Review – The Selfish Genius

Posted 29 August, 2014 by in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of the Selfish Genius by Fern Elsdon-BakerThe Selfish Genius, Fern Elsdon-Baker

If you’re looking for pure drama, sorry, the title is just intended to be flippant. If you’re looking for a genuine, in depth critique of Dawkins’ work and public persona — everything from his published research to his way of communicating with the public to his attitude in The God Delusion — then you might well enjoy this. Fern Elsdon-Baker has a scientific background and is an atheist, and has some fairly large bones to pick with Dawkins, while acknowledging at the same time his work in the field, his intelligence, and the accessibility of his popular science books.

Mostly, Elsdon-Baker respects Dawkins, and just disagrees with the way he chooses to express himself, pointing out that he often acts as though science is right now, rather than a subject which is always growing and making new discoveries. There’s some critique of his actual ideas as well, though, and this isn’t some kind of tone argument — Elsdon-Baker firmly believes that there is a correct way to communicate science to the public, and Dawkins isn’t doing it.

The writing is clear, and Elsdon-Baker makes it constantly clear on what grounds she criticises Dawkins, on the background to the various issues discussed, and the fact that this is an opinion, and most of it is not factual. I enjoyed reading it, and not just because I think it’s high time someone criticised Dawkins professionally and thoroughly.

Rating: 4/5

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Thursday Thoughts: Social Media

Posted 28 August, 2014 by in General / 9 Comments

Today’s Thursday Thoughts from Ok, Let’s Read is about social media:

Have you ever connected with an author through social media? Do you think it’s important to have things like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as a blogger, reviewer or author? Why or why not? How do you think social media has progressed and changed the bookish world in recent years? And, now for a fun question: Are there any authors who’s Twitter feed you just can’t get enough of?

I have connected with authors through social media, quite a lot. I tend to follow authors I like or who say interesting things on Twitter, so I do actually discover new books through Twitter sometimes. I met Jo Walton through LiveJournal, and after a couple of years chatting on there, I met her in person a couple of weeks ago and spent the day with her and a lot of other people. So that was pretty cool. I’ve also got some authors on Facebook and stuff like that — Chris F. Holm is on my FB list after he linked to a post here and kindly added me so I can read the discussion, and I follow him on Twitter, etc. It can be a really good tool for just getting brief but meaningful and non-stressful interactions with authors: I’ve had back and forths with Saladin Ahmed, Kameron Hurley, Joanne Harris, Nnedi Okorafor, N.K. Jemisin… It’s great. Some interactions have been more positive than others (Nnedi Okorafor and I didn’t completely get on), but it’s always interesting.

I think it helps to have at least one social media account, to boost your profile a bit and give you another medium to talk, maybe less formally than in a blog post. Instagram seems less important to me, and I’m not a big fan of Facebook, but Twitter and the ability for people to RT my reviews is great, plus there’s plenty of competitions for ARCs and so on that go on via social media. Goodreads and LibraryThing are also good ways to connect with other book reviewers, and a lot of the reviewers I follow are still on those platforms — I transitioned to my own blog because I disagree with some GR policies, and didn’t want them to have my content exclusively, plus it wasn’t a good place for posts like this. It’s also better to have your own blog for getting ARCs, and you can’t really do blog tours on GR or LT, so there’s that as well.

It does change the way the book world works in some ways, for those who do interact with authors on social media, and for authors who interact on social media. Sometimes I think authors do themselves a disservice by airing their opinions hastily (or sometimes at all) on Twitter. Sometimes authors really promote their work that way, though.

As for authors whose Twitter feeds I can’t get enough of, there’s obviously John Scalzi, who is usually smart and pretty much always hilarious, and Kameron Hurley, because I enjoy her blog posts and her thoughts on pretty much everything. N.K. Jemisin often has smart things to say and interesting links, too.

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted 28 August, 2014 by in General / 0 Comments

What have you recently finished reading?
The Selfish Genius (Fern Elsdon-Baker). It critiques Richard Dawkins from the point of view of another scientist who is also an atheist, which makes it quite interesting — the title is meant to be just a glib reference rather than a particularly accusation. I need to write a review of this, but I’m going to mull it over a bit longer first.

