2312 is the latest entry in the Kim Stanley Robinson universe spawned in "Red Mars" and continued through "The Martians." Being beyond even the super extended lives of the cross-book protagonists of previous volumes, we are introduced to an entirely new cast of characters. These center primarily on Swan Er Hong, granddaughter and heir to the latest and recently deceased Lion of Mercury. Primarily an artist and carefree spirit who previously worked on the many terrariums which now orbit the sun, Swan is reluctantly drawn into the intrigues of her late grandmother. This small group of individuals, carefully avoiding the normal communications net, has begun to amass evidence of a conspiracy against the Mondragon (the very loose trading alignment of ex-colonies beyond Earth). Details are sketchy, but it appears to be connected to a highly unauthorized and highly dangerous number of agents who appear to be human, but are actually creations of and repositories for intelligent AI's -- the same kind of AI's that run so much of the day to day existence of humans across the solar system. Linked unexplained attacks on a terrarium and on Swan's home city of Terminator bring home the humanity's vulnerability and hone the group's desperation to unmask the conspiracy before larger havoc is wrought.
The many characters both major and minor slowly piece together this three dimensional puzzle, taking us literally from asteroids inside the orbit of Mercury to the frozen fields of Titan where even here, humanity is working epically to terraform a home. And, of course, much of the problem is connected to Earth. It's an Earth where the promise of reform and openness hinted at a century ago (@end of Blue Mars) has yet to be realized; an ecologically devastated home world groaning under its teeming billions and 10 meter sea level rise.
There are flaws with this book - the economics of the solar system are still quite fuzzy, as are some of the particulars of the technologies and terraforming. Worse still, I don't actually *like* many of the characters featured - least of all the main protagonist - but she merely super-exemplifies the petulant, bohemian, self-absorbed, trans-gendered, labor-phobic extra-terrestrial humans that largely populate Stanley's 24th century. Lastly, the plot meanders often, taking more than a few detours and dead ends through duller spots.
Having said all that, the book is still marvelously engaging. Robinson shows us the "accelerando" from the end of the last trilogy here in full bloom: asteroid terrariums, hollowed out and spinning for gravity, each one a self-contained biosphere and society ranging from the mundane to the exotic. Many of these terrariums are doing dual duty as travelling conduits between the various ex-colony worlds scattered from Mercury to the moons of Neptune, which are themselves exceedingly diverse and fascinating in their detail. Even Venus at last is being changed to habitable under dueling and simultaneous terraforming strategies (fast and friendly enough to get more people off the Earth quicker, or slower and more drastically/thoroughly to make a more Earth-like planet). It is perhaps only because the settings become so vivid that I find myself wanting to know more of the hows and whys and thus finding a few loose ends.
All in all, anyone who either enjoyed Robinson's 'Mars' trilogy, or appreciates SF where an author creates a vivid and different universe for their characters to inhabit should enjoy the book.
I didn't find the narration as bad as some of the other reviews - but I enjoyed Richard Ferrone's narration of the Mars Trilogy more.
I'd had this in my wish list for a while, and honestly dove into it only because it seemed to be of modest length, and it's currently football season. I remember hearing the book review on NPR a long time ago when the book was released and thinking, "Oh, he's just cribbing from Plimpton!" I was pleasantly surprised and engaged at Fatsis' narrative of his quixotic attempt to mold himself into something approaching an NFL kicker. Fatsis sucks you in with his candid, eye-opening picture of an NFL locker room and its players. After a short time, by suffering alongside the players with two-a-days, rigid dawn to dusk schedules, and the constant physical demands, Fatsis managed to blend in with all the other eager rookies and hired hands trying to win a spot on the roster in camp. Moreover, he earned the respect of many veterans on the team. As he says in an epiphinous moment, he became a Bronco - not just some journalist hanging out in the locker room. Through his own determination (and the cooperation of the Broncos coaching staff), Fatsis not only gives you a terrific look at the inner workings of a modern NFL franchise, but what it is like to be (or aspire to be) a real NFL player. Plenty of books can detail the lives of NFL superstars, but I found it far more fascinating to see how life played out for the largely anonymous rookies and journeymen who found their way into Broncos training camp. All those who are prone to over-glamorizing the sport would do well to read this book and find out just how the vast majority of NFL players are treated - like disposable, de-humanized cogs to be plugged in and out (and in and out and in and out again) as the situation dictates. At times it seemed like I was peering at the inner workings of management in a Chinese garment factory instead of a modern American multi-million dollar entertainment business.
But not all the book is swept up such documentation and analysis - quite a lot of it (and some of the most engaging bits) deal with Fatsis' personal struggle to train, to learn his small bit of the offense, to force his middle-aged body to put up with the rigors of an NFL training camp. He successfully draws you in so well that you cheer at his few triumphs and wince at the all too often failings as camp wears on into the pre-season. The mental toughness that he develops is interesting. His quest reveals well how many players are physically gifted enough to play in the NFL, but few have the smarts and mental toughness to really make it long-term. And, as a player informs him after he spectacularly fails a kick under pressure with the whole team watching, "Now you really know what it is like to play in the NFL." We're all too often judged or remembered more for our failures instead of our successes. Or, as Jason Elam puts it, "you're only as good as your last kick." Fatsis' sometimes funny, sometimes ironic, but always honest exploration of his own desires to play, alongside that of his teammates are some of the best parts of the book. I had expected to be a little jaded with the sports psychology bits, but they were quite thought provoking.
All in all, this is a great book. Recommended for sports fans and non sports fans alike. The author reads his own book and clearly and vividly recalls a number of the episodes while reading.
