Review – Gene Machine

Posted 22 August, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Gene Machine, Venki Ramakrishnan

Gene Machine is not really about the secrets of the ribosome. It’s rather more an autobiography, mostly but not entirely focusing on Ramakrishnan’s path to solving the structure of the ribosome. Now, as any half-baked biologist knows, the structure of a biological molecule is absolutely integral to its function… a protein’s chemical makeup determines how it will fold, and how it will fold determines whether it has the right pocket for something to bind to, or the right side chain to bind with something else. So I don’t mean to belittle the achievement of finally resolving the structure of the ribosome, but it doesn’t actually reveal that much yet. There is, on this showing, a lot more work to be done to really understand ribosomes. It will be made possible by the work of Ramakrishnan, there’s no denying that.

Still, I’m more interested in that than in the process of taking the ribosome’s photograph, and so I found this book disappointing. It doesn’t help that Ramakrishnan lacks grace when it comes to some fellow scientists, and one scientist in particular. If all he says of Ada Yonath is true, she’s quite a piece of work, lacking in basic politeness to others, willing to steal from competitors to get ahead, and a terrible scientist who cannot accept when she is wrong. However, what emerged for me was a sense of a personal lack of warmth between the two amplifying her perceived faults, and the gossipy way this is passed on makes me think less of Ramakrishnan. He is always gracious to his male competitors, but can never resist revealing a nasty anecdote about Yonath, whether she overran the time for her presentation, left him out of a thank you speech, or allegedly had a student attend one of Ramakrishnan’s lectures to take pictures of his slides. His tone regarding Yonath is disingenuous, a sort of constant damning with faint praise.

Now, maybe she is all the things Ramakrishnan says, but I find it curious she would manage to get a Nobel if so, given the acknowledged politicking involved, along with the requirements of satisfying the committee that your contributions are worthwhile. I’m sure there have been undeserving Nobel prizewinners, and I know there have been prizes awarded for things that actually turned out to be wrong. But still. I don’t think Ramakrishnan’s line on Yonath does him credit.

It is interesting to follow a process of discovery like this, but it can be rather dry and technical — mostly spiced up by those bits of gossip and interpersonal strife. Given that on balance I find Ramakrishnan somewhat less than wholly charming, I wouldn’t wholly recommend this, though if your interest is more in crystallography and the structure of the ribosome than in the function of it, this may be more your thing.

Rating: 3/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 21 August, 2019 by Nikki in General / 3 Comments

The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.

What are you currently reading?

Most actively, I’m neck-deep in Turning Darkness into Light by Marie Brennan, the sequel to the Memoirs of Lady Trent series! Audrey is a delight, and I do so adore the way these books showcase the scientific and academic processes — coming from a background of both literature (with a lot of focus on translation) and later science as well, it’s just. Yay!

Cover of Magic Bleeds by Ilona AndrewsWhat have you recently finished reading?

I read Magic Bleeds on our flight back from Worldcon! (Well, half of it; I read the first half before — the flight isn’t that long/I don’t read that fast!) It has some of my pet peeves in fiction (miscommunication) and yet Kate and Curran are so extreme and stupid it ends up just being funny to me.

What will you be reading next?

I don’t know! I still have a crowded TBR for August, and I haven’t read even half of those books yet. I have a bunch of them half-finished, though. I know that the library really wants the book on the Aztecs back (in fact, the lady was reluctant to re-issue it at all) because someone shouldn’t have let me have it (it’s a reference book), so maybe I’ll get on with reading that!

What are you currently reading?

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Review – The Cruel Prince

Posted 20 August, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of The Cruel Prince by Holly BlackThe Cruel Prince, Holly Black

The Cruel Prince turned out not to be my thing. It just felt so immediately typical — the cruel and fascinating Fae with their fairy fruit and their grudge against mortals, the human girls in love with the world of Faerie. The human girl determined to prove herself by fighting, the betrayals and backstabbing, the evil and beautiful boy who turns out to have been abused, etc, etc, etc… it just all kind of felt familiar and I wasn’t getting into it. I’ve heard that the ending is very worth it, but I didn’t get there, so I couldn’t say.

Mostly, I just feel like if I’m dragging through a book at 50 pages a day and only that much because I feel I have to, even though it’s not all that dense or anything, then it’s time to give it up. So I did.

