Nikola Tesla and Science Fiction

Nikola Tesla once suggested that “the possibility of beckoning Martians was the extreme application of [my] principle of propagation of electric waves.” While dropping the “talking with planets” idea once he returned to New York from Colorado Springs, he did maintain a belief that “there would be no insurmountable obstacle in constructing a machine capable of conveying a message to Mars, nor would there be any great difficulty in recording signals transmitted to us by the inhabitants of that planet.” Assuming, Tesla noted, that “they be skilled electricians.”

Interest in the theory was heightened by a Margaret Storm book called Return of the Dove. Later, another book by Arthur Matthews (Wall of Light: Nikola Tesla and the Venusian Spaceship) suggested that Tesla not only talked with extraterrestrials—he was one! Science and science fiction publisher Hugo Gernsback often used his friend Tesla’s ideas as seeds for science fiction stories, thus forever linking Tesla’s name with science fiction.

Which gets me to two new science fiction books wherein Nikola Tesla battles extraterrestrials invading the Earth. Author L. Woodswalker has taken many aspects of Tesla’s real life and woven them into two thrilling science fiction books that I highly recommend. Click on the book titles to get to the Amazon pages. Here are my reviews on Goodreads:

Tesla's Signal

 

 

Tesla’s Signal

Marvelous science fiction. L. Woodswalker authors a cleverly written exploration of alien invasion that masterly weaves real history with fantasy and surreality in a series of intricately woven story lines. Those who are familiar with Nikola Tesla will recognize the deft intertwining of Tesla’s real inventions, quirks, and personality traits with extrapolations to what they have become in the minds of many a Tesla aficionado. Those unfamiliar with Tesla will still find themselves rabidly engaged in the requisite alien races, the fight between good and evil, and some surprising romantic tension spliced into exciting action. All together here are the makings of a great SF novel. Well done!

 

 

Tesla’s Frequency

I loved this book even more than the first one (Tesla’s Signal). A must-read for anyone interested in Tesla and/or historical science fiction. L. Woodswalker once again constructs a marvelous story line, deep and interesting characters, and beautifully written dialogue. Woodswalker deftly weaves reality (Tesla’s actual inventions, Hitler’s actual plans) with fantasy (rumors of Tesla inventions that never came to fruition, fictional characters) and science fiction (space aliens). The resulting fast-paced, exciting ride pitting good versus evil keeps the pages turning as the famous inventor, his white pigeon side-kick, and an intriguing young girl battle the bad guys to save the world from both Hitler and aliens.

Great writing, great story, and Nikola Tesla. What more could you ask for? I highly recommend both this book and Woodswalker’s earlier Tesla thriller, Tesla’s Signal.

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David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, scheduled for release in summer 2017. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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In Honor of Earth Day – Earth: The Operators’ Manual by Richard B. Alley

Earth Operators ManualFor Earth Day – Earth: The Operators’ Manual by Richard B. Alley (A Book Review)

Richard Alley is a climate scientist. While many may not have heard of him before, some will have seen him give a demonstration of the Earth’s tilt (and its relationship to climate change) in a House hearing in 2014. Using his head, with his bald spot representing the North Pole, Alley schooled Republican Rep. Rohrabacher on historical climate science. Alley uses the same humor and adroitness of analogy in Earth: The Operators’ Manual to give us an engaging look at our planet, the changes that are occurring, and options for moving forward.

The book is a companion to a PBS documentary. The book is divided in to three parts totaling 24 chapters. The first part gives us a glimpse at how we have used energy over the millennia, how we have impacted the planet, and how we have moved from “peak trees” to “peak whale oil” to eventually (or even already), “peak fossil fuels.” The second part gives us a dozen chapters that make it clear that human activity is changing our climate. The third part focuses on options for non-fossil fuel energy sources.

Throughout, Alley’s whimsical side shows through, as does the ease at which he can communicate the science with apt analogies that all of us can understand. Who knew that climate was a bit like watching a kindergarten soccer game? With climate, many factors appear to be kicking around randomly but then, eventually, there seems to be an order to the chaos. As Alley takes us through the science it becomes undeniably clear that we are warming our planet.

While the first two sections may be the most entertaining, the final section is probably the most important part of the book. Alley examines “the road to ten billion smiling people,” that is, the options we have to providing energy for our ever-growing global population. Starting with toilets (I kid you not), he discusses the smart grid, solar and wind solutions, and pretty much everything else from hydroelectric to nuclear to geo-engineering. Some seem more promising than others, and Alley largely believes that some combination of renewable energy sources are the likely future.

