This is a pretty slim volume which introduces the latest in gene editing technology, mostly but not exclusively referring to CRISPR, and its potential uses and implications. I was a little surprised there isn’t more to say about it, but Carey’s explanation of how CRISPR works is beautifully easy to comprehend (enough to make me update my own mental way of explaining it) and her analysis of the state of the art is pretty well on point as far as it goes.
Despite the boundless optimism I’ve seen around CRISPR, for all its potential it hasn’t changed the biomedical world yet (though labwork has already been transformed, as I understand it), and Carey is rightly cautious-but-optimistic in tone. My main complaint is just that I wanted more.
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?
Too much, as ever. The first two my eyes fall on are Spineless, by Juli Berwald, and The Incredible Crime, by Lois Austen-Leigh. The former is fascinating, though I’m gonna have to have a squint at the notes at the end — there’s at least one claim where I can’t find a source by googling. The latter is… well, it’s a Golden Age crime novel, so relaxing in the way I find almost all of those books relaxing: it’s not yet all about the most gruesome murder or the most twisted serial killer. It’s usually more of a puzzle. I’m not far into it, really, though.
What have you recently finished reading?
Religion and Magic in Ancient Egypt, by Rosalie David. There were some odd decisions at points — like a chapter where David seemed to be taking the Bible fairly literally as a historical document, which I’ve previously understood is not a very good idea — but it goes through the beliefs of Egyptians both common and aristocratic, as far as we can understand them, explaining the evidence and implications..
What will you be reading next?
Why do I still try to answer this part? I’m fairly sure I’m never accurate. At a guess… well, I need to finish Hild sometime in the next week in order to get the Game of Books points for reading it on time for the book club. So that, maybe?
This is really out of date; practically a period piece in itself, full to the brim of fanboying over Heinrich Schliemann and Arthur Evans. It does raise some interesting points about Arthur Evans’ work, at the very least, suggesting that some of his restorations — like the use of concrete — were entirely necessary. I’ve read a lot of later work implying that his restorations were rather unsupported by the evidence, but the explanations here for at least some of them seem sound.
It was kind of an interesting experience to read about those two archaeologists in a positive and approving light. And kind of funny, too, that I was recommended this as a book about the Minoans and really it was rather more about Mycenaeans, of the two, and overwhelmingly more about fanboying Schliemann and Evans.
In search of a more informative book actually about the Minoans…
Catullus’ Bedspread: The Life of Rome’s Most Erotic Poet, Daisy Dunn
If this were sold as a novel, I probably wouldn’t have been so annoyed with it. However, it’s sold as non-fiction, despite doing the most amazing reaching to try and describe authentic episodes of Catullus’ life — nothing you could argue with as obviously untrue, but who knows where he ever walked up towards the Forum cursing the heat, or whatever anecdote like that first caught my eye? Dunn writes as if partially fictionalising the subject matter, while disarmingly taking the non-fictional stance of “perhaps” and “surely he felt that” and so on outside of the weird fiction scenes.
It’s a mixed approach and it’s probably true that that keeps some people more engaged, and that some people even prefer it. I don’t like being told that Catullus did this and did that part of the time, and then “maybe” and “perhaps” and “probably” the rest, when the things the writer says did happen are completely unknowable, and the maybes and perhapses are things Catullus actually wrote about.
Also, I know people have praised the close-reading of the poetry in this book, but I did better close-reading that some of this in the first year of undergrad alone. Most of it struck me as completely obvious — even facile. I’d take that with a pinch of salt, given I disliked the book, but… still.
When I first read this, I was initially put off by the discussion of math. It took me probably too long to get past the fact that my enemy numbers was being discussed, and to understand that this is math-enabled magic, at heart. (This may bother people looking for hard SF, but as far as I know it’s true: the math, which is discussed in relatively little detail, causes effects in the physical worldthrough unspecified physics. It’s magic.)
So start again: this is magic in space. Kel Cheris, an officer in the Kel army, is fighting to uphold the Calendar; the Calendar governs what magic will function, and is founded on math and various “remembrances”, aka ritual tortures. Cheris is a little odd for a Kel: where most of her fellow soldiers can only use canonical formations and are not very adaptable, she has the ability to think outside the box. She can make the magic work in different, heretical calendars… which is why she’s first somewhat disgraced (because what she did was itself heretical) and then tapped to answer a serious problem with calendrical warfare. Her solution is an old, old weapon: what amounts to the ghost of a Kel general who, once upon a time, went mad and slaughtered countless people.
It turns out that to use the general, Jedao, you have to “anchor” him, and Cheris is chosen as the anchor — the only person who can hear what he has to say, relay his advice, and also put him back in the box if he shows any signs of going mad again.
What could possibly go wrong.
