The Tyrannosaur Chronicles, David Hone
The Tyrannosaur Chronicles is a pretty entertaining survey of everything we currently know about tyrannosaurs — not just T. rex, but the related tyrannosaurs. That means it includes dinosaurs we don’t always think of as tyrannosaurs, but which are classified as types of tyrannosaur because of their close relationship to T. rex. The book is upfront about the fact that the information in it is going to be out of date before long — though not, I think, from the perspective of a layperson.
A lot of the info is stuff you may well already know, like the fact that T. rex was most likely feathered. But this book discusses it in detail, going into parts that were likely to be feathered, where the tyrannosaurs might have been scaled as traditionally depicted, etc. There are various different cases where there are theories about the tyrannosaurs that can’t be proven one way or another, and this book goes into them in detail. It discusses the evidence and findings, bringing them together into an entertaining and informative package of pure tyrannosaur-related awesomeness. It never got too dry or anything; I found all of it interesting and relevant.
Like all the best dinosaur books, it made me want to run out and become a palaeontologist, somehow. And it also made me crave overviews of other dinosaurs — can I have a book like this about the sauropods, now? Please?
The Green Mill Murder, Kerry Greenwood
This book wins for the wombat ex machina alone.
Other than that, on a reread this felt a bit all over the place. There are two overlapping mysteries: one a murder, and one a disappearance. There’s two romances, one of which actually makes me feel kind of squicky inside now I think about it — it’s not often Phryne makes a judgement about who to sleep with that I really disagree with (heck, that’s the point of Phryne; she makes her own decisions)… but one of the two is certainly twisted in his morality, and Phryne does suspect that from the start. I don’t really get the appeal of him, either.
All the same, the book features Phryne being the delight she always is. She protects a queer friend-of-a-friend from the attentions of the vice squad, flies a plane solo to find someone, makes her own decisions and puts her foot down when she has to. The found family are more in the background in this one, given that the high point (ha) of the book is Phryne’s solo flight and her time with a man who has made himself almost a hermit — but of course, they do feature.
I’m left a bit befuddled by the way that the nastiness of people and their squiggly morality seems to be somewhat justified by the fact that it gives Nerine, a blues singer, some real blues to sing about. But I would like to hear her singing, from the descriptions…
Agents of Dreamland, Caitlin R. Kiernan
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 28th February 2017
Once again, not knowing my Lovecraft tripped me up. Yep, this is yet another Lovecraft-based story, although in this case it’s a rather less well-known one: the Fungi from Yuggoth. Not one I’d have known anything about even if I’d known in advance, but perhaps I might have been better prepared for the sheer bleakness and darkness of this story had I known it was based on Lovecraft’s mythos in any way.
It’s an intriguing little novella; self-contained, though it hints at a world before and after it through one character who is, to some extent, ‘unstuck in time’. The flesh-crawling horror of the fungi, a kind of invasion we’re helpless to fight, is done really well. There’s one phrase which just made me shudder, because of all the different implications stacked together: “the fruiting corpse”. Gah. Gaaah.
It’s very effective writing, and because I don’t know to what extent it takes any of the detail from Lovecraft, I can say that it’s definitely something that can stand on its own. It doesn’t rely on me realising exactly what’s going on through familiarity with Lovecraft; the creeping unease works as well or better if you’re ignorant of where things are going.
Birthright, Missouri Vaun
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 14th February 2017
Birthright is a fun, fast-moving story of a sort typical in fantasy: the lost heir to a throne taken by a tyrant. And this version is a fun example of the genre, with strong female characters coming out of your ears — and falling in love with each other, too. The love story is at least as important to the plot as the lost heir, which is worth keeping in mind; it motivates the way the end of the story shakes out, and takes up a good amount of the narration. I enjoyed that though Aiden is boyish and Kathryn more feminine, there’s no stereotyping — both can fight, both can rule, both know what they’re doing.
There are a couple of moments where I felt things rushed by a little too fast — the connection between the two characters grows very quickly in just a couple of scenes — and where I’d have liked a bit more depth, like the characters of Frost and of Gareth, or even Rowan. Without more background, for example, Kathryn’s jealous moment made little sense, especially since how we got to that moment felt a little contrived.
Nonetheless, it’s fun and has a happy ever after, and I’d definitely recommend it to people looking for lesbian fantasy.
Foxglove Summer, Ben Aaronovitch
Once again, this book takes a step back from the main action. It’s not that the events of Broken Homes aren’t alluded to, because they are. In the background, there’s a lot of stuff going on with tracking down Lesley and the Faceless Man. But the main action of the plot is a police procedural dealing with some missing children. I wasn’t really surprised that this book brought in the concept of a changeling child, but it did manage to give the whole idea a couple of twists that did surprise me.
