adelaide, south australia | Member Since 2011
In the early part of the 21st Century few figures have been as respected, and simultaneously reviled, as Jim Hansen.
Perhaps only his colleague Michael Mann has surpassed him as a target of the so-called climate 'skeptic' community - many of whom, sadly, fail to live up to their self-assumed name.
Many would have you believe that the man is a fanatic, an environmental extremist, a zealot - even a scientific incompetent and/or fabricator of facts!
Can I suggest that if you give this book a fair hearing - literally in the case of the audiobook - you simply cannot justly hold these claims to be true.
That Hansen is a sincere man is undoubtable. That he presents a compelling case for recognising the risks we are collectively running in conducting a radical experiment on the one atmosphere we possess is also beyond dispute.
Hansen, director of NASA'a Goddard Institute of Space Studies, has been doing this for a long time, and is one of the pioneers of the field of climatology, and is certainly the first internationally-known advocate of the phenomenon we know as Global Warming.
Certainly one can argue with some of his prescriptions; though a rapid phase-out of our reliance on coal can hardly be questioned if we accept the evidence, whether we should embrace nuclear power or adopt a tax-and-dividend strategy - as opposed to the market mechanism of cap-and-trade (now, ironically, opposed by many 'Free Traders', who tend to deny the reality of anthropogenic climate change) - will remain much more open to debate.
But these are exactly the points we should be discussing in the face of such a crisis, and nobody is a greater authority on the predicament that we are in than Hansen himself.
Hansen presents himself, convincingly, as a centrist, small 'c' conservative type of fellow, who really would be quite happy to just do the Science and avoid the abrasive scrutiny of the limelight, were it not for the fact that he feels he owes his grandchildren a livable future.
He presents the dangers graphically and clearly. He has concluded that 350 ppm of atmospheric CO2 is the maximum safe target - this, Dear Reader, is already well surpassed, and receding further into the distance with every day that passes. This suggestion of Hansen's has been the inspiration for Bill McKibben's climate action group, 350.org.
Beyond 350ppm we enter dangerous waters indeed. Hansen is certainly the most prominent qualified authority to warn of the most dire consequences, with regard to future sea-level, extreme weather events - the eponymous 'storms' - and even runaway feedback mechanisms leading to genuinely catastrophic consequences.
One can only hope things will never be that bad - but we ignore such voices, merely because what they are saying triggers our defensive 'that could never happen to me (or my children!)' reflex, at our peril.
The excursion into a short, pedagogic science-fiction story based on a future hyper-warmed Earth towards the end of the book constituted the only really jarring note in the story itself for me.
I also found the reading by John Allen Nelson to be mildly jarring - rather too uninflected for my taste, and somewhat monotonous.
But neither of these mild reservations is sufficient to mar my enthusiastic endorsement of this audiobook.
As many have pointed out, this isn't a catalogue of the monstrous and marvellous. This is a discussion of the hypothetical boundaries of life as we could anticipate finding it sprawled across the universe.
First off, let me say that I bet we never find any evidence for giant dirigible beings floating up and down in the thick, turbulent gaseous atmosphere of some distant, surfaceless planet. I mean, what the hell are they eating? Where are the parallels in our own atmosphere?
This kind of sets the tone for the 'gee whiz', science-fictiony aspect of much of the book, and as a consequence I, for one, significantly discount the author's apparent 'optimistic' assumptions about the virtual inevitability of life virtually everywhere you might chance to look.
As for the 'if' 'if' 'if', and 'then' robot brains have taken over and are evolving themselves, and that's the kind of intelligent life SETI will encounter stuff - give me a break! Because, like, smart phones! Geez!
Surely the core of life is that life strives, and life intrinsically cares very much about the continuation of its own existence? Programming some hyper-processed chip of sand to BEHAVE as if it did (and, sorry, that is all that it will ever do) is not even close to being the same thing, but could, ironically, turn out to be one of the most suicidally reckless acts undertaken by our suicidally reckless species.
Oh, and what about your bloody hands, people!? Giant centipedes ain't going to evolve the intelligence to build technological civilizations - and, vitally, to store and readily transmit the information required - any more than dolphins are! Or develop much in the way of an intellect at all! Another sad limiting case the author doesn't really tackle - if you cannot manipulate the world around you competently there is no selective pressure for you to evolve the kind of brain-power we recognise as intelligence. Let's face it; any putative wind-tossed gasbag's thought processes would amount to little more than 'da da dum dum' and 'ooooh'.
