Review – Neanderthal Man

Posted 22 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Neanderthal Man by Svante PaaboNeanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes, Svante Pääbo

This book is less about Neanderthals themselves and more about the biological and technical details of extracting their long-extinct genomes from the preserved bones we’ve found, and also about Svante Pääbo himself — it touches on his bisexuality, his moves between institutions, even his affair with a colleague’s wife. I could’ve done without the personal info; it often felt like it was completely incidental to the extraction and sequencing going on in his teams. There were some interesting bits in the way his team worked together, and his decisions as the leader, but his affair with Linda Vigilant was entirely irrelevant.

Still, it’s a fascinating narrative taken as a whole, tracking the various theories, setbacks and new techniques Svante Pääbo and his team went through in finally extracting and sequencing the Neanderthal genome. There’s some coverage, too, of how it differs from the Homo sapiens genome and that of chimpanzees, and what that means in terms of phylogeny and the relationships in the family tree of human development. It also touches on some of the politics of science: rival groups, jockeying for funding, terminating partnerships which aren’t delivering what you hoped… A reminder that you’re never gonna get away from politics of some sort, I suppose!

I found it deeply interesting and well explained, though I am a little disappointed that it was more of an autobiography of Pääbo’s working life than about Neanderthals and what we know about them because of his work.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – All Systems Red

Posted 21 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of All Systems Red by Martha WellsAll Systems Red, Martha Wells

All Systems Red is the diary of a self-proclaimed murderbot — a part organic, part synthetic construct designed to protect groups of colonists, and perfectly capable of going wrong and killing them all. Hence, Murderbot — although our Murderbot has disabled the system that they think caused them to do that, and manages to take pretty good care of its little group of prospectors while also mainlining a ton of soaps and whatever other entertainment programs come its way.

I found it all very entertaining, but there was a more serious aspect, too: the Murderbot’s misanthropic attitude and even anxiety about interacting with humans, especially without its suit and opaque helmet on as a buffer. Thus the interactions with the team were a little sad as well as funny — if not sad, perhaps the right term would be invested with pathos, especially as they interact more and more with their employers (contractors? not sure quite what the term should be).

I was a little disappointed by the ending, leaving behind the established team. Obviously there’s gonna be more Murderbot, but… with a new cast otherwise? Boo. I was just getting to like ’em.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Being Human

Posted 20 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Being Human by New ScientistBeing Human, New Scientist

There’s perhaps not much to say about this collection: it’s much the same as the other New Scientist collections, in that it brings together a number of articles and features on a theme, using material from past issues. This is a bit more general than The Human Brain, of course, though it covers some of the same ground. If you read New Scientist religiously, none of this will be new to you; if you want to collect it in a more permanent form than the weekly issues, or grab one that’s on a specific topic, these are great for that.

To me, all of this is accessible, well explained and interesting. Your mileage may vary depending on what aspects of science interest you most.

Rating: 4/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 20 May, 2017 by Nikki in General / 14 Comments

Good morning, all! It’s been a good reading week for me, and one of my assignments is done and handed in, so… breathe a sigh of relief! How’s everyone else doing?

Received to review:

Cover of River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey Cover of Trial by Fire by Lore Graham Cover of The Ghost Line Cover of The Loveless Princess by Lilian Bodley

I love hippos, as in the cuddly teddy bear sort, so I’m not sure how I’m going to take River of Teeth. Possibly Helen Hippo will just be pleased that her relatives are so fierce.

Finished reading this week:

Cover of Neanderthal Man by Svante Paabo Cover of Words and Rules by Steven Pinker Cover of Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani Cover of Passion Play, by Sean Stewart

Cover of The Loveless Princess by Lilian Bodley Cover of Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill Cover of New Scientist: How Your Brain Works Cover of Harrowing the Dragon by Patricia A. McKillip

The ratings sneak peek:

Four stars: Neanderthal Man, Sunbolt, Passion Play, and Harrowing the Dragon.
Three stars: Words and RulesThe Loveless Princess and How Your Brain Works. 
One star: Sea of Rust.

