Tag Archives: Science

Review: “Babylon’s Ashes” and “I’m Just A Person” + Summer Reading Update

That’s right, two reviews and an update; I’m jamming all my info into one post because I’m too busy-lazy, or buzy (PRONOUNCED: boo-zee – adj: the state of having so many things to do that elective pastimes fall by the wayside).

The other reason I’m jamming these two reviews together is because I don’t actually have a ton (good or bad) to say about either. The first book was on my summer reading list (I’ll have more to say about that later), so one down, and the other totally counts towards my goal of 10, so two down.

Babylon’s Ashes – James S. A. Corey

Anyone who has spent some time reading this blog (first of all, thank you! Also, wow I have a lot of asides going on in parentheses today!) will know that I’m a big fan of what some call the “space opera.” The hubs and I both got (deeper) into Scifi lit after reading The Martian years ago and that led to a rabbit hole of books about space travel, exploration, colonization, political strife, and so on and so forth. So anyway, I found the Expanse series back in 2015, started it, introduced Hubs to them, and we’ve never looked back. Book 6 of that series, Babylon’s Ashes, was the most recently published and I finally broke down and bought the hard copy [which messes up my series of paperbacks aesthetic (other volume reviews here)]. This one took me almost a month to read for two reasons: 1) it is 600 pages and 2) I’m buzy.

 

Now, concerning the book. As previously implied, I’m obsessed with this series. In fact, I just sent the first and second volumes off with friends this week in the hope of recruiting more geeks. So why, then, did I only give it 3 stars on Goodreads? Generally speaking, it was satisfying and it gave me some time *cough*a month*cough* with characters I consider to be old friends. However, also generally speaking, it felt like this volume was a filler. Have you ever read a volume in a series that felt as thought it was just there to connect the books before and after it? That was this book for me. A lot happened in this volume, don’t get me wrong, but nothing of the caliber of the other volumes. Giving a synopsis would either be a spoiler for those who will read the series or would be pointless for those who will not, so I won’t. The good news, though, is that this volume insinuated that big things are coming in future books (of which there will be 3, I think), so that pleases me. It was meatier than it needed to be, but it was fun to get lost in space again.

I’m Just A Person – Tig Notaro

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned on here that I love the podcast Professor Blastoff. It’s hosted by Tig Notaro, Kyle Dunnigan, and David Huntsburger, all successful comedians who have a direct line to my funny bone. In the midst of hosting that podcast, Tig had an earth-shatteringly, record-breakingly bad year, in which (no spoilers, don’t worry) she found out that she had pneumonia, which led to C-Diff, then she endured a breakup, then her mother died unexpectedly, then she was diagnosed with breast cancer. All of this she related – with great poise and often even humor – on the podcast. She did a stand-up show in which she told the crowd about her cancer but still managed to be funny, and she was later nominated for a Grammy for the recording of that show. She had an HBO special and an Amazon Original show, she’s been on all the late night shows, and she wrote a book.

 

As I wrote in my brief Goodreads review (gosh, I’m just a living plug for Goodreads today), I’d be curious to know for whom this memoir was written. For PB fans like myself, or just general Tig fans, none of what was in this book was news. I not only knew about her many trials and tribs of 2012, but I had already heard podcast episodes in which she related the news to her fans, still finding ways to weave in jokes about how her boobs must’ve gotten tired of her making fun of how small they were for the past 40 years, so they’re rebelling from the inside. I much prefer the podcast format, since it was raw and real; nothing had been thought out over years or filtered by 5 editors before reaching me, someone who cares about her. This memoir was more formatted as her ruminations on her childhood, her relationship with her family, especially her mother, her emotions, her “impostor-syndrome” at being called brave, and so on. I think it is meant to be more personal, in that we get to the root of her thoughts and feelings. Going back to my original question about audience, oddly enough, I think this book is perfect for anyone who is a casual fan, or even a complete stranger to Tig. Anyone dealing with death, tragedy, illness, or just plain old growing up will find value in this memoir. Tig manages to find humor in strife, and I think more people would do well to emulate that. However, being a big Tig fan, I found this book to be a watered-down version of the podcast. I knew it all already and, whereas the book makes you feel like an audience-member to her one-man-show, the podcast makes you feel like a friend in a room with a friend who is dealing with something really big. I prefer the latter. Somehow, this became a plug for Professor Blastoff.

Summer Reading Update:

So, I went to do some pre-planning yesterday with my 9th grade team and we realized we hadn’t read several of the works that were often taught at this school in 9th grade. Thus, my summer reading list has morphed slightly. I warned you all that this might happen. I must say that I’m far from excited about most of the texts, which I’m letting be a gauge for how the students will be even less excited. Off to a bad start.

I’ll show the texts below, in case someone has happy, blessed things to say about any of them, but before I do that, I’ll say that we want to tie in all the works to the theme or topic of “growing up.” We’ll definitely be reading To Kill A Mockingbird (YAY!!) and Romeo and Juliet (ugh, teen “love”), but we also need to tie in some non-fiction, short stories, articles, diversity, juvenile justice, etc. If anyone has any suggestions, they will be most welcome and appreciated! 

