Yzabel

Book reviews, and my personal reflections about writing.

When the Uncertainty Principle Goes to 11

When the Uncertainty Principle Goes to 11: Or How to Explain Quantum Physics with Heavy Metal  - Philip Moriarty

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

Why, oh, why did I take so much time to read this book? Well, alright, perhaps because I was busy reading other books to teach myself some physics principles, which, I admit, is never a bad thing when your physics classes go back to some, uhhhm, twenty years ago. At the very least.

I found this “metal + physics” approach to be a very intriguing and interesting one—all the more since the author injects a regular dose of humour into it, but never without a purpose (a.k.a. “how to discuss spatial periods using Stryper’s (in)famous striped pants as an example”). I suppose this approach may not work for everyone, but it definitely worked for me, probably because I never took myself too seriously even when dealing with serious things, because, after all, what does it matter, as long as we keep learning, right? Besides, it doesn’t harm when you can feel the passion shining through, and this was clearly the case here.

Overall, the topics broached here made a lot of sense. My own level in maths isn’t terrific, yet the author’s explanations were enough even for me to understand the principles and the equations he related to metal, harmonics, waves and strings, and so on. They don’t remain at such a basic level that they don’t bring much to one’s knowledge of physics (unless you’re already a post-graduate or someone working in that field already, in which case I suspect Fourier’s analysis of waves/patterns won’t seem such a wonder anymore—or will it?), and at the same time, they don’t stray into such abstractions that a beginner will completely lose their footing either. At any rate, I found it quite easy to picture phases when compared to a metalhead moving in a mosh pit…

Seriously, where was Professor Moriarty when I was studying physics at school? (Alright, alright, probably still doing his Ph. D., I guess.)

Fawkes

Fawkes - Nadine Brandes

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

Gorgeous cover (I admit the cover + the title are what drew me to the book in the first place), and also an interesting take on historical events by showing them under the colours (see what I did there) of magic rather than religion. In this alternate early 17th-century world, people are able to bond with a specific colour, and exert control over items of this colour through the wearing of a mask. The conflict arises from how people view the use of colours: Keepers (the ‘Protestants’) believe that a person should only master one colour and not give in to the ‘White Light’ that governs them all, lest greed devours them and twists their powers to nefarious ends; while Igniters (the ‘Catholics’) believe that listening to the White Light, and controlling more than one colour, is the way to go. Both factions are in conflict not only because of these views, but because of a plague that turns people to stone, with each camp blaming the other for the advent of this mysterious illness.

Enters our protagonist and point of view character, Thomas Fawkes, son of the (now) infamous Guy Fawkes, who’s been struck by this very Stone Plague and can’t wait until he gets a mask of his own, learns to master a colour, and hopefully manages to heal himself, or at least make sure the plague will stay dormant in him and never spread further than his eye. Of course, things don’t go as planned, and as he finds himself reunited with his father, the latter offers him a place in a plot meant to blow up the King and Parliament (as in, literally blow up, re: Guy Fawkes, Bonfire Night, and all that).

So. Very, very interesting premise, and I really loved reading about the London that is the backdrop in this novel—not least because I actually go very often in the areas depicted here, and I enjoy retracing in my mind the characters’ steps in streets that I know well enough. Little winks are found here and there, too, such as Emma’s favourite bakery on Pudding Lane, or a stroll to the Globe. It may not seem much, but it always makes me smile.

The story was a slow development, more focused on the characters than on a quick unfolding of the plot. I don’t know if the latter is a strong or a weak point, because I feel it hinges on the reader’s knowledge of the actual Gunpowder Plot: if you know about it, then I think what matters more is not its outcome, but the journey to it, so to speak. If you don’t know it, though, the novel may in turn feel weak in that regard, by not covering it enough. I didn’t mind this slow development, since it allowed for room for the side plot with Emma and the Baron’s household, and I liked Emma well enough. I still can’t decide whether her secret felt genuine or somewhat contrived, but in the end, it didn’t matter so much, because she was a kickass person, with goals of her own, and actually more interesting than Thomas.

As a side note: yes, there is romance here. Fortunately, no gratuitous kiss and sex scenes that don’t bring anything to the story and only waste pages. In spite of the blurb that mentions how Thomas will have to choose between the plot and his love (= usually, a sure recipe for catastrophe in YA, with characters basically forgetting the meaning of things like “priorities” or “sense of responsibility”), it is more subtle than that. Thomas at least also starts considering other people being involved, such as, well, the three hundred Members of Parliament meant to go up in flames along with the King. Casualties, and all that…

Bonus points for White Light, who we don’t see much of, but was overall engaging and somewhat funny in a quirky way. I just liked its interventions, period.