Reviews posted this week:

Relativity: Einstein’s Mind-Bending Universe, by New Scientist. Not exactly my area of science. If it’s your interest, I think you’ll enjoy it; the fault is in my lack of comprehension/interest in a lot of physics. 3/5 stars
Down Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire. Not one of the stories that was crying out to be told after Every Heart a Doorway, to my mind, but still an enjoyable read. 4/5 stars
Dangerous Women: Part II, ed. George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. I remain unconvinced by this anthology. 3/5 stars
The Pinks, by Chris Enss. Lots of stuff I didn’t know here; very readable and interesting. 4/5 stars
Medical Frontiers, by New Scientist. Fascinating collection about the cutting edge of medicine these days. 4/5 stars
Killing Gravity, by Corey J. White. River Tam with telekinetic powers, basically. It’s a lot of fun. 4/5 stars
Dangerous Women: Part III, ed. George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. Even more mediocre than the other two parts. Basically: don’t bother. 2/5 stars

Other posts:

Top Ten Tuesday: Books My Mother Should Read. What it says on the tin, as ever. Also generally a list of good books.
What are you reading Wednesday. The usual update!

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Review – Dangerous Women (Part III)

Posted 19 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Dangerous Women ed. G.R.R. MartinDangerous Women, ed. Gardner Dozois & G.R.R. Martin

Overall, the whole collection is pretty disappointing to me. The stories might fit the theme of ‘dangerous women’ on a technicality, but few of them feel genuinely dangerous. Usually the twist is that, surprise! She’s not a good girl after all! Righto.

‘Some Desperado’, by Joe Abercrombie — One of the better ones in the collection. The main character is, indeed, a desperado, and things don’t go too well for her — but she defends herself and keeps on running.

‘City Lazarus’, by Diana Rowland — I’ve kind of avoided Rowland’s work since I saw her on a panel at a con and all she did was sell her work, and this didn’t really change my mind. The writing is okay, but lord, the set-up is so typical and the twist so obvious.

‘Hell Hath No Fury’, by Sherrilyn Kenyon — The title doesn’t even make sense, since the ‘woman scorned’ is actually driven out of a village she helped to found, not just scorned. She lays a curse on the land, people with cameras come in long after and try to film a paranormal exposé, she rips ’em to shreds. Yawn. Isn’t this an episode of Supernatural?

‘The Hands That Are Not There’, by Melinda Snodgrass — For a female author, wow does she cater to the male gaze. I didn’t get through the bar scene.

‘Caretakers’, by Pat Cadigan — This kind of… fizzled, for me. It was slow and it took a long time to get where it was going, and once it got there, it wasn’t such a shock at all.

‘Nora’s Song’, by Cecelia Holland — It’s Eleanor of Aquitane, it should be completely badass. Didn’t work for me, though.

‘Bombshells’, by Jim Butcher — Skipped entirely, with a side-eye at the spoiler for the Dresden Files in the intro. I get that it’s been out a long time, but maaaan.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Killing Gravity

Posted 18 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Killing Gravity by Corey J. WhiteKilling Gravity, Corey J. White

Received to review via Netgalleypublication date was 9th May 2017

Basically: take River Tam, give her telekinesis, take away Simon Tam and the crew of Serenity, and send her off on her own. More or less. That’s what the main character, Mars, is like, except maybe a bit more mentally stable. Mostly.

I found this a lot of fun, and I’ll definitely read more in the same world. I’m a little disappointed about where it cut off, because I really wanted to see a particular character home safe — but at least it offers the promise of more of these characters. Squid and their chromatophores — and their casual gender neutral identity — particularly fascinate me: I want to see a lot more of them. And I want to see more of Seven… sort of. (It’s complicated.)

It’s a little bit Firefly, a little bit The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, a little bit witches in space.

Works for me.

Rating: 4/5

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 17 May, 2017 by Nikki in General / 0 Comments

Cover of Sunbolt by Intisar KhananiWhat have you recently finished reading?

Words and Rules, by Steven Pinker, which had a lot of overlap with his other book, The Language Instinct. Interesting stuff, but mostly I let it wash over me unless he’s talking about brain structures, which is more my field. Once that was finished, I also promptly read Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani, all in one go. Fun, but the last half of it reminded me so much of Robin McKinley’s Sunshine that I’m tempted to revisit that now…Cover of New Scientist: How Your Brain Works

Oh, and then later today I finished up reading Sean Stewart’s Passion Play, which was powerful and disturbing and I need to sit with it a bit longer.

What are you currently reading?

The New Scientist Instant Expert book on the human brain. My kinda thing, obviously, so I’ll probably enjoy it, though it’s more basic than I might hope.

What will you read next?

Goodness knows. Whatever comes up next on my Kindle when I can’t sleep, probably!

