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02 October 2011

The Town that Food Saved by Ben Hewitt

The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local FoodThe Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food by Ben Hewitt

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I think I burned myself out on foodie books. I didn't find this one to have much of substance. The author himself seemed conflicted as to whether his chosen topic was worth reporting on. It was interesting to read about some of the things going on (the cheese cave, the compost center, the dairies, etc), but I found it hard to connect to the characters I was supposed to connect to. I think this is a book riding the coattails of a movement; I don't think it would stand up on its own.

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24 September 2011

This Organic Life by Joan Dye Gussow

This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban HomesteaderThis Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader by Joan Dye Gussow

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read this book because I'm interested in what the author claims to be doing: homesteading in a non-rural setting. She presents some very good information on growing your own produce, and the trials that are faced in doing so. She seems to do an admirable job in producing fruit and vegetables on her suburban flood-prone plot, but it's a little hard to pick out the good information from the surrounding confessions! These confessions give a memoir-like tone to the book. There's a bitter undercurrent to the narrative which becomes a drag to push through. It's an understandable bitterness, what with the personal hardships touched upon in the book. The through-line weaves and wanders, jumping from current thoughts to loosely related journal entries written years earlier. Like I said, though, there is some great information, and a good presentation of someone trying to make a difference through her own life for the future world.

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20 September 2011

Voodoo Science by Robert Parks

Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to FraudVoodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud by Robert L. Park

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My biggest criticism of this book is that it was dated. Having just finished a Dan Simmon's big space opera quartet, I was hoping to find a grounding in real science. Robert Park fit the bill. Director of some Washington bureau of science, Park takes us for a ride through the scientific process into the fringes of pseudoscience and fraudulent claims. I would have enjoyed more anecdotes; he spent a lot of time talking about three or four different cases. His chapter on space exploration was the most interesting to me. It was the first real criticism I've encountered, and it made sense. I'll have to keep my eyes out for a newer book of this sort.

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06 September 2011

The Rise of Endymion (Hyperion, #4)The Rise of Endymion by Dan Simmons

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was not as impressed with Endymion or The Rise of Endymion as I was with Hyperion. I think that the voicing that Simmons chose to tell the story was weak, and that the points where he chose not to pursue verbose descriptions clashed theoretically with the points where verbose descriptions ran rampant. However, the conclusion Endymion (Hyperion, #3)was fantastic, and I'm glad from a plot standpoint that I chose to finish the quartet. Perhaps I charged through a little to quickly; I might've appreciated the last two books more if I'd waited some time after reading the first two. A great scifi/space opera tale, told through mostly good writing.

17 August 2011

Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion

Hyperion (Hyperion, #1)Hyperion by Dan Simmons

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This review is for both Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion.

As best I can recall, my first exposure to Dan Simmons was the short story Orphans of the Helix. I enjoyed the story, thus deciding to add the rest of the Hyperion Cantos to my reading list. It took me a while to get around to it, but somehow, I think it was worth the wait!

Hyperion takes a little getting used to. It's set as a frame story (like the Canterbury Tales), which makes for an awkward plot line. You glimpse the overall plot in little flashes, piecing it together as you hear the individual stories of the characters. All of the characters are richly imagined, and pretty well fleshed out. The writing is more impressive in the individual stories than in the between pieces (understandably). The pilgrimage is a little hard to swallow; we're talking about an advanced, planet-hopping spaceship-teleporting society, and yet it's taking this group somewheres between a week and a month to reach their destination? The justification for this are the entropic fields and time tides surrounding the destination. Time tides? Really? One of my biggest pet peeves in the science fiction genre is the whole idea of time travel. Perhaps my scientific understanding is weak, but I feel like it just leaves too many holes in a plotline, becoming the ultimate solution to the problem. However, time travel is only just touched upon in Hyperion, leaving enough story to appreciate and great writing to enjoy.

I was amused by the constant references to (I'm guessing) favorite artists that Simmons drops through the book. (My favorite? the legendary cyberpuke Cowboy Gibson.) They made the story more fun.

