Sunday, September 11, 2005

Tower Stories

Tower Stories is a collection of stories about 9/11, edited by Damon DiMarco. Not as much impact as 102 Minutes was (which see). Perhaps if I had read this one first, but I suspect it was as much because of the much wider focus than 102 Minutes. In casting a wider net, trying to get the tales of people beyond those in downtown New York and the WTC, I think that the book was not as intense as it could have been.
102 Minutes

102 Minutes (Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn) is the saddest damn book that I have read this year. Tales from 9/11, from the inside of the World Trade Center. Stories of those who survived and those who did not. If you are not crying when you finish this book, you are not human. Maybe it's my own experience, but I don't think so.

Monday, September 05, 2005

At the Earth's Core

Edgar Rice Burroughs was a pulp writer. He pounded them out fast and furious. He used formulas. So what? A lot of his books are a ton of fun. At the Earth's Core is the first of several which take place in the "inner world" that is found inside our planet. Main character David Innes penetrates to the center using a giant iron mole (ohhh, the symbolism!). In many ways, the plot is a standard Burroughs setup. Character finds a strange place. Character is thrown into a strange culture. Character meets beautiful woman, falls for her, but manages to insult her by not knowing the local customs. Character escapes, journeys, makes allies and overthrows the oppressors. Character is reunited with beautiful native, but loses her in the end, leading to the sequel.

O.K., so on the face of it, it may sound silly. Burroughs knows how to tell a tale and you race through the book pretty quickly. Fun stuff. Whether he can keep it up for the other tales set in this locale, we'll see!
Ever Since Darwin

This year's first contribution by the late Stephen Jay Gould is his first collection of essays (originally published in the American Museum of Natural History's magazine) called Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History (Norton, 1992).

This collection was a bit of a mixed bag for me, in more ways than one. First, it is amazing how far-ranging Gould is: biology to politics to geology to astronomy and back again. Most of the essays held my interest and I picked up on a lot of things I'd like to explore further. However, every now and again you'd come across an essay that is in response to some trend of the day (usually a response to a book or article). Sometimes these essays worked (well, for me, I was familiar with the controversy surrounding Velikovsky, for example); other times, I had difficulty in following the train of thought.

The saddest thing about this collection (other than the fact that Gould is no longer with us) is that so many of the issues explored here keep coming back again and again. We're closer to the Dark Ages, at times, than we realize.

Contains: Prologue; Darwinia: Darwin's Delay; Darwin's Sea Change, or Five Years at the Captain's Table; Darwin's Dilemma: The Odyssey of Evolution; Darwin's Untimely Burial; Human Evolution: A Matter of Degree; Bushes and Ladders in Human Evolution; The Child as Man's Real Father; Human Babies as Embryos; Odd Organisms and Evolutionary Exemplars: The Misnamed, Mistreated, and Misunderstood Irish Elk; Organic Wisdom, or Why Should a Fly Eat Its Mother from Inside; Of Bamboos, Cicadas, and the Economy of Adam Smith; The Problem of Perfection, or How Can a Clam Mount a Fish on Its Rear End?; Patterns and Punctuations in the History of Life: The Pentagon of Life; An Unsung Single-Cell Hero; Is the Cambrian Explosion a Sigmoid Fraud?; The Great Dying; Theories of the Earth: The Reverend Thomas' Dirty Little Planet; Uniformity and Catastrophe; Velikovsky in Collision; The Validation of Continental Drift; Size and Shape, From Churches to Brains to Planets: Size and Shape; Sizing Up Human Intelligence; History of the Vertebrate Brain; Planetary Sizes and Surfaces; Science in Society—A Historical View: On Heroes and Fools in Science;Posture Maketh the Man; Racism and Recapitulation; The Criminal as Nature's Mistake, or the Ape in Some of Us; The Science and Politics of Human Nature: Part A—Race, Sex and Violence: Why We Should Not Name Human Races—A Biological View; The Nonscience of Human Nature; Racist Arguments and IQ; Part B—Sociobiology: Biological Potentiality vs. Biological Determinism; So Cleverly Kind an Animal; Epilogue.

This collection counts as 35 entries for the 2005 Short Story Project.
A Heritage of Stars

This book was written towards the end of the middle (does that make sense?) of Clifford D. Simak's novel writing career. It has many of his more usual themes: a depopulated Earth, enigmatic aliens, paranormal powers, robots. Instead of the lovable dog character we have a lovable hors, but you'll find familar settings all around. One that I'm going to revisit again and again.

Not much of a review, I know. But Simak was a man of few words, so it is probably best just to say "pick up his books and read them"!