The Walking Dead, Vol. 29: Lines We Cross

May 11, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

linesThe Walking Dead, Vol. 29: Lines We Cross by Robert Kirkman, et al.

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If you already like The Walking Dead, and if you’ve been reading it long enough to make it to volume twenty-nine, then there’s not much I can say about this collection to get you to read it. Chances are, you’ve beat me to it. Plus, I’ve reviewed enough of these collections so far to give you a good idea of what to expect out of the series, even if you’re not reading it. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it gets harder and harder to review these collections (unless they’re not very good) the longer I read the series.

A couple of notable things here is that Kirkman introduces a new character to the saga, and that character is weirder than the last few characters he’s introduced. He also manages to make Negan out to be a fully sympathetic character. Sure, it took several story arcs (and several years) to reach that point, but it’s an impressive feat, nonetheless, since he came into the story bashing Glenn’s head in with a baseball bat. Considering that Kirkman makes him sympathetic without sacrificing the character traits that make him so unlikeable makes it even more impressive.

Plus, it was interesting to see how Kirkman manages the death of a significant character in the comic, when the show did such a poor job of managing the death of a different significant character in the latest season. I’ve said before that the show does a disservice to the story and the characters of the comic, but seeing how differently they’re handled, almost back-to-back, is enlightening.

I’m a committed reader, so I’m going to keep reading the series until Kirkman runs out of story. I recommend it to viewers of the show who are growing tired of the runaround and back-and-forth nature of the plot (not to mention if they want to see an Andrea who’s worth reading and a Rick whose character isn’t inconsistent), and want to see what the show could have been. I’m not one who thinks a TV show or movie should be exactly like the book, but the story in the comic is simply a better one.

Started: March 16, 2018
Finished: March 16, 2018

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Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher

May 10, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

sixSix Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher by Richard P. Feynman

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About twenty years ago, I read Feynman’s two memoirs based on a co-worker’s recommendation. He led an interesting life, enough so that even when he came across as self-serving, it was still hard to resist his anecdotes. Since I’ve started listening to science audiobooks, I figured it would serve me well to listen to some of Feynman’s lectures. Six Easy Pieces seemed like the place to start.

On the one hand, the best way to absorb these lectures is by listening to them. You get to hear Feynman himself, complete with his sense of humor and somewhat irreverent approach to science, and you can hear the sound of the chalk when he sketches something on the blackboard. On the other hand, you discover that Feynman was a very fast talker, and you don’t get to see the sketches he makes on the blackboard. It doesn’t help that the first lecture had deteriorated so much by the time they produced the audiobook that digital recovery was almost impossible, making the audio muddy and difficult to hear.

It’s also interesting to discover just how Feynman sounded. He was articulate and knowledgeable, of course, but he also had a thick New York accent that belies his appearance and background. I think I’m too used to folks like Carl Sagan and Neil DeGrasse Tyson, people who have worked to develop a public personality as well as a scientific background, to expect that to be how Feynman sounded. I don’t want to say it detracts from the subject matter, but I did get pulled out of the lecture whenever I heard him say “yuman”.

Along with Cosmos and A Brief History of Time, Six Easy Pieces is a classic of scientific literature. It doesn’t delve as deeply into some concepts covered in those books, but since these lectures were from a Physics 101 class, it’s hard to fault Feynman for not going into more detail. Given in 1961, the lectures are dated in some ways, but what makes this book important is seeing how Feynman taught these difficult subjects. He taught them without complexity, giving examples that were easy to understand. Hearing excerpts from those lessons tells us a lot about science and about Feynman himself.

Started: March 12, 2018
Finished: March 15, 2018

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Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook

May 9, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , , )

lostLost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook by Christina Henry

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A good five-word summary of this book is: Peter Pan as a sociopath. And it makes perfect sense.

Think about it. He’s impulsive, manipulative, insincere, unreliable, and exhibits superficial charm. He’s also smart and self-centered. Even in the context of the original story, he’s a textbook sociopath. Henry takes this idea and uses it to develop Peter Pan’s origin story, told through the eyes of James, later to become Captain Hook.

