delphipsmith: (Luddite laptop)
Yay, I have successfully backed up my LJ over on DW!! For the time being I'll be staying over on LJ, but will cross-post so as to keep them both up-to-date. Not that I think anything will happen, but what with LJ's servers moving to Russia and a few other things, I just feel better having things backed up. Plus, y'know, I am an archivist so I kinda feel like I'm obligated :) I'm the same person over there as I am here, so if any of you are also on DW, please feel free to friend my DW account.
delphipsmith: (George scream)
So, we have the Heartbleed bug, an outbreak of Ebola, and a blood moon all in the same week. Coincidence...or evil omen??
delphipsmith: (bookgasm)
Snagged from [livejournal.com profile] igrockspock. Looks like a good time to catch up on my book reviews.

WindeyeImmediately upon finishing Windeye, I added three or four more of this author's books to my to-read list. That should tell you something.

A collection of did-that-happen-or-didn't-it? and what-just-happened? stories, the tales in this book range from the odd and eerie to the downright horrifying. The author's command of language and range of styles are remarkable, from fairy tale to classic monster/demon to magical realism to the completely surreal, and there's a nice sprinkling of unreliable narrators which are always fun.

In the title story we're not sure whether or not the narrator had a sister, and in a later one a man may or may not have a brother; there's a classically sinister monster tale and a very peculiar piece about what I thought was a spacesuit, but on googling it found out it's actually an old diving suit ("The Sladen Suit", whose nickname apparently was "Clammy Death"!!). There's an fairy tale about a young man whose inheritance of a fabulous horse turns out to be not quite what he expects, and a short-short about bees. All are very different in tone, style, setting, and narrative voice, but all are equally high quality. I highly recommend it.

The Children's HospitalI'm not sure what to say about The Children's Hospital. It's...extremely odd, a combination of surrealism, post-apocalypse, religious rapture, and a really really long, boring boat ride. It was published by McSweeney's, which should tell you something right there. There are so many things about this book that should have turned me off: it's overloaded with medical jargon, the main character is annoyingly passive and her fear that anyone she loves will die is completely irrational, every single thing about the apocalypse is completely opaque, most of the characters are one-dimensional and wholly unlikable, and weirdest of all everyone in the floating hospital seems to just Keep Calm and Carry One despite the seven miles of water and the loss of the ENTIRE PLANET...

And yet, and yet....

I was sucked in. I felt Jemma's brother's pain, even though I didn't comprehend it. I cared about these people, even while I didn't like them very much and was not infrequently irritated by them. And I cried at the end, surprising even myself. (N.B. According to the Washington Post, the author is a pediatrician studying at Harvard Divinity School. That explains a lot.)

The Necromancer's HouseAh, The Necromancer's House. Been waiting for this for MONTHS. I got hold of an advance reading copy of this, so was lucky enough to read it before it was officially released. Well, actually Mr Psmith got the ARC and I had to wait until he was done with it before I could get my greedy little hands on it. Longest two weeks of my life.

Given that the author's previous two books were "period pieces" -- although from wildly different periods -- I wasn't sure what to expect with this one, a very contemporary story complete with classic cars, AA, chat rooms, and the interwebz. Happily, I was not disappointed. The main character, Andrew, is a complicated man with a strong sense of integrity but, one quickly suspects, certain secrets in his past that are coming back to haunt him. This turns out to be true, but in more ways than are at first obvious.

I do love non-obvious.

There was quite a bit of non-obvious in this book which meant that I was frequently surprised -- and for somebody who reads as much as I do, that's not easy to do. The surprises were not so much in the broad arc of the story, which is a classic (and I mean that in a good way) tale of redemption, as in the details and the execution, and in what one might call the inflections of the ending, the way it’s shaped and carried out.

Two things I particularly liked about the book's treatment of magic. First, magic isn't free. One doesn't simply shout some garbled Latin and wave a wand -- this magic takes some serious effort, both mental and physical, to learn, to control, to use (safely), in some cases simply to understand. And there's no question that magic is potentially very dangerous stuff in this world; it can blow up in your face if you're not careful. Second, the story didn't get bogged down in the mechanics of the magic -- recipes, spells, how you do it, how it works. There's just the right amount of detail, and nicely modernized (Andrew’s particular skill is with cars and film footage, for example, while chicagohoney85’s are with computers), that the flavor permeates the story without overwhelming it.

