“Since therefore the knowledge and survey of vice is in this world so necessary to the constituting of human virtue, and the scanning of error to the confirmation of truth, how can we more safely, and with less danger, scout into the regions of sin and falsity than by reading all manner of tractates and hearing all manner of reason? And this is the benefit which may be had of books promiscuously read.” -- John Milton, Areopagitica (1644)
Series: The Silver Ships
Author: Scott H. Jucha
Paperback: 306 pages
Publisher: S.H. Jucha; 1st edition (February 10, 2015)
Genre: Science Fiction (Space Melodrama & Utopian Sci-fi)
Publisher Description: An explorer-tug captain, Alex Racine detects a damaged alien craft drifting into the system. Recognizing a once in a lifetime opportunity to make first contact, Alex pulls off a daring maneuver to latch on to the derelict. Alex discovers the ship was attacked by an unknown craft, the first of its kind ever encountered. The mysterious silver ship’s attack was both instant and deadly. What enfolds is a story of the descendants of two Earth colony ships, with very different histories, meeting 700 years after their founding and uniting to defend humanity from the silver ships.
About the Author: Scott H. Jucha (ū•hă) has had an extensive career as a senior manager in the technical education and software development industries, with degrees in Biology and Broadcast Communications. He has been driven by an innate interest in computers since his initial adoption of an IBM PC in 1981. The Silver Ships are a planned five-book series with a potential spin-off in the works. His first attempt at a novel, entitled The Lureand written over three decades ago, was a crime drama centered around the surfacing of a 110-carat yellow diamond lost during the French Revolution.
About the Series: The Silver Ships is a series of full-length, science fiction novels that explore first contact between the descendants of two Earth colony ships, who landed on their separate planets, over 700 years ago. Jucha developed the concept for the sci-fi series in 2012, but it took a year before he found an efficient way to write. In November 2013, he created a series of cross-indexed documents in Word 2010 — a plot outline, the characters and backgrounds, and the objects, which listed the stars, planets, colonies, technical items and common goods. The process flowed afterwards.
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This is a fairly simplistic, predictable and enjoyable space-opera adventure tale laced with romance. A young introvert named Alex Racine has been snaring ice asteroids with his spaceship for New Terra’s water-hungry outposts for some time when he finds a derelict alien craft and decides to make contact with it.
The beginning of the story is perhaps the most interesting part of the book. The use of applied physics for space travel in the first few pages gives a sense of realism and provides opportunities for later improvement. The interaction between Alex and the AI is fascinating.
However, once the drifting alien ship is saved and the rest of the surviving crew is revived from stasis, the story becomes dull and the writing turns clichéd. Alex becomes an infallible Defender of the Universe, who seems to possess super human powers that astonish everyone but himself. All of a sudden, every woman wants to bang him and every man swears undying loyalty to him. Alex’s home planet, New Terra, makes him an ambassador to the aliens (who are also human) in hopes of a technology exchange. While the Government of New Terra is scrutinizing him, Alex’s professor gets nasty in defense of Alex’s genius and honesty. Later, New Terra agrees to help the aliens (who are extremely attractive humans) fight real alien enemies in silver ships who may be threatening their home world, based on a vision that Superhero Alex has.
Characterization in the story is interesting. The aliens (who are human) are sexy and thin. They live in a world where there are no bad guns and only good people and highly advanced technology. However, other than shockers for the incorrigible, they seem to have nothing else.
Alex is seemingly constructed as a highly masculine space explorer with macho features and mannerisms. He has not only an exceptional physique, but also mental and personality virtues — which tends to draw women with raised levels of testosterone. He is sort of a good-faith and good-willed superman.
Then the superwoman Renée, leader of the other alien civilization, appears and likewise she is an extraordinarily beautiful and correct being. She is erotically electrified every time Alex is in the picture, and probably vice versa. The instant love affair between Alex and Renée is so slushy, cheesy and ludicrous that it succeeds as the very definition of romantic escapism. The future of humanity in the union of these two “cousins” augurs well. Everyone (including the AIs) seems to love Alex because it’s just impossible not to love him.
I didn’t like how the author portrays his fellow New Terrans — most of whom seem to believe that the Government takes care of its people, and offers good socialized medicine. The big bad wolf on New Terra is a conservative who is full of egocentric tendencies and serves up a buffet of buffoonery; his excessive mischief and guile are best exemplified in his stealing little alien secrets. Astonishingly, these New Terrans embrace the political failures of their home planet.
A majority of the novel offers too much of the “melo-” and not enough of the “drama.” Much of the novel revolves around assembling weapons to fight aliens and uncovering the conservatives’ dirty plot to garner technology for themselves. Nonetheless, the underlying concept is still captivating: two human civilizations, one named New Terra, the other The Confederation (or “cousins,” as the narrator calls them), who have been isolated from each other for about 700 years and spatially almost 24 light years apart, meet by chance and cooperate to battle aggressively irrational and “inhuman” aliens, who are attacking the planets of the Confederation. The author imagines these two “cousinly” human civilizations as some sort of edenic ideal; when they fled Earth in different spaceships seven centuries ago, they also left behind all kinds of social evils and imperfections. Over seven centuries, they have grown into quite distinct civilizations, making the others feel “alien” even though they are both actually human.
The enthusiasm of the narrator/author and the underlying concept have saved the novel.
The universe in which the story takes place is well-built, and cultural clashes are interesting. The book clearly lays the foundation for an expansive story to come, as the author spends a lot of time building relationships and setting the scene. It feels like the universe within the story could open up further when more and more “humans” are discovered. The silver ships referenced in the title most likely refer to some non-human aliens, which the reader will probably encounter in the next book.