Rating: 1/5

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Review – Heartstopper, volume 2

Posted 19 August, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Heartstopper, vol 2, Alice Oseman

Volume 2 of Heartstopper basically just continues the adorableness. If you’re not interested in a comic about a pair of boys — one gay, one bisexual — becoming friends, figuring out they’re into each other, and coping with things like coming out and getting along with each other’s friends, then it probably isn’t for you. The art is all in the same style on the cover, kind of doodly, and somehow that makes it more adorable to me, as well as quite distinctive (though there’s a couple of other artists with a similar sort of aesthetic).

I love the way Charlie and Nick are with each other; they have a couple of misunderstandings, and yes, one of those is at the start of this volume and is due to not actually communicating… but for the most part, they do communicate, and it’s lovely.

Look! It’s just adorbs:

First panel: Charlie, hiding behind a book: "You're staring!" Second panel: Nick, starry-eyed: "You're cute!"

They’re consistently adorable and I am so tempted to race ahead and read the whole darn thing. Buuut instead I’m being good and purchasing it volume by volume as it comes out.

(That Patreon with so many pages ahead is tempting, though…)

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Mistletoe and Murder

Posted 18 August, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Mistletoe and Murder by Carola DunnMistletoe and Murder, Carola Dunn

Well out of season, whoops! In this instalment of the series, Daisy’s found a new country house of potential interest to her readers, and has arranged to stay there over Christmas. Her mother, being overbearing and knowing that the place is owned by someone with a title, signs herself up to join them, leaving Daisy to juggle with two children (Derek and Belinda are both along for the ride), work, and a very displeased mother who expected the titled personage to be present and is furious with Daisy when she finds he won’t be. Oh, and of course: murder.

Daisy doesn’t actually stumble across the body herself this time, for a wonder, though I was constantly waiting for the moment when she would! So thank goodness for slight variations in the formula, even now the Fletchers are back in Britain. She’s indispensable, of course, with her knowledge of the house and of the squabbles between and potential motivations of the inhabitants.

It’s a fairly standard plot for a Daisy Dalrymple book, all the same, and honestly, perhaps that’s part of why I like them (even though I can’t read too many of them back to back because of that same thing). You know how things are going to go, Alec and Daisy are delightful, and in the end the right chickens are brought home to roost. It’s restful and familiar — in fact, cosy in its own way, despite the deaths and the complicated and acrimonious feelings between some of the characters.

It isn’t deeply thrilling or wildly exciting, and that’s what’s nice about it.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – This Is How You Lose The Time War

Posted 16 August, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

This Is How You Lose The Time War, Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone

I’ve been curious about this book for a while, so I dug into it right away when my pre-order arrived! I’ve only read short stories by Amal El-Mohtar, as far as I recall, and only one of Max Gladstone’s novels, so I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. It’s a rather lyrical and poetic book, following the correspondence of two enemy agents as they follow each other up and down time, through alternative worlds and different histories, and as they fall in love.

To be quite honest, I didn’t fall in love with it. I appreciated the lyricism, and I also definitely appreciate that these two agents are definitely presented as female. I found it enjoyable to read. But it didn’t really get claws into me; I didn’t feel like I’d mind terribly much if I never finished it. I couldn’t say what it could have done better to make me love it; I’m not sure there is anything specific. It felt too clever by half, really, and then the emotional undercurrents missed me while I was watching the cleverness from a cynical distance.

Definitely an interesting endeavour, and worth a read, but not something I could love.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Exit Strategy

Posted 15 August, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of Exit Strategy by Martha WellsExit Strategy, Martha Wells

Exit Strategy wraps up the novella series by bringing Murderbot full circle: back to Dr Mensah and her team, the people it helped in the first book. Second-guessing itself, hating the idea of becoming a pet bot, but nonetheless needing to help the person who is (nominally, at least!) its owner, Murderbot finds that Dr Mensah is probably a hostage and goes ahead with doing what it does best. Planning, worrying extensively, and then throwing itself headlong into trouble.