There is much of interest in this book, and much that is genuinely thought-provoking. But if you're looking for a catalogue of freaky animals, go elsewhere, and otherwise anticipate a fairly regular 'yeah, sure' response...
SPOILER ALERT (but you know what's coming anyway!)
All-American girl bereft by recent loss of her dear, dear, faultless, kind-hearted, salt-of-the-earth character father. CHECK
Handsome investigator who initially clashes with said heroine and then... well, you know the rest. CHECK
Heroine doesn't bother to clarify what her sainted father - bless him - was actually up to, and what this supposed legacy from him to her is until chapter 5, despite constant references to it by the other characters. CHECK
Heroine is supposed to be committed to doing something by way of profession - in this case she's, like, an artist - but exhibits no marked inclination to undertake any activities relating to it. Except for the occasional plot purpose (see below). CHECK
It's set in New Orleans so we get a sort of liberal, first-amendmenty tour of Voodoo from an apparent closet rationalist, not-at-all-crazy-and-scary voodoo priestess who helps us understand it's all really not-at-all-crazy-and-scary, and Good Voodoo isn't really the problem. Whew! CHECK
Comically silly villain. CHECK (not many are sillier, actually!)
And deluded menials. Who think they can harness 'the power' for themselves. Mwahahaha. CHECK
Sex scenes that manage to pitch somewhere between the comic and the turgid. CHECK
Heroine doesn't work out the multiply-telegraphed reference to, you know, that thing that's been niggling at her in the two sentence instruction from her sainted father - God rest his soul - until just before the climax (not the one alluded to above!) despite its, ahem, blinding obviousness. CHECK
Cell phones that work in a heavy stone-walled crypt, underground. CHECK
Heroine who's specifically instructed not to trust anyone is left alone at the strategic moment and trusts, you guessed it, a wrong someone. CHECK
A wrong someone who, despite all that's gone on before, squibs out on simply and conveniently killing, rather than just knocking out, the heroine's putative 'protectors', because it just wouldn't do to kill a dog now, would it? CHECK
And, wow, like that finished painting she did in, like, an hour in her sleep was prophetic all along! And you'll never guess who the sacrifice depicted was!? CHECK
And, like, wow, that other woman was the evil priestess all along! Who'd'a'thunkit?! CHECK
Let's face it; you've heard this book before. But it may beguile a few hours if you're relatively untroubled by the above...
As for the reading, it's spirited enough (boom boom!), but perhaps you, like me, will remain unsure who's supposed to be a Scot, and who's Irish, and whether nationals of either country would recognize themselves...
Even if you think you know what we've done to the oceans, the fact is, you probably don't.
Roberts does a great job making you aware of this in painstaking, but never laboured, detail.
Particularly interesting is the treatment of secular hero, and Darwin ally, Thomas Huxley, who managed to be hopelessly wrong about the interaction between natural systems and market forces not once, but twice, and who doubtlessly went to his grave thoroughly convinced that it was reality that was the party at fault! His high-handed, patronising treatment of witnesses at his inquiry is cringe-inducing, and gave me a new perspective on the man, and the foibles of intellectual arrogance.
Which, really, is the message of the book. Free markets in the oceans are a disaster. Marine parks and competent regulation are the solution.
At the very least you'll gain an insight into why your grandchildren ended up living off jellyfish...
This seems to be Thomas Perry's attempt to write a kind of 'No Country for Old Men'.
He doesn't make it.
A bunch of not-particularly-sympathetic and not-particularly-rounded characters meander through a mystery tale that's competent, rather than compelling. Frankly the revelatory 'twist' exposition which is compulsory in these things was not only thoroughly telegraphed, it was stretched almost beyond breaking-point, and if I hadn't been driving I'd have fast-forwarded through most of it it!
(And, yet again, we are left to wonder 'what is it with the contemporary American admiration of sociopaths'?)
Anyway, you get what you pay for, and it's well read. Only, if you have a choice, go for Cormac McCarthy, eh?
We live in a world in the feverless grip of undead and undying ideas, whether it be the notion that climate change really isn't happening and the world's science academies are actually over-run by secret Communists, or that austerity is a peachy - and 'commonsense' - antidote to recession.
