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The Stolen Bacillus and Other Incidents
The Stolen Bacillus and Other Incidents
by Herbert George Wells
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.44

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Early Collection Of Stories From Wells, 17 July 2012
Technically, "Select Conversations With An Uncle" which was published earlier in 1895 was Wells' first collection of stories, but the stories from that collection have largely been forgotten, while this collection, "The Stolen Bacillus and Other Incidents", contains a few stories which have long been remembered as early classics. The fourth of four books published in 1895, this collection contains 15 works of short fiction which were originally published between December of 1893, and March of 1895, mostly in "Pall Mall Budget" (or "Pall Mall Gazette"), but there is one story which was published originally in "Black and White" and one from "The St. James Gazette".

The collection opens with "The Stolen Bacillus", a short story which can definitely be considered science fiction. In this an unnamed visitor of a Bacteriologist preys on the Bacteriologists ego to boast about the dangerous strains of bacteria he has on hand. The visitor turns out to be an anarchist who steals a vial with bacteria to use as a weapon, resulting in a chase, with a surprise ending. Published originally in "The Pall Mall Budget" on June 21st of 1894, this story predicts the fears of terrorists using biological weapons.

The next story is "The Flowering of the Strange Orchid", another science fiction story, in which a man (Winter-Wedderburn) is tired of having an uneventful life and purchases some orchids from a collector who died, one of which is a very unusual specimen and provides him with an event in his life which he so desperately wanted. Published on August 2nd of 1894 in "The Pall Mall Budget", this story is an early example of using a previously unknown species as subject-matter.

Next up is "In The Avu Observatory", which was published on August 9th of 1894 in "The Pall Mall Budget". This story, like the one before uses an unusual species as subject-matter. In this case it is a large bat-like creature which attacks an astronomer's assistant during a night when he is alone making observations.

"The Triumphs Of A Taxidermist" was published on March 3rd of 1894, and unlike the previous stories this one is not really science fiction. Here it is a narrator telling of a conversation he had with a Taxidermist, who admitted he had created "new species" in order to satisfy his clients.

"A Deal In Ostriches" was published on December 20th of 1894 in "The Pall Mall Budget". This story is also not science fiction, but it is a clever story (again told by a taxidermist, but not clear if it is meant to be the same one) about how an Ostrich was worth three hundred pounds.

"Through A Window", published in "Black and White" on August 25th, 1894 is like an early version of "Rear Window". Here we have a man (Bailey) who is immobilized due to an injury who watches a manhunt through his window.

"The Temptation of Harringay" was published in "The St. James Gazette" on February 9th of 1895. This fantasy story is about an artist who is desperate to paint a subject he has created in his mind, but who cannot get it right. The Devil comes to him and tries to buy the artist's soul with the promise of a few masterpieces.

"The Flying Man" was published in December of 1893 in "The Pall Mall Gazette". This is a story told from the point of view of a lieutenant who is explaining how he gained a reputation among the natives as "a flying man".

"The Diamond Maker" was published on August 16th of 1894 in "The Pall Mall Budget". In this science fiction story, the narrator relates the tale of a man who has invented a means of making his own diamonds.

"Æpyornis Island" was published on December 27th of 1894 in "The Pall Mall Budget". Similar to the two stories earlier, this one again uses an unusual species as subject-matter, though in this case the story is much better thought out and developed. Here the narrator tells the story of how he found the bones of an Æpyornis.

Next up is my personal favorite in the book, "The Remarkable Case of Davidson's Eyes", which was published in "The Pall Mall Budget" on March 28th of 1895. In this story, the title character (Davidson), after a lightning strike, is not able to see what is in front of him, but instead sees a tropical scene. Over time he eventually recovers, but later he meets someone who tells him a story which describes what he had seen perfectly.

"The Lord of the Dynamos" was published on September 6th, 1894, in "The Pall Mall Budget". This is another good story, about a poor foreign laborer who comes to worship the large Dynamo where he works.

"The Hammerpond Park Burglary" is a clever story about a thief (Teddy Watkins) who is trying to steal Lady Aveling's jewels. It was published originally in "The Pall Mall Budget" on July 5th of 1894.

"A Moth - Genus Novo" was published in "The Pall Mall Budget" on March 28th, of 1895. This is another good story about two rival scientists who have a professional feud, which is ended by the untimely death of one of them. The other then is tormented by a new species of Moth which he is unable to capture, and which nobody else is able to see.

The collection closes with "The Treasure In The Forest", which was published in "The Pall Mall Budget" on August 23rd of 1894. This is the story of two men (Evans and Hooker) who overhear a discussion of a treasure, and then make the mistake of trying to rush ahead and recover it first.

