Monday, September 14, 2015

Mixed Bag here

These books all come from the Napier library. I've been trying to work my way through them despite having had a nasty dose of man flu, and a lot of distractions . They've been good to settle down with and clear my head, but I have to admit that I've not managed to process a lot of the higher science as it is frankly, beyond what I need to know and beyond the casual reader. But that's fine.

First up is the novel - I've described Ender and Orson Scott Card before and nothing has changed. This is the third novel I've read, and is chronologically sensible, although this was written second and the other one I read takes place before it but was written long after, if you follow. Card uses FTL travel to allow his characters to observe and participate in interstellar politics and does so cleverly - it's good scifi. I like that. The planet concerned here is populated by Portuguese immigrants so has language and religion that reflect this. I found this less engaging, but it sets up some conversations about free will, colonialism, and I suppose there is a reflection of the experience of the inhabitants of South America who were overwhelmed by the Europeans in the 15thC.
In the end the drama concerns the discovery of strange life forms, unexpected biology, and potentially a plague that could cause the people on planet to be quarantined there. Ender solves everyone's problems and plans to settle down, so this won't be a problem for him. It ends better than I feared, as it was a bit of a grind again getting through the middle of the book and all the handwringing. I think there are many more books in the series nad I might check a precis before  I commit to more as they aren't brain off restful like my thrillers, nor really good like an Ursula Le Guin fantasy or a CJ Cherryh space story (don't start me on her cat or unicorn series - gaah)

This one was picked because it had Bill Bryson on the cover. I will read anything he's in, and his Short History of Nearly Everything is a classic of its kind. This is a survey of the history of the Royal Society from Newton on, each chapter written by a person of interest who has a perspective that's relevant to the time and topic they've chosen. This makes it interesting, but somewhat disconnected, and it was worthy without being quite the book I was expecting. Good stuff in it.

This was great - Alex follows up his previous Alex in Numberland with this and I enjoyed it even more - the storytelling and the weaving of maths and probability into an interesting narrative. A lot of these maths books have, obviously, the same basic content so it becomes a challenge to tell stories in a new way and to link the ideas to relevant concepts. Alex is my new favourite - from John Gribben and Ian Stewart, I'll read anything he publishes. Might need to google him and find a website.

OK another novel - and Neil is a favourite because of the Pratchett link. I enjoyed Anansi Boys before, and got this out at the same time. It's magical realism again, and has a scary hiver and some interesting supernatural people and a boy who falls into a battle between them. It would make a good horror film, it's tense and scary and has some grue, but is well told. The book includes interesting extras at the end - deleted excerpts, discussion questions (or was that Anansi Boys not this?) anyway worth the time and will leave me with longtime mental pictures of the characters.

Here we go, Ian Stewart, he of the Discworld science books, leads me down the story from inventing counting and basic number theory through all sorts of good things - until I suddenly found I was completely lost. The point where the P/NP problem appears as a life raft means you're well out from the beach. Again, enjoyed, saw some familiar material, feel smarter.

Just starting this but put the picture up - will let you know. The life of Galileo Galilei. I enjoyed 'Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel, and I have A More Perfect Heaven which I think I've written about and if not, I will. So this fits in with them.

I'm a collector/hoarder - and as a Pratchett fan I want everything he wrote, but am also put off by the spin off publishers who are wringing the last drops of cash out of us. So finding the library has these saves me dropping large amounts of cash on something I won't re-read. And that's about right for this. Nicely imagined, obviously dropped into Raising Steam the way Where's My Cow was in Thud, it's a coffeetable book and of limited value. Some nice bits, like pig boring, which shows up in The Shepherd's Crown later, and maps, but in the end doesn't add much to the work in my opinion.

This is book seven I think, and continues the theme where Milton tries to escape his past, find a way forward sober, and help people he finds along the way. The consequences of his work in New Orleans follow him to the ends of the earth, and he has to use all his guile and strength to survive Avi Bachman's revenge. Help from a few friends, a new environment in the Southern Hemisphere and Asia, and a pretty well written story with no major plot holes that I could see (beyond the usual suspension of disbelief in a thriller with global assassins supported by the Mossad, etc).  It's a good extension of the series and certainly keeps the pot boiling without feeling like a potboiler. I've complained before about handwringing and it's true that in an early book it felt like we were being 
pounded by the AA message and justifications to explain Milton's motivations. He has to keep it going but it feels consistent now and perhaps intrudes less into the story. Well worth the eprice.

Sad sad sad to read 'The Last Discworld Novel'. Tying the witches books more tightly to Tiffany Aching, this story feels a bit like the 'Apples' short story with Granny. It obviously links to Lords and Ladies, and Raising Steam. It's not complete, and the afterword acknowledges this . It was written in parts, and you could perhaps work out which parts were written when TP was better, and which were 'anticipating your instructions'. It's not fair to judge it as a complete Discworld novel knowing this, and for sure it lacks the magic of language and 'surprise' that we are so used to.
Others found it a magnificent sign off and found references I didn't  - I often miss things that are wildly obvious to others. I just figured Mrs Earwig = Mrs Ah-wij was a Hyacinth Bouquet joke, then just got the 'a witch' joke now. Headslap.

I'm a collector and a hoarder and I paid full price on release as I always have. Although nowdays it's for the ebook. Recommended, but don't start with it.

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