As with all science books, my opinion ought to be taken with the caveat that I am essentially a credulous audience for this stuff in that I am VERY muAs with all science books, my opinion ought to be taken with the caveat that I am essentially a credulous audience for this stuff in that I am VERY much a layperson; in this case the book is a decade and a half old, so not only is it necessarily out of date but I am totally open to hearing that it's inaccurate or misleading.
That being said, though, this was a fascinating read, especially near the end. I was aware of some of the broad strokes of the history (that the West didn't invent and wouldn't tolerate zero for quite some time, for example) and the math (why dividing by both zero and infinity are Bad Ideas, at least in high school math) but as someone who finds the theory of math fascinating even though I'm kind of shit at the practice of it past a basic level Seife does a really great job of actually explaining both the full ramifications of the history and the reason why the math works the way it does (I actually could have stood a little bit more wonkiness on the latter part, although confining a lot of the real heavy lifting to appendices was a good idea, and also there were other bits I wanted an even more basic explanation for; this kind of thing is ferociously impossible to calibrate for every single reader though, so I get it). And the book itself is both trim and swift-moving in a compelling way. When it really gets interesting is in really digging into the ways modern math has tried (and usually) failed to deal with both zero and infinity, the latter of which is basically a co-star here (and the links between them are fascinating). So I came for the history, which was good, but stayed for the account towards the end of how much we essentially don't know (or didn't know, circa 2000!) about reality and the universe. It is, and I mean this sincerely, always good to have some reminders on that account. I'd love to see an updated version of this, though....more
If you'd me, say, 50 pages into the first book of this series that it would be a low key recent favourite of mine by the time it finished, I would havIf you'd me, say, 50 pages into the first book of this series that it would be a low key recent favourite of mine by the time it finished, I would have been a little surprised, but Knight has such excellent characterization throughout that even if her plotting wasn't so good and twisty I'd still be really into it. After taking things kind of big in the second book, I think it's both a bold and really strong move on Knight's part to not try and raise the stakes again. Reyes has just survived a magical war that could have easily broken the city in two, all of the major antagonists from earlier in the series have been permanently dealt with (and there are no fake outs, no lame resurrections here) and fittingly for a series that first hooked me with how realistic the psychology of the leads (and their problems) was, our "heroes" are not ready for anything world-shattering. So instead, because of some good intentions, Kacha and Vocho and their friends get launched into a remote location where the story gets pared down to just the most important remaining characters and some new innocent (and not-so-innocent) bystanders, and a realistically harrowing environment that might wind up killing them all before blades, guns, or magic does. This is a really great little series and I think the reasons its great are reinforced by this third book's decision to go in a more personal direction, which doesn't mean it's even one iota less bruising for the viewpoint characters than that massive war in the second book was. So basically, this is just as good as the last one was, but all of my worries from my review of that one are handled, and in ways I didn't necessarily expect....more
So I read a bit of Valiant comics back during the original run (I think I had an X-O Manowar TPB, funnily enough the new series of that is one of theSo I read a bit of Valiant comics back during the original run (I think I had an X-O Manowar TPB, funnily enough the new series of that is one of the new Valiant series I couldn't get into, possibly because I read those first six issues so often as a kid), but I didn't realize for a while the company was back. Interestingly enough some of the best books I think they're doing now are the ones that seemed like the dumbest/most dated concepts back at the time (Bloodshot and Ninjak, for example, although in the case of the former I was obviously going to check out anything that featured the H.A.R.D. Corps because ever since I was a kid anything like that/Suicide Squad/Strikeforce Morituri etc. I've been a sucker for), and then it turns out that the Harbinger series is not only interesting but leads into a direction I always thought would be an interesting to take Harada in. Basically the series was solid but I'm a little more intrigued by the new Imperium series. Consider the overall grade a rating for the Valiant comics I've checked out so far, including a bunch of the big crossovers; full marks to these guys for making those pretty modular, so regular stories aren't really disrupted but there's still a sense of a larger story being told....more
So I tried not to just flood my reading list for the year with comics (I find reading comics really easy and quick, and my challenge to myself wasn'tSo I tried not to just flood my reading list for the year with comics (I find reading comics really easy and quick, and my challenge to myself wasn't to read x number of things Goodreads counts as books, it was to read more full-text books than I have been; no disrespect to comics at all, I just didn't need any help there), but the fact of the matter is that for a few weeks there I spend basically all of my spare time reading comics so if I don't acknowledge at least some of that I'm likely to fall behind on my self-set challenge and I don't think the stress of trying to "catch up" is conducive to good reading.
