There is a story of a newly minted Ph.D. entering her first position as an assistant professor of philosophy. The department chair assigns her (as one might expect) to teach a basic course in the history of philosophy. “Well,” the new assistant returned with some hesitation “I suppose I could go back to Early Russell.” It is a bit of an exaggeration, but there was a time with the Anglo-American (or Analytic) School of philosophy that it seemed generally assumed that–with the possible exception of David Hume–philosophy, real philosophy, hadn’t really been practiced until the advent of G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell. Logicomix is a graphic novel of the world of Bertrand Russell.
A graphic novel, a comic book about a philosopher, you ask? Well, why not? First of all, Russell was not only a philosopher and public intellectual, he was an out-sized character. While Logicomix leaves out a fair bit of Russell’s life prior to World War II (and includes nothing thereafter), what it does include of Russell’s personal life will show that a philosopher does not have to be dull. Read the rest of this entry »
Haze by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. (Tor, 2009)
Modesitt is a prodigious writer of science fiction and fantasy. In fact, this is not the first time one of his works has made its way into one of these reviews. Most of what this reviewer has encountered is certainly enjoyable, though Modesitt does tend to follow certain recipes that become predictable. Haze avoids most of the pitfalls and delivers a worthy afternoon’s diversion.
Modesitt has chosen to set this plot only a couple thousand years or so into the future. More intriguing is that with the wonders of biochemical analysis, his main character, Keir Roget, ties this setting to memories that are but a century or so in our future.
The story, however, revolves around Roget’s mission to a mysterious planet known only to the security services of the Earth Federation as Haze. The planet is so named for the myriad of nanobots that orbit the planet as some massive cloud or shield, making any activity of the surface impossible to see, except for having an agent attempt to harrow the shields and report back. Read the rest of this entry »
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, by Katherine Howe (Voice 2009)
Is The Scarlet Letter or The Crucible on your reading list? Want to know what a steeplejack is? Nostalgic for New England? Then this is the book for you. Conceived while the author was studying for her doctoral qualifying exams, Katherine Howe’s The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane traces the history of one family’s book of spells from 1690s Massachusetts to the present day. Adding interest to the text is Howe’s own history – she is a descendant of Elizabeth Proctor, who survived the Salem witch trials, and Elizabeth Howe, who did not. Read the rest of this entry »
Nuclear Jellyfish, by Tim Dorsey (William Morrow 2009)
Nuclear Jellyfish is my first Time Dorsey novel, but it won’t be my last. I haven’t laughed out loud like this reading a book since, well, I don’t know when. I laughed so hard I couldn’t get the words out to tell my husband why I was laughing, which may reveal something about my sense of humor as this book will never be made into a movie for the Hallmark Hall of Fame Collection. Oh, no. Serge, the main character, is back with his latest get-rich-quick scheme involving tourism reviews for Internet travel services, only no one has warned the travel services that Serge sees it as his solemn civic duty to provide Florida tourists with tips on how not to get killed while on vacation. Unsurprisingly, Serge’s web presence attracts the attention of Agent Mahoney – “back from another involuntary mental commitment” – and the chase up and down the Florida coast is on! Read the rest of this entry »
I will be the first to admit that I do not much care for the fantasy genre (The Lord of the Rings and the Thomas Covenant series don’t count, being more of a recasting of myth). There are some writers, however, that are so able elevate a story from the contrived to a compelling alternative reality. Modesitt is in such company.
Imager covers the early career of one Rhennthyl, the son of prosperous wool manufacturer from the city of L’Excelsis in the country of Solidar. Modesitt very quickly establishes that this setting is not in some mythical but undefined past or a place with no real history at all. Solidar and its neighboring states have a definite history and Rhennthyl’s time feels very much like that surrounding the thirty years war of Europe. Solidar itself is governed by a Council divided by between various guilds and large land owners. Even the technology feels as if it were on the cusp of the industrial revolution (the sole exception here would be that steam railways seem to have been well established, but that is not much of a stretch). Modesitt manages to build this in such a way that it is utterly convincing and compelling and yet does not leave one at sea with culture shock. What sets Rhennthyl’s world apart from ours is the existence of two groups the Pharsi and Imagers. The Pharsi are a separate ethnic group that seems to have been long settled in Solidar, and some of whom have the gift of second sight. Imagersare more widely dispersed, and have the rare talent to produce that which they can clearly imagine. This talent could well put any reader off as mere magic, but while Modesitt does not explain imaging (given the general state of knowledge available to Rhennthyl’s people, one cannot expect it), it is clear that it is taken a natural and physical phenomena and its practitioners do not invoke some mystical underpinning. Indeed Rhennthyl lives in a skeptical age, for while Solidar and it neighboring states each have established religions, a fair number of its citizens do not take them too seriously. Imagers and the Pharsi, are taken seriously. The Pharsi are discriminated against as exotic outsiders and Imagers are universally distrusted and feared, as leapers were feared in medieval times. It does not take much to see that Rhennthyl is rather taken with the Pharsi. Read the rest of this entry »
McInerny has done it yet again with another fine Father Dowling novel that has more to do with the mysteries of an embodied but fallible faith than with mere detective story. Ash Wednesday superficially begins with the observance if its namesake. However, Agatha Christi observed, the crime (normally murder) is really the end of the story. The detective simply unwinds the tangle. The mystery is in the past. So too here. The story opens with one Nathaniel Greene receiving the imposition of ashes and later confessing to Father Dowling that he is not Catholic. There is much more to things than all that. As we quickly learn, Nathaniel and his wife were communicants of St. Hilary’s long before Father Dowling was its rector. Nathaniel’s long absence is due to a long stay at the Joliet prison for the murder of his wife.