Where I had more trouble with the story was Thomas himself, who was mostly whiny and obsessed with getting his mask. All the time. You’d get to wonder why his father trusted him and invited him to be part of the plot in the first place. Often enough, he came as self-centered and constantly wavering in his beliefs. While I can totally understand that the prospect of his plague suddenly spreading left him in a state of constant, nagging fear, and therefore prone to focus on this more than on other people’s interests, the way he hesitated between which way to pursue (stay faithful to the plot, or listen to the White Light, or shouldn’t he listen to his father, but then are his father’s beliefs really his own as well, etc.) was a bit tedious to go through. Good thing Emma was here to set his sight straights, and by this, I don’t mean showing him the light (OK, OK, I should stop with the puns now), but making him aware that her circumstances are more complicated than he thinks, in his own ‘privileged’ way, even though his being plagued does contribute to a common understanding of being immediately rejected because of what one looks like.

Also, let’s be honest, Guy wasn’t exactly Father of the Year either, and the story didn’t focus much on developing his ties with Thomas. They were united through the plot, but that was pretty much all, when this could’ve been a wonderful opportunity to reunite them differently, in deeper ways, too. There just wasn’t enough about him, about his personality, and in turn, this lessened the impact of Thomas’ decisions when it came to him.

Another issue for me was the magic system. I got the broad lines, and the reason for the Keepers/Igniters divide, but apart from that, we weren’t shown how exactly this magic works. It is, I’m sure, more subtle than simply voicing an order to a specific colour, and there seems to be a whole undercurrent of rules to it, that aren’t really explained. For instance, why can the masks only be carved by the biological father or mother of a person, and not by an adoptive parent (or even by anyone else)?

Mention in passing as well to language: sometimes, it veered into too modern territory (I mean 20/21st-century modern English specifically, not ‘but Shakespeare’s English was technically Modern English, too’ ;)). I think it was especially prevalent in Thomas’ discussions with White Light, and I found this jarring.

Conclusion: 3 stars, as I still liked the story overall, as well as the world depicted in it, despite the questions I still have about it. I was hoping for a stronger story, though.

Seventh Born

Seventh Born - Monica Sanz

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

This novel was partly a good surprise: I expected to see romance in it, but after so many YA books where said romance is just rushed in, let’s say that I’ve become pretty jaded… and fortunately, here, the romance was of the slow-building type, and not the be all-end all it too often is. Mostly the story focuses on Sera’s life at the Academy and on her collaboration with Barrington in his investigating gruesome witches’ murders—in other words, it was more about the mystery than about the usual ‘true love’ stuff that (just as usually) detracts from the fantasy plot. This definitely endeared me to it.

Getting into it was a bit of a strange process: the novel puts the reader in medias res when it comes to both world-building and characters. It’s something I tend to appreciate, rather than having to contend with history lessons/typical fantasy prologues, and I quickly found my marks. As for the characters, while the main chars were alright (with a sort of Rochester/Jane Eyre dynamic, e.g. Barrington’s way of infuriating people), the secondary ones really felt more on the cookie-cutter side: the bully, the teachers who generally blame Sera just because she’s a seventhborn, the best friend obsessed with boys, the cute and wealthy love interest, etc. So I didn’t care much for them; some more development was needed here, especially regarding two of them, since they become more important in the second half of the story.

The love relationships have their problematic sides, too, whether the boy who’s in love with Sera and keeps pushing (including stealing a kiss a couple of times when obviously Sera isn’t interested), or the potential student/teacher relationship (granted, she’s 18 and soon out of school, buuuut… it’s a YA novel, after all). On the other hand, it could also have been much worse, whether it came to the boy or to the ‘forbidden romance’ (that one, at least, moved slowly enough as to be believable, and they didn’t just fall into each other’s arms out of the blue by the end of the first third).

I would also have liked more details about the magic system and the world itself, particularly when it came to seventhborns. We know they are disliked because when they come into this world, their mothers lose their powers and die, and that they were linked to a plague, so people disliked them and still do… However, I can’t help but wonder: why do people in that world keep having seven children, since the (well-known) outcome is so bad for the families? Why don’t they stop at four or five: because they can’t? Or because they don’t want to? Couldn’t a witch use her powers to prevent herself from even conceiving this seventh child? This is the kind of ‘curse’ that could be easily avoided in a world with magic, so I have no clue why these kids are still born, and… that is a major plot hole here.