That being said, this was so much more of a delight than I expected. I've long been a fan of North's Dinosaur Comics and it's not at all a surprise that he would be capable of writing a good story, but I would have jumped on The Midas Flesh much quicker if I knew it's essentially one of his explosive deconstructions of the full ramifications of a concept from our history, mythology, or idioms. Nobody is likely to do a better job presenting the full, horrific, ramifications of King Midas's curse (if it worked as literally advertised) and so in its second half here (the review of which stands as my take on the full series whoops should have said that earlier) the story becomes a real thriller about the implications of that and its possible use and misuse. I expected the wonderful humour and characters and great grasp of language; I didn't exactly expect the very real sense of tension and dread I felt reading The Midas Flesh. Really top notch work, and I'm sometimes guilty of undermentioning this (like a lot of people who talk about comic books!) but Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb do a really great job with the artwork, too. ...more
Holy shit this was wonderful. At this point, Al Ewing is right up there with Kieron Gillen as my favourite superhero comic book writer, and between thHoly shit this was wonderful. At this point, Al Ewing is right up there with Kieron Gillen as my favourite superhero comic book writer, and between this and Loki: Agent of Asgard he's maybe the best writer right now at not just threading the story he wants to tell through the crossover convolutions enforced by writing for one of the Big Two but he actually uses those limitations to make his stories even better; more emotional, more consequential, more exciting (G. Willow Wilson did a pretty good job with this on Ms. Marvel, too). If everyone could write like this, I'd look forward to big company-wide events with a lot less dread.
In terms of this title specifically, the way Ewing handles the evil flip storyline and then the death of the universe storyline is really great. The team he's got is interesting (and generally underused!) enough that it's hard not to wish he had more time to just do "normal" stories with them first, but during this truncated run he does really great work with them, and the Battleworld followup (Captain Britain and the Mighty Defenders) is really wonderfully in the spirit of this run. Luke Ross does solid work throughout; it's one of those books where the art while not particularly radical is clear and distinct and personal enough that when one of these characters shows up elsewhere for a second I'm going "wait, that's not what they look like..."
After the reboot it looks like Ewing's Ultimates run is going to have the closest thing to a version of this team (Black Panther, Monica Rambeau, Blue Marvel, Miss America, Captain Marvel, and Galactus), and his New Avengers should be interesting too (Sunspot, Squirrel Girl, Hawkeye, Songbird, Hulking and Wiccan). Sad to see this series go but it was damn good while it lasted....more
I actually think the first book in this series is a little better, but this is a solidly enjoyable follow up and it definitely sets things up nicely fI actually think the first book in this series is a little better, but this is a solidly enjoyable follow up and it definitely sets things up nicely for a third book. Nothing here is bad, it's just that the character stuff with Petra doesn't feel like it expands on anything much and while the biker gang is fascinating ultimately it feels like more could have been done with them. Or, basically; what's here is good, but like 75% of the way through I realized some of the stuff I thought would get expanded on wasn't going to be. Not necessarily a huge problem (I did still enjoy it), but it made this one feel a bit transitional. I do like what happens with the hanged me, though....more
At first I'd have said this is roughly where I'd thought this series was going; a lot of the pieces and plots established in the first volume begin paAt first I'd have said this is roughly where I'd thought this series was going; a lot of the pieces and plots established in the first volume begin paying off, with predictably dire effects (well, how dire is predictable, not necessarily what exactly happens as a result), but as things continue to pick up more and more steam, by about the halfway point I started thinking "wait, is this one going to chew through the stuff I thought would take the rest of the trilogy to deal with?" And then it did. And it was great, blowing up the conflict from the first book to a full on military/magical/political/emotional firestorm, keeping our well-drawn protagonists (and the excellent supporting characters, some of whom get put through the wringer more than you might expect!) central to things while introducing new perspective and sides to the whole thing and keeping everything juggled in a state of tension and turmoil until the very end. My only possible reservation would be that I'm not sure how you go even bigger from here without losing some of what's made these books great so far (especially the close focus on Vocho and Kacha, protagonists who are actually, realistically flawed in compelling ways instead of just being dicks). ...more
I was a little surprised that the second Blackthorn and Grim book immediately ditched most of the setting and many of the background characters establI was a little surprised that the second Blackthorn and Grim book immediately ditched most of the setting and many of the background characters established in the first one, but it makes sense; since much of that book is spent getting our wounded, wary duo to a place where their geased home for the next several years actually feels like a home, one they'd want to defend, the two basic options for giving this book real stakes is to either take them out of it a little bit or to destroy it to some extent, and I'm glad Marillier didn't choose the latter (though I'm not saying that's never going to be a good idea, just that having Blackthorn and Grim both think of their new life with some fondness was both a relief and gave them a real reason for not just lighting out for the territories). And the plot they get trapped in is a doozy; if anything significantly more magical than the last time, and complicated by a figure from Blackthorn's past and Grim's PTSD coming to a head. The scenes with him recounting his past and dealing with the monastery are really wonderful and it's a real relief to have both plots move forward and to some extent be dealt with here. Marillier mentions that she actually researched PTSD and similar issues for this series and it shows; despite the wonderful, strange magic flowing through these books the protagonists feel extremely true to life (which is not the same as saying that their experiences or reactions would be everyone's!) and their charactization is probably the biggest draw of these books. And that at this point I think I'm ready to read about their adventures for a good long time, so I hope the plan is to keep them coming....more
PLEASE NOTE: the rating above is for this particular volume and is not a referendum on "The Waste Land," T.S. Eliot, modernism, criticism, or poetry iPLEASE NOTE: the rating above is for this particular volume and is not a referendum on "The Waste Land," T.S. Eliot, modernism, criticism, or poetry in general.
