Review: The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet by Ramez Naam


Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: May 23 to 27, 2013
Read count: 1

Unlike many of its kind which has flooded the market in the past few years, Infinite Resource is a book of ideas and positive solutions. Instead of scaring the reader with talks of impending doom, it takes a closer look at dire situations that we are facing or will face in the near future and offers optimistic solutions. Over population, drastic climate changes, dwindling natural resources (scarcity of fresh water being a priority), pollution, etc. just to name a few big ones. The author believes that by working together, pooling our resources, and most importantly, sharing ideas and technological advances we can make the planet sustainable again. Naam references various times in history when people came together, with a collective/hive mind, to work toward a specific goal and believes that can happen again. He points to specific recent examples–most are in Europe–of sustainable lifestyles and how they can be achieved.

This book is well-written and the ideas presented are data-heavy but easy to follow. Naam maintains an optimistic tone from beginning to end, and I think that’s admirable in light of the subject matter. Since the book sticks to a textbook-style format, it would be great for a univerity intro course. The ideas presented are new, yet approachable enough to make discussions interesting among hive-minded individuals and perhaps motivate those individuals to think positively.

One critique, though. As optimistic the tone is, it can seem lofty at times. I’d like to believe in Naam’s positive attitude toward humanity and human innovations, but it’s difficult to do when I take in the current state of… everything. Since his ideas depend so much on humanity working together and humanity as a collective, Naam should have at least mentioned the fact that greed is responsible for many of the problems the planet is facing today and that overcoming greed is what we should focus on first.

* I received this book as a GR giveaway from the author himself.

Original review can be found here.


Review: Raising Stony Mayhall by Daryl Gregory


Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date read: May 04 to 26, 2013
Read count: 2

5 stars upon finishing, but now that I think about it, it’s more like 4 or 4 ½, depending on my current mood.

John “Stony” Mayhall is a living dead miracle who defy all odds, logic, laws of physics, our understanding of anatomy and physiology, our sense of “living” and “death,” etc. He lives despite not having that spark of life, he grows despite not having proper bodily functions, and he ages despite time not being a factor that should affect him. And he thinks, not only intelligently, but deeply and ponders questions like, “What is that spark of life?” and “How am I moving and thinking but not really living?” Important questions (for both the living and living dead).

One cold blizzard evening, Wanda Mayhall and her daughters come upon Stony and his birth mother by the side of the road, almost frozen and certainly looking dead. Stony’s mother doesn’t make it, but miraculously he does. The Mayhalls bundle him up and bring him back to their farm and then realize what he is, a zombie baby. He seems almost like any average human newborn, except for his gray skin and inability to eat or sleep. Wanda decides to keep and raise the baby on the farm, instead of informing the authorities.

Stony grows despite all the things mentioned in the above paragraph and learns to live as human. However, there’s always something missing or feels not quite right in his life and he doesn’t realize what it is until he meets other living dead and live among them. Then to his disappointment, he finds out he’s not quite like other zombies either because he was raised by a human family, which brings up that age-old question of nature vs. nurture.

This is mostly a story of a boy coming of age in the late 60s/70s in a time of intense persecution. It’s alternate, yet family history. The War in Vietnam never happens and the Cold War never happens either. Instead the US government is fighting a silent war against an unstoppable viral outbreak that, if spread again, can spread at an alarming rate. The world Stony lives in is a world that traps itself in a police state for fear of another outbreak, and while people comply with zero-zombie-tolerance laws and regulations, there are some who help the living dead as part of a network that runs all across the country.

The zombie virus causes the infected to die a physical death while exhibiting all the classic zombie traits, like a bout of fever, mindlessness, a hunger for human flesh, and a gray skin tone. The infection is passed on through saliva entering the bloodstream. After 48 hours, the infected regain control of themselves and a majority resume whatever state of mind they were in before the infection, though there are a few who never recover. The living dead can die and be killed, but they don’t feel pain or heal themselves. Though no exception to the limitations of zombies, Stony is a special case because he grows and achieves a level of body awareness that’s never been seen before. He comes to understand why “the stick” moves and what actually makes it move.

