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Recent Reading

I keep telling myself I'll post a thorough review of everything I read, but I seem to read a lot faster than I post. So instead I'll settle for some quick comments on the latest books.

The Fabric of the Cosmos, Brian Greene
I saw that Greene's latest had just come out, so I figured I should read this first. As always, Greene is excellent at using examples and metaphors to explain extremely complicated subjects. This time he takes on the nature of space and time, the origins of the universe, and the underlying reality of matter, now informed by recent discoveries in cosmology.

Unfortunately, I've done some real study since reading his first book, so this wound up feeling remedial and boring. And I'm still not sold on string theory, his favorite. But for someone who wants to get an understanding of what quantum mechanics and relativity mean, without doing all the heavy math lifting, no one explains it better than Greene. Now with Simpsons characters in all examples, for that extra serious touch!

A Fire Upon the Deep, Vernor Vinge
Yay, for epic science fiction! I'd been saving this as a treat. :)

This is set in a universe where the speed of light is no longer a limit in certain regions of space. The farther away from a galactic core you get, the faster space ships and signals can travel. So civilizations in the outer regions become extremely advanced, right up until they point they reach singularity and become gods.

Out near the realm of the gods, some humans undertook some ill-advised archaeology, dug up and reactivated a malevolent godlike being. They fled, but only one ship escaped, carrying some children in suspended animation and a secret which may be the only thing which can stop the being which is quickly destroying every advanced civilization it contacts.

The story shifts between various sects of the pack-intelligence aliens on the world where the escaping ship landed, a few surviving humans (and allies) headed out to try to retrieve it, and usenet-type messages discussing, misinterpreting, and acting on events. It's a big, complicated book and I liked it a lot, though the ending wasn't quite as spectacular as A Deepness in the Sky.

One interesting detail -- the Kindle version includes hyperlinks to revision notes, both from the author, his editor, and some other people whose initials I couldn't identify.

Jesus of Nazareth, Parts One and Two, Pope Benedict XVI

A fascinating pair of books -- I've never read anything like them. Possibly why they already very busy Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict took the time to write.

The author takes gospel events, assumes them to be essentially factual, puts them in historical context and uses what we know of the era, cultures, and languages to tease out what actually happened, and what that means for Christians. Reading was sometimes tough going -- following the meaning of a specific word through several pages of analysis is not a skill I've kept up lately.

He insists that this is not a magisterial document. He's not teaching or declaring anything -- it's just a scholarly investigation, but it sure is amazing reading. Looking forward to the next volume.

The Immortality Virus, Christine Amsden

I know Christine from Codex, and this had just been released and was on sale when I was looking for my next book, so I thought I'd give it a shot. Good choice.

In a world where people mysteriously stopped aging a few hundred years ago, Grace has been hired to find the guy who may have caused it. But looking for him means that everyone wants to find her, now, either to stop her, or get whatever information she's collected. Fast paced, interesting, good characters, clean style. Very fun read.

From Words to Brain, Livia Blackburne

A short essay on what our brains are doing when we read. Interesting, though I'm not sure I can do much with the information. Was hoping for a little more in the way of tools than just info.

Starve Better, Nick Mamatas

Various collected essays from nihilistic_kid. Includes one of of his best LJ posts ever. Loved this, though I never write non-fiction and rarely write short stories. Still lots of fun with useful advice. Writing books are always better with professional wrestling metaphors.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 30th, 2011 10:54 am (UTC)
So how far through Jesus' life do parts one and two take you? and when you say amazing reading... is there anything very unexpected in them? (I guess I ask because I thought people more or less knew what life and times were like back then and so therefore more or less had already *done* what it seems those books set out to do.)

I find nihilistic_kid very entertaining thought-provoking to read (when I happen to run across him here or there), but he a bit terrifies me, what with not suffering fools gladly and having an extremely broad definition of fools.

EDIT: And not just "entertaining," which sounds dismissive. I said "entertaining," because a lot of times when I stumble across something he's written, it's something caustic and critical. But that LJ post you linked to was very thought-provoking--so maybe really what I should say is "thought-provoking."

