Amanda Gates
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A Musings - February 2011

 

Editor's Note: Like most anyone, I'm not interested in every genre of books. But, I'd love my blog to offer insights on a wide range of books. So, enter guest bloggers. Below, my husband, who is smarter and more eloquent than me, offers a thoughtful post on a book he just read. I'm a dunce at all things science so I would never pick this book up on my own, but now I think it sounds extremely interesting.





An unfortunate and depressing fact about mankind living on planet Earth is that eventually the rock we call home will not be here anymore. The Sun will die, expanding to the point that Earth will be swallowed whole by the very star that gives us life. Of course this is billions of years from now, but what if mankind (or whatever we’ve evolved into) could escape this by traveling to a parallel universe? What if mankind could escape the solar system long before this happens by traveling to another star, perhaps faster than the speed of light? These are the topics brought to life by theoretical physics professor Michio Kaku of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York in his book Physics of the Impossible.

I’m sure right now you’re thinking, "Why would I want to read 300 pages about theoretical physics?" I have an engineering and physics background in my former career, and that doesn’t even sound fun to me. However, at some point we’ve all thought about what it would be like to time travel. We’ve all seen teleportation in Star Trek, or traveling faster than the speed of light in Star Wars.How many movies and TV shows have been made about robots becoming smarter than we are and turning on us? Terminator or I, Robot, anyone? What about Watson on Jeopardy?

Kaku takes the pop-culture sci-fi topics that everyone has thought about at one point or another, and describes the physics that may actually make them possible in a (more or less) easy-to-read fashion. You don’t need to have a huge science background to understand what’s going on. Kaku deconstructs into three classes what most people think are impossibilities. The first class being impossibilities that don’t break known laws of physics, and may be possible in this or the next century, including force fields, teleportation, invisibility, robots, UFO’s, and starships. Can you imagine how the world would change if you could order a book on Amazon and it would be teleported to you? You think that the USPS has a hard time now?! Also discussed are class II impossibilities that might be realized within a millennia or more (time travel, parallel universes) and class III impossibilities which violate the known laws of physics which would require a fundamental shift in mankind’s understanding of physics (perpetual motion machines).

Kaku takes great care in honoring the past scientific discoveries by giving a bit of history from the scientists whose research has brought us to where we are today. Sadly, many of these great thinkers were persecuted for their beliefs (some even committing suicide) that were later proven in labs. Ludwig Boltzmann was hounded for his belief of atoms and hanged himself in 1906 because of the intense pressure. What Boltzmann didn’t realize was that Einstein had written a paper in 1905 demonstrating their existence.

While the research from the past has made possible everything society takes for granted today (the internet, cell phones, computers, space travel), we are an infantile society when it comes to scientific discovery. It is highly likely that societies are thriving in the universe (or in other universes) that are much more advanced than we are. Kaku paints a broad picture of how we may discover and use technologies to become a more advanced civilization, and on the extreme long-term timescale, survive. Kaku does so in a way that someone with little scientific background but a little bit of nerd in them can understand. I myself can’t wait for his next book Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100.

Posted: Sat, 02/26/2011 - 19:00 |
Mockingjay

Note: As with my last post, I can't discuss this book without revealing SPOILERS. Read on at your own risk.

Well, the Hunger Games trilogy just got more disappointing with each book. I thought Mockingjay was pretty boring, and just when it would seem to be getting good, it would end up disappointing me. The districts are in rebellion and Katniss is the Mockingjay, but so much of this book is spent with her delirious, weak, confused, etc. Sure, the girl's been through a lot, but she's also stronger than this.

I hated that she wasn't leading the mission to save Peeta from the Capitol. And that she didn't try to save him ASAP. I feel like the Katniss from Book 1 would've done that.

I thought it was boring that so much of this book was about training and prepping and shooting propos.

It finally got interesting, near the end of the book, when Katniss and her group got near the Capitol and broke away from District 13's instructions and went on their own to assassinate the president. Finally, there was some fighting and Katniss got to lead like she should've been leading all along.

But, the ending sucked. Sucked. Not one part of it made me happy. I was on Team Gale from Day 1, and I think it's totally unrealistic how that relationship was (un)resolved.

I think an unnecessary person was killed. And I think the way she was killed was a lame attempt to make it seem OK that Katniss and Gale ended up the way they did. A ridiculous ploy.

I don't think Katniss ended up with the life she should've had.

My thoughts: Collins didn't want to be predictable, so she came up with ridiculous and poor attempts at keeping readers on their toes. All the things I wanted to happen, I admit, would have been predictable outcomes. However, for young adult novels, that's OK most often. Plus, I think in the name of being unpredictable, Collins made Katniss out to be weak and boring, and as a fan of our heroine from the beginning, that hurt me as a reader. I was actually angry about it.

Maybe I'm missing a deeper meaning, or I'm missing the point. But, in my opinion, the trilogy peaked with The Hunger Games. That book was great. The series as a whole? Just, eh.

