Yet another quick, dirty and depressing book about science.

I can’t get enough of them, it seems.The Humans Who Went Extinct by Finlayson book cover

The Humans Who Went Extinct is all about how Homo sapiens weren’t really super-smart, badass warriors who simply emerged from Africa one day and took Europe by storm, wiping out all the Neanderthals with a casual sort of indifference and establishing themselves as highest on the food chain.

Not that I viewed Homo sapiens like that anyway. I have read Clan of the Cave Bear, after all. (Local writer reference! Woo hoo!) But that seems to be the general sort of idea. That’s the impression I have from learning this stuff in school. The Neanderthals were an inferior form of man, and therefore did not survive. (Especially depressing was that “Shiny Happy People” by REM was playing while reading this part of it. Massive irony there, somehow.)

The book is amazing. A bit dry in places, but still fascinating. I just really want more maps. I love his description of the river that became a lake that became the Mediterranean Sea. I just want to see what it looked like and my imagination fails me sometimes. Sad but true.

It’s just another example of how we really exist simply because of sheer luck and evolutionary whimsy. I’m resigned to it now. My confidence as a higher creature of thought and intellect is completely shot. I’ve got the evolutionary ego equivalence of a sea slug. And they could probably survive through a nuclear holocaust, too. Bastards.

 


More Literary Arts and the Arts and Lectures series.

First of all, my boyfriend is coming for the Portland Arts and Lectures series.

Sebastian Junger may not know he’s my boyfriend… All right. I admit it. He doesn’t even know I exist. But he’s the perfect rugged journalist/writer/James Bond type. He’s the one who wrote The Perfect Storm. I suppose that’s what he’s best known for, although it wasn’t my favorite… But I really love War.

That sounded bad. But you know what I mean.

It’s an amazing book. When his Hummer is nearly hit by a bomb, the writing is so raw you can tell how messed up his emotions are afterwards. The action scenes feel a little contrived and I don’t always agree with what his opinions and philosophy, but his portrayal of the soldiers and what they’re thinking and feeling is really well done.

I just think he would be an amazing speaker. I’m really looking forward to it.

And then there are some other people coming. Some lady named Annie Proulx will be there…? I think she must be famous or something. Tee hee…
 


More Cherie Priest! It’s like Christmas.

As much as I haven’t been writing on my own novel, I’ve at least been doing a bunch of reading.  YA books like Rick Riordan’s The Red Pyramid, Lilli Thal’s Mimus (just to get into the whole jester thing again), and some of Cherie Priest’s mysteries.

And then I found out about Clementine.

Another Clockwork Century novel, this goes into more depth about Captain Croggon from Boneshaker, and involves a spy who is too well-known to be a spy anymore.  I find out it was published last year, so I go merrily to Amazon thinking I’ll just pick myself up a copy and– WHY is it $58!?!? How is that possible? I understand completely that it’s not out in paperback yet, but WOW!

Not being able to resist the mystery of it all (which means that I naturally have to solve said mystery), I do a little research. And I do mean little. Because Cherie Priest keeps her blog seriously up to date. (Unlike some of us that I won’t mention…) And she’s on it. Like nine months ago on it. Which means that I am completely out of the loop. But in all fairness, I didn’t even know about Cherie Priest nine months ago.

Anyway, after I’ve Googled the whole business and read the blog entry about it and find out that it was a limited printing and a bunch of them were signed (because she works for the small publishing company that published the book in the first place), I discover that eventually there will be a paperback version “next year.” (So soon, right? Aren’t we close to “next year?”)

What really made me laugh is that the Kindle version is only $5. Which would be fine, but this is one of those books that I want to have a real copy of. And I don’t mind paperback at all. But then there’s the real problem. I do really want to read the book!

Behold, the beauty of the Multnomah County Library. The magical place where you can ask for a book, they put it on the shelf for you with your name on it and everything, and you get to take it home and keep it (sometimes for over a year… Yes, yes, I know. I really should return that copy of Catherine de Medici, Renaissance Queen of France, but I swear I’m going to read it very soon).

So in the matter of a few days, there was joy that there was another Clockwork Century book, then despair over the price, then joy again once the library comes through for me.

I love happy endings. And the blog and writing may suffer still while I sit down and read.
 


The Glorious Thing That is Steampunk

Does it deserve to be capitalized? I think so.

