Monday, March 27, 2017

The Golden Son

Golden Son (Red Rising, #2)Golden Son by Pierce Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoy the Red Rising series because of Darrow's unique voice: he is poetic and observant and holds nothing back--his guilt, his fears, his motivations. I also enjoy that I can never see what is coming. Don't get too comfortable with any character, because there is no mercy in the war Darrow is fighting. Friends betray and die, enemies become allies. I like the mish- mash of classic Roman lore with futuristic technology. It seems to emphasize the point that humanity is always in a circle of trying to create something better, mostly through violent and deceptive ways, only to have that system become corrupted and the whole cycle begin again. The series can be gory, though that is intentional too...all of it points to the waste, terror, and horror of war. Is Darrow's ideals worth it? That is for the reader, and possibly book 3 to figure out. This is a series best read together since I have read Rising Sun too long ago and had to look up characters and events to refresh my memory.

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Where I am kinetic energy, he is potential.

It's there,even if you never see it til the end---that spark of individuality, of freedom,

The Wright Brothers

The Wright BrothersThe Wright Brothers by David McCullough
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

McCullough does not write a comprehensive biography here. Rather he gives you the most interesting and pertinent parts of the Wright brothers' lives and how they worked out the problem of flight. McCullough does a good job of giving only facts, without embellishing it with either opinion or imagined detail, but still keeps the story inspired and engaging. By the time the book is done, you get a sense of who these men were and the qualities that drove them to be the first to fly.

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 But it isn’t true,” Orville responded emphatically, “to say we had no special advantages . . . the greatest thing in our favor was growing up in a family where there was always much encouragement to intellectual curiosity.”

 It wasn’t luck that made them fly; it was hard work and common sense; they put their whole heart and soul and all their energy into it and they had the faith. John T. Daniels

 They were always thinking of the next thing to do; they didn’t waste much time worrying about the past. Charlie Taylor

 Their patient perseverance, their calm faith in ultimate success, their mutual consideration of each other, might have been considered phenomenal in any but men who were well born and well reared. These flights, or spurts at flying, they always made in turn; and after every trial the two inventors, quite apart, held long and confidential consultation, with always some new gain; they were getting nearer and nearer the moment when sustained flight would be made, for a machine that could maintain itself aloft two minutes might just as well stay there an hour, if everything were as intended. Wertherner( a teacher that helped them)


Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of DoubtPlanted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt by Patrick Q. Mason
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was one of the most thought-provoking and paradigm-shifting church books I've read. Though it doesn't offer many answers to specific questions, Mason instead offers some new ways at looking at history, the church, and even its leadership. He emphasizes that faith doesn't need to look one particular way and that we can be faithful while still having doubt. It also helps those of us with stronger belief to understand and be compassionate towards those who are struggling with their faith. Highly recommended for those who are doubting and even more so for those who aren't.

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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

A Little is A Lot or a Little

Butterfly wings change the course of history.
Orbits of planets rotate unhindered for millennia.

One snowflake starts an avalanche.
Tides lap the earth with habitual doggedness.

The breakup of an atom leads to mass annhilation.
A lone wolf's brays wane in the wind.

A dream can raise a city.
A dream can dim with the rising sun.


Seven EvesSeven Eves by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Two-thirds of this book was riviting. The moon has been been broken into seven pieces that will exponentially crash into each other and cause such a shower of meteorites that will burn the atmosphere and catch the world on fire. The only choice mankind has is to go into space. But this is a book rooted in our day...we don't have warp speed, cryogenics, or transporter beams. We have a space station that must be retrofitted to be an ark to save humanity until the earth cools 5,000 years. It is The Martian on steroids, taking real science and coming up with plausible solutions. The characters in this part are well-drawn, the action exciting, the technology, politics, and psychology believeable. In the end notes he explains where he got real-life information for makeshift space habitats, asteroid mining, and orbits. Several people have mentioned a real-life alter ego for Doob, the astronomer/publicist. He also borrows from mythology and Bibical stories to create the story of the Epic ancestors. There is even a theory that all European/Caucasian ancestors can be traced back to seven lines (or Eves).
Part 3, however, could have (should have?) been another book in a duology. Stephenson gets a little carried away with describing alien technology in the first 50 pages of part 3 without the interjection of character development and little action so it becomes ponderous to wade through. The characters in this part are very underdeveloped and the themes of race and colonization feel different from the earlier part of the book ( though the theme of using media to placate/persuade the masses does shine throughout the whole book). He brings up some very good questions and situations that are the direct effect of parts 1 and 2, but they don't get fully see developed, and feels more like a 200 page epilogue than an actual continuation of the story. I would have loved to see the civilizations and characters in part 3 be more developed and their histories explored more deeply ( sequel?) because the first 2/3 was quite engrossing.