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Review – Medical Frontiers

Posted 17 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Medical Frontiers by New ScientistMedical Frontiers, New Scientist

This is a bit different to the other New Scientist collections, in that it’s focused on the practical applications of science in one particular arena: medicine. I found it a fascinating look at medical technologies and theories, and how they might change healthcare. It’s the usual suspects, of course: stem cells, etc — and it touches on some of the past advances in transplantation, antibiotics and other drugs…

So it’s not quite the scale of relativity or dark matter, but to me it’s all the more fascinating for being relatable to everyday life. Like the other New Scientist collections, it’s a good way to catch up to and collect a bunch of articles on the topic.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Pinks

Posted 16 May, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Pinks by Chris EnssThe Pinks, Chris Enss

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 1st July 2017

I didn’t know much about the Pinkerton agency, other than that they were detectives. I didn’t know they protected President Lincoln and involved themselves in the events of the Civil War — that they worked as spies for the Union. I had no idea about the theatrical and psychological methods they used… and I didn’t know that Pinkerton employed women, before women were regularly employed, and considered them important and indispensable operatives. This book delves into all of that by presenting little case histories of various capers the women were involved in. I say capers because some of them really do seem like that.

It’s a little odd that the blurb mentions Kate Warne, the first woman employed by Pinkerton’s, in the context of an affair with Allan Pinkerton. Unless I somehow skipped a chapter, there’s no such evidence presented in this book. Likewise, it’s a little odd — and sexist — that the men are referred to by their surnames, while women are referred to either by their full names or, more commonly, by their first names. It seems disrespectful to treat them differently than the men.

Otherwise, this is very readable and undoubtedly interesting. I kind of want a whole stack of novels about Kate Warne, now.

Rating: 4/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 16 May, 2017 by Nikki in General / 20 Comments

This week is an [International] Mother’s Day freebie. Now the UK Mother’s Day was quite a while ago, but never mind. The thing with me and my mum is that we’ve always shared books, ever since I finally learnt to read — I went from children’s books to her shelves within a year or two. Rare is the letter or conversation that doesn’t involve books somehow, so here are ten books I’d like my mother to read already.

Cover of My Real Children by Jo Walton Cover of City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett Cover of A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan Cover of Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang Cover of Behind the Shock Machine by Gina Perry

  1. My Real Children, by Jo Walton. You might cry, Mum, sorry. Motherhood is quite important in this one, and it also handles dementia and how it effects families.
  2. City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett. I’m sorry I took my copy back; I’ll get you the ebook or something. It’s a great series, and it’s finished now, too!
  3. A Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan. I think you’d enjoy this Victorian pastiche. It’s not as heavy-going as something like Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, and the lead character is a lot of fun. Plus, dragons!
  4. Stories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang. Mostly for ‘Stories of Your Life’, which the movie Arrival was based on. (I think you’d like the movie, too.) Warning, this will almost definitely make you cry, knowing you.
  5. Behind the Shock Machine, by Gina Perry. I’ve bought you this, so you have no excuse! It’s a fascinating exploration of Stanley Milgram’s experiments and conclusions, and very relevant to about two dozen conversations we’ve had in the last few years.
  6. Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Mostly to find out if you do enjoy it. I’ve been on the fence for years about whether you will. I think it’s very clever and very funny.
  7. The Carpet Makers, by Andreas Eschbach. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this one to you, but it’s a fascinating set of linked short stories. I have a copy, but I’m not sure if Lisa will let me lend it to you indefinitely. Maybe I’ll get you a copy.
  8. Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie. Rereading it recently, I enjoyed it a lot. People have emphasised the gender aspects of it, but there’s also a fascinating story about AI and individuality.
  9. The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin. I haven’t got round to reading it either, but we really should.
  10. Children of Earth and Sky, by Guy Gavriel Kay. We have the same opinions on most of his books, so you can tell me if I should be shuffling this to the front of my list instead of letting it languish!

Cover of Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett Cover of The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach Cover of Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie Cover of The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin Cover of Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay

And for those who are not my mother, well, those are all good books anyway.

I love the kind of mother-child relationship I have with my mother, where we can discuss books and psychology experiments and space opera and the accuracy of portrayals of mental illness in books, and just about everything else under the sun. She always treated me as an adult in terms of my formed opinions, and that has undoubtedly enriched our relationship and conversation options greatly. I can recommend it as a mode of parenting pretty unreservedly.

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