Hmmm, a very interesting book, if not easy to read. Who would think a setting of North Korea could be so interesting and well done, almost sci-fi settHmmm, a very interesting book, if not easy to read. Who would think a setting of North Korea could be so interesting and well done, almost sci-fi setting surreal. As a book, I really enjoyed the first half, then it changes narrative style in the second half which makes for more difficult reading. But well worth the effort....more
Well, that was outrageously fun, right down to the giant robot wars. Was it an entirely new dimension of the word "fanwank"? Oh yes. Was it a little fWell, that was outrageously fun, right down to the giant robot wars. Was it an entirely new dimension of the word "fanwank"? Oh yes. Was it a little flawed as a book? Oh yes. Did I thoroughly enjoy the hell out of it? Oh my yes. So I'm putting my inner curmudgeon on hold and sticking with a 5 star rating....more
I've kept away from KSR after the Mars Trilogy due to a series of lukewarm reviews (and not overly interesting topics) but wow, this is good stuff. ItI've kept away from KSR after the Mars Trilogy due to a series of lukewarm reviews (and not overly interesting topics) but wow, this is good stuff. It's impossible to review him without comparing against the MT benchmark so I won't even try.
Aurora is a huge evolution in storytelling form over MT, in every possible good way. We get some hard science exposition (it being KSR) and we get some meanderings down whatever intellectual curiosities he is interested in poking on at the time (it being KSR), but they're contained, not ponderous (even playful!), and embedded in a narrative that moves along and builds momentum, populated by characters (both human and machine) we can connect with and care about. And while sometimes tedious these meanderings have never wanted for being fascinating, just overly drawn out. Not so here.
There's even, early on, a tremendously amusing chapter in which a human character instructs the interstellar ship's AI to construct a narrative of their journey, and the resulting interplay between human tutor and AI looks for all the world like KSR struggling with his critics (and editors) to overcome the pedantic, dry and rambling writing style that swelled Mars Trilogy (and probably some other books) to epic page counts accessible only to the truly faithful. While this self-referential approach could have been schlocky it ended up being delightful, amusing, and ultimately a key part of the plot.
Robinson also devotes a couple of pages to updating and revising his prognostications about Mars colonization, factoring in some learning since the 1990s. And keeps it to a couple of pages! Knock me over with a feather!
Aurora may not be perfect; its first and last chapters may not have been the best choices stylistically, and it's sufficiently non-utopian to probably alienate some die-hards. But it's warm, human, compelling, thoughtful and entertaining. I'm so pleasantly surprised.
My reactions to this book are complicated, and this review contains mild spoilers (up to perhaps the 2nd chapter or so). Seveneves partiallySigh. Meh.
My reactions to this book are complicated, and this review contains mild spoilers (up to perhaps the 2nd chapter or so). Seveneves partially reminds me of why I drifted away from reading science fiction for so long; it is full of interesting concepts but is two-dimensional (at best) on a human level and lacks a compelling narrative structure. On top of that, its first half makes a number of stylistic choices which are distracting, irritating and unneeded. As other reviewers have commented, Seveneves also spends an excruciatingly long time explaining the physics and mechanics of everything. KSR's Mars Trilogy convinced me that I could enjoy such "hard" science fiction provided there was a compelling human narrative and dimension to the story; unfortunately, Seveneves lacks this redeeming feature.
The first half of Seveneves appears to be set in the mid-2020s, if we are to calibrate against the use of the aging International Space Station as a centerpiece of the plot, or the overwhelming (and irritating) throwaway references to contemporary social media, programming scripts, etc. The choice of timing is important as the central plot device is that a (perhaps) natural catastrophe threatens humanity, which has precisely two years to react. And herein is where things go astray; humanity's response is a space-based effort which strains all credulity beyond the breaking point to enact within the prescribed two years, given any conceivable space infrastructure which could have been developed by the 2020s. Throw in the gratuitous use of paper-thin caricatures of plucky internet billionaires (who alone have the vision to save the human race) and latter day astronomer-media darlings (complete with slightly French names), and this all begins to read like so much NewSpace fanwank. This isn't just an "old NASA thinking" antibody reaction; it simply takes *time* to do the sorts of things Stephenson posits, bounded by some pretty basic limiters like design cycles, supply chains etc, and two years doesn't cut it (two years is sporty for the simplest of robotic satellites, much less developing an entire architecture and infrastructure to save the species). Nor are these the sorts of problems that throwing more money or people at can accelerate (this typically has the opposite effect), no matter how much allegorical Elon Musk hagiography is woven into the story. The existence of several human "deus ex machinas" in the plot is even more frustrating given the hundreds of pages spent explaining the gory physics and engineering of everything else in excruciating detail. This is all a bit tragic, as the basic concept is really interesting, and the solution and eventual plot development is extremely clever. Stephenson made a stylistic choice to have the story "Torn From the Headlines of Today", which leaves it implausible, vaguely irritating, and likely to age very, very poorly. This all could have been avoided had he chosen to begin the narrative 20 or 30 years in the future.