If I didn’t know there was a novel coming as  a follow-up, I’d be really mad about this final book, honestly. The second and third books gave us some development for Murderbot, of course, but they also gave us characters I’d really like to see again. Particularly ART, though I’d like to know what became of everyone else as well. It’s not that this book doesn’t give a kind of closure, because it does, but it doesn’t wrap things up in the kind of everything-converges-and-everybody-meets ending I guess I was hoping for.

It’s enjoyable, and Murderbot remains a delight. But I want more!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – In the Labyrinth of Drakes

Posted 14 August, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of In The Labyrinth of Drakes by Marie BrennanIn the Labyrinth of Drakes, Marie Brennan

In the Labyrinth of Drakes is so full of squee. That’s a technical term.

In this book, Tom and Isabella are shipped out to Akhia to work on a breeding program for dragons, in order to supply the army of Scirland with dragonbone for caeligers equivalent to those made by other world powers. So there’s one thread of plot whereby Isabella investigates the breeding of dragons, including a trip into the desert to find where they actually breed, and perhaps even witness a hatching.

Of course, we’re in Akhia, so there’s another thread to the plot as well: Isabella re-encounters Suhail, though his family disapprove very much of his association with her. Nonetheless, they find ways to speak to each other, and Suhail eventually accompanies her on her journey to the Labyrinth of Drakes, an area in the desert full of Draconaean remains and potentially untouched sites to delight the heart of any archaeologist.

There’s the personal plot, in which we finally discover who will turn out to be Isabella’s second husband (a fact which is a bit of a tease through the previous books, but obvious in retrospect), and then this intertwines with Isabella’s journey of scientific discovery and Suhail’s archaelogical pursuits. Overall, it’s very satisfying and not a bit wasted.

Rating: 5/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted 14 August, 2019 by Nikki in General / 1 Comment

The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.

What are you currently reading?

Cover of Die Laughing by Carola DunnI’m partway through the same Daisy Dalrymple book as last week! That’s surprisingly slow for me and this series; maybe it’s already time for another short break before I pick up the next book. It’s not that I don’t enjoy Daisy in a cosy sort of way, but still… it is getting frightfully predictable.

I’m also paging through the Good Omens script book, which I picked up today.

What have you recently finished reading?

I think the last thing I finished was Joanne Harris’ The Blue Salt Roadwhich is a selkie story. Fairytale-like narration, but some surprising stuff under the hood at times. And lovely illustrations! It was worth finally picking it up, for sure.

What will you be reading next?

Well, my preorder of Turning Darkness into Light is here, so even if I was holding off because I prefer to read this series in dead tree rather than ebook (I couldn’t say why, I guess it’s all part of the experience), now I have no excuse! Time to dig in. Possibly during the trip to Dublin…?

Which, again, if anyone is going to Worldcon, lemme know! Let’s maybe meet up!

And, as always, what are you reading?

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Review – Record of a Spaceborn Few

Posted 13 August, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky ChambersRecord of a Spaceborn FewBecky Chambers

All the books in this series are rather cosy, and they’ve been getting less of a plot with each installment — the first book has a crew of characters with a definite short-term purpose in mind, the second book is a character study in many ways, and this… this is slices of life on board the Exodan feet, contemporaneous with the other books. There’s not much of a plot beyond the very basics: people want to live, people want to find their place. It’s got quite a large cast of characters, and it kind of goes a bit aimless and limp in the middle if you’re looking for a plot or even hoping for a definite character arc. It’s very slice-of-life-ish. Even when something dramatic happens, the point is not the drama, but the way the people involved heal afterwards and deal with it.

If you’re looking for a character study and an exploration of how this society might work, though, there is a lot to enjoy. I got a bit teary about the other books, but this one had me in tears within the first fifty pages. There’s something powerful about the Exodan fleet and what it stands for, and this book explores that. It’s interesting to follow these characters as they do their very particular jobs, with meaning and significance only for the Exodan fleet.

I think it’s still an enjoyable read, as long as you’re not going into it with the expectation that you’re going to have gun fights and interstellar politics. This isn’t The Expanse, and there’s very little of the do-or-die heroism. Instead, it’s about people getting on with life, and the small everyday ups and downs they have to deal with. I don’t think it’s as strong as the previous two books, even though it’s the epitome of the hope and family and connection that makes those books so good! It’s just a little too slow and contemplative, without the clear drive of either of the other two.

Rating: 3/5

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