What are you currently reading?
As usual, way too much. I most recently picked up We Are Here, a thriller by Michael Marshall; I’ve read some of his SF before, but not his thrillers. So far, I’m enjoying the writing style, but I don’t know how much I’m going to like the thing as a whole.

There’s also Black Unicorn (Tanith Lee), which is, shockingly, my first Tanith Lee read. I’m intrigued so far. It’s quite short, so no doubt I’ll finish it soon.

What will you read next?
Well, I got a book on photosynthesis and its importance for/impact on our world today — Eating the Sun (Oliver Morton) — which, along with my books on genetics, prompted my dad to suggest I must be planning to create Groot and Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy. So just for that, I think that might be up next.

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Review – Behold the Man

Posted 27 August, 2014 by in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Behold the Man by Michael MoorcockBehold the Man, Michael Moorcock

Moorcock’s Behold the Man is entirely different to his Elric books, or Gloriana, or anything else of his I’ve come across so far. Certain people might find it offensive because it undermines the sanctity of Jesus Christ, and tangles that story up in a lot of sexual and mental health hangups. Worse, the figure who becomes Jesus is not altruistic, but self-absorbed and narcissistic.

Still, I think it’s a very interesting way of looking at the story, even if I don’t like the way it portrays Christianity. In a way, it suggests the power of the Christian message: the pure message survives even through a human being’s selfishness and fallibility. The time travel aspect isn’t very prominent, and I don’t think it was really written as science fiction — speculative fiction, yes, but I wouldn’t call it sci-fi. Really, it toys with ideas of identity, predestination, time loops, etc. Technology is not a prominent aspect.

It’s an easy read, actually: I read it in about an hour. If you don’t mind Moorcock playing with basics of Christianity, then you might well find it interesting.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Naked Ape

Posted 26 August, 2014 by in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of The Naked Ape by Desmond MorrisThe Naked Ape, Desmond Morris

I think the concept of this approach to humans as an animal like any other is a brilliant one. We are prone to thinking of ourselves as a species apart, when we’re not, and even if we were, we could do with putting back in our places sometimes — being human doesn’t mean we’re more worthy than any other creature, all of which have their own adaptations to deal with the environment they find themselves in. We’re particularly versatile, yes, but because we evolved that way, not because of some special merit.

Anyway, while the approach is interesting, and Desmond Morris’ writing is engaging, this is definitely out of date. He keeps a few too many of his human expectations kicking around, like expectations of gender roles and sexuality. It is a really old book, which explains it, and it could undoubtedly do with some updating.

If you’re particularly attached to notions of humans as being sacred, set apart, etc, you won’t want to read this. And if you have any sexual hangups, you won’t want to read this, either — there’s a whole chapter on sex. Granted, it’s a very old view of sex, considering it only in terms of adaptations (dare we whisper to Morris that homosexual behaviour could persist in a population simply because it feels good and only strict monogamy would mean that any ‘gay gene’ would die out?), but still, it can be fairly explicit.

I don’t agree with Morris on many aspects, but his attempt to study humans as animals must be commended.

Rating: 3/5

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted 26 August, 2014 by in General / 24 Comments

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday, a la The Broke and the Bookish, is “top ten books you really want to read but haven’t got yet”. Which is difficult, for me: I tend to pick up what I want right away, because I am terribly prone to needing instant gratification. Still, I’m doing better lately, and there’s some books I haven’t got as ARCs despite all my hankering after them.