This is far from the best collection of Wells' short stories, but it is interesting because you can see some of his development as a writer between the earliest stories in this collection, and those which were written later on. This is true even though it isn't even two years between the publication of the first and last stories. Though some of these stories would be considered speculative fiction, many of them are fairly standard short stories.
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The City & The City
The City & The City
by China Miéville
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blinders, 16 July 2012
This review is from: The City & The City (Paperback)
"The City & The City" is an unusual novel from China Miéville, one which as far as I can tell is rather unique in the fantasy environment in which it takes place. I suppose that most people, if not all, at times become so focused on their own lives that they become less aware of other people who are right in front of us. Certainly people who live in areas where there are a lot of homeless people almost by necessity become blind to the daily condition. Now imagine two cities in different countries, but which use the same space, with the inhabitants of each having learned to ignore the inhabitants and buildings of the other.

Miéville puts together a clever and intriguing crime story in just that type of environment. Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad in BesYel is assigned to investigate the murder of Mahalia Geary, a foreign student who is found dead in BesYel, but he soon learns that she was involved in events in Ul Qoma, the city which shares its space with BesYel. The investigation also leads to theories involving the theoretical third city, Orciny, which was thought to be legendary, but was hypothesized to be in areas between BesYel and Ul Qoma, i.e. the inhabitants of both have been taught to ignore those areas as being part of their twin city.

"The City & The City" was published on May 15th of 2009, and was nominated for as well as won some major awards. It won the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the World Fantasy Award, the British Science Fiction Association Award, it also won the Red Tentacle (best novel) Kitschie award and tied for the Hugo Award. In addition it was nominated for the Nebula and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

A Retrospect of the Boston Tea Party a Retrospect of the Boston Tea Party: With a Memoir of George R. T. Hewes (1834) with a Memoir of George R. T. Hewes (1834)
A Retrospect of the Boston Tea Party a Retrospect of the Boston Tea Party: With a Memoir of George R. T. Hewes (1834) with a Memoir of George R. T. Hewes (1834)
by James Hawkes
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.27

3.0 out of 5 stars The Real Tea-Party, 15 July 2012
"A retrospect of the Boston tea-party, with a memoir of George R. T. Hewes, a survivor of the little band of patriots who drowned the tea in Boston harbour in 1773" by James Hawkes is an interesting and singularly important account of the Boston Tea-Party. James Hawkes found George Hewes many years later, and published this memoir 60 years after the original Tea-Party. The publication of this book resulted in George Hewes becoming a celebrity. Hawkes comments on George R. T. Hewes amazing memory of events in this book, and it certainly is amazing considering that Hewes was over ninety at the time, and recalling events from so long before.

The book opens with the telling of the Tea-Party from the perspective of George R. T. Hewes, but that is all in the Preface. The author then goes into telling the life of George R. T. Hewes, who is certainly not a major figure in the American Revolution, but regardless he was on the scene when some key events took place. Not only was he involved in the Tea-Party, but also the events leading to John Malcolm being tar and feathered. Needless to say, at a time when stories of the American Revolution were being discussed again, Hewes became a living icon of the entire Revolution.

The book is rather short, and after the preface and biography, there are some remarks by the author, followed by sketches from History. There is also an appendix with the Constitution of the United States included, which results in a book padded out to around 200 pages. Overall, it is an interesting book, but unless you are very interested in the American Revolution it probably isn't of that much interest.

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive
by Jared Diamond
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Do We Have A Future?, 14 July 2012
"Collapse: How Societies Choose To Fail Or Survive" by Jared Diamond is the follow-up to his excellent "Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies". Published in 2005, after an eight year gap, Diamond discusses how this book is using the same comparative method to understanding the end of societies, that the previous work applied to the creation of societies.

While I didn't find this book as absorbing as his previous work, there is still a lot to recommend "Collapse" to readers who are interested in history, sociology, or various other areas of humanities. Diamond puts forward the idea that the causes of societal collapse in the past have been attributed to one or more of eight factors: ("deforestation and habitat destruction, soil problems (erosion, salinization, and soil fertility losses), water management problems, overhunting, overfishing, effects of introduced species on native species, human population growth, and increased per-capita impact of people." To these he adds four more as dangers to modern societies. These include: "human-caused climate change, buildup of toxic chemicals in the environment, energy shortages, and full human utilization of the Earth's photosynthetic capacity." While it is easy to agree with these, it doesn't have to be human-caused for climate change to have a negative impact on a society.