Since this bit of information is given from the beginning, any mystery reader who is still among the living would immediately suspect the veracity of Nathaniel’s conviction and would be rightly disappointed if this were all there was to solve. McInerny does not disappoint. As is typical with Father Dowling Mysteries, one begins to wonder when an actual murder will take place and what, if anything everything that has come before has to do with the murder when it does finally come to pass. Also included are McInerny’s Fox River regulars who take a decidedly prominent role in this novel. In fact, Father Dowling at one point confides that he has not kept up with events. The reader who hotly agrees with Dowling here is being over-hasty and will eventually have to repent. Only at the very end, do we discover that it is Father Dowling that ties together far more than the rest of us were even looking for.
Allen Carpenter is still in Hell. Those who have read Niven and Pournelle’s Inferno, one might have expected him to at least be somewhere in Purgatory by this time. For everyone else, Escape is Niven and Pournelle’s follow-up on their updated prose adaptation of Dante’s Inferno. That first effort proved, if nothing else, a catalyst in renewing interest in Dante.
As unseemly as it may sound, Hell is better the second time around. Inferno dealt with two questions, what does it take to get one to believe something one firmly holds to be impossible and whether Hell just or just sadistic. Most of Inferno is spent with the atheist Allen Carpenter (also known as Allen Carptentier) coming to grips with the fact that he is really dead and he really is is in Hell. The question of justice hung more as a rhetorical device to support his skepticism than as a true investigation However, epistemic angst goes only so far and it sometimes left Inferno feeling like a travelogue of the damned. Escape, while not it may not answer the question, at least engages the reader in what justice could possibly be served in every circle of Hell. Read the rest of this entry »
In his newest offering since Darwin’s Black Box, Behe contends that random mutation and natural selection plays only a minor role in the evolution or transmutation of species. The phrasing of that statement is important because Behe does not deny either common descent of species (e.g., yes humans and apes do—according to Behe—have a common ancestor) or that these changes took place over many millions of years or that the universe is incredibly old. No, Behe’s contention would seem to be that even given a near infinite amount of time, natural selection just cannot fit the bill. The alert reader might also note that Behe is no longer arguing that certain discrete organism display what he had previously called irreducible complexity, though this might simply be a result of a more modest program. Behe seems perfectly willing to see mutation and natural selection at work in the mid-range of biological classification but once one gets more specialize than species level or more general than orders, other forces are at work. Read the rest of this entry »
Thomas Dreyfus is the Prefect in question. The world of the of The Prefect is a far distant future from ours but is set in the past relative to a number of Reynolds’ tales. This world is actually a band of settled asteroids (often called “Houses”) around a planet known as Yellowstone. This system is know as the Glitter Band. Besides the Glitter Band, there are other systems which are of some concern (the most prominent being the Ultras and the Conjoiners). With one exception, the citizens of the Glitter Band are networked to each other and exchange information and democratic decision making in a process called abstraction. Only members of the asteroid Panoply are excluded from abstraction. Panoply is in charge of keeping the system running and as such must not taint the process by participation. Prefects are the enforcers of Panoply. Read the rest of this entry »
I had just heard a retrospective on the sci-fi1 B-movie classic, The Blob, which celebrated 50 years since first appearing on the silver screen. For who didn’t grow up in 50s (that would include me) or get hooked on B horror flicks when they flourished on the small screen in the 60s (sigh, that would be me), The Blob featured an alien parasite that was a cross between an amoeba and a crude-oil slick, inept government officials and bureaucrats, puzzled scientists, and heroic teenagers. Apart from a very different set of aliens, Marsbound is very similar.
Set some fifty to one-hundred years hence, Marsbound is told from the perspective of a young woman–Carman Dula–being hauled off to Mars with her genius parents more or less against her will (so “Mars-bound” has double meaning and the closest thing subtly that Haldeman will offer up). When the story opens, Carman is about to ready herself for the first leg of the trip, the space elevator (yes, Arthur C Clark’s other major proposal after the geosynchronous satellite makes an appearance). At the start, her biggest concern is whether she will lose her virginity (or not) among poor prospect. She 19, but what do I know about teenagers in the late 21st or early 22nd century? This is, among other things, a coming of age story so (a) things follow their natural course and (b) Carman is faced with bigger issues. These bigger issues include (but not limited to) discovering that there really are Martians, that there are extraterrestrials from beyond the solar system that far more advanced than we, that we haven’t heard from these being because they would just assume that we exterminate ourselves before they have to bother with it, and yes the possibility of the end of the world. Read the rest of this entry »