2022-06-27

"West of Eden" by Harry Harrison (1925-2012)


 


Publisher: Bantam Books
Copyright: 1984
ISBN: None listed

I hadn't read this book for many years (actually probably closer to a few decades), and found it to be extremely interesting especially with regard to the world building that Mr. Harrison did.

The overall premise of the book is that the comet that struck the earth 65 million years or so ago and that established the end of the Cretaceous Period did not hit the Earth. Because of this the dinosaurs evolved intelligence, and the mammals also evolved in parallel (but somewhat slower as they hadn't had as long). The dinosaur evolutionary track produced a race of beings that were essentially lizard like in their overall appearance, while the humans were likely to be about the level of something like Homo erectus.

The dinosaurs developed a technology based on genetics, well the "humans" were still at the hunter gatherer stage.

Due to the advancing ice and glaciation the dinosaurs were being forced to move westward and colonize new lands. This is where they met the humans for the first time, and where ultimately war was declared between the two forces for the same land.

There are two other books in the series "Winter in Eden" and "Return to Eden", but I haven't read either of these to date.

With regard to the world-building, I felt that the humans were were portrayed quite well with regard to their hunter gatherer skills, language etc. however, I found the dinosaurs to be a little too advanced, in their ability to manipulate genetic materials and creatures to serve their purposes.

All in all, this was a very interesting book and I hope to be able to read the next two in the series sometime in the near future.

2022-06-20

"My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and our favourite dinosaurs" by Brian Switek


 

Publisher: Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Copyright: 2013
ISBN: 9780374135065

An interesting book that traces the history of the dinosaur formerly known as the Brontosaurus, that was renamed Apatosaurus, and then renamed Brontosaurus in 2015, and now has I believe three species. This happened two years after this book was published, which I'm rather sure Mr. Switek is happy about.

This book does an extremely good job of both the history of palaeontology, and that of the Brontosaurus itself. It goes into the details of discovery, the people involved, and the naming controversy. The naming of species of dinosaur is a complicated process that was unfortunately not too well regulated in the past, as it was common for different names to be given by different discoverers to what turned out to be the same species. This was due in part to lack of communications, pride, and many other things. Now-a-days things are much more established and many of the previous errors have been corrected.

As I work in the field of palaeontology myself I found it to be an interesting read, and quite enlightening as I haven't looked into the history as much as I likely should. I am grateful however that our lab is primarily concerned with cretaceous dinosaurs, as it is nowhere near big enough to have to deal with something the size of brontosaurus (but then again we didn't have these guys around here anyway).

A well written and researched book. However, I differ with Mr. Switek's opinion as I believe Styracosaurus is definitely the better dinosaur.

2022-06-13

"Lethal White" by Robert Galbraith



 


Publisher: Mulholland Books
Copyright: 2018
ISBN: 9780316422734

Lethal white is the fourth installment in the Cormoran Strike detective series by Robert Galbraith the synonym for JK Rowling. As with the other three books this one is excellent. The development of the two main characters of Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott continues, with new challenges for the two of them both professionally and privately. Robin is now a partner is the detective agency, and proves invaluable to Strike, but her fiancee still is not happy that she works there, which causes some tension to say the least.

This instalment takes place a short time following the third novel "Career of Evil" which details the investigation of the Shacklewell Ripper. Robin is recovering from the wounds she received during the investigation, but is still experiencing PTSD from the attack, and Strike wants her back with him at the agency but finds it difficult to ask her to return.

Their new case begins with an extremely distressed and mentally ill young man visiting Strike and describing a murder he witnessed as a young boy. This one thing leads Cormoran and Robin into a maze of intrigue with twists and turns that involve government officials and their families, and over twenty years of history to be searched to find out the truth, a truth that nobody wants anyone to find out about.

An excellent addition to the series, looking forward to reading number five.

2022-06-06

"Dinosaurs: A Field Guide" by Gregory S. Paul

 


Publisher: A. & C. Black
Copyright: 2010
ISBN: 9781408130742

This was a very well written book that gives a lot of valuable information to the reader, unfortunately it is also extremely difficult to find and I had to obtain it through interlibrary loan.

Mr. Paul takes you on a very informative journey through pretty much all aspects of the science of palaeontology, and provides the reader with lots of information. This area of science however is constantly changing, so I sincerely hope that he will consider doing an update to this book as many of the books on palaeontology are either too technical for the layperson, or are primarily geared towards younger enthusiasts. These younger enthusiasts are our future palaeontologists  and this book spans the gap in material.

Highly recommended, but be prepared to have to hunt for it.

2022-05-30

"Far Edge of Darkness" by Linda Evans

 


Publisher: Baen Books
Copyright: 1996
ISBN: 0671877358

Historical time travel novels are likely one of the more difficult stories to write (at least in my opinion), as the author needs to do something called research. In "Far Edge of Darkness" Linda Evans comes through as a star in the field as her research is impeccable.

The story revolves around three main characters:

Sibyl, a PhD student in Classical Archaeology who had recently discovered a something while digging in Pompeii that shouldn't have been there. This one little thing changed her life dramatically as we next see her in ancient Rome where she is being sold as a slave. 

The second, is Charlie a Miami Vice cop who was deep under cover, and is now a slave in the house of a cruel Roman master, after spending a few years in the Circus Maximus fighting for his life.