I've loved Eliot's work since I first encountered it in high school, and although like most modern readers I have my problems with the man and his work (and his influence!), I still find the major works really fascinating and often moving. And like most readers, as much as I felt like I was getting out of "The Waste Land" those notes of Eliot's are outright infuriating. So when I stumbled onto this in a used bookstore I pretty much had to at least give it a try, and it wound up being pretty close to my Platonic ideal for this sort of thing. Yes, the poem itself is maybe 20 pages here. But then we have a full set of footnotes in addition to Eliot's notes (sometimes on Eliot's notes), then a range of the primary sources Eliot used, and then a strong selection of critical and expository writing both from the time and more recently (it's a shame that the feminist takes on "The Waste Land" only come in at the end because many of the otherwise good earlier accounts just don't mention that, it's a huge gap but also historically unsurprising?). You wind up getting not just a series of fascinating and illuminating perspectives on the poem and what it might be doing but on Eliot, on modernism, on the business of literature/poetry, and about one thread in the aesthetic history of the 20th century. Reading different criticisms or accounts down through the years is a really interesting way to get at least a slice of what was going on in the cultural life of one part of the West during those times and it made the bulk of this book an even more interesting and even gripping read.
It really comes to a point where it feels like the quality of the poem (which, to reiterate, I actually agree is really exceptional) feels secondary to the fact that it was able to inspire these kinds of discussions, this level of criticism and scholarship. In terms of going through it all in one go it also felt kind of like the literary equivalent of my Stooges Fun House box set (which I actually listened to again while reading this), but I mean that as a compliment....more
Really, this and the Larkin were both more like 3.5 stars, but this towards the higher and that towards the lower, so... as contrasted to Larkin, thouReally, this and the Larkin were both more like 3.5 stars, but this towards the higher and that towards the lower, so... as contrasted to Larkin, though, here I found the most famous works ("This Is Just to Say" and "The Red Wheelbarrow") among the best or most resonant work. If anything, this has done a better job than many Selected Poems-type works of making me want to investigate further; the excerpt from Two Pendants: For the Ears is excellent, and the selections from Paterson, while not earth shaking, make me suspect the impact of the full thing might be.
And while plenty of the material here just registers as perfectly fine but unmoving to me, every so often you hit a perfect gemlike little fragment like "The Poem" that reaffirms why I read this stuff. My favourite thing, though, was the two versions of "The Locust Tree in Flower"; both exceptionally beautiful, but the progress between them somewhat akin to the progression from Talk Talk's later albums to Mark Hollis's solo LP....more
To be clear: while I like Huston's work a lot, when I read the back of this book I thought we were in for a lot more macho bullshit than actually exisTo be clear: while I like Huston's work a lot, when I read the back of this book I thought we were in for a lot more macho bullshit than actually exists in this book (which is very little). In fact, the kind of novel I was imagining, while good for a diversion, isn't really here at all; this is a much more serious book than most of its ostensible contemporaries, despite packing every bit of thrill power (or, err, quite a good bit more) than they do. This isn't really a novel about some badass, stone cold killer defending a helpless woman as they tear apart some ill thought out terrorist plot. This is a novel about psychological damage, about human connection, about the killing power of ideas, about the world we're creating and allowing to be created for ourselves. [VAGUE-ISH SPOILER] Its biggest hero dies a few chapters in and knows full well he's going to. [/VAGUE-ISH SPOILER] It is at time a wrenching, disturbing read, but never because it's revelling in violence or pain or domination, on our protagonists' part or others.