This said, I did enjoy the mystery/investigation part. Its direct impact is solved by the end of the book, so we get some resolution, but at the same time, there are still mysteries lingering in the characters’ backgrounds, that would make good material in a next book.

Conclusion: 2.5 stars. This novel has its problematic sides, but others I did like nonetheless. I might pick the second volume at some point to see if there’s more world-building there.

Rust & Stardust

Rust & Stardust - T. Greenwood

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

I wasn’t exactly sure what this novel would be like—true crime stories are usually more on the grim, graphic side, and as for “Lolita” (for which Sally Horner’s story was partly an inspiration), I admit I liked it more for its value as a classic than for its theme. Still, “Rust & Stardust” looked like it’d be an interesting read, and that it was… as well as heart-breaking in many ways. (Especially when you already know how things went for the real Sally Horner.)

One thing I really appreciated with it is how it never veers into graphic/descriptive territory when it comes to the sexual abuse Sally suffered. I’m not a prude, but reading about women being defiled in terms that make the whole thing look like “stuff being done to a piece of meat” has never been something I particularly relish, and when the victims are kids, how to put it… That’d just be the worst. So I was really glad that, while there’s no doubt as to what LaSalle does to Sally, there’s also no need to say more. We get it. We get the picture. He’s a disgusting man. And we can leave it at that.

There’s also a really frustrating side to the story, in that it shows us several close calls where, had things gone just slightly differently, Sally could’ve been found much sooner. It always hinges on a tiny thing, on just the wrong timing—frustrating, but also all too human, because it puts the reader face to face with something that most of us may indeed not recognise in time to act. It’s all about “someone has to do something”, but the someones who could act are sometimes oblivious, and sometimes make their decision just that tad bit too late to be useful. And, to be fair, most of the characters were so naive! Granted, it was 1948, and we can assume there weren't so many horror stories of kids being abducted at the time, and people wouldn't be as savvy and wary as they generally (well, supposedly) are now. Still, I felt like slapping them sometimes and tall them "duh, this is so obvious!"

(I say “frustrating”, but with a dash of anticipation, like when you’re left with a cliffhanger.)

The novel doesn’t entirely follow Sally’s ordeal either, and the author took some freedoms with the side characters: people whom Sally meets, who may or may not be in positions to help her, and who provide a ray of sunshine in her existence while LaSalle drags her around. What it was exactly like for the real Sally, we’ll never know, but here, it felt as if these encounters allowed her to survive, to remain strong enough in spite of all the grim sides. There’s an (expected) turning point when she reaches that stage where she starts to look more like a young woman, something that doesn’t “appeal” to Frank, and in turn, he gradually treats her differently—and you can’t help but shiver, on top of the previous shivers due to the whole paedophilia part itself, because it’s when you also start wondering “how long until he discards her because she’s not a little girl anymore?”

I guess I had more trouble, all in all, with the overall style. The writing was OK but not the best ever, and there were moments in the story when the rhythm felt strange; or perhaps that was because everything focused on the characters and little on the investigation itself, so there wasn’t the same kind of suspense I usually associate with “crime stories”?

Nevertheless, I “enjoyed” the book, also for telling this story that deserved telling. 3.5 to 4 stars here.

Carnivore

Carnivore - Jonathan Lyon

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

A dark thriller set in modern London, following Leander, a young man (20ish I’d say) who’s been living for years with a chronic illness that causes him constant pain, and isn’t properly recognised nor treatable. Tired of useless diagnostics and trips to the hospital, Leander has decided to give the finger to all this, and embarked on a life of drugs, sex, and mixing with more or less unsavoury characters who fuel his descent, and whose addiction he fuels in turn through constant games of sadistic/masochistic manipulation.

To be honest, I’m not sure where exactly this story sits on my spectrum. The first chapters felt rather disjointed and meandering (which in itself matched the narrator’s mental state, I’d say, since he’s pretty much doped on something or other almost all the time), and while there is a plot, it took some time to emerge and be recognisable as such. I guess it was somewhat lessened by the shock factor, and the many scenes of violence and rape (one may argue that Leander was somehow consenting, since at least some of them were the result of some of his manipulations, but that’s a very slippery slope here, so I prefer to call that rape). It felt like the characters as well as the underlying message had more potential than that, and perhaps weren’t given all the limelight and development they would’ve deserved, instead of being shadowed by the grit element.