The prose borders on the surreal at times, with its trance-like sluggishness that seduces with its elegant descriptions of earth and ennui:
Here the trees sticking out of the surface were white as bone and draped with creepers. Driftwood floated idly past them, a few household items, broken birds' nests and strands of dark yellow flowers like garlands tossed from an abandoned wedding feast. …the dead fish lying on their sides in the sun, the crowns of interlaced branches. …On the banks lay upturned little boats, knee-high shrines and men fishing with poles at the edge of pale and impenetrable mangroves.
You have to give to the world the thing that you want the most, in order to fix the broken parts inside you.
- Eve Ensler
Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura
che la diritta via era smarrita
- Inferno, Canto 1
Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
"Comedy" is so called from comos, a village, and oda, a song; whence comedy is as it were a "rustic song"... It differs, then, from tragedy in its subject-matter, in that tragedy at the beginning is admirable and placid, but at the end or issue is foul and horrible. And "tragedy" is so called from tragos, a goat, and oda; as it were a "goat-song," that is to say foul like a goat, as appears from the tragedies of Seneca. Whereas comedy begins with sundry adverse conditions, but ends happily, as appears from the comedies of Terrence.
- Dante Alighieri, L'Epistola XIII a Cangrande della Scala
Consider how your souls were sown:
you were not made to live like brutes or beasts,
but to pursue virtue and knowledge.
- Inferno, Canto 26
Yes, the heavens give motion to your inclinations.
I don’t say all of them, but, even if I did,
You still possess a light to winnow good from evil,
and you have free will. Should it bear the strain
in its first struggles with the heavens,
then, rightly nurtured, it will conquer all.
To a greater power and a better nature you, free,
are subject, and these create the mind in you
that the heavens have not in their charge.
Therefore, if the world around you goes astray,
in you is the cause and in you let it be sought.
- Purgatorio, Canto 16
"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."
- Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene III, L. 140-141
The kinds of truth that art gives us many, many times are small truths. They don't have the resonance of an encyclical from the Pope stating an eternal truth, but they partake of the quality of eternity. There is a sort of timeless delight in them.
- Seamus Heaney
“The Divine Comedy” didn’t rescue me after Katherine’s death. That fell to the love of my family and friends, my passion for teaching and writing, the support of colleagues and students, and above all the gift of my daughter. But I would not have been able to make my way without Dante. In a time of soul-crunching loneliness -- I was surrounded everywhere by love, but such is grief -- his words helped me refuse to surrender.
The most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.
- Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin
Dr. Hamilton’s story illustrates the metamorphosis of an early American immigrant into a citizen sharing a new, but as yet unrecognized, national identity...
This story of Dr. Alexander Hamilton is not just the biography of one man; it is the story of how a piece of Scotland’s intellectual world and its own germinating Enlightenment was transplanted into new soil, took root, and was molded by a new social and economic environment.
Thinking is a biological phenomenon. Evolution has shaped it just as it has the forms of animals or the colors of flowers.
In our hunter-gatherer past, activity paid off more often than reflection did. Lightening-fast reactions were vital, and long ruminations were ruinous. If your hunter-gatherer buddies suddenly bolted, it made sense to follow suit -- regardless of whether a saber-toothed tiger or a boar had startled them. If you failed to run away, and it turned out to be a tiger, the price of a first-degree error was death. On the other hand, if you had just fled from a board, this lesser mistake would have cost you only a few calories. It paid to be wrong about the same things. Whoever was wired differently exited the gene pool after the first or second incidence. We are the descendants of those homines sapientes who tend to flee when the crowd does. But in the modern world, this intuitive behavior is disadvantageous. Today's world rewards single-minded contemplation and independent action. Anyone who has fallen victim to stock market has witnessed that.
[Evolutionary psychology] explains the majority of flaws, though not all of them. [...] Some bugs in our thinking are hardwired and have nothing to do with the "mutation" of our environment.
Why is that? Evolution does not "optimize" us completely. As long as we advance beyond our competitors (i.e., beat the Neanderthals), we can get away with error-laced behavior.
A second, parallel explanation of why our mistakes are so persistent took shape in the late 1990s: Our brains are designed to reproduce rather than search for the truth. In other words, we use our thoughts primarily to persuade. Whoever convinces others secures power and thus access to resources. Such assets represent a major advantage for mating and for rearing offspring. That truth is, at best, a secondary focus and is reflected in the book market: Novels sell much better than nonfiction titles, in spite of the latter's superior candor.
Finally, a third explanation exists: Intuitive decisions, even if they lack logic, are better under certain circumstances. So-called heuristic research deals with this topic. For many decisions, we lack the necessary information, so we are forced to use mental shortcuts and rules of thumb (heuristics). [...] In short, we often decide intuitively and justify our choices later.
To make things simple, I have set myself the following rules: In situations where the possible consequences are large (i.e., important personal or business decisions), I try to be as reasonable and rational as possible when choosing. I take out my list of errors and check them off one by one, just like a pilot does. I've created a handy checklist decision tree, and I use it to examine important decisions with a fine-tooth comb. (Comment: I hope the author will be able to resist the deception of checklists and combat the feature-positive effect, as he outlines in Chapter 95) In situations where the consequences are small (i.e., regular or Diet Pepsi, sparking or flat water?) I forget about rational optimization and let my intuition take over. Thinking is tiring. Therefore, if the potential harm is small, don't rack your brains; such errors won't do last damage. You'll live better like this. Nature doesn't seem to mind if our decisions are perfect or not, as long as we can maneuver ourselves through life -- and as long as we are ready to be rational when it comes to the crunch.
The first man I saw was of a meagre aspect, with sooty hands and face…[H]e has been eight years upon a project for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, which were to be put in phials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the air in raw inclement summers. He told me, he did not doubt, that, in eight years more, he should be able to supply the governor’s gardens with sunshine, at a reasonable rate...