Though Quiggin's interests range across the Zombie spectrum, his specialty is Economics, and this is where he concentrates raining his defensive blows in ensuring that the dead stay down, as they're supposed to.
He patiently, and entertainingly, explains all the reasons that the premises of what he calls Market Liberalism - and what you may know as Thatcherism, Reaganism, or Economic Rationalism - were rendered defunct and incapable of resuscitation by the Global Financial Crisis of 2008.
Why have ordinary working people voted against their own best economic interests, across the Anglophone world in particular, for decades? Why do we live in a society where corporations are people, billionaires are 'just plain folk' - and need hardly be expected to pay much in the way of tax accordingly - and yet schoolteachers and climate scientists are dangerous elitists who threaten our way of life? Oh, the humanity!...
To really know what's gone wrong for the living you must understand the undead, and Quiggin's short tome is a great place to start.
If I have a criticism it's that Quiggin's short history of ideas in Economics tends to be strongly focused on academics; it sometimes seems as though the ideas might truly only have propagated within ivory towers, rather than having been buoyed along in the social marketplace by the interests of those they have served. Since 1979 that has been, almost exclusively, the 1%; Wall Street, not Main Street, and they have lavishly promoted their necrotising notions with the unprecedented spoils at their disposal.
This is a great place to start to inoculate yourself against the Zombie pathology.
Gideon Emery's proficient reading gives a solid Australian voice to this Antipodean author.
I've titled this review in honour of the recommendation that the author makes in a footnote that if you read one astronaut's account of their time in space, you should make it Mike Mullane's.
The footnoted incident itself caused me some degree of embarrassment, as I burst out laughing loudly - and, to passersby, inexplicably - while strolling down my suburban main street listening to the book on my iPod - via discreet in-canal ear-buds - doubtlessly further enhancing my local reputation for eccentricity.
This book is popular science writing at its best. The topic is fascinating, the pacing is excellent, and the whole mixture is leavened with good humour. And unexpectedly broad interest: being the only non-seasick member of an otherwise green-of-gill family, the extensive discussion of motion sickness was both intriguing, and surprisingly relevant to non-cosmonautic life.
There's an unimaginably dazzling array of little things that goes into launching squishy, emotional and erratic humans into space. And big things, of course. This book is an outstanding description of the place where humanity meets technology, at the very edge of the most desolate void we could ever conceive of encountering.
And it's also a great account of the vast teams of researchers and technicians that lie behind the space-jockeys.
A great listen. And dazzling well read.
Seriously, people, Terry Pratchett's work is one of the great under-rated treasures of the English language. And whenever his long-time collaborator, Stephen Briggs, is handling the narration, you know you're in for a treat.
Once upon a time I saw myself as far too highbrow and learned to expose myself to books with trolls, vampires, and werewolves in them. If you, too, shudder at the thought, Dear Reader, then I must tell you now - in the case of Terry Pratchett's work you are wrong in your assumptions, to the point that you may have to consider the possibility that they're irrational prejudices!
Certainly, some of the early books are exemplars of rather more conventional fantasy, albeit with a few decent jokes thrown in, but later works constitute a wonderful, always empathic, satire of human society, and are strongly Humanist in their sympathies, despite the various fantastic species that gad about in them. Oh, and they're funny, and have cracking plots to boot.
In 'Monstrous Regiment' we see the adventures of a Pratchett staple - the loyal, kind, and good-hearted young heroine who becomes bolder and more confident in her abilities as she faces the various obstacles the narrative throws at her.
I compare Polly Perks and the young witch Tiffany Aching, who appears in the 'Hat Full of Sky' "children's*" novels, to the deeply sympathetic, and ultimately empowering, young female heroines of Hayao Miyazaki, as seen in animated masterpieces such as 'Spirited Away' and 'Howl's Moving Castle'.
The story involves a war in Borogravia, a fictional nation in Pratchett's fictional Disc World, where society is heavily - and amusingly - restricted by the almost endless (and constantly revised and updated) list of those things that are an Abomination Unto Nuggan, the national deity. Things such as garlic, cats, the colour blue, sneezing, and jigsaw puzzles.
Polly sets out to rescue her somewhat feeble-minded brother, Paul, who has gone away to the war that no-one dares say Borogravia is not winning, and disguises herself as a young man in order to enlist and seek him out at the Front...
