Far-Seer by Robert J Sawyer

Pop Sugar 2015 Reading Challenge:

✓ A book with non-human characters
✓A book based entirely on its cover
✓A book by an author you’ve never read before

The trouble with deciding to do the stupid reading challenge is figuring out, if each book is to only count once, what to tick off with each book. For example, the first book finished could be three different ticks on the chart – which one do I pick? So let’s put three ticks. I’m not a voracious reader – the chances of me reading fifty books in a year is pretty slim.

Far_Seer_cover
To be strictly fair, though, I didn’t pick Far-Seer based entirely on it’s cover – I’ve been wanting to read it since I was a teenager, and found its sequel –  Fossil Hunter in the local library. Obviously, being a science fiction novel in which the main characters are dinosaurs, it was a book I longed to read, but I never did quite get around to putting in the fee and the request form to have the library acquire the first book in the trilogy. Life was so hard in the nineties.

Anyway.

My biggest regret with this is that I didn’t read this book in the 90s. Teenage me would have lapped this up. Sentient dinosaurs! (wikipedia says Tyrannosaurid, but it is a plot point that Quintaglios had five fingers, and you know me – that’s the kind of thing I get stuck on.) It’s mostly world building – and pretty interesting world building as well, but teenage me probably wouldn’t find it anywhere near as predictable as adult me. And it’s the kind of science vs religious dogma plot teenage-me would totally relate to, but which adult-me finds very simplistic.

A young astrologer uses a newly invented telescope (the Far-seer) to observe stars and moons and planets and the Face of God and discovers a Round Earth, heliocentrism, and the oncoming end of the world all at once. The theocratic monarchy is appalled at his blasphemy! A secret society of oppressed pagans hold him up as the Chosen One! He’s Galileo and Jesus all rolled up into one and both the protagonist and the author only give like a paragraph to pondering the contradiction in having Convenient Prophesies around to help story progression in an allegory about science vs dogma.

Buuut you know what? Even if cynical, older, “it’s more complicated than that” adult me was thinking what a shame it was that I didn’t read this when I would have enjoyed it more… I still enjoyed it. Because you know what? SENTIENT DINOSAURS. In a fantasy world constructed around the premise that non-social carnivores had to throw together social mores and etiquette just to get over the fact that they instinctively want to kill each other all the time. A civilisation built around the ergonomics of a large-headed biped with an enormous tail.

DINOSAURS. Doing SCIENCE.

Who needs anything else?

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Storykiller by Kelly Thompson

When my copy of “Storykiller” by Kelly Thompson arrived in the post, I literally squealed in delight. (It’s okay, I do that kind of thing.) I had backed the publication o this book on Kickstarter, based solely on the cover art (A woman staring ferociously out of the silhouette of a labrys made of paper) and the plot description: Tessa Battle is the Last Scion – the only Mortal with the power to kill Stories – the fictional characters who live among us.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Fables, with a labrys! Where could I possibly go wrong?

I am really really disappointed.

And not just because the axe turned out to be just  an axe, and not a symbol for lesbianism.

Now I’ve written what follows, I realise it’s actually a poorly written review, because I tried not to go too emphatic with my problems. It’s not the worst book ever, but the characters and plot itself are bland enough that the things that bother me, really do bother me.

 

 

The tagline for the book – a phrase repeated a couple of times by characters, and which is all over the promotional material – is “Fight your Fiction.” This is explained by a character as the struggle between the written word and the free-will of the character. “Fighting your Fiction” means battling your predetermined role in life and exerting yourself as a real, independent person. A great idea for a book, amirite? It certainly hooked me.

Except then Storykiller goes all-out nihilistic on that very concept. Sure, it says, fight your Fiction if you must, but why bother? You will lose.

And that’s the spoiler-free review. To explain exactly why, I’m going to launch into spoilers straight away, including the major spoiler for the plot of the book.

TW: Suicide.
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Seven Reasons to Kill Someone (Involving Palaeontology) 4: Gastric Flora in a Tyrannosaurid

But I don’t want to cut for spoilers. What do you mean, you still haven’t seen the episode? Fine.

Everyone else, I’ll see you below the cut.