The book is divided into four parts, the first being a relatively short discussion of the environment in Montana, chosen because of Diamond's personal experience with the area, as discussed in this section. As he does throughout the rest of the book, he discusses which of the twelve factors he are potential problems for that area of the country.

Part two covers past societies which have "collapsed". In this section Diamond looks at the Greenland Norse, Easter Island, Pitcairn Island, the Anasazi, and the Maya. Diamond also looks at three past societies which were successes, such as Tikopia, central New Guinea, and the forest management during the Tokugawa-era in Japan. There is a bit of controversy regarding Diamond's discussion of Easter Island where critics point out that there were factors such as disease (brought from Europe), slave raiding, and animals introduced into the environment that contributed to the decline of the society and the loss of the native trees and plants and not simply the society that was there that deforested the island.

Part three looks at current societies which are in danger of causing their own collapse. These include Rwanda, where he looks at overpopulation; Haiti, especially when compared to the relative success of neighboring Dominican Republic; China as a developing nation; and Australia as an industrial developed nation, and in particular the effect of mining.

Part four is titled "Practical Lessons" and here Diamond looks at why societies make decisions that lead to disaster. He then looks at business, and how some businesses avoided their environmental responsibilities, and how some are now doing the right thing. He then concludes with a summary of the most serious problems we have, and what will happen if we don't solve them, but he also gives us some reasons to hope.

"Collapse" is very readable, and though it doesn't match his best, that is not a particularly severe criticism. Nor is it surprising when dealing with the subject of why societies collapse that there may be controversy in some of the proposed conclusions. What is important is that the author present their case in a reasonable and logical fashion, and Jared Diamond does that very well.

An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations
An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations

4.0 out of 5 stars The Foundation Of Capitalism, 13 July 2012
Adam Smith's "An Inquiry Into The Nature And Causes Of The Wealth Of Nations" (often called simply "The Wealth Of Nations") is one of two great works from the Scottish economist and philosopher, the other being the lesser known "The Theory of Moral Sentiments". "The Wealth Of Nations" was published on March 9th, of 1776, but there were additional editions in 1778, 1784, 1786, and 1789. I read the free Kindle version of "The Wealth Of Nations", and while I do not recommend that version I do recommend the overall work.

The issues with the Kindle version are that it is poorly formatted, and it is painful to attempt to read the numbers in the tables at the of Book I. You are much better off getting a hard copy so that you can more easily flip to the section of interest, and to read the information in a better format. As for the rest, the content is all there, once you get past the poor formatting.

The work contains five books within. The first is "Of the Causes of Improvement in the productive Powers of Labour". In this book he discusses the benefits of the division of labor, the origin and benefits of using money, a section on the "real" price of commodities (i.e. how much toil it takes to produce them), a discussion of the natural and market prices of commodities (the forces of supply and demand), the effect of controlling a commodity can have on the price, the wages of labor (again a case of supply and demand with the commodity of labor), the profits of stock, a discussion of the ill effects of groups who use their influence to manipulate the government (this would include banking conglomerations, trade unions, etc.), and closes with a section on rent.

The second book is "Of the Nature, Accumulation, and Employment of Stock" which deals with accumulating wealth which lasts a longer period of time. This book starts with how one divides their stock into what they need for personal use, and what they can dispose of in exchange for others available stock. He then moves into a discussion of money as a type of stock, and then how to use their excess money/stock to gain interest.

The third book is "Of the different Progress of Opulence in different Nations", where he talks about the balance between the inhabitants of towns and those of the country areas and goes into how agriculture is discouraged over time, while cities and towns prosper.

The fourth book is "Of Systems of political Economy" in which Smith discusses the commercial system, along with importation which contains a detailed look at the effects of restraints on importation/exportation. Smith also discusses commerce treaties, and the role of colonies. This book also has a brief section on the agricultural system, but here he is referring to a specific system where the produce of land is the sole source of the revenue of a nation

The fifth book is "Of the Revenue of the Sovereign or Commonwealth" in which Smith deals with taxation. This is an important area to read and understand, as it is the one which many ignore when using Smith to try to support other areas. There are hints here of the progressive tax, as well as a discussion of the expenses of the nation, an important acknowledgement that the poor spend the greater part of their income on the fundamentals, such as food, and so he suggests luxury taxes as not unreasonable. Smith then closes the final book with a discussion of the costs of war, both for the actual fighting, and in terms of the loss of trade.