On the other hand, said message—chronic illness, the way many of those ailments are still relatively unknown and not treated, not to mention considered with disdain by many people—was still a powerful one, carried by a poetic writing full of strange but curiously endearing metaphors. While I do not suffer from such an illness myself, I know a few people who do, and who keep struggling day after day not only to live with their symptoms, but also to make other people understand that, no, they’re not “faking it”, that it’s not merely a matter of “think positive, go out more and make more efforts”, and that because you can’t necessarily see their symptoms easily doesn’t mean they’re not there and causing constant pain.

As a result, in spite of Leander’s twisted games and of the way he treats most people, it was surprisingly easy to root for him nonetheless, because deep inside, he’s more broken than breaking, and all in all, most of his actions are the only way he’s found to bear his pain. In the end, it’s hard to know what is true and what is lies about him, whether’s he’s completely bound for a path of self-destruction or can still find a better life—his schemes sure don’t make the way easy for him.

I’m not giving the story more than 3 stars because I found it hard to really care about the characters: we get to be in Leander’s mind, but considering how much he also lies to himself, it’s difficult to really get to know him; and the rest of the cast is mostly seen as either prey or predator, as people he can use and harm or who can use and harm him. The few decent people he meets don’t necessarily last long in the movie of his life, and the ones who do have the potential of helping him destroy himself rather than bring him some healing.

Conclusion: An interesting theme, and if you want grit and rotten human beings, you’ll get that for sure, but I feel that the latter may have been just a little too much, and didn’t give the characters enough room to breathe.

All Rights Reserved

All Rights Reserved - Gregory Scott Katsoulis

[I received a copy of this book through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.]

Good premise here—a future where, as soon as people turn 15, they are charged for every word they say, and other forms of communication such as many gestures. Pretty much a legal nightmare, in which lawyers have all the power, where people can slap each other with instant lawsuits, and where everything is monitored through cuffs and eye implants, all connected to the ever present Wi-Fi.

In general, I enjoyed reading about this world, for all its chilling technology that may not be far off the corner (such as the Black Mirror-esque “Blocking” tech, preventing people from seeing specific faces, for instance). It was a little hard to follow at times, but it nevertheless made it for a quite unique setting.

I had more trouble with the characters, unfortunately. Speth, especially, struck me as overall rather dumb.While her silence stemmed from a shocking event, it became apparent very quickly that there would be a price to pay—in many ways, literally, as her family gets slapped with lawsuits, her sister is prevented from working, and so on. Yet it took her an extraordinary long while to finally figure out what to do about it all, instead of remaining mute and passive for most of the story. Not passive as in not going out and not doing anything at all, but passive when it came to thinking hard and making decisions about her silence… which, in the meantime, led to several problematic events, one of those being so scarring that I can’t reconcile the shock of it with someone standing her ground for… no reason? Had she been truly convinced of her role, of the importance of her silence, and trying to achieve something meaningful, this sacrifice could’ve been somewhat “understandable”, plot-wise; the way she still behaved at that point (some 60-65% in…), it just made for cruel and unneeded scene.

As another example, one of the characters, at some point, tries to communicate with her in creative ways, pointing at words in a book, and she does… nothing? There was no mention anywhere of people being unable to read, and she can read the warnings on her cuff well enough, so, I don’t know, perhaps pointing at specific words and letting the other character do the math would’ve helped her communicate, and been the smart thing to do. Because the deep issue here is that she doesn’t communicate. At all. She can afford a few shrugs, but conveying everything through just that and glances is, in general, quite difficult, and this leads to exactly the kind of plot twist I mentioned above, because she can only make other people follow her while racking their brains to try and understand what exactly she’s trying to do.

And so, Speth keeps making one poor decision after the other. And when she finally wakes up, there’s been so much destruction in her wake that it’s difficult to suddenly empathise with her.

(Interestingly enough, throughout the whole story, sign language is never mentioned. Are there no hard-hearing/deaf people in this world? Was it banned, as subsversive communication method? Or is it charged, like nodding one’s head. This would’ve made for a formidable loophole.)

As far as characters go, at least I did enjoy the three Product Placers. Although they weren’t too developed, they and their missions were interesting and fun to read about.