 

 

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L: Review of Anderson’s “Feed”

M. T. Anderson’s Feed is one of those books that is mentioned as an inspiration by other books and authors all the time, especially in YA. In fact, I was just listening to the audiobook version of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (review to come soon) and the main character includes Feed in a list of favorite books. So… why didn’t I like it?

I’ll tell you why. Reading this book was exhausting. I liken reading Feed to my 6 a.m. workout sessions; this is a means to an end, that end being a better me, but make no mistakes that I am exhausted and frustrated, with an expression that could curdle new milk (LOTR ref). So the key to understanding my 3 star rating has to be hidden in the frustrating bits.

But first:

For Titus and his friends, it started out like any ordinary trip to the moon – a chance to party during spring break and play with some stupid low-grav at the Ricochet Lounge. But that was before the crazy hacker caused all their feeds to malfunction, sending them to the hospital to lie around with nothing inside their heads for days. And it was before Titus met Violet, a beautiful, brainy teenage girl who has decided to fight the feed and its omnipresent ability to categorize human thoughts and desires. Following in the footsteps of George Orwell, Anthony Burgess, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr., M. T. Anderson has created a not-so-brave new world — and a smart, savage satire that has captivated readers with its view of an imagined future that veers unnervingly close to the here and now.

The first point of frustration was the language. The story takes place in the distant future, when other planets have been colonized and most people have grown up with the feed. Language undoubtedly changes over time, as evidenced by the high give-up-rate associated with any Jane Austin novel. Our language in 2016 is not so different that her novels are unintelligible, but just enough that reading passages or novels from that time often prove more frustrating than anticipated, and people give up. Anderson changed the language to reflect the passage of time. If the story takes place in a time when cars can fly, of course the English language would have come up with hip, new jargon. It’s only realistic. However, this was a big stumbling block for me. The dialogue was fluid & realistic enough that Anderson didn’t waste space defining words that the characters would already know, but I didn’t know them, so I had to learn on the fly, which takes time and patience which I have never claimed to possess. In fact, I slowly read and reread the first 30 pages of this book, couldn’t understand any of it, and eventually gave up until I realized it’s a required text for two of my summer classes. Nothing breeds achievement like necessity, so I restarted and endured. After about 50 pages, you get used to it and either skim over it or, by some divine knowledge, understand it.

I thought the novel was going to be far more political than it was. I assumed, “oh ok, feeds in the brain and someone is going to rage against the system and blah blah blah,” but there was very little raging and most of them loved and appreciated “the system.” That, in and of itself, was undoubtedly a statement about society’s reliance on technology, namely our phones, and our willingness to submit to that dependence. The message, although more subtle than I assumed it would be, was still there in all its majesty, urging readers to think about technology and how our society has progressed from primitive independence to total dependence, and how it might continue to evolve.

However, like I said, that message was not as in your face as expected; what was in my face was the other annoyance: Violet. The protagonist, Titus, starts seeing this girl and she seems sweet and whatever until they both endure an unexpected interruption of their feeds. Titus and his feed recover in all their annoying glory, but Violet’s recovery does not return her to her initial, “quirky” personality, but rather that of a Stage-Five Clinger. It starts with casual mentions of “their” future and “when we’re old,” and evolves into paranoia, obsession, unaccountable anger, and psycho-esque behavior. She becomes a total flight risk and I lose both my patience and my tolerance for her. Not to mention, she was one of those people who would ruin an innocent conversation with dramatic news updates and statistics. You know that person, the one you avoid because you might casually say “what beautiful flowers” and s/he’d follow up with something about the bees dying at incredible rates leading to the demise of the Earth’s natural ecosystem. You note a favorite restaurant in Boston and suddenly you’re talking about the Riots and the number of casualties. This is Violet.

All in all, I think the overall messages of the novel slightly outweigh the annoyances. And truthfully, teens will be dealing with acquaintances who possess qualities much like the characters in Feed, like peer pressure, societal pressure, parental pressure, and reading this could help them see the futility in certain actions and the advantages in others. This might be a good book placed alongside 1984, showing the different ways that the government and media can influence its citizens, and how fine the line is between technology making you capable vs. controlled. Good enough, but not something I’ll ever read again. Meh.

 

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“Love This? Try This!” and Review – “Sleeping Giants”

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Poster: here; book: here

I wasn’t allowed to watch The X-Files when I was younger; you see, I was very impressionable. Still am. If you look back through the Shrews archives, you’ll see plenty of evidence of my ongoing problem with reverse-projection, or adopting the feelings of the characters in books/on TV. My parents assumed The X-Files would scare me, so I lived twenty-some odd years of my life sans-Mulder before my eyes were opened to the majesty of Fox and Dana, the Smoking Man, conspiracies aplenty, and the “I want to believe” poster. ***Sidebar: that new season?! Amazeness!!***

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel is The X-Files in book form.