Clockwork Heart by Dru PagliassottiAll of my reading these past few weeks (when it’s not the New Yorker…) has been consumed with Steampunk. I adore it. Really. It’s amazing.

I started with the basics. Steampunk edited by Amy and Jeff Vandermeer and Steampunk Prime edited by Mike Ashley. The Vandermeers also have a second volume called (cleverly enough) Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded, but I haven’t started reading it yet. The two Vandermeer volumes are more contemporary–they start with stories written in the 70’s and 80’s. Steampunk Prime is a collection of older stories written between 1895 and 1920.

So far I like the older stuff in Steampunk Prime better. It feels genuine (if such a thing can be said about Steampunk). In the first Vandermeer volume the writing seems more contrived…and generally not as good. I’m hoping the Steampunk II volume is better–it has a Clockwork Century story by Cherie Priest in it and I love her.

As far as actual novels go, one of my favorites is The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook. Brilliant. I would definitely recommend it. And steamy and sexy,too–that Iron Duke is a hotty. Her whole concept is fantastic. I totally got caught up in it. Another good one is Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotti. Less of the romance novel feel to it that Brook’s book has, but still a very sweet love story and awesome ideas.

I’ve read more for young adults. The His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman is Steampunk and is amazing, of course. A less famous series is The Bartimeaus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud (which may actually have four books in its trilogy–or I guess they’re calling The Ring of Solomon a prequel).

Maybe not technically Steampunk… Maybe Magicpunk… No. No, I’m making the call.  I’m definitely saying it’s Steampunk.

Whatever. It’s phenomenal. Clever, funny, interesting…downright brilliant… The final ending is a little rough and I was a little hostile towards Stroud for a while, but after thinking about it, he definitely did the right thing. Bartimeaus is the snarkiest djinn you’ll ever meet. He thinks in footnotes. ‘Nuff said.

Cherie Priest is also one of my new favorites. She’s the author of Boneshaker and Dreadnought. She also has a super fun website and blog. Loads of personality and the funny stuff. And she’s a fantastic writer. Just got Dreadnought and I’m saving it for that perfect rainy day when I can snuggle up by the fire and disappear for a while. Just read them. You won’t be sorry.

Another good one is Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan and Behemoth. (Yep. Same guy who wrote the Uglies Trilogy.) More the rollicking adventure story type that takes place in an alternate version of World War I. If I had to be honest, I would say Priest’s books are more for the girls and Westerfeld’s more for the boys. Not a lot of emotional retrospect and time for thought for Westerfeld’s crew. You had better climb up into your war machine Clanker and get a move on if you want to keep up.

Priest’s books are adventure and action, too, and the story definitely moves along, but you feel like you know the characters a bit better. And she writes all of her characters well–cranky airship pilots, worried mothers, 16-year-old sons… Part of it is certainly deliberate–Westerfeld’s books are definitely for a younger age. His books have amazing drawings and maps that I stare at for a long time. Priest’s map is minimal and the second book doesn’t even have one, which makes me sad. (I adore maps. I flip back and forth between the book and the map all the time trying to figure out exactly where something is. Adore. Them.)

Point is, you can’t go wrong with either one. For some reason the whole Steampunk thing appeals to me. It’s a fabrication, but it’s familiar enough that I don’t feel like I’m swimming through some murky sea of sci-fi or fantasy trying to figure out the dragon’s name or remember just how many arms that creature does have. I appreciate the clever changes and alternate ideas, but basing them in my own world isn’t that difficult because that’s exactly what the author has done. It just works better for me. A fantasy of compromise. Or a compromised fantasy? Hm. Neither of those sounds right, do they?

Cherie Priest also has other books that she’s written, and I’m tempted to try them. But I’ve been burned before on that. Meljean Brook writes vampire/werewolf paranormal romances as well. I tried one of those. Meh. It didn’t even feel like the same author. But Brook also has a short story (“Here There Be Monsters”–it’s in a collection of short stories called Burning Up) set in the same world of The Iron Duke and I loved it. So I’m not willing to risk Priest’s other books just yet. Maybe after I’ve finished Dreadnought and am desperate for something else.

And my favorite feature of all these books? Yes, they’re all available on amazon.com or you can get online to the Multnomah County Library. You’ll have to put some of them on hold because they’re so popular (which is why I didn’t review The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi–haven’t been able to read it yet because I’m 97 of 112 holds or something ridiculous like that) but it’s the best deal out there.