Which is good because, despite the fact that magic is wound thoroughly about this tale, in the end it’s all about the people. And I like these people, Andrew and Anneke (and Chancho and Michael and even chicagohoney85), enough that I want to know more about all of them. (Here’s where I admit that I’m hoping for a sequel, or maybe Michael’s backstory...shhhhh...) They aren’t perfect, but like most of us they’re good people doing their best to muddle through, and deal with their past mistakes in a stand-up way without compromising what they believe.

Oh, and he made my cry over Salvador. Thanks, buddy.

Buehlman’s novels have all been billed as horror, but clearly they aren’t horror for horror’s sake. It’s not about a high body count or creative methods of killing people off (although he’s good at that, and Between Two Fires had a lot of them!). It's about applying horror to characters -- putting them in horrifying situations -- to see how they respond, the way an engineer applies heat or pressure to a substance to see if it will break. "Test to destruction" is how you learn what something is really made of, and this seems to be a recurrent theme, first with Frank Nichols in Those Across the River, then Thomas in Between Two Fires, and now Andrew and Anneke.

I'm looking forward to his next test.

Regina's SongAlas, everything about Regina's Song annoyed me, and I do mean everything. The dialog is flat and artificial, crammed with cliches and bad/outdated slang, despite the fact that the narrator is supposed to be a PhD in English [1]. The characters are one-dimensional and uninteresting, and the male characters consistently demonstrate a condescending 1950s-era attitude towards women (and others) [2]. The plot is full of holes and irrelevancies [3], and a fairly appalling lack of any sort of moral or ethical sense is exhibited across the board [4]. Examples hidden to prevent spoilerage. Although really I'm sure it wouldn't matter to anyone.

[1] "It's not as if we're going to rat him off...He knows that he can trust us to keep our mouths shut. I'm not all that interested in cop-shop secrets when you get right down to it. But we need to know what Burpee's up to. Bob's cut him off at the pass on this case and Burpee's probably eating his own liver by now. Let's face it guys, Bob stuck his neck way out with that protective custody scam, and Burpee's most likely trying to blindside my big brother. If we want to keep Bob on our side, we're going to have to help cover his buns."

That's eight, count 'em, EIGHT, in one speech. And that's fairly typical. If I never read the phrase "hit the bricks" again it will be too soon.

[2] male characters (the good guys, whom we are supposed to like) call female characters "babe" and "sweet-cakes" and "Mama Trish" to their faces. And the girls don't object. Also the girls aren't allowed in on the investigation and do all the cooking while the menfolk do the home and auto repair and come up with good ideas and hunt down killers. Oh, and the one Japanese character is referred to as "an oriental gentleman." Please.

[3] the license plate, the curare, the dogs/wolves (wtf?), a vast plethora of legal irregularities, and the presentation of DNA as a Big New Technology -- in 2002. Srsly? Also, there is no villain. Or mystery. Or song, which made even the title of the book annoying.

[4] The fact that the residents of the boarding house collude to protect a psychotic killer is a little unnerving, but when a priest hears about a murder and actually cheers the killer, you know something is seriously amiss.


Most vexing of all is that all of this derailed an excellent premise that had a lot of potential. The first few pages, with the backstory between the narrator and the twins, is pretty gripping. But it deteriorates pretty fast from then on.

I also read The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson, which was excellent but I haven't written a review for it yet, so maybe next week. And yay, I will at last be able to use my "fox sex" tag again!! (It's the little things that can make your day...)
delphipsmith: (kaboom)
Nice bit from the NY Times summarizing storm damage in the city. The photos of water flooding into a PATH station and highway signs just about the water level are pretty amazing.

Also, NASA has some great footage of Sandy from space!
delphipsmith: (meh)
So far Sandy is a big nada here, just a little wind and rain. However, I have seen some rather awe-inspiring photos; Manhattan all dark has a weirdly post-apocalypse look to it. I hope everyone closer to the coast and/or higher in the mountains is warm, safe and dry!!
delphipsmith: (zombies)
I just found out about this really unusual post-apoc book and wondered if anyone else has heard about it. (NB: No, I have no connection with the book or the author, so this isn't a veiled sales pitch!) It's called Ora et Labora et Zombies.