A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.

But some can never stop searching for answers.

Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?

The whole time I was reading this novel, I just could not get over how much it felt like The X-Files. It has science, government conspiracies, potential aliens, political intrigue, and a mysterious Puppet-Master; the only thing it’s missing is Mulder in 90’s jeans (YUM!).

But honestly, this was a very interesting read. Much akin to Illuminae, the format is a-typical, since the whole novel is told via interviews, journal entries, and military reports. This made it a very quick read but it also included a lot of scientific mumbo jumbo when interviewing certain characters, so I got bogged down a few times. Pierce Brown’s blurb likened it to Wier’s The Martian, which managed to subtly integrate science and math into an action packed sequence of events. Neuvel attempted to accomplish the same feat, but it wasn’t nearly as effortless and fluid. I ended up skimming over these parts instead of tolerating science long enough to subconsciously learn something.

Otherwise, I loved the format. I’d like to see more variance next time; about 90% of the story was told in interviews and I think more sources and more rotation would keep readers more interested. Illuminae did it best, but Secret Giants isn’t too far behind.

The main issue for me was that the characters were not particularly likable. This is partly due to the ways in which these characters were portrayed; some were cold and distant, some were psychopaths, some were pathetic, and the rest were entirely forgettable. Only one character was likable, but maybe that’s because I don’t often relate to the militaristic, emotionally damaged bossypants. The other possibility is that the unreliable narration did its job and I’m not sure whom I trust. This honestly may not be a problem for other readers, but it was a problem for me. I have a hard time committing, emotionally, to a book if I can’t forge a connection with any of the characters. Don’t believe me? Ask my review of The Girl on the Train.

Overall, 4 stars. It wasn’t a book that consumed my thoughts when I wasn’t able to read, but it was certainly an interesting and unique idea. It was moderately clean; minor sexual references; I don’t remember curse words… definitely a good choice for anyone interested in science, robotics, and/or aliens.

P.S. it’s the first in a series and the epilogue did a serious mic-drop DRAMA moment, so I’m jazzed to keep going!

I want to believe!!!

 

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L: Review of Noelle Stevenson’s “Nimona”

If I many be so bold, I’d like to commend myself for taking great strides towards being a more versatile, well-rounded reader within the last 6 months. If you take a quick trip down memory lane, back to some of my earliest posts, you’ll see that I found a number of ways to clearly indicate that my preferences leaned exclusively towards hard-copy versions of the classics. Nowadays, however, at least half (if not more) of my recreational literary conquests are YA, as well as the relatively unfamiliar (to me) genre of graphic novels, including my latest completion, Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona.

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.

Nimona is considered to be a YA text, and I think it fits into that genre perfectly. The main character, Nimona’s, age is never specified, but her personality and behavior in situations of villainy make it easy to assume she is a young adult. Nimona’s character is complex, immature, consistently laugh-out-loud funny, and mysterious. Like many teens (and full-blown adults, like myself), Nimona uses humor and sarcasm to navigate serious situations and mask her feelings. Nimona is a product of her past and, although that past is a mystery to readers for most of the novel, her penchant for violence echos throughout her actions, calling into question her motivations for pairing up with Lord Ballister Blackheart, the kingdom villain.

Stevenson’s characters are complex, having hidden agendas, suppressed feelings, longstanding conflicts, and rich backstories. No character is defined by his/her title and, in fact, those titles (hero, villain, sidekick, etc.) are often called into question by his/her actions. Although readers get significantly fewer words with graphic novels, the pictures help to fill in the blanks and (literally) illustrate aspects of the characters and situations that take twice as much time to convey with standard novels. Also, the images were imaginative, descriptive, and utterly adorable. Just look at the emotion and attitude in her panels, as well as the humor (look at the little shark boobies! So unexpected and funny!). In those ways, I loved it!

However, I’m not sure that I got the chance to connect with these characters. Reading a graphic novel, for me, is like watching a TV show; I’m just a spectator. I get fewer asides, monologues, and inner thoughts. I see things at face value, exactly as the author intended, so there is little room for creative interpretation or personalization. Also, I finished Nimona in one afternoon, and a busy afternoon at that. It was an effortlessly quick read, meaning that I didn’t linger with these characters for days at a time. We met, we faced trials, we resolved those trials, and now they’re gone and I don’t miss them. Why would I? I hardly knew them. I wonder if I would think differently had it been a standard novel? I wonder if this concern has occurred to others, or if I’m alone in my distance?

Like I said before, with the exception of the Maus books, I’m extremely new to graphic novels. However, my experience with them has proven them to be delightful deviations from the standard novel format. I see many advantages to the graphic novels format, as well as disadvantages. Regardless, putting this book into the right students’ hands could give fresh insight into really current and relevant problems. It was a fun and meaningful read!

SIDEBAR: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is coming! I pre-ordered my copy and July cannot get here soon enough!

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