Reading this again was delightful, because I can see more of the machinations and more of people’s motivations. Jedao remains a delight to me, and a perfect combination with Cheris’ skills — and as someone who can’t read a simple number without stumbling, I can definitely cheer for a dyscalculic general who is a splendid tactician. (I did love the distinction between a strategist and tactician, as far as long-term thinking goes. That comment comes fairly early, and then — well, judge for yourself whether Jedao is a tactician, a strategist, or both.)
I think Yoon Ha Lee has done an amazing job at creating characters who are deeply, fatally flawed, partially due to the situation they’ve found themselves in — the Hexarchate is also deeply, fatally flawed — and who are also very conscious of it, very conscious of the shortcomings of the system they’re embedded in. There’s so much I could talk about in these books, about the Hexarchate, about the Kel specifically, about the way the characters interact… I haven’t touched on nearly everything I love.
Suffice it to say, I loved this book all over again and more.
I really enjoyed the setting of Ragged Alice: Powell captures certain Welsh phrases perfectly, and I couldn’t help but smile at the phrasing “Owen the meat” — and wonder how other readers will feel about that and whether they’ll “get it”. Maybe if you’re not raised knowing that the undertaker named Dafydd (David) should be known as “Dai the death” (pronounced “Die”), this world is a little too foreign, for all that it’s just Wales.
There’s a lot of familiarity, though. It’s basically a police procedural, really, except with a supernatural element: DCI Holly Craig can see people’s souls, and she knows when they’re carrying guilt around with them. She’s come home to Pontyrhudd through her work in the police, to investigate a simple-seeming hit and run accident. But one murder turns into two, and there’s some connection to the horrible death of Holly’s own mother…
It’s more or less predictable in plot, to my mind, and I’m not sure I really quite understand why the ritualistic deaths were required. The ending felt a little sudden/contrived, as well. It’s an enjoyable novella and I wouldn’t mind more in the same world, but apart from enjoying the setting a lot (more Welsh books, please!), it didn’t stick out for me especially.
Life in a Medieval Castle, Frances Gies, Joseph Gies
This book is pretty much what it says on the tin: an exploration of what life was like in a medieval castle, mostly drawing from the case of Chepstow Castle, but mentioning other castles when variations and other points needed to be made. It covers the life inside the castle — what the Lord and Lady of the castle would do, how they would entertain themselves — but also how the castle was supported by the lord’s people. There’s some space given to warfare and surviving siege conditions, as you’d expect, and the exact social circumstances that promoted the building and use of castles.
It’s an easy enough read, though there wasn’t much that surprised me in terms of being new information. For a more engaging read, I’d probably turn to Marc Morris’ book: Castles, which covers some similar ground. Probably makes a good reference read (no surprises there — the cover mentions that George R.R. Martin used it as such, which is probably why it and the other related books are having a nice little lease of life in bookshops)!
It’s nearly time for Wyrd & Wonder! I suppose I better do the introduction if you haven’t met W&W before, Dear Reader. Wyrd & Wonder, meet the Dear Reader! Dear Reader, this is Wyrd and Wonder! It’s a month-long celebration of all things fantastical, with various readalongs, discussions, giveaways and shenanigans throughout the month.
I’m notoriously bad at keeping up with this kind of thing, but I thought I’d do a start-up post at the very least! And while I’m at it, why not take the opportunity for a giveaway?
Rules and Ways to Enter:
The prize: One (1) book of your choice from the fantasy books I read during the period 1st May – 31st May, to be mailed to you directly from BookDepository.com or gifted via Kindle if you’re in an eligible country (this is flexible — if you have another preference, let me know if you win!)
How to enter: Use the Rafflecopter below! There are three ways to enter:
Click once for a free entry
Leave a comment on this post. The prompt in the Rafflecopter is: “Are you doing anything for Wyrd & Wonder? (You don’t have to be for a chance to win, I promise!)”
Posted about Wyrd & Wonder! Post something Wyrd & Wonder themed and give me the link to the post! Tweets don’t count, sorry, but anything longer-form does! You can do this multiple times, once per day!
Terms and conditions:
By entering, you consent for your details to be collected by Rafflecopter for the sole purpose of verifying your entry and contacting you if you win.
The winner will be contacted via email and will have three days to respond before I contact a runner-up to offer them the prize.
Duration: Until 31st May!
The books you can choose from:
Magic Bites, by Ilona Andrews
A Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan
Snowspelled, by Stephanie Burgis
Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho
The True Queen, by Zen Cho
The Traitor Baru Cormorant, by Seth Dickinson
Magic for Liars, by Sarah Gailey
The Dark Days Club, by Alison Goodman
The Afterward, by E.K. Johnston
Valour & Vanity, by Mary Robinette Kowal
Of Noble Family, by Mary Robinette Kowal
Dreamer’s Pool, by Juliet Marillier
Fire Logic, by Laurie J. Marks
In An Absent Dream, by Seanan McGuire
Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire
Sunshine, by Robin McKinley
Uprooted, by Naomi Novik
Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik
Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City, by K.J. Parker
Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse
The Ninth Rain, by Jen Williams
Welp, that should do it! Are you ready for this, folks?!