Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, Neil deGrasse Tyson
If you’re fascinated by the universe but don’t know/understand much about physics, this is a decent place to get some sense-o’-wonder and scope. Tyson throws a ton of facts at you but in a pretty readable way, and he doesn’t linger too long over the difficult questions. It’s pretty much a taster, without getting into some of the big questions like string theory, or getting too bogged down about multiverses and so on.
If you’ve read pop science on the subject before, I guess it’s kind of thin, but it’s enjoyable enough.
The Naming of the Shrew, John Wright
There’s a lot of hilarity to be found in the Linnaean species names, from Crikey steveirwini to the unfortunate Rubus cockburnianus (named in honour of the Cockburn family, of course – how can you doubt it). I figured a book digging into all this would be interesting, or at least entertaining enough to beguile an eight hour plane ride.
Not so much. The author is undoubtedly – and commendably – enthusiastic. He’s dug around in all the vagaries of zoological and botanical naming, and he’s found some gems. He also tries to explain exactly how these names are coined and accepted. Unfortunately, he’s rather longwinded about it, and it becomes a long list of funny names joined by some anecdotes. Some of them I’m glad enough to know, but I did get rather tired of the idea by chapter four, and started wondering when the light at the end of the tunnel was going to show.
Good morning, folks! Here is my haul of books about diseases, for background reading for my course. I’ve already torn through four of them, actually, and it is very helpful to have this perspective.
It hasn’t been a great week in some other respects, so hey, at least I have books. And bunny pictures.
Can you tell what I’m studying this semester? Heh.
Read this week:
Reviews posted this week:
–Jhereg, by Steven Brust. A reread to get back to the series. It remains fun, though there were no surprises (obviously), and I think some of the fun does come from working things out. 4/5 stars
–Just One Damned Thing After Another, by Jodi Taylor. I don’t know why I’m the odd one out, but to me the title summarised how this book felt. It had a natural end and then — kept going. I can’t say I loved the characters, either, or the fact that the plot was advanced by sexual assaults. 2/5 stars
–Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong, by Angela Saini. Takes a look at — and skewers — supposed science about in-built differences between genders. 3/5 stars
–A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle. I didn’t get the enduring charm that’s made this a classic, I’m afraid. 2/5 stars
–First Grave on the Right, by Darynda Jones. Holy rape culture, Batman. 1/5 stars
–Taste of Marrow, by Sarah Gailey. This had less of the team feel than the previous book, and basically I’m 10,000% here for the lot of them settling down, making a found family and having capers (together) forever. 4/5 stars
–The Beautiful Ones, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I didn’t love Signal to Noise, but this worked much better for me. It’s very Heyer-esque. 4/5 stars
–WWW Wednesday: The weekly update on my currently reading stack, and what I might read next!
How’re you all doing? I’ll always visit back if you leave a comment here, so feel free to drop in a link directly to your STS post.
The Beautiful Ones, Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 24th October 2017
I wasn’t a huge fan of Moreno-Garcia’s Signal to Noise, though I liked it well enough, but I wanted to give more of her work a try. I wasn’t disappointed! The Beautiful Ones is a sort of Heyer-esque romance, only with magic as well — maybe Austen. You get the vague idea. It’s alternate universe, but there’s enough parallels that I just sort of nodded and accepted it as our-world-but-with-different-names. I’d have loved more world building about that, but it might have taken away from the character study and the romance, so I’m not too disappointed.
The characters, well. I spent a fair amount of time wanting to shake them into being sensible and communicating properly, but I enjoyed them and rooted for them — except of course for Valerie, who I didn’t quite hate (Moreno-Garcia does a reasonably good job of pointing out why she is the way she is), but who definitely isn’t a character to love. I found the lengths she ended up going to a bit unconvincing and unpleasant — sucks that it’s a guy who at the end decides to do the decent thing and come clean, and Valerie ends up being pretty irredeemable.
If you don’t like romance and novels of manners, this probably won’t appeal; if you do, then I recommend it. Even if you’re not so much into fantasy, really; that aspect is relatively slight.
Taste of Marrow, Sarah Gailey
Received to review; publication date 12th September 2017
Yay! More of Hero!
In a sense, I didn’t like this quite as much as the first story — because there’s a lot of dark stuff going on; Houndstooth is totally blinded in his search for Hero, and he doesn’t mind what he does (or who he does it to) along the way. In parallel, Adelia and Hero have to deal with Adelia’s baby being kidnapped, and Adelia doesn’t mind what she does (or who she does it to) along the way. That does give us some interesting development for Hero, as they try to help Adelia despite their usual tendency to stay in the background and the fact that Adelia tried to kill them. But mostly, I just wanted the old band back together again already.
The end of the book delivers on that, and was pretty much exactly what I wanted. I’d love to see more of these characters, together, with their hippos, and going on capers that don’t involve death, dismemberment, torture and bereavement.
In other words, hi Sarah Gailey, I am 10,000% here for Hero and Houndstooth setting up home, occasionally going on a riverboat to steal some shit or protect some hippos when they get bored.
First Grave on the Right, Darynda Jones
Received to review via Netgalley
I didn’t have high hopes for this, I admit, but what people said about it made it sound like some light fun.