For me, both the strength and weakness of the book is the lack of progression in that main series plot, and the absence of many of the supporting characters. There’s no Lesley to make Peter do the proper policing thing, and there’s no Nightingale for backup. Which leaves Peter on his own, thinking for himself, and showing that actually, he doesn’t need those two. He also keeps showing that though he might not be as good a copper as Lesley, who never misses a beat, he’s a good policeman because he’s a good man. And this book reminds us of the people Nightingale and Peter are meant to be working for — ordinary people who need protection — rather than against (mysterious practioners of unclear motive).
I’m definitely ready for more of the main plot now, but the respite from it wasn’t bad either.
The Disappearing Spoon, Sam Kean
The Disappearing Spoon is not quite as entertaining to me as Sam Kean’s book on neuroscience, but it’s still reasonably fun and definitely an easy read. There’s all kinds of random facts, and he makes things like electron shells very clear — even for me, with my brain’s stubborn refusal to grasp it all. He writes with humour and enthusiasm, pulling out interesting characters and discoveries from the history of the Periodic Table and its elements.
I’m just not as into chemistry/physics as I am biology. Even organic chemistry. I should be, but, alas. So I found that this dragged a bit — for me. It’d probably be unfair to assume it’d drag for you as well, if you’re actually a fan of chemistry.
The Secret Library, Oliver Tearle
This is a beautifully presented book, at least in the hardback — the dustcover is lovely, with a keyhole cut into the front and edged with silver, and the book is nicely bound. It’s not quite as meta as the binding of Keith Houston’s The Book, but it’s still a lovely object that will make a good gift for book lovers of your acquaintance.
In terms of content, it’s fairly shallow: it’s a whistlestop tour, as it says several times, so the facts here are more on the level of trivia than anything in-depth. If you’d like a survey of literature and weird facts relating to literature and literary figures, it’s a good one. It made for a good book to read on the train, too, as you could easily dip in and out of it. There was no need to keep track of things too closely.
I think I hoped for more, but honestly, I’m not sure what I was expecting.
Death at Victoria Dock, Kerry Greenwood
Another fun outing with Phryne, this one opening with a young man dying in Phryne’s arms. That gives us a driven, cold, angry Phryne. It’s always fun to see Phryne shocked right out of her comfort zone and realising that death can touch those around her, and this book gives us a Phryne who is almost (but not quite) out of her depth, with the kidnap of Dot and… well, everything else that happens.
I did find it a little too dramatic this time around, though. Anarchy! Guns! Seances! It’s all a bit sensational, and while I know that’s what I’m likely to get with a Phryne novel, still… this one definitely doesn’t have the cosy feel of some of the others, and there’s a real sense of peril in places which is at odds with the pretty clothes, sexual liberation and epic spreads at lunch and dinner.
What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, Randall Munroe
What If? is a fun outing in which the author of xkcd answers weird science questions while ignoring the implausibility of those situations ever arising. So we get things like “what if all the rain from a cloud fell in one big droplet” and “what if Earth started expanding” — and Munroe answers them, rummaging through scientific papers and obscure experimental results to find out his closest guess at what would happen. I can’t really speak for his science in most places (only the DNA question was really down my street), but given how pedantic the internet can be, I’m sure Munroe did his absolute best to find an answer that would be, if not incontestable, at least not easily dismissed.
The whole thing is illustrated with Munroe’s usual stick figures, and I still remain completely baffled as to how the combination of his stick figures and his lettering can imbue things with feeling. It makes no sense. And yet the Moon promising to help the Earth start spinning again? Gah. Moon, I love you!
He also has a humorous tone and a clear way of explaining, so despite the weird situations that he examines, it pretty much all makes sense… though I took his equations for granted, and any other calculations.
The World Without Us, Alan Weisman
This book tries to imagine what the world would be like if we were just raptured away or abducted by aliens, with little or no warning. Despite being ostensibly a book about the world without us, it turns out to mostly be a book about us. Or, more accurately, what we’ve done to the world, which the world will have to cope with whether we’re here and part of that or not. If you’re science-aware, there’s probably not much to learn — in fact, if you’re up on your climate science, what’s here is very basic when it comes to that. It does muse interestingly on certain specific animals and habitats which would benefit from a world without humans. There’s some good stuff on places where humans don’t go, which are proving to be wildlife sanctuaries even when they’re utterly radioactive.
But mostly, I think I hoped for a bit more of the future, and a bit less of the past and present. Of course, the past can tell us what some environments used to be like without human intervention, or after specific types of human intervention. And of course, the present shapes what will come. And we can’t really predict evolution — look at the differences between the stuff in the Burgess shale and later forms, for example. Or even the way that mammals succeeded the dinosaurs. But I still hoped for a bit more about the future, what kinds of animals might thrive, what it might look like.
If you’re already depressed by what humans have been up to, this will make you feel worse. A lot worse. None of it was news to me, but still… Yeesh, we’ve messed up.