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CDRBill

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The Seventh Book of Lost Swords: Wayfinder's Story
Fred Saberhagen
Doomsday Book - Connie Willis

So historians in 2054 have time travel tech and use it to travel back and study the past. In this story a young historian, Kivrin, convinces the history department at her college to let her travel back to 1320, but what they don't know is that she has been infected with a new strain of flu. She is accidentally sent to 1348 when the Black Plague starts in Oxford where she is deathly ill for days and almost dies. In the present the new flu strain causes an epidemic killing many people before a vaccine is developed.

 

This is paralleled by Kivrin watching everyone in the village she is visiting die horrible deaths from the plaque. And Willis's description is pretty graphic. To make matters worse since Kivrin is sent to the wrong year she is almost lost in the past.

 

While this story was a little long winded with some of the descriptions, etc. the story is really good. It jumps back and forth between Kivrin in the past and the people in the present dealing with the flu epidemic and trying to figure out how to get her back. I wonder if Willis was having a crisis of faith while writing this book as she is very detailed in her description of how people in 1348 felt that God had abandoned them, all except Father Roche, the village priest and the last to die. Kivrin even had a recorder embedded in her wrist that was activated when she puts her hands in an attitude of prayer. Kivrin even at times railed against God about not taking someone and the railing against Him about just getting it over and putting someone out of their misery.

 

All in all a great story and highly recommended.

The Clan of the Cave Bear - Jean M. Auel

This is the story of Ayla, a 5 year old Cro-Magnon girl orphaned by an earth quake and raised by a clan of Neanderthals.

The story hits on the issues of gender roles, feminism, sexism, religion, societal mores and cultural values and expectations and possibly even pro-life as Ayla fights for the life of her son Durc who was conceived when she was raped and appears deformed because he is a mix of the two races. 

It even talks to the problem of societal stagnation. The Neanderthal society has not changed for thousands of years as their brains are developed for "racial memory" which leaves no room for the the development of new ideas. The might Mog-ur, the clan priest/magician, realizes this as Ayla matures and challenges various aspects of the Neanderthal society. He see's that the Others (Cro-Magnon) are the future of mankind and rejoices that Ayla has a mixed race child so the the Clan (Neanderthals) will be carried on at least in some aspect.

I really enjoyed this story and look forward to reading the other books on the series.

The Penultimate Truth - Philip K. Dick

I really liked this book!

The East and West went to war and the population moved underground into living areas called "ant farms" where they have been for 15 years. Unbeknownst to them the war ended after only 2 years and the news they have been receiving all these years is propagandist lies. The surface, though decimated by the war, is perfectly livable but is controlled by a select few.

This premise makes for a great story but it is full of neologisms, many of which are difficult to figure out.

Highly recommended!

The Time Machine - H.G. Wells This is truly a classic! The description of the Morlocks and Eloi are a little sad considering they are the future of mankind. The ending left me wanting more.
A Clash of Kings  - George R.R. Martin

One warning. Don't expect any happy endings in this book! This book is full of the brutality of war and all it entails.

This book has pulled me further into the world of dragons, fire and ice! I can't wait to read book 3.

Rendezvous with Rama  - Arthur C. Clarke

I read this book a long time ago and remembered it fondly so I decided to re-read it. I enjoyed it just as much, if not more, this time around. I haven't read the following 2 books, but I can't wait.

The War of the Worlds (Modern Library Classics) - 'H. G. Wells',  'Arthur C. Clarke'

Great story that still stands the test of time.

Fire Watch - Connie Willis

As with any collection of short stories, this is a mixed bag. I wanted to read the title story as it is supposed to be the start of Willis's time travel series. I wasn't really planning to read the other stories, but I am so glad I did. I will definitely be reading more of this author. 

The Penultimate Truth - Philip K. Dick

I really liked this book!

The East and West went to war and the population moved underground into living areas called "ant farms" where they have been for 15 years. Unbeknownst to them the war ended after only 2 years and the news they have been receiving all these years is propagandist lies. The surface, though decimated by the war, is perfectly livable but is controlled by a select few.  

