The Truth

Posted by barb on Jan 9, 2005 in Books

by Terry Pratchett

I was really looking forward to reading this one, especially because I had enjoyed Guards! Guards! so much. However, I had a very hard time getting into The Truth. I don’t know why. Perhaps I just liked Carrot, the main character in Guards! Guards! better than William de Worde. Maybe it was because I was confused every time Mr. Pin and Mr. Tulip entered the scene for about half the book. Maybe it just took too long for the talking dog to have his say.

The jury is still out on whether or not I like Pratchett and Diskworld. I have at least one more Ciskworld book on my shelf — maybe that will decide things…



The Minority Report

Posted by barb on Dec 30, 2004 in Books

And other classic stories by
Philip K. Dick
(With an introduction by James Triptree, Jr.)

I’m not sure what to say about this one. After reading the first five or so stories, I had to set the book aside for a while. I found Dick’s writing to be too impersonal for my tastes. His ideas are provocative, but the characters are generally one dimensional (if that).

However, when I picked the book up after a month, I found the remaining stories to be more enjoyable. I’m pretty sure that this is because I was ready for Dick’s style, rather than being due to the remaining stories being more compelling that the first few that I read.

A few noteworthy stories in the collection:

  • “The Minority Report” — this is, of course, one of the stories that the movie with Tom Cruise is based on. It’s different from the movie, with the lead character being older than I pictured, but I could enjoy it.
  • “The Unreconstructed M” — this is a fun and unusual “murder mystery”
  • “Waterspider” — as story featuring guest appearances by classic sci-fi writers, including a large role by Poul Anderson. In it these sci-fi writers are all precogs, who have sucessfully predicted all of humanities future.


Slave Trade

Posted by barb on Dec 27, 2004 in Books

by Susan Wright

Rose Rico was a wild child of a highly-placed government official. However, there was nothing even her mother could do when she is abducted by aliens and sold as a pleasure slave. The practice of using humans as pleasure slaves is well-established, because humans are always “in season”; whereas, many star-faring races have complicated mating cycles that rarely overlap with others of their species on the same ship.

Typically Earth-born slaves have a very short livetime. Ash, a hermaphrodite “creche”-born slave, has always believed that this was due to some kind of flaw in the Earthling’s constitution. However, he finds out differently when Rose concocts a plan to hijack the alien ship transporting them. He sees that Earth-born slaves know what true freedom is, and that they can’t bear to live without it.

Wright weaves this story on many different levels. Based on the cover art and title, I was expecting some cheesy erotic novel, and was pleasantly surprised when I got a well-crafted, textured story. I’ll definately be looking up the second book in this series.


Best American Science and Nature Writing 2001

Posted by barb on Nov 11, 2004 in Books

Edited by Edward O. Wilson

This is a collection of pieces from all branches of science from publications in 2001. A few notable articles:

  • “Abortion and Brain Waves” by Gregg Easterbrook
    This piece offers a sane and scientific definition of when life begins, and when in a pregancy abortion should be banned. Often when religion and dogma are pushed to determine public policy, science steps in offering a compromise. The issue of death is one instance — death occurs when brain activity stops, even if the body is kept artificially functioning. So, why not define life in the same manner? Studies show that brain wave activity similar to that of an adult human begins roughly with the third trimester of pregnancy.
  • “Seeing Scarlet” by Barbara Kingsolver and Steven Hopp
    This article discusses the disappearance of the macaw from it’s natural habitat, while describing their trek to find the one last place on earth that the macaw might be seen outside of a pet store.
  • “Ice Station Vostok” by Oliver Morton
    This article talks about the dilemma posed by the lake buried under the ice under the Vostok station. By studying the lake and its possible life, we could understand how life forms and survives in the extremes of nature. This could be applicable to studying life on other planets, most notably Europa, the ice moon of Jupiter that may have a vast ocean under it’s icy crust. On the other hand, by just introducing a device to study the lake, we risk destroying the ecosystem. There is no easy solution — the hope is to develop some way to study the lake without introducing any contagions, but ther eis no way to know for certain that we’ve planned well enough.

This book was heavy with biology-type articles, which don’t intrest me as much. I actually skipped a few of these articles after a few pages instead of trudging ahead for completeness, unlike last time.



Posted by barb on Nov 8, 2004 in Books

by Mary Shelley

I’m always a bit apprehensive when I pick up a piece of “classic” literature. I remember reading classics in school and finding them hard to read and esoteric. Once again, though, I was surprised at how much I enjoy the classics — at least this one.

We all think we know the story of Frankenstein. A scientist goes against God and creates life, but is destroyed by his hubris, by his creation. Right? Well, yes, but we don’t really know the story of Frankenstein as Shelley originally told it. The “monster” that Shelley created was intelligent. He finds out what society is, tries to join it to have some companionship, and failing that he plots to force his creator to make him a companion. This is not your Bela Lugosi monster, but an eloquent, thinking monster. And, frankly, a much better story than we all know.


Scientific Blunders

Posted by barb on Oct 10, 2004 in Books

by Robert Youngson

I was expecting a book full of vignettes about scientists who truely blundered — ignoring facts and massaging data to the point of very bad results. Instead, for the most part, the book is full of tales of scientists who “blundered” because they didn’t know any better, generally from a lack of technology or data to chose between two or more options. In several cases, it seems that Youngson was stretching to describe a “blunder” just to include a favorite topic in this volume.

I’m not saying this wasn’t a good book — the topics are adequately covered and at a level that most people should be able to grasp. However, it was not what I was expecting, which was a bit of a disappointment.


National Book Festival

Posted by barb on Oct 9, 2004 in Around DC, Books, Pictures

Andrew and I went downtown for the National Book Festival organized by the Library of Congress.

Science Fiction & Fantasy pavillion

This event has been happening annually for the past three years (this is the fourth festival), and each year more authors and a greater variety of genres are added to the schedule. This is the first year that there has been a Science Fiction & Fantasy Pavilion, with eight featured authors. This might explain why this is the first year Andrew and I have gone.

We started the day by buying copies of Frederik Pohl’s newest book (not even available on Amazon last weekend), and then made our way to the Teens & Children Pavilion, where E. L. Konigsburg was giving a reading.

E.L. Konigsburg at the Book Festival

I remember reading Konigsburg’s Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth when I was in grade school, and I absolutely loved it! I re-read it last year before releasing another copy through Bookcrossing on Halloween. She read from her latest book, The Outcast of 19 Schuyler Place. From the two excerpts she read, I’m very much looking forward to reading it! She also relayed a touching account of having lost both her editor of thirty years and her husband of fouty-five years within a year of each other, both from pancreatic cancer. This is the first book that she’s published that neither of them saw the finished copy.

We left Konigsburg’s Q&A session a bit early to line up for her signing. That was an affair! She was scheduled to sign from 11 AM – Noon. We were in line at about 10:45 AM. My book was signed at about 12:10 PM. Andrew left a bit early to catch Frederik Pohl’s reading. (I was bummed to miss part of it, but I’d been in line so long, it was becoming a moral imperative to get my book signed.)

I missed out on Pohl’s reading, but Andrew said that it was a bit stilted. However, I did make it for most of his Q&A session, which was quite good. At 84 he’s a lively guest, if not entirely optimistic about the future of the human race.

Next, Neil Gaiman read from a work-in-progress, Anansi Boys. I don’t know if I’m a Gaiman fan or not, but Andrew is, so we stayed for the reading. The only thing I’ve read by Gaiman was Good Omens, written with Terry Pratchett. I hated, hated, hated that book, but it’s hard to know if it was because of either of the authors or if I just didn’t like the way they worked together. I’ve since read more of Pratchett and have enjoyed some of it. But, Gaiman’s reading was quite fun, and Anansi Boys is comedic, at least the portions he read (not his normal style, according to Andrew), and sounded like something I might want to read. We’ll see.

Fredrik Pohl signing my books

I left while Gaiman was reading a second excerpt so that I could line up for Frederik Pohl’s signing. This line went faster than Konigsburg’s line, though I’m not sure why — perhaps there was less chit-chat, and there certainly seemed to be fewer people slowing down the line with pictures. I had Andrew snap one while Pohl was signing my books.


National Book Festival coming up

Posted by barb on Oct 7, 2004 in Books

The National Book Festival is coming up on Saturday down on the capitol mall in DC. One of my favorite sci-fi authors, Frederik Pohl, will be there talking at the Science Fiction and Fantasy pavillion (12:15-12:55 PM) and signing books (2-3 PM). I’m hoping that they will have advance copies of his new book, The Boy Who Would Live Forever, but Andrew and I are scouring the local used bookstores for other books that I’d like him to sign in case they don’t.

I’m also trying to think of which books I should release.


Darwin’s Radio

Posted by barb on Oct 3, 2004 in Books

by Greg Bear

The human race is on the verge of it’s next big jump in evolution, but we don’t know it. Biologist Kaye Lange predicted years ago that dormant bits of DNA might get turned on, and suddenly finds that she’s the world’s expert on the outbreak of illnesses and spontaneous abortions that have gripped the world. Christopher Dicken of the CDC is also investigating the epidemics, but finds that the cause that he and Dr. Lang propose is not politically acceptable. They race to find definate proof of the cause.

I quite liked the first two-thirds of this novel where Bear describes the outbreaks of illness, the response of the public and policymakers, and the search by Lang, Dicken and others for the cause and cure. However, the last third of the book the quality of story and plot seemed to break down. Here the plot is more character-driven than proceedure-driven, and the writing just wasn’t as engaging.


Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret

Posted by barb on Sep 27, 2004 in Books

by Judy Blume

This is another book I picked up to release during Banned Books Week. Several of Blume’s books appear on the list of the most challenged books of 1999-2000, which is a complete mystery to me. I remember reading Blume’s books as a kid, and loving everyone one of them. This, however, was one I hadn’t read before.

Margaret is an 11-year-old girl with a Jewish father and Christian mother. Her parents gave up their religions when they married, and have been cut-off from her mother’s parents. Her father’s mother, however, has stuck by the family, and looks at Margaret as “her Margaret”. Margaret has grown up without a religion, which didn’t matter until her family moved to a suburb of New York where the girls talk about going to Sunday School or the Jewish Youth Center. Margaret is confused about where she belongs and her parents are no help.

We follow Margaret through her sixth grade year, anticipating “developing” and her first period. She also attends temple for the first time with her Grandmother for Rosh Hoshanna and church with a friend for Christmas Eve services.

As with most of Blume’s books, this as a good, honest coming-of-age tale for girls.

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