Overall, I found the book interesting and definitely informative. It’s a worthy read for anyone interested in the topic.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (now in its 5th printing) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in July 2016.

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[Earth]

Book Review – Lincoln Inc.: Selling the Sixteenth President in Contemporary America by Jackie Hogan

Lincoln IncThis book is much more substantive than the colorful cover featuring a Lincoln bobblehead doll might suggest. It starts out light enough, with chapters cataloging various ways Abraham Lincoln is “sold” to the modern public. These include how Lincoln has been adopted by both current political parties, does brisk sales in memorabilia and museum visits (even if much on display is reproduction), and gets featured in a variety of sales pitches. But the book also delves into more scholarly questions such as how Lincoln is presented to the public. Hogan suggests this is mostly as a positive “boy scout” model who rose from meager beginnings to epitomize the American dream while his more negative attributes are ignored.

And she does seem to have some negative opinions. Perhaps because of her background in gender and race studies (she is a sociologist, not a Lincoln scholar), she at times appears to give undue weight to fringe opinions. For example, she laments that opinions on Lincoln’s “racial bigotry” and “suggestions of homosexuality” are largely ignored in biographies and museum displays. While she acknowledges that most public facilities have competing pressures for what they display, she disregards the main reason they are not highlighted; because scholarship tells us they are not supported by the facts.

This particular bias and some other more superficial understanding of Lincoln scholarship, however, should not dissuade people from reading the book. Each chapter ends with a section headed “An Outsider’s Perspective.” It is in these sections that Hogan most adeptly employs her sociologist perspective. Many of her insights, which Lincoln scholars may or may not always agree with, offer up substantive topics for debate that are highly worthwhile.

The book gives us a closer look not only at how we view Lincoln but in how those views reflect our desire to elevate him as an icon of the American Dream. He started low and ended high, as we all would like to believe can be achieved through hard work. This view can be inspiring, but as Hogan notes, can also set unreasonable standards not reflected by modern reality.

A short book (157 pages of text), it nonetheless has extensive endnotes (though most are to published biographies rather than primary literature). An interesting read.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (now in its 5th printing) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in spring 2016.

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Book Review – The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Henrietta LacksThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot

This is the story of Henrietta Lacks, her HeLa cells, and her family’s struggle to learn about their long dead mother. It’s also a detective story, a story of medical conduct, a story of Jim Crow, a story of modern and historical psychology, a story of ethics, and a story of religious faith. It is even a love story. It is all of these things, and Rebecca Skloot has successfully merged them into one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in many years.

Until recently few knew about Henrietta Lacks the person, though cell culture researchers have known of the HeLa cell line for many decades. Taken from the cervical cancer that killed Henrietta in 1951, HeLa cells have become immortal, living in test tubes and freezers in the billions even now, more than 60 years after Henrietta’s death. Growing like the cancer they derived from, HeLa cells have been used to develop treatments for many diseases, but also have contaminated virtually ever other cell line that has been attempted. This book traces the history of the cells, their benefits, and the ethical questions that arose because of their use without the knowledge of anyone in Henrietta’s family.

But even more than that, this is a book about the struggle of Henrietta’s descendants to learn about the mother they never knew. A poor African-American family that has gone through many trials must now take on the trials of seeking out answers. At times breathtakingly sad, the story can at other times have you cheering for Henrietta’s youngest daughter Deborah and her extended family.

I highly recommend this book. Scientists will find the medical story captivating, both for the thrill of its discoveries and the questions raised about informed consent. Non-scientists should also be enthralled with the medical story, but will also see the broader questions of segregation, poverty, family, religious belief, and the sometimes expansive divide between scientists and the public.

Skloot’s writing is stellar. She easily conveys the medical and technical material in language everyone can understand. She is equally adept in communicating the depth of emotion and confusion and anger of Henrietta’s family.

Other Book Reviews

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (now in its 5th printing) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in spring 2016.

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Book Review – The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom

Man Who Loved ChinaRenowned author Simon Winchester has written a wonderful book about a scientist most people have not heard about, but should have. Joseph Needham was a biochemist, nudist, socialist-leaning British scientist at prestigious Cambridge University. He was devoted both to his wife and his mistress, the latter of whom was a visiting Chinese scientist who introduced him to the culture he would obsessively love and study the rest of his life.