Conclusion: Interesting setting, stupid main character. I do have an ARC of the second book, though, so I’ll still give it a chance.

The Quantum Labyrinth

The Quantum Labyrinth: How Richard Feynman and John Wheeler Revolutionized Time and Reality - Paul Halpern

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

 

This is somewhat a strange book, hovering between a biography and physics book, through the lives of Richard Feynman and John Wheeler, and it seems to me it has both the good sides and shortcomings of both. Shortcomings, as in, it can’t go really in depth in the lives of the two scientists, and at the same time, the physics aspect is sometimes too complex, and sometimes too simple, which makes for an unbalanced read. But good sides, too, for linking the characters and their work, and giving an insight into said work, and overall making me want to read more about, well, everything in there. Probably in favour of Wheeler, since I already know quite a few things about Feynman (although I don’t seem to tire of him anyway).

 

I wouldn’t recommend it as a complete introduction to quantum and particle physics, though, since some of its contents are just too painful to follow without some basic knowledge of the topic.

 

I do recommend it for a global coverage of what Feynman and Wheeler worked on in their lifetime, to get pointers about specific topics worth researching more in depth later.

 

Style-wise, the book reads well enough in general, but more than once, some analogies were weird and fell flat for me.

MunMun

Munmun - Jesse Andrews

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

I admit I skim-read the last 25%; I tried to read more carefully, but at this point, either I skimmed or I DNFed, and I don’t like DNFing.

It is not without good ideas and potential, and it delivers good criticism of a society based on money: in this case, money literally defines your weight in the world, since the poorest people are tiny and get squished by just about anything and anyone, while the richest ones are so big that they tower over everyone and take a lot of space. The plight of the characters, too—the way they have to fight, the desperate schemes they come up with, are (unfortunately, realistically) close to reality, in that when you don’t have much, no matter how you try, your attempts are conditioned by the little means you have. (I do agree that “you have to make efforts to achieve your dreams”, but let’s be honest, it’s very easy to give lessons about how you managed to buy the house of your dreams when you got a nifty inheritance from your grandparents. Prayer’s plan to find herself a husband, as harebrained as it is, does reflect a desperate attempt at doing something with nothing.)

However, I couldn’t really connect with the characters, nor get into the writing style, which tends to combine words together. I get it, I get why it’s done, but for me, it’s jarring (took me a bit of time to realise that the “munmun” of the title is money, although that was because I wasn’t pronouncing it, only reading it at first). It’s like all those cutesy words like ‘preloved’ and ‘choccy’ and all that stuff which, for some reason, is considered as witty, but just falls flat as far as I’m concerned. After a while, I lose interest.

More like 1.5 stars for me, however, I do acknowledge that there are good ideas in here.

LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media

LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media  - P.W. Singer, Emerson Brooking

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

A very interesting, though worrying study about the influence of social media in areas that we don’t necessarily consider ‘social’, such as the political world, or even as warfare. The past few years especially (but not only) have led to quite important changes in how people use internet in general and social media in particular, with the advent of giants such as Facebook, and other easy access platforms like Twitter.

As much as I stand for a ‘free’ Internet (I’m a child of the 90s, after all, and my first experiences of the web have forever influenced my views of it, for better and for worse), the authors make up for valid points when it comes to listing abuses and excesses. The use of internet as a tool for war is not new, as evidenced by the examples of the Zapatistas in 1994, or the ‘Arab Spring’ in 2011; but the latter quickly turned sour, as some governments, quick to respond, turned the same weapons of freedom into tools of control and oppression. These are the same tools and the same internet we know, but with a much different outcome.

The 2016 US elections are, of course, one of the other examples in this book, one that shows how social media, through sock-puppet accounts, can be used to influence people. The hopeful part in me keeps thinking that ‘people can’t be so stupid’, but the realistic part does acknowledge that, here too, the authors make very valid points. The rational seldom becomes viral, and what gets shared time and again is all the provoking matter (not in a good meaning of this word), the one that calls to base emotions and quick response (again, not in a good way). I kept remembering what I try to practice: “if tempted to post a scathing comment on internet, stop and wait to see if you still want to do that later” (usually, the answer is ‘no’). And so we should also be careful of how we react to what we see on social networks.

