December 31, 2019

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, December 2019

Attention conservation notice: I have no taste, and no qualifications to opine about histriography and/or evolutionary biology.

Lee Goldberg, Lost Hills
Mind-candy police procedural, in exurban Los Angeles.
Edmund Russell, Evolutionary History: Uniting History and Biology to Understand Life on Earth
A plea to historians to recognize interactions between humans and other organisms as an evolutionary force affecting both sides, and therefore as a factor in human history. Russell starts off with easy cases --- the development of antibiotic resistance in bacteria and pesticide resistance in insects; industrial melanism in moths --- before going on to things like lactose tolerance in humans, the role of specific kinds of cotton in the Industrial Revolution and their development by "Amerindian" breeders, and the like. As these examples make clear, he's not very interested in human evolution in the sense of origins, though of course he acknowledges it happened. He's also not very interested in applying evolutionary ideas to the development of culture and institutions. What he does care about seems entirely sound to me, but I am not a historian and couldn't say whether he's right that it has been comparatively neglected in (e.g.) environmental history.
Disclaimer: Russell recently became a professor at CMU, in the same department where my wife teaches. If I thought his book was bad, it might be politic of me to keep quiet about it, but I honestly can't imagine I have anything to gain by writing a review like this.
Lilith Saintcrow, The Hedgewitch Queen and The Bandit King
Mind-candy fantasy, loosely based on the French monarchy immediately before absolutism. (Query: what would a fantasy novel inspired by by Lineages of the Absolutist State look like?)
Elliott Kay, Last Man Out
Mind-candy science fiction, latest in the series beginning with Poor Man's War. Probably enjoyable independently, but a bunch of developments are more satisfying if you've read all the previous volumes.
R. Jean Stevenson, Tisiphone's Quest
Mind-candy science-fantasy. It's very much mind candy (Sinister Masons IN SPAAACE!), but it's very fun, and I'd absolutely try anything else Stevenson writes. (Picked up on Walter Jon Williams's recommendation.)
Jack Vance, Planet of Adventure [= City of the Chasch (1968), Servants of the Wankh (1969), The Dirdir (1969), The Pnume (1970)]
Mind-candy: Vance's is in good form here, deploying his signature mix of adventure story, high-flown and ironical rhetoric, somewhat sardonic anthropological detachment, and romantic personal assertion in the face of indifferent cosmic vastness. (Dated gender roles are dated.)

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur; Scientifiction and Fantastica; Pleasures of Detection, Portraits of Crime; Biology; Writing for Antiquity

Posted at December 31, 2019 23:59 | permanent link

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