Monthly Archives: June 2019

Humans: A Brief History of How We F*cked It All Up by Tom Phillips

Humans: A Brief History of How We F*cked It All UpHumans: A Brief History of How We F*cked It All Up by Tom Phillips

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Okay, the title grabbed me and Smith’s writing kept me.

He says, “There are lots of books about humanity’s finest achievements— the great leaders, the genius inventors, the indomitable human spirit. There are also lots of books about mistakes we’ve made: both individual screw-ups and society-wide errors. But there aren’t quite so many about how we manage to get things profoundly, catastrophically wrong over and over again.” Yep.

First chapter nails it with the root of all the upf*cking…our brains. From availability heuristics to pareidolia to confirmations biases, Smith condenses a host of our problems into an informative and sardonic yet still funny package.

He’ll probably be dismissed by many for his cavalier relation of the topics, but the source material is there under, around and over his wonderful sense of humor. On pareidolia, he says he used to think confirmation bias was the real culprit, and everything he’d read, uh … confirmed that. (See where he’s going with that?) Continue reading

Books That Have Influenced Me

LibraryThing recently asked the question in one of their groups: What Books Have Changed Your Life?

That’s a good thinker. I don’t know about “changed”, but some have certainly influenced. Life changing may be a bit much, but paradigm-shifting or point of view changing? Sure!

The Runaway RobotFirst should be Lester del Rey’s The Runaway Robot. One of the first “real” books I owned, I was nine years old in 1970 and that book turned me on to science fiction and the innumerable possibilities of imagination. Four years later, a teacher suggested I read The Lord of the Rings, and that added high fantasy to the shelf. I spent more time in the 1980s and 1990s reading fantasy than science fiction, but I come back to it as much now as fantasy. del Rey’s Time Tunnel was another that helped start me. Continue reading

The World Beneath: The Life and Times of Unknown Sea Creatures and Coral Reefs by Richard Smith

The World Beneath: The Life and Times of Unknown Sea Creatures and Coral ReefsThe World Beneath: The Life and Times of Unknown Sea Creatures and Coral Reefs by Richard Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a review copy of this from the publisher through Edelweiss. It’s short, when you consider that half of it is photographs, but what photographs!! Stunning, jaw-dropping “wow” for some of the tiniest creatures in that world beneath. Dr. Smith is an incredible photographer. And he’s had access to some amazing reefs in his work, which he shares in here. He says,

I am drawn to animals that are easily overlooked or ignored, and I use underwater photography to share their beauty – hopefully imparting a greater sense of appreciation to people who haven’t been able to see these animals firsthand.

And that sharing is wonderful. Continue reading

Fatal Revenant by Stephen R. Donaldson

Fatal Revenant (The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, #2)Fatal Revenant by Stephen R. Donaldson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have to be as doggedly persistent in finishing the series this time as Donaldson surely was in over-writing it. Tortuously tedious, agonizingly slow, maddening paralysis of yet another main character – there is little to root for in Linden Avery, and he does her no favors, and sadly immemorable… It turns out I did read this when it came out but only remembered one partial revelation and was only finally able to recognize the actual reveal when it happened. I recall little from the first reading and there is good reason for that.

Donaldson is the master of forbearing the utilization of a diminutive utterance when an obscure polysyllabic synonym will suffice. Oh, his obscurities are not archaic, but they are seldom used, and while a “trademark” the reader has no choice in accepting, they have long served to embellish his stories since his first trilogy. And his skill at description is distorted into parody. I’ve already said tedious, but it is an apt description that bears repeating. This book is hundreds of pages longer than it should have been. Peter Jackson stretched a short novel into three movies (yes, his fan fiction silliness added a lot of extraneous to an already good story), Donaldson stretched a long book into a ponderous tome.

Stoic companions. Paralyzed central character. Maddening internalizations. Even more maddeningly rushed denouement. Add in the introduction of a new set of players of varying and considerable powers, who profess an interest in the outcome of the play yet had no appearance in the previous two series when the outcome played quite dire, is troublesome (though uncharacteristically sparely explained away.) They seem to be contrivances to draw out an already overly long arc. Perhaps that is why the last trilogy has four books. [Note: I rarely summarize fiction plots, mainly because I think it unfair to the author (there are plenty of people who do for those on the hunt, and there is almost always a teaser blurb.) And I think it unfair to the reader who, like me, dislikes spoilers.]

I know I have only read 16 pages of the next book (that I recall, along with 47 words into it, Donaldson drops one of those trademarks), and I also know I remember not reading more. I need a break to concentrate on some educational reading, and two advance review copies, before I attempt the next. But this time, I will finish the series.

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