Edited at 2011-04-30 11:03 am (UTC)
Apr. 30th, 2011 09:27 pm (UTC)
Jesus of Nazareth Part One covers: baptism, temptations, proclamation of the kingdom, sermon on the mount, Lord's prayer, a few parables, and some details of Peter's growth. Part Two goes from the entry into Jerusalem through the passion and resurrection.

I found the information in the books a little unexpected, not in that I was really *surprised* but that it was new and I thought I'd already learned everything. ;)

Most people, believers or not, think that Jesus was a nice guy who went around the countryside telling people stories about how they should be good, gathered a bit of a following, and then the authorities in Jerusalem decided to have him killed.

But apparently, that behavior would never have got someone killed in Israel -- they were all about morality! And certainly not right around Passover when it was a huge ordeal to get it done during a festival time.

The book(s) explained many of Jesus' parables and sayings which, while I know what they mean to us now, I didn't know what impact they had on the people who heard them. Many words and phrases had been used for so long they were practically code. At various times, Jesus said outright that he was replacing the Torah, the Sabbath, and the Temple with himself, essentially and unambiguously overturning the foundations of Judaism. I hadn't realized that he was being quite THAT explicit to the people he was speaking to. And the leaders were horrified and offended, which is what prompted them to act.

Lots of other good insights, but that was the one that really struck me.

More next comment. :)
Apr. 30th, 2011 10:50 pm (UTC)
Interesting--and a little unsettling. It makes him sound like a megalomaniac. I guess if you make claims and they're *true*, then you can't be one. But from the perspective of people who weren't persuaded/didn't believe, it must have seemed a bit much.
Apr. 30th, 2011 10:59 pm (UTC)
Exactly. I'd heard that a "misunderstood nice guy" explanation didn't work for Jesus. Either he was the Son of God or he was crazy -- no middle ground, but I hadn't understood why before.

Does make me more sympathetic toward the High Priest and co. They really weren't equipped to deal with the situation.
May. 5th, 2011 01:04 am (UTC)
I didn't know about this pair of books -- happily the college library system has them, so I think I'll follow your lead. Thanks for the tip!
Apr. 30th, 2011 09:39 pm (UTC)
I know what you mean about nihilistic_kid. I don't interact with him all that much online, because I don't feel witty enough to keep up. I even stopped reading his LJ for a while, because I wasn't enjoying it. Added it again just recently.

When I met Nick at FOGcon he was super nice. Most people don't make any effort to include those outside their immediate circle in conversation, but he was friendly and started talking to me right away. I appreciated it.
Apr. 30th, 2011 10:54 pm (UTC)
*nods* That's good to hear--nice when someone is friendly and inclusive!

I occasionally have dipped in to take a look at his journal. He reads the journal of my LJ friend intertribal, though, and sometimes comments there.
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 30th, 2011 08:40 pm (UTC)
Yeah, he's still writing. Rainbow's End was out in 2006, and apparently he has a new novel in the "Zones" setting coming out this year!

I'm not surprised that his books take a while to write.
May. 1st, 2011 12:42 am (UTC)
A bit of correction on A Fire Upon the Deep: So far as is shown, ours is the only galaxy in which things slow down (and thinking becomes harder) as one goes toward the center.

I think the center of our galaxy is a prison.
May. 1st, 2011 12:54 am (UTC)
Thank you for the clarification! Prison, hm...? Interesting idea.
May. 10th, 2011 04:44 am (UTC)
Question re: JoN: Did you find an appreciable difference in the two volumes in terms of style?

I had a much easier time with the first volume than the second, and I'm trying to determine to what extent this is late 3rd trimester pregnancy-brain interfering with my concentration, and to what extent it might be from the difference in translators (two different translators used) or simply a difference in the difficulty of the material.

I have usually found the current Holy Father's works to be very easy to understand, no matter who the translator, but I had a lot of difficulty with the Holy Week volume in terms of my attention wandering or having to go back and reread paragraphs in order to understand them.
May. 10th, 2011 04:51 am (UTC)
I don't think it's you -- I had a lot more trouble with the second book, too. It doesn't seem to have as strong a narrative line (which is odd, since it covers such a condensed time span.
May. 10th, 2011 04:58 am (UTC)
Now to find someone who read the two volumes in the original German, and see if they noticed a difference...
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )