This was a really beautiful romance. There was nothing the least bit tepid about the sexual tension between Rachel and Pari, and the emotions were strThis was a really beautiful romance. There was nothing the least bit tepid about the sexual tension between Rachel and Pari, and the emotions were strong too. I admit I had difficulty with it at first, because it was difficult to warm up to someone who was as down on herself as Rachel. She didn't see anything lovable about herself, and that made it hard to see what Pari could find to love about her, although she described Pari in wonderful terms. But before long, I could see her real passion for films, and her joy in Pari's presence lit her up. I could see that her rare moments of unselfconscious happiness were something to treasure. And she and Pari really fit together well. ...more
This book alternates between the story of Cinnamon, a teenager in 1980s Philadelphia, and the story contained in a mysterious book that reveals itselfThis book alternates between the story of Cinnamon, a teenager in 1980s Philadelphia, and the story contained in a mysterious book that reveals itself to Cinnamon (and later her friends) a chapter at a time. This narrative device felt artificial to me at some points, when someone in the frame story had to say "let's drop what we're doing and read another chapter now". Nonetheless, the story told in the flashbacks is a very compelling one, set in the transition between the Kingdom of Dahomey in West Africa and French colonial rule, centering on one of Dahomey's famous woman warriors. Kehinde is a Yoruba woman forced into the army and torn between loyalty to her own people and to her army comrades; she struggles to feel free and to remake her life, ultimately joining an entertainment troupe bound for the US even though she's aware they intend to exploit her. Her story is told by a Wanderer between dimensions, who becomes bound to Kehinde by love. (I have read quite a lot of stories set in Africa featuring extraterrestrial or extradimensional visitors lately...) Freedom and love are difficult matters for Kehinde, and also difficult for Cinnamon in different ways.
The overarching theme of the book, putting together a fragmented, nearly lost story, is obviously relevant to African-American history. I very much enjoyed the complexity with which Hairston considered history. Cinnamon's story was a bit less gripping, but I did enjoy the portrait of her family, nearly shattered by lack of acceptance of love, and in danger of willful erasure of memory, which Cinnamon helps to put back together. Cinnamon also gets carried away by storms of words, prophetic and inspired, which are written in intoxicating language. Hairston, a playwright, is very good with different speech rhythms.
This book did not entirely cohere, I felt, but was very much worth reading....more
What a Plant Knows is a very brief survey of research into plant senses and awareness: a bare 120 pages divided into sections on sight, hearing, smellWhat a Plant Knows is a very brief survey of research into plant senses and awareness: a bare 120 pages divided into sections on sight, hearing, smell, touch, proprioception, and memory. A fascinating subject, to be sure, but too shallowly and sketchily treated. The author writes at an extremely introductory level, thinking it necessary to explain things like what a cell wall is*; all these explanations, along with abundant comparisons between humans and plants, plus the chatty style of the writing, scarcely leave room for the real meat of the subject. The important experiments, and what they reveal about plant abilities, are described in oversimplified, incomplete form. At the end of the section on gravity sensing, which has been all about the role of statoliths (tiny stones in cells), the author notes, "The overall mechanism of sensing gravity is more complex than simply statoliths falling within the cell" -- and that's it. So this book is better suited to amuse and intrigue the reader than to truly inform. For that reason, the epilogue, a general consideration of the meaning of plant awareness, may be the best part. It reflects on both the commonalities and the profound differences between how we and the plants experience the world, and urges us to think about the lives they're leading when we see them.
