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REVIEW: "Ice Station", Matt Reilly

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  • Rob Slade, doting grandpa of Ryan and Tr
    BKICESTN.RVW 20001002 Ice Station , Matt Reilly, 1999, 0-312-97123-0 %A Matt Reilly mattreilly@bigpond.com %C 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010 %D
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 27, 2000
      BKICESTN.RVW 20001002

      "Ice Station", Matt Reilly, 1999, 0-312-97123-0
      %A Matt Reilly mattreilly@...
      %C 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010
      %D 1999
      %G 0-312-97123-0
      %I St. Martin's Press
      %O 212-674-5151 fax 800-288-2131 josephrinaldi@...
      %P 513 p.
      %T "Ice Station"

      This is a thriller. An action thriller. A military action thriller.
      Lots of action: the type of plot that the phrase "one darned thing
      after another" was invented to describe. Lots of fancy new martial
      gadgets. Military technology is not my field, so I have to trust the
      author about all these wonderful weapons. But I don't have to trust
      him too far, especially when so much else is flatly wrong.

      There is an attack by a local pod of killer whales. Of course, there
      is the problem that resident killer whales eat fish, and it is only
      transient populations that go after large marine mammals. (Then
      again, Reilly talks about orcas fifteen feet long weighing five tons,
      so the characters in the story probably aren't in any great danger
      from such rolly porkers. Or the thirty foot, seven tonner that must
      be emaciated to the point of terminal illness.) The assaults seem to
      be copied from other (fictional) accounts of shark attacks and bear
      almost no resemblance to how orcas actually hunt or feed. (Orcas do
      chase prey into shallow waters and even onto beaches, but I doubt it
      would work that well on catwalks.)

      Then again, if you were to try and distract a pod of transient killer
      whales, a seal; even the sea-lion-like antarctic fur seal; would be a
      poor choice. For orcas that do feed on marine mammals the seal might
      almost be considered a favourite food. A small advantage in agility
      is no match for an animal that can lift a seal, and an extra few
      hundred pounds of water, several feet into the air with one flip of
      the flukes.

      The real howler, though, was when one character, as the monster was
      about to chow down on him, felt a "rush of warm air" from its gaping
      mouth. Whales, of course, breathe through their blowholes.

      If you have sufficient flammable gas in an area to ignite, there is an
      explosion, not nicely defined gouts of flame. But that probably
      wouldn't be a problem with "highly flammable chlorofluorocarbons,"
      mainly because chlorofluorocarbons aren't highly flammable. In fact
      they were, and sometimes still are, used in fire extinguishers.

      Did I say that I had to trust Reilly for the military technology? I
      was wrong. A "nitrogen charge" about the size of a hand grenade might
      hold a cup of liquid nitrogen, if you were lucky. Poured directly
      onto some particularly fragile small item you might do some damage,
      but splashed around a room (particularly by an explosive, and
      therefore exothermic, charge) it wouldn't do much. A litre or two of
      liquid nitrogen dumped out on the floor will merely do a very good job
      of cleaning up gum wads and certain types of grease stains. Liquid
      nitrogen wouldn't be a very good weapon in any case: it's very cold,
      but it has a low specific heat. (An amount you can carry in your hand
      would hardly be able to freeze several thousand tons of sea water.)
      Splash it on exposed skin, and nothing much happens except that the
      nitrogen evaporates. (I've put my hands in liquid nitrogen,
      deliberately, and while I wouldn't want to leave them there
      indefinitely, I'm still typing with all ten fingers.)

      Oh, and liquid nitrogen is not "gooey." (And, Matt, I think the word
      you were looking for is "epoxy.") Neither is it blue. (Although
      liquid oxygen is a rather nice sapphire colour.)

      Should I talk about hovercrafts with brake and accelerator pedals,
      that suck air (and objects) *in* from underneath the skirt, and then
      cartwheel like Indy cars with a blown tire when a fan goes bad? No,
      if I do I'll get depressed. Same goes for aircraft that still have
      fuel in the tanks after decades, and, without any indication that
      construction was even finished in the first place, manage to work
      right the first time they are fired up. And I have a considerable
      problem with a fighter aircraft capable of carrying a nuclear power
      plant having the range to make it from Antarctica to pretty much

      Then there is a diving bell that seems to be permanently open on one
      side while it goes up and down from the surface to 3,000 feet like a
      yo-yo. Having an opening on the bottom isn't necessarily a problem,
      but the changing pressure would mean that the airspace would shrink to
      almost nothing (one percent of the original volume) on the way down.
      If you pumped in more air (or gas mixture) to keep it clear at depth,
      then it would be venting bubbles all the way up. However, there is
      one great advantage to a diving bell that is open at the bottom: there
      is no pressure differential, so it can't explode.

      The abundance of solar flares does seem to correlate with increased
      sunspot activity, but a flare is not a sunspot; quite the reverse.
      The problematic "radiation" in solar flare activity is not
      ultraviolet: if it were, it would take eight minutes to reach the
      earth and then be gone. The major difficulty comes from heavily
      ionized gas plasma. And that cannot be aimed with relative pinpoint
      accuracy from 93 million miles away.

      I was glad to see some recognition that email has to travel over the
      same transmission paths as any other means of communication. It's too
      bad that nobody ever thought of the fact that email can be queued up
      and sent whenever an opportunity presents itself.

      copyright Robert M. Slade, 2000 BKICESTN.RVW 20001002

      ====================== (quote inserted randomly by Pegasus Mailer)
      rslade@... rslade@... slade@... p1@...
      Vizzini: You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most
      famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia
      - The Princess Bride
      http://victoria.tc.ca/techrev or http://sun.soci.niu.edu/~rslade
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