As you'd expect from Pratchett, much - always good-natured - fun is poked at jingoism, religion, and warfare.
And, as you'd expect from Briggs, the voice characterizations are excellent, and the comic timing is impeccable.
Highly recommended. If you're new to the Disc World this is as good a place to start as any...
*News to me! But that's what they officially are, apparently...
I have to say, first off, that I found John Joseph Adams' introductions excruciating. Amiable fellow he may be, but I really don't enjoy being told what I'm about to think of something, or how many obscure SF awards a particular writer has received, and convenient chapters allowing the introductions to each piece to be easily skipped would have been a real plus from my perspective.
Simon Vance, on the other hand, is a consistently outstanding Watson, and where he is the narrator his efforts really help to lift the material; in some cases this is certainly required, as some stories fall well short of the original mark.
The tales are indeed a mixed bag, with many showing Science Fiction and Fantasy leanings, and some even outright Horror. Most manage to capture the 'Sherlockian' tone well enough, but some manage to combine 'dull' with 'faithful'.
However, there's more good than bad, and the collection as a whole constitutes agreeable entertainment.
While I prefer more straightforward detective narratives with the typical rationalist flavour of the original, I found Neil Gaiman's effort the most appealing, despite its reliance on the whole gamut of SF, Fantasy, and even Horror. I don't know that my namesake would have approved, but I'm sure that Gaiman has placed his two characters exactly where he would have wanted them to be in this nightmarish alternate past.
My recommendation? If you're a Holmes fan, and have enjoyed respectful pastiches such as Bert Coules' 'Further Adventures...' radio plays for the BBC, AND you have a credit to spare, I reckon you'll be happy enough!
Can there be many educated Westerners to whom it would come as a shock that the New Testament does not present an accurate, or logically-consistent, portrayal of historical events, least of all when it comes to that story's protagonist, arguably the most famous person who has ever lived? Or that it contradicts itself, and cannot even resolve the character and aims of its hero?
Should you be one of these hypothetical sheltered souls, this may well be the best place to begin your exposure to those cruel winds whipped-up by any real historical examination of the texts.
The point is made, and made well, that the writers of the NT did not set out to write The Bible, and the politics - and sheer arbitrariness - of what ended up constituting 'the definitive account' of the life of Jesus is convincingly documented.
I suppose the problem I have is that the conclusion that Ehrman derives from it all - that, despite having been a devout amongst the devout who admits his researches have made him an agnostic himself, nothing here need make any reader a non-believer - would appear to be a non-sequitur.
And something of a cop-out.
For, exposed to all this clinical historical information, the anachronisms, the contradictions, the absurdities, and the compelling evidence of the all-too-human frailties and fervent passions of the authors - whoever they may have been - how can anything resembling doctrinal 'faith' endure, without resort to the merest humbug?
For me it certainly can't, but I suppose I've never been inclined to believe, and I live in a nation where the Church is now not much more than just another community organization to which one might belong - a sort of sacerdotal Rotary - whether by accident of history or by choice.
The historical absurdity of the story is certainly no small part of the decline of Christianity in much of the West, as is the rise of Science and the concomitant - and less desirable - rise of the consumer economy and its vulgar, and frequently exploitative, materialism.
Decline, that is, except, of course, in one nation, the leader of the West, which is now, despite being arguably the most materialistic nation ever to have existed, and unlike its cousins, scarcely secular, to a degree that would probably have shocked its founders.
There it's much more difficult to come out and just say clearly 'look, it's just a series of pedagogic - and implausible - stories composed by personalities that we would now regard as, um, rather-too-zealous, to put it mildly'. Intriguing, certainly, and the moral ideas it advances are certainly generally more appealing than many of the preceding book's more violent notions, but fatally dangerous to confuse with fact or truth.
In this sense, this is a book written very much for that one nation, and probably presents it about as great a challenge as it can bear.
The rest of us can be fascinated and amused - I, too, would have enjoyed a sky-high Towering Jesus and a Speaking Cross, and rather regret the exclusion of that Gospel!
(I will add that this book will almost certainly not please those looking for a fiery New Atheist denunciation of Christianity as Fraud or Neurological Impairment - there are plenty of such polemics elsewhere!)
Culp's genial and avuncular narration makes for pleasant listening, and, should this material be at all threatening to you, is also about as gentle an introduction to an uncomfortable exposition as you could possibly hope for.
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