* The author doesn't really have a gift for simple explanations, either. Consider this misleading account of osmosis (a term he doesn't use): "The high concentration of potassium inside the cell relative to the outside causes water to enter the cell in a futile attempt to dilute the potassium." At another place he describes the genetic code, mutations, and such basic concepts, but then goes on to talk about stem cells without saying what they are. ...more
I truly don't like superhero stories, and this one didn't change my mind about that. Nonetheless, Ruth Diaz somehow managed to take a silly setting anI truly don't like superhero stories, and this one didn't change my mind about that. Nonetheless, Ruth Diaz somehow managed to take a silly setting and a dorky plot, and in the middle of them place characters who are warmly human, with appealing emotional vulnerabilities; there's sweet romantic chemistry and children I can actually care about: I call this quite an accomplishment, although perhaps having achieved it in spite of the aforementioned handicaps of ridiculousness makes it seem more of an accomplishment than it is. Another problem with the book is that it's too short, with the women falling into lasting love almost instantly; there's a lack of substance to support anything longer, though. Rated three stars for being far more appealing than it ought to be with all its flaws....more
What an amazing surprise! Kept me puzzling over the layers of ambiguity found in these tales, apparently comic dialect stories framed in the condescenWhat an amazing surprise! Kept me puzzling over the layers of ambiguity found in these tales, apparently comic dialect stories framed in the condescending voice of a white narrator (apparently the white readers of the original didn't always notice how Chesnutt was satirizing this narrator, and nodded right along with him); Uncle Julius, in the stories, has a variety of purposes for his storytelling: the one the narrator notices is a self-interested one (but he is maybe not always right about the self-interested motive he attributes); then there is the appeal to the sympathies of the narrator's wife; then there are subcurrents of connection to the land and the community-building role of magical beliefs and so on... The stories seem to be subversive on so many levels, although Chesnutt's own commentaries on writing them denies much of this subversiveness. ...more
Anyone who's been paying attention to online discussions about science and science fiction will have heard there is such a thing as geek culture, andAnyone who's been paying attention to online discussions about science and science fiction will have heard there is such a thing as geek culture, and that geek culture is extremely hostile to women. Sadly this book is a good case in point. The authors proudly paint themselves, and their readers, as stereotypical geeks who have no social skills, never get dates, and are always pushed into lockers by the bigger boys in high school; in fact they have a bewildering preoccupation with high school given that they, and presumably the audience, are well past that age. Talk about a source of misplaced pride. Emphatically, it is the eternal high school boy that reigns here; they introduce half a dozen hypothetical characters to illustrate physics concepts, and not a single one is female, not even ones that are aliens from other galaxies. When they talk about physicists, they never talk as if they could be female. The only time that women come up are in the occasional sex joke -- e.g. saying that astronomers hope to find life on other planets in hope of finding sexy space babes, or noting that what they particularly liked about the movie Contact was that, by starring Jodie Foster, it gave the impression that astronomy departments might be populated by "smoking hotties" (really, that was your takeaway from the movie?)
All this juvenility and puerile misogyny is not only infuriating in itself, it is sad, because the authors actually are good at explaining physics concepts in clear, understandable ways. They go through modern physics at a good pace, with just enough detail. But in spite of that I can't recommend the book....more
Howell and Ford are excellent storytellers, and here they've recounted one dozen medical investigations in clear and gripping fashion. The cases rang Howell and Ford are excellent storytellers, and here they've recounted one dozen medical investigations in clear and gripping fashion. The cases range from pinning down information about important diseases (such as identifying the mode of transmission of yellow fever) to instances where the mechanism was understood but diagnosis in an individual case was tricky (such as with an incident of cantharidin poisoning). The authors always detail the steps that ingenious and patient investigators went through, giving an idea of the various ways that medical mysteries may be solved, and due credit to innovators, but they pay equal attention to the circumstances under which the investigations took place, how social circumstances could help or hinder, and how the findings fed back into policy and public thought. (In the case of the poisoning of an American ambassador to Italy, the political implications of the investigation are really the entire story, since the diagnosis was easily made.) Some of the chapters provide interesting contrast with each other; for example, the 19th century's very long struggle to get obstetricians to admit that puerperal fever was caused by infectious material transmitted by the doctors themselves is very different from what happened in the mid-20th c. when the introduction of routine supplemental oxygen use with premature infants caused a spike in cases of retinopathy; then, the problem was identified within a decade and hospitals immediately changed their practices, and it's clear that there had been a profound change in the culture of medicine. Not all of these stories were new to me, but even those I'd read about repeatedly, like John Snow's investigation of the Broad Street cholera epidemic, were told in a fresh manner. All in all, quite a fine book. ...more
I'm well aware that putting "greatest stories" in the title is standard publisher's hype, but really, I'd hope that the contents would live up to thatI'm well aware that putting "greatest stories" in the title is standard publisher's hype, but really, I'd hope that the contents would live up to that claim just a little better than this mostly-routine lot does. Starting with my least favorites, there was the painfully bad prose of "In Darkness, Angels" by Eric Lustbader; "The Bat Is My Brother" by Robert Bloch, which induced unintentional snickers by its grandiosity; and "Beyond All Measure" by Karl Edward Wagner, a standard piece which depended on the depiction of lesbianism as depravity for its effects. "Valentine from a Vampire", by Daniel Ransom, is a forgettable piece of silliness. S. P. Somtow goes into the futuristic-satire mode in "The Vampire of Mallworld", using vampirism as a symbol of messy human urges contrasted with sterile, glitzy, mediatized and plasticized culture; I suppose it may be a good story but this sort of thing always gets a shrug from me. On the better side, there was the mildly amusing perspective flip of Roger Zelazny's "Dayblood", and Richard Matheson's clever "No Such Thing as a Vampire" which, however, I don't think would repay rereading after you know the final twist. Dan Simmons's gruesome story of monstrosities lurking among the seemingly ordinary, "Shave and a Haircut, Two Bites", carefully controlled its tone and revelations but got a bit strained toward the end I thought. "Something Had to Be Done" by David Drake is a short Vietnam War story in the hard-bitten tone of this military sci-fi writer, not original but competent. Philip K. Dick's "The Cookie Lady" is another fright piece that makes a metaphor literal. Also "Red as Blood" by Tanith Lee, which uses Lee's usual extravagantly lush style to tell a version of Snow White with her as a vampire defeated by Christianity... A bravura piece of writing but I'm honestly not sure if it means much.
I greatly enjoyed "Child of an Ancient City" by Tad Williams -- it is not a new idea to use an Arabian Nights setting for a story about storytelling, and the language of it is of a familiar sort ("Some of the men again laughed loudly, but this time it rang false as a brass-seller's smile"); the conventions are very well used, however. This is a tale where a monster who has lost his humanity is turned aside by taking pity on the humanity of his victims, as revealed through nights of storytelling; a warm-hearted story. "The Man Who Loved the Vampire Lady", by Brian Stableford, is a very fine allohistorical story about the discovery of the origins of diseases and the effects that scientific discoveries may have on power relations. The pick of the anthology were Jane Yolen's heartwrenching "Mama Gone", and "The Miracle Mile" by Robert McCammon, a profoundly unease-provoking piece which is partly an elegiac lament for a lost world after a "biological incident" transforms much of humanity, while a man and his family walk among ruins, but the nature of the new world might be different if not seen through his eyes....more
There’s a lot going on in this novel. A young man is sick with tuberculosis, sent to a remote seaside village to recover (or die, though no one mentioThere’s a lot going on in this novel. A young man is sick with tuberculosis, sent to a remote seaside village to recover (or die, though no one mentions that possibility). He’s a would-be artist, experimenting with expression in painting. The life of the family he left behind turns out to be less secure than he imagined. And this is 1937, the Japanese are invading China, he’s Chinese, and he’s staying in Japan -- he’s conflicted thinking about people he knows suffering while the people around him only think of Japanese casualties in the war; and it comes between him and a young woman he’s interested in.
So, plenty of turmoil in the circumstances of Stephen’s life. How will he respond to it internally? While he’s there, he becomes very interested in a different, but equally stressful story that began years ago, involving the caretaker of his house, Matsu, and an epidemic of leprosy, which infected Matsu’s sister and the woman he loves, Sachi. Sachi now lives in a village in the mountains where people disfigured by leprosy, hiding from the scorn and fear of the world, lead a difficult life. The story of how she came to be there, and grow into her present peaceful life, is fascinating. Key to her peace is her garden: all stones, which she rearranges. This is the most important symbol in the novel -- it indicates that art can be made from stones, because beauty comes from within -- Sachi says "its beauty was one that no disease or person could ever take away from me." Matsu, too, is an artist, cultivating a garden near the ocean, which he recreates every time a storm uproots it. Together the two of them survived a lot of heartbreak although some of the people they loved didn’t do as well.
Even though Stephen realizes how helpless he is in the face of the forces of nature and the folly and cruelty of humans, the year he spends in the Japanese village before returning home provides him with the beginnings of a lasting internal stability.
I can only rate this novel three stars because, in spite of the good qualities I highlighted above, there’s something a bit pedestrian about the way it’s written, the dialogue doesn’t always ring true, and it occasionally has difficulty with emotional tone....more