Book reviewer, cat photographer, fanzine editor, map blogger, snake whisperer.

Month: October 2020

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs

The overwhelming feeling one gets from reading The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs is of motion. Rather than static relics exhumed from rocks of the deep past, dinosaurs are in motion: they came from somewhere; they lived somewhere; they migrated from one continent to another. The approach the author Steve Brusatte takes is obvious in hindsight, but a revelation all the same: his questions are predicated on a past world in motion. Continents drifted apart, climates changed; dinosaurs moved, evolved, transformed in response. They were animals in the context of their time and place, and Brusatte explains that context. What, for example, happened after the various extinction events that first enabled and eventually extinguished the dinosaurs? How did the Triassic climate prevent dinosaurs from spreading across Pangaea?

Books Read: 3Q 2020

  1. Driftwood by Marie Brennan (2020). Fixup collecting short stories about the place fantasy worlds go to die, and the enigmatic figure who helps people survive the wreck. Review in production.
  2. Pirate Freedom by Gene Wolfe (2007). Time travel novel in which a young man from the near future is transported back in time to the Golden Age of Piracy. Replete with temporal paradoxes, vivid historical detail and, erm, Catholicism. Another Late Wolfe.
  3. Kim Stanley Robinson by Robert Markley (2019). An entry in the Modern Masters of Science Fiction series of monographs; this one (obviously) surveys Robinson’s work.
  4. Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch (2019). Nonfiction by a linguist who explores how we talk online, from the proper punctuation of text messages, to emoji, to the deployment of memes.
  5. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino (1972), trans. William Weaver (1974).
  6. Pardon This Intrusion by John Clute (2011). Another collection of reviews and critical essays. I should remember not to read Clute collections when trying to write reviews myself: his recondite word-tangles have a habit of infecting my own damn prose.
  7. City Under the Stars by Gardner Dozois and Michael Swanwick (2020). Expansion and completion of their 1995 novella “The City of God,” which in turn was an expansion of Dozois’s uncompleted “Digger story” ca. 1970, said expansion cut short by Dozois’s untimely death in 2018. Swanwick’s completion is (understandably) truncated, its ending more personally satisfying, I think, than supported by the story. But some tremendously brilliant and affecting passages here all the same.
  8. Being Gardner Dozois by Gardner Dozois and Michael Swanwick (2001). Rearead inspired by #34; book-length interview of Dozois by Swanwick discussing his stories and novels to date. I wanted to look at the genesis of “The City of God” and its contemporary stories.
  9. Underground Cities by Mark Ovenden (2020). Reviewed at The Map Room.
  10. Thunderer by Felix Gilman (2007). Epic fantasy; Gilman’s first novel, about gods, intrigue and revolution in an endless, unmappable city. First-rate worldbuilding and character work, not quite flawless technique.
  11. Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi (2019). Literary fantasy about an immigrant family from a secluded Ruritanian nation and their history.
  12. The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood (2020). Epic fantasy novel involving competing religions, gates between worlds, and young women who defy the altar to assert their own agencies. Liked it more than I expected to.

Does the Exposure Notification System Work?

“I didn’t intentionally get infected with COVID-19 just to figure out whether Apple’s exposure notification system was working, but it ended up that my experience might offer some additional insight to the situation.” Daniel Eran Dilger’s long and discursive piece for AppleInsider on whether Apple’s COVID-19 exposure tracking is working kind of buries the lede: he got the dubious opportunity to try it out, as implemented in Germany and Switzerland. It wasn’t as flawless or as seamless as you might have hoped. “Over a week later, neither Germany nor Switzerland has used my positive test result to send warnings through the system Apple created. That’s important because the timing of exposure notifications have a very limited useful window. By the time I got a positive result, I likely wasn’t even contagious any more.”

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