Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Next Species: The Future of Evolution in the Aftermath of ManThe Next Species: The Future of Evolution in the Aftermath of Man by Michael Tennesen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wish everyone would read this book. It’s a well-researched popular science overview of the current climate picture and the history of mass extinctions on the planet. It’s a step above Discovery Channel or NatGeo television, but not so high a step that members of Congress, for instance, couldn’t understand it.  It’s hard not to be angry when there’s so much of our planet’s life at risk, and the author does a much better job than me, taking the approach of “How did we get here and what happens next?”

As well as the past and present, Tennesen takes us on a speculative journey to mankind’s future, on-planet and off. Which is a little scary, because some of the folks he talks about going to Mars plan to pretty much treat that planet the same way, filling it with nuclear waste whilst terraforming.  So we are left with the central question: will humans survive to live new futures?

The problem with the future is not climate change, but humans. We are animals that move into a place, use up the resources, and move on. We pretend that our brains and perceptions make us better than all the other animals on the planet, but a look at current policies and behaviors proves our hubris. Climate change is happening, and the only real power we have is to adapt and possibly mitigate the effects.

“Extinction in reality is a simple process…This will come for man (sic) in five hundred, five thousand, or fifty thousand years as current rates of overpopulation, disease, or all the possibilities listed above continue. Toss in a nuclear war, an asteroid (a regular occurrence in our geological history), or a supervolcano (a major factor in the Permian and Cretaceous) and we’re there much faster.”

‘Stopping man from killing himself will take more than behavioral modification. Like a world of dieters fending off hunger, we would have to push back from the table of reproduction, renounce growth, and limit our use of natural resources in order not to hit that fatal inflection curve—to avoid the catastrophe of nature making those selections for us.”

Like most people handed a fatal diagnosis, the human race has been focusing on rage and denial. In fact, the diagnosis is more that of a chronic illness. It would be wise for us to curtail certain behaviors. Like children, the race is acting out—we’d rather fight than switch, die than change. No matter what we do, our children inherit a diminished world—though they have the opportunity, as did we, to adapt and change. What will change first, humans to fit into the world, or Nature, to make a world unfit for humans (and incidentally, most current living things)? The author leaves room for hope.

Life is amazing and wonderful and tenacious and will continue after humans, but we could grow and change with it—evolve. I hope there’s a grassroots miracle of small living and sustainability; it seems pretty obvious that the powers-that-be intend to leave a legacy of ashes and stone.

I received an EARC from the publisher and Netgalley for review.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Clash of EaglesClash of Eagles by Alan Smale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's a strong beginning to an alternate history series, pitting an unfallen Roman Empire against the Moundbuilding cultures of the Mississippi in the approximate 1200 AD analog of our world. Whilst the background details of wider history are a bit fuzzy, the world comes alive in the physical and psychological story of a "superior" culture discovering the dangers and audacity of assumption. What will happen to a Rome facing a continent bigger than its current empire?  What influence will Rome have in this new environment?

Smale does an excellent job of showing the tensions between cultures. Even without Rome in the mix, the Iroquois Confederacy and the Cahokian Alliance have been involved in an ever-escalating war, one every tribe on two continents may have to deal with. To them, a Roman incursion is a mere blip in a much larger scenario—or is it? The pleasures of reading alternate history are mostly about speculation: “What if?” “What happened to?” There is also pleasure to be had in the opportunity to re-examine history. Smale provides the opportunity for both pleasures, and tells a good story, too!  I usually don’t care much about the tech details of these kinds of stories, but the hero and I share a fascination here, hopefully explored in more detail in the next books.

For sheer inventiveness and setting, I was reminded of Kurt A. Giambastiani’s alternate Cheyenne Alliance adventures, though they’re an imaginary 600 years later. Well-researched, with an index and guide to further reading, Clash of Eagles is highly recommended for those who enjoy historical and speculative fiction with a thoughtful pace.

I received an EARC of the book from the publisher and Netgalley for review.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Keep on singing

NightbirdNightbird by Alice Hoffman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's a sweet book by Alice Hoffman, filled with beautiful sentences and just the right touch of magic, tasty as apple pie and moonlight, a mix of Cynthia Rylant and Hilary McKay. To me, middle grade fiction is the truly universal literature; like cartoons, deceptively simple yet appealing to all generations. Unlike cartoons, no need to slide into caricature--though it's certainly a great tool and an argument could be made that all fiction, the characters being crafted, is caricature. That was a digression, but gives a sense of how difficult it is to appeal to both children and adults. Hoffman succeeds.

Publisher blurb: "Twig  lives in Sidwell, where people whisper that fairy tales are real. After all, her town is rumored to hide a monster. And two hundred years ago, a witch placed a curse on Twig’s family that was meant to last forever. But this summer, everything will change when the red moon rises. It’s time to break the spell."

Twig doesn't have friends, she has secrets, but this is the year everything changes. New people move into the town, new controversy sparks, and somehow Twig's connected to all of it.  There's danger, mystery, prejudice, and love lost and found. There's apple magic, and summer days, and friendship and loneliness. Why only four stars? The story is told in Twig's voice, first person past tense, so not my favorite point of view. It's a beautiful story and mostly we are carried along in Twig's twelve year old perceptions, but there are times when I felt the perspective  switched to "flashback" and it threw me out of the story for a bit. Four stars--the book will be treasured and stay with you. Five stars--the book will help form your soul. And this will be a five star book for some. Here, describing a tradition of counting fireflies (which I have never seen), comes one of those Hoffman moments:

"It was an old game with us and we reached two thousand before we gave up. There was so much light in the world we knew we would never be able to count it all." Just one sentence gives you the nostalgic essence of a perfect summer. A good book from a great writer. Recommended for ages 10 up.

(I received an EARC from the publisher and Netgalley for review.)

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Dead Heat (Alpha & Omega, #4)Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dead Heat

Children in danger? Supernatural elements in the case? Call in Charles and Anna Smith—and Agent Lesley Fisher of the FBI. The balance between suspense and love story here is perfect, and this spinoff series has fully come into its own with this fourth installment.. It’s been good to watch the progression of Charles’ and Anna’s relationship. Anna has finally grown into her strength, and Charles’ heart is not so hidden.  But trouble for the mortal world is brewing, brought on by the tricky Fae, and war between the werewolves and the Fae is looking increasingly likely. From start to finish, a delightful dance of danger with touches of humor and depth. The way to fight monsters is love.
Highly recommended.
I received an EARC for review from the publisher and Netgalley.)

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