Via BBC America
Via BBC America
Just finished reading “Rendezvous with Rama” by Arthur C. Clarke. It’s full of wonderful descriptions of this mysterious spacecraft. As with all of my favorite novels, it filled me with a sense of wonder, longing to see this vision of such grandeur.
Art by Vincent Di Fate from the book Di Fate’s Catalog of Science Fiction Hardware (1980)
Karel Thole cover art for Italian sci-fi mag, Urania #378, April 1965.
Chess and sci-fi, always a great combination. And I love those faces.
Acceptance by Jeff Vandermeer
The conclusion. Where it all ends. But like the Smashing Pumpkins song, the end is the beginning is the end.
The final installment of the Southern Reach Trilogy, Acceptance, is stylistically different than its predecessors and attempts to tie up as many loose ends as possible. And by “as possible” I mean as many as the story wishes because frankly, the story itself is as organic and self-defining as Area X.
Stylistically speaking, the past volumes dealt with a singular point-of-view throughout their entirety, while Acceptance switches between four different characters at different points of time. Some chapters happen before Area X was established while others are in the present within the story.
This helps explain some things about characters who may or may not be with us any longer, but there are sections which feel drawn-out for no good reason. One such part goes at length to describe the love life of one character in particular and feels weird and unnecessary within the story.
From there, the setting is as varied as the points of view and feels like a combination of the previous entries, Annihilation and Authority. Annihilation was set within Area X, Authority was set in the Southern Reach facility, and Acceptance takes place in both, again, across the different timelines.
And this dichotomy of environments makes the strangeness of both worlds more realized, and necessary to understand the other. It’s like both worlds form around each other like a jigsaw puzzle. Neither intruding on the other, but they both define the other.
Finally, the book was just really fun, and the trilogy was awesome. Science-fiction never felt more strange, and the lack of an antagonist breathes life into the mystery of the trilogy.
Is Area X the villain? Is the Southern Reach nothing but a hive of rogues? Is there really a bad guy, and if there is not, is one necessary for a good story to work? Or is a sense of dread good enough to hold the audience in place?
As in the previous entries, good luck deciphering an answer. You’ll be working it out in your head for some time. I know I still am.
4/5 cups of coffee
Artemis by Andy Weir
Were you a fan of The Martian and wished you could read all the sciencey goodness again? Well, you’re in luck! Andy Weir’s follow-up, Artemis, should be right up your alley.
Set in the latter half of the 21st century, Weir’s novel follows Jazz, a resident of Artemis, a small Moon settlement. Being the resident smuggler, Jazz deals with some shady characters regularly, but this time she gets tangled up in a heist of sorts. What follows are her attempts to pull off the job while making amends for past wrongs.
The smuggling and heist parts are fun, as is any heist. I dare you not to have fun watching Heat. But these parts feel clunky as Jazz strays into science lectures ranging from how the stronger gravity on Earth allows people on Artemis to carry objects exceeding 100kgs with relative ease, to how silicon is manufactured in such a way as to produce oxygen for the community.
While the lectures are informative, they break-up the narrative flow enough to have the reader backtrack and re-read sections to keep up with why the lecture was necessary.
Beyond the science lessons, the prose are not Shakespeare by any means, and some lines just seem downright strange. Example, “The grinding thrum of industrial equipment oozed from the walls…” Not sure how sound “oozes” from a wall, but I have also not sold the movie rights to a book so who am I to judge?
Besides the science lectures and the odd prose selection, the story reads like a transcript of something you might hear at a bar. You can see Jazz telling the story to a few of her friends over some drinks, waving her hands around for emphasis, and her friends calling bullshit from time-to-time as things get a little too unbelievable.
And this style makes sense for Jazz. She is a smuggler from a lower economic class who frequents bars, so this feels like she is talking directly to the reader. And just like any good bar-story, it’s easy to look over the minutiae and be taken away with the adrenaline of a bank robbery story.
Artemis is a fun read. Clunky, but fun. If you enjoyed either the book or movie version of The Martian, you will feel right at home in the Moon town of Artemis.
Rating: 3/5 cups of coffee
Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
You want to get trippy? Let’s get fucking trippy.
If you want to have your brain shaken, liquified, and then have it slowly drip out of your nostrils, pick up Jeff Vandermeer’s first book in his Southern Reach Trilogy titled Annihilation.
The book follows an unnamed biologist and three other women who are tasked with exploring Area X, a landscape that was transformed years ago, for reasons we never find out, into a mysteriously primordial environment where new world technology seemingly doesn’t work and the creatures which previously inhabited the area are monstrous versions of themselves. Or maybe they are just perceived as monstrous…
While the group of women explore the weird environment, we get glimpses of the biologist’s past before the expedition. The brunt of these flashbacks concern how her husband was on the previous expedition, came back a husk of his former self (as most of the people who come back from these expeditions return, if they return at all), and died of cancer.
She wants to go on the expedition to try and understand what happened to her husband, and in a not so surface level way, to grieve her husband and his death.
The book is so strange slow burn of a read that it is hard to put down, and the unreliability of the narrator adds to the atmosphere of unease. And her unreliability is only buttressed by the fact that the organization, the aforementioned Southern Reach, which sent them into Area X has not provided the expeditions with any answers as to what they are really doing in Area X.
Are these things actually happening? Is it all in the biologist’s head? Is anything she has said, or anything provided by Southern Reach, real? None of these questions are answered, but if they were, it would be a disservice to the uncanny air of Area X.
Nothing is solved. Nothing is answered. Nothing makes sense. But everything is gorgeous, and maybe that’s the point. We will have to wait and see in the second book of the trilogy.
4.5/5 cups of coffee
The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris
Grisly and gory is putting medical practices in the Victorian era gently, and Lindsey Fitzharris gives us a look at the catalyst which brought medicine into the modern, pre-computer, age.
The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine is just that, a quest of how Lister went from the son of a Quaker on the verge of giving medicine up altogether, to becoming responsible for saving billions of lives for years to come with his development of antiseptic methods for doctors and surgeons.
Lister was a sort of maverick in the medical world at the time. While other doctors, if they can be called that, prescribed similar methods of treatment you might hear from your grandmother or other sources of superstition, Lister attempted to understand what made people sick and quantified the results of his prescribed methods.
Lister found the key to understanding illnesses in something considered a toy at the time. The microscope was seen as a novelty made for entertainment rather than serious learning. Lister saw the potential of the toy and used it to analyze samples of tissue, blood, and other naturally occurring materials to help push the idea that there were small organisms which made people sick i.e. germ theory.
Others laughed at Lister. I mean, small organisms making people sick? Poppy-cock I say! Everyone knows people get sick from weird smelly air! No really, people thought bad smelling air was a cause of illness.
Lister faced a lot of pushback at the time, but history shows that ultimately Lister’s methods were accepted and celebrated beyond his wildest dreams.
By the end of the book, you see how strange medicine used to be and how far it has come. From a competition of one-upmanship and who had the “better” method, to science! All science, all the time!
With this in mind, the book itself is full of medical terms and practices and different diseases. It is certainly interesting, but at the same time about as exciting as reading a book about medicine. Everyone can learn something, but unless medicine is something you are inherently interested in, you won’t be chomping at the bit by any means.
2.5/5 cups of coffee
Joseph Lister is an interesting scientist to know. (article on wikipedia)
William Bragg, (1925), Concerning the Nature of Things, Dover Publications, Inc., New York, NY, 1948