Gruen, Sara. At the Water’s Edge.

NY: Random House, 2015.

Gruen is best known for Water for Elephants, but this novel, her fifth, is rather different. It’s January 1945 and Maddie Hyde is a wild child in New York society. She’s been married to Ellis for a couple of years now, but she’s really more of a mascot for him and his best buddy, Hank, than she is a wife. Also, her in-laws hate her, her own father ignores her, and she feels guilty for her scandal-ridden mother’s suicide a decade before.

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Bryson, Bill. A Short History of Nearly Everything.

NY: Broadway Books, 2003.

I know this author has a huge fan base but I haven’t been very impressed by the half-dozen of his books that I’ve read. He tends to be flip, going for laughs rather than accuracy, and generally making fun of anything he apparently doesn’t understand — especially anything “foreign” (meaning not American or British).

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Published in: on 30 September 2016 at 3:12 am  Leave a Comment  
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Higashino, Keigo. The Devotion of Suspect X.

NY: St. Martin, 2011.

A little research will tell you that Higashino is the most widely-read author in Japan, with more than three dozen bestsellers to his credit and nearly twenty films and TV series based on his work. He’s won bunches of awards and even the U.S. critics have been effusive in their praise. So why have fewer than half a dozen of his novels been translated into English? American publishers are usually more awake and aware than that.

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Weir, Andy. The Martian.

NY: Random House, 2014.

Okay, so I’ve had this one on my Kindle for awhile now, waiting until I was in the right frame of mind to read it. The reviews were uniformly stellar, so I didn’t want to screw up the experience with distractions. And this week, conditions were just right. I opened the file and went to page one. And, damn, Weir sets the hook quicker than any author I have ever encountered! Two paragraphs in and I was absorbed. For three days, I haven’t done much of anything else but share the hair-raising adventures of Mark Watney, astronaut, as he tries to survive being abandoned on Mars.

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Ellis, Warren. Global Frequency.

NY: DC Comics, 2013.

“You’re on the global frequency.” That’s what a thousand and one specialists in science, psychology, criminology, diplomatics, and mayhem are likely to hear when Aleph, the central controller, calls them on their special sat-phones. Global Frequency is a semi-covert international rescue organization founded by the ubiquitous Miranda Zero as a means to try to save the world from itself.

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Published in: on 17 April 2015 at 5:03 am  Leave a Comment  

Bear, Greg. Blood Music.

NY: Arbor House, 1985.

Bear is a generally a pretty good hard-SF author whom many people assume is a working scientist, like Larry Niven. Nope. Just an English major who’s really, really good at research and at deploying jargon and presenting semi-scientific explanations that simply sound right. This striking novel was expanded from a Hugo- and Nebula-winning novelette, and was nominated for both of those prizes in its longer form as well.

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Munroe, Randall. What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions.

Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2014.

Reading this book is a lot like being one of ten sophomore engineering students drinking beer and smoking pot in a dorm room. You’ll learn some startling and frequently bizarre facts. You’ll also have a lot of fun. Munroe, a retired NASA roboticist, does the xkcd webcomic that draws millions of visitors (including me) every week.

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Published in: on 13 February 2015 at 9:18 am  Leave a Comment  
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Pratchett, Terry; Ian Stewart; & Jack Cohen. The Science of Discworld. 2d ed.

NY: Random House, 2002.

This is one of the best written and most enlightening introductions to modern ideas about cosmology, evolution, and Man’s tenure on the planet that I have yet seen. Still, it’s written for the intelligent and at least reasonably educated reader, which means it’s complex enough to be difficult to understand for adolescents (or a large fraction of adults). But that’s okay.

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Hamilton, Peter. Great North Road.

NY: Del Rey, 2012.

I was hesitant about committing myself to a science fiction novel of nearly a thousand pages, by an author with whom I was not really familiar. I’m glad I finally took the plunge, though. This is, in every way, a remarkable book.

The setting is the very near future. Kane North, who literally started it all, was injured by an IED in Iraq, and the cloning experiments he began are already, in our present time, secretly under way. Augustine, Bartram, and Constantine North, who will become the most powerful men in the solar system over the coming century, are toddlers in 2014.

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Bentley, Nicolas. The Victorian Scene: A Picture Book of the Period, 1837-1901.

London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1968.

The word “Victorian” instantly brings a host of clichés to mind, many of them inaccurate. It was a period of great and broad changes in the English-speaking world, in both culture and technology. A great many volumes of social history have been published about the 19th century in all its aspects, but it’s hard to find a good, readable survey that escapes being trite and superficial. I first read this one thirty-odd years ago and it’s still one of the best, even if it is a “picture book.”

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