Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Making of the Atomic Bomb

This was an incredible book. It seemed to go well with all the WWII stuff I was reading, but I kept putting it off because it is a large book and pretty dense. When I started I really got into it. I studied physics in college, enough to know what they were talking about. The pace of development of nuclear physics and the atomic bomb was amazing. It was as if Benjamin Franklin experimented with electricity and then 50 years later the entire US power grid was built.
Not only did this book tell an amazing story of discovery, but he told about the scientists who developed all this new stuff. You have to have a very different turn of mind to come up with the innovations they did. The ability to think in mathematics and not want to visualize things that really can't be. I also think a lot of these men( and a few women) were like my oldest son. They had social quirks, mental obsessions and felt most at home in the lab. But again, they had to work out the energies and mechanics of the nucleus of an atom using SLIDE RULES! If you don't know what a slide rule is, ask someone who used a lot of math, like an engineer, older than 55. Imagine life before calculators. Imagine doing calculus before calculators. Imagine dealing with numbers like the charge of an electron and the weight of a proton before calculators. I am in awe of just the calculations needed to accomplish what these people did.
Then there is the beauty and simplicity of physics. When it is right, you can tell. Most of physics is simple and plain: E=MC2, Three Laws of Thermodynamics, gravity's inverse square rule. It makes me think that all the complicated particle physics that is going on now is missing something. It is like the weird epicycles people invented to explain the motion of the skies before they would admit it was the Earth moving and not the Sun. There are a lot of weird theories around right now that don't have the harmony and simplicity of Einstein or Newton. They probably aren't right. I think in the next 50 years there will be another jump, because too much doesn't work as physics should when it is truly describing the universe.
On a related, but separate note, physicists who claim to be atheists are liars. A lot of physics just is. It doesn't have a reason that has been found yet. If they don't believe in God, they aren't looking at ultimate causes enough.
The second half of the book, when they were actively making a bomb, not just exploring the properties of uranium had a completely different tone. The bomb was inherent in uranium, like electricity is inherent in lightening and magnets. It was only a matter of time. But it was still difficult. The author is also conflicted. The book was written in the eighties; before Communist Russia collapsed. During the time when all liberals thought Reagan was driving the world to destruction and everyone expected a nuclear holocaust to end the world before 2000. So now, 20 years later, the Cold War isn't quite the awful terror filled period some thought it was. I completely disagree with the author's thoughts, echoing ideas of Robert Oppenheimer and Niels Bohr, that sharing nuclear technology with the Russians would have eliminated an arms race. We see now in a more open time, some countries will be secretive and try for the weapon. As long as secrecy could be seen possibly develop an advantage some country would try it. The open science and world government some scientists thought would be the only way to avoid an arms race was a pipe dream. The arms race would have happened without US paranoia. Mostly because Russia had enough paranoia for any other ten nations.
It is interesting how these historical books are affected by the current political climate. I think this would be a different book if it had been written now. The basic facts are the same, but the interpretation of what is important is different.

The Making of the Atomic Bomb. Richard Rhodes. Simon & Schuster. 1986

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Shadowmarch

This was a book that if I hadn't been ill I wouldn't have finished. The author has a tendency to write really detailed novels. Sometimes this works, but other times you just don't care what they had for breakfast and several paragraphs on turnip porridge don't help the plot much.
Not only is this a huge book, but in many ways it is a repetition of a trilogy already written by him and read by me, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. I liked those, they had a good sense of atmosphere and were not quite so huge so the details didn't engulf the plot. There are others to this series too, but I have moved on to histories now and there are plenty of those to be read if I want something with a large amount of details.

Shadowmarch. Tad Williams. Daw Books. 2004

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Prince Caspian -NB

Last night David and I went on a date to see Indiana Jones. But it was sold out so we saw Prince Caspian instead. I am so glad we did. I haven't seen a movie that impressed me so much in a long time. And it wasn't just that I enjoyed it; I enjoy most movies, at least while I am watching them. I honestly felt that they made a movie better than the book it came from.
Of all the seven Narnia books, I've always liked Prince Caspian the least. It is boring and all the important things tend to happen "off screen." The movie corrected those faults and even added some plot twists that felt true to the spirit and intention of the book. For example; the tension between Peter and Caspian. This isn't in the book, but it it was natural to have two royal young men butt heads about the army and the directions things should go.
The movie also kept the spiritual side that is intrinsic in all C.S. Lewis books. And it stayed as an essential but not overwhelming part of the movie. Some movies are embarrassed by spirituality and some trumpet them with fireworks and 100 piece orchestras. The parts about belief, redemption and faith came naturally, as they do in real life.
Of course a movie with talking animals and centaurs isn't necessarily big on realism, but the important parts were real: how people think, feel and learn. David's big epiphany, that he realized the last time we read this with the kids, is that Prince Caspian tells the story of the Restoration. Which it does. C.S. Lewis would argue with you about that, but he was going from the Bible and we all know what it was predicting. So this wasn't just a movie that had cool battles and a beloved storyline, it made you feel and think and didn't pull any punches just because the good guys are always supposed to win.
It wasn't perfect. There were several really cheesy shots and one thing that even made David groan. But I feel like I liked it more than I would have Indiana Jones. In IJ I would have had a fun evening and enjoyed myself, with PC I grew just a little bit and learned more of what filmaking can be.