Conclusion: 4.5 stars. Kind of alarmist in parts, but in a cold-headed way, one that could have a chance of making people think and reflect on online behaviours, and perhaps, just perhaps, remain cold-headed in the future as well
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XX

XX - Angela Chadwick

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

A provoking and interesting read, not so far removed (in fact, not far removed at all) from current political and scientific controversies when it comes to embryo research, LGBTQ+ rights, and rising intolerance.

Juliet and Rosie apply to a newly approved research program that will allow them to conceive a child “ovum to ovum”. The point: having THEIR child, of course, and not needing to rely on a stranger’s sperm. Huge uproar ensues throughout the UK and the rest of the world, led, it seems, not so much by fears for the children thus conceived (although some characters do voice concerns about potential genetic flaws), but by the fear of men being made redundant. Which didn’t surprise me at all, and was, I think, spot on: should such research be developed in our world, I bet that we’d face this very kind of arguments. (It’s like all that rage against abortions, really: so many anti-choicers are all about Saving The Embryos, but you don’t see them holding out helping hands to take care of the unwanted babies once they’re born. Anyway.)

Most of the opposition to the main characters and their unborn baby also comes from sources that don’t surprise me, including a politician who’s riding the wave of Family Values because that will garner votes. It doesn’t help that the incriminated research has been unveiled by a woman, because this adds fuel to the fire, in a “feminist agenda to get rid of men” way. So we can see that from the start, the whole research and its outcome is not going to get only friends.

I did enjoy the characters’ evolution, when faced with certain choices that forced them to question their own values. On top of the obvious scientific, political and social angle, the story also raises valid questions about conceiving vs. adopting, about what it means to want a child, and why one would love (or not) said child.

I had a little trouble to get into the story at first (also because, silly me, I grabbed too many books from the library at the same time, and had to read before they expired, so it’s not just the story’s fault). I think that was because of the somewhat dry narrative style and a repetitive feeling, with Jules (the narrator) doubting her motives, then trying to convince herself that it would pass, rinse and repeat. Things picked up after a while, though, and made this book in general a worthwhile read.

The other thing that I didn’t like here was, well, the negativity. On the one hand, as mentioned previously, it didn’t surprise me, and I would totally expect harsh reactions to such research in reality. On the other hand, it also felt like 99% of the world was against Becca, Scott, Jules, Rosie, and the other people involved in this. And it made me wonder, would there be -no- support at all for something like this? It was like every newspaper, every magazine, every website only had criticism to share, and there was no blogger out there encouraging these women, approving of the research. So, it was “realistic”, but I would’ve have appreciated seeing more support for Jules and Rosie, for lesbian couples trying to have a child, etc. Seeing a story where LGBTQ+ people get nice things, too, and not mostly negative ones. (In contrast, too, when some things went well, they did so all at once, without that many consequences, which felt strange, and lacking a proper middle ground.)

Conclusion: 3.5 stars. A slow beginning, with a pace that fortunately picked up, and a tackling of issues that was both very realistic but a little too pessimistic to my liking, too.

The Science of Science Fiction

The Science of Science Fiction: The Influence of Film and Fiction on the Science and Culture of Our Times  - Marc Brake

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

A fast-paced and interesting read, although it is more an introduction than a book going deep into details. If you’re looking for an entrance door into this kind of topic (= how movies, series, and science fiction in general relate to science, either by bouncing from discoveries or by even coming first), it will be great. If this isn’t your first book about this, if you’ve already dived deeper into the exact science behind fiction ideas and concepts, you’ll probably feel that it’s too light. It’s not meant to teach you science through SF, if you get my drift.

The book is divided into short chapters, each exploring a specific theme and relating it to works of science fiction, like human cloning, cyborgs, aliens, and so on. It is a gold mine for movies you may want to see or more books to read (I’ve definitely noted down a few names!), and it introduces the science in those in a very easy way: you don’t need to be a scientist to approach these, and whether you want to then research them on your own or leave it at that, it’ll be fine.

The questions it raises are also valid, and here, too, they easily give pointers as to what topic one may want to research more afterwards, such as whether the singularity is going to spell our doom, or what our lives and psyches would be like if we could upload ourselves into new “meat bags” when the previous one dies.

Conclusion: 3.5 stars. Not the deeply science-oriented book I thought it’d be at first, and nevertheless interesting and pleasant in other ways
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Sleepyhead

Sleepyhead: Narcolepsy, Neuroscience and the Search for a Good Night  - Henry Nicholls

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

There’s a wealth of information in this book, sometimes in the text, and sometimes through the references it offers—I’ve picked in those a couple of books I’ll need to read at some point.