It’s fun to see Gregory’s interpretation of classic zombie lore and how he develops them further. I’ve always had an appreciation for sci-fi / fantasy writers who can incorporate real-world science into their imaginary worlds. Gregory does it in a believable way. I hope this is where the zombie genre is heading–less mindlessness and flesh-eating; more focus on thoughtfulness, the science of viruses & outbreaks, and zombie physiology.

What keeps this story from a 5-star rating is the unusually huge jumps in time. There are a couple that jump over a decade or so, and that’s just too much time lost (from a reader’s perspective). Other than this one minor thing, I really like the direction in which Gregory takes his zombie story, and I hope he’s planning to write more.

Original review can be found here.

Review: Sheepfarmer’s Daughter (The Deed of Paksenarrion, #1) by Elizabeth Moon


Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Date read: May 16 to 23, 2013
Read count: 1

I wanted to like this book, but it just did not work (for me).

* * * spoilers below * * *

Although the writing is thorough and descriptive, most of the problems I have with this book come down to its third person (sort of) limited narration. Most of the time, details enhance the story and help build the world, but sometimes they’re repetitive and yet you still don’t get to know much about the world the story is set in. The latter applies to this story. There are a few scenes where magic played an important role like the Honey Cat’s capture or Paks’ mysterious pendant, but you don’t find out how magic system(s) work, not because it can’t be explained, but because the main character doesn’t know herself.

Another thing that kept me from getting into this story was the characters and how interchangeable they were. They had no personality or personal traits to separate one character from another. Paks, as a main character, as a lowly soldier in the ranks, doesn’t know much of anything, let alone important things, like magic. So the reader just has to accept these things, without explanation, as they happen. But I suppose that’s the whole point since Elizabeth Moon wanted to write a story from the POV of a soldier.

If it weren’t for all the violence and gore that she has to experience, Paks would fit the Mary Sue mold very well. Things just happen to her and she reacts to them, in an appropriate manner or whatever that’s appropriate for the situation. A supernatural force just happens to take a liking to her and saves her from death multiple times. NBD.

I know all of these issues can easily be resolved by my reading the rest of the trilogy since Elizabeth Moon wrote the series as one book. And I’ll get around to it… eventually.

Original review can be found here.

Review: We the Living by Ayn Rand


Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date read: May 14 to 22, 2013
Read count: 1

If you liked Ayn Rand’s other books, you’d like this one too.

If you like her politics and enjoy her writing, then this is a must-read because it’s practically an autobiography.

If none of the above applies, then this would be an unpleasant experience.

* * * * *

More palatable than Atlas Shrugged and much less root-canal-y than Fountainhead is probably the most accurate way to describe my reaction upon finishing. And I did finish, much to my surprise. It wasn’t as unpleasant as I thought. I’d expected to struggle with this book, not because Ayn Rand’s philosophy is hard to understand, but because it’s Ayn Rand and she has a way of making her books unpleasant.

Unlike Rand’s other books, there’s an actual story in this one that’s neither convoluted nor unbelievable, and that’s probably because it’s Rand’s life story. At times, however, there are moments in this book, as well as her writing in general, where you can see the wheels in her propaganda-churning mind turning. Expositions become long-winded and overwrought with description after description of how much more difficult life is under Soviet rule and how much injustice is in the system and how unfair the rations are and how hungry the people have become and how much has already been taken from Kira’s/Rand’s family, life, future. The point to keep in mind here is the quantity of suffering. The reader (mostly me) is left with the question: how much more can Ayn Rand squeeze into the narration to get her point across?

Although this is a novel, it never felt like a novel to me. There is the main story that follows an idealistic young woman, Kira, from the shunned middle class who fights the system by going along with it only to find a way to fight against it. Much like Rand herself as a young woman. As Kira and her family return to the city after the revolution, they are displaced, disenfranchised, and robbed of their livelihood (her father’s textile mill is nationalized) all because they used to be financially well-off. Rand explains in detail every time the main character encounters a particularly crippling situation, like having her home taken away and a family of five living off of two food ration cards. These expositions get in the way of the story and she overdoes them every time, but without them, the reader might not fully understand how the system and/or politics worked. So there’s that.

This story doesn’t end well for anyone, a very fitting vehicle to drive the Rand agenda home… right over the cliff. (Pun intended? Maybe.)