I feel like the language here is even more compact than in most of Huston's other novels; many of the characters, who admittedly are usually trying to convey vital information in times of huge personal and/or global stress, speak in practically phrase fragments, but the meaning is always clear. There is a tremendous amount of information (and other things) shoved into this book, and I mean that as a compliment, and the style is one of the things that allows that. Huston's never really written a bad book, but if Sleepless didn't convince you he had officially moved into a higher gear permanently, Skinner ought to. ...more
I was surprisingly kind of underwhelmed by much of the previously collected work here; the Big Ones (or as I like to think of them, "your parents fuckI was surprisingly kind of underwhelmed by much of the previously collected work here; the Big Ones (or as I like to think of them, "your parents fucked you up" and "sex didn't happen until the Beatles") are effective enough if a little spoiled by them being all the Larkin you (or I, at least) generally see people talking about, but his relentless crabbed, cramped view of life just doesn't hold much water for me. The poems that do get me, though, "An Arundel Tomb," "Aubade," "A Stone Church Damaged by a Bomb," and especially "Oils" (among others), are good enough that I get Larkin's reputation. And even the ones that don't really sit well with me (I don't care whether he was being self mocking or not, "Life With a Hole in It" makes my eyes roll back so far into my head it hurts) still have the ferocious and distinct command of language I identify with good poetry. Like Dickinson, he's got an intensity that I can sometimes find daunting or hard to parse (especially in big doses), but surprisingly(?) enough I find her more congenial in any number of ways....more
I was pleasantly surprised by this one; the beginning didn't terribly impress me, and I thought I knew where it was going. I did not! The characterizaI was pleasantly surprised by this one; the beginning didn't terribly impress me, and I thought I knew where it was going. I did not! The characterization, especially of our three viewpoint characters (Kacha, Vocho, and the similarly tossed from the Duelists' Guild Egimont) winds up being a lot more nuanced and complex (and, honestly, realistic) and what seemed like glib predictability in terms of those characters very early on is actually a case of three very wounded, confused people putting up their best defences. Reyes is an interesting setting and there's plenty of larger worldbuilding and ramifications going on, but ultimately this is a story pretty tightly focused on these three and their intertwined histories, with nobody being entirely admirable or despicable. Even when one or all of them are doing something you might disapprove of, their motives always make sense. Maybe that shouldn't be a breath of fresh air, but it is....more
I really should just go through all of the Discworld books now that Pratchett, sadly, can't write any more of them, but as much as I still need to fulI really should just go through all of the Discworld books now that Pratchett, sadly, can't write any more of them, but as much as I still need to fully investigate the witches subseries as an adult, I suspect the Sam Vimes books will always be my favourites. This one is probably not quite as good as Men at Arms or Feet of Clay, but it's tackling equally big issues with equal humour, humanity, and vigor, and it gets the nudge up to five stars on the basis of one thing Pratchett probably didn't predict (how prescient in 2015 having Vimes in a book published in 1997 insist that the police and NOT military and should NOT act like them, that their job is in fact to keep the peace and that killing people intrinsically works agains that goal; of course, this being Pratchett, he also quite deliberately skewers patriotism, jingoism, racism, and all sorts of human aggression, moral weakness, and stupidity throughout) and one, much sillier thing that he fully intended (the Patrician, Sgt. Colon and Nobby Nobbs is a vaudeville act for the ages). With the benefit of age, I can see that maybe this one fits together just a tad too well, but it's such a joy to read throughout it's hard to begrudge that.
"But Carrot really did believe that person wasn't the same as important. Of course, Vimes believed the same thing. You had to hope that when push came to shove you'd act the right way. But there was something slightly creepy about someone who didn't just believe it, but lived their life by it. It was as unnerving as meeting a really poor priest."
This is the kind of sequel that some fans of the original will tell you is not as fun; there's no chance of getting the band back together, for variouThis is the kind of sequel that some fans of the original will tell you is not as fun; there's no chance of getting the band back together, for various reasons, and Priest refuses to distort either the story or the characters in order to just serve up more of the same. By which I mean, it's 30 years later and Lizzie has been living quietly by herself for most of that time, not spending her time hunting monsters. There are no sudden resurrections of beloved past characters, and while the relationship between her and Simon Wolf is both one of the best parts of Chapelwood and the part most rooted in the first book, it is markedly different here, and takes place with both characters in an entirely new part of the country facing an entirely distinct threat. Which means that this novel both avoids the worst kind of sequel retread it could have been, and the same people who find, say, the latter seasons of The West Wing or Buffy unenjoyable or even deniable because those ensembles are split up, stressed out, and things are never going back to the cozy status quo of earlier stories might not like this one.
For my money, though, it's if anything even stronger than its predecessor. The epistolary format is still very well handled, if a bit less prominent, but the marrying of Lovecraftian terrors from beyond the stars with KKK/"True American" fanatics (while not necessarily the first time that idea has been used) is very well done and amply scary in a wholly different way than the first book's threat. Birmingham in Chapelwood is outright terrifying and would be even without the cult that Wolf and Borden investigate; indeed, much of the evil that takes place here doesn't need any Elder God as a cause or justification. Another very satisfying entry, although maybe the last one; the ending seems like it could go either way. I'd love to see a third dispatch, with [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] somehow encountering [REDACTED] again, but I guess we'll see....more