary, this book has a great premise and pretty good execution for a book so intimately tied to science content. I also have absolute confidence that this will become a movie (if it hasn’t already) so look for it in the theatre eventually.

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Noticed I’m a bit Quiet Lately?

Well, as it turns out I’m not quiet at all; I’m just tired of cross-posting articles to 5 different sites. The Publicize to Facebook feature hasn’t seemed to work for quite some time so all my random blathering has been going over there directly. Lately I’ve been on a pretty feverish movie review kick (primarily on Amazon Instant Watch movies that you can watch free with Amazon prime) so if you want a free movie or 50 to watch (or want to know what to avoid) head on over to my Facebook page for The Tattered Thread!

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