This premise makes for a great story but it is full of neologisms, many of which are difficult to figure out.

Highly recommended!

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry - Neil deGrasse Tyson

What a great book! Tyson is one of a rare breed, a genius in astrophysics with a sense of humor that can explain very compex topics so that even a toad could understand. Ok, maybe that is an exaggeration but you get my meaning. This book only tickles the surface of current theory and knowledge of the universe, but it does it in a way that makes you hungry for more. Tyson has been called a rock star of science and rightly so. He knows how to draw you in and get you excited to learn more. But he is not too full of himself as you will see in the last chapter.

Highly recommended!!

The Book of Skulls - Robert Silverberg

As some reviewers have already mentioned, this book is hard to ascribe to any one genre. I wouldn't call it truly science fiction, but neither would I call it horror, as some have. And it doesn't truly fit the mold for fantasy. I would argue that is has elements of all three. One reviewer described it as speculative fiction.

 

Either way, to the story itself. This is a story about four college buddies and roomates (a Jew, a jock, a rich kid and a homosexual) on a road trip across the country in hopes of finding immortality. The trip is all based on a manuscript, the Book of Skulls, one of them, Eli, found and translated in the library. They are seeking the Brotherhood of the Skull monastery, which is reportedly located just outside Pheonix, Arizona. The idea is that a group of four is required, but the catch is one must commit suicide and one must be murdered in order for the other two to attain immortality.

 

The story is told as quick snippets from the viewpoint of each of the four main protagonists. For some reason, I really liked this style of storytelling although the story wasn't what I was expecting. Up until the end the story was all about the soul searching spiritual journey of the four protagonists. There was a surprise ending to the story, at least to me.

Wonder Woman: Earth One Vol. 1 - Grant Morrison, Yanick Paquette

I had a hard time following the story line in this book. I hope volume 2 is better.

Helliconian Spring - Brian W. Aldiss

The central character in this book is the planet Helliconia. The story shows how the primitive civilizations and flora and fauna are influenced by planetary forces with seasons that last thousands of years. Readers must keep in mind that this book is the start of a trilogy or they will not like the ending.

All in all it is a good start and makes me want to read the next book in the trilogy.

A Game of Thrones  - George R.R. Martin

There have already been many good reviews written about this book, some praising and some condemning.

 

I myself loved the book and the way it is narrated by the different characters. Is it weird that my favorite character is Tyrion?

 

The story is about a kingdom in turmoil for the throne (thus the title) and the many high families involved, including the exiled children of the previous king. Add to that the Black Guard that stands guard at the huge ice wall protecting the kingdom from the Others. The ending of this book was a surprise to me. I can't wait to see what Dany will do!

This book leaves a lot of unanswered questions which leads in to the rest of the series which I will most definitely read. I just hope the last book does indeed bring everything to a close.

 

One note of warning. This book describes human savagery and butchery at it's worst with beheadings and war, descriptions of rape and debasement of women and the "lowborn". If you are sensitive to that sort of thing then this book may not be for you.

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life - Ed Yong

I'm not going to go into extreme detail about this book as others have written great reviews in that vain. Briefly this book shows how the "microbiome" has influenced life for billions of years, so much so that the heavy use of antibiotics and attempt at sterilization of our bodies and environment over the last 50-100 years may be hurting as much as helping. Our attempts kill the good microbes as well as the bad. So... the trick is determining what is the right level of sterilization we should shoot for.

 

This book does warn that much of the scientific work is still in its infancy but there are some promising trends. All in all I think this books makes the argument that we shouldn't look at bacteria as an enemy to wage all out war on, but more as companions both good and bad. Some we can, and have without even knowing it, form partnerships. I for one am glad some people already have this view else I would be able to drink my beer!

 

I can't recommend this book highly enough. There is no heavy technical or confusing jargon. It is a very easy and informative read with a little humor interspersed throughout.

Superman: Earth One - J. Michael Straczynski, Shane Davis

This is a great reboot of Superman's origin. The artwork was outstanding and I loved the storyline, especially the new take on the destruction of Krypton. I'm looking forward to reading volumes 2 and 3.