Monthly Archives: September 2019

Rip Foster in Ride the Gray Planet by Blake Savage

Rip Foster in Ride the Gray PlanetRip Foster in Ride the Gray Planet by Blake Savage

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There’s a story that goes with this story… I got this book at a school book fair some 48 years ago when I was 10. Many years later (~43) I was Nostalgically Re-reading some of my childhood books and tried to remember the title of this one, to no avail. I even posted in the Goodreads group What’s the Name of that Book, with as much as I could remember: I thought it was a “Scholastic paperback edition of a juvenile science fiction most likely from the 1960s, possibly early 1970s. The plot revolved around two rival (Cold war similar) space powers that were trying to claim a metallic asteroid and bring it back to Earth. I seem to remember one of the powers being “The Confederation” or something similar. A main character was probably a young adult/teen male. Something happened that required the two enemies to work together. Reluctant friendship ensued. Moral lesson/political melodrama imparted on the young readers.” Sadly, no one could help and I tried different search terms of the years with nothing to show. Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I was reading The Disappearing Spoon, a wonderful book about the periodic table and when the author talked about thorium…ding!…quick check and…voila! Found! But…I had to search for different covers to confirm with my memory and this is the one. Internet order to the rescue and nostalgic re-read checked off!

This was high adventure for a ten year old in 1971! And the actual science was pretty good, which is to be expected because Hal Goodwin wrote it (and the Rick Brant series as John Blaine). The science fiction was pulpish (Venusian silicon armadillos, Martians and even Mercurian creatures). The world outlook was rather forward thinking to cooperation beyond our time with multinationals in the space fleet, and also contemporary with a Cold War-like adversary. And, given that it was published in 1952 for one assumes to be a boy audience, there is the period sexism – one character piloting a (space) boat “balanced the opposite thrusts ” with “the delicacy of a woman threading a needle.” As to some of the science, either Goodwin/Savage was visionary- his clear bubble helmets could be darkened electronically (electrochromic devices were still relatively theoretical in 1953)

Okay, so my fuzzy memory wasn’t quite right – there was no cooperation (maybe there’s another book hidden away in my memory closet), Rip Foster was a young adult, and it was a Golden Griffon paperback, but five stars for high adventure!

View all my reviews

The Father of American Conservation: George Bird Grinnell Adventurer, Activist, and Author by Thom Hatch

The Father of American Conservation: George Bird Grinnell Adventurer, Activist, and AuthorThe Father of American Conservation: George Bird Grinnell Adventurer, Activist, and Author by Thom Hatch

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am grateful to the publisher for granting me access an advance review copy from Edelweiss. With any history there must necessarily be creative nonfiction to fill the gaps, else we’d be mostly reading a chronological listing of (hopefully factual) facts. The differentiator between poor or merely passable books and one such as this is the writing and this is an engaging narrative. And, unfortunately, with a few exceptions of in text references (mostly to Forest and Stream articles), it is like so many of its genre absent any citations and references. There are no notes in my review copy, and I don’t think there will be any in the final. As such, the reader has to take the content with the proverbial salt grains. Yes, there is an extensive bibliography, but that is of little use in tracking down a particular event, quote, etc. and is disappointingly common. In one example, Hatch quotes Grinnell (within quotation marks, so we assume it is quoted) recounting something Grinnell did not observe himself, prompting the question, was there another source Grinnell had access to? But…that absence is more than less absolved by the content.

This is a rich account of Grinnell’s life, more than the first third of the book recounting his life before his conservationist awakening. Be warned, there are dark narrations in this that should affect anyone sensitive to the heinous atrocities against the First People, treated with the dispassion of a dissociated historian and yet embellished with the excited creativity of a connected storyteller. An example, in recounting a planned butchery of a Sioux village by Custer’s 7th Cavalry, Hatch says of one failing part of the plan that Sioux warriors chased after retreating soldiers with “gleeful whoops”. Really? And Hatch says that the “survivors of the cowardly retreat cowered on that hill four miles away from the death scene for two days…” History is an interesting topic that is more than not treated as definitive, inerrant, objective, and is anything but. I’m sure the coward moniker was an Army brand. Did Hatch write with intentional cultural relativism, or is this just his style? From a sample of one book, I do not know.

Now, once Grinnell embarked on his conservationist track, Hatch, using the same tone and unrestrained literary license, shifts his target; recounting the slaughter of bison in Yellowstone, Hatch deems the butchers of bison fleeing “the carnage” by crossing a river, only to be shot indiscriminately as they emerged from the river, as “assassins”.

Grinnell advocated for Native Americans, an unpopular position then (and some would say even still), using his Forest and Stream platform. And Hatch, with poetic license again, describes a typical Cheyenne day that Grinnell would have likely experienced, concluding with “And then the white man came West, and daily life for the Cheyenne people would never be the same.” Still, Grinnell tried to change perception

I have never been able to regard the Indian as merely an object for study – a museum specimen. A half-century rubbing shoulders with them, during which I have had a share in almost every phase of their old-time life, forbids me to think of them except as acquaintances, comrades, and friends.

His works ran counter to the only other narratives of the time – that of the Army – because since “the Indians could not write, the history of their wars had been set down by their enemies.” (For perspective, I recommend
History Lessons
, US history as told in textbooks of other countries around the world…quite enlightening for the historically myopic American student…and citizen) Grinnell spent a lot of time listening to the Cheyenne stories, something apparently few “white men” actually did, compiling them in The Fighting Cheyennes. Margaret Mead and Ruth Bunzel said none came closer than his (I’m guessing The Cheyenne Indians…the Mead/Bunzel quote only refers to it as “Grinnell’s classic monograph”) to the Indian everyday life.

Hatch used an epigraph from Rachel Carlson for one chapter:

The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we have for destruction.

That’s a wonderful sentiment that I came to embrace decades ago. Unfortunately, there are too many people in this country ascribing the wonders and realities to a supernatural and then giving themselves license to own, ravage and destroy them. Grinnell focused his attention on the wonders and realities of his universe. Hatch does a very good job condensing the prolific writings of Grinnell’s evolution into a few chapters, capturing Grinnell’s distaste for the destruction of his time.

Don’t mistake conservationism for abstention from anything but observation and complete preservation of the environment. Grinnell hunter and fished, and wrote about methods of each. He casually bemoans “an elk or two, a few deer, and a few antelope” were all that he killed on one trip. He did, however, advocate responsibility in each. He recognized that overhunting (and fishing) was unsustainable, even leading to extinctions.

Side note: There are some wonderful photographs that I hope have captions in the published edition.

I decided to largely ignore a subtext of Hatch where I infer from his choice of words on climate change, which Hatch admits is a serious problem, speculating that “Grinnell would not have fallen prey to hysterical claims and skewered data”, and Hatch’s overly simplistic solution of deflecting blame to China and India because “the American people who have made great strides in cleaning up the air and water and are now watching the ozone layer begin to heal” must have been written before the current administration’s decimation of water and air protections (wildlife and Parks protections as well…Grinnell would be mortified, though not surprised at the planned destruction of Yellowstone for minerals, timber and more… primitive parahumans were as common in government in his time as especially now.) There’s a dichotomy here because Hatch does talk about the rollback of regulations on use of lead ammunition and the devastating effect on bird wildlife and other problems with the current administration.

If you are so inclined, as the author notes, you can read copies of Forest and Stream online. I share Hatch’s awe at the boggling volume of high quality material published weekly over 30 years as writer/editor/ publisher and owner! All while writing books, and reading them (a short review of a young and naive Theodore Roosevelt’s cathartic book on ???? Led to a lifelong friendship and partnership)! And Grinnell wrote well. On the St. Mary region of Montana illustrates his romantic, almost spiritual flair:

An artist’s palette, splashed with all the hues of his color box, would not have shown more varied contrasts. […] In the valley were the greens of the deciduous shrubs, great patches of deep maroon of the changing lobelia, lakes turbid or darkly blue, somber evergreens; on the mountainside foaming cascades, with their white whirling mist wreathes, gray blue ice masses, and fields of gleaming snow. Over all arched a leaden sky, whose shadows might dull, but could never efface, the bewildering beauty of the mass of color.

Good stuff. And never enough time to read more of his writings.

For the publisher, I respectfully submit this needs another editorial pass – its obvious polish tarnishes a little with some of the things I caught. I found a few errors in my review copy, which may have already been caught – missing words (page 87, 2nd paragraph first sentence), incorrect verbs (page 71, first complete sentence following the concluding fragment from the previous page, “was” should be “were”?; page 85, third paragraph, first sentence should not be past tense), extra words (page 153, one of the quotes I was able to track down, from Forest an Stream July 2, 1885, last sentence first paragraph, “he could shift sift”, “shift” should not be there, and wasn’t in the original article)

Page 184 Chapter Nine epigraph, should be Blackfoot, not Vlackfoot; page 117 last paragragh “Needless”

Also, quibbling point, page 71, the 7th Cavalry ditty is “Garryowen”, not “Garry Owen”. Page 167, the battleship is Maine, not Main/I> and the date was February 15, 1898, not Feb 12 (number of dead differs in accounts from that stated by Hatch)

View all my reviews

The Field Guide to Citizen Science: How You Can Contribute to Scientific Research and Make a Difference by Darlene Cavalier

