Friday, July 1, 2016

Book Club - June 2016 Reading List

Seven books this month with, for me, a wide variety of subjects.

I've read several books by Kate Atkinson before but this was unlike those books. They were in the British detective genre, this is much harder to categorize. The story is about Ursula Todd, born in a country home in England in 1910, but she dies in childbirth. Due to the snowstorm going on at the time, the doctor who could have saved arrived too late. Sounds like this would be a pretty short story, but on the next page, Ursula is born again and this time the doctor does arrive on time. And so it goes, Ursula grows a little older and then drowns at the sea shore. She's born again and a man on the beach saves her. As Ursula gradually gets older, she starts to recognize situations of danger, a situation in which she once died and instinctively does something different and survives. It's an interesting book, a look at how a life can turn out differently depending on the outcome of events we can't control and some we can. I very much enjoyed the book, although I'm not sure what Atkinson was really trying to tell me. In the end, Ursula lives a pretty ordinary life.

I saw this 2014 book mentioned in a political blog I read and thought it sounded interesting. Apparently I tried reading it once before because the first 5 pages were very familiar. But I must have given up on it before. I stuck with it this time. The author ties the historical record (such as it is) and archeological evidence to advance the premise that several large and prosperous empires that existed prior to this time, were either destroyed or brought low by a combination of factors such as foreign invasion, weather, and geological events. It's a good story although I don't have nearly the background to understand if his theory is any good. The book is getting generally good reviews on Amazon.

The latest Lincoln Rhyme novel. I promise that I won't read another. It seems that Lincoln has resigned his consulting job for the New York City Police and is now teaching forensic science at a local college. He takes on a civil case as a side job. By coincidence, Amelia is working a criminal case which intersects the same case. The central story was kind of interesting, a serial killer who figures out how to hack 'smart' appliances to kill people. Even his motivation was OK. But Deaver apparently couldn't figure out how to stretch this story into an entire book. So we have 3 subplots. One involves Amelia's apprentice Ron Polanski which was completely pointless. Another has a former lover of Amelia's, a former cop like her, who has been in jail for the past 7 years for his involvement in a crime (it really doesn't matter what the crime was). Trust me, Amelia, I didn't do it and with a little help from you I can prove it. But (major spoiler) he did do it and Amelia, by means by no way apparent to the readers of the book, figures this out. And the 3rd is about a student of Rhyme's who he agrees to take on as an assistant. She was actually a good character, but a big reveal about her near the end of the story almost made me throw the book across the room.  Unless you love Lincoln Rhyme beyond all rationality, I'd recommend you skip this.

Donaldson generally writes fantasy with some hard core science fiction novels thrown in for good measure. I don't generally read fantasy because I've already read the two best fantasy series ("The Lord of the Rings" and Donaldson's Thomas Covenant stories), but I make an exception for other Donaldson fantasy. As the cover says, this is two novellas. The first "The King's Justice" was pretty good. The guy on the cover is The King's Justice. He's been sent to a small town on the edge of the kingdom to bring justice there for the ritualistic murder of a young boy. Bad magic is involved and he must not only find the wielder of this magic but destroy it, and probably be killed himself in the process. The second story "Auger's Gambit" is about a guy who reads entrails, set in an entirely different place than the first story. I couldn't get past the first 10 pages. Sorry.

This is another Advanced Reader's Copy (ARC) that I got for free from It's about the ever changing way the National Park Service manages the parks and the animals in them. It mostly concentrates on the bears and elk of Yellowstone with forays into Glacier and Yosemite National Parks. It uses the story of a 24-year-old man who was killed by a grizzly bear in Yellowstone in 1972 and who's parents sued the government in 1975. I visited Yellowstone in 1977. After reading this book, I think what we heard about bears while we were there was, at best, misleading. It's an interesting book but not a great book. It is full of typos, missing words, repeated sentences, etc., all signs of poor editing. I'm hoping all that got fixed before publishing. It's also poorly organized. But here's one thing I learned that I didn't know. When we were in Yellowstone we were warned not attempt to feed the bears and to lock up our food in our campsites by keeping it in our car. What I didn't know was that bears had been living on human food (mostly garbage thrown away at the various lodges in the park) for generations but it recent years the park started cutting back on that practice, forcing the bears into campsites looking for food. The other thing I learned is that bears know that we store our food in our vehicles and they have no trouble opening up a car like a sardine can to get the goodies inside.

 Ben Bova is an accomplished science fiction writer with 6 Hugos (one of SF's highest awards) to his name but his book is a mess. A small crew is dispatched to a star some 8 light years away to check out what appears to be a completely earth-like world. The story starts some time in the future when global climate change is causing vast problems on Earth. The story picks up after the 80 year journey, when they arrive at New Earth. They find that New Earth already has a small colony of 100% humans living on it, who have been waiting for a 1,000 years for us to arrive. These human aliens have bad news. the two black holes at the center of the galaxy have exploded and we're all gonna die. How the aliens know this is pretty sketchy since they don't seem to have faster than light capability. That's just one of the hard to accept concepts in this book. It's the first book of a trilogy but I won't be reading the rest. Life is too short.

This is a very short anthology which contains a couple of short stories, a political polemic and an interview with the author. I liked the entire book but I'll concentrate on the title story "Gypsy". In many ways, this story has the same plot as Ben Bova's "New Earth". The world is a mess. But there is no New Earth, just a small band of determined people who by working together, in secret, manage to build a ship in Earth orbit that has the capability to travel to Alpha Centuri, our closest neighbor. But unlike Bova's book, this is all about the trip, on a ship with technology which is barely adequate for the trip, and in some cases, just not adequate enough. It is a desperate story as one by one, individual crew members are woken by the ship to handle problems not programed into the ship's computer. Severe problems, like, the original propulsion wasn't enough so they are going slower than planned; something hit them, causing them to lose some of their stored hydrogen they will need to slow down when they get to their destination; the sleep hibernation system they invented for the trip isn't working as well as they hoped. Very good read, if a bit depressing.

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