The third is Logan a psychiatric patient on day leave who disappears in a monstrous lightning storm in Florida and reappears five years later in Alaska.

These three characters, and many secondary ones interact in a truly believable way and I believe this is mainly due to the great job the author did in setting the stage, and painting the world of ancient Rome in a detail that will delight virtually all readers.

Ms. Evans has written a number of other books as well, which I will review, but this was the first of her I read (a number of years ago), and it is well worth it. She unfortunately hasn't written much lately, but hopefully this will be corrected in the near future.

Highly recommended.


2022-05-23

"The Simple Living Handbook: Discover the Joy of a De-cluttered Life" by Lorilee Lippincott

 


Publisher:  Skyhorse Publishing
Copyright:  2013
ISBN:  9781620876299

This was an interesting book to read, however it wasn't what I expected. This title itself is somewhat misleading, as the subtitle is more accurately describes what the book is about. I was under the impression that it was a book on living simply, but it turned out to essentially a book on how to get rid of stuff you no longer want to keep.

While the information is valuable especially to those people in the world who have a lot of stuff, I think for the most part the information presented is what I would consider common-sense. For course if you are one of those people with a lot of stuff that you don't want to get rid of etc., then this is quite likely the book you need, but I don't fit into that category.

Still even with this drawback it was well written, and I'm sure will be quite helpful to many people out there.

2022-05-16

"Piranesi" by Susanna Clarke

 


Publisher: Bloomsbury
Copyright: 2021
ISBN: 9781635575637

This was a rather different book than I typically read. It is classified as "fantasy" however it is not like any other fantasy novel I've read, so I believe it would have been more accurate to list it as something like a psychological mystery, but that is my opinion.

"Piranesi" is the name given to a young man, who is the protagonist of the story, by the only other human he knows of, and whom he refers to as "The Other". 

Piranesi lives in what turns out to be a labyrinth, and with the exceptions of the semi-regular visits by "The Other" is by himself. He is surrounded in the hundreds of rooms that make up the labyrinth by thousands of statues of various sizes and themes that all represent at least to him scenes from the world he lives in.

Piranesi has lived in this labyrinth for many years, And has documented his life in a series of journals. The book is formatted as if you're reading his journals, and this makes it a rather unique read.

It was definitely an interesting story, but not one that I would normally have read. I cannot remember how I heard about the story, but I'm quite glad I read it.

I hope you enjoy it.

2022-05-09

"End Times: A Brief Guide t the End of the World" by Bryan Walsh

 



Publisher: Hachete Books
Copyright: 2019
ISBN: 9780316449601

This books was an extremely interesting read, that covered a lot of territory and gives the reader a lot to think about. The author is a former correspondents, reporter and editor for Time Magazine. He reported on from over 20 countries on science and environmentally focused stories such as SARS, global warming, extinction and other topics.

The book itself takes a look at eight different scenarios that could end the world, or at least the world as we know it. The first is an asteroid collision such as what wiped out the dinosaurs, and which will happen again eventually. The second is the supereruption of a volcano such as the explosion of what is now the island of Sumatra when the mountain called Toba exploded some 74 thousand years ago and essentially turned day into night for many parts of the world. The ash of Toba was found in areas such as the Indian Ocean, China Sea, Arabian Sea, Lake Malawi in Africa.

The third potential disaster is from nuclear armaments and how some rather unstable world leaders could easily be poised to commit horrendous acts. (Looking at you Putin!) Climate change is the next topic discussed, and even though a significant number of people in the world turn a blind-eye towards the facts, it seems pretty obvious to most that it is. Disease is the next topic, and discusses world-wide epidemics. It seems rather ominous that when this book predicts an epidemic of some kind in the near future when it was written, and that the world is now recovering from one. This topic merges quite well into the next one which is biotechnology, and discusses the possibility that a disease could actually be engineered.

Chapter five deals with Artificial Intelligence and what we could experience in the future if we keep increasing our computer capacity etc. at its current rates. It speculates on what would need to happen, and what the consequences might be, even though it likely won't be anything like "The Terminator" franchise. Personally I believe a better comparison would be the 1970 movie "Colossus: The Forbin Project".

Chapter six deals with Aliens, and while it doesn't deal too much with what might happen if they were to show up, it does go into a fair amount of detail with regard to our searching for them, including the history of SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) and it's off-shoot METI (Messaging Extra Terrestrial Intelligence). 

The final chapter deals with the aftermath of a potential catastrophe and how we might recover. It too goes into a fair bit of detail with regard to how people believe things will unfold and the measures they take to prepare for them. I (and most others) have heard about the survivalist movement, but I wasn't aware there was such a thing as "Doomsday Preppers" who actively plan their lives around the end of the world.

This book, while it was somewhat depressing a couple of times, is a definite eye-opener to how fragile the existence of humans, and all other life on Earth actually is. The fact that asteroids have collided with this planet, super eruptions have occurred, that we have been close to a possible nuclear confrontation in the past and might be again if certain world leaders don't wake up. That we are going through climate change right now, and are hopefully coming close to the end of a world-wide epidemic doesn't bode too well for the survival of our species. After all this only leaves AI and Aliens, which is kind of worrisome.

This is the type of book we need to see more of. Highly recommended.

"West of Eden" by Harry Harrison (1925-2012)

  Publisher: Bantam Books Copyright: 1984 ISBN: None listed I hadn't read this book for many years (actually probably closer to a few de...