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Archive for the ‘Science Fiction’ Category

The Aeronaut’s Windlass

aeronaut's windlass

(Long absence again! Can’t promise anything. But – here’s a post for now!)

So I wasn’t going read Jim Butcher’s latest, because it’s steampunk and steampunk really isn’t my thing.  But my mom bought it for me – she knows I love Butcher’s work and very kindly always preorders his stuff off Amazon for me – and I’m so glad she did.  I wouldn’t have given it a chance otherwise and it’s certainly worth reading!

The Aeronaut’s Windlass takes place in an alternate world, where people live on giant, man-made mountains – Spires-, forever under ceilings that cover all the living space.  They travel from place to place via crystal-powered ships (and wear goggles to protect them from the sun.)  The crystals are powered via ether, a magical presence that flows through the world – very much like the Force. The basic premise is that one of the Spires, which struggles economically, has decided that conquering one of the more prosperous Spires (where the heroes reside) is their path to economic success.

Overall, it’s a really fun and light read.  Pure escapism – I was totally absorbed in the book and couldn’t wait to find out what happened next.  Like most of Butcher’s work, it’s fast-paced with lots of action and a multifaceted plot.  There’s strong hints of plot points that I’m wildly curious about – Butcher introduces a lot and gives a strong base for further books and intrigue – but I know that we can depend on him to follow through and incorporate everything in future books.  I’m super excited about the next book in the series!

In the Dresden Files, Butcher has a definite tendency towards info-dumping, but here it’s actually handled quite well – he reveals things very naturally and the reader has the enjoyable job of puzzling together how the world works.  There are about ten different viewpoints he switches between – maybe more?  Some of them are much more heavily emphasized than others, but though Butcher does it well, if multiple viewpoints are not your thing, this is not your book.  (It’s in third person, not first, if that’s influential.)

My biggest critique is that it’s so fast paced and switches between so many viewpoints that I don’t feel the characters were developed as much as I would’ve liked.   The hardcover was probably 700 pages, so there was a lot of room for worldbuilding and plot development – and the multiple characters’ viewpoints all wound together seamlessly to provide a cohesive plot.  But because there were so many characters, and because Butcher is aiming to develop complex characters with room for growth, there wasn’t quite enough room for character development at the level that I would’ve liked.

That being said, I did enjoy the characters very much! There’s a fair number of female characters, now that I think about it, and they all have important roles to play.  Most importantly, all of the characters whose viewpoint we used were complex and interesting, if not explored in depth.  I want to know their backstory, or see how they develop, or both!  Though a few of the secondary characters tend towards the archetypes – the villains, for instance, are chilling but not terribly original – it’s forgivable in the context of the main characters.

Most of the main characters are late teens, early twenties.  They have a wide variety of strengths and interests and I like that they have lots of room for growth without it actually being a coming-of-age story – the focus is how all the characters weave together, not the growth of one particular character.  Also, in contrast to his previous two series, there is no “Chosen One” (either obvious or implied) in the story and very little room for one to develop. I’m a bit worn out on the chosen character stories, so it’s a nice relief!

My favorite character by far is Captain Grimm, one of the main-main characters.  He’s captain of the Predator, a mysteriously overpowered ship that’s the fastest in the sky.  He’s a good man – not a conflicted good man, but someone who does the right thing because of conviction – but isn’t boring or particularly stereotypical. He longs for freedom, but is not willing to pay any price for it.  Butcher alludes to a mysterious, semi-tragic backstory that I presume will be revealed in the next book or two.

Overall, if you’re into sci-fi/fantasty/steampunk escapism, good world-building, and fast-paced action-packed stories, this is definitely a book I would recommend!  If you’re looking for a deep, introspective read, an in-depth character study, or a totally new take on the sci-fi/steampunk world, this, sadly, probably isn’t your read.

Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation

9780805063325

by: Olivia Judson

This is one of the awesome books I have been reading and talking about in my blog lately.  I am completely and totally in love with this book. It’s 16 kinds of fantastic.

It’s a book, of course, about the evolutionary biology of sex – that is, Judson talks about all the weird and wacky ways that animals reproduce and why scientists think they act like they do.  The format of the book is a huge part of why it’s so amazing –  animals, like fish, mammals, insects, reptiles, and amphibians, write in with their sex-related questions and problems.  And she answers, going off on tangents to explore concepts or similar practices in other animals.  It’s glorious.

Every question and answer is only  a few pages long, making the information easily digestible. Judson does an excellent job of defining science terminology in layman’s terms.  She also – and this is just absolutely superb of her – introduces terms and concepts as they’re relevant, rather than doing a huge info dump at the beginning of the book.  I hate huge info dumps – a lot of science concepts are kind of complicated and people need time to digest them once they’re introduced.  Even if someone picks up the information easily, the terminology is often new and weird and multisyllabic, so introducing a word and allowing the reader to learn it before introducing another new word is a much better tactic than presenting what amounts to a vocabulary list at the beginning of the book.  (I have Strong Feelings about this, guys. Very. Strong. Feelings.)

Anyway, Judson’s presentation of information is smooth and, er, whelming.  It’s generally just enough new information to make the reader feel like they’re learning something new and cool but not enough to make the reader feel lost or unable to keep up.  (Well.  Full disclosure: I am a science person working in the sciences.  So please let me know, readers, if you feel differently!) She’s honest and open throughout – when something is not known, she says so and then proceeds to discuss competing theories that are thought to explain it, noting which theory she most agrees with.

Her vocabulary is quite good, which I don’t know if I liked or disliked.  I liked her precision with words, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like she could have stuck to a more common vernacular since she was already using an extensive scientific vocabulary, which many of her readers were presumably already unfamiliar with.  The tone of the book was light and interesting but sometimes the vocabulary was fighting against the tone. It’s from 2000, so I can safely assume relevant discoveries in the field have been made since then, so some of the gaps in knowledge may have been filled since publication.

Okay.  Now that that’s all out of the way – this book is just fun.  Creatures are weird and they do weird things! It’s fascinating!  I just wanted to quote this book over and over and over – preferably with no context, because the quotes are much more startling that way.  I often found myself laughing at the sheer silliness of animals everywhere.  (There’s an ocean-dwelling species where the female is 200,000x bigger then the male!)

You don’t have to like biology to like this book – it’s not heavy or technical and it doesn’t feel like something you’d read to “improve” yourself.  Rather, it’s wacky facts of animal sex presented with style and wit by Judson.

Judson covers topics like monogamy (everybody cheats), females vs. males (it’s not she-wants-commitment,-he-wants-freedom!), incest (a species gotta do what a species gotta do, y’all), asexualism, homosexuality, sex (like gender here) (also there are species that have more than 2 sexes, which I didn’t know), and so much more.  It’s all in animals – there are no political discussions here – and all based on evidence and research and just really cool information. (I think this information is also important to developing thoughts on some hot-button issues, because people often trying to justify their stances by incorrectly evoking evolutionary biology.   This, however, is not something the author pushes.)

This book is fantastic and I love it!  I would recommend it to anyone who likes nature or animals, or who is interested in sex, or who wants to read something science-y that isn’t scary – this is a great book!  If you have a serious dislike of rodents, if there’s an animal that grosses you out, or if the thought of bugs mating makes you gag a little, than alas and alack!, this may not be the book for you.