Book Review: How I Killed Pluto

I was recently feeling that there wasn’t enough science in my life (I don’t know, it was a feeling) so I did what I usually do when I want more of a topic–I found a book about it.  Specifically, I went to the library and looked up “astronomy” in the Dewey Decimal system and went over to that shelf to see what I could find.  And so I stumbled onto How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown–and it was excellent.

Mike Brown is the astronomer who found a large object beyond Pluto, igniting the debate (or at least, seriously heating it up) about what exactly a planet is, and whether Pluto qualifies.  His book is a kind of astronomy memoir, about his work looking for large objects beyond Pluto, in the Kuiper Belt.  The one that caused the controversy, nicknamed Xena and eventually named Eris, wasn’t the first one he found, so the story is something of a journey through near-misses, other discoveries, Mike’s own engagement, marriage and birth of his daughter along the way, and finally the great Pluto controversy.  It was very readable throughout and really fascinating. Continue reading “Book Review: How I Killed Pluto”

Book Review: Level Up Your Life

I’ve had Level Up Your Life by Steve Kamb on my to-read list for many months.  January is always a good time to read books about goals and intentions, so I finally picked this one up.  And I’m so glad I did, because it was an excellent start to the year!

Level Up Your Life approaches life transformation from a video game, geek perspective.  Kamb tells his own story throughout, about his love of video games when he was young (and still), and how he used the game mechanics of video games, with a little guidance from the Hero’s Journey classic story arc, to transform his life into something far more epic.  Basically, he set audacious goals, assigned experience points for completing tasks and quests, and has set his sights on “leveling-up” to Level 50, which would mean living his best life, as his best self.

I feel like this is a great book for a person with a certain mindset–one shared by probably most people I know.  It would help to have some sci fi interests, as he draws heavily from superheroes, movies and video games for his examples.  I knew the movies, and even for the video games I only knew by name, it was easy to follow the points he was making.  You also have to like the idea of approaching your life and completing your goals as something you can keep score on and continuously improve.  Which I found to be a pretty cool idea, actually! Continue reading “Book Review: Level Up Your Life”

Mini-Monday: Tamora Pierce Revisited

I’ve been doing a lot of audiobooks recently, and I decided to revisit a few Tamora Pierce books–although rather than listening to favorites, I ended up revisiting a few I was on the edge about, to see how they’d feel on another read.  The results were mixed!

Street Magic

Tamora Pierce has two big, long-ranging magical series with subsets within them, Tortall and the Circle of Magic books.  While everything is good, I give a definite edge to the Tortall series.  However–Street Magic is my favorite of the Magic Circle books, and I was happy to see it held up well on a reread.

The Magic Circle books center around four young mages, Briar, Sandry, Daja and Tris.  The first four books develop their foster sibling relationship and the discovery of their respective magical gifts.  The next set of four books sends each of them on separate adventures.  Street Magic follows Briar, gifted with plant magic, as he takes on his first student, street kid Evvy, and tangles with the gangs interested in Evvy’s stone magic. Continue reading “Mini-Monday: Tamora Pierce Revisited”

Book Review: Enlightenment Now

I stumble on books in a lot of ways—including, apparently, The New Yorker.  I don’t actually read it, but I occasionally encounter an article online.  Somewhere I found an article discussing Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker.  It made the book sound intriguing enough that I picked it up—though it may have led me astray a little too!

The New Yorker article gave me the impression this was a book about how, contrary to the popular view, the world (society, the human experience) is in fact improving.  Considering how often the news cycle makes me feel the exact opposite–yes, please, I’d like to hear that argument!  And that part of Enlightenment Now was very good–but I’m not sure that’s actually what Pinker intended his book to be about.

The book opens with, as wasn’t too shocking because of the title, a discussion on the history of the enlightenment and enlightenment values.  Not fascinating, to be honest, but engaging enough.  Then he got into the section The New Yorker wrote about, and made a pretty compelling case.  In brief, taking the long view (over a few decades, perhaps a couple of centuries), life expectancy has increased, poverty has decreased, diet is improved, health is improved, democracy has spread, literacy has increased, violence has fallen, civil rights have increased, standard of living has risen…and all by huge margins.