The pivotal point of this story is Charlie, a new recruit to the island, and the youngest boy Peter has ever brought to the island. Only five years old, Charlie is adopted by James, who has always served as the protector of the Lost Boys. Their relationship makes Peter jealous, since James is supposed to be Peter’s best friend, and over the course of the book, we see the relationship between Peter and James break down. Along the way, we find out what keeps Peter young, how he meets Tinkerbell, and how Captain Hook came to be Peter’s enemy.

Henry has had good success with translating children’s stories into darker, adult tales, and part of that success is in how well she draws her characters. The main characters here (James and his circle of friends) are convincing, and the relationship they share feels real. Their personalities and challenges carry the story, and it’s them who kept me engaged. Parts of the story didn’t work for me (the origin feels somewhat simplified, and Henry incorporates beings who don’t live on the island in the original work), but overall, it was riveting.

I’ve started listening to nonfiction audiobooks, since I find I can focus on them better than I can audio fiction, but Lost Boy was an exception. I found it on sale, and liked Henry’s Alice books, so I figured it was worth a shot. I’m glad I gave it a try; Lost Boy kept my attention from start to finish.

Started: March 8, 2018
Finished: March 11, 2018

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A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes

May 8, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

timeA Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes by Stephen W. Hawking

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I’m not going to lie: I was a little intimidated going in to this book. I had thought about reading it years ago, back when I started to get an understanding of relativity, and I put it off, knowing it was going to be dense and nigh-incomprehensible. Some twenty years later, having listened to two books about astrophysics, I decided to give it a go. As an audiobook.

Surprisingly, the book wasn’t as dense as I expected. I think it helped that I had listened recently to the books by Tyson and Sagan, but I had a pretty good understanding of the concepts Hawking covered in the book. There were a few chapters that eluded me (I think I’m going to need to read a whole book on quantum physics before I get a good grasp of it), but for the most part, I felt comfortable with the content. It was a good mix of familiar and challenging.

I was less impressed with Hawking’s obsession with who won which award, how often he collaborated with his graduate students, and how frequently he disproved other scientists. He comes across as petty and arrogant. I know Hawking is a smart man, and I know he’s accomplished a lot, but I prefer science books that talk about past theories and accomplishments, not the personal tally of the author. Neither Tyson nor Sagan came across that way, despite them both having (and discussing!) their own successes, so it’s definitely a personality thing, not a content thing.

In the later chapters, Hawking focused on his own theories almost exclusively, to the point where it felt like he was jumping to conclusions based on what I thought were some tenuous theories. Granted, I don’t spend all of my time thinking about theoretical physics, but it felt like Hawking was too eager to accept his own theories. As much as he admits changed in as little as ten or twenty years in the field, I would have expected him to show some more skepticism.

Also, the narration of the audiobook was strange, in that it sounded like it was recorded all in one take, without breaks or edits. The narrator stumbled over the pronunctiation of some words, slowed down at some words, as if he were sounding out the word, and there was even one moment where he was supposed to say “sixteen”, but started out saying “nineteen”. I don’t know if the production was pressed for time, or was low budget, or what, but it doesn’t sound professional.

If you’re interested in space and time and the science of both, A Brief History of Time is a book to read. I’m not sure I would recommend it as an audiobook, partly because of the sloppy narration, and partly because the concepts might be better absorbed through reading. If I have to make the choice between this and Cosmos, though, I’d definitely go with Cosmos. Not only is it more approachable, but its scope is also far more interesting.

Started: March 1, 2018
Finished: March 6, 2018

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Dusk

May 7, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

duskDusk by Ron Dee

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I would have expected the Dell/Abyss books to start dwindling in quality over time. I wouldn’t have expected that to happen with their third book, but here we are. Dusk is a terrible novel, with nothing to redeem it.

Abyss was known for two things — original ideas, and cutting-edge stories. Dusk is a typical vampire novel, and the only thing that could be considered cutting-edge would be how much sex it contains. I’m no prude, but I expect the sex in a story to be relevant; in Dusk, it’s excessive. It’s there just to show that the author can do it, and it reads like it was written for thirteen-year-old boys. In fact, it reads like it was written by one.

What’s also unfortunate about this book is how it portrays its women and minority characters. Women are oversexed (even before the vampirism), and the black characters are frequently called “niggers”. Dee uses this term to show how terrible some characters are, but it still felt like he was using the term just because he could. Joe Lansdale uses the word in his Hap & Leonard books, but it’s used with more subtlety. Hell, that scene with Alan Tudyk in the Jackie Robinson biopic used the word with more subtlety than Dee does here.