The Field Guide to Citizen Science: How You Can Contribute to Scientific Research and Make a DifferenceThe Field Guide to Citizen Science: How You Can Contribute to Scientific Research and Make a Difference by Darlene Cavalier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Okay, who took part in SETIhome? Raise your hand… I did for a couple of years and it’s in here. I have way too many reading obligations (ARCs and borrowed) but this popped up and I… let myself be sidetracked with this advance review copy received from the publisher from NetGalley, due out in February 2020. Fortunately, it is a very fast read. It comes off targeted to youth/young adults, but Mses. (I know Messrs. is the plural of Mr., but had to look up the plural of Ms.) Cavalier, Hoffman, and Cooper talk early on of “[e]xposing your children to citizen science…”

The authors give “fifty-plus” programs to participate in and they range from things seemingly obvious like bird/animal watching/observing to mushrooms, monarch butterfly migrations, or trash on beaches, Alzheimer’s observations and selfies at streams to help map all of the streams, even reporting infrequent events like landslides. They tell the reader how to find the project, what’s required (simple as a clipboard or a computer, perhaps needing special software or specific collecting materials), how broad the scope is (localized or global), the goal, task, outcome and their opinion why they like the project.

Most importantly, the authors affirm the value of citizen science. You don’t need scientific credentials. You do need to “review all of the instructions, training modules, and information” before beginning. And for it to work…you need to participate. Rightly, the authors advise that the project needs to fit you as much as you fit it. You may not have the time, resources or maybe passion to commit, and we all know sifting bad data is a necessary burden, but responsible limiting of bad data is so, so welcome.

Cringe when reading it moment: An MIT project called DeepMoji is designed to teach Artificial Intelligence systems about emotions, but requires a … [cringe again as I type this}…Twitter account. Oh, MIT, Twitter? Really? Sifting the sludge, I guess, has some value.

Really cool eye opener when reading it moment: One project (Foldit) has teams solving folding puzzles to help predict protein structures (and gathering data on pattern recognition and general puzzle solving to teach computers how to solve better), used in genetics and drug targeting. The eye-opener./..teams that successfully solve protein folding puzzles become coauthors on the scientific papers!

Five stars for being a novel book on something extremely important, particularly as the US slips backwards on the science front. Check out SciStarter for more information and opportunities.

View all my reviews

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the ElementsThe Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Checking off one from my far too many (just kidding…one can never have too many books to read) Small Stacks of Found Books that I kept setting aside for others, this is in one word a delight! Mr. Kean has done something marvelous here: making the periodic table fun and accessible! For science geeks (and professionals) it always has been, but for those less inclined…this is great.He says in his Introduction that from the one element mercury, he “learned history, etymology, alchemy, mythology, literature, poison forensics, and psychology.” He also learned physics and chemistry, clearly, because it’s all through this book, and politics that sometimes had play in the field. And Kean conveys the history and concepts in the best mystery page-turner style, along with humor and sagacity. Even if you know the history and concepts, the chemistry and physics (I’m not a neophyte to either), I suspect you’ll learn something or somethings.

Kean talks of the discoveries of the elements (and many of the gaffes), the origins of the table, the blanks and how they were filled. He delves into the biological interactions of some of the elements, from poisons to medicines, and how some elements mimic others, causing all kinds of havoc on the biological front. There is the politics of the Nobel prizes, the currency of elements, art and literature of elements. Something as seemingly simple as the Parker 51 pen gets copy time here, as the nibs were made of “durable ruthenium”, “an element little better than scarp until then.”

Near absolute zero, bubble chambers, “Tools of Ridiculous Precision”…there is so much information here. I couldn’t begin to summarize with any justice. I’ll share one nugget to illustrate Kean’s keen science. (Forgive, please!) There’s a chapter on toxicity of exposure (or ingestion) and a GREAT observation I flagged. Great to me, anyway. In talking about William Crookes, his “lapse into spiritualism”, and succumbing to “pathological science”, Kean explains pathological science:

In explaining what pathological science is, it’s best to clear up any misconceptions about that loaded word, “pathological,” and explain up front what pathological is not. It’s not fraud, since the adherents of a pathological science believe they’re right – if only everyone else could see it.

(And here’s the gem…

It’s not pseudoscience, like Freudianism and Marxism, fields that poach on the imprimatur of science yet shun the rigors of the scientific method.

Love it! Pseudoscience! I’ve been saying so for years!

It’s also not politicized science, like Lysenkoism, where people swear allegiance to a false science because of threats or a skewed ideology. Finally, it’s not general clinical madness or merely deranged belief. It’s a particular madness, a meticulous and scientifically informed delusion. Pathological scientists pick out a marginal and unlikely phenomenon that appeals to them for whatever reason and bring all their scientific acumen to proving its existence.

Kean says that a pathological science’s “believers use the ambiguity about evidence as evidence – claiming that scientists don’t know everything and therefore there’s room for my pet theory, too.”

Read it. Highly recommended.

View all my reviews