Now, that’s taking the global view, and Pinker is careful to note that he’s not saying any of these problems have gone away, and that there isn’t still poverty and disease and violence–but looking at the numbers, on a global scale, the world is a better place than it was even 50 years ago.  It’s hard for us living it to get that perspective. Continue reading “Book Review: Enlightenment Now”

Book Review: The World’s Religions

I’ve heard it said that we all carry more knowledge than was contained in the Library of Alexandria in our pockets all the time—by way of the internet, of course.  And there’s more information in any local library than even the most studious scholar would have been able to access a few centuries ago.  I’m sure it’s true—but it doesn’t usually feel that way.  However—the other day I was poking rather idly through the library’s book sale table, and encountered The World’s Religions by Huston Smith.  And now I rather feel as though I bought the collected wisdom of the world for a dollar on a random Tuesday.

I’ve heard of The World’s Religions for years, actually read a chapter (the Christianity one) in a college class, but never got around to reading the full book.  It’s excellent.  With a chapter (some of them very long) on each of the major world religions, Smith puts together a compelling collection of the world’s wisdom traditions.  He explains doctrine and major features of each religion, but I feel like he approached it from the angle of what each of these religions has to say about the big questions—how to live your life, what life’s purpose is, how to live in harmony with others.  Basically, how all these different cultures have made sense of the world through their religious traditions. Continue reading “Book Review: The World’s Religions”

Mini-Monday: Thor: Ragnarok

I may have confessed this before but, at the risk of harming my geek cred, I’m not much into Marvel.  I watched the first movie of several of their franchises, and didn’t feel inclined to continue.  Although I make exceptions for Dr. Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy.  And now, as it turns out, Thor: Ragnarok.

I came late to this one, but I finally watched Ragnarok last month.  From the trailer and the reports of people I knew who watched it, this seemed to be a funnier Marvel one than most–and it was!  Which is a bit odd considering the titular event is the end of the world…  In brief, the goddess Hela is released on Asgard, the Norse gods’ home realm, and Thor and Loki have to work together to top her–but wind up exiled to a kind of cosmic junk heap in the process.  Where, oddly enough, they bump into the Incredible Hulk.  As one does.

I knew this was going to be a better movie as soon as it started demonstrating a willingness to poke fun at itself.  Early on Thor confronts a giant flame demon whose name I can’t remember, and tries to carry on a conversation while rotating around hanging from a chain.  Weird, I know.  But it’s really funny as flame demon tries to rant about his fiery vengeance and Thor keeps asking him to pause because he’s rotated around out of sight.  The movie kept up a similar kind of tongue-in-cheek humor, and Thor himself was a lot funnier than I remembered from previous encounters.

It also helped that we had a fairly small cast, with the action centering around Thor, Loki and the Hulk, with Hela (an unrecognizable Cate Blanchett!)  It gave a decent amount of time to showcase each character, their arc and their relationships with each other.  Much better than ensemble casts of a dozen where barely any character gets seen.

So, from a non-Marvel fan, Thor: Ragnarok gets my approval as a funny, entertaining superhero flick!

Mini-Monday: Hello, Universe and Invincible Louisa

I’m getting down to the end of my Newbery Medal reading challenge, with just two more to go!  Today I thought I’d say a few words on the most recent two I read, from very different time periods but both pretty good.

Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly (2017)

The most recent Newbery winner, this tells the story of a handful of kids who share a neighborhood: Virgil, whose family calls him “Turtle” because they think he needs to come out of his shell; Valencia, brave, nature-loving and deaf; Kaori, who believes emphatically in her own psychic abilities, and Chet, neighborhood bully.  Their paths intersect one afternoon when Virgil goes missing.

This is a great one for my diversity challenge, as Virgil is Filipino and Kaori is Japanese, and both cultures are very much present and important for the characters.  All three of our heroic characters are different from the norm in their own ways, and they grow through the book to appreciate both themselves and each other.  There’s some tragedy at the center of the book, but a mostly light-hearted tone, especially around Kaori and her younger sister. Continue reading “Mini-Monday: Hello, Universe and Invincible Louisa”