Monthly Archives: January 2009

Barlough – Dark Sleeper

9) Jeffrey E. Barlough – Dark Sleeper.  I think Jeffrey Barlough is an underappreciated author.  Well, I like him, at least.  His books have a unique mix of Dickens and Lovecraft.  Plus mastodons and saber cats.  This, his first, features a miser to rival Scrooge, and a plot dating back thousands of years to release ancient gods back into the world.

Unfinished business

I just posted about a book that I didn’t finish reading.  Last night I watched the first 30 minutes of a movie, then turned it off and packed it up to send back to Netflix without seeing the rest.  This kind of thing is more common for me these days.

I often feel a little guilty about not finishing a book or a show that I’ve started.  I’m not sure why.  I don’t think I really owe anything to the folks who worked to produce the book or show.  Maybe they could have done a better job.  More likely, our tastes and interests just don’t overlap as much as I thought they would when I started on it.

And I guess that’s the core of the thing.  I’m trying more things out where I’m not sure if I’ll end up liking them or not.  And I think that’s good.

Dawkins – The Selfish Gene

Richard Dawkins – The Selfish Gene.  This is an excellent book to read for understanding in detail how evolution and natural selection explain everything.  How life could have arisen.  How evolution occurs, and what drives it.  Why we have sex (as opposed to asexual reproduction).  Why apparent altruism is yet another manifestation of the gene’s drive to survive.  How aggression, and what we often view as "mock" battles between animals, fit in.

And that’s just the first few chapters.  It goes on to explore behavior within families, and sexual differences, and then introduces a new unit of evolution – the meme, Dawkins’s invention.  The meme is something that survives and evolves in culture, rather than cells.  Think language, fashion, customs, religion.

I didn’t read the whole book.  I read the first few chapters, skimmed the next few, and peeked here in and there in the rest.  While the book is often classified as popular science writing, I wouldn’t quite call it that.  It goes into more detail than that.  It also goes to lengths to refute academic misconceptions about evolution that most people would never have heard of in the first place.

I’d recommend reading the first three chapters to understand the mechanisms of evolution.  If you’re specifically interested in how evolution can affect individual and species behavior, keep reading as long as you find it useful.  Then skip to the chapter on memes and read at least the first few pages, just to understand what he’s talking about.

A later book by Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, goes well with this one.  It focuses on one aspect, how evolution could produce highly complex structures, that this book doesn’t look at.

Great quotation from Carl Sagan

I just came across this.

"In science it often happens that scientists say, "You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken," and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion."

            – Carl Sagan

Barnes – One for the Morning Glory

8) John Barnes – One for the Morning Glory.  Another minor classic, in my opinion.  A quirky fantasy, where the characters know they’re in a story and use that information to help make decisions.  Words are consistently misused – the soldiers fire pismires at each other and the hunters come home with freshly killed gazebo – giving it a rather weird feeling all through.  It’s not necessarily a happy story, having more in common with Grimm than Mother Goose. 

Willey – The Price of Blood and Honor

5) Elizabeth Willey – The Price of Blood and Honor.  This is the immediate sequel to the second book, A Sorceror and a Gentleman.  It has less action than the previous books, being more about the consequences of what happened before.  One character has what I think we’d call PTSD nowadays.  Another seems to be soothing his unhappiness by shacking up with an evil sorceress.  I was glad that I knew from the 1st book (which happens much later than the 2nd and 3rd) that these characters do recover and are doing well later on.

A few plot threads are left unresolved, but so far as I know, there are no more books.