That obsession led to a series of epic volumes (now 7 “volumes” in 24 books, and counting) called “Science and Civilisation in China.” In it he documents in great detail how most of the inventions and scientific we have come to know as western were actually originally invented and envisioned in China (step aside Gutenberg, the printed book predated you by several centuries).

Winchester touches on some of those inventions, but mostly the book traces the man, his journeys in China during the Japanese occupation and second world war, his socialistic leanings (including meeting Chou Enlai and Mao Zedong), and the trials of creating his masterpiece, which was only partially finished at his death at 95 years old. At one point, soon after Mao has taken over China and the western world (including his campus) are in the midst of the “red scare,” Needham finds himself duped by his former friends in China, which nearly crashes his career and book project. Winchester examines that blunder and Needham’s slow climb back to acceptability, then the great success of creating one of the greatest treatises on the history of science.

An eye-opening book in many ways, exceptionally well-written by one of today’s most successful non-fiction writers. Of interest to scientists, to those who are interested in China, and anyone who wants to learn more about both.

More on “Science and Civilisation in China” can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_and_Civilisation_in_China.

More book reviews on Goodreads.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (now in its 5th printing) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in spring 2016.

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Locked

 

Book Review – Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams

Turn Right at Machu PicchuMark Adams is an editor and writer for adventure magazines who had never done anything at all adventurous. That is, until he became obsessed with Hiram Bingham III, the Yale lecturer and explorer who discovered Machu Picchu. Adams decides to follow in the steps of Bingham, and so begins a modern trek over ancient lands.

While Bingham may have indirectly been the inspiration for Indiana Jones, Adams is led on his adventure by a guide more closely related to Crocodile Dundee. John Leivers is an Aussie who has traveled to the remotest places in the world, usually under an 80-pound backpack. With four Peruvian natives manning the mules, carrying supplies, and cooking meals as they camp in the wilds, Adams and Leivers hike to Incan ruins ignored by modern tourists but discovered by Bingham a hundred years ago.

As the story unfolds, Adams reveals that “discovered” might be somewhat of a misnomer. Still, the triad of expeditions by Bingham are brought to life through Adams’s recreation of the events and retelling of Bingham’s rather comprehensive and detailed (i.e., boring) reports. The style of the book is to interweave the author’s own personal background and trials (along with that of John and the Peruvian guides) with Bingham’s history. Also interwoven is the history of the Incas from Atahulapa (murdered by Spanish conqueror Francisco Pizarro after extracting a ransom of gold and silver) to Manco Inca’s guerrilla warfare (and escape into the mountains) to the discovery of the ruins of Vitcos, Espritu Pampa, and Machu Picchu.

The book provides a sense of the territory being traversed and the culture both of the Incas and modern Peruvians. Adams’s writing is fluid and light, laced with rye humor, and constructed in very short chapters that make the book a delightful read. It does get sluggish in a few places, most notably immediately after Machu Picchu and Adams’s return to New York, but picks up again as he makes a return trip to hike the Inca Trail. Insights into local customs, ancient rites, and modern inconveniences are knitted deftly throughout the book.

Turn Right at Machu Picchu” was recommended to me as a preview for my upcoming visit to the ancient city. I found that it aroused my curiosity and excitement for the trip. If you’re planning such a trip, or simply are interested in a good adventure tail about the area, then this is the book for you.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (now in its 5th printing) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in spring 2016.

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Lincoln (and Me) in New Orleans

I’m science traveling in New Orleans. Somehow I’ve never been to the city before so am chomping at the chance to visit, in part because New Orleans played a role in Abraham Lincoln’s emerging world view. He traveled there twice, both times on a flatboat floating down the Mississippi River just before leaving the family home to set up a life as a young adult. I’ll have more on the trip when I return, but it got me thinking of a book I had read last year. I’m reposting the review of it here to whet your appetite for more. Enjoy.

Lincoln in New OrleansBook Review – Lincoln in New Orleans by Richard Campanella

An exceptionally well researched book recreating Abraham Lincoln’s flatboat trips to New Orleans. Campanella is an expert on New Orleans, and has expanded his expertise upstream to develop a detailed account of Lincoln’s two trips down the Mississippi River. No small feat given that the sum total of all the first person reminiscences of the trips by Lincoln and participants wouldn’t fill a page of text. Campanella’s recreation, like many efforts based on such scant direct information, is not however contrived in the least. On the contrary, the effort he has put into collecting and analyzing fragmented – and often contradictory or dubious – accounts is exemplary.

