Hengeworld, Mike Pitts
For the most part, Hengeworld is a thoughtful discussion of the various discoveries about henge sites, mostly in the Wessex area. It looks at dating and old digs, piecing together as accurate a story as possible and trying to put together the context of Stonehenge and the places like it. I’m pretty happy that, at least in 2000ish when this was written, Pitts was saying nothing controversial — his work aligns with that of Francis Pryor (notably not referenced, though) and Mike Parker Pearson.
One note, though — where Pitts discusses people protesting the dig at Seahenge, he insists that the protestors didn’t understand what was going on. Surely, he seems to think, if they’d understood the circle was going to be destroyed anyway by the sea, if they’d understood the importance to archaeology, they wouldn’t have had anything to protest about. But that ignores the link people still have with the prehistoric monuments like Seahenge. It was built of timber, so surely our ancestors knew it would rot in the end. It was built on the shore, for goodness’ sake — a liminal, impermanent place if there ever was one. They meant for Seahenge to be taken by the sea, perhaps. It may even have been important to them. Who is Mike Pitts, or any archaeologist, to claim that’s not worth respecting?
I share the curiosity about megaliths and henges — obviously. I’ve read this book. But sometimes I do wonder why we privilege our understanding of them over the symbolism they had for ancient peoples. On the one hand, of course those people are gone and won’t know what’s happening. On the other… maybe rescuing Seahenge is not a sign of respect for the past, but a desecration. However important you think the archaeology is, I think there should be room to consider that and accept that some people may feel it trumps the opportunity for radiocarbon dating, and freezing the remains of Seahenge in time in a climate controlled environment. That is not, after all, what Seahenge was built for.
When Pitts concludes that different eras have made what they will of Stonehenge and the other megalithic and megadendritic structures out there, he’s closest to recognising their real power, I think.
The Shadowy Horses, Susanna Kearsley
The Shadowy Horses is another delightful romance with a strong sense of place and a bit of a mystery/ghost story factor, this time set in Scotland in the midst of a dig to find remnants of the Ninth Legion. There’s no proof of what happened to the Ninth Legion, so stories like this and like Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth that try, in different ways, to puzzle out some of it have always fascinated me. That’s not the primary story here, which is a little disappointing, though I didn’t really expect it to be.
Primary, of course, is Verity’s story, and the stories of the characters around her; how they intersect and intertwine, and in some cases, part ways. The ghost story might feature a Roman ghost from the Hispana, but it could be any ghost with a tragic story for all that it really matters.
It’s a fun story, and I really need more books like it and like Mary Stewart’s books. The sense of atmosphere and, secondary as it is, the historical background give the romance its flavour.
Why Dinosaurs Matter, Kenneth Lacovara
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 19th September 2017
The idea of this book is pretty much encapsulated in the words from the summary: “What can long-dead dinosaurs teach us about our future? Plenty.” It’s the story of the dinosaurs as a highly successfully set of creatures who ruled the world — for a time. It’s also the story of their decline and fall, so to speak, and the lessons we can learn from them. Also, a reminder that a penguin is very literally a dinosaur, just as we’re very literally primates.
There’s nothing revelatory here if you’re into dinosaurs, but if you’re looking for something more general than David Hone’s The Tyrannosaur Chronicles, something to get you up to date on current dinosaur scholarship, this isn’t a bad place to start. And I agree with Lacovara: dinosaurs shouldn’t be viewed as synonymous with something obsolete. They ruled the world for a reason.
Acadie, Dave Hutchinson
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 5th September 2017
Acadie is a fun enough little story that had me just sort of nodding along… up until the ending, which packs a bit of a punch and casts all the rest in a new light. I still think that some more world-building could go into the utopian colony, because the little bits that were there were only just enough to whet my appetite; a bit more emotional involvement would probably make that ending even more satisfying. Right now, it’s satisfying in an intellectual way, and didn’t leave me as conflicted as I’d hoped.
Nonetheless, it’s an absorbing story with a heck of a sting in the tail. My favourite sort!
Hello from Calgary!
This post was mostly written in advance, so sorry if I don’t manage to comment back to you! Here’s the obligatory away-from-bunnies bunny pic — some cuddles with Breakfast a couple of days before we set off.
Books bought in Calgary:
This is just a taster, because jetlag has hit me hard and I can’t focus beyond the next ten minutes involving my pajamas.
Most of these I’ve had before, but review copies… I felt guilty, okay?
Books read this week:
I should come up with ratings for these, but honestly I’m this close to falling asleep in the middle of zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….
Reviews posted this week:
–Buffalo Soldier, by Maurice Broaddus. I feel like I’d have appreciated this more if I knew US history better, but it’s fascinating all the same. 3/5 stars
–A Crack in Creation, by Jennifer Doudna and Sam Sternberg. A timely exploration of the latest in gene editing — something I’d love to work on. 5/5 stars
–15 Million Degrees, by Lucie Green. Solar physics might not be quite my thing, but Green’s sense of wonder definitely came across. 3/5 stars
–Leviathan Wakes, by James S.A. Corey. I enjoyed this a lot, and had to get the next book. It has its flaws (some more female characters, please?), but in general it worked for me. 4/5 stars
–The Trouble with Physics, by Lee Smolin. Understand string theory? It’s okay, Smolin points out that nobody does. This book got me as close as I’ve ever been to understanding it, though. 4/5 stars
–Starborn, by Lucy Hounsom. I found a few aspects of this problematic, and I’m not gonna read the rest of the series. 2/5 stars
–False Colours, by Georgette Heyer. It’s fun — as you’d expect from Heyer. 3/5 stars
False Colours, Georgette Heyer
This book somewhat ran into one of the problems I have with fiction that includes humour: I’m bad at being embarrassed, and get second-hand embarrassment for characters I like. There’s obviously a lot of scope for embarrassment in a book which features twin protagonists who pretend to be one another, and the muddle they get themselves into when they do this as adults in order to cover for each other. Or, really, Kit covers for his brother who is mostly absent, and really doesn’t deserve such devotion.