All Clear
All Clear
by Connie Willis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.13

3.0 out of 5 stars Return From World War II, 9 July 2012
This review is from: All Clear (Paperback)
In "All Clear", Connie Willis finishes the story she started in "Blackout". "All Clear" was published on October 19th, 2010. Somewhat longer than the first installment, "Blackout", the pace of the story is consistent and there are no major changes in how the tale progresses. The combination of "Blackout" and "All Clear" won the 2011 Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards and they were also a finalist for the 2011 Campbell Memorial award and finished 7th on the SF Site Poll for 2011. Neither of these books can stand on their own, so treating them as a single work is the obviously correct choice.

By itself, "All Clear" is nearly 650 pages, so one can understand the decision to split it into two volumes. However, there was another choice which should have been considered, and that would have been to edit it down to a more manageable length, which would also have helped with the pace of the overall story. In reading both books, I felt that it would have been better to make some cuts, and lose a bit of the wonderful research material, to benefit the overall work. I can't point to any specific part that should have been cut, but rather it would have been a decision made at a higher level to edit and handle the material in a different matter, rather than simply cutting chapters from the current books.

The excess material and slow pace do not destroy this work, but they do turn what could have been an amazing work into something which is rather average. Specifically, by the time the cause of the issues facing the time travelers is resolved, it is anti-climatic and had about zero impact. When I compare that feeling to what I had after reading Willis' other works, it just doesn't measure up to her best works. Of course, these books did take home the major awards, so feel free to ignore my input, or better yet read the books and make up your own mind.

by Connie Willis
Edition: Paperback

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Return To World War II, 8 July 2012
This review is from: Blackout (Paperback)
Connie Willis returns to a premise she has used a few times before in "Blackout". Historians in the mid-21st century are involved in time travel to observe events in history for research. "Blackout" was published originally on February 2nd, 2010, but it is only the first half of the story, the rest of it was published as "All Clear" on October 19th, 2010. What becomes clear while reading "Blackout", if it wasn't pretty much assumed from Willis' other works, is that the historical research was meticulous and thorough. Willis clearly drew on numerous sources to paint a picture of the "Blitz" which was extremely detailed and allowed her to write a story which puts the reader into that time and place.

Willis is, of course, an excellent writer, and like other books this one is no exception, though it has the unusual situation where it wins the 2011 Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards not for just itself, but as part of the "Blackout/All Clear" combination. The books also was a finalist for the 2011 Campbell Memorial award and finished 7th on the SF Site Poll for 2011. When one finishes "Blackout" it is immediately clear as to why the two novels are completely tied together, and that is because "Blackout" cannot stand on its own as a story. Willis takes us into the story and leaves us at the height of the unsolved mystery.

At nearly 500 pages just for "Blackout" (and near 650 for "All Clear") it is easy to understand why it was decided to split it into two volumes, though it is not impossible for a single volume to get to 1200 pages, it would certainly be more difficult for the reader to lug around. That being said, there was another choice, and at the end of nearly 500 pages and no end in sight, I had to ask the question regarding is all this necessary, or would it have been better to edit the story down to something a bit more manageable.

Of course I knew, as probably most readers did, before starting the first book, that it was a two volume work, but that didn't deter me because it is certainly possible for an interesting story to last for more than 1000 pages, but I am far from convinced that this one is it. In reading it, I felt more like the author was, at least at times, making sure she used all of the incredible research she did, to not let it go to waste, rather than finding each chapter to be important to the overall story. I can't point to anything specifically wrong with any chapter, but I am sure the pace of the story could have been increased.

While slow pace is an issue with this novel, it is not a huge problem, and this is still a very good book to read, the story is interesting, and as already mentioned the attention to historical detail is incredible. Connie Willis is almost always worth reading, and "Blackout" is not one of those you should miss, but you will need to get "All Clear" as well.

Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings
Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings
by Jh Brunvand
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Study Of Urban Lore, 7 July 2012
Jan Harold Brunvand's "The Vanishing Hitchhiker" is the first of several books he has published which take a scholarly look at Urban Legends. Where did these legends start, how have they evolved to fit a new time or situation. Urban Legends are interesting stories, as you will find people who are swear that they happened (usually not to them, but to a friend or a relation or a relation of a friend, etc.), and you can even find cases where they are reported as happening. They can be based on something which really happened, or something which never have happened, but regardless, their spread and retelling takes on a life and purpose of its own.

The first chapter of the book deals with all the foundational information. What are "Urban Legends"? How should they be interpreted? Brunvand uses "The Boyfriend's Death" legend to help explain the phenomena and how they are studied. By far this is the most important chapter of the book, as this is then the material the reader will use on the majority of the rest of the book.