I would suggest the book is for the serious reader rather those with a casual interest in Lincoln, New Orleans, or the Mississippi River. It is extremely fact-dense, and the writing style is scholarly, yet accessible for thoughtful enthusiasts. Those expecting an exhilarating story of adventure won’t find it, though an adventure it does describe. To me that not only doesn’t take away from the book, it helps define it as scholarship to be taken seriously.

After a short introduction there are only five long chapters. The first explores Lincoln’s father Thomas’ own flatboat trip as a youth, along with setting the stage for Lincoln’s  desire to hit the muddy waters himself. “The 1828 Experience” is a massive undertaking; more than 100 pages of detailed research into the timing of his first flatboat trip while still living in Indiana, the building of the boat, the obstacles in the rivers and elsewhere, the arrival and lingering in New Orleans at the end, and the trip back home. Campanella teases apart the disparate accounts, provides a detailed analysis of the attack by slaves, and places Lincoln in the context of the technologically changing times.

Another chapter examines Lincoln’s second flatboat experience in 1831, including analysis of the mill dam story, the crew and timing of departures, and much more. While truncated so as not to repeat the riverine details well covered in the previous chapter, it still tallies about 40 pages. This is followed by a chapter speculating about what Lincoln may have seen and done in New Orleans, framed by extensive actual facts about what was going on there at that time. In his Conclusions chapter Campanella assesses what influences these flatboat voyages may have had on Lincoln’s views of slavery, internal improvements, and political philosophy. On top of all of this Campanella adds two appendices providing wonderful background material on commerce on western rivers and on New Orleans itself during the time period in which Lincoln was developing into the President he would become.

This is an extraordinary book of scholarship that deserves more attention that it has apparently received. It’s not for the casual reader, but it should be for everyone seriously interested in this critical period of Abraham Lincoln’s life.

More Abraham Lincoln book reviews can be read here (scroll down for more).

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David J. Kent is the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, now available. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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Book Review – Fire in the Turtle House: The Green Sea Turtle and the Fate of the Ocean by Osha Gray Davidson

Fire in the Turtle HouseClimate change has already shown impacts not only on the world’s temperatures but on ocean acidification, sea level rise, and effects on plant and animal migration behaviors, among others. The Dake Page periodically reviews science-related books.It isn’t clear whether the impacts noted in Fire in the Turtle House are related to climate change or some other cause, but it reflects how quickly disruptions can result in catastrophic impacts on wildlife. What follows is a short review of Fire in the Turtle House: The Green Sea Turtle and the Fate of the Ocean by Osha Gray Davidson.

The Turtle House is an area in the narrow channel separating Maui from the neighboring island of Moloka’i. Not surprisingly it is a haven for sea turtles, especially the green sea turtle that the locals call honu. And the honu are dying.

The book follows the search for the cause of rampant spread of the disease called FP, most notably characterized by the growth of tumors on the soft tissues of turtles. First noticed in the 1960s, proliferating in the 70s, and clearly epidemic by the 80s, FP has decimated green turtle populations in Hawai’i as well as in Florida. Davidson visits with the key researchers, examines the different investigations into the cause, and personalizes the scientific struggle to understand. In the end the answers are still uncertain, though viruses are clearly implicated, and dinoflagellate biotoxins, human-caused stresses from pollution and nutrient enrichment, and other factors also may be part of the complex genesis that spreads the disease.

Overall this book is well written. It does seem to veer off on tangents, such as stories about Stellar sea cows from a century before, Pfeisteria-based fish diseases, and other sidetracks that eventually are laced back into the turtle narrative with varying success. On a personal note, it was interesting to see mention of names like Archie Carr and Joanne Burkholder and others familiar to my own marine biology days.

One drawback to the book is that it was published in 2001 and thus is somewhat dated. It would be nice to know where the status of the investigation, and hopefully treatment, of FP stands now. Still, I would recommend this book for those who are interested in learning how science works in the complex real world, and how human factors can surreptitiously drive what appear to be nature impacts.

More science-related book reviews can be read here.

[Cross-posted from The Dake Page]

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (now in its 5th printing) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in spring 2016.