That the Abyss line survived beyond this book is a shock to me. That the Abyss line even agreed to publish this book is a shock to me. The plot is pedestrian, the characterization is weak to nonexistent, and it relies far too much on telling to be engaging. That I’ve read this before, and had no recollection of anything from it is telling. Fans of Richard Laymon might like what Dee does here (sex and violence just for the sake of sex and violence), but beyond that, I don’t know what the target audience is for this book. It’s one of the worst books I’ve ever read.

Started: February 28, 2018
Finished: March 3, 2018

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The Only Harmless Great Thing

May 4, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

The Only Harmless Great Thing RD3The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

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I’m a bit of a sucker for a Tor.com novella. For a while there, I was trying to read all of them, but they’ve released so many of them over the past few years that it’s hard to keep up with them all. I hold out for the ones that get the most buzz, and The Only Harmless Great Thing is one of those novellas.

It’s an odd book, because it takes two historical events — the Radium Girls and the electrocution of Topsy the elephant — and mashes them together. It works remarkably well, but in order to put the two events together, it means that Bolander has the elephants replace the Radium Girls in the factories. It struck me as very odd, and I had a hard time accepting that elephants, of all creatures, would do this kind of work. Bolander makes the elephants intelligent enough for sentience and communication (they communicate with humans through a rudimentary sign language), but still, it was a little too strange for me to accept.

Beyond that, though, the story is excellent. Bolander has a lyrical style that makes the words leap off the page, and she brings amazing life to her characters (human and otherwise), and she makes the reader feel for all of them. It helps that she brings together two tragic stories, predisposing us to be sympathetic to them, but her language makes everything more vivid. Bolander juggles three different stories, in three different timelines, and while one of them felt a little out of place, it served a purpose to the other two.

The buzz this novella is getting is deserved. It’s a well-written story, with realistic characters, and real emotion. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes speculative fiction, or even historical fiction. It’s just going to require a leap of faith with how the author uses the elephants here.

Started: March 3, 2018
Finished: March 3, 2018

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Runtime

May 3, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, )

runRuntime by S.B. Divya

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At the start of this novella, I felt like I wouldn’t like it. Our main character, Marmeg, lives in a near future, neither dystopic or otherwise, where it’s common for young adults to enhance their bodies with cybernetic implants. To make it clear this is a different time, and that young people set themselves apart from the older generations, Divya has Marmeg and her contemporaries speak in a choppy style, eschewing complete sentences or even complete words as she conveys her thoughts in as few syllables as possible. It reminded me a lot of the junkyard characters from The Walking Dead, and it was difficult to relate to her way of speaking, and as a result, it was difficult to relate to her as a character.

The good news is that this novella overcomes such a shortcoming. The story involves Marmeg entering a race, where the runners adorn themselves with cybernetic suits to help them jump higher, run faster, and endure longer. Marmeg, though, is an unlicensed citizen, and hasn’t grown up with the privileges that licensed citizens have had, so while they have sponsors and teams to help them in this race, Marmeg has put her suit together from junked parts, all by herself. Divya has a lot to say about class divisions here, through Marmeg’s failures and successes.

Runtime starts off slow, but picks up not only when Divya puts Marmeg into the race, but also when she implements the themes of her story. I could have easily abandoned the story early on, due to the dialogue, but I’m glad I stuck with it, as I think this is a story that will linger.

Started: March 1, 2018
Finished: March 2, 2018

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The Devil in America

May 2, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

devilThe Devil in America by Kai Ashante Wilson

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I can’t remember what led me to read this novella. I tried reading The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps a few years back, and I couldn’t make it through, but I read something about this story that made me want to read it. I’m glad I did, though when I first finished it, I wasn’t sure.

It took time for the story to settle, and for me to realize just how good it is. I didn’t like the metafictional asides (there are moments in the story where the author’s — not the narrator’s, now, but the author’s — father interjects with comments about the story), but I realized they were clues as to what was to happen in the story. Why Wilson chose this device I don’t know, but when he comments on Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin, it becomes clear that this story is about the violence done against African-Americans, historically and currently.