This book is, well, excellent. It provides as much insight into history, culture, customs and practices as it does on record discovery interpretation,This book is, well, excellent. It provides as much insight into history, culture, customs and practices as it does on record discovery interpretation, and the former is really critical in making sense of the latter. The only drawback is it is dated (1995), thus silent on use of current internet or DNA practices to conduct research, but that shouldn't stop you, it's a starting point not an ending point. ...more
This gentleman was my 12th great-grandfather through his daughter Maria Maddelena Malaspina, so I'm a little biased on how interesting the book itselfThis gentleman was my 12th great-grandfather through his daughter Maria Maddelena Malaspina, so I'm a little biased on how interesting the book itself was, but - it's quite good. The book is available as a free ebook/PDF on Google. It's a lot more interesting and entertaining than the somewhat dry article on Wikipedia, and there's some pretty darn good Elizabethan drama here around the story of Robert (son of Robert of Leicester, youthful suitor of Elizabeth I), who left England after unsuccessfully trying the legitimacy of his parents' marriage in the Star Court, resettled to Tuscany, and continued to do all sorts of amazing things. Robert's story includes exploring the new world (Trinidad), shipbuilding, inventing, writing, authoring a critique of Parliament, as well as the "Del L'Arcano Del Mare" which seems to be the first use of a Mercator projection map. Whew.
The book is definitely written from the sympathetic Italian side (see the Wikipedia article for a less friendly English-flavor view). But a surprisingly good read!!!...more
OK, officially clocking this as my most esoteric Goodreads review ever.
I've got to put this review in context: I've been looking for a good, "large siOK, officially clocking this as my most esoteric Goodreads review ever.
I've got to put this review in context: I've been looking for a good, "large size" historical atlas with emphasis on the medieval period forward, and have tried several of the few that seem to be available. The closest comparison to Muir's I could find is the Hammond Historical World Atlas, updated more recently than Muir's and deriving from the Times atlas series. So, mostly a comparative review here, and recognizing the publishing dates of Muir's (1911 first edition, 1964 final) makes it an imperfect "overall" answer.
In a nutshell, Muir's and Hammond's cover roughly the same material and time period, with many of the maps in the latter at least inspired by, if not derived from, or more directly connected with, the Muir's maps. However when placed side by side, the difference is night and day, and it's all in the design work. Muir's simply has better use of typography (in all senses - font, face, weight, kerning, etc) which make the maps easy to read while still communicating rich and multi-layered content. The use of color shading is also more subtle and effective in communicating key information, even though both clearly use the same printing ink "palettes". It's tempting to infer without evidence this is perhaps due to more hand-crafted design in the older Muir's and more machine-constrained design in Times/Hammond, but something is clearly lost in the latter. I know which one I'll be pulling off the shelf first even at risk of being older and dated (the atlas, not me).
Relative to content, yes, both are strongly (but not exclusively) Western Hemisphere focused, but this is to be expected given the era of publication. Muir's has larger and (I think) more interesting surprise / special topic maps, which are a pleasure to ponder and trigger map-dreaming (or wikipedia'ing). It also has a bias towards UK breakouts and a special obsession with the Holy Roman Empire; while both are arguably equally arcane in their historical minutiae, the UK history is at least roughly digestible, whereas the centuries upon centuries of HRE evolution and geographic pointillism aren't made any more intelligible by all the maps devoted to it. It's a blind spot in my history education and reading, but for now I'm perfectly content with the "fast forward to when Bismarck sorted it all out" level of understanding ... maybe someday I'll come back and all the pages of Jackson Pollock art will mean something.
If I take off the "large format constraint", the next atlas in my stack - the Anchor Atlas - is a strong contender for richest, most diverse, densest and deepest coverage (along with insanely detailed narrative), but it requires a scanning electron microscope to read; apparently before Wikipedia there was once a market for carrying the entire history of Western civilization around in your tweed jacket pocket (who knew). It's an awesome book in and of itself but "something different" than Muir's and Hammond/Times. In this class, Muir's is well worth finding used on Amazon and depriving some poor struggling library of their copy, if they're foolish enough to give it up.
Adequate, if slim, and a little high-school-library-ish. For map purists, this atlas is all-maps, all the time. The large format is appealing and therAdequate, if slim, and a little high-school-library-ish. For map purists, this atlas is all-maps, all the time. The large format is appealing and there are is an interesting mix of map content focus (occasionally odd, but usually interesting).