The Fall of Hyperion (Hyperion, #2)The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons

The Fall of Hyperion is a direct continuation of the story. While there are brief exposition points inserted (that aren't necessary if you've continued directly from Hyperion), you'd be pretty well lost if you tried to pick it up on its own. The writing is as strong, though the characters do not go through as much development. You meet a couple new characters and the plot twists finally become clear, and begin to resolve. I felt that everything important was wrapped up when I finished the book. While concerns of time travel are more prevalent than they were in Hyperion, I still feel that they are handled delicately enough. There's also a large dose of omniscience and Godhood, something usually reserved for fantasy. However, the scifi genre gives a new platform for airing ideas. The thoughts that come from Sol Weintraub are a whole theme to examine, and probably those from Paul Dure as well (though I got less out of that).

I really enjoyed these, and think they deserve a high place in the hierarchy of scifi literature.

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27 July 2011

Test post using Goodreads blog promt

The Feast Nearby: How I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on $40 a week)The Feast Nearby: How I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally by Robin Mather

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a collection of essays, practically journal entries addressed to the the reader that outline though food the author's life on the shores of Stewart Lake in western Michigan. She describes her experience living on a shallow budget, though it seems to me that she manages more through the grace of generous friends and neighbors than through any great skill of her own. What skill we see is her prodigious culinary abilities, shared with her friends and neighbors as a bartered good. The book is arranged into seasons, and following each entry is a collection of recipes alluded to in the essay.
The prose is clear and artfully written in a precise, almost prim tone that flows easily off the page. I would have appreciated the addition of some grit and struggle, seeing the author win through truly difficult trials. I suspect though that including those would've given vent to anger and frustration at the scenarios which led to her lakeside life, putting a whiny tone into the work. As it is, the book is calm , not quite detached, focusing on the positive aspects of living lightly in a communal way. A good, quick read that I'd recommend.

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05 October 2010

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Anathem was my introduction to Neal Stephenson. Prior to reading that book, I questioned whether his writing would interest me. I knew of his ginormous Baroque Cycle series filed in fiction, but it was intimidatingly large. I mean, for a fiction series; fantasy epics get ridiculous in size, and I have nothing against them. Then, Anathem came up, and I reaaaly like it. I didn't quite understand it, but I did like it. Then, my friends started telling me how much they like Stephenson, and how I needed to read Snow Crash. So I did.

The book follows
"Hiroaki Protagonist: Last of the freelance hackers; Greatest sword fighter in the world; Stringer, Central Intelligence Corporation; Specializing in software-related intel (music, movies & microcode)"
in his search to find the source and the remedy for a new disease, called Snow Crash. Part computer virus, part pathological virus, part drug, and part sociological meme, Snow Crash has affected Protagonist's close friends. With the help of skatecourier Y.T. and with funding from two "franchulates", Uncle Enzo's Nova Sicilia (aka The Mafia) and Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong, Protagonist traces the roots of Snow Crash to media mogul and billionaire L. Bob Rife. Badass Dmitri Ravinoff rounds out the cast and gives an appropriate adversary to the sword-wielding Hiro. The action charges through a semi-futuristic America where the government has fallen to corporations and anarchy is held off by rent-a-cop security forces out to make a buck. It's a pretty wild ride, encasing a fabulous story as told by a master writer.

I was turned on by the high-powered and non-stop action in the book, though I found it just outside the realm of believable. The badass is just a little too bad, and the good guys still manage to defeat him. The setting was more attractive than the action. It's a 20th/21st century America where the government went broke, privatized everything (especially the military) and citizens look to corporations for guidance and protection in life. It's written just far enough past the current reality to require imagination, but close enough to real life that it's believable. However, the plot and the technical aspects of the Snow Crash virus are the real point of the book, and Stephenson put the most work into these aspects. The central chunk of the novel revolves around Protagonist discussing history, philosophy, and technology with the Librarian. This gets pretty dry, but it's sprinkled through with descriptions of Y.T.'s adventures on the ground, seeking intel to forward the discussion. As I said, the action really drives the book forward, and the central discussion balances that quite well.
This book is as great read, especially to those with an interest in the cyberpunk genre. It's one of the first of the genre, originally published in 1992. I predict that the setting will be functionally obsolete as technology outpaces whats in the story (the internets are already as functional, but the visualizations are not yet in place). Stephenson retains a strong hold on the plot, and brings everything together with flair and obvious mastery of the language.