“Sleepyhead” is probably more interesting if one is already suffering from sleep-related troubles, maybe not as bad as narcolepsy, but even temporary troubles, such as acute insomnia caused by stress. It goes through a certain amount of factors that trigger narcolepsy and other “X-somnias”, providing details about how misdiagnosed those used to be historically, and helping understand what they entail. For instance, I always thought that narcolepsy was about people falling asleep at any time of the day, but it had never occurred to me that their sleep at night was highly disturbed, and not the peaceful slumber one would imagine from that very basic description. I’m glad I know more about it now.

The book was also interesting for its insights about sleep in general, though the focus remains on the dysfunctional parts: it seems that over the centuries, lots of superstitions (like “incubi”) were in fact descriptions of parasomnia-induced symptoms, such as night terrors. I also didn’t know about the two-time sleep people seemed to have had before artificial lights: sleeping early for a few hours, then being awake for 1-2 hours in the dead of night, then sleeping again for a few more hours.

While note a bona fide scientific book, “Sleepyhead” is useful no matter what: for the journey it describes (Henry Nicholls went to meet and interview many people while researching), and for the information it provides. It could be beneficial for people who suffer from such troubles, sleep apnea for instance, if only to alert them in a “hey, that sounds exactly what -I- am going through!” way.

Not That Bad

Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture  -  Roxane Gay

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

This collection of essays is a very enlightening one: about people who were raped and/or sexually assaulted, about those who work with them, about the rape culture that permeates so many places and societies.

The latter especially is worth mentioning, because little gestures, little ‘jokes’, everyday sexism and attitudes and ‘if you wear those clothes then You’re Asking For It’ sayings are the foundations of something deeper, something that leads to rape, and make it so that no matter what, the victims are still the ones who have to justify themselves. Justify the amount of times they said ‘no’; or whether they said it clearly enough (apparently, for many people, a woman who says no actually means yes… and they never question it, and therefore make a decision based on what they want to hear). Justify and quantify their pain: if it was ‘so bad’, shouldn’t they be dead? And, since they aren't, shouldn’t they be grateful that ‘at least they’re not dead’ (as if that could erase and negate what was done to them)? As if this was but a trifle, something that you just can, and have to, get over with, because mentioning it will Make Other People Uncomfortable.

I guess I should be grateful that the ‘only’ aggression I had to go through dealt with random guys deciding that fondling my thigh in the train was something they had a God-given right to do. Or grateful that they ‘only’ flashed their dick in front of my face. It wasn’t ‘that bad’, right? Well, screw that. At the root of it, our stupid, crappy society is still stuck on Man Sees, Man Takes (sometimes women do that, too, but it’s nevertheless much more often the other way ‘round, because Boys Will Be Boys, and all that rubbish we dump into boys’ heads when they’re still so little). And as long as we don’t wake up and grow up for a change, this won’t go away.

The styles are varied, by various authors (female, male, trans), including even an essay in comics format, while being close enough to clearly resonate as a whole. They read quickly and easily in terms of grammar/vocabulary, and yet remain powerful and hard to stomach as well, due to the theme they explore and the pain they deal with, whether they are actually depressing or carrying some form of hope.

These essays are definitely worth reading: as an eye opener for some, as a reminder in general of what is at stake, of the day to day attitudes towards sexual harassment, of all the tiny ways well-meaning people can and will say/do the wrong things.

She Wants It

She Wants It - Jill Soloway

[I received a copy of this book through the First To Read program, in exchange for an honest review.]

I had only watched the first season of “Transparent” before, but I guess I knew enough then to recognise the author’s name, and be interested in the book’s premise. As a word of warning, though, if you’re in the same case… uh, the book contains spoilers as to the next seasons. I wasn’t too happy about that, especially since I had been able to avoid them so far. Or maybe it was just unavoidable for starters?

It’s also different from what I had expected, that is to say, more of a memoir, and not exactly “essays” or more structured writing about feminism, being non-binary, questioning, and so on. As such, while it remained interesting, spoilers notwithstanding, it felt kind of disjointed in places, and at the end, I felt like it hadn’t gone in depth into anything.

