Books I’ve been reading

THE LIVES OF CHRISTOPHER CHANT by Diana Wynne Jones is the Secret Origin of her favorite character, the top-lofty magician Chrestomanci. The mighty conjurer starts out here as the product of a trouble Victorian-era union who’s thrilled to use his planewalking gifts for his charming, roguish Uncle Ralph and not at all thrilled to be groomed as the next Chrestomanci (it’s a job title, not a name). But as it turns out, Ralph is not quite as charming as he appears … Perhaps the most British of Jones’ books, given the emphasis on cricket and the “Millie” books one young priestess falls in love with (they’re made up, but a very British type of school story) and thoroughly enjoyable.
WILD ROBERT is a DWJ fantasy that feels like the start of a novel she gave up on: A young girl whose parents are caretakers at a historic home unintentionally unleashes the half-sidhe heir of the Elizabethan-era owners who proceeds to unleash chaos on the visiting tour groups; this is fun as far as it goes, but the ending with the protagonist resolving to help Wild Robert really feels more like the end of a chapter than of a story.
THE NOTHING THAT IS: A Natural History of Zero, by Robert Kaplan, chronicles how zero began with the Sumerians simply as a way to indicaste there was nothing in a column of numbers; it didn’t become a number itself until ancient Indians started tinkering around with math. Even after that there remained much controversy about zero’s status (Arabs generally considered the numbers to consist of nine digits, plus zero as a separate thing), what effect it had when worked into equations, and about numerals in general (accounts through the middle ages were still written as words or Roman numerals because it seemed too easy to write in an extra Arabic numeral). Interesting, but Kaplan’s insistence on including some sort of literary or philosophical allusion every other paragraph makes this is a chore to read.
THE TROUBLE WITH PHYSICS: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science and What Comes Next, by former string theorist Lee Smolin argues that the fixation on string theory as the only possible solution to multiple physical problems has created a lost generation of physicists that’s gone nowhere trying to crack the big problems (dark matter, dark energy, quantum gravity). Smolin does an excellent job tracing the history of string theory, which he argues is fatally flawed by being so flexible it’s unfalsifiable: If one theory can’t explain black holes (or dark matter, or the lack of proton decay) a few tweaks provide an alternative that fits (some string theorists have argued the very idea of requiring conclusive proof is now outdated). Smolin also does a good job analyzing the academic world, which he argues is structured so that someone tacking against the wind is unlikely to build a career, and suggests several lines of research that, being testable, may hold more promise (even though he doesn’t like the implications of several of them). An excellent job.
CROSSING MIDNIGHT: Cut Here by Mike Carey and Jim Fern is the first TPB collection of a series about Japanese twin teenagers who discover to their dismay they’re caught up in a war of powerful Kami spirits due to a vow their father unwittingly made to Aratsu the lord of swords when their mother got pregnant. As a result, one twin ends the book in thrall to Aratsu while the other has joined forces with his rival Nidoru, queen of needles, in hopes of saving her. I’m looking forward to book two.

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Filed under Comics, Reading

One response to “Books I’ve been reading

  1. Pingback: Science and SF comics covers again | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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