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Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Rule of Eight

They fairly vibrate with need,
Pinging across the universe,
Saturating themselves in light, color, scent;
Looking to connect, to share,
To lose a part of themselves,
Morphing and bonding;
Becoming something else completely.

I watch, unable to rise from my shell.
Matching their mania tires me,
Makes me unstable.
I cling to my core and watch as they dance.

Each day, following my same orbit--
Apogee equals perigee--
Never too far from the center.
A noble thing, perhaps,
But hardly alive,
Undectable, disregarded, dismissed.
An exhalation.
A sigh.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky

Ancient Oceans of Central KentuckyAncient Oceans of Central Kentucky by David Connerley Nahm
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another very original work. Written more as a novel-poem, this is a novel that relys on atmosphere more than characterization or plot. It definitely required more focus and some passages had to be read multiple times to let the image Nahm was relating crystallize into something recognizable ( which isn't really a criticism, as the image that became clear was suffused with emotion and detail that is often missing in more traditional novels). I found myself wondering why did Nahm describe it like this, why are some passages more poetic than other more straight forward passages? The answers helps flesh out the story as a whole and so I felt almost part of the process, or I imagined I had discovered some hidden aspects of the story. It is defintely a haunting story, and one that makes you wonder.

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Well, no. I mean, yes, there are lots of objects, obviously, more than we know, but also, you know, the universe is mostly empty space. But that’s like all matter is mostly empty, you know, like we are made of molecules which are made of atoms which are made of electrons and protons and stuff which are made of subatomic particles like quarks and stuff and all that stuff, and atoms are mostly empty space around the electrons and protons and neutrons, but its all almost all empty space, you know. So when you think about it most stuff is empty and most of the universe is empty too just like that. So really there’s mostly nothing in the universe because even that stuff that there is, is mostly nothing anyway.”

All of the poetic pieces are her memories and they are more real than the day to day life that she lives.  Yet the memories are imbued with haunting and scary images because it haunts and scares her.  

The Atomic Weight of Love

The Atomic Weight of LoveThe Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Her is what I liked: I liked the facts about birds, I sympathized (a bit) with Meridian who follows her husband to New Mexico and sacrifices her dreams so he can fulfill his, and it helped me realize what a whiner I am when I complain about similar things. Here's the bits that I didn't like: characters didn't seem complex as much as inconsistent. Meridian seems optimistic and industrious yet gets mired down in poor-me thinking all the time. She relys on others too much to give her permission to follow her dreams. Her husband who can be preoccupied and takes her for granted reforms at times, but then suddenly turns into a snobby, controlling, over-bearing ogre just when Meridian needs justification for being unfaithful. I feel like Meridian was supposed to be some sort of heroine trapped by circumstances of the time. I found her to be infantile and selfish. But again, the bird facts were fascinating.

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A Tale for the Time Being

A Tale for the Time BeingA Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What an original, insightful, mysterious book! Most of it consists of a "diary" written by Nao, a Japanese teenager who grew up in America but through her families financial misfortunes has relocated back to Japan. Ruth finds the diary washed up on the shore of a remote Canadian island where she lives with her environmental-artist husband. Both Nao and Ruth struggle to find their place in the world, and grapple with questions of time, purpose, and courage. Both have found themselves in places and situations that they didn't actively choose, and trying to figure out what to do next, There are great thoughts about time, courage, acceptance, the environment, and alternate realities. A very original novel that rings true.

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Even the snap of a finger, he says, provides us with sixty-five opportunities to wake up and choose actions that will produce beneficial karma and turn our lives around.

Because you see, this feeling of alive is not so easy to experience.  Even although life is a thing that seems to have some kind of weigh and shape, this is only an illusion.  Our feeling of alive has no real edge or boundary.  So we Japanese people say that our life sometimes feels unreal, just like a dream.
Death is certain.  Life is always changing, like a puff of wind in the air, or a wave in the sea, or even a thought in the mind.  So making a suicide is finding the edge of life.  It stops life in time, so we can grasp what shape it is and feel it is real, at least for just a moment.  It is trying to make some real solid thing from the flow of life that is always changing.

There she hung, submerged and tumbling slowly, like a particle of flotsam just below the crest of a wave that was always just about to break.

Jiko says that everything has a spirit, even if it is old and useless, and we must console and honor the things that have served us well.

And in that same fraction of time, that minuscule movement of my hand through space will determine the fates of all the Japanese soldiers and citizens that these same Americans (enemies, whose lives I save)may live to kill.  And so on and so on, until you could even say that the very outcome of htis war will be decided by a moment and a millimeter, representing the outward manifestation of my will.  But how am I to know?