The last part about Me Too and people coming out about Tambor was also… well, it played straight into the unfortunately usual “she came out about this and now the actor/the show is going to be ruined, we should’ve talked about this among ourselves only and seen where to go from there”. Soloway does acknowledge that it’s wrong, but it still felt like there was much more to say here, and it was brushed over. It’s not on the same level as powerful men paying women they have abused so that they keep silent, but the feeling remains somewhat similar nonetheless, like an afterthought, like something that was mentioned at the end only so that people wouldn’t dwell on it too much. I didn’t like that.

Sadie

Sadie - Courtney Summers

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

This was quite a gripping story, that for once I felt like reading more slowly than I usually do, perhaps because I kept dreading the next “Sadie” chapter, not knowing where it would take me… or, rather, suspecting where it would, and not wanting to see whether I was right or not. Why I do that to myself, I have no idea.

The mixed format, alternating between Sadie’s first point of view and the script of a podcast about her and her sister Mattie, worked pretty well for me. I’m usually a good enough audience for those novels that play with different formats, and this one wasn’t of the kind that tries too hard or think it’s so much more clever than it really is. “The Girls” is reminiscent of a true crime narration, and Sadie’s parallel narration puts everything back into perspective every time, adding heart to the more neutral tone of the podcast (although West McCray, the podcast’s “narrator”, is fairly involved—in fact, I’d say his involvement is similar to what I was feeling: he, too, wants and doesn’t want to know what he’s going to find).

Sadie’s story is both touching and sad. Here’s a girl who doesn’t have much—her mother’s an addict, she stutters and people make fun of her because of that, she doesn’t have friends, or money, or prospects… the kind of person that, too often, no one would really care about, because she’s not important enough, or was “looking for it”, or whatever similar tripe. She has a fierce love for her younger sister Mattie, and what happens to the latter devastates her to the point of taking her to the road in search of the truth.

In a way, the double narration is part of her life, too: while West keeps searching, there’s always that feeling that he’s not doing enough, not going fast enough, not digging deep enough, and you want to tell him “hurry up, we’re nearing the end of the book, find her before…”. After the abuse she’s suffered, you want someone to take care of her, not the way her surrogate grandmother did (Mae was her support as she was growing up), but as support in what she’s doing now, in her current odyssey as a girl become an adult much too soon, and who’s trying to right a wrong (and save other people) even if it means suffering so much herself. Because Sadie could’ve given up any time, turned back any time, and she doesn’t: it’s not only about Mattie, but about the others, too.

Conclusion: A slow read for me, as it was kind of painful and I kept dreading turning the page… but that’s also what made it a good book. Scary, creepy, horrifying, for the worst monsters are the ones who look human… but definitely a good book.

Confessions of the Fox

Confessions of the Fox - Jordy Rosenberg

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

Mmm, I really had a hard time staying focused on this one. The premise of a Jack Sheppard actually being a trans man (well, probably an intersex person for starters, considering the genitalia alluded to here and there when he’s concerned) was definitely good, since I would like to see this kind of character more often in general. Not to mention my soft spot for rogue-type protagonists, and the 18th seedy London depicted throughout the novel.

The relationship between Bess and Jack was interesting in many ways: Bess’s childhood, Jack’s indenture, both characters having been victims of men in authority and now finding freedom and power with and in each other… The novel explores acceptance in a way that I like, not as something that comes to be, but as something that is : there is no “period of adaptation” during which Bess learns to love Jack the way he is: she loves him, it’s natural, they’re two human beings attracted to each other. No need for that condescending “acceptance” that too often is, in fact, patronising and not so accepting when you think about it. “He’s always been there,” indeed, and then they find each other. Just like Voth has always been there, and many other people that tend to get ignored because it’s more “convenient” that way.

However, I found the academic-sounding footnotes rather disrupting, and to be honest, I wasn’t really interested in the running commentary when it diverged from Voth’s own personal life (probably because I haven’t read the works mentioned in said footnotes, so whatever clever ‘a-ha!’ moments there were to catch, I completely missed them). I guess it takes quite a lot of focus to read this story, and it’s not something I’ve had much this summer. Perhaps I should’ve read it at another time.

Another problem I had was how Jack’s story felt more about concepts than about actual characters—developing some events more, showing more of his ties with Aurie for instance, or more moments when he learnt his trade, would’ve helped flesh him. This would’ve been a good way of highlighting the message “we’ve always been here”: as human and not simply literary beings.

So, my 2 stars are mostly because I know I wasn’t the right audience for this book at the moment, not because I think this novel is “bad”.