It’s generally charming, particularly the bond between Kit and his mother. She’s hopeless, but loveable as well, and while I’m not quite sure how anyone could put up with her from a distance, far too able to see her flaws, I’m sure that in person she would be completely charming. The romance is so-so; this is one of the books where I rather wish there’d been more attention paid to the romantic heroine (though plenty of attention is paid to Kit’s mother, which balances that). There were also some cringy lines that read unpleasantly for the modern reader, but there’s also a lot of fun — the whole relationship between Amabel and Ripple, for instance.
It all works out fairly predictably and easily, but it’s fun while it lasts and I didn’t get too embarrassed on everyone’s behalves, which was a plus. It was definitely a worthy distraction from fretting over my rabbit at the time, too (in consequence of the idiot biting through a cable and electrocuting himself — he’s 100% fine now).
Starborn, Lucy Hounsom
This has garnered good reviews from other bloggers I usually agree with, so I was excited to dig in. It’s certainly a quick read, with some interesting aspects — I like the paired Lunar/Solar magic, for example, and the fact that airships were stirred into the usual fantasy mix instead of it just being your usual race across the land with horses. But I found the characters and world rather thin, really, and the events seemed to lurch from one thing to the other without really making sense. It’s obvious from the beginning that Kyndra is going to turn out to be different and special, but then the book makes such a secret of it — it takes 150 pages for that to be even partially confirmed, despite it being obvious.
I’m not a great fan of the writing, either. It’s not laboured or overly ornate, thankfully, but to me there was something thin about it. ‘Kyndra did this, and then this, and felt like this about it.’ I was more intriged by Nediah and Brégenne from the beginning, although their story reminded me of something else I’ve read. (Kyndra’s did as well, but since it’s fairly typical ‘stable boy becomes the king’ type narrative where an ordinary person turns out to be extraordinary, that’s no surprise.)
Also, sexual assault. Also, a disabled character gets magically healed — and not even through their own choice, but just because someone thinks it’s for the best. Also… yeah. Problematic stuff is not addressed.
In the end, I just didn’t get into it. It’s easy enough to read, but I could take it or leave it, and I feel like I know where things are going. Given that and the neverending backlog, I think I’ll pass on continuing this series.
The Trouble With Physics, Lee Smolin
I came out of reading this book with a pleasing illusion that I understood something of the state of modern physics. Smolin’s style worked for me in explaining things well enough that, for once, I wasn’t left boggling and having to reread pages over and over again to cram the concepts into my head. Perhaps it helps that he’s not an inveterate supporter of string theory, and can explain where it doesn’t work as an explanation for our universe and why — sometimes, it helps to know where concepts break down as much as it helps to know where they succeed.
Part of the book isn’t just about physics at all, though: it’s about the progress of science in general, and how science progresses. I’m not sure Smolin really gets at anything profound here, but when it comes to the specifics of critiquing why physics has come to a standstill, he genuinely cares and genuinely wants to solve the issue. The way he presents it, it’s clear that it’s time for people to re-evaluate string theory and accept that quite possibly it will never yield the answers we’re looking for.
Some days after reading it, being me, I can no longer explain string theory to anyone else, but I can explain why it doesn’t work, so I got something out of this! And I more or less enjoyed letting it turn my brain inside out, too.
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 reading now?
Fiction-wise, I’m reading Raven Stratagem, by Yoon Ha Lee. I’m saving the second half of it for my flight, because it’s a heck of a flight and I’m going to need the entertainment. I’m also partway through Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong, by Angela Saini. So far, no major surprises, but some grim nods of recognition…
What have you recently finished reading?
I think the last thing I finished was The Man Who Fell To Earth, by Walter Tevis. It was worth it, though I wasn’t going to give it four stars until I read the ending… and then it just made perfect sense that that’s how things would work out. A sad sort of sense, though, admittedly.
What are you going to read next?
I have all kinds of things cued up and ready to go on my ereader, so I’m not quite sure. Last time I did this plane trip, I read A Darker Shade of Magic, and I feel like I need a reread, so that might be my pick. We’ll have to see. It’s a long journey, so I’ll probably read a couple of books.
What are you reading?
Leviathan Wakes, James S.A. Corey
Leviathan Wakes starts out weird and intriguing, with an opening that wouldn’t disgrace a horror story. After that, for a long time it becomes mostly space opera, with some political manoeuvring and a noir-ish detective story alternating chapters. There’s some clumsy world building in the first 100-200 pages, which often takes the form of infodumps. That made me hesitate about carrying on with the series, but after about the 200 page point, I found myself getting sucked in.
I gradually started to be interested in the characters — though Miller is never quite likeable, only piteable, to my mind — and what exactly was going on. Miller’s obsession with Julie Mao was weird, maybe even a little creepy, but his interactions with Holden and his crew were interesting. The way he wants to be accepted, but at the same time is willing to compromise that by doing whatever he thinks is right — even if idealistic Holden won’t like it.
I do think the book could definitely use more female characters. The society itself seems to be pretty equal opportunity, but the main female characters are Naomi and Julie. Julie’s mostly just an idea, and while Naomi is capable, a lot of her importance lies in her relationship with Holden and how that works out.
About halfway through, the weird stuff kicks back in, and then I was definitely hooked. When I got to the end, I decided I’d have to get Caliban’s War to find out what exactly happens next…