Chapters 2 through 7 are all about the legends, broken into groupings such as Automobile, Teenage Horrors, Contaminations, the dead, kind of a catchall he titles "Dalliance, Nudity, and Nightmares, and then finally two favorite media legends. Chapter 8 then looks at urban legends in the making, where he looks at legends which never take off into the population as a whole (or haven't yet), or have gone into a period of inactivity, etc.

This is a good introduction into the study of Urban Legends. My negatives are all on the writing style of the book, and not the content. The presentation could have been much more accessible and interesting. While that may not matter as far as the quality of the information is concerned, it would have helped bring more people to a point where they can appreciate the topic and the significance of studying these stories.

Who Wrote the Bible?
Who Wrote the Bible?
by Richard Elliott Friedman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.50

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Exploration Of Key Question, 6 July 2012
This review is from: Who Wrote the Bible? (Paperback)
For those who are interested in a scholarly discussion of a question which most people (at least most have wondered at some point or another) "Who Wrote The Bible?" by Richard Elliott Friedman is a book you should read. Friedman uses history as well as uses the contact to first build the case for multiple authors of the Books of Moses, and then put forward a plausible hypothesis for the authorship for the different sections. Of course, he is not attempting to name specific authors, but rather focused on where the authors were from, and what their position was in the society.

The core of the book is less than 250 pages, but the appendices, bibliography and notes bring it closer to 300 pages. That being said, while Friedman does an excellent job of presenting his subject in a concise matter, it is his references that make "Who Wrote The Bible?" such a great work by itself, as well as be a tremendous reference to do further reading on the subject.

Friedman opens with a discussion of the traditional authors of the Bible and why those were clearly not accurate, and then moves into an overview of the world which produced the first books of the Bible. He then goes into the two different authors of the events and how their accounts are different, and how they are the same. The authors are given the names J and E based on the words they use to refer to God. Friedman then goes into more detail on who these writers were, i.e. where they were from, when did they live, and what were their roles in society. Note that Friedman doesn't rule out the possibility that J and E each have multiple writers, but rather than whether they do or not doesn't have an impact on the overall viewpoint of the texts.

Of course, the authorship doesn't end with J and E. Next up is D, the author of Deuteronomy and the next 6 books, and this is followed by a discussion of the author referred to as P. Friedman also discusses the importance of the redactor or editor who put all these works together and the obvious control this person had over the current work. While controversial in some respects, this book is certainly not a case of science and religion in conflict. The difficulties were not a scientific discovery, but rather this has been an area of religious debate and discussion. Certainly some of the evidence that Friedman presents is scientific, but this is not a book discussing the validity of the work, but rather the authorship, so unless one's faith is dependent on the specific author of these works, it should not be one which fans the flames between religion and reason.

Mathematics and Humor: A Study Of The Logic Of Humor
Mathematics and Humor: A Study Of The Logic Of Humor
by John Allen Paulos
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Why Did The Equation Cross The Road?, 1 July 2012
John Allen Paulos has written a number of books on Mathematics, and "Mathematics and Humor" was his first, published originally in 1980. It is a short book, at just a little over 100 pages, and that is with plenty of drawings and graphs. I had high hopes going into it of an interesting read, but it just didn't deliver. Paulos has some interesting thoughts and ideas, but the writing was a detriment to the communication of his points to the reader.

In the introduction, Paulos looks at various definitions of humor from history, which usually involves a formula (non-mathematical formulas or ingredients for what is considered humorous). He then moves to look at some examples of mathematical proofs which are clever, and involve ingenuity, before looking at what he considers to be "a bridge between humor and mathematics" which is "brain teasers", trick problems, riddles, etc.

The next few chapters deal with looking at mathematical concepts and then looking at what types of humor fit into those categories. This includes applications of axioms and iteration, self-reference and paradox, grammar and philosophy. While some of those don't specifically sound like mathematical concepts, Paulos does demonstrate how they do relate to mathematical areas.

Paulos then introduces talks about a "Catastrophe Theory Model of Jokes and Humor", and this is the longest chapter in the book. Paulos discusses how humor, similar to the behavior of an animal, depends on how the situation is presented to the subject. Just as a animal might respond with fear or rage, depending on the circumstances surrounding an event, a person might find something humorous depending on the same.

Paulos finishes with a short wrap-up of the subject, and I think that this book is going to face its own Catastrophe Theory, in that how it is perceived by the reader is going to be based on the circumstances surrounding the event of reading it. I think it will depend largely on the background of the reader on whether they enjoy the book, or find it not very interesting. Paulos has failed to find a way to level-set the subject for the reader so that it delivers a consistent response to the book. I believe he has solved this problem, given the success of his later works.

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