As such, it’s not a comfortable story. We see white cruelty, though we also see hope through our main character, Easter, who lives in the late 19th century and possesses African magic. She has the ability to control “angels”, who can either do good or ill. An uneasy bargain she makes to save her father leads to future violence … or maybe the violence would have happened regardless.

The magic story works, as does the metafictional device (strange as it is), and the theme resonates. It’s a powerful piece of fiction, though it doesn’t reveal its significance until after some thought. Wilson is a talented writer, enough so that it makes me want to revisit The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps to see if I gave up on it too soon the first time around.

Started: February 27, 2018
Finished: February 27, 2018

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Cosmos: A Personal Voyage

May 1, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

cosmosCosmos: A Personal Voyage by Carl Sagan

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Cosmos is 38 years old this year. A lot has happened in astrophysics since 1980, enough so that I was somewhat concerned that parts of the book would be dated. They are, but the good thing is Sagan doesn’t write from a purely technological or scientific perspective in this book. For each concept he presents, he puts it into a historical and philosophical perspective to show not just how far we’ve come since the original scientific thinkers, but also how much alike we are with them.

Take, for instance, space travel. Sagan likens the modern-day scientists creating vessels to traverse the cosmos to people like Christopher Columbus, who weren’t content just to settle for what was immediately around them. They felt the need to travel, to explore, to send themselves into the unknown to find what was there, and how it might affect our own lives. Columbus’ legacy hasn’t aged well into more progressive times, but that desire to journey, to discover, existed then, and it exists now.

The entire book — all thirteen chapters of it — takes this approach. Like Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (in retrospect, I listened to these books out of order), the book avoids digging into a lot of math and instead focuses on concepts. Sagan takes the approach a step further, though, by delving into history. We learn of the ancient Ionian intellectual revolution, we learn of the Library at Alexandria, and Eratosthenes, the Greek thinker who calculated the circumference of the Earth, along with its axial tilt, to a remarkable degree of accuracy, over two thousand years ago. It’s a brilliant approach to modern science, and it makes the book relevant now, almost forty years after its first publication.

I would recommend this book to anyone. Science and space enthusiasts will enjoy it the most, but Sagan’s approach to science makes it easy to understand the ideas behind complicated theory. He discusses these topics with a great passion, and LeVar Burton, the narrator, brings that passion across in his narration. This book would make an excellent primer into science and space, as well as make a valuable read for anyone already familiar with some of the topics of discussion.

Started: February 15, 2018
Finished: February 28, 2018

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The Living Blood

April 30, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, )

bloodThe Living Blood by Tananarive Due

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The Living Blood is the second in Due’s Immortal Africans series, and given the way My Soul to Keep ended, I expected the book to pick up right where the first ended. I wasn’t quite prepared for it to start slightly before the ending and carry us through the events of that ending in more detail. It’s almost like the prologue for this book was swapped with the epilogue for the first one, the way it all fits together.

The good news is that this isn’t a bad thing. My Soul to Keep ended in such a way as to suggest it was the start to a series, and The Living Blood shows us more behind Dawit’s culture, and how Jessica fits into modern society as a new part of that culture. It’s brilliantly paired with a single widower searching for Jessica as the miracle cure for his son, who is dying of leukemia. Due takes us through the heartache and turmoil of having a sick child, and having to make the decision to leave that child behind to find a cure, knowing he may die before he can return. It’s harrowing in a way that’s not usually seen in standard horror.

The story here is more expansive, and feels more epic, than My Soul to Keep. I enjoyed that book, but The Living Blood gives it more depth to make it more important, more significant. Soul looks at the idea of immortal Africans on a personal level, while Blood looks at it from a larger perspective. The two books together make a nice duology, which will make for interesting reading since there are two more books in this series.

Less horror and more dark fantasy, The Living Blood is an excellent continuation of Jessica’s story from My Soul to Keep. I can see this book appealing to a wide audience — horror readers, fantasy readers, even readers of alternate history — and it’s easy to see that its roots lie in horror, but Due rises above the tropes of the genre with this book. It even has hints of the scope of A Song of Ice and Fire, especially if she continues down the path she’s forged here. I’ll be an eager reader of the rest of the series.

Started: February 11, 2018
Finished: February 25, 2018

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