Climbing Mount Improbable (Richard Dawkins)
: Dawkins on natural selection as the power behind life and evolution. A number of interesting case studies showing the gradual accumulation of "irreducible" complexity. Unfortunately, the book didn't really gel for me, or engage my intellect at the level which The Selfish Gene
did. Some that may be the timing; this was published in 1997, and uses a lot of computer modeling that was hot stuff in the mid-90's. Today, we have spiffier software. But Dawkins' ability to turn a phrase doesn't utterly desert him. Take a look at this paragraph from the chapter on figs and fig wasps, for example:
Much of the deciphering of the wasp-pollination story would simply have involved slicing figs open and looking inside. But 'looking' gives too laid-back an impression. It wasn't a passive gawping but a carefully planned recording session yielding numbers to be fed into calculations. Don't just pluck figs and slice them. Systemically sample figs from a large number of trees, from particular heights, and at particular seasons of the year. Don't just stare at the wasps wriggling inside: identify them, photograph them, accurately draw them, count them and measure them. Classify them by species, sex, age and location in the fig. Send specimens to museums for identification by detailed comparison with internationally recognized standards. But don't make measurements and counts indiscriminately just for the sake of it. Make them in the service of testing stated hypotheses. And when you look to see if your counts and measurements fit the expectations of your hypothesis, be aware, in calculated detail, how likely it is that your results could have been obtained by chance and mean nothing.
Now, imagine doing a great deal of that outside
. In the heat and humidity. That's science. And I am so
glad my specialization doesn't require field work.
I remember the '90s. I remember when the CD-R drive was the Hot New Thing on our computer, and when we got the ten gig hard drive, and how we wondered how anyone could fill it up. As I write this, I have forty
gigs of data clogging my laptop hard drive. Five gigs of that's just program files. The WINDOWS folder gets 2.75 gigs all to itself. And let us not even start on the music folders.Star Wars: Outbound Flight (Timothy Zahn)
: The Outbound Flight project gets off the ground and shot out of the sky. Whoops.
The narrative uses umpteen PoVs to cover the umpteen sides dancing on the head of a pin. I thought this was pretty fun, but then, I was getting a kick out of all these people from other Zahn novels showing up. Zahn's done a fairly unobtrusive information control job on the facts of the OF in the past (right up until Survivor's Quest
, where people needed to be beaten with an "ask questions, fools!" stick), so the climatic destruction didn't feel like a retread. Recurring characters felt younger, crazy Jedi masters proved that bad cloning merely exaggerates pre-existing megalomania, Obi-Wan and Anakin had an extended cameo that didn't really affect the plot. Was this deep? No. Was this fun? Yes. Thrawn was a bit of an over-manipulative supergenius, but that's his role in the series. I really was hoping Car'das would hijack one of Thrawn's plans for his on purposes, but no joy. On the other hand, there were smugglers, but no Bothans. Cheers!
There's also a thing to be said about how this means I've been reading fanfiction since I was, like, ten, and didn't notice. Not that I was tempted to describe any part of the OF plot as crack. Okay, maybe I am. See also "strategic supergenius who reads alien psyches through their art."Fifth Business (Robertson Davies)
: I have no idea how to classify this. I think it might be genuine, plain fiction
. And I have no idea how to discuss this. There are a ton of pithy quotes, but I have no idea how to approach what the book is "about". It seems to be Dunstable Ramsay's account of the interlinked fates of himself, Paul Dempster, and Percy Boyd Staunton. But that's speaking to the bones of the novel, not the spirit and heart of the story. This may be a case of the theme whooshing over my head, and it makes me want to hash the book out with people. The Art of Detection (Laurie R. King)
: A mild collision of series when Kate Martinelli must solve the mysterious murder of a die-hard Sherlock Holmes fan.
I'm most tempted to compare this to A Letter of Mary
, where a manuscript of sorts also acts as the McGuffin, but I'm also compelled to note that there's a 100 page Holmes pastiche wedged in the middle of the book. It was an entertaining pastiche, mind, but it does break up the story a bit.
Randomly: internal evidence dates the book's conclusion to mid-February 2004. Which end was very schmoopy, and pretty cute, but felt a little tacked-on. Discuss in comments. The Vitru (Sarah Monette/truepenny)
: Felix isn't crazy. Pity, that; we liked him better when we was. ( Felix is Justin Warrick. Why am I still talking about this? )
This suffered from bad packaging: for the full effect, it should be read back-to-back with Melusine
. I lost a few character names and biographies between volumes, and I still feel like there's some unresolved stuff going on; it should come as no surprise that Monette's writing two more books in the same series.
Monette's written some engaging characters, and some fairly intricate worldbuilding (contrast the city of Melusine to Lankhmar or Tai-Tastigon), but the things the characters make me roll my eyes and want to throw popcorn. I've read enough of her LJ that I can't believe it's accidental the characters are behave in such a compellingly human fashion, but that isn't helping me suppress the urge to hand out love-taps with a clue-by-four. I think I'm skipping Monette's next book, unless someone vets it for me and tells me it's awesome in all the ways the first two books weren't.
Also read sundry essays from Understanding The Lord of the Rings
(Rose A. Zimbardo and Neil D. Isaacs, editors): "The Dethronement of Power" (C. S. Lewis) - a classic "my friend wrote a book and it's really cool, you should all read it!" only in Oxford Don English - "Men, Halflings and Hero Worship" (Marion Zimmer Bradley) which I read twice because I'd forgotten I'd already been through it once, "Frodo and Aragorn: The Concept of Hero" (Verlyn Flieger) academic and dry-ish, "Another Road to Middle-earth: Jackson's Movie Trilogy" (Tom Shippey) academic and entertaining. Also picked up Meditations on Middle-Earth
(Ed. Karen Haber), essentially a collection of authors discussing some aspect of their own reactions or analysis of LotR. "A Changeling Returns" (Michael Swanwick), "Rhythmic Pattern in The Lord of the Rings
"(Ursula K. Le Guin), "The Longest Sunday" (Diane Duane). I power-skimmed the Card essay; Ender's Game
may be a classic, but I really can't get into Card's oevre. I keep trying to find something Card's written that doesn't turn me off, but he is my anti-author with shocking consistency.