  1. Maplecroft, by Cherie Priest. I’ve enjoyed most of Priest’s work, and even when I haven’t loved it, I’ve thought it was interesting. So I’m very much looking forward to this one.
  2. The Just City, by Jo Walton. I love the sound of it; the whole concept of setting up Plato’s Republic for real and seeing how it works? Yeaaah. Plus, it’s Jo Walton: I’ll read anything she puts out.
  3. The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin. I don’t even know what it’s about, I just know I want it when it comes out. Jemisin’s never let me down yet.
  4. The Galaxy Game, by Karen Lord. I wasn’t totally bowled over by The Best of All Possible Worlds, but I did enjoy it, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Lord develops the minor characters of the first book, and where she goes with developing the universe she’s set up.
  5. Dreamer’s Pool, by Juliet Marillier. I generally enjoy Marillier’s work, and this sounds like an interesting one. In a way, I think I can kind of predict what’s coming, but I still think it sounds interesting, and Marillier’s writing and characters are an important part of the package, too.
  6. A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab. This is the first one on this list where I haven’t read anything by the author before! I’m intrigued by the summary, the various parallel Londons it mentions. I may be kind of a sucker for alternate Londons like Neverwhere and Un Lun Dun.
  7. Batgirl, vol. 1: Silent Running, by Scott Peterson & Kelley Puckett. I like Gail Simone’s run on Batgirl with Barbara Gordon; I’m interested to dig into other characters, though, particularly as Cassandra Cain has specific limitations. Although, what’s with Batgirl having disabilities and being magically healed?
  8. Heraclix & Pomp, by Forrest Aguire. I’ve been interested in this since reading Dan’s review.
  9. Dangerous Girls, by Abigail Haas. Everyone makes this one sound amazing. I’m hoping to win a giveaway for this book sometime soon, but otherwise, I’m definitely looking to pick it up somewhere.
  10. Hammered, by Elizabeth Bear. I like the idea of the middle-aged heroine, the world sounds interesting, etc. I may not end up picking this one up if I don’t like the work by Elizabeth Bear I’ve already got somewhere, but for now I still have my eye on it.

What about everyone else?

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Review – Monster of God

Posted 25 August, 2014 by in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Monster of God by David QuammenMonster of God, David Quammen

I enjoyed Quammen’s Spillover more than this book, but that’s not to say this wasn’t an interesting read too. In a similar way to Spillover, Quammen takes the reader on a tour of the world. He doesn’t just report on predators from afar, but goes to get close up and personal with them, and with the people who’ve really spent time in their environment. It’s still a little difficult to believe he could understand these animals or even that way of life with such short exposures, but he did his research and spoke to the people who did know, which puts him ahead of people who theorise from afar.

What I liked particularly about this one was that he pulled in threads of literature, history, sociology… all kinds of ways of understanding the complex impact alpha predators have on us, and the impact we have on them. It’s obviously very human-centric still: all of these alpha predators have been impacted by human encroachment on their territory. I don’t know if there’s any alpha predator in the world not feeling human pressures, but the relationship seemed particularly close/fraught here, with the animals Quammen picked.

It’s a bit of a dense read, but still interesting.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Homer's Odyssey

Posted 24 August, 2014 by in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Homer's Odyssey by Simon ArmitageHomer’s Odyssey, Simon Armitage

It’s funny to think I didn’t enjoy Armitage’s work the first time I came across it. I think it was his translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight that changed that. He brought something fresh and dynamic to the poem, which made it a very different reading experience to other translations and adaptations. He’s done the same here with The Odyssey. This is not a translation, or even a completely faithful adaptation: I can think of several places where it departs from the original poem.

However, he brings that same dynamism to Homer’s voice as he did to the Gawain-poet’s. Some of the turns of phrase still ring perfectly true, mixed in with the modern vernacular he uses as well. I’m sure it drives purists crazy, but I set aside any professional qualms and just read it for enjoyment, and thought that he rendered some scenes beautifully — more true to the spirit of the original than any stuffy translation, too, I think.

If you want to read The Odyssey without reading the phrase ‘rosy-fingered dawn’, and you don’t want to worry about Greek customs (xenia, for example), this makes it very easy to follow the story and understand the basic motivations of all the characters. It has a robust beauty to it that wouldn’t work in translating, say, Vergil, but I think in translating Homer it works very well.

Rating: 5/5

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Stacking the Shelves

Posted 23 August, 2014 by in General / 26 Comments

I’m gonna have to prepare this week’s Stacking the Shelves post (a la Tynga’s Reviews) pretty quickly, as my partner is visiting and she needs looots more sleep than me, and it’s already getting late. But hey, it’s been a good week: my 25th birthday was on Wednesday, and a shopping trip was had with my partner, my sister, and one of my closest friends. Books ensued, as you might’ve guessed if you’re around here often; some bought by me, some by them for me. Plus, the week started with a day at Worldcon, although admittedly I only bought two books — one of which was just so I could get it signed. (That one isn’t included here, but for bragging rights, I now have Jo Walton’s Lifelode and Among Others signed, and Tanya Huff’s The Enchantment Emporium.)