Dr. Thomas Schutten's wife, Ava, is out of town when the zombie apocalypse strikes, so the doctor and his young son flee to a nearby Benedictine abbey -- his and his wife's agreed-on meeting place in case of catastrophe. (Bonus points for planning ahead, Dr. Tom!). While waiting for Ava, hoping against hope that she'll make it, Tom writes her letters. The book consists of these letters.

So you're thinking, "Meh, it's an epistolary novel, big deal," right? But here's the kicker: you actually get the letters in the mail, as in via the US Postal Service. You get one letter a week; each one is 4-6 pages and there will be 72 of them overall. The author/publisher says this about it:

Ora et Labora et Zombies is comprised of seventy-two handwritten Letters of between 4-6 pages, reproduced on specially watermarked stationery with a hand-printed serigraph cover sheet. Each Letter will be published individually, as a weekly serial, and distributed to readers through the mail. This idiosyncratic method of publication aims to celebrate and prolong the disappearing experience of receiving letters in the mailbox, and also to create in the reader a sense of anticipation, of waiting as the dramatis personae must wait to discover what is happening.

Is this not a really original and fascinating combination of book art/art book/letterpress skill/zombie apocalypse/serial novel?? And these are a few of my favorite things, so I'm utterly intrigued. I've subscribed to the first two bundles and cannot wait to get the first ones!!
delphipsmith: (at Tara in this fateful hour)
Saw the Hunger Games movie this morning, yay!!! Overall I thought it was an excellent adaptation of the book. They realized the people, places, even the buildings almost exactly as I'd imagined them when I read the book, which never happens. Of course I cried like a baby when Rue died -- they gave the scene its full due, it was very powerful and genuinely heart-wrenching.

What's funny and sort of "meta" though is that afterwards we walked down to the comic book store on the first floor (yes, we're like the Big Bang Theory guys) and there on the main display table was a Hunger Games board game! You know, with cards and dice and stuff. I found myself hugely disappointed that Collins had licensed this, since it's basically the exact same thing the book is railing against, which sort of devalues her whole message. It's like Katniss getting used/marketed all over again :(

But the movie was well done -- so relieved they didn't pretty it up or Twilight-ify it. Looking forward to seeing how the other two come out.

Still no trailers for The Hobbit, damn it!!
delphipsmith: (weeping angel)
Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)As I said yesterday, I went back and forth on the second volume (Catching Fire) and ended up suspending judgment on it until I read the third one. Now that I've read the third one...wow. It isn't perfect -- the author's reliance on the main character losing consciousness at crucial moments and waking up rescued is a serious flaw -- but overall I found this a tremendously powerful and disturbing book.

Recently I read Ugly War, Pretty Package: How CNN and Fox News Made the Invasion of Iraq High Concept, an examination of how the media packaged and marketed the Iraq War as a media event. There were entirely too many parallels for my comfort here. From being marketed as a tribute in the first book, Kat goes on to be packaged and sold by Coin as The Mockingjay, only to be discarded when her usefulness is over. One reviewer here on GR complained that Kat's having a camera crew and a prep team constantly with her was distracting and stupid. But that's the point: Kat is never allowed to be a genuine heroine because that's too messy, too unattractive. Too real. She has to be "on" and "in character" (not to mention in costume) all the time, no matter what her personal feelings are.

If she'd chosen this part -- if she were by nature a leader, driven by a desire to inspire people, or a born martyr like Joan of Arc -- that would be one thing. But she's not, she's a seventeen-year-old girl whose had to slaughter people she's made friends with, whose entire village has been destroyed, whose family has been threatened, who's been forced by everyone around her to be something she's not. It's no wonder she doesn't deal with it well. The role of Mockingjay isn't what Kat wants, but it's the only path left to her. Her bargaining for the cat, for the captured tributes, for the right to go hunting with Gale all speak to the fact that this isn't a role she takes on willingly but rather one she demands payment for. Not because she's mercenary, but because she can sense the wrongness, the falseness in it, and wants to extract something from it that's meaningful to her.

In the first book, Peeta says that if he's going to die, he wants to die as himself. Kat's never given that option -- no matter what happens to her, someone else is pulling the strings. Someone else "owns" her. Like the Mockingjay, she can only echo the wishes of others. I ached for her, constantly being manipulated by the people who she's supposed to be able to trust.

Which brings me to the one thing that really broke my heart: major spoilers )

In the acknowledgements, Collins thanks her father (I think it was) for having taught her about war and peace. Certainly as a statement against the horrors of war, all three books work well and the last one best of all. There are no winners, only survivors.

View all my reviews
delphipsmith: (despicable)
Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2)I really liked the first book in this series and was so excited about reading the second one that I totally badgered my friend at work who loaned me The Hunger Games until she brought this one in for me. I tore through it in about a day and a half, but because it had such a cliffhanger ending I didn't know what to think of it until I'd read Mockingjay and seen where it was all going.

Perhaps precisely because I couldn't see where it was headed, I went back and forth several times during my reading of Catching Fire.

At first I was intrigued to see Katniss back home (yay Gale! yay Prim and the evil cat!) and to find out what happens with victors when they go home. Then I got bored because nothing much seemed to happen, and Kat wanted to run away and desert the rest of District 12, and the whole love triangle was boring me a bit.

Then things begin to heat up, with the ominous visit of President Snow and the hints that Kat has become a symbol for rebels in other districts; I was eager to see what Katniss would do with her notoriety and role as rebel-inspirer, since one of the things I felt got shortchanged in the first book was the political component. Then spoilers and me waffling some more )

Well, you get the idea. In the end, I had to suspend judgment on this one until I'd gone on to the third one, though the twists and turns kept me engrossed and each time I thought it was becoming predictable it changed. And I admit I was very surprised at the ending )

I very much liked the expansion on the cruelty of the Capitol and the Government. In the first book, they seemed simply brutal and oppressive. In this one, we get a sense that they've raised it to a positive art: for example, Katniss being forced to helplessly watch as bad things happen ) These guys aren't just thugs, they're artists of psyops and pain. This is disturbing, but it's much more powerful and hints that Kat's battle isn't going to be a military one, at least not wholly.

So having now read Mockingjay (which I'll talk about tomorrow), I give Catching Fire a three. Not because it's not as good as The Hunger Games, but because I don't think it really needs to be -- or works well as -- a standalone novel. Its contributions to the story arc, while crucial, could have been told in fewer pages. I would have combined the second and third volumes and then edited this section down a bit, so it was all a single volume.

Parenthetically, this second trip into the Arena gave me flashbacks to The Maker of Universes and its sequels in the The World of Tiers series. Totally different ambience, but similar in the protag's being constantly dropped into artificially-created more-or-less malevolent worlds where he has to fight his way through.

View all my reviews
delphipsmith: (fire)
The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)So I finally read The Hunger Games. I resisted reading it for a long time because it was getting so much hype, and in my experience things that get much hype are often very disappointing (cf Titanic the movie, Twilight, etc.). Plus I hate to feel like a lemming. But a friend at work loaned this to me on Friday, I finished it Friday night, and now I'm sorry I waited so long. It's well-written, fast-paced, tightly plotted and really grabs your attention. The competition between the "tributes" is interesting enough; the addition of the commercial aspect -- the need to "sell" themselves, to get sponsors, the fact that sponsors can make or break one of the competitors -- results in a disturbing sort of reality-show-on-steroids. It's like The Most Dangerous Game meets Lord of the Flies meets The Running Man.

For me, the three most memorable scenes were spoilers! )

The book does leave a few unanswered questions, such as the nature of the disaster that resulted in the fragmentation of the US, how the Capitol managed to gain so much power, and how humanity has managed to decay to the point where pre-adolescents offing one other comprises acceptable prime-time entertainment on a par with, say, the World Cup. But with a YA book you can't really expect to get complex politics or social commentary (though given the way Kat has foiled the powers that be, there might be more in the sequels).

I can't say that the individual components of the story are original, but this is a novel combination of them, well put together, and Kat's an interesting and sympathetic protagonist. Looking forward to the other two.