Guys, this needs to come with trigger warnings. This review needs a trigger warning because it describes the problematic stuff. It opens with the main character having a sexy dream. Only it’s not just a dream: there’s some kind of supernatural agent behind it and it is actually a person who she knows. Okay… I’m a little dubious about the consent here because it sounds like he just jumps into her dreams and goes at it, but I’ll hold off. It’s clear she thinks she knows who the guy is and that she’s more or less okay with him having sex with her.
That’s fine, but I’m not along for the ride because it’s revealed later that they’ve met once before. She tried to help him in a situation which appeared to be horrific abuse, and he pinned her against a wall and groped her while asking if she’d ever been raped (read the scene quoted here).
THIS IS NOT ROMANTIC. THIS IS NOT LIGHT FUN. I DO NOT WANT TO BE HERE.
Now, I’m not judging people who find bad boys sexy or whatever, and maybe somehow all that is dealt with. But it didn’t look like it was being dealt with, and I was very uncomfortable.
Given the importance of sex and who likes whom to the apparent plot (which is otherwise jerky and felt oddly paced), it’s perhaps not a surprise I didn’t get along with it in other ways either, but… yeesh. At the very least, I’m shocked no one I know has brought up that aspect of the plot/characterisation/pile of problematicness before.
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 (the key words, with the way I stack up a bunch of currently-reading books!), it’s Trouble and Her Friends, by Melissa Scott, and Angel of Death, by Gareth Williams. The former is queer cyberpunk, and I’m having a lot of fun with it — it’s a little slow to unfold, but I read 25% when I should’ve been sleeping, so I’m gonna say it’s hooked me. Angel of Death is fascinating in other ways, of course, because it’s about the history and science of smallpox. I am learning a lot of things I didn’t know about it!
What have you recently finished reading?
The last thing was a cultural history of rabies, Rabid, by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy. It wasn’t quite what I was hoping for, because there was a lot of emphasis on the cultural stuff, like rabies’ relation to vampirism and werewolves. Still, there was some interesting stuff, especially about recent cases who actually recovered from rabies (which is normally considered 100% fatal in humans).
What will you read next?
I started The Gracekeepers, by Kirsty Logan, at the weekend, and I want to pick that back up and finish it. I also want to focus on my Kushiel’s Dart reread. I’m trying not to tempt myself too much beyond that! I’m intrigued by The Gracekeepers; I haven’t read much, so I haven’t got to grips with the setting yet.
What are you reading?
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle
I’m sorry. I don’t get it. I think I might’ve loved it if I read it at a formative age, but the basic concepts of fighting a great evil (and even some of the relationships between characters) reminded me mostly of The Dark is Rising, which I’m afraid has first place in my heart. I didn’t get the sense of wonder and fascination that I think it could’ve invoked, encountered at the right time, and I just felt rather impatient with the protagonists.
I’m not sure if I’ll read the other books or not – I know that if I’d gone on Over Sea, Under Stone alone, I’d never have finished Susan Cooper’s series. On the other hand, I just don’t enjoy the half fantastical, half scientific backdrop, and part of the reason I didn’t connect with the characters was because I couldn’t pin them down – one minute they seem painfully young and naïve, and the next I seem to be expected to root for a romance between them.
Really, it reminds me of so many other books — The Wizard of Oz, The Railway Children, The Dark is Rising, Little Women… It never quite became its own story for me.
Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong, Angela Saini
There’s a lot of science (and pseudo-science) out there about gender differences and how they affect the way we think. Intelligent people, male and female, often disagree about what exactly it all means, and how evolution has selected for male promiscuity, female passivity, and a host of other stereotypes about the sexes.
Saini has a go at untangling some of this, discussing inherent bias in the researchers looking at this kind of thing, and alternate models that are available for understanding gender differences. She’s definitely successful at making the conversation more complex. For example, a lot of theories have rested on similarities between humans and their close relatives, chimpanzees. Saini points out that other research has shown that bonobos are equally closely related to us, and they have an entirely different social structure.
It seems that easy answers aren’t available, but there are many theories, with supporting evidence, that suggest women have been equally important in forming the human race. That would be my belief, simply because (as Saini points out) pregnancy and childbirth are definitely an important point at which selection will act, particularly in humans where we seem to be dependent on having other support.
An interesting read, but nothing that I think is revolutionary or likely to convince people that male and female brains aren’t physically different in structure. Note: if you think of gender as being a spectrum rather than a binary, be aware that this book definitely treats it as a binary with two distinct sexes. It doesn’t touch on transgender men/women at all.
Just One Damned Thing After Another, Jodi Taylor
The title pretty aptly describes the book. It is a fun romp, as others have described, but I seriously think the writing needs tightening up — the plot jerks ahead with little sense of time passing (all of a sudden, two characters have known each other for five years — since when?! I thought they met a couple of months ago!) and there doesn’t seem to be a comfortable ending. It sort of goes, “Oh, and another thing.” And a couple of events rely on sexual assault, which… jdnsjgn. The author deals reasonably well with the character’s feelings afterwards, but it’s used twice as a vehicle for “this guy is really nasty, and oh the plot is moving”. Not my favourite trope, by far.
Also, also, the love interest once yells at the main character for very little reason except that someone told him she lost his baby, when she wasn’t intending to tell him she’d ever been (briefly) pregnant. He loses it and calls her a slut, etc, as do other people in the building. It’s more or less out of nowhere and out of character — and she forgives him with shocking ease.
It just didn’t quite come together for me, and honestly at times I wondered if I was reading the same book as other people. I don’t think I’ll be continuing with the series.