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Seven Reasons to Kill Someone (Involving Palaeontology) 3: Establishing Priority

I know, I know, you want to know where I’ve been. Reporting on roller derby, for the record. Also playing roller derby, at job interviews, and also in  Dublin. And then I’ve been reading Hunger Games, and as I’m halfway through Mockingjay, you’re lucky I’m sitting at a computer at all.

Anyway, where were we? Oh yes. Reasons a palaeontologist might kill someone.

Incidentally, while the last instalment was about illegal activities on the black market, fossil smuggling and dastardly private collectors, there is a more above board, but just as fraught disagreement going on right now with a twelfth specimen of the renowned Archaeopteryx, the “first bird” known from only eleven specimens all from Germany. The recently discovered twelfth specimen is not just worth millions of euros to its discoverer (and the owners of the land, if they can claim ownership) but is almost priceless in scientific worth, if it ends up in an accessible collection. [Please note, I am not saying that anyone is going to be murdered over ownership disputes over this specimen and its availability to researchers. I am saying it would make an EXCELLENT crime show plot.]

But anyway:

3. To Establish Publishing Priority

Okay, technically Elementary already did this plot this season, albeit with maths (whups, spoilers for Solve for X, I guess.) So it’s understandable that they didn’t go this route with palaeontology, but they so could have.

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Seven Reasons to Kill Someone (Involving Palaeontology): 2. The Black Market

Have you watched Elementary yet? No? Care about spoilers? Yes? Then skip this post. Don’t worry, I’ll be back and you can find it again.

In this instalment of “seven reasons to kill someone (involving palaeontology):

2. Your dealings on the fossil black market are about to be exposed.

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Seven Reasons to Kill Someone (Involving Palaeontology): 1

So a few episodes of Star Trek ago, Becca asked me: “Have you caught up on Elementary yet?” and I said “NO! But I know the most recent episode involves DINOSAURS.” And she said “I WANT TO KNOW YOUR THOUGHTS WHEN YOU DO SEE IT.”

So there resulted an email “chain” that was really just me emailing her every five minutes while she was asleep, but then she work up and said “You should post this email chain so the whole internet can read it!”

This isn’t that post.

But this post DOES contain SPOILERS for the episode called Dead Clade Walking. On the other hand, you’re not watching Elementary for the whodunnit plots, are you?

The details of the palaeontology  used in the show I’m letting go because TV never gets anything exactly right – but I do think that the writers could have maybe done enough research to get the word ‘palaeontology’ right. They kept called the scientists archaeologists, which is already a BONUS MOTIVE for why palaeontologists might want to murder someone.

notarchaeology

And now, if you’re willing to brave spoilers, come with me below the jump…

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Took Me Long Enough

mismeasure-of-womanThere are quite a few books in existence that I should have read already, that if I admit I haven’t read, I’ll feel obliged to add “…yet” to the end of the sentence, and the admission would probably garner surprise, from anyone who knows me, because of COURSE I must have read them. They seem so influential on my thinking! Usually these books are in the bibliography of Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould and other evolutionary biologists. (What? Dawkins has opinions about religion? I’m not interested.)

Well, that list of books just got one shorter when I finally got my hands on and read  The Mismeasure of Woman by Carol Tavris. Considering its more famous big brother, The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould was one of the most influential books on my interpretation of anthropology and psychology, you’d think I’d have got my hands on this one earlier, but I had no excuse. Other than the fact that I already knew a bit about the way social and scientific rhetoric is used to put women In Our Place,  and I wasn’t expecting to be super surprised.

I wasn’t super surprised, but there were still revelations that made me go “huh.”

Like the idea that Premenstrual Tension might not actually be a thing.

(No, think about it: the main indicator for PMT is that symptoms occur in the two weeks leading up to ones period. As in – in a two week window out of every four. That’s a really large window, ladies. Add to that observer bias and society’s insistence on dismissing every negative mood women ever experience, and I’ve decided to give up on believing myself an irrational slave to hormones ever again.

It’s 22 years old, this book, and it does only touch on intersectionality: the experiences of women of colour and queer women are only touched on, trans* people aren’t mentioned at all. And I have no idea what has changed in the last two decades:  maybe medical students don’t all learn to think of the 70 kilogram male body as the paradigm from which all other patients deviate. Possibly someone has done extensive research on premenstrual symptoms and proven that societies perceptions are right: menstrual hormones do unequivocally cause specific mood changes. But that’s not the point.

The point is that the human insistence on dividing the world into two: artists and scientists, virgins and whores, clever and stupid, money makers and nurturers, men and women, is harmful to men, women, and everybody who wants and deserves to be treated as an individual (that’s everyone).

We all lapse into oppositional thinking without being aware of it. In one charming study, parents were simply asked to describe their children. Those who had three or more children spoke about each child in individual terms: Jane is intellectual, they might say. Sam is social and Pam is athletic. Parents who had two children, however, described them as opposites: Pam is a leader, Sam is a follower; Sam is the sociable son, Pam is the unsociable daughter.

 – p90

Do I agree with EVERYTHING in the book? No. Do I take even what I agree with at face value? No. But it paints a powerful picture of the way the way we think and speak of sex and gender affects our society, and it’s well worth picking up if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

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Well, that explains a lot.

I really wanted to title this post “Well, that explains alot,” but it doesn’t. This post explains alot. The book I’m talking about explains something much less important than that. It explains why a terrible broadway musical was terrible.

I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I? Okay, context: Three years ago, Becca, Feather and I went to see Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark while it was in previews. To say that this was a terrible Broadway musical is not in fact accurate; when we saw it, it was two terrible musicals: Spider-Man, a terrible musical retelling of Sam Raimi’s 2002 movie; and Turn Off the Dark: a terrible musical retelling of Phantom of the Opera, but gender-flipped, and with spider-powers instead of music. Incidentally, I can’t stand ‘Phantom of the Opera, I think it is a bad musical telling a bad story, but Turn Off the Dark was worse, as I have gleefully told anyone who would stay still long enough for the last three years.

Spider-Man

So when Becca, tasked with the job of being my Secret Santa, sent me a copy of Song of Spider-Man, a memoir by book writer Glen Berger, my squeal of delight was probably audible back in New York. A chance to relive the train wreck from inside!

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Marvellous Disney

For the 13th January (LJ | DWnadriel asked for the Disney acquisition of Marvel, and any ramifications you can think of, which…

Okay, I HAVE no thoughts about this. None whatsoever. I haven’t seen anything particularly DISNEY happen since the acquisition. I don’t know enough about how corporations work to think this should change Marvel properties or Disney properties.

Spider-Man ride at Disneyland?

I don’t know.

OPEN TO THE FLOOR. What should I be worried about?

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That large Malus

For the 11th January (LJ | DW[personal profile] sdelmonte asked for one thing I miss about NYC and one thing I don’t. And because MY FRIIIIIENDS would be obvious, I’m going to make it specifically about the city itself.

A Thing I Miss: TWENTY-FOUR HOUR SUBWAYS

The thing about living in London was that every late night at work, every social event, every night out, had to be planned and structured around The Last Tube, and the alternative Night Bus route and the difference in timings and does this pub close before or after Last Tube. When I worked at the Poorly Managed Sexy Coffee Shop, the time I finished cleaning up could make the difference between a 45 minute journey home and a two-hour journey home. Evenings out in Manhattan? You just allow half an hour more, maybe, because of infrequent trains. But you know you will get a train, and despite what popular culture would have us believe, I never felt unsafe on the late night subways…

(Well, except that one time I witnessed a domestic violence incident and then had to suffer a homophobic tirade from the man sitting next to me)

…but definitely not to the extent that waiting for a Night Bus – or even travelling on a Night Bus – would.  No matter, the knowledge that no matter what the hour, I could get my usual subway home, made my life a lot easier.

A Thing I Do Not Miss: TIMES SQUARE

Ugh, what is the point of Times Square? It’s like the location equivalent of those celebrities that never seem to do anything – maybe they were on a reality TV show or perhaps their parent is a thing – but are just famous for being famous. Times Square is… some steps. And a bunch of shops that are there to cash in on the tourists who come to see… the shops. And the TKTS booth, I guess. It’s a hotmess of the things I hate most in the world – crowds and people dressed as muppets. SO MANY CREEPY ELMOS.

I said this to someone once, and they said “what? Doesn’t London have Piccadilly Circus?” and my response was “I know! I don’t get that, either!” Sadly, Times Square is close to places I actually did want to be (comic store, dance class, the garment district, the theatres) that I had to go there a lot. But I did so reluctantly and not without grousing every step of the way.

Ugh, Times Square.

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