The drawback (aside from skimpy size) is the maps are highly dated in their typographic/color/design styles, which while nostalgically appealing, is murder on legibility. The later editions are clearly minor tweaks of the much older original, rather than reworks.
I purchased the Anchor Atlas of World History at the same time, which in a quick flip-through looks like a much more complete and fascinating coverage of history through map storytelling, with more interesting content, and includes deep detail in narrative, but also needs a scanning electron microscope to read (4.5" x 7"). Still hunting for the perfect historical atlas....more
A delightful, irreverent romp through the Dark Ages and medieval history, and if that sounds oxymoronic, all the better to drive home what a gem thisA delightful, irreverent romp through the Dark Ages and medieval history, and if that sounds oxymoronic, all the better to drive home what a gem this little book is. Straight to my favorites shelf.
To start, since it is billed as an atlas, yes, there are maps, elegant, minimalist and well-designed maps; see other reviews for a deeper discussion of how the "flip-book" style works well here, what I would note (having sampled a few alternative atlases for this era) is the refreshing attention to stripped-down design. There are competitors with much more conventional and nostalgic approaches towards infinite detail, but most are constrained by the limitations of their contemporary (60s-80s) typography and color-setting print practices ... the type is often painfully monotone and the ink garish and saturated, all contributing to legibility nightmares. The whole field cries out to be reworked with the digital tools of today. McEvedy is a first step in that direction.
But to return to the leader: the treasure of McEvedy is the accompanying narrative, which is breezy and highly entertaining but not shallow.
Spoiler alert; a few samples from the 15th century alone will give the picture:
Footnote 2. Timur was a devout Muslim, and it is ironic that few of his blows landed on the enemies of his faith. The best he could do was ransack Georgia every time he passed by, which was often enough to make Georgia a pretty miserable place..."
This, just below a block of main text:
Henry V, who became King of England in 1413, decided to put an end to the quarrel between the English and French crowns by making himself King of France too. Circumstances favored his cause. The reigning King of France was a lunatic, the Duke of Burgundy open-minded about his loyalties, and the French nobility as confused as ever about the difference between tournaments and tactics."
And in a masterful crescendo:
The Council met at Pisa in 1409, where it declared both existing Popes deposed and elected a new one of its own. However, as it lacked the means to make its depositions effective, the end result was simply three Popes instead of two. A new Council meeting at Constance ... did better. One Pope abdicated voluntarily, another withdrew to Spain, where his support gradually ebbed away, while the third was forced to stand down after a trial that left many puzzled as to how he had become Pope in the first place.(1) The way was clear for the selection of a new pontiff who could end the confusion as to who was Pope and where he was to be found.
(1) This was the John XXIII of whose trial before the Council Gibbon wrote: 'the most scandalous charges were suppressed, the vicar of Christ was only accused of piracy, rape, sodomy and incest'.
If there's a better way to acquaint or re-acquaint yourself with the history of Europe and the near east from 360-1483, I'd be hard pressed to think what it is. One pictures Douglas Adams as a teenager curled up on his bed, devouring an early edition and conceiving the Encyclopedia Galactica.
A note, a review on Amazon comments that the older editions of this book are much more full-on in the dry wit and snark. I appear to have the 1992 version, and it is amply entertaining. ...more
Well, I'd say a 3 but a respectable 3. The conclusion to the series is satisfying if not epic. The one star down from my ratings for the previous instWell, I'd say a 3 but a respectable 3. The conclusion to the series is satisfying if not epic. The one star down from my ratings for the previous installments is more to do with the pacing of the 2nd half of the book, when it should be accelerating and converging it occasionally meanders. Still, minor quibbles around an overall thoughtful, well written, interesting, and engaging series. Hats off to Howey....more
Continuing to enjoy these; the cleverness compounds, some mysteries revealed while new ones arise and the long slow tease continues. The pause for a tContinuing to enjoy these; the cleverness compounds, some mysteries revealed while new ones arise and the long slow tease continues. The pause for a time-and-silo-skipping prologue is well worth it. On to Dust!...more
Oh dear. I'm in the "meh" camp, which is really painful, because I really respect and appreciate all the hard and exceptionally clever thinking that wOh dear. I'm in the "meh" camp, which is really painful, because I really respect and appreciate all the hard and exceptionally clever thinking that went into this book, and, as a NASA employee, I should be square in the target squee audience. I have the same issues as other low reviewers here ... there's no character development or emotional "investiture", the dialogue/journaling is occasionally cute but usually corny, and the writing style for most of the book reads like a marked up lab notebook. It was intellectually stimulating to work through, but not fun for me to read. A+ for the "science" but D for the "fiction".
My two stars are probably overly harsh relative to other books where I've given points for the authors' thinking but held them back if the writing quality didn't match, but that's probably because my expectations were so high. I might come back in a week and bump to three. ...more