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Book Review – Lincoln’s Body: A Cultural History by Richard Wightman Fox

Lincoln's BodyHistorian Richard Wightman Fox employs a unique concept in discussing Abraham Lincoln: Lincoln’s body. His body – the physical, the figurative, the aura, and the memory – is used to trace how he was perceived at the time and during several periods since then to the present day. In doing so, Fox has successfully provided a mirror into not only Abraham Lincoln, but ourselves.

The book is split into three main parts ostensibly covering three broad concepts and also three broad time periods. The Public Body (1840-1865) focuses mostly on how Lincoln’s physical attractiveness (or lack thereof) was used both to promote and dismiss him during his political lifetime. These chapters also discuss his initial martyrdom, impact of the lack of any “last words,” and bodily degradation during the funeral.

The second part, The Enshrined Body (1865-1909), examines the memorialization of Lincoln, the use of him as a symbol, and the “reinterpretation” of him such that he was either for or against political goals, including “black emancipation” and “white reunion.” This section gets us up to the centenary of his birth.

In the final part, The National Body (1909-2015), Fox looks at the various stages of development of what could best be termed the Lincoln “cult” and “anti-cult.” He looks at the development of two memorials that solidify the “cult” (Lincoln Memorial and Sandburg’s Lincoln), and also at Lincoln has been depicted on the screen. Most importantly, Fox does an excellent job looking at Lincoln’s role (and sometimes lack of role) in the Civil Rights era. His discussion of Martin Luther King is one of the best parts of the book. Finally, this part spends considerable time on the more recent cinematic (and Disney) treatments of Lincoln, with a clear appreciation of the Spielberg/Kushner/Day Lewis movie, “Lincoln.”

The writing is fluid and readable. The use of the “body” thread throughout the book is well done – enough to carry the theme without making it groan from its own weight. But the real value of the book is in how Fox reflects the body of Lincoln in all its senses back on our changing views of liberty, race, and democracy over the course of the 150 years since Lincoln’s body made that last long railroad trip back to Springfield.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for over thirty years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and the e-book Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time. He is currently writing a book on Thomas Edison.

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Book Review – Tesla’s Signal by L. Woodswalker

Tesla's SignalAs a writer it’s always interesting to read other people’s writing, especially when they are people I know. Of course, interesting could mean either good or bad depending on the quality of the writing, but it seems I’ve been lucky because the books I’ve read by friends and acquaintances have been wonderful. That includes works by Thomas Waite, R.C. (Chuck) Larlham, Sam Hawksworth, and the many Abraham Lincoln scholars I’ve met.

The most recent is L. Woodswalker, author of Tesla’s Signal. I first met Laura at a Tesla Memorial Conference at the New Yorker Hotel and then at subsequent Tesla events, including this one at the Chester County Library (Laura is in the second photo, another Tesla author Howard Lipman is in the third photo). I was presenting my book, Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (now with 50,000 in print) and Laura mentioned that she was working on a science fiction novel based on Tesla’s life. That book came out this past month and I had the privilege of being one of the first to read it. Here’s my review as posted on Goodreads and Amazon:

Marvelous science fiction. L. Woodswalker authors a cleverly written exploration of alien invasion that masterly weaves real history with fantasy and surreality in a series of intricately woven story lines. Those who are familiar with Nikola Tesla will recognize the deft intertwining of Tesla’s real inventions, quirks, and personality traits with extrapolations to what they have become in the minds of many a Tesla aficionado. Those unfamiliar with Tesla will still find themselves rabidly engaged in the requisite alien races, the fight between good and evil, and some surprising romantic tension spliced into exciting action. All together here are the makings of a great SF novel. Well done!

I should note that I’ve been a scientist for my entire life and grew up as an avid science fiction and science fantasy fan. The focus of my own published writing means I read a lot more non-fiction these days, but I was happily surprised at how much I liked this book. The writing is tight and the blending of Tesla’s reality and fantasy is exceptional.

If you like Tesla, this will be a fun read. If you like alien beings, this will be a fun read. And even if you’ve never heard of Tesla and never met an alien being, it will still be a fun read. Find it on Amazon.com.

Meanwhile, I managed to meet my writing goal for my forthcoming book on Thomas Edison, so I’m comfortable taking some time off to go science traveling. More on that in my next post.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for over thirty years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and the e-book Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time. He is currently writing a book on Thomas Edison.

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