My Reviews of Other Authors’ Books

RAN: A Civilization in Hiding, by Robert G. Williscroft

Some science fiction writers are better at playing God than others. Robert Williscroft is a Master.

A novelist must be self-assured when entering the “other worlds” science fiction genre. After all, they are required to create de novo a star, a solar system, one or more planets, civilizations, and various types of biology, engineering, and physics. For the story to be readable, it has to be relatable. In RAN: A Civilization in Hiding, Williscroft hit all the genre requirements and continued much further. My notes regarding the novel’s relatability, and often surprise, are filled with superlatives like Wow, Fantastic, Really, and Yes. The book was cinematic, with frequent changes in scenes increasing the pace and tension of the story. Williscroft is not only a masterful storyline creator but also a skilled director.

As an engineer, Williscroft felt obligated to keep his novel’s technology tied to known physics whenever possible. This reader occasionally Googled concepts such as neutrino deactivation of nukes and discovered that idea is not outside the realm of possibility. But even when his imagined technology is beyond our wildest science, he reveals the new thing while simultaneously suspending the reader’s disbelief. That’s a hard sell, but he makes it work.

On a nontechnical level, the author highlights human traits in a nonhuman world. Treason, honor, justice, and the perils of religious dogma are all featured in a way that the reader can appreciate. Which brings us to a larger question. Is a sense of morality common to all sapient species?

Perhaps we’ll have to keep reading the works of Robert Williscroft to find the answer to that question.

Elevations – A Personal Exploration of the Arkansas River, by Max McCoy

Max McCoy is a master of whatever writing genre that attracts him. Having read some of his Westerns and modern thrillers, I knew I was in for a thrill as McCoy explored the Arkansas River and wrote of its personal effects on his body and mind. Elevations is in part a history book, but one written as only a grand storyteller can write it. It is certainly a story of the river as it scours the earth at high altitudes in Colorado, and runs for 742 miles through Colorado and Kansas. But for the most part, the river is not the subject, but the storyline. It is what ties together historical human pathos and modern human pathos. As is true of most great stories, it is that pathos that drives its cold steel nails into our consciousness. The chill which comes from man’s inhumanity to man comes just as sharply as the sting of the icy cold water of the river at high elevations. Whereas the reader can empathize with McCoy’s in-river spills and mishaps, the reader will certainly recoil at the telling of the horrors that have been witnessed by the river and its surrounding wild and barren lands. As McCoy tells it, he felt compelled to endure the hardships of this river journey. The good news for the reader is that you don’t have to get your feet wet to join the author on his journey of adventure and historical discoveries.

Having read this book, you will never forget it.

Operation Second Starfish, by Susan R. Kayar

Submarine deep sea “black ops” can be risky business even when everything goes well. But when things go badly, submariners’ lives are in peril, and everyone is praying for a miracle, and a savior. This well written novel drops you into the middle of such a desperate situation, and the potential savior, or potential scapegoat, is an unexpected protagonist, a female civilian scientist who knows the Navy way, knows how to motivate Navy divers, and unconsciously toys with their affections. This is a sensitively written account with a focus as much on interpersonal relations as on the technical aspects of hydrogen diving and biological decompression, or “Biodec.” Some of the greatest themes in this story are of the personal heroism of divers willing to risk their lives in the cold, foreboding darkness of the deep sea in an improbable effort to save fellow sailors.

The story may be fictional, but the science is not. In fact, for all the reader knows, everything written could have happened, or perhaps will, the next time the Navy has a submarine stranded on the bottom. The author, Susan Kayar, Ph.D. has pursued with Navy funding the very technology exposed in this story.

Amazingly, this is one of two novels published independently by scientists in the same year concerning record breaking deep hydrogen dives conducted on super-secret national security missions. That is a rare coincidence indeed, since to my knowledge no other novels about deep hydrogen diving have ever been written. The other book is a sci-fi techno-thriller called Triangle: A Novel, the second volume of a trilogy published by one of Kayar’s fellow scientists and colleagues, this reviewer. In both books, the hazards of deep diving are very real, and the tension is palpable. If you want to learn of the possibilities and perils of deep hydrogen diving, and experience the heroism of exceptional men and women in extraordinary circumstances, you now have two books to both entertain and painlessly inform you.

Kayar’s book will leave you wishing you could ride along with Doc Stella as she rides off into the sunset on her Indian motorcycle. What a ride it is.

The Iapetus Federation: Exodus from Earth, by Robert Williscroft

To be honest, I was stunned by this science fiction thriller by Robert Williscroft. I had read with great interest and enjoyment Williscroft’s Operation Ivy Bells – A Novel of the Cold War, but I had not read the preceding books in The Starchild Series. Thanks to the author’s extensive Preface, and Glossary at the beginning and end of this book, I entered the storyline both quickly and painlessly.

Like other science fiction novels, this series presents technological marvels such as faster-than-light travel and cheap and fast launch systems as the vehicle for moving large numbers of people throughout the solar system and beyond. But in my estimation, this novel sits alone among the genre by using technology and space travel as an accepted (but very well described) framework upon which to hang human pathos. Williscroft’s Navy experience firmly establishes his credentials for his worldview that as we venture into space, the most fearsome entities we are likely to encounter are the monsters hiding in plain sight, those malignant and unavoidable bestial souls found in our fellow man. And that is a terrifyingly believable viewpoint which is revalidated day after day in the news, and page after page, chapter after chapter in this novel. As I progressed through the story, the more the tension built within this reader: was there any way out of this predicament?

Is this a fine science fiction thriller that you will not want to put down? Absolutely. But a case could also be made for The Iapetus Federation being a futuristic horror story. That mix of genres is rare indeed.

Operation Ivy Bells,  by Robert Williscroft

The Cold War was not so cold, especially for spy submarines and black op saturation divers.

Robert Williscroft takes us on a one of a kind adventure that until a few years ago would have been above top secret. The real life divers and submariners are unsung national heroes. This novel’s hero is an uncannily clever Saturation Diving Officer who worked himself up through the enlisted ranks to become one of the smartest conning and diving officers on the USS Halibut, or as its divers know her “Flatfish”, as it ventured into Russian waters, toying with the very lethal Russian surface and submarine fleet. This five star read has enough technical detail to prove the authenticity of the writer, and enough gripping drama to keep you glued to your reading chair.

As divers say, “Hoo Yah, one heck of a read.”