Imagine a disease that kills you by rearranging the proteins that make up your brain, creating holes in it and turning your grey matter into a spongy,...moreImagine a disease that kills you by rearranging the proteins that make up your brain, creating holes in it and turning your grey matter into a spongy, useless mess. It's incredibly tiny and hardy, making it almost impossible to detect, and resistant to most forms of sterilization. It can lay dormant within a host body from anywhere from two to forty years, and the only real way to know that someone's been infected is via autopsy.
This is a prion. And it's been behind several different diseases in the past century, most notably "mad cow" disease, but also associated diseases such as kuru, Cruetzfeld-Jacob disease, scrapie, and others.
In Fatal Flaws, Ingram manages to lay out the history and pathology of prion disorders, using prose that is technically sound but still easily accessible to a layperson, and manages to present the horrifying reality of prion disorders without seeming sensationalist.
He also paints a refreshingly honest picture about the realities of modern science, and how personality clashes, showmanship, and hubris influence what gets published and what gets attention paid to it. Too often public discussions of science try to show scientists as these demigods of rationality and logic, when really they are just people - smart, dedicated people, but people all the same, with the same feet of clay that the rest of us have.
The history of prion science, as Ingram tells it, is part Sherlock Holmes, part Indiana Jones, and part Michael Crichton. It's a great read for a non-expert with an interest in the field.(less)
What if you did something horrible to save the world? Horrible in the sense of nuclear explosions that cause tsunamis, killing countless people and di...moreWhat if you did something horrible to save the world? Horrible in the sense of nuclear explosions that cause tsunamis, killing countless people and displacing others? Would you be able to live with yourself and the knowledge of those sacrifices you made, and of the lives you crushed for the greater good?
Worse: what if your plan didn't work?
It's a horrible, horrifying question, and it's at the heart of Maelstrom, which picks up right were Starfish (Watts' previous book) left off. As in the first book, Watts does an excellent job of blending the epic (the efforts of the powers that be to stop Lenie Clarke's Typhoid Maryesque spreading of unkillable contagion across North America) with the intensely personal (Lenie struggling to put her life back together).
The only problem with Maelstrom is that Watts paints a picture of humanity so bleak, so corrupt, that by the end you're actually cheering for the ßehemoth to spread, because clearly we have no future as a species. Balancing that, though, is the knowledge that this isn't the end of the series - there's still another book to go, and from here humanity has nowhere to go but up.(less)
Friedrich Nietzsche used to say that that which did not kill you made you stronger. Nietzsche was an optimist. There are things out there that don't k...moreFriedrich Nietzsche used to say that that which did not kill you made you stronger. Nietzsche was an optimist. There are things out there that don't kill you, but which twist you, and turn you into something that isn't quite human anymore. Something which might be better, or might be monstrous. It's hard to tell, some times.
Nietzsche also said that looking into the abyss meant that the abyss looked back at you, and also some things about monsters.
I know Starfish isn't a Nietzschean work, but it sure as hell felt like one. Peter Watts takes a group of scarred, emotionally damaged people, runs them through a bunch of post-human surgeries, and deposits them at the bottom of the ocean, in a high-pressure landscape that's as alien and inhospitable as any extraterrestrial planet. They're supposed to be the only living things down there, but quickly find that's not the case, and before long we're faced with the possibility that the sort of life that's forged in the blackness of the ocean might be completely incompatible with our own. And it might be stronger than us.