I am admittedly a bit biased, being a fan of space exploration since childhood, but this is a terrific book. It thoughtfully lays out the political underpinnings on both sides of the Cold War that detoured the race for the 1st effective ICBM into a race to put the first artificial satellite in orbit. Likewise, it exposes the technical hurdles and how each group sought to overcome them. It is amazing to consider that mere years after the invention of the transistor and a little over a decade after WW2, both the U.S. and the Soviet Union were actually capable of putting an artificial satellite in orbit. I blinked in disbelief reading how after launch a technician hurredly worked a slide rule, manually calculating during flight when to press a button to start the 2nd stage of a rocket in flight. The Soviets in particular showed an amazing practicality and sang froid which allowed them to overtake the U.S. and score the historical first. There are many details which flesh out and enrich the story of the nascent U.S. and Soviet satellite efforts. Even being familiar with the outlines of the story, I learned many fascinating and disturbing details - and Brzesinski isn't afraid to show Korolev and Von Braun's many personal and professional faults - and demons lurking in their respective pasts. His account of the struggle to all important primacy and especially the launch sequences are written grippingly. This is an excellent book and I highly recommend it not only to those interested in the space race, but those interested in U.S. and Soviet politics and history of the period.
Narration was fine but, as mentioned elsewhere, the dramatic music, emphatic countdown in Russian, and rocketlift off sound at the beginning of each half were a little jarring. :-)
Another excellent entry in the Oxford History of the United States. I didn't personally find it quite as engrossing as "Empire of Liberty" or "What Hath God Wrought," but still extremely interesting and informative. This book goes to some lengths to explain and document just how radical much of America was before the revolution (which flies in the face of some of my collegiate history instructors, who pitched the revolution as more of a minority driven phenomenon). Likewise, it at times adopts almost a fait accompli tone to the revolution's eventual success - though it is quite careful to point out at numberous points where the British blew it politically and militarily in attempts to contain and/or end the conflict on their terms. Middlekauff seems to hint that Britain lacked the political will to deploy the tremendous resources necessary to subdue the continent. There seems to be great truth in the argument, if accepting the aformentioned largely radicalized American populace as mentioned above. Based on my own larger reading, I still can't help thinking what an EXCEEDINGLY precarious enterprise the American Revolution was, prone to being snuffed out for any number of reasons throughout the long struggle. The Americans (and Britons) who ensured that it didn't are well detailed in many sidebars throughout.
The other interesting thing I continue to see again and again as I read more of the history of the United States is to see how so many of our current dilemmas, arguments, problems, etc were baked right into the United States from its earliest days - indeed, some even before the very founding of the republic. Likewise, it is amusing (if disappointing) to see some of the titans in the American pantheon wrestling luridly in the political mud with their opponents - right up to and incuding vitriolic personal attacks, doctrinaire thinking, and hyperbolic rhetoric. Everything old is indeed new again.
Strongly recommended for those interested in U.S. history and politics.
Superior history of the early American Republic bridging the gap b/t "The Glorious Cause" & "What Hath God Wrought?" Wood vividly captures the diversity and clash of opinions as Americans realized, "We won the war - now what?" We watch as the patriots who won the war & founded the nation slowly drift into factions that harden into opposing political parties, further complicated by differences in geography, lifestyle, and culture. Reading this, it feels amazing that the United States came into being at all, let alone survived the travail of the ideological battles virtually baked into its founding.
The terrific thing about this history is how it illuminates that the struggles the U.S. went through then are largely the same issues it continues to struggle with today - the power of states vs. the Federal gov't, Congressional vs. Presidential authority, the role of the judiciary, and shall the Constitution be interpreted literally, or is it more of an adaptive framework cleverly crafted to change with the times as need be? Even the struggle of religious fundamentalism vs. that of comparative tolerance and arguments about the role and scope of religion vis a vis the state were wrestled with right from the beginning.
Plenty of folks who like to talk about interpreting the Constitution the way the framers intended probably ought to indicate which framers - there were a number of different outlooks. And those who yearn for a day of less mean spirited politics need look no further than this period to have their illusions shattered. I was downright shocked to see some of the things that such esteemed figures as Jefferson & Hamilton had to say about each other. Their vitriolic personal attacks would be right at home in today's poisoned political atmosphere.
Beyond this terrific insight, Professor Wood's eye for detail and untangling the complicated issues (e.g. early history of the American judiciary) are also exemplary. I can't praise this book enough
This is an interesting book on the early history of the modern electronic computer. The main flaw as I see it is that the story of ENIAC is largely outlined in the first third of the book. The rest of the slender tome goes on to detail the extended battles over patent rights. Plenty of print is spent on the creators' battles with themselves, the marketplace, and the powers that seemed to conspire to deny them their proper place in computing history well after ENIAC was retired. I have read only a little heretofore about the intellectual property battles detailed in the book. The author clearly has written the book to take up the cause of Mauchley and Eckert as not only the driving force behind ENIAC, but to laud them as the actual inventors of the modern electronic computer. I'm not inclined to argue - I was just more interested in the actual history and capabilities of the ENIAC itself, and apparently that wasn't worth the whole of the book. Even later, as the author and the inventors move on to found the "world's first computer company" and struggle to create the more powerful successor the UNIVAC, McCartney seems more interested in detailing Mauchley and Eckert's poor business decisions, deteriorating personal lives, and extended legal battles rather than expounding on what UNIVAC could do and how much better it was than ENIAC. Having said that, I did enjoy the book and found it quite interesting. I very much liked how the author detailed the various hurdles the ENIAC team faced and how they overcame them. I apreciated how he put the efforts to build the ENIAC into the context of the ebb and flow of the 2nd World War. The U.S. Army funded the development of ENIAC and it's demands, yoked to the innovative solutions of Mauchley and Eckert, created systems and architectures that literally launched the computer age. Strange Note: The narrator actually reads the footnotes for the book - making a modest listen even shorter!
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