Infinity Beach

Another book that I read while I was down with the stomach flu. The last couple have been and the next one. Then I felt better and have been reading heftier books that take me a long time to finish. Which is good because I got behind. I said that I would record the books I read, at least for the first year of this thing. So you all have to put up the with book reviews of everything I read until September, then maybe I'll be more choosy.
This was another archeology in space book. I didn't like it much. Too many things seemed strained and unlikely. For example, the one that really jumped out at me was if you are going exploring in a house that has been deserted for twenty years it wouldn't be completely ruined in that amount of time. Not to the point of collapsing beams and rotten floors. Not even in a modern house, much less some future super-cool house. There seemed to be a lot of little things like that in this book, like the author didn't quite take the time and care with this one as he has some of his others. Oh well, I suppose we all have off days.

Infinity Beach. Jack McDevitt. HarperPrism. 2000

Friday, May 23, 2008

Deepsix

As I am beginning to find, this was a pretty standard Jack McDevitt novel. So I liked it, but you shouldn't really read a lot of one author at the same time, you can find all the faults and the good points diminish with familiarity.
Though this one had one heck of a "Helicopter moment." That is when something is so ridiculous that you can't buy it, even with the best special effects. I coined the phrase from watching Mission Impossible 2; when the helicopter s following the Chunnel train through the tunnel. If it had been just a quick scene I don't think the impossibility of the whole thing would have bothered me. But the scene went on way to long and the longer that helicopter was on the screen, the longer you noticed that its rotors wouldn't fit and the whole thing was silly.
So in this book some scientists are on a planet to study the archeology of a world that is about to be destroyed: not by human hands I should point out. Due to a misfortune in celestial mechanics one planet is about to crash into another one. They are on this planet, and one thing leads to another and they get stranded. The ships up in space have to figure some way to rescue them without a shuttle or lander to pick them up. Using parts from four different spaceships as well as some orbital junk, they make a giant scoop. The stranded people can get about 10,000 feet up and then this scoop will come down and carry them high enough the spaceships can get down to them.
I have seen worse plot devices, but he spends probably a third of the book talking about building the thing and how it really can work see, here are the mechanics of it. Really, honest, it will too work. I think if he hadn't tried so hard it would have been easier to just accept it, but this was not really believable by the end. In a science fiction novel that is pretty bad. I'll believe a lot of things, at least temporarily, in a fiction novel.

Deepsix. Jack McDevitt. Eos Books. 2001

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Insurrection

Something I've noticed about science fiction authors is that they tend to be conservative, even to the point of libertarian. The best example of this is Robert Heinlein. David Weber also has this tendency. So they also use examples from US history and take a lot from the founding fathers.
This book was a space version of the Revolutionary War. By transferring the setting, he can play what-if games, like what if Benedict Arnold hadn't turned traitor? and then follow a likely scenario, without goring anyone's sacred cow in the historical area.
That being said, it was one heck of an intense book. I read it in one night, David only took two. It starts off with something you would think of as boring, a Senate meeting, but it just jumps from assassination to groups withdrawing from the main government, and war and intense space battles and it was very good. Of course if you don't like science fiction or military type stories you might not think so.
It was especially interesting because I am in the middle of a history of the Revolutionary War so I could pick out the parallels and the differences. David's favorite part was how he examined the conflicts of the military officers. To fight with their own country they have to betray someone; either the government they had sworn to serve, or their own planet and families and neighbors who were fighting to be free. The complexities of various peoples' responses to this dilemma were very engaging. I don't think I've ever seen anything about this problem with the military people of the Revolutionary period, but all of the Colonials who had military experience gained it fighting with the British. Then not many years later they were fighting against them. It must have been a gut wrenching decision.

Insurrection. David Weber. Baen Books. 1996

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Summer of 1787

This was a fascinating book about the writing of the US Constitution. I learned a lot. You never think about the amount of compromise that has to go into a document like the Constitution. This book dwelt particularly on the compromises on slavery. I don't know if it was as important an issue as the author made it out to be. Sometimes the book had the feel of something the author wanted to emphasize so he looked for all of the references to this one thing.
The process itself was so influenced by the personalities involved. The author gave each person a little biographical section at a time when that person became important in the debate. I now need to find a copy of The Federalist Papers. These are essays that John Adams wrote in support of the Constitution while the states were voting on ratification.
The thing that was most interesting to me was the role that Ben Franklin played in the proceedings. He was one of Pennsylvania's delegates, though he wasn't able to attend much because of his health. But when he was there he was always able to calm tempers, turn an unfruitful debate or propose something so outrageous that the delegate got back on track. He sacrificed some ideas he wanted to smooth the path of conciliation. He stated he didn't much care what was in the Constitution as long as there was a Constitution. I don't think that many people can be that clear about their goals, knowing which things to sacrifice for the whole.

The Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution. David O. Stewart. Simon & Schuster. 2007

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Deed of Paksenarrion

This was a huge book, over a thousand pages, so "Deed" singular seems a bit of an understatement. I got it at the library book sale, so 1000 pages for 50 cents is a pretty good deal.
The beginning went very well. You follow this girl as she joins a mercenary band and learns that being a mercenary is just as hard work as being on a farm, with the added advantage it is easier to get killed. There is a nice plot involved with following a renegade prince who has it out for the leader of her band and learning her craft and all sorts of things like that.
Then the second book of the three starts. This was an omnibus edition, with three separate novels in one volume. This seemed to be holding a place and just going through the mechanics of getting the main character to the place she needed to be for book three. I also kept having bizarre Lord of the Rings and Dungeons and Dragons flashbacks. Some scenes felt like they had been taken directly from LOTR with the dialogue adjusted but the characters moving exactly the same. And at other times I could almost hear the unseen Dungeon master saying, "Okay, you find yourself in a hallway, there are two doors ahead of you, which one do you choose?", "Oh no, you have activated a hidden trap, role the dice to see how much damage you sustained, but since you are a cleric you can add two because it is a demonic attack."
At first I thought it was just me, but David picked out the same scenes I did as being annoyingly familiar so I felt better. But I stuck it out, becoming more amused with the almost plagiarisms. Then just when things were getting better and the plot getting interesting again, the was an extremely long and graphic torture scene. AARGH! I had already invested a number of hours in this book, and knew the scene was in there for a reason, but I didn't need to read that. I warned David and he quit before he got halfway.
Since I had started, I finished, and she did the ending quite well, never stringing the reader along with semi-hidden plot devices that the characters couldn't figure out. Once you could get it, they did too. But I think it will go into the back to the DI pile, not on my bookshelf.

The Deed of Paksenarrion. Elizabeth Moon. Baen Fantasy. 1992

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hidden Truth

Here I am playing catch up again. I am not nearly as good at this blog thing as I wish I was. When I'm in the mood to read I don't feel like writing and vice-versa.
This is the sequel to First Truth. I liked it. It takes a lot of talent to make nothing happening for a whole book still seem interesting. The plot all revolves on learning and the kind of character driven things that aren't usually in fantasy books and that I usually avoid like the plague because they focus on why someone life is so messed up and what they are doing to make it even worse.
AND two people who like and are moving into the love territory actually spend an entire winter in the same place, associate with each other every day and don't have sex. Its nice to see that self-control is still a part of the non-Mormon world too. I didn't actually notice that. David has read this too and he pointed it out to me.
We will probably get the other two books in this series, but not for a while because I have bought way too many books lately and David is starting to give me the "hairy eyeball" when I come home with new ones.
And oddly enough, when the main characters don't figure something out that the reader has seen coming for chapters it didn't bug me so much this time. Maybe I'm just in a better mood lately.

Hidden Truth. Dawn Cook. Ace Fantasy. 2002

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Yuck- NB

This describes the last two days at my house: http://members.ozemail.com.au/~annandbilld/vomitorium/vomit_terms.htm

This actually started last week when Bridget threw up in the grocery store. Since then someone has been ill nearly ever day. Then the crescendo Monday night when (in order) Joshua, David, Maggie and then me got sick. So, I have learned some things over the last week or so.

1. A three year old will not throw up in a bowl, don't try, you will only make her throw up somewhere really unpleasant in an effort to get away from it.
2. A Mother should have a purse that can be washed if it is thrown up on (in). I didn't last week, I do now, http://webebags.com/ . Though oddly enough the bag I bought is not shown here.
3. You should have enough bedding for many people to be sick and still have something to sleep on.
3. (b) Thank Heaven for large capacity washers.
3. (c) Thank Heaven it is warm and Ellie was the only one with two blankets on her bed.
4. Bunk beds with the bottom bigger than the top gives the top child a BETTER TARGET.
5. Do not serve Kool-Aid if there is even a tiny little itsy bitsy chance that anyone might have been exposed to anything that would make them throw up.
5.(b)http://www.amazon.com/Bissell-1425B-Little-Proheat-Cleaner/dp/B000069K6U
6. I used to think the best way to get a child not to throw up again was to give them a bowl. I do not think this any longer. I also think I need more big bowls.
7. For some reason Maggie calls throw up "dropses." As in "There is dropses on the couch where I threw up" and "That's Joshua's dropses, it's icky."

So I have been busy and not busy but too sick to do anything for several days now. I have read a lot of books because I was too sick to be asleep, but also too sick to get up, but I have to play catch up in a very stinky house. Nothing got cleaned up more than was necessary because Momma was sick too. so right now all I can say is YUCK!