* If you’re looking for a book that has similar themes and subject matter but you want to avoid Ayn Rand altogether, I’d suggest Doctor Zhivago. More heart and ambiguity, less in-your-face propaganda. But according to my father who has read both books, lived in a Communist state, and experienced firsthand many of the events described in the books, Rand’s is closer to the truth in terms of portraying the unfairness and biases of the system. I still think she overdoes a lot of it though. Perhaps that’s another metaphor for Soviet brutality.

Review: Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson


Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date read: May 11 to 17, 2013
Read count: 1

Many—all?—who grew up in the Midwest have had plans to leave it behind one day. Many—all?—who grew up in a small town in Middle America have had plans to find some place better. However, plans change and not everyone gets to leave. Sherwood Anderson brings that inner struggle into his writing, making the burden sympathetic through his use of simple, conventional language.

This is a semi-autobiography composed of a series of interconnecting short stories about life in a small town. The stories follow a main character from childhood to young adulthood, the moment he leaves Winesburg. He writes the stories as an adult looking back on his life and reminiscing on the past. Much of the stories are inner monologues that delve into loneliness, isolation, and the confines of small towns.

Original review can be found here.

Review: The Art of the Short Story by Dana Gioia & R. S. Gwynn


Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date read: May 08 to 16, 2013
Read count: 1

All the “classic” short stories writing teachers ever need to teach are compacted into one convenient anthology. What I find most convenient are the author’s brief biographies and the ideas and inspirations behind the short stories.

Both authors and titles are listed on the blurb page.

Original review can be found here.

Review: Elantris (Elantris, #1) by Brandon Sanderson


Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date read: May 08 to 16, 2013
Read count: 1

As a stand-alone, this story has one too many open endings. Probably Sanderson’s way of securing a way to turn it into a series, if readers’ response turned out to be favorable, that is. I see what you did there… and continue to do in later books.


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* * * *  spoilers * * * *

Continue reading

Review: I Love Dick by Chris Kraus


Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date read: May 10 to 12, 2013
Read count: 1

A friend who is a sociology teacher asked me to read this book and give her feedback. She’s thinking about teaching it in a class next semester. I have no idea what class she’s teaching or why it has to be this book, but I’m certain of one thing–this book will get people talking. The title alone will accomplish that much.

I Love Dick is not so much a story as it is a journey for a bored-of-married-life filmmaker who falls for, or thinks she falls for, one of her husband’s colleagues, the titular Dick. The filmmaker sets out to seduce Dick with the help of her husband, who is open-minded and consenting enough to help. Dick, however, is not interested and the connection goes nowhere. The filmmaker’s husband doesn’t want to see his wife disappointed, so he takes on the role of Dick and the two of them carry on a role-playing correspondence where the husband pretends to be Dick and then pretends to carry on an affair with the filmmaker as Dick. Then, a lot of other things happen to blur the line between fact and fiction and makes you question whether or not these things are actually happening, or maybe they’re a product of a mind on the verge of a breakdown.

This is a true story, “true” in the sense that a sequence of events similar to the narrative actually happened but probably not in that exact order or not to the extent exaggerated in the text. This book is comprised of letters, journal entries, essays, and annotations that attempt to piece together what exactly the filmmaker is looking for when she attaches herself to the idea of being with Dick, a man she barely knows but is convinced she’s in love with.

This chase for Dick is an attempt to avoid life-altering complications, like a marriage possibly falling a part or a film career going nowhere or repressed psychological issues, but these problems don’t get addressed directly and are pushed aside as the filmmaker and her husband get caught up in this “Dick project.”

I’m not certain Chris Kraus finds whatever she’s looking for in the end, but she is convinced she has. This book is one of those that you can discuss forever without making any headway, and it might even lead to a few screaming matches. And that is precisely why I think it will be perfect for a sociology class, even better if it’s for Intro. to Sociology.

If this is your response to this review

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then there’s no need to read the book, which I doubt anyone would on his/her own.

Original review can be found here.

Review: The Complete Illustrated Home Herbal Doctor

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date read: May 07 to 08, 2013
Read count: 2

Colorful photos, clear instructions, helpful advice, and easy to follow recipes.

I bought this book because I liked the photos and descriptions of wild plant life. I didn’t expect to learn anything new or retain what I’d learned. So I was surprised to find the recipes so simple and easy, and most of them require only ingredients you already have in your pantry or kitchen.

Original review can be found here.