View all my reviews
delphipsmith: (zombies)
Wither (The Chemical Garden, #1)Another post-apocalypse novel where women get the short end of the (burnt, radioactive, diseased, whatever) stick. Why is this so often the case?? I'm familiar with the theory that equal rights for women is a luxury of civilized society, possible only because we live in a nice safe world with laws and cops in which it doesn't matter that we're physically weaker. Conversely, therefore, in an uncivilized world where physical power matters, women would once again -- so the theory goes -- become second-class citizens.

There is a certain plausibility to this, in cases where society has in fact collapsed. In the world of Wither, however, society's still functioning pretty well despite the toxic stew which apparently covers most of it (hence the subtitle, "the chemical garden trilogy"). There are limousines, servants, parties, mansions, and research scientists. Heck, there are even dressmakers, architects, trampolines and soap operas.

The apocalypse in this case -- similar to The Testament Of Jessie Lamb -- is a virus that kills women promptly at age 20 and men at age 25, and this apparently is enough to change women's status completely. One would think that this would make women more valuable. One would be wrong. Roving gangs of Gatherers roam about kidnapping young women for wealthy young men so they can get married and have babies before they die, yes. But the kidnapped girls that aren't selected as brides are either sold into prostitution or simply murdered outright. Now that just flies in the face of logic.

In fact there are quite a few things in this book that fly in the face of logic, among them raging blizzards in Florida, some sort of war that blew all the other continents to bits (not countries, mind you, continents), and a disease that has a built-in timer (I kept thinking of that plastic popup thing you get in turkeys -- *ping* you're dead!). If I were grading solely on logic, alas, this would get zero stars. Character development is pretty thin too; it feels like a fairy tale. Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess named Rhine who was kidnapped and locked in a tower by the evil magician Housemaster Vaughn; the clueless prince Linden fell in love with her but the valiant servant boy (Gabriel) rescues her.

However, I have to admit that the events of the story are engrossing; it kept me up turning pages until 1am to see what happened, so that boosted it from 2 stars to 3. The trick is to treat it like riding a unicycle: keep moving fast enough that you don't fall over. Or in this case, fast enough that you don't notice the inconsistencies, the paper-thin world-building, and the one-dimensional characters.
delphipsmith: (weeping angel)
The Testament of Jessie LambA strange plague has emerged that strikes pregnant women. By the time it's identified, the virus (MDS, or Maternal Death Syndrome) has already spread around the globe and is latent in everyone on the planet, potentially spelling death to the human race. Triggered upon pregnancy, it causes rapid progressive brain degeneration and is invariably fatal to both mother and child. Research suggests it was genetically engineered deliberately, by combining Creutzfeldt-Jacob Syndrome with a virus, but no one knows why or by whom. A few scientists have come up with a theoretical solution but it's highly controversial and no one knows if it will work. Sixteen-year-old Jessie Lamb's father is involved with the research while Jessie herself struggles to deal with the strange new world she lives in, and to find a way that she can make a difference.

This is a highly unusual take on apocalypse fiction. Jessie's ethical and personal internal struggles, and the way they affect and are affected by her relationships with her friends and parents, are believable and detailed. While it's true that a lot of otherwise important issues -- women's rights, environmentalism, the role of science, etc. -- are glossed over, to me that seems appropriate since Jessie's battle is an internal, purely personal one. The other issues are backdrops for what she's going through; they give texture to but don't define Jessie's choices.

The book doesn't offer easy answers and although in one sense the ending is clear and definite, in another sense it's left very open to interpretation. It left me disturbed and uneasy on several levels which, I suppose, is a mark of its power and thoughtfulness. I recommend it, but with the caveat that it's not by any means an easy or comfortable book. Jessie's choice is one that isn't easily absorbed or comprehended. Is she a heroine or a victim? If anyone else has read it I'd love to hear what you think.
delphipsmith: (at Tara in this fateful hour)
Watched "The Book of Eli" this weekend. Astounding movie. I'm predisposed to like post-apocalypse tales for some reason, just like I read post-apocalypse novels and I knew this would be one. But I didn't expect the twists and turns, nor did I remotely expect the ending. I need to see it again, perhaps several times, to get all the nuances out. I highly recommend it, and if at all possible try to see it without knowing anything about it ahead of time. There are at least two or three scenes where if you know what's coming it will be spoiled. And the end -- well, as a librarian and archivist, let's just say I approve wholeheartedly.
delphipsmith: (allyourbase)
War with the NewtsWar with the Newts by Karel Čapek is an odd little book but with a good deal of quirky (if dark) charm. Written in the form of a historical account of events interspersed with story interludes, it relates the accidental beginnings and -- once begun -- inevitable consequences of the domestication of Andreas Schusteri, the Giant Newt of the order Salamandridae. The Salamanders are a singularly humorless bunch, but the book has any number of very funny bits indeed. Not least of these is the Chief Salamander's choice of musical interludes during the final Newt Uprising, such as "March of the Tritons" from the movie Poseidon and the Salamander Dance from Galatea. *snicker*

Capek is a genius. I started with his Apocryphal Tales" and he just gets better.
delphipsmith: (BA beta)
Thank goodness for Wiccans, Renaissance Festivals, and the SCA, because otherwise all these people would be dead. Dies the Fire isn't a BAD book, it's just kind of...fluffy. Not that there aren't cannibals, rapists, gangs, and some detailed descriptions of death-by-broadsword, but everything happens just a leetle too conveniently. They need to escape from the city, and oh look! someone has a horse and wagon they use for Faire. They need supplies, and oh look! somebody in the group used to run an organic restaurant and has tons of supplies in the warehouse. (No mention of how they manage to get a baggage train laden with goods through a disintegrating city and out into the country.) They rescue a man and his wife from some White Power rednecks, and oh look! the man happens to be an experienced horse wrangler. They find a man trapped in a ravine, and oh look! he just happens to be a bowyer. As such, it has just the faintest tinge of wish-fulfillment on the part of the author.

A good summer read, but not the most complex piece of writing you'll ever encounter (or so I hope!). I doubt I'll be going on to the numerous sequels.
delphipsmith: (Elizabethan adder)
Saw "Cowboys and Aliens" this past weekend. Excellent popcorn flick, I highly recommend it -- and they've broken the mold in that the dog actually survives, all the way to the closing credits! How refreshing.

Was pleased to see Harrison Ford has still Got It, and looks good on a horse. Daniel Craig also looks good on a horse (ok, he looks good full stop). Was amused to note that, despite his having quite a good American accent and playing that quintessentially American character, A COWBOY, he still posts to the trot like a good Brit. Some things are just bred in the bone.
delphipsmith: (despicable)
Oh look! I can finally log in again. The LJ gremlins have been hard at work on my account (no matter how many times I logged in successfully, when I went to any entry in my OWN journal, it showed me as not logged in -- very weird) but apparently they're all sleeping it off now and I can get in. Yay! So I have a book recommendation and a funny video to share.

First the book: Idlewild by Nick Sagan, son of Carl "billyuns and billyuns" Sagan. Intriguing and highly original: braids together AI, virtual reality, post-plague-apocalypse, adolescent rebellion and more into a strange and unusual tale that keeps you guessing, wondering what's real and what isn't. In some ways it previews ideas played out in the movie Inception, in that there are layers within layers of things going on. Although you're uncertain what's happening a lot of the time, the author doles out information at a proper pace so you're intrigued and drawn on, rather than frustrated, and some of the small details (the mail bag of letters, for example) are very powerful. I didn't find the ending completely satisfying -- it was fitting and appropriate, by no means bad or wrong, it's just that I wasn't done with the characters and wanted to know what happened next. Fortunately, it turns out there are two sequels, Edenborn and Everfree, so I shall have to get right on them. Three cheers for not having to wait for sequels!!

Now for the video. Meet Amy Walker, accent artist extraordinaire. She can do any accent on the planet (her YouTube channel, amiablewalker has lots more) but this is one of my personal faves:

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delphipsmith: (allyourbase)
Working my way through Neil Stephenson's Anathem. Holy cow. Talk about a demanding read -- mathematics, religion, linguistics, music, philosophy, astronautics, physics, metaphysics, not to mention herbology, cosmology, quantum mechanics, and change-ringing!! This book has it all. For the first hundred pages I floundered along in a daze, feeling rather like someone in a language immersion program trying to live and breathe a completely alien communication medium, until suddenly it clicked around page 250. So far I've recognized Plato and a few other core philosophical approaches (though I don't know them well enough to put a name to them -- what, or who, is the opposite of Plato?).

Fraa Erasmas' descriptions of the urban youth, with their "caps with beverage logos," made me giggle, while the enormous expanse of time that is the backdrop to the mathic view of the outer (extramural) world is breathtaking. It's reminiscent of Asimov's Foundation series, only the Foundation is looking forwards while the maths have a multiple-millennia perspective on the past.

Stephenson must be a terrifyingly intelligent person. The most complicated concepts are presented so simply, and yet without the slightest sense of shallowness; there's a depth of comprehension behind it that's staggering. And I want a sphere!!
delphipsmith: (zombies)
So I read One Second After over the past weekend and have to admit I was totally freaked out by it. I'd really like to know whether the US government is doing anything to address this issue -- a Google on "EMP hardened" or "EMP hardening" turns up a bunch of survivalist sites and not much else. I'd like to grab my local gov and police by the collar, wave this in their face and shout, "Have you thought about this?!?!?" but I suspect it would be counterproductive.

Returning to literary rather than emotional analysis, however, the book was very well-written (but the dogs! why must dogs always die? why???) and definitely gripping - I started it around 8pm and was up until 3am. I thought the juxtaposition of a Christian school having to turn into soldiers was an interesting choice.

Above all, it made me ponder how incredibly vital the mere fact of communication is, and how disorienting the lack of information can be in an emergency. Much of what happens in the book is not due to direct damage (very little is actually destroyed) but rather to indirect damage -- individuals are cut adrift from accustomed structures of law enforcement and society and therefore run wild. For example, if police can't communicate, they can't be called on at need, they can't enforce the law. If people don't know what's going on, they assume the worst and act accordingly.

At bottom, all that happens in the book is...the power goes out. This happens all the time (well, in my neighborhood it does, anyway). But it goes out everywhere, all at once, and in every conceivable place including car radios. Because so much of what we are/do/need relies on that one simple utility, when it happens nationwide things spiral out of control. Like scientists isolating a germ, the novel isolates a single taken-for-granted feature of our day-to-day lives -- electricity -- and explores what happens when that one thing is removed. It's engrossing and distinctly thought-provoking. Two thumbs up.

Oh, and your microwave is a Faraday cage so store a radio in there.
delphipsmith: (kaboom)
Latest leisure reading / nuclear apocalypse: The Pallid Giant. Set during the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, it concerns a diplomat who, discouraged by the bickering and pettiness he witnesses, learns from a scientist friend that homo sapiens may not be the first intelligent species to rise -- and fall -- on Earth. Rather eerie in its prescience; Noyes couldn't possibly have foreseen the development of nuclear weapons (his novel has a "death ray") but he accurately describes the corrosive effects of fear (the "pallid giant" of the title) on nations, once one of them has a lethal weapon.

Noyes was an interesting character. His father was John Humphrey Noyes, founder and leader of the Oneida Community, a sort of proto-hippie commune in central New York in 1848 that believe in plural marriage, controlled breeding, and the possibility of the (secular) perfection of mankind. The book has clear roots in the pacifist movement but old John, a Perfectionist, would have been sadly disappointed in his son's obvious lack of faith in human nature. The book's ending is literally ambiguous but the implication is clearly negative; humanity is in grave danger of their technology outrunning their ethics. A lesson we would do well to remember. Intelligence is no guarantee of survival.

I'm pleased to have read it, though it gave me nightmares about a giant comet heading directly for Earth. Apart from that it was excellent, certainly one of the earliest apocalypse novels I've encountered. (Well, OK, the earliest human-caused ones, anyway; strictly speaking, I guess the Deluge myth from 1700 BCE qualifies as the earliest apocalypse tale, though somewhat lacking in plot and characterization.)

In a lovely moment of intersection with the Whedonverse, I discovered that part of the apocryphal Book of Enoch is called The Book of the Watchers. Apparently it was "influential in molding New Testament doctrines about...demonology." Coincidence? I don't think so. Also related to Angelology which I read last month (excellent concept poorly executed, don't waste your time).

Coming up: I went to Barnes and Noble last night and discovered that Laurie R. King and Guy Gavriel Kay BOTH have new books out. Well, there goes $50...but for such a good cause!

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delphipsmith

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