September 29th, 2009

buzz

September Books 31) The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing, edited by Richard Dawkins

I'm not a fan of Dawkins' views on religion, but as editor of this book he has done a fine job; it clearly makes a difference that he is writing about topics he knows and likes, and his introductory pieces to each extract are informative and often self-deprecating.

I was less sure that the book actually works as a concept. The selected pieces are necessarily extracts rather than complete works, and the result feels more like a scrapbook than an anthology. Certainly none of the pieces is bad, and several of them made me want to seek out more by that author (from the sublime - Albert Einstein's thoughts on God - to the ridiculous - Francis Crick's advice to avoid gatherings of more than two Nobel Prize winners). But the nature of the book means a succession of changes of pace, some of which are rather jarring. This contains a number of chunks out of various excellent books about science but doesn't quite end up being one itself.
earthsea

September Books 32) Fairyland, by Paul J. McAuley

A 1995 novel of the near future which won the Arthur C. Clarke Award (and I think also the BSFA). It's a pessimistic take on the post-nanotech future, particularly convincing on the relationship between high-tech computing and low-tech field combat in a very recognisable near-future Albania (yep, I've stayed in that hotel too).

I thought the settings were very convincing if rather gloomy - 1994-95 saw the height of the Bosnian conflict, and from that perspective McAuley's Balkans, mired in conflict for decades, would have seemed entirely plausible. Unfortunately I couldn't quite bring myself to care much about the characters, but I did admire the scenery.