Starfish is a bleak, raw, gritty work that mostly likely isn't for everyone, but which I absolutely loved. Looking forward to reading the rest of the series once I've decompressed a bit from this one.(less)
This was a lot of fun to read in a big, loud summer action movie sort of way. The Ministry of Peculiar Occurences is a Victorian equivalent of the X-F...moreThis was a lot of fun to read in a big, loud summer action movie sort of way. The Ministry of Peculiar Occurences is a Victorian equivalent of the X-Files, but the agents that we're introduced to here, Books and Braun, are more of a cross between Riggs and Murtaugh and the Peel/Steed Avengers. Add a steampunk patina (mechanical men! Analytical engines! Bulletproof corsets!) And you've got a pretty fun read.(less)
I've been using the adjective "fun" to describe books a lot lately, and see no reason to stop that here. Bypass Gemini is a space-faring romp about a...moreI've been using the adjective "fun" to describe books a lot lately, and see no reason to stop that here. Bypass Gemini is a space-faring romp about a down on his luck courier who races across the galaxy making deliveries and getting in trouble. Imagine Han Solo with a dash of Arthur Dent without any of that dreary "Jedi" or "Empire" business holding him down.(less)
What's more interesting than a story about two generational ships locked in decades-long battle with each other? The same, but in the depths of the oc...moreWhat's more interesting than a story about two generational ships locked in decades-long battle with each other? The same, but in the depths of the ocean!
There's a lot of interesing stuff going on here - a look at generational conflict within a generational ship, the mechanics of a city-sized submarine, and some discussion of the human tendency to fight with outgroups, rather than work with them. There are also, in Thom and Ralla, some very interesting characters.
Unfortunately, the (to me) interesting stuff all takes place on the sidelines, and the main plot, with its cliched madman of a villain and boring love triangle, wasn't as nearly as interesting as the other stuff. (less)
**spoiler alert** Secret agent Will Shakespeare, visiting the locations of his plays while on His Majesty's Secret Service. Aliens that turned the Roan...more**spoiler alert** Secret agent Will Shakespeare, visiting the locations of his plays while on His Majesty's Secret Service. Aliens that turned the Roanoke colonists into the pieces of a bomb, to explode if they're ever gathered together in the same location. The Doctor and his companions, called to 17th century Venice to negotiate an alien disarmament treaty, and meeting Galileo along the way.
Any *one* of these would have been a good plot for a Who novel. All three of them leaves you with a bit of a mess, plot-wise.(less)
If you needed a model of why X-Men became so popular/relevant in the 1980s, this is it: not flashy art, or huge crossovers, or even super villains to...moreIf you needed a model of why X-Men became so popular/relevant in the 1980s, this is it: not flashy art, or huge crossovers, or even super villains to fight. Instead, we have a strong, thoughtful piece of character work that looks at tolerance, group identification, and the changing political and cultural landscape of 1980s America, and how that would be reflected in a superhero setting.
What saddened me, re-reading this book for the first time in over a decade, is how relevant the whole thing still feels today. I mean, Rev. Stryker might have a youtube series rather than a cable channel, and he'd be hawking certain brands of fried chicken as a way to "stand up for traditional DNA", but otherwise, it could be published today as a statement on tolerance in the 2010s with little alteration. (less)
Bit of a fun romp through mythological Greek and Europe, with around as much accuracy (and a somewhat similar style) as an episode of Kevin Sorbo's He...moreBit of a fun romp through mythological Greek and Europe, with around as much accuracy (and a somewhat similar style) as an episode of Kevin Sorbo's Hercules or Xena.
The fun was somewhat spoiled by characters so flat and wooden they wouldn't seem out of place in an Ikea catalogue, and one of the most deus ex machina endings I've ever read.(less)
An exhaustive look at the history of human society, with an attempt to explain global inequality in that light. Diamond's basic theory is that favoura...moreAn exhaustive look at the history of human society, with an attempt to explain global inequality in that light. Diamond's basic theory is that favourable environmental conditions led to more harvestable crops and more large, domesticable animals evolving in Eurasia, especially in the Fertile Crescent. This gave the societies living there, starting with the Mesopotamians, an evolutionary 'leg up' that allowed them to develop more complex, technologically advanced societies, which gave them more access to guns, germs, and steel, which ultimately led to European societies becoming world powers.
I had this on my nightstand for a couple of years, picking it up now and then and reading sections of it. It's an interesting text, but goes on rather long and presents its ideas as being more revolutionary than they are (I know that my Intro to Anthropology class I took in first year university covered a lot of the same ground). I know elements of this theory have factored into some of the science fiction novels I've read in the past, as well, such as Sawyer's Neandertal series. Still, Diamond presents the information well and includes lots of personal anecdotes that help the statistics and facts flow a bit more easily.(less)
Lex Luthor is a humanitarian. He gives to charities, helps his employees with family problems, and does his best to make his city a better and more pr...moreLex Luthor is a humanitarian. He gives to charities, helps his employees with family problems, and does his best to make his city a better and more prosperous place.
Lex Luthor is an engineer, a spiritual descendent of Archimedes. He knows that, with a fulcrum and lever big enough, we could move the world. Move it out poverty, out of war, out of ignorance.
There's only one problem with Lex's vision: Superman. Superman, that pompous, arrogant alien who has come to his city and amazed the population. With Superman around, Lex sees, people don't want to lift themselves out of poverty. They're too busy watching the skies.
Lex Luthor understands sacrifice. He knows that you don't make omelettes without breaking eggs. He knows that, to stop Superman from blocking the potential of the human race, sacrifices will have to be made. He's willing to make those.
This isn't an entirely new way of looking at Lex (people call him "Mr. Luthor", but really, he insists, call him Lex), but it's the most convincing look that I've ever seen at what motivates him as an antagonist, and why he's willing to go to such monstrous and villainous lengths to destroy Superman.(less)
Material so classic that Marvel's still mining it 35 years later :o)
Some filler, but it also includes the introduction of the Squadron Supreme and the...moreMaterial so classic that Marvel's still mining it 35 years later :o)
Some filler, but it also includes the introduction of the Squadron Supreme and the Kree-Skrull war. Add in a team small enough to allow for proper character development and interaction, and some great art by Buscema and Adams and you've got a great Avengers book.(less)
Ridiculous sexploitation story about a young woman with Disassociative Identity Disorder, and all three of her alt personalities are world-class fight...moreRidiculous sexploitation story about a young woman with Disassociative Identity Disorder, and all three of her alt personalities are world-class fighters. I'm not saying it wasn't fun, overall, but it was so full of crazy fight sequences and T&A (and P, I suppose) that I was shaking my head a few times as I read it.(less)
In Brave Men Run, Matthew Selznick looked at the Donner Declaration, where it was revealed that metahumans walk among us, and how that declaration aff...moreIn Brave Men Run, Matthew Selznick looked at the Donner Declaration, where it was revealed that metahumans walk among us, and how that declaration affected a young man named Nathan Charters. This sequel/supplement doesn't feature Nathan at all, but is set in the same world, and looks at the impact that the Donner Declaration has on the lives of different people in the months following it.
Two things stood out to me when reading this book. The first is the sheer collection of talent in the book: I know they're not all necessarily well-known outside of podcast/new media circles, but you've got Lafferty, Axelrod, Lowell, and Hutchins all in one book? Amazing. Especially as, while each leaves their own distinct mark on the story they've written, there's an overall feeling cohesion to the universe that they're working in that unifies the stories.
Secondly, this is a really good collection of character-driven fiction. Superheroic powers are involved, but they never take centre stage, and the stories are all more about how these people are affected by the powers they receive (for good and ill). It's refreshing to read something in this genre that focuses in that direction.(less)
I had already read the first third of this collection as a stand-alone novel, so this entry represents the second and third parts of the series.
Temer...moreI had already read the first third of this collection as a stand-alone novel, so this entry represents the second and third parts of the series.
Temeraire is the story of a dragon from which the series takes its name, and his captain, one Will Laurence. Will and his dragon serve the British crown during the Napoleonic wars, fighting first at Dover and then travelling to China, Turkey, and Prussia in an attempt to prevent Napoleon and his dragons from conquering the world.
This was a lot of fun! Very reminiscent of Patrick O'Brien's work, but with less focus on the mechanics of naval travel, and more focus on giant dragons. I also really enjoyed the relationship between Will and Temeraire; in the face of the journies and challenges they faced, it helped to keep the plot grounded and focused.
The one real downside to the series, IMO, is that in Europe, at least, the presence of dragons seems to have had little to no influence on society (or, from what I can tell, the progress of the war). That seems odd to me, and I think it would have been really interesting to see how the evolution of society would have changed if dragons were historical creatures.(less)