Posted: Wed, 02/23/2011 - 14:56 |
Catching Fire

Note: If you have not read the Hunger Games and plan to, there are mostly likely SPOILERS ahead. However, because all three books are out, and you can easily read the book flaps and other reviews, I don’t know how much of a spoiler I’m actually being. And, I can’t really talk about how I feel about this book without mentioning certain details, and I really want to hear what other fans think, too. So: SPOILERS. There. I warned you twice. :-)

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Not surprisingly, I gobbled up (no pun intended) the second Hunger Games book, Catching Fire, in less than a week. Surprisingly, I’m having a hard time deciding how I feel about it. When the book opens, Katniss and Peeta are off on their victory tour through the districts. Of course, here comes their design team to dress them all up again and prepare them for the tour. While I love the design team (Cinna definitely captured my heart), I thought to myself, “I already read this in the first book.” So, right away I was disappointed. And then I wondered, “Is Collins going to drag us through each and every one of the 12 districts?” Because: Boring. But she didn’t, so she redeemed herself there.

But when we’re only a few chapters into the book and the tour is over, then what fills the rest of the pages? Oh, another Hunger Games. She can’t possibly figure out a way to throw Katniss back in to this hot mess that makes sense, can she? Oh, but she can. Granted, it was a surprise to everyone – a completely unorthodox move by the Capitol. However, I’ve already read about the Hunger Games, so again: disappointed. I felt like Collins was taking the easy way out.

Another note: As an editor, it drives me CRAZY that they spell Capitol with an “o.” It’s a city, not just a building. It should be spelled Capital. Who let that get by?

To be fair, I can see why providing us with another Games isn’t completely stupid. We get to see a different environment then the one the Capitol created in the first book. We also get to meet a whole new slew of characters - though not quite as deeply as we could’ve, I don’t think. But another Games? Eh.

However, in the end, there was a scheme to it all. There was a reason, and I have to say it’s a good reason. So, again, Collins redeemed herself. In my opinion, if you cut out some unnecessary sections—and the few “review” pages up front of each book (just assume we read the previous book(s) and move on!)—this series could have been two books instead of three. Though, how many two-book series are there in the world? I’m guessing not too many.

So. I’ll say I liked it. It offers up good characters, it’s easy to read, it’s engaging, and I love Katniss. And maybe after finishing Mockingjay, I’ll like the series as a whole better than each individual part? To be continued...

Posted: Tue, 02/15/2011 - 14:54 |
The Book Thief

The Book Thief is a haunting, yet wonderful book. It’s actually considered a young adult novel in many places, though it seems much more of a mature and complicated story than I would’ve enjoyed in my young-adult days. It takes a little while to get used to the narration and the structure of the book. The book is narrated by Death, and at first, I wasn’t sure it would work for me. Plus, Death has these bolded, starred outbursts (that my bff cleverly compared to the bubbles in Pop-Up videos) within his story, which causes a bit of disruption while reading. But after several pages, I got used to it and actually grew quite fond of Death as a narrator.

The story follows Liesel, a young girl growing up in a foster home in Nazi Germany. The Hubermann’s have taken her in when it was clear to her own mother that their family was in danger. Death comes across Liesel’s path in a couple of instances in her lifetime and is struck by this special girl, which is why he chose to tell her story.

A few themes I loved:

Death’s compassion. It hit me about halfway through the book that Death, at least The Book Thief’s Death, isn’t scary. He’s sad. He’s busy. He’s compassionate. He’s devastated about sitting up top bath houses and catching body after Jewish body that’s been gassed and killed. He can’t believe the things humans do to one another. He talks frankly about when he takes people and when he doesn’t. I learned to love Death as a character.

In the back of the book, there’s a Q & A with the author, Markus Zusak, and he says this about Death as a character: “Death was to be exhausted from his eternal existence and his job. He was to be afraid of humans – because after all, he was there to see the obliteration we’ve perpetrated on each other throughout the ages – and he would now be telling this story to prove to himself that humans are actually worth it.”

Hans & Rosa Hubermanns love. When we first meet this couple, they poke at each other, gripe at each other, call each other names. You think, 'Wow, this couple must loathe one another.' But it’s exactly the opposite. They are so much in love. When your husband brings home a Jew to hide in your basement and you ask no questions because you would do anything for him… Well, that’s love. And they loved Liesel like their own. It’s almost heartbreaking.

A favorite quote: “Life had altered in the wildest possible way, but it was imperative that they act as if nothing at all had happened. Imagine smiling after a slap in the face. Then think of doing that 24 hours a day. That was the business of hiding a Jew.”

The other side of the story. When we think of Nazi Germany, it’s so easy to hate all the people who lived there. How could they let this happen? How could they just stand by? Sure, we know the stories of people like the Hubermanns who were brave and helped those who need it. But, some just choose survival. They might not agree with the Nazi party, but they join, just to survive. They might not want to go fight for them, but they do so their son doesn’t have to. There is always another side. And it makes you wonder: Who would I be in that situation? Would I risk my butt? Or would I fly under the radar? Either way works, just as long as you live, right? And the same goes for current times. I try to remember to always give someone the benefit of the doubt. Because people can be going through some tough stuff and just need a break.

I loved this story. It was engaging and special and it sticks with you once you close it. It’s not joyous by any means, but there are several happy parts to it. Happiness to hang on to amongst the rubble.

I seem to enjoy books about WWII. A few other posts: The Zookeeper's WifeCity of ThievesThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society;Those Who Save Us; and Sarah's Key.

Posted: Tue, 02/08/2011 - 14:48 |