Oh, and re: that month of not-buying-books I had: it was successful, and in more ways than one, really. As well as just stopping me buying books and spending too much money, it seems to have changed my attitude a bit. I’m not (currently) buying books for the sake of it; only books I definitely want and intend to read.

Bought for myself

100680 Cover of Timelike Infinity by Stephen Baxter Cover of Flux by Stephen Baxter

Cover of Ring by Stephen Baxter Cover of The Sun and Moon and Stars by Steven Brust Cover of Lady Lazarus by Michelle Lang

Cover of The Long Tomorrow, by Leigh Brackett

Lady Lazarus is the only really impulsive purchase on this list; it grabbed my attention because of the setting (Budapest). Stephen Baxter is a new author for me, but his books are part of a list of “best SF” I’m trying to read.

Bought for me by my partner

Cover of Avengers Assemble: Science Bros Cover of Avengers Assemble: The Forgeries of Jealousy Cover of Guardians of the Galaxy: Angela

I’ve enjoyed the Guardians film, so between that and the opening pages where Tony singularly fails to impress Gamora, I decided to continue on with the comic. And the Avengers Assemble ones are by Kelly Sue DeConnick, therefore an inevitable buy for me. One thing about Worldcon that amazed me was that on a panel where the promo picture was Ms. Marvel, and it was supposed to be talking about new and exciting things in comics, it took forty minutes to mention a female character, forty-five to mention something with characters of diverse sexual orientations and ethnic backgrounds, and no female creators were mentioned at all.

Fuck that, I’mma talk about Kelly Sue and Gail Simone ’til I’m blue in the face.

Bought for me by my sister

Cover of The Jewel in the Skull by Michael Moorcock Cover of The Mad God's Amulet by Michael Moorcock Cover of The Sword of the Dawn by Michael Moorcock

Cover of The Runestaff by Michael Moorcock Cover of The Knight of the Swords by Michael Moorcock Cover of The Queen of the Swords by Michael Moorcock

Cover of The King of Swords by Michael Moorcock

I felt like reading some more Michael Moorcock, since I read GlorianaMy sis obliged.

Received to review

Cover of Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley Cover of The Bells of Times Square by Amy Lane Cover of Cosmocopia by Paul Di Filippo

For the first one, Lies We Tell Ourselves, I’m super-grateful to a friend who works at the publisher who managed to get me an ARC. Re: Amy Lane, I think I’ve read something of hers before, but it still weirds me out slightly since I went to school with someone of that name…

Comics (issue)

Cover of Ms Marvel #7

I really need to catch up with actually reading this run of Ms. Marvel.

So, what’s everyone else been up to? Any great hauls? Anyone been resisting most amazingly? Comment, link, share!

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Thursday Thoughts: ARCs

Posted 21 August, 2014 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

Today’s theme from Ok, Let’s Read is about ARCs:

As a blogger, YouTuber or generally bookish person, have you ever received an ARC? Did you request it or did they reach out to you? What advice regarding ARCs would you give to bloggers/reviewers who are just starting out? Do you have a preference between physical ARCs and eARCs? Do you have a specific plan or technique you go buy in order to stay organized when it comes to reading and reviewing ARCs?

Yep, I get quite a few ARCs. Direct from authors, agents, or via Netgalley, Bookbridgr, Edelweiss… I’ve had them both ways. With ARCs, the best advice is to request a lot, but only what you want to read; read everything you get; send feedback in whatever way they ask you to. Honestly, the easiest one so far has been Bookbridgr, though that’s only applicable in the UK. Netgalley and Edelweiss do have good ways to build up your reputation by downloading the ready to read ones, so that’s also a good option.

I don’t have a preference re: physical or ebook, though ebook seems less urgent somehow, so they can just… mount up. I have difficulty staying organised; honestly, at the moment it’s pretty out of control. Help?!

Honestly, though, I’m not calculating about it. I just request what I like and review it when I can.

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